Tag Archives: baking

Pie on wheels

Hands down, the best purchase I’ve made since having kids is our cargo bike. She’s been my right-hand gal over six months now, helping me transport the boys to school, haul groceries, fetch library books, and complete other supremely routine aspects of my life. With her assistance, the monotonous became an adventure. (Yes, she’s female. I still need to name her, though. The boys once suggested Rudolph, and as much as I appreciate the story parallels, I couldn’t embrace Rudolpha or Rudolphina. Suggestions welcome! She’s black with red bags and strong as a horse. Lucille? Annie? Cherry Pie? Rhubarb? Oooh, maybe Rudy!)

Now, cue Mary Poppins singing “Let’s go fly a kite” except substitute “Let’s go ride a bike.” Nearly every time I hop on I sing that song (in my head, though I’m probably a decade away from singing out loud.) Bike rides bring out my inner musical like just about nothing else. The only conditions that block the earworm from entering are arguing boys, super wiggly passengers, busy streets, rude or inattentive drivers. (Stop texting, people! Sheesh!) Otherwise, I am ridiculously happy on my bike. I often feel sluggish in the afternoon before going to get the boys but one ride picks me right back up.

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Rain and wind didn’t stop us! I’m not sure we would’ve braved the weather if we hadn’t committed in advance, but we ended up so glad we participated. It was such a fun morning! (Thankfully, the wettest day in over a year happened the NEXT day.)

My first time carrying a bike passenger happened during an exchange student year in The Netherlands. I was eightteen, a recent high school graduate and away from home for the first time ever. Every few months the Rotary exchange students would gather at someone’s village. We’d dance, freely speak our native languages without judgment, and repeatedly consume four ounce glasses of Heineken. We usually ended our nights biking in small groups to homes of kind people willing to host tipsy, homesick foreign teenagers.

One of those nights a Dutch girl (stranger to me) needed a ride to her place. The back rack of my bike was open and I must’ve agreed or couldn’t argue sufficiently given my state. Either way, it was naive of me. Probably her, too. We didn’t get far. I lost my balance as I biked over a canal bridge. Wobbling and shaking, I dumped both the bike and my passenger on the street. I’m glad my Dutch wasn’t stellar at that point, because I was spared comprehension of most of the cuss words she threw my way. I’m certain I confirmed her belief that Americans can’t ride bikes. (I wish I had tallied the number of times I was asked if I could ride a bike during that year. There must be a lot of American tourists dumping bikes in canals or having near misses with trams.)

Thankfully, both my Dutch and my biking skills improved that year. I learned to navigate my way past the Amsterdammers blocking paths without stepping off my bike. I rode 10km from my village, Monnickendam, to my school in north Amsterdam with a group of friends. As I recall, there was always headwind both ways. (Listen up, young whippersnappers!) Biking became second nature and my passport to freedom. Heck, I even learned to adequately transport people while tipsy!

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Most, but not all, of the bikes on the ride. Notice Madi’s bike on the top left with the bike teeter-totter strapped on, aka her “sail” on the windy day.

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Cargo bike decks act as portable tables, too. After consuming his 3.14 pies, Miles resigned himself to apples and cheese.

Biking with my boys has reminded me of the free spirit and sense of adventure I felt while living in Holland. Last Saturday, our family celebrated Pi Day with a big group of other families on a Kidical Mass bike ride. Charlie and Harry biked themselves. I carried Miles, his balance bike, twenty-something blueberry turnovers, apples, bread, cheese, a towel, and water bottles. It felt easy, which was definitely not the case six months ago and such a great realization. (I’ll write another post about my journey towards comfort with this bike.)

For the past few years I was scared to death of biking with the boys in the city but missing riding more and more. I was the quintessential Wendy, willing but wary. I began searching the internet for inspiration from Seattle families. Madi, the Queen of Seattle family biking and author of the soon to be published Urban Cycling, inspired me to start seriously considering a cargo bike. (Check out her Instagram photos. The woman could carry a small house on her bike. Oh, and her pictures from Pi day are here!) Each little glimpse into her world encouraged me to be more courageous. If she could tackle Seattle’s hills, relatively poor (but improving!) cycling infrastructure, rainy days and less than biker-friendly driving culture with two kids on board, I could get there, too. It was a slow warming period, but with her help and the support of Seattle’s Family Biking facebook group, I jumped on board.

In honor of the freedom wheels bring, full-circle moments, and opportunity to indulge in buttery pastries, I was excited to celebrate the day with a special treat on board. Here’s a very minimally adapted turnover recipe from Dorie Greenspan. Hers calls for apples and are a bit larger. I made mine smaller because I didn’t want any tiny riders to be pie deprived, nor did I want to double the recipe.

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Hi-vis jacket courtesy of my road biking days made it easy to spot the pies. Did the trick this rainy, windy day! The Green Lake wading pool hosts bike rodeos in the off season.

 

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Flaky Blueberry Turnovers

Slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s turnover recipe in Baking, makes ~20-24 hand pies

Dough
  • 1 cup full fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Filling
  • 1 to 2 jars thick blueberry jam (I used St. Dalfour Wild Blueberry)

Aesthetics

  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
  • Turbinado or Demerara sugar (or other coarse, thick sugar), for sprinkling

To make the dough, stir the sour cream and sugar together and set aside. Whisk the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter pieces into the flour, using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers. Work the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. It is better to have an uneven mix than an overworked dough, and keeping the butter cold is important, so don’t worry about being too thorough. Using a lifting and tossing motion with a fork, gently work in the sour cream. The dough will be very soft.

Divide the dough in half. Put each half in a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to shape each half into a rectangle. Don’t worry about size or precision. Wrap the dough tightly and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour, or for up to 2 days.

Remove one piece of dough from the fridge and roll it into a rectangle about 9 x 18 inches. The dough is easiest to work with if you roll it between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. If you want to roll it traditionally, make sure to flour the rolling surface. Once it’s rolled out, fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter. Wrap it tightly and refrigerate it. Repeat with the second piece of dough, and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day.

Once the dough is sufficiently chilled, position the oven racks to divide the oven into thirds, and preheat the oven to 375℉. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Roll out one piece of dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, and cut out 3 1/2 inch rounds with a large cutter or the edge of a tartlet pan. (You can change the size and shape of cutter you use. Obviously this will impact your total yield. It may also change the baking time, so plan accordingly.) Repeat with the second piece of dough. Gather the scraps together, chill them, and make additional turnovers to get the full yield. (The turnovers made from scraps will still taste good, they just won’t be as light and flaky as the first round.) You’ll get 8 to 10 rounds from each half of dough.

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Place one teaspoon blueberry jam in the center of each round. Moisten the edges of each round with a little water and fold the turnovers in half, sealing the edges by pressing them together with the tines of a fork. Use the fork to poke steam holes on top, and transfer the turnovers to the baking sheets. (At this point, the turnovers can be frozen. After they firm up in the freezer, wrap them airtight and store for up to two months. Bake them without defrosting, adding a few minutes to their time in the oven.)

Brush the tops of the turnovers with egg wash and sprinkle each one with a pinch of sugar. Bake for about 16-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 8-9 minutes. When done, the turnovers will be puffed, firm to the touch, and golden brown. Gently transfer them to racks, cool to room temperature, put them in a sturdy container, and secure them in your bike bag.

 

Surrender

IMG_9050IMG_9029Despite Harry having just recovered from the flu, we pulled off a stellar 8th birthday party for Charlie last weekend. Our house was covered with squares and cubes to honor his Minecraft obsession. It was nice to have his party to prepare for on the heels of our news. It kept me focused on celebrating. I served Smitten Kitchen’s so-crazy-addictive-they-must-be-cocaine-infused rice crispy treats with a hint of green as “slime balls”, and her amazingly fudgy brownies as “coal” and “redstone”, along with savory bites like bell pepper “TNT.”

I thought we’d spend this week pushing through a few of the woes of unemployment, like finding health insurance, but it has been a doozy. I threw out my back Monday morning while lifting weights, Friday I got word that my SLP license is going to be held up for at least a month unless I can convince someone that their red tape makes absolutely zero sense, and last night Harry began a round of GI eruptions. This time food poisoning has him prostrate.

I wish we would raise white flags during times of need and our neighbors would take turns dropping off meals, watching the children, leaving good books on our doorstep or pulling a few weeds. While overwhelmed by a three year old and a newborn, I remember dreaming of a service that hooked up grandparents missing their grandbabies with moms of young children desperate for help. Maybe there should be a similar set-up for families dealing with illness, unemployment, death and other major life events. (What’s that you say? Move to Sweden or Holland? Ok!)

My jerry-rigged white flag system involves texts and emails. I’m getting better at this, quicker to fill people in. It still feels scary because I have voices in my head that tell me people won’t show up, are too busy, or really don’t want to hear about this Yet Again. But, here’s the deal. Just like I don’t care if someone’s sick repeatedly or needs a break from their crying baby, they understand our situation. They show up because they love us.

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Friends have been my rays of light. They have been the bright notes to counter the gray. One arrived at our door holding enormous bottles of beer and a bottle of wine. (She knows we stop buying alcohol when future income is unclear, so she became our party Jesus, turning our water into wine.) Another friend’s thrift store birthday party provided some serious belly laughs. I realized that even though I wasn’t buying clothes, I could still try them on. I found the most horrifically ugly outfits to model, an activity I can’t recommend enough. My BFF Anne Lamott retweeted one of my tweets. (!!!) Another friend sent a link to a blog post she “knew” I needed to read and, indeed, it contained words that powered me through the week.

I also savored an evening with my graduate school girlfriends. The plans were made long before Harry lost his job and I re-injured my back, but I kept them because I knew time with them would be therapeutic. We can laugh, be sarcastic, cry and be ridiculously silly within a ten minute window. I’ve known these women over a decade and we’ve walked each other through major piles. We know how to show up for each other, in celebration or consolation. I feed them chocolate, they bring wine. An additional bonus is that they don’t mind the obstacle course of Legos, crumbs, nerf darts and discarded crafts covering my floor.

There is an abundance of beauty in my life. I feel deeply loved. I feel cared for. I am excited about what opportunities may arise from this shift. I’m just equally scared they may not happen soon enough. That we might have to let go of a few dreams that made my heart flutter. My little control problem turns me into an unpredictable geyser during these periods, erupting in tears at the wrong look from a dog. Stability and predictability are my game. However, I don’t wave my white flag when I’m in control. And I receive the most amazingly rich food for my soul whenever it waves. So, I’ll keep surrendering. Again and again.

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The lone remaining slice when I decided I would blog this. Isn’t she pretty? Imagine an entire loaf!

Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake

Yet another from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. Yields 12 servings.

Cake batter

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream

Filling

  • 1/3 cup raspberry or cherry jam
  • 1 teaspoon water

Frosting

  • 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350℉.  Butter a 9 1/2 x 5-inch loaf pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess.  Place the pan on two stacked regular baking sheets or on one insulated baking sheet.

Whisk or sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs individually, beating each for about a minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low to add the sour cream. Still working on a low speed, add the dry ingredients but mix only until they have just disappeared into the batter. Stir one last time with a sturdy rubber spatula and scrape the very thick batter into the pan. Even it out using a spatula.

Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. After about 45 minutes if the cake looks as if it’s browning too quickly, loosely cover it with a foil tent. Let the cake cool on a rack for about 5 minutes before turning it out. Cool to room temperature upside down.

Bring the jam and water to a boil over low heat. (Or make your own and just don’t let it get too thick. No need for water. This step was fun for me because I had some raspberries in the freezer begging to be used up.)  Stir to smooth it.

If the loaf cake is extremely uneven on top, slice off the very top using a serrated knife so it will lay flat on a plate. It will serve as the base of the cake. Slice the loaf twice more, creating three layers. Put the first layer (originally the top of the cake) cut side up on a serving plate and spread half of the jam on it. Top this with the middle layer and the rest of the jam. Place the top layer cut side down. Use a small pastry brush or a gentle hand to remove any crumbs on the top or sides of the cake.

To make the frosting, use a double boiler or fit a heatproof bowl into a pan of gently simmering water. Add the chocolate and stir it occasionally until it has melted. Continue working over the hot water and stir in the sour cream. The cream may tighten up, but just continue to stir gently and the frosting will become smooth enough to spread. Once it’s ready, remove the frosting from the heat and cover the sides and top of the cake with the warm frosting.

You may serve immediately or wait a bit. It will last covered and at room temperature overnight, otherwise it is best to refrigerate it. Just bring it to room temperature prior to serving. Serve with pretty much any sort of cream and you won’t regret it.

Crunchy consolation for a crappy week

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry

The rain on our skylights sounded like a jackhammer this morning. It was a quick deluge, fitting for how various news landed on our doorstep last week. Gorgeous, mysterious fog was replaced by a pelting downpour. Unfortunately this change was an appropriate marker. Last week can eat it.

As much as I know that life comes with death, light with dark, joy with pain (Oh no! Now Milli Vanilli is in my head.),  I never snuggle up to death and it’s tendency to pop up uninvited. There’s the obvious ways, like the passing of those we love, but there are other ways death shows up. Ways that don’t come with a memorial or expected grieving period. The fading friendship. The dissolving marriage. The termination of a job.

The only place I’m super comfortable with death is in the garden. There, it’s easy to respect that the richest soil forms through the decomposition of things once alive. There are tangible benefits at the end of the process, too. Luscious tomatoes, stunning flower beds.

Monday brought the stabbing news of friends’ divorcing. I sobbed with the intensity of this morning’s rain, heartbroken. It’s devastating to know someone you love has to push through a hurricane of grief, unsure when she’ll step out of it. I woke up Tuesday and cried more. This is one of those times I desperately want to wave a magic wand even though I know that journeying through the grief is critical for healing. I just really, really hate that part.

For someone nearing forty, I’m astonishingly unfamiliar with divorce. Only a few friends have been through it, but none with whom I was walking closely at the time. Equally amazing, none of my close friends parents’ divorced as I was growing up. Until now, my only intimate experience has been through my husband’s family, and I walked into that scenario several years after the fact. I see their scars, but I wasn’t present in the acute stage. I didn’t have to survive the flood.

Thursday, Harry came home with word that HR Guy was traveling from headquarters to the Seattle office. Since the only time he comes is to lay people off, we had a hint. The entire Seattle office was laid off Friday. Saturday evening he started to feel bad, Sunday morning he had a fever. He’s currently holed up in our bedroom suffering through the flu.

I stress baked Friday. Baking centers me. (Especially kneading dough. I forget until my hands are in the thick of it, but man, it’s therapeutic. I should keep dough rising all around the house as a preventative care measure.) Since Harry felt pretty certain he knew what was coming, I felt pretty certain my husband would return home sad. I flipped through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi and found her Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars. My caramel-loving, sweet-toothed, out-of-a-job husband would be all over those.

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Miles claims that these are The Best Treat I’ve ever baked. After Harry commented that they were delicious, Miles corrected him. “No, Papa. They are THE BEST.” They are reminiscent of a candy bar. An extremely satisfying one. The brown sugar base tastes a little nut-buttery. The dark chocolate layer counters it’s sweetness nicely. Top that off with the awesomely crunchy caramelized crispies and you have a winner in our household. These will appear again. Hopefully in celebration instead of consolation.

I’m currently savoring each little chapter of Anne Lamott’s Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. These words resonate with me right now:

When you’re in the dark, you have to try to remember that it’s a dance – dark, light, dark, light, dim. Or when you’re in the sun but the clouds come, of course you instantly think, Oh God, now it’s going to get cold and wet, and it’s all fucked, but then you might remember that when it was dark an earlier time, your friends shined a little thin light on it, and you remember one thing that sort of helped, one more step you can take, maybe one more thing you can try.

I see my friend watching for light. Taking great care of herself during torrential grief and looking to friends to help her navigate, to hold the light. I feel hope for our family, too. Just a few days in and we already feel buoyed by the support our friends have lended. I hate the dark, but I’ve walked this path before and the rays break through often enough to keep me steady.

If you’re walking through a storm right now, please be kind to yourself. Ask for help. Seek out your friends. Let them know you’re sad and need support. Exercise. Sleep. Nourish yourself. Hang out with people who make you laugh yet are compassionate and kind enough to know when silence and a hug is more appropriate. And maybe bake yourself and your loved ones a delicious treat.

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Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi. Yields 16 bars

BASE

  • 4 ounces (8 tablespoons; 113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (102 grams) all-purpose flour

TOPPING

  • 3 1/2 ounces (99 grams) dark chocolate (60-80% cacao), finely chopped
  • 1/2 recipe Caramelized Rice Crispies (or alternately 1 cup rice crispies, large flake coconut, popcorn, or mixed nuts, etc… as a topper)

Preheat the oven to 375℉. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on opposite sides so you can lift the bars out of the pan. Butter the paper.

Beat the butter, brown sugar, sugar and salt together on medium speed until smooth, light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour all at once and pulse the mixer about five times to beat in the flour. If it doesn’t completely blend in, mix on low speed until it disappears.

Scrape the sticky, thick dough into the lined pan and spread it over the bottom of the pan to make an even layer. I used my fingers, wetting them down a bit to counter the dough’s sticky nature.

Baker for about 22-minutes, until the base is golden brown and puffed up a bit.

Immediately top the bars with the chopped chocolate. Sprinkle it evenly over the base and return the pan to the turned-off oven for a couple minutes, or until the chocolate is melted. Spread the melted chocolate evenly using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula.

Break off pieces of the Caramelized Rice Crispies (or whatever topping you choose) and lightly press them into the chocolate until the top is completely covered. Cool to room temperature on a rack. Once cooled, put the pan in the fridge for 20-minutes to set the chocolate if it’s still fluid.

To serve the bars, remove the cookie out of the pan by using the parchment overhang and place it on a cutting board . Cut them into 16 squares.

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Caramelized Rice Crispies

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups (53 grams) rice crispies

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Have a pastry brush (silicone preferred, but not necessary), cold water and a spatula standing by.

Sprinkle the sugar over the bottom of a large saucepan or a wide skillet that gives you enough space to stir comfortably. Sprinkle the water over all the sugar. Turn the heat to medium / medium-high and bring the sugar to a boil. Dip the pastry brush in cold water and wash down the sides of the pan if any sugar spatters. At the first sign of color, remove the pan from the heat and add the rice crispies.

Using a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, stir until the syrup disappears. You will see cakey white streaks on the bottom of the pan as the syrup gets absorbed and sugar hardens on the bottom of the pan.

Return the pan to medium / medium-high heat and stir without stopping. (Be careful, it’s incredibly hot.) As I stirred, the white cakey bottom of the pan liquefied again, helping to coat each grain of cereal with the caramel. I stopped stirring and took it off the heat once the entire pan’s white cakey bottom was reabsorbed into the crisps. You want the cereal to be a deep caramel color. (It’s alright if the sugar smokes. That flavor will be nice, too.)

Immediately scrape the rice crispies onto the lined baking sheet and spread them out into a single layer. Work fast, because they’ll harden quickly. Allow to cool. Use half of these to top the bars and the other half to snack on or throw on ice cream.

(Cleaning your pan will be significantly easier if you throw it back on the heat with some water in it. Bring it to a boil to soften the hardened sugar.)

 

December 24th

Hoi! Hello! ¡Hola! I decided to pop my head out from behind our Christmas tree and say hi to you all before we’re ringing in 2015. Our family is having an exceptionally quiet Christmas eve and day. Our calmest and quietest yet. No parties to attend, no hosting to tend to, no family to visit or visiting us. I am making simple meals. While I love to cook, elaborate meals take away from family time. All of this was intentional and it feels soooo good. We desperately needed to relax and play as a family. Anything that distracted from that got the ax.

We let the boys pick a present to open today, and they both happened to pick ones with Legos inside (good odds?), so Harry and I are reading and writing while the boys are building new sets. Watching Miles open his and jump all around in excitement, “I wanted this! Thank you so much!” started the day off beautifully.

This year involved a few lessons for us regarding city crowds. Santa is in demand, people. Finding an open Santa lap to sit on is harder than finding a parking spot at the mall. It may take days. We should’ve been sufficiently warned when we saw people carrying sleeping bags, coolers of food and toy baskets to the lines.

With under a week left until Christmas, Charlie informed us that he really wanted to sit on Santa’s lap. This has not been a tradition for us. In fact, Harry and I hated the idea of forcing our wary kids on some guys’ lap to make them cry so we could get a picture. Now that Charlie was instead desiring this to the point of tears, honoring it was a serious act of love. An act that led us on a tear-filled Santa scavenger hunt all around town.

First I called a local nursery to see if we could snag an appointment with their Santa. A set time seemed so civilized, but that’s what everyone thought so of course they were completely booked. Next we visited an outdoor mall close to our house. The line was a minimum of an hour and a half. Outside. There was no way the boys were going to get through that, so we told Charlie we’d need to try something else. Tears welled up. We headed downtown to visit Nordstrom’s Santa whose staff was conveniently texting you at your appointment time. Perfect! We’d go see the Gingerbread Village while we waited. “Mama, how can Santa be at the other place and downtown?” Let the Christmas lying begin.

We arrived at 2:30 and Santa was already booked until closing at 9pm. Even their consolation wait-list was so long that the elf told me it was pointless to put our name down. Surrounding this kiosk were many tearful little boys and girls and their shocked parents. We made more promises to Charlie, realizing we may have to return to a line first thing in the morning.

How did we get in this place of potentially devoting two days of our vacation to finding a Santa lap? I was ready to pay any old man on the street for his services. Anyone from this list would’ve been excellent, too.

While looking at the famous, and therefore also unbelievably crowded, Gingerbread Village structures, I had plenty of time to think and got a feeling we should try Macy’s. We headed there next. With an enormous sigh of relief, we took our spot in a reasonable line. An hour later, one boy was sitting on his lap while the other watched curiously and eventually talked to him from a very cautious distance.

“Santa, a lot of my friends say you don’t exist, but now I can tell them that you do!”

“Why do they say I don’t exist?”

“One of them stayed up all night and never saw you!”

“Well, part of my magic means that I can’t come while kids are awake.”IMG_5635

They talked for five minutes, about Santa’s magical ways and what Charlie wanted. (None of which, of course, was on his original list. Aint’ gonna happen, kid.) Charlie called it his “order.” We gently informed him later that Santa lists are wish lists and not guaranteed orders. There may be disappointment tomorrow.

But for those five beautiful minutes and much of our time afterward, his eyes were completely lit up. He kept asking question after question. “I meant to ask how old he is!” We may only have a year or two left of the magic with him, so I’m glad we embraced it. I’m also incredibly thankful I’m sitting with a blanket around me instead of waiting in a line right now.

Grasshopper Squares have been a Christmas tradition for us for at least five years and they’re one I can’t imagine ever giving up. Maybe it’s because I was conceived after my mom had a Grasshopper at a restaurant. Mint and cream are a part of my DNA. I remember making them while pregnant with Miles, so he’s probably hooked forever, too. These treats have that lovely peppermint chocolate combination (like a Thin Mint! Andes! Frangos!), with a smooth truffle-like top and a brownie base. They are a really luxurious bite. Or ten.

I decided to share these here after making my second batch this year. Our first batch was shared too quickly (lucky teachers and neighbors, right?) and the boys were super sad. Harry and I wanted more, too. A recipe this loved by my family needs to be on record so they can make it someday themselves. And you just may want to, too.

I wish you peace, laughter, gratefulness, play and rest. And a little bite of delicious.

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Grasshopper Squares

Adapted slightly from Gourmet Magazine. Yields 5-6 dozen.

Brownie base

  •  6 ounces (12 tablespoons; 3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 10 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate (between 55-65% cacoa), chopped
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 100g (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 35 g (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Mint ganache

  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) heavy cream
  • 10 oz fine-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons clear or green crème de menthe (there’s no flavor difference- I just don’t like food dyes so I buy the clear)
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Chocolate ganache

  • 8 oz (1 cup) heavy cream
  • 10 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (55-65% cacoa), chopped

Preheat oven to 375°F, with a rack in the middle. Lightly butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and line with 2 crisscrossed sheets of foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Butter the foil, too.

To make the brownie base, melt the butter, chocolate, and brown sugar in double broiler (or a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat), stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk in eggs and vanilla until thoroughly integrated. Whisk in flour, cocoa, and salt until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake about 20-minutes, or until set. Cool completely (uncovered, on a rack). This takes one to two hours.

While the brownie base cools, make the mint ganache. Heat cream and white chocolate in a double boiler (or bring the cream to a simmer in a saucepan and pour it over the finely chopped white chocolate in a bowl. Let it sit a minute before whisking.) Whisk until completely smooth. Stir in the crème de menthe and peppermint extract. Chill covered until thick. Stir occasionally. This takes about 1 hour.

Spread the chilled mint ganache on top of the cooled brownie base. Make a thin even layer by using an offset spatula. (Of, if you’re like me, just deal with it not being perfectly even. You won’t care when you taste one.) Chill covered until firm but slightly sticky, about 30-minutes.

While the mint layer chills, make the chocolate ganache. Heat the cream and dark chocolate in a double boiler (or heat the cream to a simmer in a saucepan, and pour over finely chopped bittersweet chocolate in a bowl. Let stand 1 minute prior to whisking.) Whisk until smooth. Chill covered until thick, about 30-minutes. Stir occasionally.

Carefully spread the cooled chocolate ganache over the mint layer and chill at least 2 hours prior to cutting.

Lift the dessert out of pan using the foil overhang. Carefully peel off the foil and place the giant bar on a large cutting board. Run a knife under hot water and wipe dry, then trim the edges of dessert (~1/4 inch off each side). Cut into squares (rectangles! triangles!) and serve.

The grasshopper squares keep chilled in an airtight container for 3-weeks. They can be layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment if needed.

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

 

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.

 

 

Gravitating towards beauty

The older I get the more I realize why an appreciation of beauty so often seems to deepen with age. We’re increasingly exposed to pain, grieving feels like a constant, disasters and wretched acts committed against other humans are impossible to ignore. Images from horrific atrocities are seared into our mind. We are not sheltered in the cocoon of youth and nobody reading this is living on the shores of Walden Pond. Sometimes all we can do is retreat for a day or two and surround ourselves with images of hope.

Hi! Welcome to September! I’m obviously feeling cheerful.

I experienced a few (relatively minor) traumas this summer, the one I wrote about earlier, and another that happened in the past few weeks that I won’t share about in detail here, but indelibly left it’s mark. I was very scared and immediately realized that feeling safe in your shelter is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Thankfully, a strong antidote was already built into our schedule. Two nights camping on San Juan Island, a retreat I can count on.

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It seems to me that counteracting the weight fear can bring to our lives is best done by pursuing love, gratitude and beauty, so I gravitate to them with increasing necessity. The delight of picking blackberries off bushes near our campsite, the smiles on my boys faces while they played with a never-before-seen furry friend, the joy of watching my youngest run without ceasing to keep his kite up, the excitement while spotting porpoises and harbor seals, the satisfaction of cooking over a fire. These moments brought peace.

This tart happened to be in the house before we left to camp, during the time we were feeling quite vulnerable. Having something delicious to consume and share in the middle of a fearful time was a gift. A little one, of a comforting and delicious sort. It’s one I provided myself without even knowing it was going to be needed. I encourage you make something and share it with someone you know who is going through a hard time. Maybe it’s you. Pick or buy some berries before the season is over. Some for yourself, some to share. Sometimes we just have to take care of each other one tart slice at a time.

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Macaroon Tart 

  • From Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day
  • Serves 8-16, depending on the generosity of the slicer

Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups / 6 oz / 170 g white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry or spelt flour)
  • 3/4 cup / 2 oz / 60 g unsweetened finely shredded coconut*
  • 3/4 cup / 3.75 oz / 106 g lightly packed natural cane sugar
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 10 tablespoons / 5 oz / 140 g unsalted butter, melted

Filling

  • 2 cups / 5 oz / 140 g unsweetened finely shredded coconut*
  • 1/2 cup / 2.5 oz / 70 g lightly packed natural cane sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 8 ounces / 225 g fresh blackberries, halved
  • 1/3 cup / 1.5 oz / 45 g pistachios, crushed

Preheat oven to 350℉ / 180℃ with a rack in the middle. Butter an 8×11-inch / 20cmx28cm tart pan (or equivalent- mine is a 9-inch round tart pan) and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper to make easy release of the tart.

For the crust, combine the flour, coconut, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the melted butter and mix until the dough is crumbly. Firmly press it into the prepared pan, forming a solid, flat layer. (This part is fun! Messy fingers!) Bake for 15-minutes or until the crust is barely golden. Let it cool for a few minutes before filling it.

Prepare the filling by combining the coconut, sugar and egg whites. Mix until combined. Lay the blackberry halves on the tart base. Drop dollops of the filling around and over the tops of the berries, filling in the spaces around them and covering some up.

Bake for 20 to 25-minutes, until the filling peaks are deeply golden. Let the tart cool, then sprinkle the crushed pistachios over the top. Slice & serve!

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*I used medium shred and it was delightfully sufficient.

** This tart works well with other fruit as well. Cherries and pistachios? You bet.

 

(Those connected to my personal account on facebook may have noticed that I deleted it because of what happened. My apologies that I could not leave up my notice long enough for everyone to see, but we felt the incident warranted a speedy deletion. Those without my personal email address may feel free to contact me via this blog’s facebook page message board. I will try to be in touch with many of you in other ways, too. For now, I am finding I really enjoy being off facebook, so I may not return to having a personal site. Email and phone are now the best way to contact me.)