Baby Steps

bourbon butterscotch sauce

Why hello there, strangers (stranger? anyone?).
Yeah, I’m not sure how else to start this. My last post –a post that meant a lot to me because I was so happy with its recipe and with baking and blogging and life — is dated August 23rd. So this is just kind of…awkward.

The past month was certainly not the most difficult I’ve experienced, but it did feel very empty. To make a long story short, I took a break from cooking and blogging to move into a new apartment, get that kitchen settled. Four weeks later, I broke my lease due to apartment troubles and I am now, once again, looking furiously for a new place.

Missing late-summer days at the farmers’ markets, the change in the air, the turning of the leaves, the peak apple-picking (and not to mention apple cider donut–eating) season, my daily blog-reading and cookbook perusing ritual was unfortunate but not crippling. There will be another late summer and another early fall.

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Truffles, Two Ways

chocolate truffles & tartufi

Ah, Valentine’s Day, the most polarizing holiday on the calendar. I was tempted to evade the topic. While I no longer mark the holiday in my planner with squiggly red hearts and pink balloons like I did as a child, I can’t say I’m a vehement opponent. I see myself as more of a flip flopper; my feelings vis-à-vis V-Day change from one year to another and are typically dictated by my mood.

Love’s got nothing to do with it. I distinctly remember my first year of college, when all was fresh and new and I found it necessary to celebrate every holiday with naïve gusto with new friends in a new environment. I made up bags of candy and wore black and orange on Halloween. I decked my dorm out in lights, ribbons and intricate, handmade construction paper decorations as soon as I returned from Thanksgiving. And Valentine’s Day followed suit. I handed out thoughtful little, 2×3 inch cards to single friends and dug out a red floral shirt from my otherwise monochrome closet. How spirited I was!

My cynicism has climbed exponentially since then. Another year during college, I had so many exams for which to study that I matched my Valentine’s Day outlook to my mood, donning all black to silently castigate any silly holiday that could possibly break my concentration. I was an intellectual, after all! All I needed was a beret on my head and a poetry slam to attend.

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A Night of Simple Indulgence

craigie on main

For many, Craigie on Main is a “once in a while” kind of restaurant. For me, it’s more like a “once in a year” kind of restaurant. Every time I pass the always-busy corner bistro on my way to snag a scoop at Toscanini’s (which is more often than I wish to admit), it takes a few moments of realist banter between me and myself to stop me from stepping inside sans reservation and taking part in the full sensory experience that Tony Maws provides his mesmerized patrons. Luckily for my wallet, I never cross the threshold and, instead, soak in that moment of passing, feel the warmth radiating from smiling diners and drown my sorrows in a cup of ice cream.

Well, last Thursday, my kettle had blown, my time was up and I was ready to suffer the monetary consequences of what is always a delightful meal at Craigie. In a different context, I’ve talked about my penchant for simplicity. Craigie on Main, with its fine-dining reputation, may not scream simplicity; however, I think that the restaurant actually embodies the term in many ways. Maws cares deeply about his product, whether produce or protein, and wants to do anything to enhance it in ways that are inventive and interesting but that protect the integrity of its natural, unfussed flavor. His dishes can be simultaneously epiphany-inducing and familiar, because they gently remind the diner how a food-item tastes when at the peak of freshness.

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Revised Traditions

eggnog ice cream

Throughout my elfin years, every Christmas morning went the same way. I would wake up at a reasonable hour – say, 8am – and creep down the hall of my small apartment, hoping not to wake my parents as I looked, but never touched, the color-coordinated packages under the tree. I was always half successful. My father sleeps like a rock and would likely not be shaken by an earthquake. My mother, on the other hand, although exhausted from “playing Santa” the evening before, would always hear me and be the first to wish me a “Merry Christmas”.

My mother is the antithesis of Martha Stewart, but every Christmas, she dreamed up a theme that complimented our Christmas tree ornaments; purchased bags, tags, bows, dangley things and wrapping paper that matched that theme; and wrapped presents until 3 am, staggering them according to height, weight and aesthetics. Eventually, my father’s internal clock decided that he was ready to grace us with his presence and the opening commenced.

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Caramel Cravings

burnt sugar ice cream

You may have noticed that I have a “thing” for caramel. Ok, it’s an all-out sticky-icky obsession. Since this little blog’s inception, I’ve talked up a cake that was filled with salted caramel; I’ve eaten caramels filled with goat cheese, fig and rosemary; I’ve hunted down caramel-covered apples; I’ve whipped up batches of caramel buttercream and I’ve coated popcorn and peanuts in the sweet stuff. Things might be getting a little boring around here. Well for you, not for me.

Caramel is, really, a very simple concept. I mean, it’s liquefied sugar. But amber sugar tastes a heck of a lot more interesting than regular sugar and when combined with my good friends butter and/or heavy cream, it becomes a silken delight. It’s so magical that depending on the temperature or “stage” it reaches, caramel can be made into a multitude of distinct confections.

Perhaps caramel, like sky-diving or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, is so crave-worthy and attractive because it’s dangerous. It tops many home cooks’ lists of kitchen phobias. Strangely, I take pleasure in watching the colors change from clear to golden and in turning the flame up and watching the smoke rise. When I make caramel, I take it all the way because all of that delicious added fat can hide some of the sugar’s true flavor. I think many fear caramel, because they know that there is a fine line between dark amber and black. Push it. Flirt with it. But don’t reach it. It will give your desserts depth and that roasty, toasty complexity.

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A Day in Amherst

The Western Massachusetts college town of Amherst is lovely but is by no means a hop, skip and a jump away from my family’s home in Central Mass. Actually, the Pioneer Valley as a whole is beautiful and definitely worth a trip by urbanites looking to see Fall in New England in all of its splendor. During my orchard crawl, I was looking forward to visiting Atkins Farms. It was going to be a trek, but I’m willing go anywhere for apples. Plus, Western MA was near peak foliage, and the drive provided for some much-needed leaf peeping. While Atkins turned out to be a dud, my day was saved thanks to the good folks at Boston Magazine (let’s just ignore the fact that they praised the Atkins cider donuts).

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Area Four: A Lesson in Innovation

I had been anxiously awaiting the opening of Lumière Chef Michael Levitan’s new restaurant “concept,” Area Four. Never having ventured to the Chef’s “project”, Persephone, during its single year of service to hungry hipsters and haute-couturists, I had nothing to gauge the potential success of the Leviton-Krupps partnership. Taking its name from that technological epicenter between Kendall and Central Squares in which it resides, Area Four strives to be all things to all people. On paper, the idea of basing a restaurant around both a bakery/café and a bar/oven seemed intriguing, like a high bow, new-age Cheers for Cambridge denizens and the scientific intelligentsia.

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