The tour guide for our latest addition, Ann Marie Brokmeier, admits to being charmed by Baltimore, known affectionally as "Charm City." After browsing her guide, you'll see why. Coffee shops with locally-sourced menus, walking tours of literary Mount Vernon, slam poetry, and a bookstore with a bar are just some of the offerings from this east coast literary town.
It had been approximately eight weeks since I last visited the farmers' market, six weeks since I'd had a free weekend, and four weeks since I'd felt any sort of enthusiasm for cooking. Spring was hard. I paid no attention to its offerings, trading my time in the kitchen for taping together moving boxes. A few transitions (the kind most people like to spread out over a longer period of time) occurred simultaneously, and there were moments I thought we would never make it out the other side. But here we are. And it's summer!
At the end of June, Andrew and I woke up on our first free Saturday since the beginning of May. We made pancakes, then went to the gym (for my first yoga class in oh, four weeks)...And after that, we stopped by the farmers' market. Just that morning, I was lamenting how uninterested I was in cooking. I usually meal plan every week, heading to the store with a firm strategy in place for the dishes I planned to cook every night, but that morning I couldn't bring myself to flip through a magazine or give it any firm thought. I was completely uninspired, and I hated the feeling.
So we walked into the market with no plan whatsoever, and it was exactly what I needed. Without the trappings of my handy list, I let summer's first vegetables tell me what I should make. We went home with a pound of gold tomatoes, ruffled chard, kale, fingerling potatoes, red peppers, a case of strawberries, and pistachios.
It only took 20 minutes of standing among the stalls and trusting my instincts to tap into the enthusiasm again. I couldn't wait to start cooking. Andrew had been requesting ice cream steadily for the past month, so pistachio ice cream, or gelato, as it turned out, was the very best thing to make. I was also fresh off of reading a new poetry collection, Take This Spoon by Julia Wendell, so I was itching to make a pairing and find my way back to this space.
The velvety heat and sweetness
smothering ice cream's cold shock,
holding each soft spoonful in our mouths
as long as possible:
even my calorie-conscious self
couldn't say no. Stirring was a chore
for my mother, the impatient one.
She was glad to have me
fetch the double boiler, wooden spoon, tolerant
of my constant pleading: Is it ready yet?,
as stubborn white flecks of clotted cream
fought their subservience to chocolate,
But persistence wins. If you stir long enough,
it will thicken and delight,
and it will disappear.
Poem reprinted with permission from the author. Visit Main Street Rag to order your copy.
"Holding each soft spoonful in our mouths as long as possible." Isn't that the essence of summer, in a way? Whether it's ice cream or a sunset or a bonfire or a meal under the stars, summer days swing from one to the next and we try not to fall until September.
"Savor" invites us in by using a memory many can relate to. Mother and child waft between patience and impatience, and the tasks ahead seem mundane until the moment when "persistence wins," and the ice cream "will thicken and delight, and it will disappear," just like every summer afternoon. That's how it always works, doesn't it? We fight and resist, we let frustrations take over, but once we let go, that's when the magic happens. This poem is a beautiful meditation on relationships, on seasons, and on cooking, the driving force that fuels so many of us. It set me on the right course to embrace the coming days as best I can, and I hope it does the same for you.
This recipe is a hybrid of the pistachio butter from 101 Cookbooks, and the pistachio gelato from David Lebovitz. Making gelato (instead of ice cream with an egg-base), really allows the pistachio flavor to shine through. I scooped mine onto a strawberry crumble, but it would also be wonderful drizzled with homemade chocolate shell.
For the pistachio paste
1 1/2 cups pistachios
1/3 to 1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup teaspoon salt
For the gelato
4 cups whole milk
2/3 cup organic cane sugar sugar (use 1/2 cup if you'd like it a touch less sweet)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cup cup pistachio paste (see above)
A squeeze of lemon juice
Puree the pistachios in a food processor until broken down. Drizzle in the water until the puree is creamy, then let it run for about three minutes; it will be the consistency of hummus.
Rinse out the food processor, then add 1/2 cup milk and the cornstarch, blending until the starch is dissolved and the liquid is smooth, about 1 minute.
Heat the rest of the milk in a medium-sized saucepan with the sugar. When it almost starts to boil, stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook at a gentle simmer for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Remove from the heat and chill thoroughly, at least 4 hours. Once chilled, whisk in the pistachio paste and a few drops of lemon juice until smooth. If you prefer a really smooth gelato, puree the gelato in a sturdy blender before freezing in your ice cream machine.
There's something about a university town. It doesn't matter which state you're in, or whether the city is big or small. College towns make you feel cozy, relaxed, and maybe even inspired to sit in on a lecture while you're passing through (Andrew and I recently did this on our last visit to Santa Barbara, just for fun.)
Coffee shops abound, local food isn't hard to find, and literary opportunities from conferences to walking tours are available. Tour guide Caroline Mitchell received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Ann Arbor, and found her way back years later. In this Michigan town, you'll find a bookstore housed in a 19th century building, library modeled after Cambridge and Oxford universities, and a cafe with buckwheat waffles.
Stop by to visit Ann Arbor!
This is a peek at my Instagram feed from the past couple of weeks. As you can see, I'm cooking again after surviving the big move. Aaaand I've walked to the beach, gone back to yoga, rediscovered the farmer's market, and am completely obsessed with the season's first batch of cherry tomatoes. It's going to be a good summer!
The joy of notebooks.
Kids or no kids, you will laugh out loud.
Why discouragement is a waste of time.
Breaking out of healthy habits.
20 new Pablo Neruda poems have been discovered!
What's lost as handwriting fades.
Honesty, by way of chocolate.
Lessons from The French Laundry.
The saltwater issue.
What would Nigella Lawson do?
Pretty, new-to-me food blog.
If you have a case of wanderlust, this will definitely make it worse.
How Luisa became a cookbook editor.
On being grateful for every morsel.
Oh, and why the internet is making us all f*@%ing insane.
It's extraordinary to think that a blender can change your life, but it can. Sometimes the big investments are a struggle though, aren't they? You spend days, weeks, maybe even months justifying the cost, comparing brands, really thinking about it. Then when you finally take the plunge, you can't remember your life without a high-speed blender.
I speak from experience. My Vitamix is one of the best things to happen to my kitchen. I use it at least once a day, sometimes twice. (Sometimes three times!) I make smoothies every morning, blend the silkiest soup, swirl pesto, and grind grains to powder.
Once you start grinding your own flour (with everything from rolled oats to dried beans), you'll have an even more impressive repertoire of recipes at your disposal. To make the journey easier, my friend Erin has written a beautiful cookbook all about cooking with whole grain flours, along with instructions for how to mill them in your own kitchen. (I tested a handful of recipes for Erin, and have been excited to share this book with you for months!)
The Homemade Flour Cookbook is full of approachable, vegetarian recipes using everything from black bean flour to rye flour. In between packing for a big move, I was craving something substantial and filling. A crusty exterior (thanks to ground quinoa), and tender cauliflower smothered in sweet tomato sauce was exactly the fuel I needed to finish packing the rest of my cookbooks.
Quinoa-Flour Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with Tomato Sauce
Summer tomatoes are just barely making their presence known at my local farmers' market, so I made the sauce with boxed San Marzano tomatoes instead. My cauliflower was quite large, so I managed to get a few more "steaks" out of it.
Serves 2 generously
Recipe slightly adapted from The Homemade Flour Cookbook by Erin Alderson
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup basil leaves, julienned, plus more for garnish
For the steaks:
1 large head cauliflower
2 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup quinoa flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
To make the sauce: Warm the oil over medium low heat. Add the shallot and garlic; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Gently pour in the tomatoes, season with salt and bring to a boil. Simmer and cook for 10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Stir in the basil leaves.
To make the steaks: Strip away excess leaves on the cauliflower. With the stem side down on the cutting board, cut two 1/2-inch thick steaks from the center of the cauliflower, reserving florets as they fall off.
In a shallow dish, whisk together the eggs and cream. In a separate shallow dish, combine the quinoa flour, salt, and pepper. Coat the cauliflower steaks in the egg mixture, then carefully transfer to the quinoa flour and coat. Repeat the process, creating a double crust.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-low heat in a cast iron skillet. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until browned and crispy. Transfer the teak to a baking sheet. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and repeat with the second steak. Bake for 15 minutes, until tender.
Serve the steaks with the tomato sauce, topped with a sprinkle of basil.
Tour guide Rachel Lynne Wilkerson grew up in West Texas, and moved to Waco for college, returning in January 2014 for work. As Rachel describes it, "what Waco lacks in typical charm it makes up for by providing an abundance of what Anne Shirley terms “scope for the imagination.”
See for yourself, and visit the newest Literary City Guide!
The word potluck conjures up different images for different people, but some of the usual trappings are never far away: Grandma's potato salad, church functions on the lawn, neighborhood parties in the park, and not always (but sometimes), an excessive use of mayonnaise.
It's time we give the potluck a modern twist. A new cookbook was just released that will help you embrace community cooking in a whole new way this summer (and any time of year, really). Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook by Nancy Vienneau is a breath of fresh air, and I'm excited to be able to share it with you!
It all started when two friends in Nashville, Nancy Vienneau and Gigi Gaskins, met at a local summit on food security. Instant friends, they had an idea to host a once-a-month gathering that became "a potluck like no other."
The rules are simple. Dishes aren't assigned, RSVPs aren't collected, and the whole thing feels casual and relaxing. In reading through the cookbook, I loved the story of the very first potluck. It was like the first day of school, a mix of excitement and nerves.
The collection of stories speaks to the splendor of gathering in any season, and the personal recipes like Maggie's Refrigerator Zucchini Pickles, Caroline's Warm Eggplant Salad, Mark's Fifteen-Spice Steak Rub, or Amy's Ginger Cookies (below), will provide inspiration for all your gatherings to come.
What do you bring when you're invited to a picnic, potluck, or summer barbeque? To enter the giveaway for a copy of the Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook, leave a comment sharing your favorite potluck foods before Friday, June 20th. (Winners in US and Canada only.)
AMY'S GINGER COOKIES
Since I wasn't making ice cream sandwiches (although a smear of lemon ice cream would be divine), I halved the recipe, making about 12-15 cookies.
Recipe slightly adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook by Nancy Vienneau
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup tubrinado sugar
1/4 cup molassas
1 large egg
In a large bowl whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper together. In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, 1 cup sugar, and molasses together until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Beat in the flour mixture, a little at a time. Cover and chill the dough for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place remaining sugar in a small bowl. Scoop up rounds of dough and shape into a ball. Roll each ball in the sugar and place on the baking sheets, slightly flattening. Leave 2 inches between each cookie. Bake on the middle rack for 12 minutes.
I'm normally going on an on about asparagus and peas this time of year, but the entire month of May has turned life upside down, leaving me little time to fawn over spring produce. On May 1st, I was exactly four days into a new job, and today, we're moving! In between, I celebrated my birthday (at one of my favorite LA restaurants), and ate exactly one pint of gorgeous strawberries, while standing in my kitchen last night, packing up the plates and baking dishes. It was the opposite of glamorous, but perfect just the same.
Have a meal with Virginia Woolf.
Food Bloggers Los Angeles published a mac and cheese ebook, and proceeds will benefit the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
Why success can be as disorienting as failure.
Vincent Van Gogh and the importance of doing.
If you need to bring a dessert to ANYTHING, this is the one.
10 pancake-making mistakes.
This ginormous poem sucks pollution from the sky.
How not to be obnoxious even though you're passionate.
Famous advice on writing.
An inconvenient truth about our food.