Still hungry?

It was particularly soggy and gray today, which felt perfect for the luxuriously lazy day I enjoyed. Harry let me sleep in until 10. I didn’t get dressed until 2. I lounged while sipping coffee, watched Peep cartoons with the boys, and showed them bits of a video from my exchange student year in Holland. Harry and I have been trying to give each other plenty of quiet moments to recharge our introverted souls, so I wrote from home with only the sounds of raindrops on our skylights while the he took the boys to burn off energy.

It feels either a little late or extremely soon to be sharing a pumpkin cheesecake recipe with you. Yet here I am. I worried I might not remember what I did to make this one so successful if I didn’t record it today. I sliced one of few remaining pieces to take a picture for you and then sacrificially consumed it. Someone had to take one for the team. Let me assure you that if you love pumpkin, there is no reason to wait a year to make this beauty. She’d be welcome at the next holiday, I’m certain, but next weekend shouldn’t be a problem either. Otherwise, visit this recipe next November. You won’t be sorry.

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I’ve been making a version of this cheesecake for at least four years, either for Thanksgiving or Harry’s birthday, which falls shortly thereafter. I actually made him a birthday cheesecake for nearly a decade! It was this particular one that made us move that tradition to Thanksgiving because we prefer it to pumpkin pie.

Anyways, after four years of messing around with versions of this idea, I finally landed on the keeper. I got rave reviews from our friends last night, so I’m feeling even more confident that the recipe is fit to print. Like all good cheesecakes, it requires a bit of patience and several steps in the process, but it’s totally worth it. (Read ahead so you know what you’re in for.) You can make it easier by purchasing salted caramel sauce and/or canned pumpkin. Your cheesecake will still taste amazing.

First off, the caramel sauce. If you’re going to buy some, I recommend Fran’s or Hot Cakes salted caramel sauce to my Seattle friends. I have no idea what options are out there for those not in Seattle, so my apologies to the rest of you. Last year I tried making my own and messed it up, so I ended up buying one of the tiny jars of gold. I always justify the purchase with, “It’s a holiday!” while simultaneously wincing at the price, knowing it’s basically just cream and sugar.

This year, I tried again with a different recipe and succeeded. Smoky, sweet and salty, this caramel is divine. We all tasted spoonfuls of it, oohing and aahing. Plus, it felt incredibly freeing to be done with those pricey jars. Caramel no longer has to be an annual splurge.

The recipe came from my most recent cookbook acquisition, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi. I promised myself I would only buy two cookbooks this year, and by October that had been fulfilled: Shroom and A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus. Then, Dorie’s latest book came out and I desperately wanted to hear her speak at our local cookbook shop, the price of admission being her cookbook. I hemmed and hawed, but in the end Harry had a late work meeting that conflicted, instantly solving my problem. Fan that I am, though, I noticed her book giveaways on Instagram. The exact same day I mailed Shroom to it’s winner I was notified that I won a signed copy of Dorie’s book from her publisher! I cheered and danced all day! Maybe there’s such a thing as cookbook giveaway karma.

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Salted Caramel Sauce

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi. Yields 12-16 slices.

  • 200 g (1 cup) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 300 ml (1 1/4 cup) heavy cream, warm or at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, preferably fleur de sel
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 28 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Put the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Without stirring, place the pan over medium-high heat and cook until they melt and start to take on color. Then, swirl the pan quite regularly until the caramel turns a medium amber color. (I didn’t time this, but I’d estimate that it took about five minutes. Be patient. The color = flavor.) It will boil and may even smoke. This is ok, just keep swirling to keep it from burning. Use a silicone pastry brush or a small silicone spatula dipped in cold water to brush the splatters from the sides of the pan back down into the caramel as it cooks. You can test the color of the caramel by dropping some from a spoon onto a white plate. Once it’s dark enough, turn off the heat.

Standing back and being careful to not burn yourself, add 3/4 cup of the cream, the salt and the butter. (This is easiest if they’re poured in simultaneously.) There will be a little volcanic eruption in your saucepan, but it will calm down soon enough. Once it does, stir it until it is smooth and creamy using a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon. Then stir in the vanilla extract. Next, add in the final 1/2 cup of cream. (You can leave this out for thicker sauce, or add even more cream for thinner. For the pumpkin cheesecake, I recommend using what I’ve written.)

Once cooled a bit, store it in a jar or two, with a piece of plastic film pressed against the surface. It will keep refrigerated for up to a month. Reheat it gently before serving.

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Salted Caramel and Roasted Pumpkin Cheesecake

Inspired by Lynne Vea’s PCC recipe

Crust

  • 130 g (1 cup) gingersnap cookie crumbs
  • 130 g (1 cup) honey graham cracker crumbs
  • 4 ounces butter (1/2 cup; 1 stick), melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Filling

  • 24 ounces full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree (A little shy of 500g- I forgot to weigh mine so this isn’t exact but it shouldn’t matter if it’s off by a bit)
  • 1/3 cup full-fat sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup salted caramel sauce, plus extra for drizzling

To make the crust, blitz the cookies and crackers until they’re fine crumbs. Mix them together with the salt, melted butter, and sugar. Press them evenly into a 9-inch springform pan. Freeze the crust at least 15-minutes, then bake it for 10-minutes at 350℉ on a center rack. Let it cool while you make the filling.

Lower the oven temperature to 325℉.

To prepare for the water bath, have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan ready. Also, have a kettle of water on to boil. Lastly, make sure that your springform’s bottom and sides are tightly wrapped with aluminum foil. I wrapped mine three times; at least twice is necessary to prevent water from seeping into the pan. (I’m anxious, so I pretty much always overcompensate.) You can wrap it before making the crust or after the crust has cooled.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (though a hand mixer will work- you’ll have awesome arm muscles by the end!), beat the cream cheese at medium speed for about 4-minutes or until it is completely smooth. Add the sugar and salt; beat for another 4-minutes. Regularly stop to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to incorporate ingredients evenly. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each one enters. Reduce the speed to low and add the pumpkin, sour cream, flour, spices, and caramel sauce. Once it’s silky smooth, give it a few final stirs with the spatula.

Pour the batter over the cooled crust. Rap it on the counter a time or two to smooth it out. If you desire, pour a little caramel swirl over the top. You can use a toothpick or chopstick to make lines from your circles, or form whatever design floats your boat.

Place the springform pan into the roasting pan. Place this in the oven. Fill the roasting pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the springform. Set a timer for 90-minutes. You only need to rotate the pan if your oven heat is extremely uneven. It’s best not to mess with this, if possible, as the hot water and heavy pan is a wee bit dangerous on the move. When the timer goes off, turn off the oven, prop open the oven door and let the cake slowly cool inside for one more hour.

Carefully lift the springform pan out of the roasting pan. Inevitably some water will have made it’s way between the layers of foil, so take care not to let it spill on you. Remove the foil and let the cheesecake come to room temperature. This is best done on a rack with a baking sheet below it to catch drips.

Loosely cover the cooled cake and refrigerate it at least 4 hours. (It can be wrapped and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance.)

Prior to serving, run a table knife between the crust and the sides of the pan. If you’re so inclined, you can use a hair dryer to heat the sides and help with the release. I don’t find this necessary, but I also don’t mind imperfections in my cheesecake. Unlock the springform and carefully remove it from the base. It’s nearly impossible to remove the entire cake from the base of the springform pan, so I recommend serving it from there. The crust is a bit of a challenge to slice through. You’ll need to push hard. I recommend slicing one piece at a time. It gets easier after the first piece, and an awesome knife and excellent pie server will help you do the job. If you’re so inclined, warm up some extra caramel sauce to pour on top of each slice.

Enjoy! I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving. This post goes out to my amazing host, and her parents, who made me feel like I should open a bakery. xoxo

 

Celebrating in both spaces

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Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

 

 

Like all holidays past, and all holidays future, there are other thoughts racing around in the back of our heads beyond whether or not the turkey will taste good and the pies will turn out. We miss loved ones. We ache for relationships to be healed. We want the children to stop pestering each other. We long for patience and wisdom.

Sunday morning brought news of my parents’ decades long neighbor passing away. Though her death was expected, I am never ready for the wave of grief that inevitably crashes into me as the words are spoken, and this time was no different. I sobbed, first to my mom on the phone and later in my bedroom while the boys played. It’s an odd experience to cry loudly while your kids are laughing and tearing apart the house. They were completely oblivious to my sounds. This isn’t too surprising since I could probably walk past them naked wearing a Frankenstein mask and they also wouldn’t notice if they were fully engrossed in their play, but it’s still strange to experience.

Once I calmed, all I wanted was to recount the stories. There are many, starting with my birth. Louise’s oldest daughter and I share the same birthday, a decade apart. My brother, nearly nine years older than me, spent the night with a swarm of ten-year-old girls at a birthday party while Mom labored and delivered. (I don’t know whether or not he enjoyed the party scene, but I like that it happened on account of me. My earliest successful attempt to mess with a sibling.) Several years later Louise baked me my favorite birthday cake- heart’s desire of every little girl of the 80s: the kind with the doll awkwardly sticking out of the middle of the cake while wearing a giant, impossible-to-walk-in dress, of course!

Louise lived across the street from me during my entire childhood, and she loved to garden. These two things ensured that our paths crossed frequently. Nearly every morning and afternoon of elementary school, as I hopped on and off the school bus, I’d look for her cats. Talkative, snuggly Cookie would cross the street, waiting with me in the morning and walking me partway home in the afternoon. Sugar or Pepper (I can’t remember which- they owned a lot of cats over the years and their food names always confused me) would wait in their yard, knowing I’d eventually come scratch behind her ears. If the cats weren’t outside, I’d inevitably ask my mom if I could go visit. I was always welcomed inside.

Routine, everyday encounters were the norm, but there were exceptional moments, too. One winter evening, a friend’s mom dropped me off at home after a dance recital. My mom and sister stayed for performances later that evening, but I was only six years old, exhausted and ready for bed. The woman didn’t wait to see if I got in, driving away before I even reached my front door. I stood knocking and ringing the bell, increasingly scared and lonely. The house was dark. The porch light wasn’t even on. The bushes grew big enough for people to be hiding behind. The night grew colder and darker. The wind hissed. My dad and brother were supposed to be home.

I was so young that I’m not sure if I’d even crossed the street by myself yet. I clearly remember being terrified to do it,  especially in the dark, but I knew where I wanted to go. Their porch light was on. The cats would be inside, too. I was even happy knowing that I could peek at the little world inside their enormous terrarium, which I found both odd and amazing. I remember my run across the street vividly, though more like I recently dreamt it than that it really happened. My heart pounded as I rang their doorbell. (I vaguely remember also feeling nervous about bothering them late at night or waking them up. It was probably 8pm.) A warm blanket of comfort covered me as the door opened and my neighbor took me in.

Both of the neighborhood women that nurtured me in special ways are now gone. There were countless simple, beautiful acts that only thoughtful neighbors can do: daily greetings, inviting me in for tea or kitty-cat petting, running little treats outside because I was spotted passing by. These women were present for my family during our most challenging and celebratory moments, too. They threw parties, brought food, gave hugs and ran errands. Their presence made our surrounding neighborhood pretty close to the elusive village “it takes” to raise kids.

The holidays have always felt hard to face when grief is fresh, but I’m realizing part of that is because I bought into a lie. For too long, I equated thankfulness with smiling and good cheer and felt like I’d somehow ruin a holiday if I was sad. So, I wore my emotions tightly, holding myself in a protective stance that didn’t allow for either extreme to be expressed. Finally, I begin to make room at the table for tears. What could be a more pure reflection of love shared and missed? And, of course, I set a place for joy. We would experience a different sort of grief without the warm memories of playing, dancing, laughing and telling stories. Without those elements, our grief might actually be regret. This year, I’m beginning to see how I can hold both joy and sorrow in my heart during the holidays. It starts with making space at the table.

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Podcasts and pumpkins

While chopping, whisking flours or sorting laundry, I frequently listen to podcasts. The one requirement: I must be alone. Otherwise I’m forced to pause and rewind twenty times within a five minute window to compensate for the surrounding monkey noises. That gets awkward with beet juice or batter on my hands. Either way, between the shows, siamang calls, and our recent subscription to Rdio, I’m taken care of in the background noise department. Speaking of which, have you heard this song? It came on randomly for my husband, stopping him in his tracks. We keep listening on repeat. Take a break and let it wash over you.

Oddly enough, the music or program of choice keeps coinciding with my task. “Beat It” popped on while I chopped roasted beets. I danced in my apron in the kitchen, waving my red-stained hand like it wore a white glove. While preparing this pumpkin bread, which made my entire house smell like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, the next-in-line show from Molly and Matt’s hilarious Spilled Milk post was, whaddaya know, pumpkin spice! I guess I should stay away from podcasts and songs about knife injuries. Or burning kitchens.

Back to the pumpkin. I never imagined that anyone familiar with Seattle’s amazing coffee offerings would convince me to try a Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL?!!!) at Starbucks, but they did. Plus, they provided consolation that I’m not alone in my dislike of pumpkin pie. Lastly, and most importantly to me at the time, they enjoy pumpkin bread. It would’ve been a teensy bit discouraging to be in the midst of preparing this with intentions to share here while simultaneously wondering if my offering was detested by a majority.

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Our vegetable farmers provided CSA members with THREE (!!!) Winter Luxury pumpkins this year because the unusually sunny, warm summer weather made for fruitful squash. I was thrilled by the abundance. I’ve roasted all and thus far we’ve consumed pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread and pumpkin risotto. Thanksgiving will involve me trying my best to share the caramel pumpkin cheesecake.

Roasting whole pumpkins is amazingly simple. Stab the pumpkin a few times with a knife. (I forgot to do this for 1/3. It turned out ok, but needed longer and I had to poke holes anyway. I may have been lucky.) Bake it for an hour at 300-325℉, or until you can poke through the skin with a fork. Once it’s cool, the skin peels off with tremendous ease, the seeds scoop out in a few swoops, and the flesh can be frozen in containers sized for the job or used within a few days. It comes out so tender and moist that it’s already a puree- no blending and very little mashing required.

Is fresh pumpkin tastier? Many argue that it’s up for debate. I surmise it depends on the squash. Winter Luxury pumpkins receive a lot of fan mail. I’ve seen their overflowing mailboxes. Apparently, butternut squash is also favored for pumpkin breads and pies. I have yet to try, but I’m intrigued. Just don’t bother roasting your average Halloween pumpkin. You’re much better off with canned. (Plus, it’s probably moldy by now.)

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This pumpkin bread is velvety, tender and has bit of a crunch from the crust. I generally prefer sweetened breads to be smooth, so I stray from nuts, raisins, etc… in the batter. Streusel and crunchy toppings are different matter, though. Bring ‘em on.

Regardless of your stance on “pumpkin spice”, you have some control here. You can tone things down if you’re not a huge fan. (In this case, I would recommend leaving the cinnamon as is, reducing the nutmeg and eliminating the cloves.) I find it strong but balanced. My boys LOVE it as is, and as trusty as their palates may be, I share that here because they would probably reject it if it were more heavy handed. In fact, I just pulled out a jar to thaw so I can make another loaf because Charlie thanked me THREE times for sending him a cream cheese slathered piece in his lunch yesterday. “It was just delicious, Mom.”

I am not sure how I acquired this recipe. I’ve been making versions of it for years, before I even read food blogs, and all I have is a printed paper. I’m sharing the version that I lean towards most often. I bake it in a loaf pan and as muffins. I add up to a third of whole grain flours by keeping the weight the same, I change the ratio of oils by keeping the volume stable. All of these experiments have worked. So, if whoever led me to this recipe is out there and reading this, Thank You! It’s survived a lot of recipe culling. It’s the slice of pumpkin I want at the table.

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Pumpkin Bread

From someone who may or may not identify themselves, who adapted it from Tartine. Makes one 9×5 inch loaf, two 8×3 inch loaves, or 12 muffins.

  • 225 g (1 2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 255 g (1 cup + 2 tablespoons) pumpkin puree (I’ve used as much as 300g without problems. It just needed to bake a little longer.)
  • 200 g (1 cup) coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil (I typically use about 1/2 cup of each. You can use 1 cup of just one oil. I prefer the combo.)
  • 270 g (1 1/3 cup) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons demerara or turbinado sugar (though granulated is ok)

Preheat oven to 325℉ / 160℃ with a rack in the middle. Butter pans or line them with muffin cups or parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the oils, granulated sugar, pumpkin puree, and salt until they are completely combined. Add each egg individually, whisking until it’s fully incorporated prior adding the next. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add the dry mixture to the wet, stirring with a gentle hand until just combined. To help it mix evenly, scrape down the sides occasionally.

Place the batter in your pan(s) of choice. Smooth the surface by rapping the pan on the counter, as needed. Sprinkle the two tablespoons of sugar evenly over the batter. Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, the 8X3 loaf pans for 44-48 minutes, or the 9×5 loaf pan for 60-65 minutes. (Always check them with a tester to ensure they’re cooked. If there’s still wet batter on the tester, throw the pan back in the oven for a few more minutes.)

Let cool in the pan for 10-minutes, then unmold and cool completely on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Want to gild the lily? Take a note from Renee Erickson’s zucchini bread recipe and fry the slices in some butter first, serving them up with a dollop of creme fraiche. The bread is also quite nice topped with cream cheese. I bet a lightly sweetened sour cream would be delicious, too. Why not ice cream? Or whipped cream? Just like pie, but better.

 

 

Celebrating her

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The airport was still within sight, landing planes roaring above us as we headed home after dropping off my mom. Miles asked, “Mama, when is grandma coming back?” Simultaneously warming my heart and turning me into a puddle, my boy missed my mom. He fell in love with his grandma during her visit.

They held hands a lot. He touched her warm, soft winter coat and complimented it (prior to asking if he could have it). He told her how much he liked her smooth, leather gloves.

They read piles of books together, too. Sometimes side by side, but usually snuggled up.

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He told her everything. From the minute we picked her up to the minute she left, he did not miss a chance to chat. “Grandma, guess what? Um-uh, I have 36 Pokemon cards! And uh, guess what? Pokemon starts with “P”!  Puh, puh, Pokemon!”

Charlie, equally pleased to see her but less of a chatterbox these days, spent hours playing Monopoly and making Spirograph flowers with her. (Remember those?) He can read his own books these days, but he never missed a chance to sit by her side.

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When my counselor asked me what I hoped for with my mom’s visit, I shared my desire to play and laugh a lot together. I didn’t want to squander our time. From the simplicity of working together in the kitchen to prepare food for our weekend, to the marvel of soaking in stunning views from beaches and the Needle, to the joyous yells of surprise while watching chum salmon jump waterfalls in Piper’s Creek. My hopes were met, even exceeded.

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Lately I’ve felt a profound gratitude for my Mom that I can feel in my core. WIth many friends in crisis, I am acutely aware of how fleeting life is, how quickly circumstances shift, how preciously we should hold the beautiful moments. My mom is a great treasure in my life. With each passing year it is more evident how beloved she is by my boys, too. She knows how to connect. She plays games with them for hours, listens patiently to their (often painfully) long stories, delights in their journeys, and encourages them in their struggles. It’s her birthday, but we got the gift.

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A case in point

I would put money on Brussels sprouts being the most hated vegetable among my generation. Too many of us were served them steamed to oblivion without an ounce of fat, grain of salt, or drop of acid to help them along. Because of that long history of disappointment, this is a great vegetable to experience after the transforming powers of roasting. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. If bacon is a gateway food for you, start there. There’s a reason it’s a classic pairing. I enjoy them roasted with balsamic, too. And, of course, let’s not forget about them with aged gouda and sriracha.

I’ve written in detail about Brussels sprouts before and this probably won’t be the last time, either. Having an arsenal of ten to twenty great brussel sprout recipes is not unreasonable, right? Maybe this blog should be called Brussels Sprouts and Baking. Anyways, I like them raw, shaved into salads, but I adore them caramelized from roasting so much that I would’ve eaten the entire pan last night if Harry didn’t object. Just don’t give them to me mushy and steamed.

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Our last CSA pick-up was a double. Two weeks of vegetables on our counter!

I didn’t set out to share this recipe here, but once I tasted them and groaned with delight, I snapped a few shots knowing what I needed to do. The one of the stalk was taken for my Instagram friends. I’m weirder and sillier there. (More myself- I’ll get there here, too. Baby steps.) I happen to post shots of vegetables in front of my face somewhat regularly, so this was sent out prior to knowing I’d share the recipe. Now, you too, can see what Brussel sprouts look like before they’re detached! (They have big leaves that stick out all around, too.)

This preparation presents the sprouts a bit brighter, and certainly a tad brinier. It would make an excellent Thanksgiving side, but also can stand alone nicely as a meal by itself. Throw an egg on it, poached or fried, and let that runny yolk add an extra saucy element. (The browned butter mixture can certainly be left off of kids’ portions. My boys aren’t huge fans of capers and although they ate a few bites, I think they would’ve eaten more without the sauce.)

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The recipe comes from the queen of roasting and braising, Molly Stevens. Have you seen her James Beard award-winning books, All About Roasting and All About Braising? I don’t own them, but I check both out at least three to four times a year from the library. When I recommend savory cookbooks to new cooks, these top the list. She is an excellent teacher and clearly shares the rationale behind the techniques, helping novices feel comfortable along the way. Her recipes are tried and true, approachable and delicious. That braised cabbage I can’t get enough of? Hers. Our Thanksgiving roast last year was from her, as well. She’s the first chef I go to when I want to cook a huge, expensive chunk of meat but am scared.

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♬ These are a few of my favorite things! ♫

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers and Lemony Browned Butter

From Molly Stevens’ All About Roasting. Serves 4 as a side.

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, yellow or brown
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed

Preheat the oven to 425℉ with a rack positioned in the center. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (or just scrub later).

Cut the Brussels sprouts into halves or quarters to make for bite-size pieces. Place them in a large bowl to toss with the olive oil, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Arrange the coated sprouts in a single layer on the baking sheet. (You don’t want them crowded because they’ll steam instead of caramelizing.) If some leaves fall off that’s fine; leave them to roast, as well.

Roast the sprouts for 20-25 minutes, turning once or twice to encourage even cooking. They should be tender throughout and nicely browned.

To make the browned butter, melt the butter over medium heat in a small skillet or saucepan (smaller than 6-inches across so that it doesn’t burn). Once it’s melted, add the mustard seeds, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook until the butter foams and turns golden brown. This will only take about 2-minutes, so watch carefully and swirl the pan frequently to prevent it from burning. Next, add the capers and lemon juice, removing the pan from the heat immediately. They’ll sizzle! Season with salt and pepper to taste and keep warm until the sprouts are out of the oven. (The butter process took about five minutes. It could be started towards the end of the roasting period.)

Serve the sprouts after tossing them together with the browned butter mixture. Add more salt, pepper or lemon juice as desired.

 

 

Like a drug dealer, but different

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As I watched Charlie willingly eat kale and pear, both foods he adamantly DOES NOT LIKE, I realized I haven’t shared this trick with you! My favorite method of encouraging the boys to continue trying blacklisted foods is to provide “gateway” foods. You know, like gateway drugs, except with a healthy outcome.

I happily dish up all sorts of gateway foods to promote flavors and textures most challenging to them. Charlie ate his kale salad and pear slices because they were paired with blue cheese. (I know. It’s nutty. Blue cheese isn’t challenging to him yet pears make him wince.) He’ll eat just about anything with blue cheese and I don’t see why he shouldn’t sprinkle some on his dinner.

If I make kale chips after a month or two break, I mix in a tablespoon of brown sugar with the olive oil and salt. The sweetness always gets them over their initial hesitation. In fact, I forgot to put any sweetener on our last batch and it’s been sitting around for a few weeks, waiting to be composted. Frankly, I don’t want to eat them either.  Just a sprinkling, and we would have demolished a hefty amount of kale in one day.

Same thing with smoothies. If I’m going to use greens and haven’t done so in a long time, I make sure they’re 1) hidden by blueberries or plums because sometimes the boys will turn their noses up at the very hint of the color green in a drink, and 2) sweetened more than usual (adding honey, instead of just relying on the natural sweetness of the fruit).

Historically, our most successful gateway foods have been butter, cheese (grated, sauces, sprinkled, sliced) and balsamic vinegar. For several years, both boys would eat just about any vegetable we gave them if they could dip it in balsamic. Vegetable dips, bean dips- including hummus, sweeter chutneys and sour cream dips sometimes do the trick, too. Ketchup almost always works for roasted root vegetables, of course. They learned that one from the french fry dealers.

I’m absolutely a food pusher. I don’t care one bit that it requires extra fat, salt and sometimes sugar for them to keep tasting. Fat and salt should be embraced with our fresh vegetables! I will sing that song until I die. In the meantime, pass the butter, please.

On trust

In the comfort of his home, within sight of his Mama and Papa, his confidence and abilities shone. He wasn’t even two, but he used complete sentences to convey the utmost importance of the airplanes flying by, the blue cheese he craved and the trucks he needed to drive around blocks he’d lined up. Utterances were constant, play was complex. There were puzzles to be completed and playgrounds to visit. He’d cry if surprised by the jet-loud roars of our food processor, so I’d try to prepare him for it’s use or wait until he wasn’t around. Otherwise, he rarely showed anxiety at home. It felt easy to respect his needs.

Though aspects of his development were advanced, he wasn’t challenging himself physically as much as his peers. He didn’t walk until he was 15-months. Likely the perfectionist in him, genes courtesy of yours truly, waited until he would not stumble. Slow and steady, calculated and predictable. He observed his toddler buddies ride their balance bikes, climb ladders and zoom down big slides. He developed pretend play routines instead. His playgrounds were bakeries and kitchens, chocolate shops and coffee shops. These themes probably also had something to do with his mother.

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Outside of our home, loud noises, new people or unpredictable kids made him nervous. Hiding behind us or begging to be held, I quickly learned to expect a tug on my pant leg. “Mama, pick me up!” was repeated incessantly until he was safely in my arms. We couldn’t leave him with anyone besides his familiar grandparents. Even with them, we had to sneak out after they provided ample distraction. Every other place we dropped him off paged us back to rescue him. They could never get him to stop sobbing.

At a friend’s son’s second birthday party, he didn’t leave my lap. As things wrapped up, moms encouraged their tots to gather on porch stairs for a picture. I plopped my boy down in their midst, ignoring the discomfort I read in his tense body. I backed away to see if he’d adapt, but of course, his lower lip proceeded to curl downward and he sobbed. I knew he would. I only tried to make him participate because I didn’t want to disappoint my friend and I felt like I needed to show the other moms I at least tried. I retrieved him from the stairs feeling pangs of anger and humiliation. Why wasn’t my kid like the others? Why couldn’t I just chat with the other moms while he played?

This was the first of many times I’d realize my expectations for him in public were different than they were at home. Simply because I wanted him to reflect a certain way on me.

After months of holding him up while other kids jumped into play and rarely getting to drop him off somewhere for a break, I grew to resent this pattern. I also started to worry. Would my little boy always be this needy? Did I baby him too much? Is attachment parenting a surefire route to timidity?

Eventually I began redefining my hopes and expectations. I was learning a new way that I needed to trust his natural development. Just like he learned to walk and talk, roll and and hold a spoon, I needed to believe that his emotional journey would progress in it’s own meaningful way.

4739917866_8b6102c4c6_zIMG_3084Thankfully, as years passed he grew more comfortable without us. He attended preschool with ease. He remained hesitant to participate in most activities beyond that, particularly if they were physical, and we respected his wishes. As a five and six year old, this meant kindly saying no to offers to go to rock climbing birthday parties, join soccer teams, or play at bounce houses.

I began to accept that he may never play a team sport. I began to embrace that he savored his time doing math problems and building towers more than playdates. I grew to love that he preferred to play with girls, engaging in complex play routines instead of climbing trees. I started to let go of my fears of him regularly feeling lonely and isolated.

There was grief in this process. I longed for aspects of motherhood that I didn’t think I would ever experience with him and that was disappointing. I simply began to walk more firmly in the knowledge that it would be far more devastating for him not to be true to himself. Or not believe he’s accepted for who he is.

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My boy keeps surprising me. This past year he jumped right in to his new school despite having only one friend in his class. He eagerly participated in physical games at recess and in PE. He tested for his yellow belt, even choosing to continue sparring after being punched in the face. He happily attended a rock climbing birthday party. Harnessed in, he grabbed the holds and climbed right up without hesitation. As he neared his limit and needed to rappel for his first time, I saw how scared he was. I anxiously anticipated him melting into a pool of tears and loud sobs. Instead, he worked through the fears with with just a little encouragement from the coach. I could not believe it. Any of it. I went to that party envisioning us watching all the other kids from the sidelines, while he felt disappointed by his fears. Instead, he kept climbing higher and higher, confidence growing with each summit. I picked my jaw up off the floor.

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Carried by World Cup excitement, he agreed to soccer camp. It was a huge hit and he begged me to go again before summer ended. At his request, he also played on a team this fall. Despite being the new guy with the least amount of experience, all he wanted was to be on the field. He even enjoyed playing goalie. Balls whizzed past his face by request! It has been wonderful to be shocked by his growth.

I know little to nothing about what’s coming ahead as a parent. These changes in him may swing the other direction. I can certainly count on parenting being unpredictable. Generally, it seems the challenges will surround my ability to grieve and accept. My ability to deal with my own expectations and fears. My ability to cope with the noise, chaos and mess that my energetic (may-as-well-be-on-stimulants) monkeys leave in their wake. Hopefully my ability to make a mean batch of cookies will temper it all a bit.

Every few months something happens in which I have to consciously examine whether or not I’m respecting their journeys and honoring their paths. How much do I believe in their natural emotional development? It seems that only my fears speak against trusting it.