Last week was a whirlwind of flour, sugar, cool fall evenings, early morning drives to the industrial part of the city and some new baking friends. I enrolled in a one-week intensive baking course through San Francisco Baking Institute in methods and ingredient functionality. It was fascinating to learn the science behind what I do and love (the “why’s and “how’s” lurking behind recipes and formulas). I haven’t done the whole commute thing in a long, long time so after a few days of really bad morning radio I gathered up a new play list. And you know what I’ve found about this particular playlist? Not only is it fabulous for weaving in and out of traffic on Highway 101, it’s also great for shaking your booty while you’re making butterscotch pudding.
Here are a few of the musical highlights. Picture me weaving through traffic peacefully at the crack of dawn:
Carolina Chocolate Drops This North Carolina string band trio learned their skills from old-time fiddler Joe Thompson. Joe was in his 80’s when they would head over to his house and sit on the porch observing, learning, absorbing. “Memphis Shakedown” is the best song for stirring butterscotch pudding like there’s no tomorrow.
The Living Sisters are perfect late afternoon or Sunday morning music. There’s a quiet deliberation that I love, and a breathy old-timeyness. Check out “Blue” and “Double Knots.”
I don’t completely know how to describe Joanna Newson other than magically odd and mildly addicting. You have to be in the right mood, but if you haven’t experienced the crazy stuff she does with the harp and her eerily powerful vocals, you’re missing out.
My crush on Eddie Vedder is deep-seated, and it hasn’t ended with the few songs he did for the Eat, Pray Love soundtrack. Regardless of what you thought of the book or the movie,”Better Days” and “The Long Road” make me smile and slow down.
Oh Regina Spektor, your lyrics are smart and your voice stops me in my tracks. Check out “Better” and “Fidelity.”
She and Him‘s Volume Two is my go-to shower or driving to work album. Turns out it’s great for pudding stirring as well. Who knew? My two favorite songs are “Thieves” and “Don’t Look Back.”
And of course, you can’t go wrong with some Bob Dylan, Jay Z., old Violent Femmes, Wilco, Gillian Welch, or Jenny Lewis. Happy listening, driving, stirring, baking…or whatever you’re up to this week.
And now for some pudding. This recipe is from the Baked cookbook. I’m obsessed with Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s first effort and their newest book, Baked Explorations, is just as exciting. The Baked boys have a little bakery in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn and a location in South Carolina as well–they do classic American desserts with playful, innovative ingredients (malt, pepper, milk powder). and I can’t wait to actually visit the bakery while in New York in November. For now, we’ve got their pudding.
Adapted from: Baked
Put the egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and 1/4 cup water and stir gently with wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to combine. Avoid splashing the sides of the pan. Cook over medium heat until sugar’s dissolved, then increase the heat to medium-high and cook until mixture reaches a dark amber color. Don’t stir during this time–to keep the color consistent, you can swirl the pan if necessary. Remove from heat and let stand one minute before slowly stirring in the cream. Pour the caramel mixture into a small bowl and set aside.
In another small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, cornstarch and salt and stir in the milk with a whisk to combine. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, and using the tip of a knife, scrape the seeds into the milk mixture. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, until it comes to a full boil. Remove from the heat and add the caramel. Whisk until combined, then pour one third of the mixture over the eggs to temper them. Don’t add the entire mixture at one time. Keep whisking the egg mixture and add another third of the hot milk mixture. Transfer the egg mixture back to the saucepan with the milk mixture and, whisking constantly, bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil, continue to boil for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly, or until it reaches a thicker almost pudding-like consistency. Pudding will also thicken as it sets, so don’t worry if it’s not the perfect pudding consistency at this time.
Remove from heat and add the butter and the whiskey. Keep whisking for about one minute to cool the pudding. Remove the vanilla bean. If your pudding looks chunky, filter through a mesh seive. Cover the top of the pudding with plastic wrap and press lightly down so it touches the surface of the pudding. This will prohibit the pudding from getting a thick skin on top. Refrigerate until ready to use. Pudding will thicken and continue to set.
To put together: whip the heavy cream (with a teaspoon of sugar if you’d like) and add a dollop on top of each serving of pudding. Then top with chocolate shavings.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.