Baking in an 80’s Timewarp

Alone at home today, enjoying a solitary baking session. My time traveling machine (Pandora) has transported me back to the mid-eighties, except I don’t have short, shaved hair, dyed primary colors this go-around.

Listening to Yaz on my 80’s station…Alison Moyet is belting out Situation. Just completed baking pineapple upside-down cake, which is cooling off on the stove-top. My house is filled with the fragrance of freshly baked cake…vanilla, spices, pineapple, brown sugar. I can barely hold back my excitement. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when I flip it over.

Now, the chocolate macadamia nut pie is baking and the scent of chocolate is filling the air. Thompson Twins are singing Lies, Lies, Lies and I’m feeling very content and fully in my comfort zone. Tears for Fears’ comes on, Head Over Heels plays, and the chocolate scent is intoxicating.

The time to flip the upside-down cake onto the serving dish has arrived, and I almost gasp as the finished product presents itself. Caramelized pineapple perfectly arranged. Melted brown sugar dripping down the sides of the golden brown cake. Morrisey is whining in the background, depressed as ever.

Talk Talk singing their eponymous song now and I am completely transported back in time. I pull the pie out of the oven and behold its dark hued beauty. I can’t wait to taste the combination of some of my favorite flavors…chocolate, salt, and roasted nuts. “Talk talk talk talk, all you do to me is talk talk!”

My family is bringing these baked goodies to a foodie potluck tomorrow in San Francisco. The theme is ‘luau’ and I thought to take full advantage of two of Hawaii’s most exported ingredients, pineapple and macadamia nuts. I can’t wait to see what the others bring. I’ll report more on that soon. New Order beats now; my body moves along to the Casio drumbeat.

Alas, it’s time to program my time-machine to transport me back to my present day, forty-something body. A much-enjoyed sojourn back to a decade that left an indelible mark on me. Now, back to work…lunch break is over.

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Note: I added about 4oz of melted semi-sweet chocolate to the pie recipe and omitted a little sugar.

Where There’s Love, There’s Apple Strudel

Meant to be pronounced with your best Austrian accent…don’t forget to don a fake handle-bar mustache and a funny chef’s toque for dramatic affect…apple strudel (”apple stroooodel”) is a traditional Viennese pastry, which gained in popularity throughout Eastern Europe in the 18th century.

Quite popular in our home, I’ve been threatening to treat Caleb and Sadie to home-baked apple and raisin studded strudel for a week now and had a handful of crisp farmer’s market apples on stand-by. Having made it before, I knew how easy this perfect weekend morning baking activity would be, and the heavenly results it would yield.

As Caleb and I were preparing the strudel and browning walnuts in the toaster oven, I hear “Dude, the walnuts are burning!” They weren’t actually burning, but more than anything else, I was taken aback by the fact that my little baby, my first-born child is now calling me “dude!” Knowing how often I call him “dude”, this day was bound to arrive. Mateo and I just looked at each other and laughed.

Sadie-bug assisted by standing up on the chair, sautéing the apples. Before long the strudel was prepared, cut into slices and placed onto a cookie sheet. Once in the oven, we could smell heavenly apple and pastry perfume filling the air. Our house smelled like love lives here. Caleb pulled the cookie sheet out and volunteered “yummmmmm!”

Once the strudel cooled down enough, I treated both kiddos to an after breakfast slice. Such happy sounds came out of their mouths, and I stepped back and watched as they stuffed their faces full of strudel, then sweetly fed each other the last crumbs of pastry from their plates. It was clear to me that our easy apple strudel recipe was a hit. Mateo and I each took a bite and emitted happy sounds as well. Love most definitely lives here…you can smell it, you can taste it, and you can see it.

Easy Apple Strudel

This is our original recipe. Follow it exactly, or use your good instincts to make it your own. We hope you enjoy the delicious results as much as we did. Very easy to follow and yields about 20 apple strudel slices. Bon appétit!

Ingredients
1 box (2 sheets) puffed pastry, defrosted to room temperature
6 apples (any type), peeled and sliced thin – Cuisinart can be used
4 TB unsalted butter
1 C raisins
1 pinch salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp vanilla
3 TB brown sugar
¾ cup of finely chopped walnuts, lightly toasted in oven
1 egg, whisk in ramekin w/ fork for egg wash

Method
Preheat oven to 375F, with rack in middle of oven. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large sauté pan, melt butter, then add thinly sliced apple. Sauté for about 3 minutes, then add raisins, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and brown sugar. Cook for about 2 more minutes until just softened, then remove from heat.

Unfold thawed pastry onto a working mat and spoon about half of the slightly cooled apple mixture over ¾ of the pastry, leaving an empty lip at the far end. Sprinkle a handful of the toasted walnuts over the mixture. Lightly brush egg wash onto the lip of pastry, then roll until sealed. Repeat with 2nd pastry sheet, and then brush both with egg wash. With a sharp knife, cut about 20, ½ inch slices of strudel and lay on baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Brush tops w/ egg wash. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown, and then remove from oven. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or on its own with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Eating Pascal Tomini

In late April, I wrote a post titled Cheese Glorious Cheese about a fabulous cheese class that I participated in at the Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley. I came away from that class with my very own cheese to care for, which I have done lovingly and diligently over the past month. I named my pet cheese “Pascal Tomini” as the style of cheese was a pasteurized, cow’s milk Tomini.

Tomini (sometimes called Tomino) cheese can be enjoyed fresh or aged. In Pascal’s case, we let him ripen for one month until he was surrounded in white bloom and looked like a proper cheese. Caleb and I had each taken turns flipping him over on a daily basis. At last we were ready to see what our cheese tasted like.

We were expecting guests over for dinner tonight and I thought it would be perfect to offer the cheese and some baguette slices as an appetizer. I prepared my little pet cheese on a plate and left it out for an hour until it came close to room temperature.

Once our guests arrived and had wine in hand, I brought out the cheese plate. Eager to taste my first cheese experiment, I placed a wedge of the cheese on top of a baguette piece and excitedly bit into it expecting to be wowed by the soft, creamy, stinki-ness of it all. Not so much the case! My cheese was lacking flavor, texture, and luster. Frankly, Pascal Tomini was a bore!

Our guests politely ate the cheese and commended our efforts. Caleb gobbled his wedge up, but I think he was more excited about the slice of baguette it was riding on, than anything else. Still, I was proud of myself for taking on my first cheese and caring for it for over a month until it was ready to be eaten. Next go-around, I would salt it more and let it ripen longer, but that’s why we throw out the first pancake, no?

What came of this exercise is that I’m no longer intimidated by cheese-making and am eager to keep at it. I look forward to involving the kids more and to experimenting with mozzarella, ricotta, and cheeses that need to ripen over time. For such a huge lover of ‘all things cheese’, it was exciting to finally make my own and really get my hands into it. To a noble first effort!

Chronicles of an Eating Garden

The Beginning

Mateo and I have talked about growing a kitchen garden for years. With two young kids, growing our own vegetables has felt like a huge undertaking, so we’ve put it off and put it off. Finally, this year, I felt motivated to start some form of “eating” garden with Caleb. We cook together so frequently and discuss the origins of food; it makes perfect sense to grow some of our own food, and then cook with it.

In early spring, I started to think about growing strawberries, so that Caleb and Sadie could have the experience of growing, picking, then eating sweet summer fruit. About a month ago, we started small and purchased a bunch of organic seedlings to plant into containers: ever-baring strawberries, Persian cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and fresh herbs (two varieties of basil, spearmint, chocolate mint, garlic chives, sage, rosemary, and thyme…yes, I hear a song playing in my head).

I set aside an afternoon with Caleb, and together we planted our first fruits and vegetables in containers. It was wonderful to watch him first pull the seedlings out of their containers with his tiny boy hands, massage and break apart the roots, dig a hole in the pot, then place the seedling in the center of the hole. Together, we filled in and patted the soil around the seedlings, and then Caleb carefully watered them. When all was planted, we were both filled with a real sense of accomplishment.

About a week after planting our container garden, I was weeding our long brick planter out on our patio (formerly used for bulbs and other flowers; currently displaying a wide array of weeds), and it suddenly dawned on me that with some amending, we could turn this into the raised vegetable bed we’ve been dreaming of for years. Shortly thereafter, I ran out to a local nursery and carefully selected additional organic vegetables that would grow well in our sunny backyard (and that the kids would enjoy eating): sweet corn, multi-colored beets, dinosaur kale, purple artichokes, and sweet red peppers.

Caleb has proudly taken on the task of watering our vegetable garden several times a week. He seems to really enjoy this responsibility, and together we are watching our little seedlings grow into fruit bearing plants. Sadie plays her part by running her tiny fingers under the hose while Caleb is watering, or keeping us company while playing nearby at her water table.

Now, we sit back and watch our garden grow. Occasionally we’ll add some fertilizer, and I’ll sprinkle the ground with Sluggo, but apart from watering, there isn’t a whole lot we have to do.

I will be following the progression of our “eating” garden in this blog and you can watch our garden grow. We have already started using the herbs in our cooking (just this morning, we added fresh mint to our homemade berry smoothies), but over time, we will be cooking with the vegetables that come out of our garden. I look forward to sharing this magical experiment with you, since it’s such a pleasure for me. I especially look forward to watching our children become more and more familiar with growing their own food, and then getting to enjoy the “fruits” of their labor.

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.

Sundays

As a full-time working mother of two who supports her full-time working husband in grad school, let’s face it, free time isn’t something I have much of. Still, I refuse to let whole foods and delicious meals fall to the wayside…damn it! I want my family to eat well and I want to really enjoy what I’m eating throughout the week.

I’m constantly thinking of ways to consolidate my efforts to save energy (especially on the weekends when I want to be savoring time with my family) and have found Sundays to be my friend. I look to each Sunday as an opportunity carve out a little chunk of time to prepare some tasty provisions for the week. Food that cannot be easily thrown together on a bustling weekday evening at six o’clock…like roast beets, boiled artichokes, baked sweet potatoes, not to mention the occasional pot pie casserole or roast chicken — all of which get stored in the fridge for the week ahead.

Yes, this sounds like a lot of work on a day that usually consists of shopping, laundry, and play dates, but I find it to be a valuable use of my time that truly pays off. It only feels like I’m overextending myself until I have all of this delicious whole food goodness stocked up in my refrigerator waiting to be enjoyed during the busy days ahead.

What a treat to be able to offer a roast beet salad on a Tuesday night, along with some roast chicken. I can pull out some pre-baked yams from the fridge to put in the oven for ten minutes, drop the artichokes back in boiling water to reheat (in the meantime, whipping up a quick batch of garlic aioli for dipping), then cook up some sausages to go with. Look out, Rachael Ray!

It feels so rewarding to be sitting around the family table in the middle of the week, sharing in a meal that wasn’t pulled out of the freezer and thrown in the oven — one that is gourmet, healthy, and appeals to all of the varied tastes in my family. A bunch of milling around for a few hours on a Sunday really pays off and leaves all of us feeling pretty good.

If You Give a Mom a Bubble Bath

Co-written by two tired moms, Anya Soltero & Amy Stewart-Deaker

(Based on the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie series)
 

If you give a mom a bubble bath, she’s going to want a glass of wine to drink in the tub.

If you give her some wine, she’s going to feel sleepy and want to take a nap.

If you let her take a nap, she’s going to wake up in a panic over all her undone errands.

If you let her get in the car and run a million errands, she’s going to need to get a latte. And she’ll see the nail salon next to the café.

If you let her get a pedicure, she’s going to want to buy some strappy sandals to show off her pretty toes.

If you let her buy cute shoes, she’s going to think they are too fancy to wear for mac-n-cheese and she’s going to want to go out to dinner.

If you take her out to dinner, she’s going to want to go to Chez Panisse.

If you take her to Chez Panisse, she’s going to want to eat everything on the menu because she feels so denied.

If you let her eat everything off the menu, she’s going to want you to remind her not to eat everything off the menu again.

If you remind her not to eat everything off the menu again, she’s going to ask you if you think she’s fat.

God help you, if you answer “yes”, she’s going to cry into her dark chocolate soufflé and require extensive validation of how beautiful she is and how she is a wonderful mom.

If you give her this validation, she’s not really going to believe you and then tell you that she’s tired and wants to go home.

If you bring her home, she’s going to want to lie on the couch and moan about how full she is.

If you let her lay on the couch, she’s going to notice her beautiful pedicure.

Her pretty toe nails are going to remind her that they would look cute sticking out of a bubble bath.

And chances are…she’s probably going to ask you to make her a bubble bath again.

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)

Method

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.

Enjoy!