Transitions are hard. Nobody’s going to dispute that right?
I think it’s interesting that every January, we contort ourselves into confronting change head-on and the rest of the year feels like… I don’t know… I don’t want to say we resist change but maybe it’s more that we crave an existence that feels familiar, one that we have control over.
I actually do love this time of year even though I will state, for the record, here and forevermore that I find it so unspeakably hard. I love it because even though it’s hard, ultimately anything we set out to change ends up changing us in good ways, if we look at it in the right light. And that’s never a bad thing.
This week we’re offering up a transitional treat of sorts- this Popcorn and Peanut Bark has chocolate, yes, but it’s got peanuts (protein?) and popcorn (the healthful dessert of choice in my house). We’re giving it to you as a sort of buck-up, shrugging, you still deserve chocolate even when you’re being really good and you had that protein shake for breakfast right, so this is totally okay kind of way.
It’s a fitting treat for January and allllll this transition talk is a good intro for Nicole and I to share that the blog will be changing soon. We’ve both grown a lot since we first started the site and we’re ready to take it in a new direction, to stretch ourselves and talk and share recipes and stories that strike a cord with us. That more narrowed focus of the types of recipes we share and the stories behind them will reveal themselves very soon. We’re super excited about it though. And I think, given where we are now (settled in our respective homes and into very adult-looking lives), it’s going to be really meaningful to take you down a new path.
Popcorn and Peanut Bark
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups freshly popped popcorn
1/2 cup salted peanuts (preferably Virginia)
Pinch of kosher salt
- Line a baking sheet with a nonstick liner.
- Melt the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over simmering water, stirring until the chocolate is melted and smooth, about 4 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and add the popcorn, peanuts, and salt. Fold the mixture until the popcorn and peanuts are evenly coated with the chocolate.
- Scrape the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and spread into a thin layer.
- Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, or until cold and rm. Break into small clusters and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Lordes sat down in her assigned aisle seat on the plane. Truthfully, she fell into it. As she stepped out of the aisle, her toe snagged the seat in front of her and she all but toppled in, shoulder first. Elegant, refined, she thought to herself with an outward grunt. She twisted until her butt was firmly in the seat and let out a sigh of relief.
There was, then, a timid tap on her left shoulder. Lordes glanced to her left and came face to face with the round, chubby face of a drooling baby, gender undetermined. The baby’s anxious-looking mother, held the baby by the waist and let the little feet tap tap tap on her thighs. “I’m just going to apologize ahead of time,” the woman said, her face twisted in anguish. She had a thick accent, reminiscent of Georgia where Lordes had spent the last four days in the ballroom of a Garden Inn Suites. “For my baby. My husband was supposed to fly with me but he got offered first class and it’s his birthday so I thought it would be nice for him. But now I’m sitting here by myself, with my baby, and I don’t know how loud she’s going to be.” She, then. The bald baby grinned at her. “And my friend told me I should make these packets, like with ear plugs and granola bars and stuff and hand them out and apologize to people but I didn’t have time to do that! Because she was fussing really late last night and I was going to get up early to do it but I was too tired-“
Lordes held up a hand to stop her. She slid the sunglasses off her face and looked the terrified woman in the eye. “Listen, lady. I just worked sixteen straight days without a day off. Three conferences in Jacksonville, Charlotte and Atlanta. I’m taking this flight to Houston and from there, I am going somewhere where they serve drinks in those coconuts with umbrellas. I am not planning on speaking to anyone for eight glorious days. It’s the first vacation I’ve taken in three and a half years. I do not care if your baby screams starting now to when we land. I don’t care if it takes a dump or smacks me upside the face. Your baby,” she said deliberately, “is not a half-in-the-bag asshole sales rep who’s itching to pat me on the butt and tell me to fetch him a scotch and soda, so your baby can basically do whatever it wants to do. And when that lovely stewardess-“
“Right. When she comes by with that cart, I am pouring myself the biggest glass of wine in the galaxy and I am getting one for you too. And we are going to toast and then I’m taking this pill,” Lordes held it up, “And I will see y’all next Tuesday.”
Hola from Mexico! (I hope. I’m supposed to leave 2 days from now and this tropical storm/multiple lightning symbols on the Weather Channel app is giving me minor heart palpitations. But hopefully! When you are reading this! Mexico!) I love food and I love blogging and I love you but I did not take my laptop with me on this trip. My phone is operating as a very fancy camera only. The only time I will be checking email is to tell my parents I arrived safely (hopefully!) and if I happen to fall in love/marry the Benecio del Toro of Mexico. You feel me, right? You get what I’m laying down? I know you do.
Nicole sent me the recipe for this Summer Caprese Salad with a note that said “winging it.” I mean, listen- it’s salty pancetta, sweet melon and cheese. The drizzle is something fun but we can’t fail here. I made something very similar before I left and it’s perfect for this time of year, just what you want.
Summer Caprese Salad
Serves: 6 | Summer Caprese Salad
1 small cantaloupe, cut into bite size pieces
3/4 pound bite-sized mozzarella balls
1/4 pound pancetta, sliced thin
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp pine nuts
1/2 Tbsp butter
Coarse salt and ground pepper
- Crisp the pancetta: Preheat oven to 400°. Place pancetta slices on baking pan and bake for about 5 minutes until pancetta slices are curled and crispy. Keep an eye on them as they may be done cooking before 5 minutes.
- Make the balsamic reduction: Place balsamic vinegar in small saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until reduced to 2 tablespoons (about 5 minutes).
- Toast the pine nuts: Melt butter in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Add pine nuts and cook stirring often until pine nuts are lightly toasted.
- Assemble salad: In a large bowl, combine cantaloupe and mozzarella. Crumble pancetta into salad and top with toasted pine nuts and balsamic reduction. Finish with a sprinkle of coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.
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.
Cancer had done strange things to Maybeth. The first strange thing was the taste of silver in her mouth, like there was a fork in it, always. Dr. Wineslaw had explained the reason for this to her but Maybeth forgot it instantly, an affect of the chemo. If her mouth was a fork, her brain was now a sieve. She has been very sick, she needs to stay at home with Home Care Assistance.
The second strange thing was that she had cravings. Rather than the desire to abandon all food because of the fierce nausea, as Dr. Wineslaw had warned her, Maybeth found that she was drawn to a small, select list of foods that offered pure pleasure and no pain. She could eat peanut butter, hummus, and cream cheese endlessly. Strangely, the more neutral and blameless of foods- stale crackers, white bread, left her reeling. Maybeth found herself, weeks into Round 3 of chemo, with a house full of spreads and nothing on which to spread them.
The third strange thing, which she considered now with a spoonful of hummus in her hand, was that the only companionship she could endure during her treatment was her mother’s.
“And then I told him, I said, Jacob, if you put that in my cart, you are asking for serious trouble.” Cindy Patridge paused in the middle of her story and glanced up at her daughter. They sat cross-legged from each other on the floor where her mother clipped coupons, the chain from her glasses dangling from either side of her face like tinny curtains. “Are you listening to me, Maybeth?”
“Uh huh.” Maybeth’s lips twitched as she brought the hummus to her mouth. Her mother, a notorious cheapskate, self-involved and self-obsessed to the core, demanded an audience at all times for her long and winding and tedious stories. Cindy Patridge was always in an uproar over something, from the diminishing width of the lanes on the Southbay expressway to the quality of the sermon at Woodbury Presbyterian. She was loud, she smelled like patchouli oil and grass clippings, she wore socks with sandals throughout summer, and was thoroughly unaware of how widely she was disliked by her friends, family and community at large. She had little to no patience for the tribulations of others.
She never lingered, either, over Maybeth’s stories about her treatments. She did not ask follow up questions when Dr. Wineslaw gave them the latest reports. She huffed impatiently when the nurses swung over to check Maybeth’s vitals if they happened to interrupt one of Cindy’s stories by doing so. She brought terribly inappropriate things to Maybeth’s bedside like off-brand watermelon candy and tiny bottles of vodka from the airplane, romance novels that Maybeth would never read in her lifetime, and pictures of relatives who were “either dead or insane” her mother would say after each one and throw them gleefully into a pile. She acted the same way now as she had when Maybeth was a healthy ten-year-old. At fifteen. At twenty-two. At thirty-five. Nothing for Cindy Patridge had changed in the slightest. There was no “new normal” and “old normal.” There was just Cindy telling her that her cat had gotten stuck in the bathtub for twelve days and she’d called the fire department because they were the only ones who could get close to the ornery beast, with it mangled fur and claws. “That’s going to be me when I go,” Cindy snorted.
Maybeth had smiled at the time and swirled the spoon through the bowl, enjoying the ripple it made. “Then what happened, Mom?”
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Basic Hummus Recipe
Source: Jerusalem | Makes: 6 servings | Print Recipe
NOTE: You’ll need to soak dried chickpeas overnight!
1 and 1/4 Cup of dried chickpeas
1 Teaspoon of baking soda
6 and 1/2 Cups of water
1 Cup Plus 2 Tablespoons of tahini (light roast)
4 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 Cloves of garlic, crushed
6 and 1/2 Tablespoons and ice cold water
Good quality olive oil, to serve (optional)
Toasted pine nuts, to serve (optional)
1. The night before, place chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with cold water (at least twice their volume) and leave to soak overnight.
2. The next day… drain chickpeas.
3. Place a medium saucepan over high heat and add the drained chickpeas and baking soda. Cook for three minutes, stirring constantly. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cook, skimming off any foam and any skins that float to the surface. The chickpeas will need to cook for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on type and freshness. Once done, they should be very tender and break up easily between you fingers but not quite mushy.
4. Drain the chickpeas (again). You should have about 3 and 2/3 cups which you will put into a food processor and process into a stiff paste. With the machine running, add tahini, lemon juice, garlic cloves and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt.
5. Finally, drizzle in the ice water slowly and allow it to mix for 5 minutes until you get a smooth and creamy paste.
4. Transfer hummus to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes. If refrigerating for later use, bring to room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. To serve, drizzle with good olive oil and a scattering of pine nuts.
Hummus will keep in the fridge up to 3 days. If it lasts that long.
They ate. He strummed the yukele and she played checkers.
“Do you love me more than that yukele?” she asked, when he was mid-strum.
He considered it for a second longer than she would’ve liked. “I do.” He hummed a little and nodded to her purse. “Do you love me more than that old, green bag?”
She looked at the old, green bag, the one she’d had since she was fifteen. “I do,” she said. “Do you love me more than this apartment?”
“I do,” he said quickly and she laughed. “Do you love me more than potato chips?”
He stopped strumming as he said it and raised his eyebrows expectantly. She thought about it. And thought about it. He brought home potato chips when he made a mistake, when she was cross, when the sky was gray, when the bus was late, when the dog got sick, when she was happy and when she was not. It was an unspoken rule that there would always be chips in the house, at least one bag. Keep your favorite thing close by, her mother had told her before she died. Key to a happy marriage, that. And though she was sure her mother did not mean potato chips, she kept them close by. Just in case.
“I do,” she said after another long moment. “Just barely but I do.”
CHOC-OL-ATE MO-NTH. If there’s anything more joyful than that, I don’t know what it could be. (Donut Month maybe?)
We’re kicking off our chocolate month with some salty, chocolatey bites. They’re as simple as can be and while some might sniff and turn away from such an idea, I know there are a few of you (maybe more than a few) who just saw these and said YES. MORE. YUM. And so, these are for you.
More chocolate is on the way…
SKS: The Chocolate Collection
Chocolate Mug of Sadness | No Bake Happiness Pops | Molten Chocolate Cake | Snickers Peanut Butter Brownie Ice Cream Cake | Take 5 Bars | Homemade Peppermint Patties | Homemade Peanut Butter Cups | The All-Time Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe | Cookie In a Skillet | Peanut Butter Truffle Brownies | Thin Mint Whoopie Pies | White Chocolate Peppermint M&M Cookies | Hot Cocoa Cookies | S’More Pizza | Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes | Hamburger Cupcakes | Cookies ‘n Creme Owl Cupcakes | Brownie Batter Cupcakes | Chocolate Ganache | Upside Down Fudge Almond Tart | Mad Easy Chocolate Pecan Pie | The Twix Tart | Brownie Pudding | Whiskey Truffles | Apricot White Chocolate Biscotti | Coffee Chocolate Milkshake
Chocolate Dipped Potato Chips
Adapted from: All Recipes | Makes 1 Pound of Chips | Print Recipe
1 Pound of high-quality milk chocolate, chopped
8 Cups of ridged potato chips (we used Cape Cod)
1. Place about 3/4 of the chocolate into a heat-safe bowl and place over the top of a pot of simmering water, leaving space between the hot water and the bottom of the bowl. (Use a double broiler if you have one.) Heat chocolate to 110°F (43°C), stirring occasionally. (A meat thermometer will do the trick if your candy thermometer doesn’t go that low.)
2. As soon as the chocolate reaches temp, stir in the remaining chocolate until melted. Continue stirring until chocolate hits 90°F (32°C).
3. Use tongs to dip potato chips into chocolate and place on waxed paper. Cool until set or refrigerate.
Double Note: Do you SEE all those chocolate recipes?! I think we have a chocolate problem…
There is a tired that is beyond tired. Kelsie thought she had achieved that tired at 3am the night before. But apparently not. Apparently this was the most tired that a tired person could be.
With a grunt, she pulled herself out of the armchair and blinked. She must’ve fallen asleep in front of the television after dinner, she thought blearily. T had turned on the lamps on the side tables and the living room had a soft glow. Kelsie wondered what time it was. She moved through the room like it was a bowl of thick soup and she was a cracker.
She heard him then, in the baby’s room. He spoke softly. Kelsie stood in the doorway and watched T from across the room. He moved with grace, which amazed her, even in her sleep-addled state. On the football field, he was just as graceful, despite his size. She smiled to herself as he continued to speak softly to their daughter and when she heard the words “fried pickles,” she had to listen more closely.
“I love you more than milkshakes. I love you more than mozzarella sticks. I love you more than cheeseburgers with bacon. I love you more than french fries with ranch dressing on the side,” said T as he rocked back and forth.
“What are you saying to her?” Kelsie whispered, the laugh breaking on her face.
T glanced up and smiled at her. “I love you more than milkshakes too, you know. More than all the milkshakes.”
So tired, Kelsie thought as she laughed and T resumed his speech to their baby. I’ve never been so tired.
Mozzarella sticks. Is there anyone on this planet who can be offered a plate of them at a chain restaurant and not feel a swell of pure joy?
Can we agree, first and foremost, that appetizers are the best? The first food you reach for when you’re starving always tastes amazing but there’s something extra special about apps, delicious apps. Give me your spinach artichoke dips, your garlic bread, your fried calamari, yearning to breathe free. Your bowls of chips and salsas, buffalo wings, BRING FORTH ALL THE APPS. (I’m feeling very riled up lately about food, have you noticed that? The cold weather does this to me.)
I’ll always have a special place in my heart for mozzarella sticks. They were my favorite restaurant treat growing up, my brother’s too, and I can still remember seeing the plate being set down on the table at Friendly’s, the little sticks in a cluster, the cup of marinara, that sad little lettuce leaf tucked in between. Happiness.
Homemade Mozzarella Sticks
Note: Deep-frying ahead! Don’t have a thermometer? Here are a few tricks to try.
8 String cheese
24 Wonton wrappers
1 Tablespoon of water
Vegetable or canola oil for frying
Salt and parmesan cheese, to serve
1. Cut each string cheese into thirds.
2. Combine egg with water to create egg wash.
3. Place wonton on board. Brush with egg wash. Place piece of cheese in middle, fold edges up and roll. (Check out how Heather did it.)
4. Heat oil to 375°F and fry for 1-2 minutes, flipping halfway through until they’re golden brown.
5. Remove from oil and place on plate with paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve with marinara sauce.
Aidan was very excited for Super Bowl. His parents were not.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true. They were not un-excited. They were decidedly neither excited nor unexcited. What they were, on that crisp and cold February morning, and what they had been for the last ten years were a pair of nuclear physicists. From Norway.
Mik and Norma appreciated much about their lives in America (they both loved Louis Armstrong, Red Vines and the films of Sandra Bullock) but they had never really warmed to American football. Or sports of any kind, really. They were invited once to a Super Bowl party at a work colleague’s and it was, in Norma’s words, an unmitigated disaster.
So when their six-year-old son fell hode over hæler for football, they were a bit surprised. Their home was filled to the brim with books. Mik’s affection for film meant their little boy could watch whatever he desired and Norma’s proclivity for both electronics and engineering led to a flurry of inventing on the weekends (the dog food dispenser! The Red Vine dispenser! Norma enjoyed the dispensing of things) – what else could a little boy wish for?
Football, apparently. So they obliged him. Of course they did. He was their Aidan, how could they not?
So, on Sunday, when Aidan awoke, his room was filled with football-shaped balloons. He jumped out of bed and ran to the dresser and excitedly removed his jersey from the drawer (he was a football player for Halloween and for every day after Halloween until the pants disintegrated in the wash. He was bereft at the loss of them.) and put it on. He ran downstairs and spent hours upon hours, watching pre-game footage on their vast television in the sitting room, leaping over Mik’s feet as he upgraded the software on the family laptops.
And when game time came around, Norma and Mik put on jerseys as well (also from the Halloween store. They were gray and lacked markings of any particular team. Norma believed this was more fair, since they did not show true allegiance to anyone.) and they brought in the buffalo wings and the chips and salsa, the bowls of popcorn and the crock pot full of chili con carne. Norma made pretzel rolls, warm from the oven.
And when the game started, they sat on either side of Aidan and ate and cheered. And even if his parents cheered at all the wrong times, it was still the best day Aidan had ever had.
IT’S GAME TIME!
I’m not going to pretend I care that much about football (I’m more of a baseball/hockey person, personally.) but oh, man do I love game food. Chili? Yes, I will have two bowls. Chips and things to dip the chips into? OKAY. Wings? Yes, yes, and yes. Sign here, I want all the wings. Beer? Check. Brightly hued cheese products? Need I go on?
So for this year’s game day, we offer you a delectable combination of game day treats: pretzels, beer and cheese. Together. Specifically, warm, toasty, homemade pretzel rolls with beer cheese sauce.
Don’t stop here though- don’t just tear into these warm, salty morsels and dip. Think BIGGER: sandwiches! Crack open a roll, put it in a bowl, sprinkle with shredded cheese and top with a ladle of chili (it’s like a loaded baked potato but bread instead! This might be the smartest thing I’ve ever uttered. I can’t even go on. There’s nowhere to go from here but down…)
Pretzel Rolls With Beer Cheese Sauce
For the Pretzels
1 Cup of warm water
2 and 1/4 Teaspoons of active dry yeast (or one packet)
2 and 3/4 Cups of bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 TBsp of granulated sugar
1 Teaspoon of kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling on top of the pretzels
6 Cups of water
1/4 Cup of baking soda
For the beer cheese sauce:
4 TBsp of unsalted butter
1/2 Cup of yellow onion, chopped
1 Bay Leaf
4 TBsps of all-purpose flour
2 Cups of beer
1 Cup of heavy cream
1/2 Teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
1/4 Teaspoon of ground cloves
Pinch of nutmeg
2-3 Cups of good, sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the pretzels:
1. In the bowl of your standing mixture, fitted with dough hook, combine the warm water and the yeast. Let sit until bubbling, about five minutes.
2. Meanwhile, coat a large mixing bowl with a thin layer of vegetable oil and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and one teaspoon of salt.
4. Add the flour mixture to the yeast mixture and, using the dough hook, mix the dough on low until it is just combined.
5. Once combined, increase the speed to medium and knead until elastic and smooth, about 8 minutes or so.
6. Roll the dough into a ball and lightly roll the dough in the pre-oiled bowl to completely coat. Cover with a light cloth and let rest in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, coat the paper with vegetable oil, and set aside.
8. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and knead it on a floured, dry surface just until it becomes smooth.
9. Divide the dough into 10-12 pieces and form into oblong rolls (roundish). Place the rolls on the baking sheet and slash a diagonal X shape across the top of each.
10. Cover with a light cloth and let the dough rise again in a warm place until almost doubled in volume, about 15 to 20 minutes.
11. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425°F and bring the 6 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat.
12. Once the rolls have risen, stir the baking soda into the boiling water (the water will foam up slightly- so be very careful.)
13. Boil two or three rolls for 2 minutes per side. Using a slotted spoon, remove the rolls, drain, and place on the baking sheet, cut side up. Sprinkle well with salt and repeat with the remaining rolls.
14. Once all the rolls are ready, place in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.
For the beer cheese sauce:
15. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.
16. Add the chopped onion and bay leaf and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
17. Add a pinch of salt and the flour, stirring to coat the onions completely, and cook, stirring constantly for about 3-4 minutes.
18. Slowly add the beer to the roux, whisking constantly.
19. Next, slowly add the heavy cream, again, whisking constantly and breaking up any clumps of flour that may have formed.
20. Bring the mixture to a gently simmer, and add the peppercorns, cloves, and nutmeg, and cook, whisking occasionally, for about 30 minutes.
21. Here’s the tricky part: Using a small slotted spoon, remove the peppercorns and bay leaf from the mixture. (Leave a couple of peppercorns in? Just be sure you remember this when you take a bite!)
22. Remove the sauce from the heat and slowly whisk in the grated cheese, adjusted the amount of cheese to your desired taste and thickness.
Daisy leaned back and stared up at the night sky.
The hood of the truck wasn’t as comfortable as she’d thought it would be but she didn’t mind the old windshield wiper currently jutting into her lower back. And when she felt the smudge of grease on the side of her hand, she didn’t worry about ruining the thin, silvery bracelet on her wrist, the black smudges that would grace the charms that resided there- the tiny pair of ballet shoes, the cluster of stars, the apple on its stem. She crossed her legs by the ankles and studied the way her old cowboy boots looked in the light.
Sky. Stars. Sand. She would miss Texas, more than she thought she would. Daisy felt her smile falter. An uncomfortable sort of pressure settled on her chest. It was something deeper than tears.
It was the same thing she felt when she passed her mother in the hall at home, when her arm brushed hers. Or when she caught a glimpse of her father wandering out in the yard just before dinner, checking the plants, feeling the leaves, his brown eyes squinting up into the light.
Look at us, still at work.
Would I be correct in saying that the handful of hours that stand between the working week and the first, official long weekend of summer are the LONGEST HOURS IN HISTORY. I swear, it’s been three o’clock for at least seven hours now, AT LEAST.
We’re almost there.
We’re talking salty and sweet today. Sweet, caramel apple. Salty blue cheese. If you want to be specific.
Nicole’s wedding is now less than a month away. And look at her, still arranging slices of bread and artfully crumbling cheese for us. It’s like those shots of Sarah Jessica Parker tottering around, nine months pregnant, in sky-high heels. It’s ridiculous.
It’s almost as ridiculous as the fact that it’s been three o’clock on Friday for approximately 72 days now OMG THIS DAY WILL NOT END LET’S GO HOME ALREADY.
Caramelized Apple and Blue Cheese Crostini Recipe
1/2 Cup of fresh tarragon leaves, loosely packed
2 TBsps of extra-virgin olive oil
16 Thin slices of crusty baguette
1 TBsp of unsalted butter
2 Small apples such as Pink Lady, cut into 16 slim wedges
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 Cup of blue cheese, at room temperature
Flaky or large crystal sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
2. Set aside a handful of tarragon leaves, about 32 nice-looking leaves.
3. In a food processor, pulse the remaining tarragon with the olive oil.
4. Brush the baguette slices with the tarragon oil. Lay on a baking sheet.
5. Toast in the oven until golden brown and crispy, about 5 minutes.
6. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.
7. Cook the apples on in a single layer, working in batches if needed, until both sides are golden brown and somewhat tender, about 5 minutes. Season with a pinch of cayenne pepper and several grinds of black pepper.
8. To serve, arrange two slices of cooked apple on each crostini. Top with 1/2 teaspoon of the blue cheese, two whole tarragon leaves. Sprinkle with sea salt.
A true story today.
I could never really see. When it comes to my eyes, my earliest related memory is of me, sitting on the bathroom floor as my mother bathed my little brother. I was four and when I told her I was seeing two of everything, she froze, her shoulders hunched over the tub, my brother blinking owlishly behind her.
As I grew older, my vision worsened. I saw the world through an endless string of glasses, some as thick as the bottoms of Coke bottles, and everything beyond that thick pane of glass was a hazy blur. When I was in elementary school, I became a mastermind of pure evil when it came to finding ways of “accidentally” scratching or breaking my glasses. One time, I casually placed them glass-side down on the row of bricks that lined our driveway so they would scratch. Another time, (I cannot believe I’m admitting this) I placed them on the edge of my desk at school and timed it so that when the teacher walked up our row, I nudged the glasses off my desk with my elbow. They fell to the floor and she stepped on them. Yes. I actually did that. I was like a young Mr. Burns. “You broke my glasses. Excellent.”
Then contacts came, glorious, face-freeing contacts. Well, they were glorious until the end of that first day when, in a furniture store, I brought the room of customers to a halt when I insisted one of them had fallen out and screamed, “NOBODY MOVE.” It turned out, of course, that the lense was in my eye the whole time so “False alarm everyone! Please go about your furniture-related business!” I got better about them. By the time I was twenty, I could put my contacts into my eyes, in the dark, with one hand trapped behind my back and no contact solution to be found for miles- like some kind of nerd Houdini.
Sometimes, my lack of vision was a blessing like when I was feeling less than pretty and faced my blurry, naked form in the bathroom mirror- I could fool myself, however temporarily, into believing I looked however I liked. I cursed it most in the morning, when I would roll over and see nothing but gauzy green numbers instead of the time I needed or when I was in Italy, trying to find the phrase “contact solution” in an Italian-American dictionary.
I did not intend to talk about this today at all. Today is the one year anniversary of my grandmother’s death and I sat down to write about that- I would not be in the kitchen without her influence, after all. She was my Italian grandma- a matriarch in every sense of the world (with the great-grandchildren in droves to prove it) but she didn’t chase us around with a rolling pin- she ruled with gentle hands and a quiet laugh. She was the purest soul I’ve honestly ever known and when she wanted to feed us, she fed us well. She found peace in the kitchen, like my mother does, and she felt more at home there than anywhere else, as I do now.
One week ago, I had surgery. I got my eyes back. I can see. I take the dog out for a walk now and find myself stopping on corners, staring up at the winding wires atop transformers, the barest buds on trees, the wrinkles on the water. The surgery was a gift from my grandmother. One year later and it feels like she’s still guiding my steps, still helping me find my way.
Every morning now, I open my eyes, determined not to take either gift for granted.
Chocolate & Peppermint Patties
Make ahead: Patties will keep, chilled, for 1 month. Bring to room temperature before serving.
2 and 1/2 Cups of confectioners/powdered sugar (less than 1 pound), divided
1 and 1/2 TBsps of light corn syrup
1 and 1/2 TBsps of water (more if needed)
1/2 teaspoon of pure peppermint extract
1 TBSP of vegetable shortening
10 ounces of 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1. Ready an electric mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment. Beat 2 and 1/4 cups of powdered sugar with corn syrup, water, peppermint extract, shortening and a pinch of salt at medium speed until just combined. Mixture will be crumbly.
2. Sprinkle powdered sugar on work surface and knead mixture with remaining 1/4 cup of powdered sugar until smooth. Add a tablespoon or so of water as you knead if mixture doesn’t come together after a minute or so. The finished dough will be smooth and compliant.
3. Roll out between sheets of parchment paper on a large baking sheet into a 7 to 8 inch round that is less than 1/4 of an inch thick. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.
4. Remove top sheet of paper and sprinkle round with powdered sugar. Replace top sheet and flip round over to repeat sprinkling on other side.
5. With a 1 inch cookie cutter, cut as many rounds as possible and transfer candies to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
6. Freeze candies until firm, at least 10 minutes.
7. Melt three-fourths of chocolate in a metal bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water.
8. Remove bowl from pan and add remaining chocolate. Stir until smooth. Cool until candy thermometer registers 80°F.
9. Return water in pan to boil and remove from heat. Set bowl of cooled chocolate over pan and reheat, stirring, until candy thermometer registers 88 to 91°F. Remove bowl from pan. (I just kept the hot saucepan and bowl on a cloth towel as I worked and the chocolate stayed warm enough to work with.)
10. Balance one of the pattie rounds on a form and submerge in melted chocolate, let the excess drip off. Return pattie to sheet. To make decorative lines on top, gently press bottom of fork briefly on top of the patty and then lift straight up.
11. Let patties stand until chocolate sets, about 1 hour.
She stopped him before he could ring the doorbell. “Listen,” she said nervously.
Jerry looked at her. “Oh, God. What?”
“Nothing! It’s nothing, I swear.” Lily bit her lip. “I just- listen-“
“Oh my god, spit it out. I’m freaking out here as it is!”
Lily twisted her hands nervously and lowered her voice. “My family’s a little… they’re a little…” He stared at her. “Strange.”
Jerry was wearing a sweater that was itchy around the neck and wrists. It had a pumpkin on the front. The sweater was a mistake, Jerry knew that now. “Strange like how?”
“Uh.” Lily twisted her black hair around her finger. “Well. You know, they’re awesome. They’re just… they can be a little…”
Jerry stared up at the big white house. He pulled the collar of the sweater away from his neck. “And you’re telling me this now?”
“Lily! And you must be James!”
“James, of course!” The woman who had thrown open the door was the picture of Lily in every way except the hair. Where Lily had dark hair, her aunt was a platinum blonde. She thrust her arms around them both and all but yanked them inside. “Come in, it’s freezing, burr. Oh, my beautiful niece, aren’t you a picture? Oh, a tongue ring, that’s nice, dear. Oh, James has a nice tushy! Good job, Lily!”
Too horrified to respond, Jerry was suddenly overcome by the stench of cigarette smoke and burnt almonds. He started to sweat, wondering if he was having a stroke. Lily had disentangled herself from her mother and now clutched Jerry’s arm for dear life. “Are you okay?” she whispered as her aunt ripped his coat roughly from his shoulders and threw it into the living room. It fell in a heap on the floor. Jerry stared after her as she hollered into the kitchen to “take the nuts out, for gimme’s sake!”
He stared as a tall brunette wandered down the stairs. “Lil!”
“Ollie!” And Jerry stepped back as they hugged. Ollie leaned back and eyed them both. “You must be the boyfriend.”
“Y-yes, Jerry.” He skittered back as something in the kitchen made a wheezing noise, followed by a loud pop. They all jumped.
Ollie scratched her nose and offered them both a smile. “Happy Thanksgiving. Who wants a drink?”
Two recipes today! Because we love you. And because Thanksgiving is one week away and I can feel your stress from here. But listen! You can make these in ADVANCE. And then tumble them into a shiny bowl and let your guests peck away at them as you put the finishing touches on your feast.
I don’t know about you but I love discovering a technique that’s in hand with a recipe. It feels like you’ve just unlocked a secret passageway and the destinations are places like “Your Belly” and “Deliciousness.” Sometimes, you need to see more than one variation of a recipe to find the technique at play- a few days ago, I was watching Food Network and caught Giada making these yummy, fragrant, spiced cocktail nus. And then Nicole sent over the recipe for crunchy, sugary pecans and the old wheels started a’turnin’ (I’m listening to Bluegrass while I type this, sorry) and now here we are. Technique Town, party of what? Oh, right, your mouth. What? I don’t know.
Technique for Cocktail Nuts:
- Take your nuts.
- Take a preheated, 250 degree oven.
- Take your egg whites. Coat the nuts with frothy, whisked egg whites.
- Toss with sugar and/or spices. Pick and choose your own, I won’t be offended. Except, how can you do this to me? How?
- Bake on greased sheet for 45 minutes to an hour.
Sugar Coated Pecans
via the delicious Carolyn at AllRecipes
Makes 1 pound of sugary, crunchy appetizer goodness
1 egg white
1 TBsp of water
1 pound (1 lb) of pecan halves
1 Cup of white sugar
3/4 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon
1. Preheat your oven to 250°F. Spray a baking sheet with vegetable or canola oil cooking spray.
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg white and water until frothy.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, salt and cinnamon.
4. Add pecans to egg whites and stir to coat the nuts evenly.
5. Toss pecans into sugar mixture until coated.
6. Spread the nuts out on the prepared baking sheet.
7. Bake for 1 hour. Stir every 15 minutes or so for even crunch.
Spiced Cocktail Nuts
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
2 egg whites
2 Cups of almonds, roasted and salted
2 Cups of cashew nuts, roasted and salted
2 Cups of walnut halves
3/4 Cup of sugar
2 TBsp of Madras curry powder
1 TBsp of ground cumin
2 and 1/2 tsp of garlic salt
1 and 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper
1 tsp of ground cardamom
1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
1. Place rack in center of the oven. Preheat to 250°F. Spray a baking sheet with vegetable or canola oil cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy.
3. Add the nuts and stir until coated.
4. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, curry powder, cumin, garlic salt, cayenne pepper, cardamom and cinnamon.
5. Sprinkle spice mixture over nuts until well-coated.
6. Arrange the nuts in a single layer on the prepared sheet.
7. Bake for 45 minutes, until golden and fragrant.
8. Let cool for 1 hour. Then, use a spatula to remove the nuts from the baking sheet and break into bite-sized pieces into a bowl.
Also, can we all be impressed- all this talk about nuts and not ONE inappropriate joke! I’m growing, you guys! (Please leave an inappropriate nut comment. The most inappropriate will get a prize. This is also a test- does anyone actually read this far down in the post? Can I just say whatever I want? Are you even listening? Poop. Monkey butt.)
Elvira saw her stomping up the walk in a tear. She turned away from the window and looked down at the sad-eyed redhead in the booth. “You wanted to see Sylvia Mathers,” she told her.
“Be careful what you wish for.” Elvira could hear Letta’s high-pitched voice from across the diner, greeting their boss and expressing careful surprise at the unexpected visit.
“Oh, shut up, Letta.” Sylvia threw her bag at Aggie, who had a smudge of dirt across her cheek and looked like she’d seen better mornings, and stalked over to Elvira. “You called me, Elvira?” And then she did a double-take at the redhead in the booth, sucking in a breath.
Elvira bit her cheek, studying the pair of them as they studied each other. “Yup. Petula here came in a while ago, asking for you. Sorry for the intrusion of your morning.”
Sylvia’s lips pursed into a thin, tight line. “Thank you for calling me.” Abruptly, she grabbed Elvira’s arm and dragged her away from the booth. “You didn’t, erm, tell anyone about this, did you?”
Elvira glanced over the boss’s shoulder where Letta was practically sitting on top of the counter, straining to hear every word. She didn’t have to look to know that the work and chatter in the kitchen had stopped either. She looked Sylvia in the eye. “Well, everyone here knows.” She shrugged as Sylvia turned pink in the gills. “It’s a small di- restaurant,” she continued. “In a small town. She your daughter or something, Sylvia?”
Sylvia narrowed her eyes into slits and then, like a snap of her fingers, an expression of pure sweetness crossed her face. “Do you have any of that wonderful sweet potato bread leftover from yesterday, Elvira?” she asked, her voice dripping with honey.
They stared at each other. Sylvia batted her eyelashes. Elvira considered the stack of bills on her kitchen table. “Yes,” Elvira replied. “Would you like a piece brought to the booth?”
“The table, yes.” Sylvia smiled and smoothed down her sophisticated do, fixing her cat-eyed gaze on the girl who watched them from the corner, the girl with her very eyes. “And then give us some privacy, would you, dear?”
A little respite from scary stories today- unless you find Sylvia mildly frightening. In my head, she’s a combination of Jane Fonda from Monster-in-Law and Miss Ouiser from Steel Magnolias (who knew that’s how you spell “Ouiser”? Is that a legit Southern name?).
Speaking of names, holy cats, you guys sent me some DOOZIES. I can write a whopper of a romance novel with characters like Adelynn, Penelope, Blanche, Beatrix, Hazel… The comment section started to look like a boarding house from the 1930s (which is where I’ve secretly always wanted to live- omg, you guys, you know me so well!) I promise to use them, they’re too good.
Nicole has been crazy busy with work and trips and wedding planning and I’ve been working until almost ten every night trying to get my (second!) novel done before Halloween- we both needed a recipe like this. Sweet, wholesome, bursting with fall flavors and comfort in every moist, delicious bite.
Sweet Potato Bread
From Mary E. Crain via AllRecipes
Yields: 1 9 x 5 inch loaf | Notes: Freezes well.
1 and 1/2 cups of white sugar
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 and 3/4 cups of sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp. of baking soda
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. of ground nutmeg
1/3 cup of water
1 cup of cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup of chopped pecans
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray your 9 x 5 standard loaf pan.
2. Combine sugar and oil, beat well.
3. Add eggs and beat.
4. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients; flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
5. Stir flour mixture into egg mixture alternately with water until just combined. Do not overstir.
6. Stir in sweet potatoes and chopped nuts.
7. Turn away from camera to lick bowl and spoon and possibly countertops. Weep that you are a monster.
8. Pour batter into loaf pan.
9. Bake for about 1 hour.
Topping Ideas: Try mini marshmallows or sprinkle some brown sugar on top with a bit of melted butter before baking. Serve with a smear of cream cheese or mascarpone.
Sylvia Mathers awoke to the sound of music.
It was tinkling and light, just as she preferred all of life’s things, so why did it seem to stab her in the brain stem? Sylvia groaned and when she rolled over, silk sheets crinkling around her, she remembered all too clearly why she felt like death.
Her party. So much fabulousness. She grimaced. Too much champagne. She fumbled for her phone and squinted at the screen, not comprehending why it was black for a good, long minute. With a sigh, she ripped the eye mask off her head. Every damn morning.
The restaurant. Sylvia scowled. What disaster could possibly warrant her attention at such an ungodly hour.
They could wait. With tremendous effort, Sylvia sat up and jabbed her impeccably manicured nails into the keys of her phone, hit send. Collapsed back into her eight pillows with a sigh.
In her opinion, it took Aggie far too long to grace the door of her suite. “You called, mistress?” Aggie was painfully short, with a shock of curly dark hair and bead-like eyes. She called her things like “mistress” and “madame” when she was in a snit about something.
“I texted. Yes.” Sylvia let out a rumbling sigh and tapped her fingers against her slim stomach. “Help me,” she whimpered. The pain. Insufferable.
“There are pills on the dresser.”
Her head shot up so fast that one of her false eyelashes fluttered off her face. “Ah.” Sylvia grabbed at the aspirin and unscrewed the bottle of sparkling water, guzzling both fast and remembering, in a flash, the way she’d tipped back that last flute.
Feeling at last like she was on the way to feeling at least a little more human, she slid back on her bed and leaned up against the pillows. When she arched one slim eyebrow at Aggie, the response was instant- the small woman tottered over and adjusted the pillows until they cupped her thin frame perfectly. Sylvia eyed her maid. “What’s wrong with your face?”
Aggie looked affronted. “I beg your pardon-“
Sylvia waved a hand. “Oh, you know what I mean. You look irritated. Why? Bring me my mirror please.”
Aggie shook her head. “You might want to stay up here for a while. It’s going to take some time to get the house right again after last night.”
“Well, forgive me for having a party. I didn’t realize it would give you actual work to do, how inconsiderate of me.” She brightened as Aggie handed her the antique mirror. It had belonged to her mother, who was perfect in every way and so the mirror was too. Her expression faded slightly as she took in her appearance.
Without a stitch of makeup and that godforsaken light that was slipping through her heavy curtains, she was looking quite… ragged. There was no other way to put it. Sylvia frowned at the graying curls of reddish hair that were sticking out in all directions. Her creamy white skin, always her strongest feature as her nose lacked “character” and her thin lips were indistinct, was dreadfully lined. She would need another session with Seamus immediately, she thought. A few herbal remedies and one of his little rituals and she’d be tight and fit in no time.
She wasn’t going to inject her face with those ridiculous chemical concoctions. Only aging, desperate women did such things. But a few Eastern remedies always righted the wrongs.
Aggie sighed. “You should eat something. Here. I brought it from downstairs.”
Sylvia glanced down at the plate of limp appetizers and blanched. “You’re joking.”
“There’s nothing left in the house!” Aggie replied, exasperated. “That French friend of yours thought it would be funny to cook with everything in the refrigerator. So here. Some of his ‘Summer Mix.'” She nudged the little corn and tomato concoction closer to her. It, at least, looked faintly appetizing. Sylvia’s stomach rumbled. She ignored it. “Oh, and someone from the diner called for you,” Aggie added.
“It’s a restaurant,” Sylvia mumbled. “Why are they calling? What’s happening?” She scowled past the plate and at her own phone, the voicemail light blinking red.
Aggie eyed her. “What?” Sylvia asked. She narrowed her eyes. “Out with it, Aggie. What did they want?”
“Someone’s at the diner asking for you. Pet-pet something.”
“Pet something?” Sylvia didn’t bother trying to hide her horror. “Pet what? What?”
“Her name. It was something with Pet. And her last name was like yours, mistress.”Aggie’s eyes were sharp, judging. It was the same expression she’d had when Sylvia had sat on Monsieur Ralphio’s lap the night before.
“What? That’s-” Sylvia stopped. “You’re certain? That’s what they said?” She had no family. No parents, no relatives at all. Just an ex-husband who was dead, of which he deserved nothing less, the bastard. There was no one.
Except. But no. It couldn’t be. Could it?
Sylvia swallowed, her mouth dry. The pain wasn’t gone, not by a longshot, but for the time being she ignored that too and swung out of bed. “Get my clothes. Get my things. Now, Aggie.”
She needed a drink.
Why are simple things so good? The mind, it boggles.
To make this simple salsa, boil some ears of corn until tender and then shave them off the cob into a giant bowl. Chop up some ripe cherry tomatoes, some red onion, an avocado. Mix together some olive oil and lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. Tear some cilantro and chop, sprinkle over the lot. Stir.
Grab some chips or toast up a sliced baguette in the oven and let guests (or a starving pair of writer & photographer) scoop fresh, summery, buttery corn salsa on top. Eat. Sounds simple but sometimes these things need to be said.
To our new friends: Hello! Welcome. We’re happy to have you here. We’ve noticed you seem to enjoy odd little baked concoctions like Craptastic S’more Cookies and Spinster Chocolate Cake– tell us what else you’d like us to make by joining our Some Kitchen Stories Facebook Group. Share links, tell us what we should make, suggest character names and genres for our stories, talk to like-minded people about the joy of a handful of sugary, butter-dripped popcorn and salsa that sings. Nobody knows your heart like we do.
Julia looked at her new friend doubtfully. “And where am I supposed to sleep?”
The little shell gave her a look as if he was trying to shrug his shoulders. He couldn’t, of course. He was a shell.
Because the girl looked at him so expectantly and made no moves to finding a solution on her own, he sighed and puttered across the table. Julia watched as he skittered onto a plate and disappeared over the rim. A moment later, a golden mound emerged, like a salt-encrusted sun rising up on a new day. It tumbled over the edge of the plate and dropped onto the tabletop with a thud. The shell followed, huffing and looking quite put out.
Together, they stared at the mound and the shell finally nudged it toward her with his tiny shoe. “At least now you have a pillow,” he said.
Pretzel Bites Recipe– This plate of joy comes from Whats Gaby Cooking– a site I enjoy looking at when the day has gone completely haywire and I just want to look at something clean and neatly arranged and filled with glorious pictures of food. These bites were a big hit in the office, though some got a little too dark for my liking (our fault, not Gaby’s). We all agreed that they’re an unstoppable force when they’re still warm.
Honey Mustard Recipe– Nicole doesn’t like mayo and I’m on Weight Watchers (surprise!) so this no-mayo honey mustard was the obvious choice. We used honey that came from Nicole’s grandmother’s bees, which is the single foodiest sentence I’ve ever written, which is probably why it was so, so good.