Inspiration

Savory Pumpkin Chickpea Pancakes with Crispy Aleppo Chickpeas, Lemon, and Maple

pumpkin-apple

Normal people—those who do not fit squarely in either the “eat to live” or the “live to eat” categories but rather fall somewhere in between—enjoy going to restaurants. Savoring a meal that you didn’t have to make, perhaps in good company, is a universal pleasure. These normal people can appreciate a meal and think about it long after the waiter clears the dessert plates. Food musings are not reserved for the live to eaters.

Well, all of this is mere speculation because I am not normal. I am instead one of the group, an ever-growing population, of folks who can sit back and enjoy a nice meal out (again thankful that someone else labored over it for me) but who has the magnifying glass out. I don’t look for flaws; I’m not a critic or reviewer. I want to learn. I’ll pick apart a dish with imaginary tweezers to find within the creamy center: a flavor combination, a chef’s vision, a beating heart. I’d be a liar if I said that my own cooking doesn’t take inspiration from past restaurant meals; I think most would be if they affirmed the same.

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Apples, Cheddar, Slides

Apple Cider Ice Cream with Cheddar Tuile Cup and Pickled Apples

ice cream cup
I swear that the fall months were warmer when I was a kid. I remember wearing jean shorts and a light sweatshirt each year on my annual trip to the Brookfield Orchards with my mom. The orchard was a 45-minute drive from our house. We had orchards just a couple of towns over that we frequented, but driving a ways to get to one felt like an adventure. We’d navigate through orange, red, and yellow tree-lined back roads, our car engulfed by the fiery hue so that nothing green or grey was visible. We were probably singing in unison along to the Top 10, my soprano an octave above her alto.

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Embracing Fall with Grapes

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Bars with Oat–Potato Chip Crust
and Concord Grape

Peanut Butter Cheesecake
Concord grapes are a New England treasure, as they were developed in—go figure—Concord, Massachusetts. Now they are most widely grown in other regions of the country, but it’s nice to know that little old Concord was the birthplace not only of freedom but also of the grapiest of grapes. Concord grapes are so grape-y that they may even seem artificial to first-time eaters. They’re very sweet, yet tart as well; they are the fresh fruit incarnate of grape jelly (and, less virtuously, of grape candies and grape soda).

Like other grapes, Concords are in season now, which is a hard concept to grasp, as many do not have access to locally grown grapes. Probably thought of as simply a California thing (have you seen the commercials?), folks buy overly elongated and mutantly large grapes in bags at the supermarket. They’re tasty enough. But local grapes, at least in these parts, are very different: rounder and often with thicker and more flavorful skins, they’re complex, musky even. The green are not sour; the red are not bland. And the Concord grape has the thickest skin of them all. Biting into one (be careful of seeds) is like experiencing grape times infinity: taut squeeze, rip, POP. They’re juicy and packed with flavor.

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Obsession, Part Two

Five-Spice Spudnuts with Prune Plum Jam

potato donut crossection

We interrupt the usual beat and flow of this blog to present another dissertation on donut-making…

I kid. I will keep it very short this time, because I’ve reread my previous donut post—the one in which I explored the ways to make light yeast-raised donuts at home—and got a bit of a headache.

I mentioned that there would be more donuts. But I’ll spare you from too many words this time. Pie is my passion, but donuts, which I’ve also said I rarely eat, are, for some reason, my fascination. Or at least my fascination du jour. I knew immediately after posting the last donut recipes what my next project would be—five-spice spudnuts with plum jam; I just needed to wait until that project was in season. The clarity was a result of having given up testing iterations 10 through 25 of the yeast-raised donuts with the fancy fillings and toppings in the recipes (browned butter glaze, butter-toasted salty almonds, cardamom-sugar, coffee pastry cream). Instead, I rolled each batch in five-spice-sugar for ease and to save money. And I came to love it. Plus, given the popularity of apple cider donuts (I might tackle cider donuts that actually taste like cider and not just like warm spices next year), donuts would be the perfect summer-fall transition dish, especially when paired with a favorite summer-fall transition fruit, sweet but just tart enough and musky prune plums.

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My Peach Tree

Grilled Peaches and Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Coffee-Mascarpone Cream and Smoky Peach Purée

peaches and cream
I’ve written a tad more eloquently about having only picked or plucked, never grown or harvested, my own food. While I’ve not tested my thumb, I assume it’s black. But the real reason why I don’t plant is that I rent and lack space in the city. And the even realer reason is harder to admit: I’m lazy. Lazy when it comes to this, anyway. I enjoy supporting my local farmers—it makes my summer. But, really, I revel in being able to eat nourishing, soul-hugging, vibrant, delicious food without having to lift that finger, no matter what color it is. I love to sweat, I love the sun, I love produce, I love feeling satisfied. You’d think that I’d work for those things. Maybe one day, when I have the space, I’ll have the incentive to. Because I like most things (crème fraîche, almond milk, nut butter, granola, ice cream, mayo etc.) best when homemade; homegrown would bring things to a new level.

Despite having only an unkempt (but charming!) little swatch of backyard at my current apartment, which I’ve lived in for a bit over a year, I have a peach tree on the property. Yes, a flourishing peach tree, just there in a yard in Eastern Massachusetts. We do nothing and the peaches come. Nothing. It’s glorious. Well, it would be glorious if, in the two seasons I’ve shared a space with this tree, I’d climbed a ladder to pick even one of its rosy fruits. If I had, I’d eat it right there, fly-attracting juice staining my cheeks, my clothes, the ground.

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Rosé Real Talk

White Stone Fruit and Rosé Sorbet with Thyme-Infused Whipped Cream

thyme whipped cream

It wasn’t until this summer that I decided once and for all that pink is my favorite color wine. A bit embarrassed by my taste for easy-drinking rosé, I’ve stuck to super-crisp whites in the summer. And so, I know very little about rosé—the best makers, the proper prices, the connection between shade and taste or sweetness. I relied on the expertise of my local liquor store proprietor when I needed a special bottle for a gift recently. All I know is that I like it very cold and very dry and that it goes down very easily on a sultry summer night.

But rosé is so hot right now, and no longer just among rappers and large groups of socializing 20-something girls. Rosé has become downright respectable. I’ve eaten at quality restaurants with wine lists featuring more rosés than articles I saw this year that discussed why Beyoncé is/isn’t a feminist.

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Warm Blueberries, Cold Ice Cream

Blueberry Cornbread Brown Betty

brown betty ice cream

I crave an icy-cold, milky-white sphere, melting atop a rocky sea of blue. Snowy arteries, weave through the murkiness below, branching into artistic trails that spread fragrant cream through berries and juice.

I have a food love that I could discuss endlessly, despite it being wildly unspecific. It’s for warm blueberries and vanilla ice cream. The combination grabs me in any form: ice cream bathing in blueberry compote; blueberry pie à la mode; biscuit-covered, ice cream–topped cobbler; crispy waffles + blueberry syrup + heaps of ice cream (which I’d probably never order or make because I’m a civilized breakfast eater, but in my current sleepless state, I can dig it).

My mother and I first made this discovery at The Goldenrod (est. 1896), an old-fashioned candy store/ice cream parlor/soda fountain/restaurant, which is located at York Beach, ME. Just an hour and a half from our Central Mass home, my mom would take me there when I was little and on school vacation. There is always a group of people standing up to the window at the Goldenrod and watching the saltwater taffy being made. Slap, pull, stretch; slap, pull stretch—it’s happy monotony. It was at the Goldenrod that I had my first tuna melt. It was at the Goldenrod that I had my first (and last) cream soda. And it was at the Goldenrod that I first realized that blueberry pie should always be warm and that vanilla ice cream should always come with. Thus, it was at the Goldenrod that I discovered happiness.

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Making Sweet Cherries Sour

White Chocolate–Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Pickled Cherries

dessert tray

Petite and perfectly round, ranging in color from stop-sign red to Burgundy wine, the sour cherries of the Hudson River Valley are tart but fruity. When you pit them, they’re shirt-stainingly juicy—but not too juicy or fleshy. These sour cherries are grown to be baked, their sharpness the perfect foil for buttery pastry and melting vanilla ice cream.

I first experienced sour cherries in a slice of lattice-crusted diner-style cherry pie. Thick, syrupy, and (paradoxically) saccharine, it didn’t set the bar too high for sour cherries or for cherry pie, but it still piqued my interest. It was later in my youth that I learned that sour cherries hold great importance for Iranians. Their growing season in Iran is as fleeting as it is here so folks preserve them in sugar syrup.

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Golden Yolks

Warm Asparagus Salad with Brûléed Egg Yolk, Two Ways

miso sesame dressing
Though I tend to live by a relatively bland color palate, I’ve always had a thing for yellow. Not necessarily on my body (though I try to wear it and usually fail), but on other folks’ bodies. Not necessarily in or on my home (it doesn’t match my design aesthetic), but in or on other folks’ homes. I’ve never bought sunflowers, but I’ve stared at their faces for far too long at the farmers’ market. I don’t have yellow, but I search for it.

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By (kind of) Popular Demand

Rhubarb Poptarts with Rye Pastry and Cardamom Glaze

cardamom glaze

I had no intention of posting this recipe here—one that I quite literally just threw together little-by-little over the course of a couple of evenings (I am so not a weekday baker), hoping that it would work for a breakfast potluck we were having at work. I baked them off the morning of and piled the surprisingly substantial tarts, which were not even done cooling, in a Tupperware container that I left uncovered so they wouldn’t steam and turn from crisp to mushy. I ran to work in half the time it usually takes me, darting through the streets of my town with an open box of warm pastries. It couldn’t have looked as strange as that time I stuffed the remnants of a certain 3-layer cream cake into a bright blue cold-keeper bag and ran it around town in 90-degree weather. But it was still ridiculous. When I arrived, I threw spoonfuls of glaze messily onto just cooled-tarts and set them down.

These are simple tarts, elevated perhaps because they’re encased in my very favorite pastry, whose nuttiness is a warm counterpoint to the clarifying tang of the simple rhubarb filling. But they were very well-loved (in fact there are still shards of their flaky, flaky layers gracing corners of our office), so I thought I’d share them with you, just in case you haven’t had your fill of the stalks yet (or they’re the only thing in your garden). And I’ll take any excuse to get more rhubarb on the blog. I just love the stuff.

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