Petits Pains Au Lait Au Chocolat…and Pizza

Last weekend, Caleb, Sadie and I went over to our friend Cecile’s home, where we spent the afternoon and evening baking pain au chocolat and pizza with she and her children, Eva and Hugo. It was a magical and memorable visit.

Eva and Caleb originally met in the early days of preschool and are close friends to this day. Eva is now attending Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, where she learned the ‘petits pains au lait au chocolat’ recipe. She was so eager to teach it to Caleb, they had us over for a baking date.

Cecile (who hails from France) and kiddos had prepared the dough the night before and when we arrived, all we had to do was knead, add chocolate, eat chocolate, and bake. Oh, and have fun! We also made an easy pancetta and cheese pizza from scratch…with a little help from TJ’s pre-made dough.

Eating the pizza for dinner, then the chocolate bread for dessert, was the best part. There’s nothing like an afternoon spent with good friends, enjoying bread and chocolate, fresh-baked pizza, and stinky cheese with baguette.

This short video really tells the story of our special afternoon spent together. Apprécier le film (with volume)!

Recipe: Petits Pains Au Lait Au Chocolat

Mother’s Day Pancakes

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I awoke on Sunday morning to happy sounds. Caleb and Mateo laughing in the kitchen, and Sadie making her usual bird songs throughout the house as she was trying on various shoes and clomping around. Is that genetic? Mateo had taken out his family pancake recipe and was making a Mother’s Day breakfast with Caleb for me.

Watching my guys in the kitchen together fills me up with all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings. Mateo is a baker and usually engages Caleb in pancake making or pie baking when he feels moved to cook something. I love that their project this morning was in honor of me.

Caleb follows his poppa around the kitchen and hangs on his every word. It’s sweet to see a family tradition of pancake making being passed down to Caleb, and eventually Sadie (Mateo’s father, Fred, was the pancake chef in their household growing up).

The blueberry pancakes were delicious! Soft and fluffy, and packed full of fresh berries…yum! I enjoyed every bite while sitting around the breakfast table with my family. Feeling pretty proud of the work Mateo and I have done over the past 5 years.

Mother’s Day wishes to my sisters, Niki, Jody, & Rebecca – truly wonderful mothers, all three. Special wishes to all of my mom friends. Finally, to the most important mother in my life, my mom, Lola. I miss you immensely, especially today, and wish you were here to see all this. This post is dedicated to you with all of my love and gratitude. Thank you for teaching by example. I hope I’m making you proud. Happy Mother’s Day.

Memories of Sachertorte

My family has many rich food traditions, most of which revolve around birthdays and special holidays. Growing up in San Francisco in the 1970s and 80s, we celebrated most birthdays with a home-cooked meal chosen by the celebrant, and a Sachertorte – a delectable chocolate cake filled with apricot preserves, originating from the Sacher Hotel in Vienna.

As a kid, I loved celebrating family birthdays, mainly for the cake (as most children do). My mom would invite me to drive over to Fantasia Bakery in Laurel Village with her to pick up the Sachertorte. She would usually sweeten the deal with a delicious little pettifor – a bite-sized cake that was elaborately decorated. Not that the deal really needed to be sweetened. Sadly, Fantasia is long gone; however, my family’s collective memory of this enchanting cake remains strong to this day, and can easily lead to some lamenting over the missing Sachertorte at birthday celebrations.

I haven’t enjoyed a slice of birthday Sachertorte for almost two decades. Since my family had plans to get together on Sunday night at Juan’s Place in Berkeley, I got it into my head to bake this family favorite (my first time), then bring it to the restaurant where we were all meeting up to celebrate four birthdays.

I woke up early on Sunday with Sadie’s first feeding and decided to get baking. At first, I was a bit intimidated by the recipe, but as I completed each step, I realized that it was not out of my league by any means. After Caleb woke up, he assisted with the final steps: spreading the apricot preserves and glazing the cake with the bittersweet ganache.

Before the family dinner, Mateo and I took the kids to the Berkeley Jewish Community Center where we participated in a wonderful Purim festival. Caleb’s friend Jordan and his family joined us, and we had such fun together in the calamitous, kid strewn carnival.

After the Purim party, the cake drove over with us to Juan’s and was a huge hit with my family. It was delicious, but certainly wasn’t the Sachertorte of my childhood memories. I’d say it was a pretty fair attempt. I mainly enjoyed watching Caleb, Mateo, my sisters, and my father, as they gobbled up their slices. It’s just the best, having homemade cake when everyone gets together.

At the end of a long week and a weekend packed with plans, I wonder how I could have any remaining energy to bake a Sachertorte. Am I crazy? Very likely. Am I overextending myself? Uh, yeah, totally. But, after thinking about it for a while, what comes to me is that I get energy from doing the things I love most and I love to cook. Even more, I love to cook with my Caleb.

What I loved most about baking the Sachertorte with Caleb was that I was directly exposing him to a family tradition that holds such fond memories for me, and at the same time teaching him to make it on his own when he gets older. For me, hopefully! Is that wrong?

[Click for Sachertorte recipe]

Cooking Kretzels with Caleb

Homemade Kretzels

Caleb loves “kretzels”! Kretzels sound a lot like pretzels, no? He’s been calling pretzels, kretzels for as long as I can remember. We’ve corrected him once or twice, but it’s just so darn cute when he says “Momma, can you get me a kretzel? I really love kretzels!”

At Caleb’s childcare in Berkeley, a local bakery, The Bread Workshop, leaves soon to be day-old baked goods at the school’s doorstep several afternoons a week. The school lets the bakery park their vans in the lot, so in-turn; they leave behind wonderful breads like challah, baguettes, rustic loaves, focaccia rounds, gruyere rolls, and the highly coveted pretzels!

At the end of the day, when the children are leaving the childcare walking hand in hand with a parent, inevitably the parent is dragged over to the bag of baked goodness from the Workshop. Most of the kids have one objective in mind – to snatch one of the few (and delightful) handmade pretzels at the bottom of the large bags. These pretzels are a hot commodity and the mad dash to the bread bags is a sight to see. Suddenly, they are all competitors in a pretzel grabbing contest, elbowing their way to a bag filled with limited supply. Once Caleb snatches up his pretzel with an…”in your face, you unworthy competition!” look in his face, it’s time to hit the road.

If there are enough pretzels to go around, we typically give a whole one to Caleb for his ride home, half to Sadie, and the other half gets devoured by the two big kids in the front seat. When we occasionally miss our opportunity to grab a coveted pretzel, we’ll settle for a loaf of challah to break and pass around in the car. Not a bad settlement and especially perfect if it’s Friday evening and we’re shy a loaf.

Clearly, Caleb is not hurting for “kretzels”, but I still thought it would be a fun idea to teach him how they are made and really, to teach myself too. I found a fun New York Pretzel recipe on Epicurious and scheduled a baking date with him on Saturday morning. What I love about this pretzel recipe is that it can be done in stages, which is perfect for cooking with a kiddo. They’re also meant to be devoured fresh out of the oven, which is a challenge Caleb and I are willing to take on!

On Saturday morning, Caleb and I began working through the steps of pretzel making. I was so excited to make kretzels with my Caleb, except he was being such a gargantuan pill! Usually, we have a pretty pleasant time cooking together, Momma and Caleb baking something special together in the kitchen as the sun streams in through the window. However, on this day, I wanted to fling a giant pretzel at my son’s head. I was good. I resisted, and for the most part, we both got through the pretzel baking unscathed.

Caleb helped me combine all of the ingredients, and then had the most fun arranging the long ropes of dough into pretzel shapes. After we let the pretzels stand for a little while, we placed them three at a time into boiling water. After we basted them with the egg mixture and sprinkled with salt, into the oven they went. Out of the oven, came a pan full of the most beautiful and bodacious, light golden brown pretzels. I was so proud of our good work, and no “kretzels” were used as ‘weapons-of-mass-annoyance’.

Once the pretzels cooled down a bit, we all jumped at the chance to sample them. Man were they good! Warm, salty, and just the perfect combination of chewy and soft.

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Our pretzels were delicious and now, all is right in the world!

A Birthday Dinner for Poppa


Mateo’s birthday was on Sunday. Not being able to find babysitting was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed for a wonderful birthday dinner to come together at home with the family. The birthday boy asked that I choose the menu, but requested something simple, so we could spend our day out-and-about doing things together as a family. This is the special menu that I created for Mateo’s will-taste-like-we-slaved-away-all-day-but-really-didn’t-birthday meal:

A Birthday Dinner for Mateo

»        Butter lettuce with roasted golden beets, avocado with citrus, shallot vinaigrette and salty sunflower seeds

»        Pasta with slow-cooked pork and beef sugo

»        Flourless Scharffenberger chocolate cake

Early on Saturday morning, just after breakfast, Caleb and I ventured out to go shopping for the dinner ingredients in the North Berkeley neighborhood of Northbrae. I love this part of the world where you can walk from the coffee shop, to the pizza slice shop (Gioia Pizzeria – the most amazing New York-style, thin crust pizza by the slice), to the horticulture center (where we play with the wind chimes and watch the coy fish swimming in the small pond), to the butcher, to the fish counter, then finally to Monterey Market – my favorite place to shop for produce on the planet! I love this market because you can find the most obscure produce there – cactus fruit, any variety of mushroom you can imagine (including truffles), yellow kiwis, sweet lemons, fresh olives for brining, etc., not to mention 30 varieties of anything else you need. I’m the crazy person who brings visiting friends and relatives to this market – rather than to Golden Gate Bridge or Alcatraz – to show them just how much variety they can find in one store. Really…to say that I love Monterey Market is an understatement. Okay, so moving on…

Monterey Market

First, we went to Magnani’s, the local butcher, and bought the meat for the pasta sauce. For a treat, I purchased a few slices of mortadella (Italian, for “flippin delicious!”), which Caleb and I devoured together sitting outside Magnani’s, on their bench in the cold. We were having such a sweet time, quietly munching on our mortadella, watching our breath in the cold air. I took many mental photos of our perfect moment.

Once at Monterey Market, we gathered the ingredients on our shopping list. I thought I was going to lose it because Caleb kept picking up every apple in the store (I exaggerate slightly), asking excitedly, “Momma, can we weigh this?” as he’d throw the apples in the bin of the large metal scale, no doubt bruising the poor, unsuspecting apples. Feeling the Jewish guilt rise up, I purchased and brought home many of the battered orphans that I couldn’t rescue in time from Caleb’s enthusiasm to weigh things. It finally occurred to me to contain Caleb in a shopping cart and placate him with one of the Bread Workshop’s amazing hand twisted pretzels. This worked beautifully!  We left the market with our relationship intact and brought all of the goodies home for the special meal.

I began cooking the sugo on Saturday, shortly after returning from the market. I started the recipe on the stove top and once I had browned the onions, garlic, and meat, I moved the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker where the sauce cooked for three hours. While we were out doing fun things, our sauce was wafting gorgeous smells throughout the house. We came home and just couldn’t stop inhaling to take it all in. On Sunday morning, before breakfast, I took the refrigerated sauce and put it in the processor until I had a sauce with small chunks of meat. I then placed it back in the slow cooker on high at first, then low to concentrate the flavors for a few more hours.


While the sauce simmered away, Caleb and I made the chocolate cake. I enjoyed watching Caleb as he gently whisked the chocolate and butter together standing on a chair over the double boiler. He then helped me combine all of the ingredients, then licked every possible utensil and bowl he could find. Okay, I did too!

On Sunday eve, Caleb and I served Poppa his special birthday dinner. The pasta and sauce were amazing and reminded me of the wonderful sugo at Trattoria Corso in Berkeley that Mateo and I love (which is what I was trying to replicate), and the cake was rich, dense chocolate goodness, and out of this world! Mateo was very happy with his special meal and I truly enjoyed sitting at the table and savoring the experience in the glow of the candles with Caleb, Sadie, and my husband who I’m so fortunate to have another wonderful year with.

Happy Birthday, Myteo!

I’ve included the recipes for the pasta and the cake, but not the salad, which is almost self-explanatory. If you would like me to send you the recipe for the dressing, just let me know.

Pasta with Slow-Cooked Pork and Beef Sugo

Pasta with Slow-Cooked Pork and Beef Sugo

My take on a Mario Batali recipe for Ragu Napoletano from the Molto Italiano cookbook. Starting one day ahead and using a slow-cooker, I made this recipe much easier to tend to so that we could do other fun things on Mateo’s big day.


¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

10 oz pork shoulder or butt, cut into chunks

8 oz boneless beef chuck, cut into chunks

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 onion, finely chopped

6-8 cloves of thinly sliced garlic cloves

1 cup dry red wine

Two, 28-oz of canned San Marzano tomatoes, w/ juice passed through mill or food processor

8 oz sweet Italian sausages

Pinch of pepper flakes (optional)

Flat leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped for garnish


  1. In a large frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat until smoking. Season the pork and beef with salt and pepper to taste, and sear, in batches to avoid overcrowding, until dark golden brown. Transfer to a plate. Remove sausage casings and brown the sausage, breaking into small pieces. Set aside once cooked – can be slightly undercooked as it will cook more in the sauce.
  2. Add the onion to the pan and sauté, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen brown bits, until golden brown and very soft, after a while, add the garlic, about 10 minutes to cook both. Transfer onions/garlic to a slow cooker / crock-pot and turn on high. Add the wine, browned meat, tomatoes, and pepper flakes and keep on high for 2 hours. Reduce the heat to a low and cook for one (or more) hour, stirring occasionally and skimming off the fat as necessary and breaking the meat down into smaller pieces.

Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. For meatier meat sauce, which is what I wanted, transfer cooled sauce to a food processor in two batches and pulse until meat has broken down, but don’t over process. Return to slow cooker or pot (on stove) and heat until ready to serve. Use right away or cool.

Freeze what you don’t use and save for another occasion! Makes approx 3 quarts. 

Cook’s note: I recommend purchasing fresh, hand cut pasta to go with this, or dried hand-made pasta, which is what I used this time. When ready to serve, I use tongs to gently combine the fresh pasta with plenty of the meat sauce, then twist and place a neat serving in the middle of a shallow bowl, adding a little extra sauce to the top. I then sprinkle some high-quality olive oil over the pasta and grate fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese over the top and add chopped parsley.

Caleb and the Cake

Flourless Scharffen Berger Chocolate Cake

Adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook

This is a very easy cake to put together. Don’t tell Mateo! Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.

Yield: Makes one 8-inch cake


4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate – I use Scharffen Berger 60%
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened Scharffen Berger cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling


Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.

Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with vanilla ice cream or vanilla, whipped cream if desired.

Rhymes with Shmorty-One!

Guest Post: Mema’s Mandel Bread

In my last post, you met Caleb’s friend, Jordan and his mom, Robyn. I asked Robyn to write a guest post about her grandmother’s mandel bread recipe – known also as mandelbrot. This post kicks off a new tradition of including the stories of other families cooking in their kitchens or sharing stories of family food traditions. If you would like to contribute to a future guest post, please let me know – you could write about cooking with your kids, share memories of cooking with your mom when you were a child, or just some fabulous food memories from childhood. I would love that! I hope you enjoy Robyn’s story as I did. Happy Holidays! Warmly, Anya 

By Robyn Barfield

I’m not a writer or a blogger, and I’m certainly no great chef; however, I do love to eat and talk about food. So, it seems I should have no problem sharing my grandmother’s recipe for mandel bread (a Jewish dessert) and telling you about the memories it conjures up every time I make it.

I think of myself as “semi-Jewish.” Both of my parents come from Jewish families, but my Jewish upbringing consisted of no more than eating at my grandparents’ house for the Jewish holidays. At this point in my life, married and a mother to 2 boys (Jordan-4 and Evan-1), I don’t consider myself religiously or culturally Jewish. But when the Jewish holidays come around and I hear people talking about Jewish dishes and traditions, it is always a happy reminder of my grandparents, especially my maternal grandmother who I called “Mema.”

Robyn's "Mema"

Anya thought I could tell you about making mandel bread with my Mema. The thing is, I can’t actually remember making it with her. Mema really wasn’t much of a cook. She obviously did cook some – the taste of her mandel bread, turkey tetrazzini and brisket are perfectly clear to me. But my favorite food memory of Mema is something that requires no recipe. 

My sister, Dana, and I spent the night at Mema’s house once a month. Mema always slept later than we did in the morning, so she left breakfast waiting for us in the fridge – a bowl of corn flakes covered with saran wrap accompanied by a glass of milk to pour on top. After eating our corn flakes, Dana and I would wait anxiously for Mema to wake up so she could make us breakfast #2, something we thought of as a real treat. What was this very special second breakfast?  Frozen Lender’s bagels toasted to perfection with melted butter spread on top and a mug of hot chocolate!   Frozen or not, when food is delivered with love, nothing tastes better.

When Anya and I discussed getting together to make latkes, I said I’d make Mema’s mandel bread recipe since it’s the only Jewish thing I know how to cook. I love making (and eating) mandel bread, as it brings me back to a time when I was a little girl sitting with Mema in her yellow kitchen. My son, Jordan, helped me make the mandel bread. As we made it, I shared stories with him about Mema. Jordan measured and poured all the ingredients, but when it came time to mix all the ingredients by hand, he let me take over. He has apparently inherited the tidy gene from his Dad. 

Jordan helping make the bread

In honor of my sweet, sweet Mema, who died peacefully 3 days after I told her I was going to be a Mom, here is her recipe for mandel bread. It’s biscotti-like, but way better in my opinion!  Mema’s recipe, not surprisingly, says nothing about mixing dry and wet ingredients separately, but you can go ahead and do that if it makes you feel better! 

Mandel bread just out of the oven

Mema’s Mandel bread (made with walnuts, not the more traditional almonds)

¾ c oil

3 eggs

¾ c sugar

3c flour

1 ¼ tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

½ small pack of walnut pieces (that’s what her recipe says!  We used ½ c)

1 c golden raisins

More sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling

Mix all the ingredients (except for the extra sugar and cinnamon used for sprinkling) thoroughly.

Shape the dough into 4 oval patties.

Bake at 350o for 30 minutes.

Take the Mandel bread out of the oven and slice it (I slice into 1-1 ½ inch slices).

Sprinkle the sliced Mandel bread with sugar and cinnamon (as little or as much as you want. I tend to sprinkle generously.)

Put the Mandel bread back in the oven for 20 minutes with the oven turned off.


Pumpkin Pie with Poppa

Caleb's Pie

Several weeks ago, Caleb came home from Pre-K and was so excited to share what he had learned in class that day. “Did you know that a long, long, long time ago, the Puritans and the Indians fought and killed each other, then the Indians taught the Puritans how to grow food, and then they all ate a big feast together and celebrated Chanukah!?”

Priceless! The material writes itself!

Mateo and I figured that Caleb’s class had received an accurate lesson about this holiday season and we had the privilege of hearing Caleb’s take on things. I can see it now…the Puritans and Indians gathered around the table together eating potato latkes with sour cream and applesauce in peace. Such a feast!

Our family gathered together in Bernal Heights last night at my brother’s home to celebrate Thanksgiving with a feast of our own. Among the many wonderful things to eat, one of the treats I most enjoyed was the pumpkin pie that Caleb and Mateo made from scratch earlier in the day. They made three, in fact, and they were really good.

My guys

Mateo has always loved to bake and he learned to do it well from his mother (“Grammy”) who is an excellent baker. I enjoyed watching Caleb and Poppa baking together. It was a sweet scene. My two guys quietly putting all of the ingredients together.

First, they processed the ingredients for the dough in the food processor, and then they put the two flattened discs of dough into the refrigerator for an hour. Once chilled, they each took turns rolling out the dough until they had two pie crusts. They also had enough left over for a mini-pie just for Caleb. The filling was from a recipe on the back of the Libby can, but Mateo always adds extra spices, and cuts back on the sugar just a bit.

Caleb rolling out the pie dough

The house filled up with warm pumpkin pie fragrance and we were all challenged not to pounce on the poor pies, so we would have something to share with the family after dinner. There were other delicious pies at dinner. My niece, Dylan made a cranberry white chocolate pie, and a walnut pie (pecan pie just with walnuts). The pumpkin pies were also a hit and I know that both Caleb and Mateo felt rewarded for their hard work (and patience) earlier in the day.

Caleb and Poppa

We hope that you and yours had an enjoyable Thanksgiving feast together, surrounded by family, friends, laughter, and good food. I look forward to sharing the upcoming tales of our Chanukah celebration (begins Dec. 2). Not sure that we’ll be having any Puritans or Indians over to our feast, but I’m certain that there will be plenty of gratitude and good things to eat.

Pumpkin Pie

1 cup sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cloves

4 large eggs

1 can (29 oz) 100% pure pumpkin

2 cans evaporated milk

2 unbaked 9-inch deep-dish pie shells (we made ours from scratch)


Mix sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Pour into pie shells. Bake in preheated 425F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce to 350Fl bake 40-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refridgerate.


“We Don’t Eat Farm Animals, Momma!” – Part 2

An Actual Egg Tree!

Caleb and I were baking thumbprint cookies last Sunday and I thought I’d try taking those small steps with him by asking where some of the ingredients came from. “Caleb, do you know where these Pecans come from?”  He responded, “A pecan tree!” I then asked him if he could tell me where eggs come from and he answered hesitantly, “from an egg tree?” I stifled my laughter and could hear Mateo doing the same from the other room. I went on to lamely explain that chickens poop out eggs each day, but I meant ’pop out’ and I heard Mateo saying “this is going well!” I dropped the subject right there, thinking to myself “you come in here and try having this conversation and see how well you do!”

It’s not like we’re just starting to talk about food and where it comes from with Caleb. Each week, we pick up our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box of organic produce. Caleb picks the box up from the porch of the local drop-off site and very proudly walks it back to our car. We get our box from Full Belly Farm – a real multi-family, certified organic farm on 300 acres of land in the Capay Valley – and he understands that everything in it was delivered to us fresh from the farm. As we’re putting the produce away in our kitchen, we play Name that Vegetable! with Caleb. He usually passes with flying colors and wins a brand new Chevy Malibu. When he doesn’t know the answer, then we just teach him.

We can and should talk with our kids about where food comes from. We can also teach the importance of really getting their little hands into it, and activate all of their senses while cooking.

This brings me back to the thumbprint cookies. Caleb and I have made them several times together and it’s such a kid-friendly recipe. Thumbprints are basic ice-box cookies that are fun to make. Caleb’s little hands love to roll the cold dough into small balls and place them onto the cookie sheet. He then presses them down with his palm and creates a well for the jam with his little thumb. We take turns spooning the jam into the center of the cookies with one of Sadie’s baby spoons, which are perfect for the job! Caleb will open the oven door for me and I’ll pop the sheet in and we wait for our house to fill up with the fragrance of sweet, baking cookies. Once the cookies have cooled on the rack, the real reward comes! Eating these not-too-sweet cookies is a real treat because they’re old-fashioned and they take you back to a simpler time. I can also see that Caleb feels such a sense of accomplishment after having made them with his own hands and I love that.

Pecan Thumbprint Cookies

Makes about 32 cookies


3/4 cup pecans – process until course in food processor

2/3 confectioners’ sugar

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg at room temperature

Jam (we use low-sugar strawberry, but try any kind!)


Preheat oven to 325°F.

Beat together butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla in a bowl with an electric mixer at high-speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and beat well. Add flour and ground-pecan mixture and mix at low-speed until just combined, 30 seconds to 1 minute. (Dough will be crumbly but will hold together when squeezed.) Put in fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Once chilled, pull out dough and roll into small balls (slightly smaller than a ping-pong ball), place on buttered pan, use palm to gently flatten dough to about a ½ inch thick, use your thumb (or the back of a wooden spoon handle) to create little wells for the jam, then spoon in the jam of your choice.

Bake cookies in middle of oven until tops are pale golden, about 15 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets on racks 2 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.


“We Don’t Eat Farm Animals, Momma!” – Part 1

Caleb asked me the other day about buffalo and I explained that they look like cows, but are larger, have long hair, and a hump on the back of their necks. I then proceeded to walk ass-backward into uncharted territory when I elaborated by saying that buffalo meat was similar to cow meat – beef. Caleb’s eyes began to well up with tears and his voice cracked as he said indignantly, “we don’t eat farm animals, Momma!”

This was not in my manual! I didn’t plan on having this conversation with my five-year-old! I responded with tender footing, “Caleb sweet-pea, there are animals that we visit on the farm for fun, but there are also animals that are raised for food.” The crying ensued and my heart sank while my eyes began to fill up with tears. I tried as sincerely as possible to explain to my future vegetarian that many of us do indeed eat animals for food.

Why I stepped in it again, I have no clue, but I then asked Caleb if he could tell me where cheeseburgers came from and he responded “a cheeseburger is food Momma; it’s not a farm animal!” I said, “Actually Caleb, burgers come from cows” and he cried even more. I was worried that next he’d say “I suppose you’re going to tell me that we eat pigs, sheep, and bunnies too!”, but fortunately for me, I didn’t have to take on the other cute and fuzzy board-book animals just yet. I suggested that we talk about this another time as he was sniffling and wiping his tears. Then Caleb, being his wonderful self asked me for “quiet time,” I assumed so he could compose himself. I love this little sensitive (best possible meaning of the word) boy-child of mine and I wonder how other parents navigate these murky waters when talking about the origins of food. Michael Pollan – where were you when I needed you!?

Under the advisement of a very wise and experienced mother I know, I decided not to take on a meatloaf recipe with Caleb just yet. Talking with our kids about the origins of food is incredibly important, but I’m not prepared to shatter his world entirely. I decided next to take on a simple cookie recipe, and use our baking time as an opportunity to talk about where eggs, butter, and milk come from. I’ll call this a ‘teaching moment’ with baby steps.

To be continued…

Rainy Days and Cookies Always Make Me Smile

I always look forward to our weekly cooking ritual together, but I especially love a rainy weekend because it gives us extra reason to stay in and fill our house with the fragrances of home cooked food. On Sunday, there was a mélange of deliciousness filling the air: cookies in the oven, leeks cooking in butter, sweet potatoes, and frying bacon.

Our latest cooking adventure began with a classic chocolate chip cookie recipe, then later in the day, with Caleb and Sadie running (and crawling) around the house, I made a batch of sweet potato bisque with bacon crumbles – this is a show-stopper of a recipe I nicked from a class at the California Culinary Academy years ago.

When Caleb and I were pulling together the ingredients for the chocolate chip cookies, he asked “Momma…if you eat raw eggs, will you die?” I smiled and told him that there’s a chance he might get a belly ache, but likely he wouldn’t die. He proceeded to lick the whisk. Still alive! We beat the wet ingredients for about 10 minutes until they were fluffy and the sugar was well incorporated. After adding the remaining ingredients and the chocolate chips, we scooped out our batter; put the cookies onto the baking pan, then into the oven. I tend to under bake my cookies slightly. I want them to be golden, but soft to the bite. The house smelled so good while they were baking and the cookies came out of the oven golden brown and just the right consistency. I asked Caleb what he thought of our cookies as he was quietly eating his (with a glass of cold milk at his side) and he simply responded, “yum-yum.”

Sunday was also a soup kind of day and with a pound or so of extra sweet potatoes in the cooler, I was inspired to tap my memory for that amazing sweet potato / bacon bisque recipe. I hadn’t made the soup since taking that class, didn’t come home with a recipe written down, but managed to recreate it today by recalling all of the amazing flavors of sweet potatoes, beef broth, thyme, leeks, and bacon fat that married so well together. Top it off with bacon crumbles and you get that eyes-rolling-in the-back-of- the-head- transcendent-floating-on-a-cloud feeling. Just keep a handy defibrillator close by!

It was a pretty perfect weekend. Despite the dreary weather, we had a great time cooking at home, among other fun, rainy day activities.

The cookie recipe we used came right off the bag of chocolate chips that I purchased at Trader Joe’s. No need to reprint. As for the soup, here is the recipe I put together from memory:

Sweet Potato Bisque with Bacon Crumbles

None of these ingredients are exact. You’re going for a medium-thick, creamy soup that has a balance of flavors.


2 lbs of baked (roast in oven on cookie sheet for about 1 hr), skinned sweet potatoes – cut into 1 inch cubes (feel free to add or substitute yams)

2 leeks (discard green part) wash and dice white part

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter

8 cups beef stock

1-2 cups of milk (makes soup lighter than with cream)

2 bay leaves (remove before blending)

1 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped

6-8 slices of bacon (save bacon fat)

Salt and white pepper to taste


Melt butter in large stock pot and add diced leeks and cook until almost translucent. Add chunks of sweet potato and stir. Cover with stock, add bay leaves and thyme then bring to a boil – simmer for 30-40 minutes. Turn off heat and add milk. In a frying pan, cook bacon until crispy and then transfer bacon onto a plate w/ paper towel. Add bacon fat to soup (to taste). Add salt and pepper to taste. Use hand blender (or do small batches in blender) until creamy. For extra fancy bisque, strain soup through sieve. Feel free to add more liquid (stock or milk) to thin out, if needed. Crumble the bacon into small pieces, put in ramekin, and add to soup at the table.


(Click on image for a video of Sadie’s performance) 

Caleb’s Birthday Cake

We celebrated Caleb’s 5th birthday this weekend with a trailer-trash themed potluck gathering. Don’t ask. In preparing for this event, Caleb and I made his birthday cake on Saturday morning and it was a huge hit that evening. Now, I enjoy sharing my recipes with others, but this is one that I’m almost embarrassed to give out. It’s an amazing cake recipe and someone inevitably asks for it (then thanks me years later because they’re still baking it and receiving rave reviews), it’s just not entirely from scratch. Perfect trailer-trash fare, it includes sour cream, cake mix, chocolate pudding, and chocolate chips.

Standing at my side at the kitchen table, Caleb carefully added each ingredient to the mixing bowl and stirred until smooth. We then transferred the mix, which we had doubled, into two buttered lasagna pans and placed in the oven. Almost an hour later, our home smelled like a chocolate factory and we were all excited to enjoy the cake, but had to delay our satisfaction until evening.

A small group of Caleb’s friends and their families began gathering around 5pm, each arriving with a white-trash-errific dish. Soon, our table was covered with Velveeta-stuffed pigs-in-a-blanket, deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese done two ways, tuna noodle casserole, green bean casserole, vegetarian chili, quiche (we had a French friend in our midst who insisted that because she wasn’t an American, she was exempt from cooking “white-trash” – this being fine with us as the quiche was terrific, if not slightly out-of-place), ambrosia salad, and dinner rolls.

After a much-enjoyed dinner, our stomachs felt like lead weights, but despite that, the kids were running circles around the house and enjoying themselves in the basement play space. Once I had a chance to light the candles on the special cake that Caleb and I had made together, we gathered everyone around and sang to our soon-to-be five-year-old (Nov. 15). After blowing out his candles, Caleb was so proud to dig his fork into his big slice of cake, and then silently enjoyed each bite. I was so proud to have made it with him and enjoyed it with our guests.

Happy (almost) 5th Birthday Caleb!

White-Trash Chocolate Cake (passed on to me by my sister, Niki)

4 eggs

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup oil

1/2 cup sour cream

1 package chocolate pudding

1 box chocolate cake mix

1/2 bag semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven at 350F. Beat eggs, then fold all ingredients together. Pour into baking pan. Bake 45 minutes – 1hr. Toothpick should come out clean. Makes great cupcakes, but would need less oven time. Add your favorite frosting – we used Trader Joe’s boxed chocolate frosting. This cake also works without frosting – just bake in a bundt pan, then sprinkle with powdered sugar. Enjoy!

Farmhouse Cheddar Muffins

One of the reasons I was inspired to finally take the plunge and create a blog of our experiences was due to another blog that I love reading each day, A Little Yumminess.  If you don’t already subscribe, you should check it out! The two blog owners recently invited me to post a piece about cooking with Caleb. This got me thinking about writing about our weekly food adventures for all to enjoy: