Books & Books
passion fruit pot de creme
…and eat some marshmallows while I tell you about it.
I was wooed by the Whole30 program. I had been noticing that our typically chip-free, snack food-free, dessert-free (I have excellent willpower against not-so-good-for-you foods in the store. If they make it into the house? All bets are off.) kitchen was becoming the comfortable home to lots of stuff that I don’t typically like to eat all the time. In similar and saner times of my life, I usually just tossed it or had everyone eat it all up before we started fresh. But this time I went a little crazy and got Omar to go along with me on a 30 day diet reset.
10 days into our dairy-free, grain-free, bean-free, legume-free, sugar-free, alcohol-free adventure, I realized that I was thankful for the nutritional reset but completely unthankful for the constant 9 day headache. If I had some underlying health concerns that I thought this could help, I would’ve gladly stuck it out. I know several people who have loved what this program has done for their health, and I am incredibly happy for them. My kids were incredibly happy once their happy mama was returned to them. And believe it or not, one muffin did the trick. Headache gone, happy mother present.
Recently I was talking with someone about having Top 5s for things when people ask you for your favorite restaurants, top places to visit in your town, favorite books, etc. I believe it started when a friend and I were commiserating on visiting cities, asking locals where they would recommend eating or visiting and getting blank stares instead of suggestions. This made me think of also having Top 5s for the more mundane things in life. I’ve often wondered about friends’ top books, the recipes they go back to over and over, the places they visit regularly in their own towns, or any other Top 5s for everyday life.
Omar and I had a talk about top recipes the other night. These weren’t necessarily the most amazing or most favorite recipes ever. These were the simpler recipes we keep coming back to. When something needs to be made and we want something that we know is consistently good and comforting, these are what we turn to. We started making rules, and they pretty much boiled down to one: it has to have been made over and over to the point that the recipe is practically memorized and something is added to it (even if just slightly) to make it ours. These recipes fall more under sides and toppings than mains, but I’d eat a bowl of granola topped with blueberry compote and lemon curd any day.
1 :: blueberry compote from Deborah Madison’s Seasonal Fruit Desserts. it goes on waffles or yogurt or crepes or ice cream of oatmeal or almost anything. We add extra nutmeg and a pinch of salt.
2 :: lemon curd from Gourmet. I first wrote about it here and have made more than I’m comfortable to admit since then. I add a pinch of salt and make sure that I strain it through a fine mesh strainer before I put it in a jar.
3 :: granola from Orangette. I have other recipes that I like, too, but this is the one that is made over and over. There is no melting or separate bowls involved. It’s quick and good. I’ve even left out the oats and doubled other ingredients. I leave out the brown sugar and am starting to play with decreasing the maple syrup. But don’t switch out the olive oil. It’s what makes it.
4 :: oven-baked polenta. For those of you unfamiliar with polenta, think creamy grits and you’ll get an idea of what they are like. It’s the most basic side dish, and yet it’s typically the first dish that’s emptied at dinner. I will substitute chicken broth for water if I have it, and I also sub half-and-half or cream for the milk sometimes. I decrease the salt a bit, and depending on your oven’s temperature, you might need a few extra minutes in the oven. Note – I’ve never tried this with basic, fine cornmeal. I use the coarser polenta cornmeal.
5 :: pesto from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Her proportions are great. And if you are like me and have pine mouth issues (sigh), feel free to sub the pine nuts for whatever is in your pantry.
i think of this as a tasty picture, if not the prettiest. and it’s a picture that makes me smile. my first thanksgiving with omar’s side of the family was a few months after we got married. a few weeks before thanksgiving i asked omar if his family did traditional thanksgiving food. “of course!” he replied. thanksgiving day came and on the table before me were turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, guineos en escabeche, mofongo, and other puerto rican dishes. nine thanksgivings later i, too, would say that this is totally a traditional thanksgiving meal.
one day i’m watching ice skaters in the park and listening to choirs sing in old churches and hunting down restaurants in soho. the next day i’m curled up next to a boy of mine who asked for some cuddle time and wanted to know what we did each day, and then the next day i’m standing in the kitchen mixing cookie dough with the littlest one.
it’s good to be back.
asher woke me up this morning with a tap and gun noises from a little green army man. omar was at work. i was tired. so i did what any sane, yet tired, person with leftover shortcake biscuits and whipped cream would do – i served it for breakfast. music played. coffee steamed away, and the little people ate everything right up.
omar and i will always think of louisville, ky as the place where i instagramed everything, where we got an awesome (and free) hotel upgrade, and where the food is amazing.
louisville will also always be synonymous with neon green ford fiesta. at the hertz counter the lady asked me if i cared if the car was green. um, no. she told me that some people are rather particular about color. i shrugged my shoulders. and then i walked out to this:
now, instagram didn’t exactly capture the true color here, so feel free to brighten and saturate the above picture by about 45% and you’re good. holy cow, it was green. so green that at one point omar and i were hanging out outside a bookstore and i heard a group of people start talking about it/laughing at it. i walked up to them and (trying not to laugh) asked them if they were making fun of my car. their faces were priceless, i informed them it was a rental, and everyone laughed. and then one of the guys asked to take a picture of it. hilarious. even the hertz guy at the return said, “wow, that sure is green.” no kidding. but it was fun driving something in the non-van category for a few days.
it was also a good car to drive around the old parts of the city and dart in and out of spots so i could jump out and snap photos of some of the most interesting old churches. they were everywhere. the original downtown building facades were also fascinating and many were still in good shape.
but the food. that was kind of the highlight for us (of course). i think every restaurant we went to informed us that they had their own farm and pastureland. most restaurants had farm-to-table events and knowledgeable staff that were quick to share what they loved about louisville. the top meals were the cornmeal pancakes with chai butter at Hillbilly Tea, the pork belly and kimchi sliders at Holy Grale (a unitarian church-turned bar), and the prickly pear cava with ceviche at The Mayan Cafe.
lastly, louisville will also always be known as the place we were when we got the call that after all the inspections, appraisals, phone calls, etc, the house we wanted was a no-go. all that amazing food made up for the disappointment.
we’ve had a kitchen torch for many years. i think we might have used it once, but i’m not positive. in a perfect world, crème brûlée would be on the dessert menu rather often, but it’s not, unfortunately.
and then last month the mangoes started pouring in, along with a recipe for mango brûlée. it was a win-win. we got to dust off the kitchen torch (because who doesn’t get a kick out of using a kitchen torch?) and now we have yet another way to work our way through piles of mangoes.
i was tempted to let the boys help me. it’s quite a simple recipe: slice mango, sprinkle sugar, torch the sugar, squeeze a lime, done. but the idea of a certain 4 year old handling a kitchen torch gave me pause.
this is a blueberry pie. the blueberry pie to end all blueberry pies.
i don’t typically do much in the pie baking world. i’ve eaten my share of gloopy fillings, neon red fillings (how do the grocery store bakeries get their cherries to glow? it makes me nervous.), and oddly textured crusts, so “bake a pie” is rarely on the to-do list. but the other morning i woke up thinking about blueberry pie. there were some rules, though. it needed to have a non-gloopy filling, lemon of some sort, and a crunchy crust.
i came across Dorothy’s Fresh Blueberry Pie at Shockingly Delicious and figured it would be a winner. only 1 1/2 cups of the 5 cups of blueberries are cooked. the remaining fresh blueberries are folded into the cooked mixture and then poured into a blind baked crust. my one change to the recipe was that i added 2 extra teaspoons of lemon juice, but next time i might decrease the sugar a bit.
for the crust i went with a gingersnap crust. it was a good recipe, but i think i might increase the number of gingersnaps for a thicker crust next time.
and the finished product? just about perfect. perfect for summer-like weather. perfect with whipped cream. perfect for devouring when the house buying situation is getting a bit frustrating, odd, ridiculous…take your pick.
now go bake a pie.
i know that pumpkins and spring and heat don’t really go together, but since heat is always part of life down here, i’ve come to think of pumpkin as season-neutral. there is also ginger in these cookies, and ginger is tropical so there you go. but i still try not to overdo it because i like to pretend there is fall down here. perhaps i’ll impose a no pumpkin for july-august rule and then when the pumpkin products and recipes start popping up it will feel like its been ages since i’ve had any.
there is a shabby looking little former gas station up the street from us. i never paid much attention to it until I heard they had a pretty interesting beer and wine selection. really? tonight i stopped in.
but oh, the beer is only the beginning. you know when something is so interesting that you want to call it an experience? i didn’t realize bait and tackle and craft beers go together but they do. and stuffed (taxidermy style) squirrels perched on top of a wine rack? yes, indeed. and if you are thinking that browsing through all that wine and beer and squirrel might make you want to play a board game, you’re in luck because perched next to the squirrel was a stack of board games for sale. so inexplicably strange but we’ll be back.
i hope your april was a happy one.
today at the table there were muffins and coffee for breakfast that accompanied good conversation with a friend who stopped by. after the muffins there were pens and paper and drawing. after the pens the legos descended and tried to maintain their stronghold through lunchtime, school, and dinner. lunch plates were placed on the lunch table and The Story About Ping was passed from place to place so the kids could study the pictures. muffins appeared on the table again after naps along with more school books. legos creeped in again for a while, and then bowls of pasta and plates of yellow-ish heirloom tomatoes pushed them aside for dinner.
i think all birthday celebrations should include pie in a jar. especially if that pie in a jar is served at michael’s genuine and made up of mulberries, peaches, lemon cream, graham cracker crust, whipped cream, a piece of white chocolate with pistachio and spices, and a mint sprig.