Keeping On

Sable Breton Galette with Rosemary Poached Pears and Honey Caramel Diplomat Cream

Rosemary Caramel

I hold Christmas tightly. Too tightly perhaps. It’s not a holiday. It’s not religious. It’s not a time for vacation. I hold whatever it is tightly because after the lights come down, it’s grey until April. There’s nothing to look forward to. There’s no celebration to plan. There’s nothing for the mind to stir over. I get anxious when I’m lacking something to stir over.

I’m not sure I can spend too many more years in this city, though there’s a chance I’ll never leave. I started writing this in mid-December in my laundromat, where I learned, as snow fell steadily and the thermometer read 18 degrees, that there’s no heat (or perhaps it wasn’t working for just that day). I take breaks to quickly hide my hands between my thighs until they’re warmed by my body’s heat and can hold onto that electricity for a moment so that they’re strong enough to tap keys. I blast music through headphones to keep my toes tapping and my head nodding; otherwise, my toes would pop off, and my head would explode. It would be messy.

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Fries at the Garden

Chickpea Fries with Lemony Browned Butter Mayonnaise and Fried Sage

fried sage

We were welcomed by the coolest of cats. Smooth as a sax player, he had long, neat dreads that fell halfway down his back, and he wore a relaxed vibrant purple silk shirt, unbuttoned lower than another guy could get away with. We said that we had a 6 o’clock reservation, and we followed him slowly—he had a bum leg—to a two-seater. When we sat down, a woodsy scent drew our noses to the small potted thyme plant at the center of the table. Fun.

This was my and my mother’s first impression of a local restaurant, Garden at the Cellar when we met there maybe about 5 years ago. The restaurant is above and connected to another bar and it lives in an unnamed area on Massachusetts Avenue between Central and Harvard Squares in Cambridge, MA. We had planned to eat there because we knew that we could get a good but simple bite after a late lunch and before a trip to my apparently oft-mentioned favorite ice cream shop, Toscanini’s. And we did just that. The restaurant, a bit like a gastropub, was pretty well known for nibblies of the fried variety—tater tots, rosemary truffle fries, doughnuts…with fois gras. So we started with chicken and thyme croquettes, which were OK. My mom got hanger steak-frites (the fries were good), and I got a crock of tomato soup that came with a grilled cheese. The meal wasn’t particularly interesting, but it was certainly comforting and well executed. And that’s what we wanted. In lieu of dessert, a miniature square of Taza chocolate was served. We had a wonderful time catching up, and I left thinking that I wouldn’t make an effort to come back but that I could see myself frequenting it if I lived in intra-square Cambridge—it was a perfect neighborhood spot.

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Many Words on Pumpkin Pie

(Spiceless) Browned Butter Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pepitas

pie and whipped cream

My pie: pumpkin. My topping: sweetened whipped cream. My weapon: fork.

Lacking much of a sweet tooth, I don’t really know where my love of baking came from. Right now, my work and this blog reflect an appreciation for science and mathematics, for deep thought, for art, and for movement. But that couldn’t have been the case as I crushed bananas to a pulp for bread while my mom’s hands gripped mine, guiding strokes of the potato masher because I wasn’t yet tall enough or strong enough to operate it myself. That couldn’t have been the case as I decorated gingerbread men and women with globs of sugary royal icing in bold primary colors, spreading them with a butter knife that felt awkward in my hand.

It is most likely that pastry first gripped me at the Thanksgiving table. When November arrives I start getting that feeling in the back of my throat—that saliva-inducing tingly sensation when I think about salty potato-chip-crisp turkey skin and deep, savory gravy; unctuous bacon fat; and earthy roasted potatoes. Of course, I make dessert, exercising my hands and thanking all that’s living for their ability to shape dough that encases fillings that light up faces. But it’s not that apple pie that I crave, even though I love it, or that spice cake, with its creamy frosting that pulls me. I typically crave all things savory.

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Backyard

Apple Hand Pies with Rye Crust and Maple Crème Fraîche

hand pies
October grasped me close, its winds embracing me with their autumnal might. I walked around, taking the long ways and breathing in October’s clean air. Strong branches held my weight and picked me up and guided me from place to place. Shortcuts can wait until it’s too cold to think. October’s fire—from the leaves, from the sun, from good people—warmed me on its chilliest days. October went out with celebration for the team of a home that was a bit battered this year. October was a strong month.

And October was a good month. A good month for my soul. The best month I’ve had in many.

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Stoner’s Delight II?

Miso S’more Bars

corner pieces
I like to think that I have a magic tongue.* A tongue so vital and active and curious that it must possess neurons and synapses and such. It can taste and feel what’s not on it. Sometimes I find more sense and more wisdom in that tongue than I ever could in my actual brain. It’s sensitive to idea. Inspiration strikes just about anytime and that crazy, infallible tongue won’t stop thinking and wagging and thinking some more until dream is reality and foodstuff comes from oven.

As such, I often feel like I know exactly what something—a flavor combination, a restaurant menu item, a cookbook recipe—tastes like without ever having tasted it, physically. I’m not sure if this tongue is a blessing or a curse. Blessing: There’s always something new to try. Curse: Well, there’s always something new to try.

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October Flowers

Rose-Scented Apple Custard Tart

apple tart
This is the first thing I’ve baked for a month. The first thing I’ve baked since this dessert, which, despite its simplicity, I’d put on my “top 5″ list if I had one. It’s the first thing that I’ve baked since I tried to bridge the gap with that crisp and since fall rushed in without warning.

This space is such an incomplete collection of the things that I cook. Just because it is silent doesn’t mean that I am not in the kitchen. But this time, I haven’t even baked anything that has gone undocumented.

And though I was spending many of these days singing the gospel of “it’s still summer,” it somehow became October. And I was walking. It was sunny, and my face naturally turned to the sun to capture its warmth. On the way up my green eyes spotted a tree—and it did not match my eyes. It was a tree of fire in a row of green. I almost tripped. Was it fall?

Yes it was fall, because it was October, and I know that October means fall. But the spotting felt particularly jarring because I live in the Eastern part of the state—the area that sees warm hues last. But there it was—this brilliant, burning red. I guess it was fall. Despising anything pumpkin spiced that doesn’t make sense, I had nothing to mark its arrival, especially since I was spending most of my time convincing people that it wouldn’t arrive for some time.

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Standing Up

Plum-Raspberry Crisp with Browned Butter and Hazelnut Topping

Plum Crisp
Where are people when they write their blog posts? Or, rather, where are people when they just write? I find myself asking this question whenever I read something—blog post, short story, whatever. I’m fascinated by the sights (window? willow tree? big-screen TV?) and the sounds (night crickets? humming refrigerator? upstairs neighbors’ paces? meowing kitty?) that surround human and computer screen and that either inspire thoughts or compete for attention.

And when? When do people write? Certainly time of day must control the above factors. What programs do they use? Do they type out their thoughts in Word, or in notepad to escape formatting, and then paste the spilled words into a post. Or, do they simply craft sentences right into the text field of their blogging platform? And do these things ever change, or are they constants? Is it socially acceptable to, in the comments field, ask: “Where were you when you wrote this post, and what surrounded you? I’m just curious.”?

Me, I prefer to write at the kitchen table, which is surrounded by three windows, and the room is filled with light until sundown. I start in word. I need a very blank space, because my mind is usually busy. The wordpress dashboard is too busy. I prefer to be accompanied by breakfast or lunch, because I like to break up the flow with stabs of fork and slow chewing. In that time, I can recollect my thoughts, and what better way to write about food than with food? The eating reminds me of the textures and flavors of the dish. It doesn’t have to be that particular dish (though that helps!) and it also doesn’t have to be glamorous. Right now, I’m eating a clean-out-the-fridge-of-the-almost-on-its-way-out-produce salad. There are multiseed crackers on the side and some prunes. But when the apartment is bustling, I take the laptop to my bedroom, sans food. Writing is less fun that way—I should see if the tone of posts written in various locations is different. I often make my final edits while sitting in my bed with all of the lights off. It’s the purest form of silence and tranquility I can find.

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FYI, It’s Still Summer

Saffron-Scented Summer Fruit Galette

pac man
Sorry, I don’t have many words to share today. And I don’t believe in trying to craft them when they’re just not coming naturally. I am here for a reason, though, and it is simply to deliver a call for action. For a brief public service announcement, if you will:

Well, here we are. That inevitable point when I start whining and complaining about how summer was lost. How my skin’s so snowy white you can tell it didn’t carry my bones to very interesting places these past months. How I didn’t do X or Y. How I haven’t been able to just breath and be—whatever that really means. But I’ll spare you. Summer cannot be lost. If you lose summer, it is your own damn fault. And, yes. I fully acknowledge that it’s my own damn fault.

However, I shake my fist at those who mark summer’s end with this coming holiday weekend. Please. Give me until September 21st, kay? I’ve seen local apples and pears at my farmers’ market for weeks. I’ve bought them. They’re sweet-tart and crispy and shiny and vibrant and everything that makes this born-and-raised New England girl happy. But they are demon fruit. And they’re not going to trick me. They may have tricked Eve*, but they will not get me. There will be no apple anything coming out of this kitchen. I will partake in no apple or pear pies, crisps, muffins, slaws, compotes, sauces, or dumplings—no matter how cute the word “dumpling” is. Hear that? I AM NOT HAVING IT. OK, so I’m eating apples and pears, but I am eating them raw and cold and crisp. That’s IT.

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Picking Raspberries

raspberry–pink peppercorn custard cups

fixings

I am so honored and excited to have a guest post featuring this creamy-dreamy recipe for raspberry–pink peppercorn custard cups (with whipped cream! and candied pistachios!) on The Vanilla Bean Blog while Sarah lives what she is calling the “Summer of Fun” for herself and for her gorgeous family. Sarah’s space is one of my favorite’s—if not my very favorite—on the web, and I am so grateful to have found her blog in 2011. If I could be half the blogger she is, I’d be doing something right. Her voice and words grip me, her photos move me, and her recipes are beautiful. Stop on by to read my post but, more importantly, to discover, if you haven’t already, Sarah’s site.

The Spinning Drum

Blueberry-Cardamom Brioche Swirls

juicy blueberry
Laundromats. I haven’t thought much about them before. I am one of those rare and lucky city dwellers to have always had either in-unit or decent in-building washers and dryers. Well, until I moved into my current apartment. My house has a small coin-operated washer and dryer in a dark corner of a wet and murky unfinished basement. Neither machine works particularly well, making the setup even less inviting. So I use a laundromat. Down a hill and onto a main road, it’s a mere 2-minute walk from my house. This laundromat is really just a small room with washers on the right and dryers on the left. Oh, and a drop-off area for lazy people (or, most likely, lazy, parent-supported kids), so they can leave bulging knapsacks of their things for the little elves that must hide behind that door to tend to.

But, like I said, I had never really given laundromats that much thought. I assumed I preferred my laundry experience more private. My fondest laundry memories involve running through wet bed sheets hanging from wooden clothespins on the rotating clothesline in my grandparents’ large backyard on hot days. With my arms spread open and solid colors, stripes, and light pink flower buds flashing through my eyes I crashed into the silky fabrics, imagining that my touch would somehow facilitate the drying process. I’d run that thing in circles until I was dizzy and the sheets felt just a little less wet. I’d done my job.

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