Category Archives: dessert

Definition: Chameleon Writer

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake whole 2

When I was in San Francisco last week, a fine, thin layer of buttery yellow pollen settled into the exterior corners of my car’s windows. I returned with watery eyes and a flooded calendar, and now, plumped with the delayed mental energy of a long weekend with colleagues from all over the country, it feels like a new year. But it’s not just the flowers.

I shouldn’t be surprised. The ides of April affects me this way almost every year. I feel new. Most years it’s because the part of season changing toughest on my body is finally over. Some years I feel new simply because those buds bloom. One year, it was because we had a child. Last year, it was because I started Benlysta, my no-longer-new-to-me lupus medication. And this year. This year, oh gracious, ever-surprising life, you have given me something to get ruffled about that doesn’t require additional trips to Swedish Hospital. It’s a new job. Only, it’s not really new.

I am a food writer, among other things. My job has lines, lots of lines. There are lines that define what I do on a weekly basis—I write for Sunset magazine quite regularly, and I dig around for new ideas, and I inevitably test a random recipe or two from a new book or for another person’s book or for, say, Highlights or Arthritis Today magazines. There are lines that define what I do on a monthly basis—I write for Edible Seattle, and on this blog, for example. These lines are the constants on my calendar. They are my structure.They are my steady dates.

But outside those lines, very little of what I do is well defined, beyond the computer on my lap right now. Recently, my 22-year-old sister fantasized a day when she might know what she wants to do for a living. I told her I still do the same. She wasn’t exactly spirited by my comment, but it’s true. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. So when I lifted off for the IACP conference in San Francisco, I had very little in the way of an agenda, but I did wonder whether other food writers—other authors with travel writing habits or photography habits or even sometimes-sidelined mosaic-making habits, anything—know what they want to be when they grow up.

What I do know about my job is that besides that faint weekly or monthly outline, I tend to be somewhat of a serial monogamist. I jump into projects and start swimming, breath held, eyes down. Most recently—and apologies for not having mentioned it sooner—I finished the text portion of a manuscript with the crew at Ivar’s. It’s a whale of a cookbook, based on dishes at the restaurant’s three full-service locations, that will be released this summer, to coincide with Ivar’s 75th (!) anniversary as a Seattle institution. It was fun to write thousands of words in Ivarese—a punny combination of history and educational fishspeak—but even more satisfying to learn the workings of a company run so well, by such a casual, understated, wicked smart management team.

Working with Ivar’s made me realize that part of what I love about writing cookbooks with other people, other chefs, or other business owners, is the jumping in itself. I like the challenge. I like the unknown depth. And landing in San Francisco, foremost on my mind was how to decide between being a ghostwriter—someone who writes cookbooks with and/or for other people—and being my own brand, with my own recipe style, and my own distinct voice. I felt torn.

So I asked people. The response astounded me. Why can’t you do both?, people asked. Somehow, twisted up in the details of each project and in the attempt to form a real writing identity, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could always be both. Giving my brain over to projects I enjoy but might not conceptualize myself (or even take credit for in the end) doesn’t mean giving my writing voice away for good.

Still, I’m a person who works by definitions. So for now, for this new year of work, I’ll call myself a chameleon writer. I can change shades with the weather and the sun, and when life and health get in the way, I can hopefully sit on a rock in the sun, just breathing, like I did for most of February this year. In and out. In and out.

And when the weather turns, and the tides change, and another project comes my way—this next one, should I sign on for it this week, is an absolute dream—I’ll find just the right color and jump.

These days, my sister is working as a baker in a small town coffee shop. It’s hard not to be motherly and tell her she’s doing just the right thing, trying her hands at new things as the opportunities present themselves. It’s hard not to tell her over and over that she could really be good at anything she set her mind to doing, and that diving into something new doesn’t mean leaving behind whatever stays on the shore on a given day or month or year. Mostly, though, it’s hard not to take my own advice to heart.

Buttermilk Banana Cake 3

Here’s a cake that understands what it means to be a chameleon. Make it in one pan, as a single layer cake, with a simple pouf of whipped cream and perhaps a sliced banana or two on top, and it’s a 12-minute miracle. Gussy it up by baking it in two separate pans and smearing the layers with a cardamom-scented cream cheese frosting, and by golly, it almost looks like a birthday cake. Either way, it depends on moisture from bananas and Greek-style yogurt. It works with either all-purpose or gluten-free flour. (I’m curious to try it with a mixture of rice and oat flours.) I personally find it’s as happy on my breakfast plate as it is shared with friends after a celebratory meal.

And as far as I can tell, deep down, it doesn’t really matter how you make it, because you can always make it a different way the next time.

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake 1

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake
Laced with cardamom, this stir-and-dump cake is a good, reliable crutch for the dessert-desperate if it’s cooked in one pan. (Serve the cake warm, with whipped cream and sliced bananas, if you’re so inspired.) Or fancy it all the way up and cook it in two pans, for something of a celebration. Bake the cakes for about half the recommended time, then serve them layered with a basic cream cheese frosting, made by whipping a stick of softened butter with 8 ounces softened cream cheese, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 4 cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted), and cardamom to taste.

TIME: 10 to 30 minutes active time, depending on your day
MAKES: 8 servings

Vegetable oil spray
1 3/4 cups all-purpose or gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 very ripe bananas, well mashed
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup (6 ounces) plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9” cake pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt together into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Mash the bananas in the bottom of another mixing bowl. Add the sugar, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla, and whisk until well blended. Add the dry ingredients and the oil, and gently fold the batter together with a spatula, just until no dry spots remain.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake the cake on the middle rack for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is lightly browned at the edges and just barely beginning to crack in the center.

When the cake is done, let it cool for about 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge. Using oven mitts, place a cooling rack on top of the cake pan and flip the cake and the rack together. Remove the cake pan, so the cake is upside-down on the rack. Place a serving plate upside-down on the bottom of the cake, and flip the plate and the rack together, so the cake is now right side-up on the serving plate. Serve warm.


Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, recipe

A different kind of resolution

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie 2Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie batter

I know, I know. February is a little late to be telling you about my resolutions. But I really stink at resolutions, which is why I don’t make them. Or it may be, just perhaps, that I stink at January. Case in point: I exercised twice in January. Since January 1st, I’ve managed to bring home a stomach flu, a sinus infection, a torn (and re-torn) intercostal muscle, and more candy than my home has seen since Halloween of 1987. I’ve turned an assignment in late for what might be the second time in my life—yes, I’m that person—and made some pretty awesome mistakes emailing incorrect files for big projects. January is when I mess things up, apparently.

Buying a juicer will make it all better, I’m sure. At least, that’s the theory, which is why there’s now a gleaming mammoth of a thing sitting on my kitchen counter. It’s been churning out delicious combinations and elixirs meant not to replace the vegetables in my diet—there are usually plenty of those—but simply to introduce new flavors and textures into my diet. To notice vegetables in a different way. And to help me pay attention to what I eat for breakfast, because my three-year-old has been talking me into Rice Krispies an awful lot recently. Occasionally, though, the thing is a little threatening. You’re being too healthy, it whispers. My goal isn’t to lose weight. My goal is to pay attention to what I eat, rather than eating blindly.

The theory—one I call Better Late than Never, or Better Something than Nothing—also includes paying attention to the smaller things in my diet. Like, well, gluten. I’ve been off the stuff for about 18 months now, and every once in a while, I need to be reminded why I’m doing it. Eating gluten makes me feel meh, a bit hungover, but it doesn’t actually make me sick. In January, I ate a croissant one day, and a bowl of pasta the next, and, not so surprisingly, I felt off but not terrible. I began to debate eating gluten again. For convenience. For easy dining outside my house. For really good croissants. Then someone published a story in the New York Times Magazine that articulated perfectly what I myself was told about how gluten causes things like lupus, and I remembered why I’m avoiding it: I’m avoiding it for me, not to make things easier on other people. Since then I’ve been darn near perfect about the gluten thing. So. On to bigger and better offenders.

February is also when I pay attention to my diet because it’s American Heart Month. You know, the one where you’re supposed to wear red a lot and remember that there’s this big beating beast inside your chest that keeps you alive. Theoretically, said beast does a bit better with a little less salt, which is why someone somewhere picked now to release a beautiful book called Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook. I think that’s great for hearts everywhere. But what the title doesn’t say—and what makes the book important to me—is that it’s written by Jessica Goldman Fuong, my San Francisco food writer doppelganger, which means it’s also good for kidneys. She also has lupus, and she, even more than me, has a deeper-than-normal relationship with her kids. (Hers have names, people. Frank and Stein. I’m so jealous she thought of that first.)

The book is a foray into really spunky low-sodium cooking for people petrified of putting down the shaker. It’s a tongue-in-cheek guide to junk food that won’t kill you, or more specifically, her or me—things like buffalo wings and homemade ranch dressing—and a funny, quirky guide to relearning how to cook. (There’s even a full-page Janet Jackson reference.) And most importantly for me, the book is a wake-up call. It reminds me that even after a rough January, when I spent so much time sick because my new lupus drug clobbers my immune system, I sometimes forget to watch what goes into my mouth.

So when I turned to my north kitchen wall yesterday—the one where I sneak recipes up under the rolling pin hanging there, to remind me at all times of the little tastes I want to try—and found one for salted peanut butter cookies, I swooned. (Wouldn’t you? Peanut butter cookies with a ton of salt in them? What could be better?) Then I reconsidered. Technically, I don’t need to eat a low-sodium diet. But with two kidneys always working overtime, it’s probably a bit better for me to steer clear of the extra-salty stuff. And of course, I’d need to make the recipe gluten-free. These are by no stretch diet cookies, but they are better for my diet than what I’d normally make. And these are the changes I want to make at home. Little improvements. Sustainable, kidney-hugging improvements.

The original recipe—from a forthcoming book called Malts and Milkshakes by Autumn Martin, of Seattle’s Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery—is from someone whose recipes I trust completely. I knew Autumn would nail the right chewiness, and the right vanilla flavor. But I didn’t know whether I’d miss the salt.

So I tinkered. I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend , and I added oats for staying power, and because my husband is a sucker for oatmeal cookies and was about to board a plane for Chile. I added chopped peanuts for some of the peanut butter, because I wanted a bit of crunch. I added a bit more leavening, because I wanted them to rise and fall, so they had a bit of crinkle on top.

Then, the strangest thing happened: I meant to decrease the salt from 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (!) to just 2 teaspoons—still a huge amount of salt for someone on a low-sodium diet but, in my salt-pickled mind, a conscious effort to lower the sodium—but I plum forgot to add any salt at all. And you know what? Between the salt in the peanut butter, the baking soda, and the baking powder, these cookies are delicious and still, strangely, salty. I’m not sure I’d give one to Frank or Stein, but I’d give one to you.

I would, I said. But I can’t. Half of them are at 38,000 feet, somewhere between Miami and Santiago, and the some came with me to feed a gaggle of 3- and 4-year-olds and their associated moms. And the rest of them? I’m saving them for my kidneys, who will someday also have names. I’m not dieting, but I’m trying to treat those kids a little better every day.

Editor’s note: The cookies have made it through customs. You were worried, I know.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie stack 1

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
This recipe, adapted from Autumn Martin’s Malts and Milkshakes, makes tender, chewy cookies with a bit of staying power. You want the kind of tan that comes with an unexpected sunny day in February on these cookies, not the kind you work for at the beach; even a shallow ring of toasty (as opposed to light golden) color will turn these from chewy to crispy. Pay attention.

Time: 15 minutes active time
Makes: About 3 dozen 2-inch cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup natural low-sodium creamy peanut butter
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 1/2 cups rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle once or twice. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed between each addition. Add the vanilla and peanut butter, then mix on medium speed until well blended. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, mixing on low speed between each until no white spots remain. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chopped peanuts and oats.

Using a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon measure, form the dough into 2 tablespoon-size balls and arrange them on the baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies.

Bake for 13 to 16 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and very pale golden brown around the edges. (You don’t want them to actually brown.)

Let the cookies cool 5 to 10 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer carefully to a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining batter.

Store baked, cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 5 days.

Note: I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for my muffins.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, gluten-free

Something to try

Smoky Spruce ButtercrunchSmoky Spruce Buttercrunch

I have an announcement to make: I have a new favorite flavor. It’s related to chocolate – what great foods aren’t? – and it comes from a tiny little sweets shop a couple miles from home. Friends, I am officially in love with smoked chocolate.

It’s not something I could have predicted, because typically, I’m almost completely anti-smokiness. I’m not a particularly avid fan of smoky barbecue. I can’t stand smoked cheeses. Smoked sausages? No way. But once the wisp of an alderwood fire crosses over to the sweet side, it seems like my taste buds forgive and forget.

I first tasted smoked chocolate in chocolate chip cookies from Hot Cakes, a newish sweets shop in Seattle run by Autumn Martin, the pastry genius once behind the confections at Theo Chocolate. When I was writing Dishing Up Washington, she gave me her recipe for smoking chips in a cold smoker, and together we adapted it so anyone with a standard-issue grill and the kind of box boots come in could replicate her cookies at home. But then. Then. Then she put her smoked dark chocolate chips up for sale, and suddenly it seemed perfectly reasonable to spend $15 on what amounts to less than a grocery store-sized bag of chocolate chips. Why? Because they taste like a campfire would smell if you drowned it at the end of the night with a fountain of dark chocolate. Because our fireplace is now home to the dog’s bed, and somehow, having an edible equivalent to that winter fireplace aroma makes up for it. Because this is Seattle, which means it’s raining outside and my grill is already hibernating. And, well, because time is money.

But last week, innocently enough, I ambled into Hot Cakes to run an errand for Santa (which I can’t mention here, for fear of exposure), and I ordered a smoky hot chocolate. There, underneath the house made marshmallow, hid an accent that surprised me. It tasted a little bit like pine trees. It was like drinking thick sipping chocolate that had taken a spill onto a forest floor covered with a soft, fragrant bed of needles – albeit remarkably clean ones. Autumn told me I was tasting fir essential oil, and that I could get all sorts of similar things at Dandelion Botanical, a shop across the street, so I wandered over. I went home with spruce tree essential oil. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Since the year I spent a December testing recipes for a cookbook for Kathy Gunst, about a decade ago, holiday baking has meant one thing most strongly: buttercrunch. In her family, the secret family recipes is . . . well, secret, but I’ve made it enough times that a) I have to make some new version every year and b) I never seem to be able to make enough of it.

As soon as I tasted Autumn’s hot chocolate, I knew I’d be making a version redolent of smoke and that forest floor – spruce trees, it turned out, produced the essential oil I liked best. I folded Hot Cakes’ smoked chocolate chips and a few drops of that oil into my version of Kathy’s buttercrunch recipe, and added a bit of toasted coconut for texture (and okay, yes, I was flirting with the idea of making candy that looked like a campsite).

This ain’t your grandmother’s Christmas candy, people. But if you wanted to distill the smell of camping in a Northwest forest into an afternoon snack, and you want something delicious to crunch on in wintry weather, I got you covered.

Smoky Spruce Buttercrunch

Smoky Spruce Buttercrunch (PDF)
Crunchy, chocolaty candy with the smoky, pine-filled allure of a campfire? Sign me up. But let’s not kid ourselves: this is not a low-maintenance holiday treat. It requires two ingredients you might have to mail order, but both, in my opinion, are intriguing enough to be worth the time and money. Order smoked chocolate chips from Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery in Seattle ( and spruce extract from Dandelion Botanical, which is actually just across the street (

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen pieces

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
3 to 6 drops spruce or pine essential oil
7 ounces smoked chocolate chips
2/3 cup toasted sweetened coconut
7 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate (I prefer 70%), finely chopped
2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds

Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (or greased foil) and set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium non-reactive (not aluminum) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 290°F on an instant-read thermometer. (It will take 10 to 15 minutes, but this is not the time to wander around the kitchen, as overcooking the caramel will cause it to separate. Be patient.)

At 290°F, stir in the essential oil (3 drops for a hint, or up to 6 for a super piney flavor, depending on how strong you want it), then carefully pour the toffee mixture onto the lined baking sheet, tipping the sheet and/or spreading the mixture with a small offset spatula until the mixture is just a bit bigger in size than a piece of paper. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

When cool, melt the smoked chocolate chips: Place them in a saucepan over very low heat, and stir constantly until almost all the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Spread the melted smoked chocolate in an even layer over the cooled toffee, and sprinkle evenly with the coconut. Cool until the chocolate is dry and completely firm (this may take a few hours), then carefully flip the toffee. Repeat the melting process with the bittersweet chocolate, over low heat, then repeat the spreading process with the remaining chocolate and sprinkle the almonds on top. Let cool completely, then break into bite-sized chunks. Store in a tightly sealed container up to 3 weeks.


Filed under Cookies, dessert, Dishing Up Washington, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, recipe


Chocolate-Almond Banana Bread 2

I’ve never been the type of person who is capable of forgetting to eat a meal. I don’t get it. Telling me you forgot to eat lunch is like saying you forgot how to walk, or you just up and forgot how to breathe. Eating, to me, is an involuntary activity. I don’t remind my heart to keep beating, either.

But as natural and deeply ingrained as hunger for food is, hunger for other things often escapes me. I forgot, for example, how hungry I could be for the deep, careful, knowing bond between old friends.

I didn’t mean to forget. I think about these college girls all the time. We email, and call occasionally. But spending a weekend with them—a relaxing, schedule-free, unproductive, coffee-drinking, couch-and-beach weekend—filled me up in a way I didn’t even know I needed. I’d simply forgotten that I needed to sit on a beach in someone else’s lawn chairs, giggling and interrupting and squealing and volleying hard questions back and forth across the sand.

Friends can be more sating than food that way. It’s quenching, when someone knows you well enough to both tease you in just the right way and buy you the right chicken salad from the deli. When you watch other people’s children play and see a friend’s smile in someone so small. When you know it’s okay to pick that little person up and swing her around, because somehow, deep down, she knows you’re not a stranger.

I was sad when the weekend ended. But in a strange way, I’m glad it did. I came home with a different awareness of what might constitute “need.” I came home thinking What am I hungry for?

It’s a loaded question, of course. The first thing that hit me was a need for normalcy in the kitchen. Tomorrow marks one year of eating gluten-free for me. And as much as I’ve learned new things in the kitchen—learned to love new ingredients, and cook with a different chemistry in mind, and avoid things that aren’t good for me—I’ll admit I haven’t quite achieved a feeling of normalcy when I pick up a knife or turn on the stove. I came home feeling motivated to find the new normal I’ve been avoiding–and odd sensation to bring home from a girls’ weekend, but one I need to address nonetheless.

And so it begins: a long, exciting, maybe challenging tour of my stomach’s memory. I want new normals for the staples of my past. For me, since I started baking before I started cooking, this probably means treats. It means chocolate chip cookies and cakes and sweets. And given my penchant for the stuff, it certainly means banana bread.

Here’s one that started with a look inside Deliciously G-Free, a book I’m admittedly biased against simply because it has a too-perfect face on the cover. I started with her banana bread. I got as far as mixing the dry ingredients together before taking a sharp turn off the page (which, for me, is later than most days). I kept the brown rice flour base, but incorporated almond flour, quinoa flour, and cocoa powder, twisting the recipe from banana bread into something more toastable, and perhaps a little sweeter.

I don’t want to say I was surprised. But, well, yeah. I was surprised. It looked like a chocolate snack cake I wanted to dig into any hour of the day. It sliced like banana bread, only the crumb was sturdier, so it was toastable. It even traveled well. I smuggled it in my purse to a doctor’s appointment when I didn’t have time for breakfast, wrapped in a paper towel that didn’t quite contain the crumbs. I served it for dessert, next to scoops of vanilla ice cream. I toasted it for a snack for Graham, who looked around guiltily as he ate, bewildered, wondering what alien force had persuaded his mother to offer him chocolate bread in the middle of the afternoon.

And now, with one lonely heel resting on the cutting board, wavering in that ill-defined space between being saved (because it’s so worthy) or forgotten (because there’s another loaf in the oven), my house smells like a home. My house smells normal.

And, at least in the banana bread department, I’m sated.

Chocolate-Almond Banana Bread whole

Chocolate-Almond Banana Bread (PDF)
First inspired by the banana bread recipe in Deliciously G-Free by Elisabeth Hasselbeck (Ballantine, 2012), this sliceable snacking cake is part breakfast, part dessert, and part all irresistable. If you’re looking for something closer to dessert, substitute chocolate chips for the almonds.

Active time: 20 minutes
Makes one 8- by 4-inch loaf

Vegetable-oil spray
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup almond meal/flour
1/2 cup arrowroot starch
1/3 cup quinoa flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 medium-sized ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1/3 cup milk (or chocolate milk, if you have it)
1 cup whole toasted almonds

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch by 4-inch loaf pan with waxed paper (use a piece as big as the pan is long, don’t worry about covering the short ends) and spray the paper and exposed pan parts with the vegetable-oil spray. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the brown rice flour, almond meal, arrowroot starch, quinoa flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and xanthan gum. Set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed between each addition. Add the vanilla, mashed banana, and milk, and mix on low speed for another minute or so.

Add the dry ingredients, and mix again on low speed until no dry spots remain, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula if necessary. Gently fold the nuts in by hand.

Dump the batter into the prepared pan (the batter will come almost to the rim), smooth the top, and bake on the oven’s middle rack until the center of the bread springs back to the touch, 60 to 70 minutes.

Transfer the loaf pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 15 minutes. Using the waxed paper, gently lift the bread out of the pan and let it cool another 30 minutes or so before slicing.

To store, let the bread cool completely, then wrap in plastic and store at room temperature up to 3 days.

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Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, recipe, snack, soy-free

This cherry’s got moves

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I like to think of myself as open-minded, but I’ve always considered myself above Jell-O. I’m above Rainier cherries, also, in part because they’re too damned sweet and too damned pretty, but mostly because once, on Cape Cod, I overheard a woman telling her daughter that “rainy-er” cherries come from the rainier part of Washington. If there’s a way to kill a fruit’s glamour, that’s it, right there. I know I’m a loner for it, but I don’t like Rainiers.

But oh, the Orondo Ruby. When a friend in Wenatchee, WA – a fruit guy and cider maker I met writing Dishing Up Washington, which, for the record, is completely, totally, 100% finished and heading to the printing press – offered to send me some new kind of cherry, I assumed it would be red. Sure, I said. I’ve only met one cherry I didn’t love. I didn’t have time to consider a wooden crate full of jumbo-sized cherries that must be the love child of Rainiers and something much darker and spunkier, like a Benson or a Vans. But by the time I’d bitten through his crisp scarlet skin (yes, with a name like Orondo, he has to be male), the tartness had taken hold, and I couldn’t fault him for the light flesh. This cherry, he’s more striking than any I’ve seen – Orondos aren’t native latinos (they’re from Orondo, WA), but the name fits because deep down, this cherry is a flamenco dancer. This cherry moves. He’s sweet, but he’s also quite sassy. I am in love.

But before all that, when the box landed on my doorstep, I knew the Orondos were too pretty for pie. (Nobody puts Baby in the corner.) So I decided to pile them up in a tart, sliced any which way, to show off the contrast in color between the skins and the flesh. Simple enough right?

Not really. Because in my cooking lexicon, a tart piled with raw fruit has always had a crust made with wheat flour and a filling made with eggs. And I’m not eating wheat flour or eggs these days.

Here’s where the Jell-O thing comes in. The crust was easy enough – a quickly-stirred mixture of quinoa, coconut, and almond flours, along with some chia seeds that work amazingly well as a binder, and I had a beautiful, sweet crust that was much easier to handle (no pie weights!) than many traditional ones.

But the filling. (Damn the egg thing.) I wanted to stay away from dairy, not because I’m avoiding dairy, but because I’m suddenly hyper-aware of food allergies. (You read this, didn’t you?) Well, that, and the coconut flour in the crust had me hankering for something more exotic. So that blushing, sweet center? It’s essentially homemade coconut-cherry Jell-O. As in, made with gelatin. As in, creamy tart filling I can eat. As in, I am suddenly a fan of using gelatin and of cherries with light, sweet flesh.

New things are wonderful, aren’t they?

Coconut Cream Tart with Cherries and Chia Seeds (PDF)
You can use any type of cherries for this slightly quirky tart, but note that dark red ones (rather than the light-fleshed Orondo Ruby or Rainier cherries) will bleed their juices onto the filling a bit. Look for ingredients like coconut, quinoa, and almond flours and chia seeds in the baking section of a health foods store, or in a large yuppie market like Whole Foods.

Note that because nut and seed flours have such different textures, it’s best to measure them by weight, if you can.

Active time: About 1 hour
Makes 1 9-inch tart

For the crust
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 cup (30g) coconut flour
1/2 cup (60g) almond flour
1/2 cup (60g) quinoa flour
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the cherry-coconut cream
1 pound fresh, firm cherries, pitted
1/2 cup sugar
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk, stirred
1/4 cup cold water
1 packet powdered gelatin (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)

1 pound fresh, firm cherries, pitted and halved or sliced, for topping the tart

First, make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a nonstick 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and set aside.

Blend the flax seeds with the hot water in a small bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk the coconut, almond, and quinoa flours together with the chia seeds and salt. Add the brown rice syrup, brown sugar, olive oil, and flax mixture, and mix and mash the crust with a large fork until no dry spots remain and the mixture looks like cookie dough.

Dump the crust into the tart pan, and use your hands to squish it into a roughly even layer on the bottom and sides, taking care not to make the corners too thick. (It should be about 1/4 inch thick on all sides.)

Bake the crust for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside.

Meanwhile, make the cherry-coconut cream: Pulse the pitted cherries in a food processor until finely chopped, about 10 one-second pulses. Transfer them to a medium saucepan, add the 1/2 cup sugar, and bring the mixture to a strong simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk, and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes more, until thickened slightly.

Transfer 2 cups of the cherry-coconut cream to a medium bowl. (You’ll only need the 2 cups. Eat the rest.) Place the 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin into the water, stirring until the mixture looks like applesauce. Place the bowl in a pan filled with about an inch of boiling water, and stir the gelatin mixture until it turns clear. Add this clear liquid to the warm measured filling, stir well, and pour the filling into the tart crust.

Let the tart cool to room temperature, then transfer the tart to the refrigerator. Chill until the filling is firm, about 4 hours.

Just before serving, pile the halved or sliced cherries on top of the crust (you can be fancy, if you’d like, but plopping them on works just as well), and serve.

Note: Here’s a great primer from David Lebovitz on how to use gelatin.


Filed under Cakes, dessert, farmer's market, gluten-free, recipe

Ice cream for breakfast

Mint Chip4

Confession #1: I had ice cream for breakfast. Confession #2: It woke me up more effectively than my coffee did. I’m not sure if this speaks to my coffee-making skills, or to this cloudy Seattle morning, or to the minty blast of the ice cream itself, but I’m awfully tempted to credit this last thing. Toothpaste comes in mint flavor for a reason, I suppose.

Do you know Molly Moon’s? It’s an ice cream shop in Seattle. Only, it’s not just an ice cream shop. It’s sort of an institution here. It’s where we took Graham for his first ice cream cone. It’s run by the effervescent miss Molly Moon Neitzel (yes, that’s her real name), who, it so happens, graduated from Boise High School, just like me. (When I sat down to interview her once for a Seattle Weekly story, right when the shop opened, I was shocked to realize I knew her.)

It’s been my go-to spot for excellent ice cream for years. But until her cookbook came out, I didn’t realize Molly Moon’s makes Philadelphia-style ice cream, which means it’s made without eggs (not with steak and cheese, although I’m sure someone with freshly pulled wisdom teeth and a craving has looked into that). I’ve been avoiding eggs, so homemade ice creams had sort of fallen off my radar. But this. This is a book I could freeze my way through, one recipe after the next. This weekend, I made this minty number, a take on her “Scout” mint ice cream (made with Girl Scout thin mints), plus her cappuccino ice cream, which tasted like a frosty version of the Vietnamese coffee I order at my local pho spot.

So what’s the upside, besides ice cream for breakfast? Short of pouring cream directly into your ice cream maker, Molly Moon’s ice cream doesn’t get any easier to make. Which could be a problem, if you’re feeling pessimistic. I just see it as a reason to put heavy cream and an extra bar of good Theo chocolate on my regular shopping list.

Mint Chip Ice Cream

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (PDF)
Recipe adapted from Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream (Sasquatch, 2012)

This is Molly Moon’s recipe for her famous “Scout” Mint Ice Cream, which is (in my humble opinion) the world’s best minty ice cream, studded with the Girl Scouts’ thin mint cookies. My version uses pure dark chocolate in place of the cookies, because I failed to save any this year. Perhaps next year I’ll follow Molly’s buying habits; she purchases 325 boxes of those addictive discs (from every girl she buys from!) every year to make Scout for her shops–a total of over 5,000 boxes!

Makes 1 to 1 1/2 quarts

1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1 (3-ounce) 70% dark chocolate bar, such as Theo Chocolate’s, finely chopped

Put the milk, cream, sugar, and salt into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Before the mixture has come to a boil, remove from the heat. Pour the mixture into a shallow pan or bowl and place in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly, 1 to 2 hours.

When the mixture is cold, stir in the peppermint extract. Pour it into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. During the last few minutes of processing, add the chocolate pieces. (Make sure you include all the chocolate dust.) Using a rubber spatula, transfer the ice cream to an airtight glass or plastic freezer container. Cover tightly and freeze until the ice cream is firm, at least 4 hours.


Filed under dessert, egg-free, gluten-free, recipe

Sweet Things

Fran's Gold Bar Brownies 2

It’s been a sweet, sweet week here in Seattle. Pike Place Market Recipes is here, filling my days with delicious details. Today, just a quick snapshot or two–one, up there, of Fran’s Gold Bar Brownies (PDF), the rich, gooey, almond-caramel brownie recipe by Fran Bigelow, of Fran’s Chocolates, that appears in the cookbook. Below, a look at events and book signings in the weeks to come, and sweet words others have said about the book. Enjoy.


Tuesday, May 15th: Appearance on New Day Northwest, on KING5

Monday, May 21st at Book Larder, 6:30 to 8 p.m., free. With Jill Lightner, editor of Edible Seattle: The Cookbook.

Tuesday, May 29th at Elliott Bay Book Co., 5 p.m., free. With Molly Moon Neitzel and Mark Klebeck.

Sunday, July 1st at Pear Delicatessen & Shoppe, time TBD.


Review on
GastroGnome’s book review
CakeSpy’s heart-shaped honey-cream biscuits, inspired by the book
Review on Seattle Met’s food blog, Nosh Pit
And this post by Gluten-Free Girl. This, people, is why I write recipes. If a recipe meanders its way into inspiration (fennel syrup!), I consider it a success.

Chopped Chocolate
Recipe for Fran’s Gold Bar Brownies, from Pike Place Market Recipes (PDF)


Filed under dessert, Pike Place Market Recipes, recipe

What I didn’t tell you about the doughnut cookbook

That book you see below? It’s out. On shelves. In real, live bookstores, the kind filled with people that don’t know my mother or mother-in-law. Sure, I told you about it–some of it. But there are a few things I didn’t tell you. Here’s a deeper look, from Leite’s Culinaria . . .

I have a very simple history with fried dough. I adore it.

As a 16-year-old, my driver’s license meant I could finally transport myself to Merritt’s Country Café in Boise, Idaho, anytime I pleased to sneak doughnuts behind my mother’s back. Rotund servers ferried heaping plates of fried dough slathered in sugar to tables of rude, hungry teens—no questions asked. Doughnuts represented deliciousness, yes, but also an opportunity to experiment with a type of misbehavior that was far more rebellious, at least to me, than sneaking out to drink.

Fast forward to late last summer, when an editor called looking for a writer to do a baking book about Seattle’s famed Top Pot Doughnuts and its owners, Mark and Michael Klebeck. Apparently she’d heard I could write a mean recipe. The idea of devoting myself and a slice of my career to something so blatantly fattening was exhilarating. And so it happened that I signed a contract to write my first cookbook. The kicker? I had five weeks, instead of the usual 52, to write it.

Click here to read the rest of the story at Leite’s Culinaria, and here for the book’s doughnut bread pudding recipe. (The best thing I’ve ever heard about one of my recipes was when Tia looked at me, shaking her head over the concept of this recipe, and said, “Now c’mon. That’s just dirty.”)


Filed under dessert, recipe

No screaming. Just ice cream.

Honey-Cinnamon Cream Cheese Ice Cream and Caramel 4

I didn’t scream when she told me. I didn’t even cry. I just put my fingers on the paper next to hers, and repeated what she’d just said: “Gluten, eggs, and soy.” Compared to the previous six weeks, those three foods seemed easy enough to avoid. After all, I’d be able to eat cheese, and fruit, and rice, and ohgoodlord, I might once again drink coffee. Slowly, I’ll be able to reintroduce things like beef, pork, chocolate, and corn . . . people, things are looking up.

It’s been two weeks now since my ayurvedic practitioner told me about my new allergies. Are they real allergies? I can’t be certain. I’ve spoken with a rheumatologist, a nephrologist, an acupuncturist, and numerous doctor pals about the results, and no one agrees what method of allergy testing is most reliable. But I do know one thing: avoiding them is worth a try. So for the past two weeks, I’ve been hitching up my britches and eating differently.

I’m not sure I’d have been quite so accepting if someone told me I was allergic to dairy. That might have killed me. But the day I came home from that appointment, when someone told me I’d need to change the way I eat not just for a few weeks, but for a lifetime, I plunked myself down on one of our tall wicker stools and started attacking a two-pound block of cheddar cheese. I didn’t care that the cutting board was a little dirty, or that the paring knife I’d grabbed haphazardly was so small that its hilt smeared through the cheese, leaving waxy streaks on my index finger’s middle knuckle. I took three jagged slices onto the porch, turned my face to the sun, and ate.

And since then, despite a trip that solidified my fear that in the future, it will be markedly less delicious to travel if I can’t be in charge of my own eating decisions (let’s just say luxury doesn’t always equal gustatory indulgence), I’ve been excited. I’ve been excited because there’s a possibility that I’ve hit on something that could make me healthier in the long term, and because I’ve tried new-to-me (and suddenly favorite) foods like socca, and because although I never knew it before, I’ve learned that ice cream can taste really, really good without eggs.

Last week, on my way to The Greenbrier Symposium for Professional Food Writers, in West Virginia, I made a pit stop in Columbus, Ohio. No lies, now; I wasn’t any more thrilled to land at CMH than you might be. But people, I’m telling you, there is an ice cream revolution there that I’d somehow missed. I knew folks had been swooning over Jeni Britton Bauer’s ice cream cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home but a) I didn’t know she was from Columbus and b) I didn’t know she skips the eggs, relying instead on a joint process involving reducing cream and adding a bit of cream cheese to produce sensationally silky, rich ice cream.

But Faith told me all this. (Thank goodness for Faith.) And the moment she was done feeding me Vij’s mustard seed-spiked cabbage and tender grilled chicken thighs and socca (there it is again!) smeared with goat cheese, she whisked me to her favorite Jeni’s location, where I melted under the pleasure of my first dessert in six weeks.

I ordered the book, of course. It hasn’t come yet, and I’m not a terribly patient person. So yesterday, I swirled up my own version—a cinnamon- and honey-spiked combination of Greek yogurt, reduced heavy cream, and cream cheese. It tastes like a batch of cream cheese frosting might taste if it tripped over the cinnamon and felt into a churning batch of rich frozen yogurt. It also tastes to me, in the dying evening light, like this new lifestyle-o-mine could be extremely delicious.

Honey-Cinnamon Cream Cheese Ice Cream 1

Honey-Cinnamon Cream Cheese Ice Cream (PDF)
This sweet treat was inspired by a stop at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio, where owner (and author of the cookbook Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home) Jeni Britton Bauer uses cream cheese to make her ice cream smooth and scoopable. Although hers only have the slightest hint of tang, this version, which is egg-free (like many of hers), puts the cream cheese flavor front and center. Dollop some on top of carrot cake, in place of cream cheese frosting, or on a simple fruit tart, or drizzle it with salted caramel—but know that it’s rich, so a little goes a long way.

Note: The ice cream base must be refrigerated before freezing, so it’s best to make it the night before you plan to serve it.

Time: 20 minutes active time
Makes: 1 scant quart

1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon good-quality honey
1 cup (8 ounces) plain (whole-fat) Greek-style yogurt
1 cup (8 ounces) regular cream cheese
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat. Cook at a strong simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the cream has reduced by half, to 1 cup. (Watch it closely and adjust the heat to prevent it from bubbling over.) Stir in the honey and set aside.

Whirl together the yogurt, cream cheese, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla in a food processor until smooth. Add the warm honeyed cream, and blend again to combine. Taste for seasoning; add more honey or cinnamon, if desired.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight, or until thoroughly chilled.

The next day, freeze the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-proof container and freeze until solid, at least 4 hours, before serving.


Filed under dessert, egg-free, gluten-free, lupus, recipe, soy-free

Passover for procrastinators

Flourless Chocolate-Banana-Almond Cake 2

It’s a shame that my brother’s an environmental historian, because he’d make a damned fine food writer. He’d be one of those issues writers, verbose (in a good way) about Things That Need To Be Discussed. He’d be a good raw milk advocate, and he’d detail the best way to cure venison sausage, and he’d write about how a stranger fries trout in Tennessee, if there are really good trout in Tennessee. (I’m not one to know.) And every April, his Haggadah (PDF) – the religious guide to the Jewish Passover service that’s traditionally done the same way every year – would be anticipated like the New Yorker’s cartoon issue.

That’s how I see it. It’s not that I look forward to The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project – that’s what we’ve all come to call it, my family and the separate group of friends he shares Passover with each year in San Francisco – because I’m so into religion. On the contrary, I only really like the tradition of Passover because it instigates a familial bond we might not otherwise get every year when April rolls around. I don’t really observe, if by observe you mean cutting out everything but matzo. (I do add matzo to my diet, though, and as my sister points out, it makes fine fodder for a prosciutto and cream cheese sandwich, which is obviously Kosher.) I stink at remembering the story, and frankly, I don’t find it all that interesting, which means that reliably, on the day Passover starts, I’m frisking the internet for a dummy’s guide to the Seder plate when I get a nice long email from Josh. I know that makes me the world’s worst Jew, but seriously, doesn’t the whole schmegegge about Moses floating down the Nile in a wicker basket get more interesting when you learn that it was found on Craigslist, listed as a two-bedroom with on-site laundry?

Here, celebrating means channelling Josh’s voice, and a proper feast, and not much on the religious front.

This year, I’ll be celebrating with my husband and Graham, who might be actually old enough to find the matzo. My mom will be here, as will my sister, and whichever soul walks past the door when we open it. We’ll start with artichokes with homemade garlic aioli, then we’ll have matzo ball soup, fragrant with lemon peel and peppered with parsley. There will be brisket with carrots and parsnips, and sautéed spring greens, and roasted potatoes. And then, when we can’t possibly eat a bite more, we’ll have cake.

Flourless Chocolate-Banana-Almond Cake 1

Flourless cake is the Kate Moss of the pastry world. It always seems like it should be too anemic to stand up, but there it is, beautiful, even if you wish you didn’t think so. This version, structured with almond meal and eggs and flavored with bananas and cocoa, isn’t exactly congruent with the whole doing without concept that surrounds Passover. But you know what? Once you take a bite, I’m not sure you’ll be all that concerned.

Flourless Chocolate-Banana-Almond Cake (PDF)
Flourless cakes have been a Passover staple for ages. Although this simple, satisfying cake is made without chametz, you may find yourself making it all year long, because it carries the flavor of a chocolate-infused banana bread but only takes half the time to bake. The cream cheese ganache that tops it is like a cross between whipped cream and cream cheese frosting—serve it dolloped on top of the cake, with extra sliced bananas.

Time: 20 minutes active time
Makes: 8 servings

For the cake
Vegetable oil spray
2 large ripe bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 tablespoons canola oil

For the cream cheese ganache
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup regular cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar

Note: If you can’t find almond meal, make your own: Toast slivered almonds on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes, or until they begin to brown. Let cool completely, then grind cooled nuts in a food processor or coffee grinder.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8-inch cake pan with the vegetable oil spray. Line the pan with a round of parchment paper, and spray the parchment. Set aside.

Mash the bananas in a mixing bowl with a large fork, then stir in the sugar, honey, salt, and vanilla. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs for about 1 minute on medium speed, or until foamy. Add the sweetened banana mixture, and mix again on medium-high speed until very smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the almond meal and cocoa powder, and mix on low speed until well blended. Add the canola oil, and pour the batter into the prepared pan. (It will be thin.)

Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake is slightly domed and firm in the center. Cool cake 5 minutes in the pan. Invert onto cooling rack (run a small knife around the edges if necessary), then invert again onto a plate.

While the cake cools, make the cream cheese ganache: Beat the butter and cream cheese in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth. Add the cold cream and sugar, and whip again on high speed, scraping the bowl occasionally, for a minute or two, until light and fluffy.

Serve the cake with the cream cheese ganache, topped with extra banana slices.


Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, jewish

A Good Use for Cheap Butter

mapled choc chip cookies 2

There’s a certain amount of freedom that comes with an empty refrigerator. Coming home from ten days in New England, I was baffled by how much we didn’t have. There were all of the things that were actually necessary to feed a child—milk, and a few slices of bread, cheese and tortillas, and a few oranges. But after going out to breakfast the first day we were home, it occurred to me that at some point, we’d have to feed ourselves, too.

Over the holidays, I also tested recipes for the Pike Place Market cookbook. Every day, I had specific goals—pulled pork sandwiches with coffee-tinged barbecue sauce one day, smoked salmon rillettes and stout-braised bratwurst the next. (It was a delicious week.) Here, filling a refrigerator with everyday food, with no actual recipe plans, seemed incredibly novel—and somehow daunting. Handicapped by jetlag and a holiday hangover, I couldn’t get it together to plan out food for the week, so I did what anyone with an empty refrigerator might do. I bought butter.

Normally, I buy two butters—Trader Joe’s unsalted store brand, and Golden Glen Creamery’s fancy butter. The former is cheap and works fine for baking; we use the latter (which is not cheap) for toast and in foods where you can really taste it. But on our vacation, I ran into a recipe that specifically called for ShurFine butter—the cheapest stuff you can get in New England.

Snowy chicken coop

We’d planned to spend one night with friends in Norwich, Vermont, in a little modern homestead perched over the White River, between a country road and a pig farm. It was all about as cute as we could handle, with chickens clucking around in the front yard, just past the frozen pond, and a team’s worth of hockey sticks lined up next to the front door. The neighbors’ bushes all had little A-frame houses built over them to protect them from snow. When we drove up, our hostess bounced down the driveway to meet us, the way one almost never does in a city, because the driveways just aren’t long enough. We squealed and hugged and walked inside, where the warm scents of chocolate chip cookies and wood smoke mingled with a pervasive sense of calm.

Our first course of cookies came before we took our coats off. Nicknamed “Wezie Burgers,” for our hostess’ mother, they stray a bit from the traditional back-of-the-bag recipe, with different amounts of sugar and egg and maple syrup in place of the vanilla (and then some), and with ShurFine, and only ShurFine, butter. The first time, they were still warm and chewy, but by the time we’d finished our venison chili—made with a deer shot on the property, naturally—they’d crisped up a bit, so they had the consistency of store-bought cookies, but with way more personality. (Thank you, maple syrup.) The third course came the next morning, when we dipped them in coffee as the tots ran around screaming and the adults tried to estimate just how much snow had collected on the roof of the chicken coop.

mapled choc chip cookies 1

Because there’s nothing quite as welcoming as a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies, I returned the favor when we were in Maine, with other friends visiting. Again, the cookies were big, with big cracks in the top emanating from where the oversized chocolate chips I’d used poked through the dough. I, for one, thought they were very similar to the first batch – impressive, I thought, given that the maple syrup measurement was never all that clear. But Wezie uses half whole wheat flour, and I hadn’t, and I didn’t feel like I could call them Wezie Burgers without following her recipe to the T.

mapled choc chip cookies 3

So at home, I whipped up another batch—this time with chunks and shards of chocolate, which I prefer to chips, and Trader Joe’s butter. I was almost satisfied, until my husband asked what it was that made the originals so different—he said they were stiffer, that the dough itself was somehow chunkier, and that the chocolate chunks just weren’t quite right in this cookie. I hate it when he’s right.

For batch three, I bought the cheapest salted butter I could find. I switched to mixing by hand, because it occurred to me that I didn’t see a mixer at my friend’s house, and switched back to whole chips. Perfect. If you can tell me why good butter ruins these cookies, I’m all ears.

I know cookies aren’t exactly what most people need right now. Show me anything with a sprinkle or a twinkle, and might throw it back in your face. But once they’ve cooled, these cookies get a little saggy and deflated, which is exactly how I feel right now—not at all bad in a sick way, just tired.

I’m convinced someone was in charge of structuring the calendar so people would be buoyed by the prospect of new, exciting things immediately after an exhausting vacation, but I clearly haven’t figured out why now is the “right” time to diet.


Mapled Chocolate Chip Cookies (PDF)

Called “Wezie Burgers” by the family who created the recipe I’ve based mine on, this version of chocolate chip cookies is a Vermont-inspired variation on the back-of-the-bag standard. They’re best mixed a little less than normal, so I add all the dry ingredients—including the chocolate chips—at once.

Day-old cookies can be warmed in the microwave for about 20 seconds for a just-baked effect.

Active Time: 15 minutes
Makes: About 2 dozen

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) cheap salted butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set aside.

Whisk the flours and baking soda together in a small bowl, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 1 minute, until well blended. Add the egg and maple syrup, and mix to blend. Add the dry ingredients and the chocolate chips, and stir with on-off pulses just until the mixture comes together.

Arrange 1 1/2” balls of dough at even intervals on the baking sheets (you may need to make more than one batch) and bake for about 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, or until the cookies are light golden brown. Let cool on sheets for about 15 minutes, then serve warm.


Filed under Cookies, dessert, recipe

A better buttercrunch?


It used to drive me crazy when my husband stopped to fix something. We’d be in the middle of a conversation, and he’d spot, say, a proud nail in the wood floor, and before I could so much as utter another syllable, he’d be down on his hands and knees with a hammer, pounding away.

It only bothered me until I realized that in my own realm, I do the same thing. If there’s something I don’t like about a recipe, I tinker. I play. I fiddle. I fix. So while it’s not in my nature to hang a photo back up immediately after it falls off the wall, I’ll sauté chard three nights in a row, if it means getting the garlic flavor just right. And admittedly, it’s more or less the same thing.

Sometimes, though, there’s just nothing to fix. If there’s a better buttercrunch recipe than the one I use most frequently, I haven’t found it. I’ve tried. Many are fancier, or more complicated. Some are more unique. But my basic version, a quick toffee slathered with dark chocolate and walnuts, has be come a holiday stand-by. Some years I go a little crazy, sprinkling it with toasted almonds, or even Altoids, but I always come back to basics.

After recommending it as a DIY gift idea to a friend, I got to thinking: I don’t want to change the technique behind it, but could I ramp up the flavor? I turned on the stove.

Instead of the usual sugar, I made the caramel with brown sugar, infused with an entire vanilla bean’s seeds. I smoothed a 60% cacao chocolate over the cooled toffee—I’ve found using too dark a chocolate prevents it from sticking properly as it dries—and sprinkled it with toasted walnuts, instead of untoasted.

It was crunchy and sticky and chocolaty and nutty, as usual. But more delicious? Honestly, I’m not sure. It might be slightly more flavorful, what with all that vanilla, and since I was out of plain sugar, it was certainly more convenient for me to make with brown sugar. I still loved wrapping it up in little jars and giving it away, but for once, the tinkering didn’t really make a difference. I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing. Maybe it’s just a thing. In any case, I need another batch, to temper the let-down.

Brown Sugar-Vanilla Buttercrunch (PDF)
This crunchy candy, based on a top-secret family recipe from someone else’s family, is my answer for the cookie-averse recipients on my holiday baking list. For another gift, cut the used vanilla bean in to 3 or 4 pieces and snuggle them into jars of sugar, for vanilla sugar.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen pieces

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Karo syrup
2 tablespoons water
Seeds from 1 soft vanilla bean
1 pound high-quality dark chocolate (I prefer 60%, or dark chips), finely chopped
2 cups toasted walnuts, very finely chopped

Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (or greased foil) and set aside.

Combine the butter, brown sugar, Karo syrup, water, and vanilla bean seeds in a medium non-reactive (not aluminum) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 290 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (It will take 10 to 15 minutes, but this is not the time to wander around the kitchen, as overcooking the caramel will cause it to separate. Be patient.)

At 290 degrees, carefully pour the toffee mixture onto the lined baking sheet, tipping the sheet and/or spreading the mixture with a small offset spatula until the mixture makes a roughly 12” by 15” rectangle. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

When cool, melt the chocolate: Place it in a saucepan over very low heat, and stir constantly until almost all the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Spread half the chocolate mixture in an even layer over the cooled toffee, and sprinkle evenly with half the walnuts. Cool until the chocolate is dry and completely firm (this may take a few hours), then carefully flip the toffee. Rewarm the chocolate over low heat, if necessary, then repeat the spreading process with the remaining chocolate and sprinkle the remaining walnuts on top. Let cool completely, then break into bite-sized chunks. Store in a tightly sealed container up to 3 weeks.


Filed under Cookies, dessert, recipe

A sweet gift

Sweet Rosemary Cornbread 1

I know! I know. I’ve been gone.

It’s not that I haven’t been cooking. On the contrary, I’ve been cooking like a maniac. I’m working on a recipe development project for a corporate client, which means most workdays, three or four recipes come streaming out of my pen. So I’ve been cooking – that is, when I’m not planning, shopping, researching, or typing. There’s a little army of Tupperware containers marching out my front door every day, headed to neighbors and friends, because we simply cannot eat the volume I’ve been producing.

I’ve loved it, except for three things: First, the culinary brainstorming involved has left me spent in the ideas department. When we have room for a meal I don’t have to write about, I’ve been gravitating toward the simplest things. Lettuce from the back yard with oil and vinegar. Grilled asparagus. Cereal for breakfast. Cereal for dinner.

I also don’t like how when you sell a recipe to someone, you don’t always get to sell the exact recipe you wanted to create. (I once heard something about the customer always being right . . .)

The project, unfortunately, also does not involve much baking. I thought this was a good thing, when I took it on, but I didn’t account for 55 degrees and raining on the first morning in July.

This morning, I addressed all three, with a simple, unique-to-me, warming cornbread recipe that hits the dessert key without being overly sweet. I’ll bring one loaf as a gift this weekend, when we camp at a friend’s cabin in the mountains, and we’ll eat the other for breakfast in our tent, smeared with jam and probably a little dirt, when Graham gets up at 5 a.m.

Happy 4th.

Sweet Rosemary Cornbread 2

Sweet Rosemary Cornbread (PDF)

If you’re giving the bread as a gift, or just want it to look extra adorable, pop a sprig of fresh rosemary onto the batter before the bread goes into the oven. Then hurry it to the lucky recipient while it’s still warm, with good butter and a jar of creamed honey.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 2 (8” by 4”) loaves

Vegetable oil spray or butter, for greasing pans
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup half and half
3/4 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two (8” by 4”) loaf pans, and set aside.

Whisk the dry ingredients to blend in a large bowl. Whisk the wet ingredients together in a different bowl, then add to the dry ingredients, and stir until no dry spots remain.

Divide the batter between the prepared loaf pans, smooth with a spatula, and bake until brown at the edges and just cracking in the center, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pans, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.


Filed under bread, Cakes, dessert, recipe

A banana bread epiphany

Chocolate-Covered Walnut Banana Bread (blurry)

If you squint, this banana bread doesn’t look much different from your average chocolate- and walnut-stuffed rendition. It’s perfectly moist. It makes a house smell like there’s something good about gray fifty-degree days in mid-June. But open your eyes, and you’ll see that the walnuts are actually coated in the chocolate first. Open your mouth, and you’ll get one fantasy bite after the next, all crunchy and chocolaty and soft at the same time.

Last weekend, we stayed with my aunt and uncle in Berkeley. In the morning, there was banana bread, which we toasted and slathered with butter using sturdy Swedish wooden spoons. The first day, I couldn’t put my finger on what was so delicious. But the second day, picnicking on the carpet at the Oakland airport, I realized the walnuts were actually individually coated in chocolate – an effect that, for whatever reason, absolutely makes a difference.

I’m not sure where my aunt’s bread was from – whether she made it herself or bought it somewhere – but an hour after our wheels touched down at SeaTac, I was at the grocery store, buying the ripest bananas I could find.

I’d like to introduce you to my new favorite banana bread. Can someone please help me articulate why it’s so much better than banana bread with chocolate and walnuts stirred in?

I’m convinced. I’m just not quite sure why.

Chocolate-Covered Walnut Banana Bread

Chocolate-Covered Walnut Banana Bread (PDF)

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 2 loaves

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups whole walnuts (toasted, if you’d like)
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups mashed banana (from 3 large, ripe bananas, a little more or less won’t hurt)

Melt the chocolate chips slowly over low heat in a small saucepan, stirring frequently. Add the walnuts and turn to coat all the pieces evenly. Spread the nuts out on a large piece of waxed paper so they’re not touching each other, and let cool until the chocolate has hardened.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8” x 4” loaf pans (or spray them with a baking spray that claims to do the same job), and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a mixing bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream 1 1/2 sticks butter and both sugars together on high speed until light, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until blended between additions and scraping the side of the bowl when necessary. Add the vanilla and the mashed banana, and stir until blended. Add the dry ingredients about a third at a time, mixing on low just until blended between additions, then gently stir in the chocolate-covered walnuts by hand.

Divide the batter evenly between the loaf pans, smooth the batter flat, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the tops are browned and beginning to crack and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out with just a few crumbs attached.

Cool in pans until comfortable to touch, then remove from pans and cool completely on a cooling rack. Store up to 3 days at room temperature, well wrapped, or freeze up to 3 months.

chocolate-covered walnuts


Filed under bread, Breakfast, Cakes, dessert, recipe

A ten-minute cake

Buttermilk Banana Cake 3

The story that accompanies this cake is extremely short: I’m on an insane dose of steroids. Steroids make a person hungry. They make me crave, in particular, anything remotely sweet. (Steroids also make you believe you’re invincible, which is why I reorganized the living room and four bookshelves this weekend.)

I’ve made it twice now, in three days. It’s the love child of banana bread and the simplest vanilla cake, just sturdy enough to carry across the living room in the palm of your hand, if you’re into that sort of thing, but sweet enough to dependably call a dessert.

The first time, I noticed that it only took me about ten minutes to scrape together. The second time, it took 8, but then I realized I’d already heated the oven and the milk and eggs were out on the counter. That adds a portion of a minute, easily.

So it might take you eleven minutes. Twelve, if you’re a deliberate masher or if you have an unreasonably large kitchen.

For the record, the kind of steroids I’m on do not make one a better athlete. Unless eating cake is a sport. In that case, sign me up.

Buttermilk Banana Cake whole

Ten-Minute Buttermilk Banana Cake (PDF)

Laced with cardamom, this stir-and-dump cake is a good, reliable crutch for the dessert-desperate. Serve the cake warm, with whipped cream and sliced bananas, if you’re so inspired.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 servings

Vegetable oil spray
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 very ripe bananas, well mashed
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9” cake pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt together into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Mash the bananas in the bottom of another mixing bowl. Add the sugar, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla, and whisk until well blended. Add the dry ingredients and the oil, and gently fold the batter together with a spatula, just until no dry spots remain.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake the cake on the middle rack for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is lightly browned at the edges and just barely beginning to crack in the center.

When the cake is done, let it cool for about 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge. Using oven mitts, place a cooling rack on top of the cake pan and flip the cake and the rack together. Remove the cake pan, so the cake is upside-down on the rack. Place a serving plate upside-down on the bottom of the cake, and flip the plate and the rack together, so the cake is now right side-up on the serving plate. Serve warm.


Filed under Cakes, dessert, fruit, recipe

Circle of friends

Fresh Mint Mud 1

I have fabulous news: I do not have celiac disease. I feel I can say this with about 95% certainty. I haven’t had an intestinal biopsy, but I tried eating gluten-free for long enough that I feel I should have seen results if it had been the right thing for my body. I can eat any baguette. I can gorge on Bolognese. I can shove embarrassing handfuls of Cheddar Bunnies into my mouth as I run out the door. I can be my very own Marie Antoinette, anytime I want: Let me eat cake!

This isn’t neenerneener to those who aren’t so fortunate. It’s a reminder. These last couple of weeks, I’ve needed it.

If you’ve been following my medical saga – which I hope to leave behind here, very soon, but for now, it’s a huge part of my life, so you get it – you’ll remember that I’ve had a problem with appetite. It’s been down, and when I don’t eat well, I’m not happy. When eating gluten-free didn’t change things, I went to more doctors.

Here’s the short version: My lupus has moved to my kidneys. I have Class IV and Class V lupus nephritis, which, if you aren’t interested in a deeper medical explanation, basically means my kidneys have a Prius problem: they’re goinggoinggoing, working themselves into a frenzy for no real reason, overworking to the point of danger. I spent part of last week in the hospital for a kidney biopsy, which revealed I needed immediate treatment. I spent four days shuffling back and forth from the hospital, getting intravenous medications. And on Sunday, I started (among many others) a drug called CellCept, a type of what they call “induction therapy.” You could call it chemo lite, I guess, but thus far it has not been all that. Thank goodness.

I spent a few days last week hosting a very private pity party. Then we needed help. Our nanny was out of town, and friends unfurled big, strong hands from every direction. Our son went to a friend’s house during the biopsy, and for a few doctor’s appointments. My sister essentially lived at my house for the week. My mother came into town. Friends brought my favorite neighborhood soup, and a few meals for our kid. And at the same time that the reality of a stressful health situation set in, we were blanketed with the calm that comes with knowing we’d be able to get through it.

Earlier this week, I met with another food writer and blogger named Jessica, who also has lupus nephritis. (I know. There are two of us. It’s weird.) You might already know her as SodiumGirl. On her blog, she chronicles her life cooking sodium-free, and teaches people how to function in normal society without salt in their diet – and treats her kidneys more gently along the way. She also happens to be unfailingly positive, charming, hilarious, silly, and completely energizing to be around. We’d never met, but when I thought I spotted her across a hotel lobby, I galloped over the way I greet my college friends, all squealing and loopy. Only now does it occur to me that the Four Seasons probably doesn’t get a lot of gallopers in its lobby.

We sat down for coffee, and I wondered if the waitstaff wanted to eavesdrop. Our conversation ricocheted from her wedding registry to chemotherapy to astrobiology, and back to plasmapheresis. We giggled about IV line bruises and vowed not to let steroids deprive us of our favorite jeans. She taught me how she teaches restaurant chefs how to prepare her meals without salt, since sodium is strictly off-limits for her diet (and may someday be for mine). We bitched a little, the way people bitch about their shoes getting scuffed or their purse getting caught on their jacket, but agreed that any real negativity is boring and useless and a total waste of time. She made me feel like a completely normal person.

At the end of the meal, I asked her about a necklace she was wearing. It showed three small rings, slightly different sizes, welded together at the center, and somehow, I knew it symbolized something.

“It stands for my circle of friends,” she explained simply. She didn’t have to say more. She survives, like I do, because there are always good people around to help. Sitting there with Jessica, with the sun glinting off Puget Sound, I wondered how many people – as in what actual percentage of the human population – are able to say that they know they’ll have back-up when life’s road hits a hairpin. Maybe ten percent? Fifteen?

But I know just what she means, because I have a circle, too. And as I bounce from appointment to appointment, from needle to needle, I’m thankful for it.

Circle of Friends necklace

The medications will have side effects as I begin taking them in stronger doses. Already, I’m really sore in weird places. There’s been some nausea. For the next few months, I’ll have to be really careful not to get sick, because my immune system will be completely obliterated.

And, probably because of the steroids, I’ve been eating again. Eating and eating and eating. And I love it. Wardrobe willing, I have a feeling this will be a very delicious period in my life. Clearly, I’ll have to watch it at some point, but for now, I’m bathing, again, finally, in the enjoyment of food.

Mint mud in espresso cup

Mostly, I’ve had an insatiable sweet tooth. I’ve been making nutella tartines, big slabs of toasted baguette slathered with creaminess and spotted with banana slices. I’ve been chowing fruit. I’ve been eating ice cream before bed again, which I haven’t done in months. I’m tasting faint flavors in food in a way I couldn’t for a while, teasing out spices and herbs with whatever sense this lack of appetite thing stripped off my tongue. And every single day, I want to cook or bake.

This recipe started with eight orphaned egg yolks. I wanted a dessert so sinful it hurts—one that makes you think twice about eating it the moment your lips hit the spoon, and not a second after.

It worked. It was supposed to be a mint-infused mousse, only somewhere along the line, I decided to skip the mousse part, because mousse sounded too light. The result? A spoonable dark mint chocolate bar, cute as can be in tiny little cups.

It’s also salt-free and gluten-free. In case you’re sensitive about those sorts of things.

Spoonful of mint mud

Fresh Mint Mud (PDF)
Like a deep chocolate mousse with a weight problem, these little pots o’ bliss are not for the weak. Infused with real mint leaves, they’re little mint-chocolate bombs, best eaten with the tiniest spoon.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 serving

8 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups heavy cream, lukewarm
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
6 ounces high quality dark chocolate (70% cacao), finely chopped

Whisk the yolks and sugar vigorously together in a large, stainless steel saucepan until the yolks become thick and pale. Add the cream and mint, whisk to combine, and cook the mixture over very low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture measures 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, but not over. (It should be steaming, but you don’t want the eggs to curdle.) Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a mixing bowl, and stir until the mixture cools to 150 degrees. Add the chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is completely smooth.

Pour the chocolate mixture into very small cups (such as espresso cups), and refrigerate overnight, until firm. For the best mint flavor, let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.

Fresh Mint Mud 2


Filed under dessert, gluten-free, lupus, recipe


Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars  close

Lunch last Friday was almost perfect. I wandered into Le Pichet a little after noon, and downed a New Yorker article and the better part of a glass of house red before a striking gentleman ambled in and took the barstool next to me. We flirted and talked, carefully eating our own little salads, ignoring the rest of the room. He fed me grilled sardines with onion jam, and I scooped salade verte onto his plate. Then we shared oeufs plats, two eggs snuggled into blankets of ham and gruyere and baked until the whites were just set. We both smiled.

He walked me to my car, where he kissed me goodbye. I drove away toward a doctor’s appointment, feeling light and happy, and so lucky to have married him. Then I looked at the floor in front of the passenger seat, and noticed my laptop, along with its nice case and all my work and recipe notes, was missing. The light feeling vanished.

I always lock my car. Sometimes I lock it twice, or even three times, just to be sure my obsessive-compulsive tendencies are still functioning. I pulled over to scour the seats, but a computer is a very difficult thing to lose in the crack between the seat and the center console. I checked the trunk. I called the restaurant. Nothing. Someone had stolen my computer.

There was an unusually clean spot on the passenger door. It was human-shaped, but other than that, there was no sign of a break in – no scratches around the window frame, no bent metal near the lock. While the lack of evidence was convenient from a financial standpoint – no one wants to replace a computer and fix a car door – it was completely humiliating. I must have left the car unlocked. Someone must have watched me leave the car unlocked.

I spent the remainder of the day alternately panicking and mentally flogging myself for my presumed mistake. Instead of going straight home to change all my passwords, file all the various required reports, and record what I could of the recipe notes I’d lost, I went to my doctor’s appointment, where every person in the office assured me the same thing had once happened to them, and they’d survived. Then our nanny called. Our son was running a fever. I picked him up, took him to his doctor, and waited in line for his medicine.

My husband came home. We fretted over a sick kid and cobbled some sort of dinner together. I wish I could remember what we ate. Later, we huddled around our Time Machine downstairs, trying to determine how much of my data was successfully backed up. So many recipes, I thought. So many emails. Getting a new computer is one thing – a process I loathe, because it requires spending so much money on something I understand so poorly – but recreating a work history is another thing entirely.

But I was fortunate. I’m somehow missing all my photos from the month of April – including all the shots we took of Graham’s first birthday – but as far as I can tell, everything else was backed up.

I breathed.

Then, as is always the case when something goes sort of awry but not really, really wrong, I felt a rush of luck. My car wasn’t stolen. I didn’t lose a person. And after all, I’d had a most incredible lunch date with my husband.

Wait. Lunch. At lunch, we’d shared part of a baguette. At lunch, I’d broken a six-week streak of eating gluten-free, as planned. And I didn’t feel one single bit different.

So . . . what? Do I not have celiac disease? I was simultaneously relieved and just plain angry. I mean, I’ve spent six weeks trying not to get caught gazing longingly at the donuts in the bakery case I work near at my local coffee shop, and I’d certainly like to have another one in this lifetime. On the other hand, I’d been harboring a little fantasy. It went like this: I’d eat gluten again, and fall terribly sick, and my joints would scream and shout more than ever. A small plane would soar across the sky, loop-de-looping a message across the bright blue until, clear as day, there was a puffy white paragraph for the entire city to read: JESS DOES NOT HAVE LUPUS. IT’S JUST CELIAC DISEASE. IF SHE STOPS EATING WHEAT, EVERYTHING WILL GO AWAY.

But no dice.

On the other hand, GLUTEN. On Saturday, I had a bagel for (first) breakfast, then we ate French toast for brunch, with friends. We rode to Roxy’s for afternoon Reubens. Afterward, I decided to bake.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars  2

Friday morning, I’d cleaned out my laptop tote a bit. At the top of a stack of papers headed for the recycling bin was one with “emmer chocolate chunk cookies” scrawled across the top, the ghost of a months-old craving. The only glutinous product left in the house – I’d known keeping any would be too tempting for me – was a little bag of Bluebird Grain Farms’ emmer flour, which I’d been too stubborn (or cheap) to give away. And we’d planned a trip to the mountains the next day. Cookies, indeed.

I fluffed butter and sugars, added eggs and vanilla, and fortified the batter with emmer flour and oats. At the last minute, I wavered. What about emmer bars, I thought? With huge chunks of chocolate? I love the way the cut sides of chocolate chunk bars offer a window into just how much meltiness hides in each bite. But cookies seemed so much easier to eat. I went back and forth: Bars. Cookies. Bars. Cookies.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars, before spreading

In the end, I made both. I scooped about half the batter into a brownie pan, pressed it flat, and made bars. With the rest of the batter, I made cookies. I like the bars better. So does Zac. My husband likes the cookies better, because they’re a little crispy. So does Graham, apparently.

Graham likes the cookies best

I guess there’s no way of knowing, without a biopsy, that I don’t have celiac disease for sure. But for now, it sure doesn’t seem likely. I’ve been eating gluten for almost 72 hours now, to no ill effect.

So that was all a lot of hubbub, now, wasn’t it? It reminds me of a joke my sister-in-law, a stand-up comic down in L.A., tells about going back “into” the closet, after years as a lesbian. (She’ll be performing in Bellevue next week, if you’re around.)

“What can I say, folks? Sorry about all the hubbub,” she says. “But I’ve really appreciated all the rainbow flags. Bandanas. WNBA tickets.” (Here’s the actual clip.)

So, yeah. I guess all I really need now is a little more chocolate.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars 1

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars (and Cookies) (PDF)
Here’s a chocolate-stuffed dessert that’s a two-fer in many ways: Barflies get chewy chocolate chunk bars, while cookie lovers get crisp wafers with a great oatmeal cookie chew. Sweets seekers get their fix, and nutrition nuts can point to whole grain emmer flour and a good dose of oat bran to justify the splurge. And for two treats made at the same time, bake the bars right away and freeze the rest of the dough in balls for cookies when you need them at the last minute. Or you can just make all of one type—whatever suits you.

Order emmer flour online at

TIME: 25 minutes active time
MAKES: 16 bars, plus 2 dozen 3” cookies

Vegetable oil spray (or butter for greasing the pan)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups emmer flour
1/2 cup oat bran
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup thick rolled oats
3/4 pound (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8” square brownie pan with the vegetable oil spray (or butter), and line with a square of waxed or parchment paper. Line two heavy baking sheets with parchment paper, and set those aside, too.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the work bowl, and mix briefly.

Whisk the emmer flour, oat bran, baking soda, and salt together in a mixing bowl. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients, about a third at a time, and mix until the flour is incorporated. Add the oats and chocolate and mix until combined.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Bars in pan

Transfer three packed cups of the dough to the 8” pan, spread flat with a spatula, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the bars are lightly browned at the edges and the dough has little cracks in the center. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then use the paper to transfer the bars to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares, and let cool another 10 to 15 minutes (to firm up) before moving.

Use the remaining batter to make another batch of bars, or make cookies: Shape knobs of dough into 1” balls and place 2” apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes on pans, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Bars and cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days.

Emmer & Oat Chocolate Chunk Cookies


Filed under Cookies, dessert, husband, recipe


Rhubarbsauce 4

Rhubarb baffles me every spring. I can’t help it. Those little wrinkly leaf heads start creeping up out of the ground, looking a crowd of vegetal aliens, and I always doubt that they’ll grow into something with gorgeous fuchsia stalks and big, elephant-ear leaves. It just doesn’t seem possible.

Lucky for rhubarb (and late bloomers like me, I guess), time unfurls and beautifies things in a way no chemical can. In my garden, I wait to snap stalks out of the ground until the elegant, baffley leaves are totally splayed out, because that’s what I’d want someone to do if they were picking me. Time’s not always an enemy.

The thing about rhubarb is that while it always tastes beautiful – bright and sunny and tart in all the right ways – it doesn’t always look so great when it’s cooked. Have you noticed? In pies and tarts, it’s usually all covered up, because when you heat it, the fibers separate into unattractive little shards, and it turns a tawny reddish color that’s awfully disappointing after the shocking vibrancy of the fresh stuff. You might say this here is a food with a complexion problem.

The other day, I decided to give it a little makeover. I started by chopping about a pound of rhubarb, then melted it in a pot with Pink Lady apples and a touch of cranberry juice, for a little extra color. The pieces melted into a chunky sauce that tasted terrific, with just the right amount of sweetness, but was, shall we say, artistically challenged. So I whirred it up. Out came something much more elegant – a silky-smooth, pretty pink sauce with the punch of rhubarb but none of its unfortunate textural issues.

Rhubarbsauce 1

The problem is, no matter what you do to the stuff, the word rhubarb itself is still sort of ugly. It sounds blobby, like it belongs in the same family as words like grub, or blotter, and maybe bulbous. No matter how gorgeous, it would be hard to convince me that applesauce with bulbous tastes good.

Rhubarbsauce. Now why didn’t I think of that sooner? It sounds much more delicious.

Rhubarbsauce on pancakes

Apple Rhubarbsauce (PDF)

Tainted with cranberry juice and just the right amount of sugar, this rhubarb-rich applesauce is great stirred into yogurt, slathered on pancakes, spooned warm over ice cream, or eaten straight from the jar.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: About 1 1/2 pints

1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and chopped
1 pound Pink Lady apples, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup cranberry juice
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then cook over low heat, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and let cool, then puree in a blender. Serve hot or cold.


Filed under Breakfast, dessert, fruit, gluten-free, recipe

The macaroon I was craving

Double Chocolate Macaroon Cake 2

These days, because Graham prefers to monopolize one of my upper appendages at all times with his babooning, my recreational kitchen activity falls into two distinct camps: Things I Can Do While My Child Naps and Things I Cannot Start Until He Goes to Bed. In the former group, I place things like “eat a bowl of cereal,” “empty the dishwasher,” and “throw a salad together for lunch.” Since this time of year, most produce hasn’t quite mastered the art of needing nothing, these are not usually exciting things. The latter hosts more ambitious projects, like making a few pans of lasagna for the freezer, or a batch of chicken and kale stew – you know, useful, dinnerish things. This is not a time in my life for French onion soup, or homemade pasta, or for fancy layer cakes.

But somehow, late last week, in the space of a morning nap, I made a macaroon cake.

By now, you must know I have a weakness for simple cakes. To qualify as “simple,” there are criteria to meet: A simple cake must be made in one bowl, without the aid of anything electric. It must be single-layer. It must beckon the next day at 10 a.m. and at 2 p.m. And, above all, it must be flexible – gussy-up-able for a party, or delicious made in its absolute simplest form, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, and eaten straight out of the pan. Simple cakes are the favorite jeans of the dessert world. (Last week, I retired my favorite jeans. It was time; jeans make better doors than windows. I’m a wreck about it.)

I thought, when I slid it into the oven, that this was a cake that wanted a little drama. It had been so simple to make – just a little melting, a little whisking, and a little folding, plus enough coconut to satisfy last week’s macaroon issue. I thought I heard it cry for frills and lace, in the form of a flood of deep chocolate ganache and a blizzard of toasted large-flake coconut. I melted chocolate. I toasted coconut. Only, when the cake came out, it cried louder to be eaten. I listened. (Pay close attention, readers. Anthropomorphizing desserts enables you to excuse any lack of self-restraint in the kitchen.)

When you have a cake that’s less patient than an almost-one-year-old, there’s not much you can do. I recommend taking a seat on the porch steps, just inside the shade line, so you (and perhaps a small hipster) can watch the camellias absorb a warm spring afternoon. I’m not sure there’s anything nicer.

Well, okay. Two slices is pretty nice, too.

(You Passover people: I’d be willing to bet it’d be fabulous with a scoop of Coconut Bliss.)

Double Chocolate Macaroon Cake

Double Chocolate Macaroon Cake (PDF)

It’s a cake. No, it’s a chocolate macaroon. No, wait, it’s a cake. It’s both! Stuffed with coconut but stirred and baked like a regular cake, this sweet confection is quick to make and absolutely satisfying. Eat it straight up, right out of the pan like brownies, or fancy it up with a drizzle of ganache and a flurry of toasted coconut. (For real drama, make two, and layer it up.) My preference is somewhere in between—topped simply, with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Note: I melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave with good results. In my appliance, two 30-second increments on high power (stirring in between) works well.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 to 10 servings

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, plus extra for greasing the pan
4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (65% to 75% cacao)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch processed)
1 cup unsweetened medium-shredded coconut (such as Bob’s Red Mill)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and center a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of waxed paper or parchment paper, and butter the paper.

Place the butter and the chocolate in a small saucepan and melt over very low heat, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as the mixture is smooth, transfer to a large mixing bowl, and stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, blending completely between additions. Sift the cocoa powder over the batter and fold it in gently with a spatula until no dry spots remain. Fold in the coconut, then pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake the cake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the edges of the cake just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and the center is puffed. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then invert the cake onto a cooling rack, then again onto a round serving plate.

Serve warm or at room temperature. To store, let cool completely, then cover and keep at room temperature up to 3 days.


Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, jewish, recipe

A morning ritual

coffee with cream and sugar cookie 1

Here’s my morning ritual: coffee, with cream and sugar. Here’s what you have to add to turn it into a cookie: butter, flour, crunch, and chew.

To look at them, you’d think chocolate – I should know, I’ve been looking at them all day. But the flavor that really screams is pure espresso.

Even before they’re baked, the dough for these little holiday numbers has the gorgeous, rich brown color of an extremely comfortable couch. Or a cup of coffee spiked with the perfect amount (that is to say, not too much, but certainly some) cream and sugar. But on the inside, no chocolate at all – just a half cup of espresso beans, whizzed and shaken in the grinder until the poor thing starts to complain.

A half cup. That’s enough for a full French press, in this house.

rolling coffee with cream and sugar cookie

Actually, to be fair, these cookies taste more like chocolate-covered espresso beans, once they’re doused in a healthy dose of bittersweet. And by “healthy dose,” I mean enough chocolate that the combo should make you feel slightly high, but I like them best completely blanketed, as opposed to just decorated. I’d like to think a certain rotund, pink-cheeked fellow would appreciated the sugar shot halfway though his night.

And milk. Don’t forget to leave out the milk.

Enjoy the holidays. We’re heading back east. See you in 2010!

coffee with cream and sugar cookie drying

Coffee (with Cream and Sugar) Cookies (PDF)

A cross between traditional refrigerator cookies and coffee-flavored shortbread, these cookies are made with a whopping half cup of espresso beans. For chocolate-covered espresso beans in cookie form, decorate them with melted dark chocolate—the more, the better, in my opinion.

TIME: 25 minutes active time, plus rolling and decorating, if desired
MAKES: Three to four dozen cookies, depending on cutters

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup espresso beans, ground very fine
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Melted dark chocolate (for decorating, if desired)

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Whisk the ground espresso, flour, and salt together in a small bowl.

With the machine on low, add half the flour to the mixer, and mix until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the mixer with a plastic spatula when needed. (The dough will be a little crumbly.) Add the cream, mix until combined, then add the remaining flour and mix again until the dough is uniformly blended.

Divide the dough between two big pieces of wax paper. Pat the dough into flat discs, wrap in the paper, and chill for 2 hours (or up to 3 days), until firm.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking sheets, and set aside. Allow the dough to soften at room temperature for about 20 minutes, until pliable. (You can speed up this process by kneading small pieces of the dough in your hands, if you’d like.)

Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4” thick. Cut into shapes, and arrange on baking sheets. (The cookies will not spread.) Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, or until the cookies are puffed in the center.

Cool the cookies 10 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough, then decorate cooled cookies with melted dark chocolate. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Note: If cookie cutting isn’t your thing, you can roll each mound into a log almost a foot long and about 1 1/2” in diameter. Wrap each log in wax paper, twist the ends to seal, and chill. Cut into 1/4” rounds before baking.

(Half) coffee with cream and sugar cookie


Filed under Cookies, dessert, recipe