Halloween was always a big deal growing up. It is my brother’s birthday and everyone in our small world seemed to be celebrating. On Halloween you are not only allowed to wear your princess dress out in public, but you are encouraged jazz it up even more. All that meant usually was more hot pink lipstick and blue eyeshadow. I remember begging my mom to wear a gold, sparkly, frufru tutu fairy outfit for weeks after the holiday was over. Every Halloween thereafter, she would warn me “Now Tricia, this is a special outfit for Halloween, not for everyday.” I think I finally got the hint in Jr. High. And then there is the candy. Candy! It’s everywhere, being thrown at you (or in your little plastic pumpkin bucket) from every house with a light on. People are running through the streets laughing, talking, running, and playing. Seriously, the best. day. ever.
The prep and pomp that comes from getting ready for All Hallow’s Eve was just as thrilling. It always involved spreading large amounts of newspaper on the kitchen floor, Dad getting down on the ground to start scooping out pumpkin guts while Danny and I drew squeamish faces with thick, black sharpies on their slick surfaces. Then there was the talk and preparation of costumes, stocking up on mini candy bars, planning a haunted house in the garage for Danny’s friends, and cake making (always Funfetti cake with Funfetti icing). My brother, even at the age of three or four, had a huge personality. That kid knew what he wanted and when he wanted it. Some may have called him difficult, but others just high energy with his own agenda. He used to wear these little red footie pajamas that zipped up the front (we both did, but somehow he seemed to be in his all the time). One year we simply attached a little red tail to them and gave him some devil ears just so he could keep wearing his little red footie pj’s, even on Halloween. The nickname stuck and he would be our little red devil for the rest of his childhood.
As an adult, I still get gushy over Halloween. It’s a time marker, signaling the official leap into deep Autumn with the first hints of Winter in the cool, crisp air. The time changes. Days are so much shorter. The dark hours are long and listless yet comfortingly silent. They encourage day-dreaming of the best kind because of the circumstances. This is just as good, the adult version if you will, of the prep and pomp of getting ready for Halloween. I’ll even bake a cake when I want to, just because it feels right. Andrew and I also go and pick our own pumpkins. This is our third year running, our first experience doing it was actually one of our first dates.
Pumpkin picking can be a totally hilarious and wonderful mayhem. Last weekend it was gorgeous–you could not have asked for a more perfect fall day to go to a farm, pick pumpkins and drink hot apple cider. Crisp and clear, it was straight out of a story book. Everyone else thought so too, so we got stuck in some traffic (traffic!? in the country??) on our way there. We chose to veer off the beaten path and try another farm and it turns out it is the same farm we went to our first year. We scoured the pumpkin patches, ate freshly grilled corn on the cob and did, in fact, drink some of the best hot apple cider we both agreed we’d ever had. Meanwhile there were 30 minute waits in line just to buy some corn or a sausage, happy kids and families were running around trying not to loose each other, harried grandmothers were anxiously trying to save entire tables, and the teenagers serving the food looked like they’ve done this in their sleep.
With pumpkin on the mind, I remembered an intriguing recipe out of the Moosewood Cookbook of Desserts called spiced pumpkin squares. Backing up a bit, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies are Andrew’s top most favorite dessert. Ever. He rarely requests anything for me to make him (which boggles my mind a bit–if I were him, I’d be making me lists of my favorite foods!), except for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. Each fall, I’ll make 2-4 batches, which is kind of a lot of cookies for two people to have around. But trust me, we make do. Knowing what I know about Andrew’s love of pumpkin and dark chocolate, I decided to try my hand at a new take on the brownie. These little squares are satisfyingly dense–unlike the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies that I can’t help but want a little more from as they can be a bit cakey. They melt, ooze, and defy all chocolate cravings while cocooning you in a spicy-autumn-inducing-stupor. I didn’t realize there was such a thing, but there is. And it’s glorious.
Recipe inspired by The Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts, given to me by another inspiring source in the kitchen, my Aunt Katie
1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2-1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (the only way to go!)
1 bag Ghirardelli (Andrew’s favorite) chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and dust with flour. With an electric mixer, or in your stand mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and well blended. Beat in the egg. Add the vanilla and the pumpkin puree and continue to beat until thoroughly mixed. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and nutmeg and stir them into the pumpkin mixture to form a smooth batter. Fold in the chocolate chips by hand.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool for about 15 minutes before cutting into squares.
Yep, it’s another apple recipe. Frankly, I can’t seem to get enough of them. I walked into my favorite grocery and there were piles upon piles of heirloom and antique apple varieties as far as the eye could see. Well, at least as far as my eye would let me see–because all I wanted to do was sample each and every one of those autumnal gems. And I did. When this happens, I usually bring home at least one of each kind (which drives the cashier insane) and sample throughout the week. Last winter, it was citrus. This fall, it’s apples.
Quick breads also remind me a lot of this time of year. Maybe it’s because all of the best kinds (pumpkin bread, zucchini bread…) all make me think of the fall with their fragrant spices and rooted goodness. Apple bread certainly takes its place among them. I saw this recipe about a month ago but wanted to wait until peak apple season. I’m glad I did.
What I love about this bread is not only the apples, but it’s molasses counterpart. It is the molasses, mingling with fresh nutmeg and a hint of cinnamon, that brings me back for a second slice. The apples and apple sauce give it a fantastic, gooey texture. It is sweet, but not over the top, the sweetness coming mainly from the apples and apple sauce. Although, the brown sugar does add a nice depth. I substituted the butter with olive oil (I like my quick breads made with oils instead of butter) and it was great. The whole wheat keeps things stable (both in the bread and with the ‘ol blood sugar) and gives it just the right amount of density.
Don’t skip the glaze either, it adds a surprising kick of apple flavor to the bread, unlike the apples already inside. I think it is more fragrant than anything, with a strong, wonderful smell of apples trapped in the liquefied sugar syrup. Then, cozy up with a slice of this and a cup of tea for a snack. Or, spread some nut or seed butter on it in the morning. Enjoy!
Glazed Apple Molasses Bread, via Whole Living
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of ground allspice
6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter OR olive oil
6 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup applesauce
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, kosher salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice.Use an electric mixer to beat together butter and light brown sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add molasses; beat until combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, plus vanilla, and beat until incorporated. With the mixer on low, add half the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Beat in applesauce; add remaining flour mixture until just incorporated. Peel and core apples, reserving the peel and the core. Cut apple into 1/4-inch cubes, and fold into the batter. Transfer to pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour, 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.
I’ve been busy lately. It’s been good, but I’ve sorely missed my kitchen. We went back east to visit my family over the Labor Day weekend which was fantastic. I’ve also been working on a few other projects–but more to come on that soon. When I got back to Portland, the law of opposites caught right up with me. My absence from the kitchen catapulted me to the other end of the spectrum where I needed to bake something a little fancy and a touch grand.
Figs are happening here. It seemed to happen over night but there they were, their soft, velvety skins and green caps, beckoning me. I found a huge box at the store–on sale. Oh all right, I thought to myself in a tone not far from a school marm, outwardly sharp but inwardly secretly anticipating a fun kitchen challenge. Why I keep the inner-glee over small pleasures like finding the seasons first ripe figs from myself of all people, boggles my mind. But I still go along with it. With a pleased little smile pursed on my lips, I walk out of the store with my giant box of figs.
Dorie Greenspan’s boozy honeyed fig cake recipe was where I stopped. I contemplated for a few days, slicing open a fig here and there to savor it’s sweet milkiness and soft seeds. This helped me think, of course, and plan for what to make. But her recipe was where my slicing and thinking and planning came to an abrupt halt. I’d hit a wall and now I needed to turn left and make it. I have to laugh at myself because when it comes right down to it, I never plan what to make too far in advance. It’s always a gut feeling, what is freshest at the market, or what I have on hand. I knew from the moment I grabbed that box of figs that a cake was going to happen, I just didn’t know which one. (Again, why I pretend with myself sometimes boggles me. And again, I go along with it.)
Even with this cake, I added some fresh nutmeg. But the honey port caramel I kept true to the recipe. It became a surprise beginning and ending–it’s candy chewiness something to savor with the last crumbs of cake. Perfect for a fall picnic with your friends, the extra step of making the sauce is well worth it. Dollop it with some vanilla or almond hinted whipped cream if you want an extra bit of decadence–life’s short, I say go for it.
Dorie Greenspan’s A Fig Cake for Fall, via Food Blogga
Makes 8-10 servings
3/4 cup ruby port
1 cup honey, divided
2 thin slices lemon
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
16-20 fresh figs, stemmed and halved
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably medium grind
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
grated zest 1 lemon
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, at room temperature
3 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Stir the port and 1/2 cup honey together in small saucepan. Add lemon slices and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat. Add figs, cover, and cook 4-6 minutes, or until figs are soft but not falling apart. Using a slotted spoon, transfer figs to a bowl. Raise the heat to medium and cook the liquid for 15 minutes, or until slightly thickened; the syrup should coat a metal spoon. Remove from heat and let cool.
2. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the paper. Dust the inside of the pan with flour, tapping out the excess. Put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
3. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
4. In a separate bowl, add sugar and lemon zest; rub together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist. Add butter. Using a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Pour in remaining 1/2 cup honey, and the vanilla extract; beat for 2 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low, add dry ingredients, and mix until just incorporated. The batter will be fairly thick. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and jiggle the pan from side to side to even out the batter. Scatter poached figs over the top.
5. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until the cake is puffed and golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before running a blunt knife around the edges and releasing the sides of the pan. Cool the cake slightly before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature. Drizzle slices with wine sauce.
For the past month or so, I’ve been planning. Spectacular, beautiful, and meaningful eating design events have been playing through my mind’s eye over and over. Interesting, I would think to myself as I watched these scenes unfold before me. And I really couldn’t (and can’t) help it, they just burst into my head. At first, I didn’t judge them. It was fun day-dreaming (the best form of mental exercise there is), seeing what my imagination would come up with next. But then, when I started to question this use of my time, and mainly myself, I started to panic. Literally, worry. And not just a little, but a lot. What does this mean? Why is this happening? Ugh, I thought, talk about putting a damper on things. When this happens, and I’m lucky enough to catch myself at it, I try to frame things in a new light for myself to help me step outside of the issue, ex: If your best friend came to you and confided she’d been having some wonderfully creative ideas popping up, would you dissuade her and her process by asking non supportive probing questions? No.
As it turns out, there is still a lot of MFA left in me. In fact, it’s not going anywhere. That experience, while it will take me the rest of my life to fully digest, did so much for me in the way of coming into my own. While I will be forever grateful for this, there is a lot to sort through still–something I have been putting off for, oh, the past year. Forming my creative self and coming into my own was anything but easy. Doing this under (and do mean under) intense scrutiny, critique, and little to no support would leave anyone wary–not to mention worn out. But the old adage “time heals” is certainly true, especially in this case. Except, it wasn’t my conscious mind per se, that let me know it was alright to start living creatively again, it was my day dreams. It’s amazing what a little rest, recuperation, and a focus on health will do not only to the body, but the mind as well. And those non supportive probing questions I default to asking myself (and inciting panic and immobility)? Just leftovers from a critical juncture in my personal growth. Now that I know this, I can (literally) move on!
Wouldn’t it be nice if life were always a single, aligned package, all wrapped up with a neat little bow–and presented to us for us to unwrap? I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure. Yes, it would make things “easier” in the way of knowing what’s to come exactley and not having any surprises. But it’s those surprises that force us to grow, to think for ourselves, and to live. Life may seem like a bottomless pit while we go through an especially tough time. But once through and can look back, you are undeniably a different, deeper person. That personal experience is priceless and in the end will help shape the future. The trick is, I’ve discovered, is to really understand what we’ve been through in order to know where we are going. I tried and tried to push down the shame and guilt I felt for not “living up to” the standards of my school, my parents, of whomever-I-felt-I-let-down-before; for not “creating” in a way they saw fit, or living my life in a way that they could understand. Cliche sounding, I know. But, it’s even more weird when you realize,
hey, that’s exactley what I’ve been doing.
It’s even weird now to say out loud. But, I’m excited because I can take action and do something about it.
All of this thinking and multiple realizations later, (of course) I found myself in the kitchen. My focus was on these oat bars and trying to find one that I could make over and over again, to have as a staple snack in the house. Crunchy, chewy, layered with texture and pizazz, I want no ordinary oat bar. So I recipe tested until I found the winner. Of course (and this ALWAYS happens!) Heidi Swanson‘s power bars won out. She is incredible, seriously, incredible. And her recipes, well, they are all over-the-top incredible too. So you know what to expect from these oat bars then–sheer amazingness. The other blueberry oat bars were delicious too, don’t get me wrong. But they were actually more like a dessert than a grab-and-go kind of thing I was looking for. I’d make them again for sure and the filling options could be endless (substitute the blueberries for pumpkin, cherries, apples, you name it…). So really, it was a win win for us all.
Happy recipe trying (and meditating)!
Cranberry Ginger Power Bars, via Heidi Swanson
1 1/4 cups walnut halves (5 ounces)
1 1/2 cups puffed brown rice cereal
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup oat bran
3 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 cup brown rice syrup (see Note)
1/4 cup natural cane sugar (see Note)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly spray an 8-by-11-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant and golden, about 9 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop. Transfer the walnuts to a large bowl. Add the puffed rice, rolled oats, cranberries, oat bran and ginger and toss well.
In a small saucepan, combine the brown rice syrup, cane sugar and salt and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the syrup into the rice-oat mixture and toss to coat thoroughly. Transfer the warm mixture to the prepared baking dish and pack lightly with a spatula greased with cooking spray. Let cool for at least 45 minutes before cutting into 16 bars.
The cranberry-walnut bars can be wrapped individually in plastic wrap or waxed paper and kept in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Blueberry Oat bars, via Fat Free Vegan Kitchen
1 pint blueberries
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup apple juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with enough water or juice to form a smooth paste
3 cups oatmeal* (regular, not instant)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces unsweetened applesauce
6 tablespoons (3/8 cup) agave nectar
6 tablespoons (3/8 cup) water
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 375F. Oil an 8×8-inch baking dish.
In a small saucepan, combine the blueberries, agave nectar, and juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When it boils, stir in the vanilla and the cornstarch mixture. Continue to stir as the mixture boils and thickens. Remove from heat and set aside.
Put 1 1/2 cups of the oatmeal into a blender and grind it to a fine powder. Pour it into a medium-sized mixing bowl and add the remaining oatmeal, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Mix well. Stir in the apple sauce, agave nectar, water, and vanilla, and mix well.
Spread half of the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing well to cover the bottom of the pan. Spoon the blueberry filling over the batter, and cover the blueberries with the remaining batter.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned. Allow to cool before cutting into bars.
Food is so inspiring. Especially during these months of abundance, when gardens and orchards seem to be overflowing with their bounty. When I saw all the different varieties of plums at the market last week, I couldn’t help myself. I bought one of each color (or each variety). They ranged in the most beautiful jewel tones I have ever seen. From amethyst to ruby, black opal to peridot, the vibrancy and deep richness of these colors were seducing. At home, I was even more happy when I put them all on a plate together. They happily stared back at me in their vibrant coats, slightly glistening in the morning light. I left them there for a few days, just enjoying their beautiful colors in my kitchen, until I realized that they needed to be eaten together. As one. In a tart.
For this tart, I used the flaky pie dough recipe from Baking with Julia (Child, that is. Have you seen the DVD of her showing you how to do this? It’s fantastic and utterly Julia. Try renting it from your local library!). She is a big proponent of lard–and I must confess–this does help quite a bit with the texture and overall exceptional quality of the dough. If you do use lard, or some sort of shortening, just make sure it’s non-hydrogenated. But for the fruit filling, I went with my instincts–no real recipe, per say. The colors spoke of their flavor, their tight skins hinting at their juiciness. And although the plums were a little tart (not a bad thing when baking fruit!) I just added a scoop of local raw honey, then a few dribbles of vanilla, tossed it together, and baked.
Margit, one of this year’s pietopia winners, pointed me in the direction of a fantastic book by Nigel Slater called Appetite. In it, he describes a recipe as a living thing, “something allowed to breathe, to change its nature to suit our ingredients, our mood, our desires.” Food can really let us tap into our most inward expressions, things we can sometimes have a hard time connecting with for one reason or another. Slater encourages his readers to take in the spirit of the recipe, and to recognize that our ingredients, feelings, and hunger are not variables that can be subjected to a strict formula and “laid down in tablets of stone.” Break the rules, follow your appetite.
Recipes are wonderful frameworks, places that we can see how others are combining flavors and textures. But they don’t need to be always followed strictly by the book. Even with baking, there is wiggle room for adding or simplifying recipes and tastes. Pie dough, in particular, becomes something that you follow the recipe in the beginning, but then you get to know it with your hands. How the feeling of the butter and the flour should be between your fingers, how a little bit should taste on your tongue. The recipe simply helps get you to that place of certainty with your own hands. Do you ever find yourself stressed out in the kitchen because you missed an ingredient, didn’t follow an instruction to the T, or didn’t stir the dry into the wet all at the same time? Try starting with something simpler in nature. Something that doesn’t take ten pots and twelve bowls to make. Something that speaks to you because you want to taste that specific flavor. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, sometimes the more simple the recipe is, the easier it is to over-under do something, because there are less ingredients. But that’s OK. Take a deep breath and try again. And taste it along the way! You’ll be amazed by your results.
Summer Plum Tart
6-8 summer plums, varying colors and shapes
3 tablespoons fresh honey
1 capful of vanilla extract
1 carton fresh raspberries
Wash, slice, and throw out the pits of the plums. Toss them with the honey, vanilla, and raspberries. Set aside.
Julia’s Flaky Pie Dough
5 1/4 cups pastry flour or all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) cold unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups shortening (non-hydroginated, Spectrum is a good brand) or lard
1 cup ice water
To make the dough by hand, mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut it into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Be patient–this takes a while. Break up the shortening and add it in bits to the bowl. Still working with the pastry blender or fingers, cut in the shortening until the mixture has small clumps and curds. Switch to a wooden spoon and add the ice water, stirring to incorporate it. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold it over on itself a few times–don’t get carried away. The dough will be soft, but it will firm sufficiently in the refrigerator.
To make the dough in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, put the flour and salt into the bowl and stir to mix. Add the butter and mix on low until it is cut into the dry ingredients and the mixture looks coarse and crumbly. Add the shortening in small bits and continue to mix on low. When the mixture is clumpy and curdy and holds together when a small bit is pressed between your fingers, add the water and mix only until it is incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold it over on itself two or three times, just to finish the mixing and to gather it together. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or as long as five days.
Note: Julia spent so much time on her recipes, perfecting them, each word a necessary step, in order to give people a chance to make food delicious in their own homes. Notice how she wants you to really look at it (clumpy, curdy) and to feel it (press between your fingers) in order to understand what it is your are doing. Give it a try! Getting your hands dirty is not only rewarding, but fun. And you can always wash them when you are done:).
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a circle about 1/8 inch thick and fit it into a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press a little of the overhang against the edge of the pan so that it produces a small ledge protruding over the inside of the pan. Place partchment paper down in the center then pour in a lot of dried beans until it is very full. This will help keep the sides of the tart on the sides, instead of sliding down to the center. Bake at 375 F for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool while you make the filling or check your email.
After slightly cooled, pour the fruit filling into the center, making sure to get all the juice from the bottom of the bowl. Bake at 375 F for about 40-45 minutes, or until the fruit is nice and juicy, maybe even a little crisp on some of the edges. Enjoy!
ps–for some more fun photos of Pietopia this year, check out the Portland Farmer’s Market Flickr link! There are some really good ones :).
When I first read Margit Beerli’s story, I was instantly taken back. While she has some 60 years more life-experience than me, I couldn’t help but reminisce about when my grandmother would tell me stories about her mother as a child, or even her grandmother’s childhood! The phrase “patterns and rules” really struck a chord for some reason. Maybe it’s how sewing was an art on both sides of my family–my mother made her own lined suit as a teenager, along with most of her clothes; my great grandmother on my dad’s side was a beautiful quilter. Maybe it’s my own lack of sewing knowledge or remembering the stories of the women in my family making beautiful garments and bed spreads. Maybe it’s my understanding that times past are times past–something I’m just now getting used to. It’s funny how as we age time seems to literally speed up. As a kid, I remember hearing “one hour and forty five minutes” and thinking that was FOR-EV-ER! But I’ve realized that I enjoy getting older; I honestly wouldn’t go back in time for anything. I enjoy the process age brings us of learning, exploring, pushing, discovering, and understanding. Andrew and a lot of my friends joke with me that I’m an old soul. And you know what? I take that as a compliment and I hope that it’s true.
Margit Beerli, Rinky Dink Pie
My life is simple right now because I choose to live uncomplicated and because I am in the third third of my life. I have raised my family, tripped, stumbled and danced through my middle years and now I’m savoring my surroundings: blooming peonies, the quality of light in the morning on the mimosa tree, the surprise of gold finches suddenly taking flight in a cloud of yellow. In the kitchen, I’m searching, always searching, for deep deliciousness in what I prepare, for seduction and surprise. My pie draws from the past. It comes from my mother’s childhood where there were patterns and rules. Every Sunday, in the summer, the family would meet at the park for a picnic. Mrs. Nelson always brought Rinky Dinks, individual tarts with an ambrosial coconut custard filling. You were allowed to eat one. I will make my pie of the coconut filling and lace the top with a thin criss-cross of dark chocolate. Imagine it: the custard so delicious it makes you stop, close your eyes, and succumb to sensuousness rarely experienced. And then the little bit of crunch and the shot of chocolate toying with the pie. There you have it, simple and deep, calm and seductive, pure and delicious.
Rinky Dink Pie
2 cups granulated sugar
1⅓ cups water
4 ounces angel flake sweetened coconut
7 Tablespoons salted butter
7 egg yolks
Pie dough for one crust
Good dark chocolate, chopped and melted
Bring sugar and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cook at a simmering boil for 15 minutes. Add the coconut and continue the simmering boil for another 15 minutes. Cool and add the butter. Beat the egg yolks until they are light yellow and stir into the batter.
Preheat oven to 350°. Roll out pie dough and cut into a circle larger than top diameter of your pie pan Carefully place the circle into the pan, pressing down along the sides and fluting the edge. Pour batter into pastry shell. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the pie is a lovely golden tan. Insert a knife into the center and it should come out relatively clean. Set on a rack to cool completely. Drizzle the chocolate sparingly across the pie. Serve at room temperature. If you are not serving immediately, keep in the refrigerator.
Phew! It’s not only a mouthful to say, it’s a mouthful to try. Another semi-finalist of Pietopia, this entrant’s story won the hearts of the food-writer judges for her honesty, clarity of feelings, and ability to relay her deep relationship to these specific tastes. The story is touching, the pie is a chocolate-caramel-banana flavor bomb, what better combination is there for a contest like Pietopia?
If you make this pie, you’ll instantly understand her story on a deeper and more meaningful level. This is what happened to me! Sure, I “understood” with my mind that banana’s, fudge, caramel, and kids were all a little messy and sticky–but I didn’t realize to what extent this could be taken to and how wonderful it all was together! You might even be surprised yourself.
Caroline Ford, Pietopia Semi-Finalist 2010
My younger brother has a spirited, cheerful three-year-old daughter and a giggly, flirtatious one-year-old son. Except, my brother is a drug addict and dealer and is in prison with a 20-year sentence. He has completely missed the exciting “firsts” of his babies and will continue to be absent for their early years. It breaks my heart, but I love the kids so much I can hardly stand it.
The little lives of my beautiful niece and nephew are like my Gooey, Sticky, Banana Caramel Fudge Brownie Pie. The soft, mushy bananas are the muddled circumstances and easily bruised emotions. Layered with salted caramel for all the tears along the way, a little chewy for my brother’s stubborn resistance. And the pie is oozing with dark, bittersweet chocolate for unexpected pregnancies that have brought two delightful babies.
The filling isn’t very stable. It is sticky and messy, but the combination is a sweet harmony. Each bite of the pie is happy and rich. The lush texture and comforting flavors make me swoon and grin and dive in for more. These two young souls have brought my family and the mothers’ families more joy than we could have ever imagined. They are perfect, adorable, laughing and smiling children surrounded by love, and they are exactly the delightful surprise we have all been craving. Sometimes messy is deliciously right.
Banana Caramel Fudge Brownie Pie
Crust: (makes enough for 2 single crust pies, save the other for later!)
2 ¼ c all-purpose flour
¼ c cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 T butter, chilled, cut into ¼” pieces
½ cup shortening, chilled, cut into 1/4” pieces
1/2 cup water, very cold
Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in food processor; pulse to mix.
Add butter and shortening; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal (pea sized pieces).
Add cold water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing just until mixture comes together.
Remove dough and shape into 2 equal discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
To roll out, remove one disc from refrigerator and place on floured surface. Flour disc and rolling pin; roll out dough to a 12-inch circle, about 1/8” thick.
Transfer dough to pie tin, press gently into pan. Fold excess overhang under and crimp edges.
Prick bottom and side of shell with a fork and chill for at least 30 minutes. While chilling, preheat oven to 375 degrees with a baking sheet on the middle rack.
Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights; bake on sheet for about 25 minutes, or until pastry is set and golden. Set aside.
Fudge Brownie Filling:
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar, sifted
1 cup brown sugar, sifted
2 1/4 cup cocoa, sifted
1/2 cup flour, sifted
8 ounces melted butter
2 tablespoons ground espresso
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Beat eggs at medium speed until fluffy and light yellow; add both sugars and combine.
Add remaining ingredients and mix to combine. Set aside.
3 ripe bananas, cut into ¼” pieces
1 cup caramel chews, cut into small pieces
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Layer cut bananas, caramel and chocolate chips in bottom of par baked pie shell.
Pour brownie batter over top in spoonfuls, gently smooth over filling.
Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees or until brownie is set. Insert toothpick into center to check for doneness.
Serve warm and gooey.
Leading up to the Pietopia event, I am going to share with you the six semi-finalists pies and their stories. The semi-finalists were the entries that made it from round one (the food-writer judges round) and have passed along to round two (the baker-judges). All the stories this year were absolutely fantastic! And it was a really tough decision for all the judges. As I post these pies and you read through the stories, I’m interested to know what you think about the food-memory-communication connection. How would you describe your life through taste? The pies take on a whole new flavor if you decide to make them–because you know you are tasting not just food, but someone’s story. Let me know if you do!
These pies represent a different type of nourishment we all need, something I call Primary Food. Primary food feeds us on a deeper level and includes our relationships, careers, and even spirituality. We can eat as healthy as we want, never skipping greens, and always getting the correct amount of vitamins and minerals each day. But if we are unhappy in our jobs or our relationships, the rest of our lives can be colored by those situations making us feel both physically and mentally drained. Having fun, enjoying your life, and those you spend it with are essential to feeling and being our best! What’s your primary food like?
Galaxy Pie, by Hannah Kane, Pietopia 2010 Semi-Finalist
There are at least 70 sextillion stars in the observable universe. Most stars are between 1 billion and 10 billion years old. This boggles my mind.
Though I often daydream about being an astronaut, my job has nothing to do with space, or stars, or even science. I’m a project manager at a nonprofit. In my job I deal with details. Thinking about the vastness of the universe provides a little perspective when I get bogged down in the minutiae of my work. In recent years, I’ve developed insomnia – specifically, the kind where you can’t stay asleep. On nights when I find myself wide awake at 4:00am, I sometimes try to imagine the entire universe in my mind’s eye. I start with a mental image of me lying in my bed. Then, like a camera lens, I zoom out to my apartment, my street, city, country, planet, and on and on, until I’ve zoomed out as far as my brain can possibly comprehend. It has the opposite of the intended effect. Instead of feeling sleepy, my heart starts to beat faster. It’s the most thrilling feeling I can create for myself – imagining the scope of everything.
This pie represents the delicious feeling of being so very small, and the wonder I feel when I consider everything we don’t yet know about the universe. The ginger snap crust is unexpected and hot, like a star. The creamy filling is like the band of light in the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. The sweetness of the caramel entwined with the richness of the bittersweet chocolate remind me of the choices I’ve made – I love what I do, but part of me will always wonder what other, more extra-terrestrial, paths I might have taken.
Stellar Gluten-free Ginger Snap Crust
2 cups ground gluten-free ginger snap cookies (around 40 cookies) (Trader Joe’s brand are the best!)
2 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Pulse the cookies and sugar in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Slowly add the melted butter until moist clumps form.
Press the mixture into a lightly greased pie plate.
Bake until golden, about 8 minutes. Cool, like the crust of a newly-formed planet.
Cosmic Cream Cheese Filling
8 ounces heavy whipping cream
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 ounces sweetened condensed milk
Whip cream until it forms stiff peaks.
In a separate bowl, beat together cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk until smooth.
Mix whipped cream with cream cheese mixture.
Pour the cream cheese filling into pie crust, almost to the top.
Freeze for at least 4 hours.–
Remove the pie at least 20 minutes before you serve it.
Make the sauces on the stove:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
Mix the water and sugar in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cover and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.
Increase the heat and boil uncovered until the sugar turns a medium brown, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
Slowly (and carefully) add the cream and the vanilla. Simmer until the sauce is smooth and thick.
Bittersweet Chocolate Swirl
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
Slowly melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot water.
Stir in sour cream, sugars and heavy cream.
When fully blended, stir in vanilla. —
When the caramel and chocolate sauces are still warm, but not hot, drizzle in a swirled pattern over the cream cheese mixture.
Throw a few pieces of a broken toffee bar on top if you like, to represent the randomness of the universe.
Ah, sugar–we go way back–as far back as I can remember, actually. I would go into the kitchen and bake something when I felt bored, alone, or entertaining myself. I have a very clear memory about how I started baking: I was maybe 8 or 9 and I had been bugging my mom quite a bit about “being bored”. I’m so bored! I would whine to her. She would rattle off her regular list of things I could go and occupy myself with: go play outside, read a book, play with your dollhouse (yes, I interior decorated that thing like you would not believe!), and she’d always throw in “you could always do some chores” in which case I usually found myself something to do pretty quickly. But one day, she added to the list, bake some cookies, and I thought “hey, I can bake some cookies!”. It was one of those self-realization childhood moments–yes, I CAN do that! For an eight or nine year old, that was pretty big.
So I got in there and never looked back. The kitchen became a place of empowerment and positivity–I could make things and make them well. I could create new flavors, smells, and textures all by myself that were delicious. I found refuge in the kitchen. And the irony is the kitchen is a place my mother and her generation worked so hard at getting themselves out of. But positive reinforcement after positive reinforcement (oh, this tastes wonderful! or, Trish, can you make us some of your wonderful _______?) I felt drawn into that room like a bee to honey.
These past three years however, my approach to cooking and to self-healing has grown yet again. Instead of using sugar to give myself a hug, I now use it more sparingly and only for special occasions. And I find that I enjoy it that way even more (and after years of using sugar in one way, this actually surprises me a bit). I also have found that the less I eat granulated sugar in my foods, the less I crave it. I used to get really emotional just reading about the attributes of sugar (seeing words like bad and addictive, etc etc…), thinking to myself the whole time “no one’s taking away any sweets from me!”. Hilarious, I know. But quite revealing when it came to understanding my body’s needs vs. my heart’s needs.
So how the heck does Chia Pudding fit into all this? Well let me tell you. It’s one of the best desserts I’ve had in ages and there is no sugar in it. It is sweetened with a little real maple syrup, but the whole fat coconut milk is what really satisfies the sweet tooth. Chia seeds (yes, I’m talkin’ about those seeds that are used to make the infamous Chia Pet–cha cha cha chia!) are great for lowering cholesterol and helping with thyroid issues, along with many other things. And it has to be whole coconut milk–in case you missed the Better Bites post about Healthy Fats, check it out. Light coconut milk is missing most of it’s amazing mineral and healthful properties. Whole coconut milk is not only delicious–and seriously one of my favorite foods on the planet–but it is full of good things like potassium and phosphorous and it is a natural immune system builder. I find that a little goes a long way too because it is so rich, just how I like it!
I use Native Forest canned coconut milk because it is BPA free
The pudding comes out in the consistency of tapioca. These little amazing seeds get a bit gummy and chewy like a tapioca would, expanding as they sit in the coconut milk. You can really use any type of liquid milk or juice for this–mango juice, apple juice, green juice for a more pudding-type consistency–coconut milk or regular whole milk, for a more cream-like consistency. It was even better the second day–a much thicker consistency more like ice cream, after leaving it in the fridge in a tupperware over night. Cheers!
Ch-ch-ch-Chia Pudding via Find Your Balance
4 Tbl. chia seeds
3/4 cup organic whole-fat coconut milk
1 Tbl. maple syrup
Topping options are endless: fruit, nuts, shredded coconut, cocoa, cinammon…
In a bowl, combine seeds with coconut milk. Stir well. Let mixture sit for 20-30 minutes. Stir every 5-10 minutes. The consistency will become thick and tapioca like. Add maple syrup and stir. You may refrigerate at this point for a cool treat, but it’s also good at room temperature. Add toppings and enjoy!
I’m a sucker when it comes to tropical fruits–mangoes, avocados, coconuts–I love them all. They make me feel like I’m getting sun when it’s actually raining (hailing, sleeting, or misting) outside, of which all four have been happening throughout the course of a day–every day–for the past week or so. However, the pay-offs of this manic weather are the ever spectacular spring blossoms, the constant greenness of the surrounding landscapes, and lots of quiet, contemplative time indoors.
It’s those quiet moments that ideas always seem to make themselves known by either slithering into the conscious mind from a deep, unknown place or, exploding right in front of me like fireworks. Either way, they are always happening–it’s just when I get quiet that I tend to hear them. When pursued, I inevitably think “yes, of course! this is what I’ve wanted all along!” but I tend to be a tactile learner, having to experience things for myself to fully understand why, how, or what.
These past few weeks have been an emergence of sorts for myself in many ways. But most importantly, this time has forced me to come to terms with a lot of things that I tended to have been unsure about in the past, (ahem…a more focused career path). But no more! If you look around Eating Is Art, you will see some of this progression. Narrowing in on writing, food styling & photography, and health coaching never felt so good. It was like the muscles in the middle of my chest, you know the ones that are right over your heart, relaxed when I decided that this was it–and then putting it out there. I’ve heard so many times “I can’t believe all the things you do”. I decided that while I am able to do many things, I do not enjoy them all, therefore, I am not going to focus my energies on them any longer (yes!). After talking with a friend of mine about career direction and life the other day, she said “well, what do you want to do? If you do so many things, how can you do any of them that well?” This was something I had thought of thousands of times before but for some reason had not been able to do something about it before now. I’m sure it had something to do with being afraid of giving up, or what I perceived as giving up, these other skills and persona’s that I have been known for.
It’s an enormous relief to finally let go of what has not been working and find strength in what is–to the point of the physical reaction of my chest feeling lighter! I think spring time can have this effect on people, spring cleaning in both the home and in the ‘ol brain.
Check out my new Writing and Photography Services page if you get the chance! And if you are needing a little spring cleaning in a nutritive sense, make sure to see Food Loyal–I’d be happy to answer any questions! But now, I am leaving you with a real spring treat–Leela’s Mango Pie. It is tangy, creamy, cool, and delicious–perfect for a mother’s day treat or just a warm summer day. It may fall under the category of vegan, but don’t let that scare you away–this pie is going to become a regular occurrence in my house especially the warmer it gets. Cheers!
For the Love of a Mango Pie, via Leela Cyd
2 ripe mangos, sliced in pretty half-moons
sprinkle of chili powder
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c water
For the lime cream:
2 c non-dairy milk (I like vanilla almond for this, but anything will work)
1/2 c flour
3/4 tsp corn starch
zest of two limes
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c lime juice
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c Agave nectar
For the crust:
1 c flour
1/2 c veg butter (Earth Balance is my preference)
1/3 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp cold water
First, make the crust (I like to do this a day before the pie is served, much easier to get it out of the way) – cream the butter and sugar together in a mixer, add flour, cinnamon and salt and gradually incorporate cold flour until rough pie dough forms. Stop mixing and gather barely holding together dough into large ball on top of plastic wrap. Shape into a large disc, wrap up in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours. After two hours, roll out on floured surface. Poke about 5 fork marks in the crust. Lightly grease a 9 inch pie or tart pan, place rolled dough into shell – folding over edges for double-thick sides. Wrap tightly in plastic and freeze until day of serving pie.
Meanwhile, make the lime cream – place non-dairy milk, sugar, and vanilla into a medium-sized pot and stir on medium heat for approximately 5 minutes. Place cornstarch into small bowl, mixed with a splash of milk or water, whisk until starch is dissolved. Mix this starch slurry into the milk/flour mixture and cook for 5 minutes more, whisking the entire time (or else clumps will form). Mixture will thicken into a pudding-like texture. Take off heat and mix in remaining ingredients – lime zest, juice, Agave nectar. Pour into a bowl, cover with plastic, and chill until ready to assemble pie (about an hour, at least.)
Now, back to the crust. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove frozen crust from freezer and grease the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and tightly cover crust, pressing into the sides so that it is directly on the crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 3-4 minutes more. Set aside to cool.
Remove lime cream from fridge, whisk it up if it has set into something a little too firm. Pour almost all the lime cream into the crust. Spreading it into the edges with the back of a spoon.
Arrange mango slices into whatever pattern you like, trying to fit as many as possible into the pie. Heat 1/4 c sugar with 1/4 c water over low heat to make a simple syrup. When mango slices are all in place, drizzle syrup over entire tart. Finally, sprinkle a tiny dusting of chili powder over entire pie. Garnish with lime wedges or lime leaves, as I had on hand. Chill for at least an hour or so, and then serve. Perfect for celebrating anything.