Each day we have about an hour between when I pick up The Girl and when we need to pick up The Boy. Usually four out of five of those days during that hour you'll find us at the library...It's a little bit of daily bliss. Our school librarian is exactly the way you dream the most awesome school librarian to be. She encourages every reading bunny trail that the kidlets want to travel down. She's theatrical, engaged and I swear she's read every book in that library. If we're not at the school library, you'll find us at the recently renovated local library around the corner. Each time we go to our library I feel like busting out a verse of "These are the People in our Neighborhood." We settle in for story time and crafts on Tuesdays, and most other times mingle with friends from school among the books until it's time to go and get the boy. I feel so spoiled that we have all of these books and movies at our fingertips for free. We're SO freakin' lucky.
Although we've not yet reached the Summer Solstice, I would venture to guess that most people in the ATX would confirm that our summer has arrived in full force. This weekend, temperatures were in the high 90s with a relative humidity that gave us a 'real feel' well above 100 degrees. When picking a baking project for last week, I was drawn to the Blueberry Tea Cake recipe in the SoNo Baking Company Cookbook. In my mind, the name conjures up images of hot southern summers, and our long-standing attempts to meet them with some type of grace and even formality. White gloves and hats, hand-held paper fans and sweet tea with tea cakes. The crowd I run with isn't nearly so genteel...we run from one swimming hole to next, hot and sweaty, finding shade and cool water as a means of summer survival. Still, watching this Blueberry Tea Cake cool on the wire rack left me feeling somehow connected to the tradition of 'proper' southern women suffering through stifling hot summers...and there's a part of me that really digs that connection.
Blueberry Tea Cake
*(The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook)
Makes one 10" Bundt cake
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1 tsp for blueberries and zest
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp coarse salt
4 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups blueberries
2 tbsp grated lemon zest
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1. Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 12-cup Bundt pan; set aside.
2. To make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk the 2 1/2 cups flour with the baking powder; set aside.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugars and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. On low speed, add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk, and beginning and ending with the flour. Beat just until the flour is absorbed.
4. In a bowl, toss the blueberries and lemon zest with the remaining 1 tsp flour, and fold into the batter with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into the Bundt pan and smooth the top. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake, rotating the sheet about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 65 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Invert the pan on the rack to turn the cake out; let cool completely on the rack.
5. To make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice into the confectioners' sugar, adding the second tbsp. gradually, so that the glaze is just liquid enough to pour easily but still opaque. Place a sheet pan under the cooling rack. Spoon the glaze over the cooled cake, allowing the excess to drip onto the baking sheet. Allow the glaze to cool completely for 30 minutes, then serve.
*I seriously love this cookbook. John Barricelli gives complete and thorough instructions that have helped me feel like I am more of an accomplished baker than I actually am. I'm loving the confidence boost. :)
I can't even begin to describe how stressful work has been lately. The kind where you go to bed with a knot in your stomach and wake up with the same. In order to try and keep myself distracted and also to be more present with the kids after school, I've decided to bake more. Baking has always kind of intimidated me. I can throw together cookies and crumbles, but when it comes to cakes and (gasp) breads I'm stumped. It all feels so mysterious to me...I dread failure in the kitchen, and it kind of feels like the odds are against me when it comes to baking. Nothing like a new challenge to keep your mind off the daily stressors though...and since The Girl loves to be in the kitchen, we are undertaking this new challenge together. We started with the Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe from The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook. We tweaked it a little as we didn't have the right pan or mixer, but nothing too drastic. It turned out SO good y'all...it was so moist and yummilicious. Success!
Sour Cream Coffee Cake (from the SoNo Baking Company Cookbook)
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
2 cups sour cream
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons coarse salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1. To make the topping: In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cinnamon and finely chopped pecans with a fork until combined; set aside.
2. Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray a 10-inch tube pan (preferably with removable bottom) with nonstick cooking spray, or generously brush with softened butter; dust with flour and shake out the excess.
3. To make the cake: In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and baking soda; set aside. Whisk together the cake flour and baking powder in another bowl; set aside.
4. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
5. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the sour cream mixture and beating well after each addition.
6. Scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle half of the topping mixture, avoiding the edges of the pan so that the sides are smooth and the filling is hidden. Use a knife to gently swirl the topping mixture into the batter. Add the remaining batter and smooth the top. Sprinkle with the rest of the topping mixture.
7. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake, rotating the sheet about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until the top of the cake springs back when touched and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.
8. Transfer the tube pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool completely in the pan. Using a spatula, loosen the sides of the cake from the pan, then lift the cake up and off the center tube. Serve at room temperature.
I splurged on a new cookbook last week and I just can't put it down. Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros is a beautiful combination of recipes, photography and family memories. Her recipes are written in a very casual and accessible way. It feels like "common sense" cooking to me. I love that her measurements are sometimes described as "a child's fistful of chopped nuts" or "blobs of butter". It feels like she's saying my meal is going to be a little different than hers and that's not only okay...that's the way it should be. It makes me feel like if I tweak her recipe a wee bit, I won't be bungling something...it will still be yummy...it will just be more ours. Local berries are starting to make their way into our markets so I went hunting for a berry recipe for an Easter weekend brunch. I ended up making her Pear and Berry Crisp...twice. If you count that I also made gluten free versions...then I actually made 4 crisps. On the second day I used a little less sugar...and my friend Kim suggested that she might not use any at all. That way you would get a little more of the tartness from the berries to contrast the natural sweetness of the pears. I have included her recipe below. To make the gluten free version, I substituted Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose flour and added 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum to the flour.
Pear and Berry Crisp from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
3 large pears
1 cup of mixed berries
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick), plus 3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 14 by 8 1/2 by 2 1/2-inch (or a 13 by 9-inch) ovenproof dish. Peel, core, and slice the pears, and put them in the dish. Mix in the berries and scatter half the superfine sugar over the fruit.
Mix together the flour, brown sugar, and the other half of the superfine sugar in a bowl. Add the butter and vanilla and rub them in with your fingertips, working until the mixture isn’t smooth but looks like damp clustery sand. Your fingers might be tired.
Scatter the topping over the fruit to cover it completely in a good thick layer. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is nicely golden and some berry juice has oozed up a bit over teh crust and darkened it here and there.
Let it cool down a touch and then serve warm with whipped cream, a bowl of custard, vanilla ice cream, or Greek yogurt.
I'm pretty set in my ways in the kitchen...which is not to say I won't try new foods or flavors, but when it comes to technique, I pretty much already have what works for me. It's not the fanciest and it sure isn't the prettiest, but at this point in my life learning a new technique seems like too much work...and we've already established that I don't like change much anyway. However, every once in a while I find a new something or other that DOES in fact make it's way into my kitchen...and I gotta just admit it makes me downright giddy. Auntie and I were paging through a cookbook by David Tanis called A Platter of Figs, and I stumbled upon a blurb that he wrote about peeling garlic. He recommends skipping crushing the garlic under the blade of a knife, which is what I normally do. Instead, he says to pinch the garlic clove on the top and bottom between your thumb and forefinger. "Yeah, right...if you have burley man hands", I scoffed. I decided to give a try the next day...and you know where this is going...it WORKED! The peel practically comes off in one whole piece. And since the clove isn't really crushed in the process there is no sticky garlic juice on your fingers. Now, you probably already knew about this little garlic trick, but I have been frustrated with sticky fingers from peeling garlic since I was a kid. Confession time: I often purchase the less flavorful pre-peeled garlic at our local market just to avoid the frustration. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have discovered this little trick, so I can use the full-flavored fresh garlic without getting crabby in the kitchen. Another thing I discovered though,is that it's hard to take a picture of your own hand doing said garlic trick without a bit of blur...sorry 'bout that. :)
I started developing a healthy appreciation for poetry during my adolescent years in India...thank you Madam Phatania and Siri Akal Singh. Throughout my life various housemates, parents, children, best friends have all written poetry. It is such an incredibly powerful medium. I realize it's not for everyone...but bear with me for just one read. A dear friend forwarded me this poem written by Mary Oliver yesterday, and it has been lingering with me throughout the day today. I love, love, love this piece. Read it and I think you'll see why. What say you?
When Death Comes
From New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 25 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02108-2892, ISBN 0 870 6819 5).
When death comes like the hungry bear in autumn; when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut; when death comes like the measles-pox;
when death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, and I look upon time as no more than an idea, and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don't want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
I've always been drawn to older ways of doing things: cooking, handwork, sewing. Often times you hear people say they feel like they were born in the wrong era. I have felt that way my whole life. I love my fancy gadgets and technology, but I feel like I always have one foot in a slower, more deliberate way of life. About 10 years ago I was at an estate sale with my mama. We were there scoping out an old treadle sewing machine (still in it's wooden shipping crate from years and years ago). We decided to make the investment and I meandered into the kitchen where the cashier table was. While I waited in line I noticed that all of the cookbooks and kitchen knick knacks were still laying around. When I asked the cashier how much the cookbooks were he replied that I could make an offer because they were planning on hauling off what was left at the end of the day. I picked up a copy of the Joy of Cooking and underneath was a small file box of recipes. "Ten dollars for both?" I could tell he thought he was getting the better end of the deal, but I knew better. When I got home I laid down on the floor in front of the fireplace and took out each recipe, one by one. This was the recipe box of one Mrs. O.P. Breland. No one famous or spectacular in any public fashion, but her box of recipes was like opening up a time capsule. Un. Believable. There were recipes written on the back of old laundry order forms dating back to 1945. There were clippings from newspapers from around the country. There were so many recipe cards exchanged at church and over bridge scrawled on calendar pages and calling cards. I spent hours and hours pouring over each little scrap of paper. I continue to be astounded that someone was just going to toss all of that history. There are big chunks of time that were not the best time for cuisine in our country historically speaking. Apple Sauce Salad or Spam in a Blanket anyone? She also has some really simple but incredible recipes. I will post the recipe for Coffee Crispies in a bit. When I look through her recipes and all of the different women who gave her their recipes, I feel connected to them in some strange way. I feel this fierce guardianship...a need to protect the heritage of all of these recipes. I was joking with the Man the other night that I should cook each recipe in the box Julie and Julia style but I don't think I could do it. Julie may have had to bone a duck, but she didn't have to make and consume Sea Foam Salad Mold (serves 6). To bring this story full circle (kind of): The next week was my birthday and my parents watched the boy so that the man and I could have a little time to ourselves. One of my favorite things to do in Austin is to spend way too much time at Uncommon Objects. It's an antique/vintage finds store that is set up booth style with individual sellers. I walked into one of the booths, I looked down and saw a box of beautifully preserved rosette style candles in a box. When I picked up the box I glanced at the lid laying next to it (see below)
Now. I know that this only means that this seller (clear across town) was at the same estate sale that I had been at the week before. I get that. I choose however to think of it as a little something more. Kind of like a thank you or acknowledgement that I respect and honor Mrs. Breland's past and will continue to marvel at the record that she left behind in her recipes. I'm funny like that.