I’m a big believer in a decent breakfast. If I don’t eat one, I’m climbing the walls and eating whatever I’ve packed for lunch at 10 am. The Nuni gets to eat at preschool, but their idea of a proper breakfast (waffles, mini bagels, cold cereal) is not my idea of a proper breakfast. There should be protein! Fiber! Preferably a little fruit! A breakfast that can get you through to elevenses, at least. Eggs and toast are lovely, or a bowl of oatmeal with lots of milk, but they don’t really help the morning chaos. These oatmeal breakfast bars are the answer to that. [...]
Springtime is strawberry season! And even though the strawberries aren’t quite there yet (the heavy rains we’ve had in California have really impacted the flavor), that hasn’t stopped me from buying and eating pounds of them — I’ve loved them since I was a baby. For your reading pleasure, below are 10 things you may not know about my favorite fruit. [...]
One of the things that Ken and I were most excited about when we bought our house was the prospects of a garden. We had managed to make do for years with the tiny terraces in our apartments — we have a dwarf Meyer Lemon tree, a Bearss Lime, and a thriving herb garden. But the possibilities of growing things for ourselves was intoxicating. We were overjoyed to discover the delights already in the offing — ornamental plums (too sour to eat, but good for jam), peach trees, a pomegranate tree, and my favorite, the pineapple guava, which I recognized because it’s identical to the spreading one growing in my grandparents’ back yard. A garden, it turns out, is a work in progress. We put in blueberry bushes and raspberry canes, planted a second pomegranate tree, and ordered greengage plum, quince and persimmon to plant this winter. Of course, the plants we added will take a few years to bear fruit. We moved in too late for the plums, the peaches dropped all their fruit before it was ripe, and the pomegranate turned out to be non-bearing. But we’ll still have a bumper crop of Meyer lemons this winter, and the pineapple guava did not disappoint. [...]
I’m not much of a muffin girl. Despite my rather extreme sweet tooth, I don’t tend to like sweets for breakfast, and most muffins are just cupcakes without frosting. And the times I actually want something sweet — elevenses or tea time — a muffin doesn’t quite cut it. I might as well have the frosting. Or a cookie. Or a bacon salted caramel brownie. And it doesn’t much help that most muffins are not worth the paper they’re baked in. Take the blueberry muffin — what really should be the king of the genre. Most are cakelike, too sweet, with an indifferent texture that has neither the chew of bread nor the tenderness of a good cupcake. The exterior tends to dry at best, sticky at worse, and they always seem to insist on serving ice cold gluey blueberry muffins on airplanes. The thought makes me shudder. But then I encountered these muffins. [...]
I know what you’re thinking. Fruitcake? Really? And yes, I am well aware of fruitcake’s reputation as the bane of the holidays. But fruitcake doesn’t have to be a joke. Yes, it is dense, but it should be sliced thinly — it’s really a confection, not a cake, and it’s impolite to go into “doorstop” territory. And yes, it does last a very long time, but that’s because it’s impregnated with alcohol, and don’t try to convince me that’s a bad thing. Plus, you really should at least taste it before you save it to be regifted next Christmas. And yes, it does contain candied fruit, but my recipe is a relatively restrained mix of candied orange peel, raisins and currants, with nary a scary green cherry in sight.
The simple fact of it is that you can’t have a properly Dickensian Christmas without fruitcake (although even Charles Dickens himself made fun of the thing). It’s called Christmas cake in England and is a tradition which dates back to the middle ages, when preserving fruit through candying, drying, and soaking in alcohol was necessary to get through the long dark winter months. Fruitcake reached its zenith of popularity in the Victorian era, and is still a ubiquitous Christmas treat in England today. As the butt of all jokes today, recipes abound for all sorts of nontraditional cakes that even “fruitcake haters will love”, but they fail to connect to the truth. A cake with fruit is not necessarily a Fruitcake. If it’s light and fluffy, it’s not a Fruitcake. If there’s no alcohol involved, it may be delicious, but it’s not a Fruitcake. Properly made Fruitcake has a haunting complexity and a richness of flavor that’s perfect for the holiday season. And if you don’t finish it, you can keep “feeding” it with brandy and snitching slices until next Christmas. [...]
People who don’t live in Los Angeles say that we don’t have seasons. The sun is always shining, the grass is always green, it’s always swimming pool weather. That’s not entirely true. We have seasons. In the winter it rains and the world is green. The spring is full of marine layers and fog, studded with purple jacaranda blooms. Summer is hot and dry and brown and ridden with wildfires. In the fall it smells of dirt and the Japanese maple trees in Beverly Hills turn glorious colors and the silkfloss trees burst into glorious pink blooms. We have seasons.
They just don’t change in September.
September in Los Angeles just an extension of summer, with less vacation and more traffic. At its worst that means triple digit temperatures, smoke filled skies from wildfires, and faded, stretched out summer clothes that need another month’s wear squeezed out of them. But I like to think of this as a little blessing of Indian summer — sunny mornings warm enough to eat breakfast on the patio, evenings with a light breeze that are the perfect temperature for gin and tonics, tomatoes that continue to ripen on the vine, and summer fruits at the markets. Simple. [...]
Pop Quiz: What do you make when it’s 95 degrees outside, the very thought of turning on the oven makes you melt into a syrupy mess and yet you’re craving a delicious, starchy, baked-good kind of dessert?
If you answered “fruitcake” then I think you need to get your head examined, but the real answer, summer pudding, is somewhat like cake, and it does contain fruit. Summer pudding does differ from fruitcake in several important respects, however, the most important of which is that summer pudding does not require ninety minutes in an oven. It requires ten minutes on a stovetop (which is not going to heat up your kitchen) and a few hours in the refrigerator. [...]
Is there anything more wholesome than pie? The very word brings a smile to one’s face, and it’s associated with all sorts of pleasant things — someone who is sweet as pie (or a sweetie pie) may wish for their pie in the sky which may be easy as pie to get or as American as apple pie. In the eternal debate that rages between cake and pie, pie is eternally the winner, being both less serious and less frivolous than that cake frippery. Liking pie is almost a moral imperative. And yet … I don’t. Or at least I didn’t.
The problem with pie is nearly always in the crust. Crusts in pies that aren’t homemade is nearly always somewhat tough because it has to stand up to storage and handling. And homemade is hard. Those premade pie crusts have a funny taste or a greasy mouthfeel (though I will recommend Trader Joe’s brand frozen pie crusts in a pinch). And making it from scratch is just fraught — there’s all that nonsense about cold hands and whether to rub in the fat or cut it in or use a food processor or NEVER USE A FOOD PROCESSOR or only use lard or only use crisco and the whole thing is so nervewracking that your hands are sweating buckets and OH NO YOU’VE JUST RUINED YOUR PIE CRUST. IT WILL NEVER BE TENDER AND FLAKY AGAIN. Or if by some miracle you manage to make a pie crust that has flaky possibilities then you have to roll it out, and it cracks and sticks and then you have to worry about patching holes because IF YOU HANDLE IT TOO MUCH YOU WILL HAVE RUINED YOUR PIE CRUST AND IT WILL NEVER BE TENDER AND FLAKY AGAIN.
No thanks, I’ll just sit over in this corner with my cake, thank you very much.
However, because I love my faithful readers so much I will give you the recipe for my super secret foolproof crust. [...]
Skip straight to recipe I have a confession to make. I have not been entirely truthful with all of you. I have been cooking this summer, but not dinner, and not dessert. I have been making jam.
I understand jam making to be the latest trend among “hipsters” (google “hipster” and “canning” and you’ll see what I mean.) I never really thought of myself as a hipster, I mean, I’m certainly not a hippie because I don’t like hiking or Phish, and I can’t be a yuppie because it’s not 1987, so I turned to Urbandictionary.com to determine if I am, in fact, a hipster. A quick skim of the 138 definitions of hipster yields a person in their 20’s or 30’s (yes) who lives in Brooklyn (no), values “creativity, intelligence and witty banter” (yes), drinks a lot of Pabst Blue Ribbon (no), sports “high cultural tolerance and a slight tendency towards intellectual arrogance” (yes), is too ironic for their own good (maybe), and is cooler than cool (heck no).
I am still confused.
What I am not confused about is this: making jam is a) fun b)easy and c) cool (which may be the hipster connection. I’m certainly not putting PBR into my jam). There’s something special about those little jars of homemade preserves, all lined up, ready to be eaten, or given away as gifts, or, if you have a packrat nature (like nobody I know, nosirree) to be stored in the pantry and gazed at lovingly. My husband makes fun of me, pointing out that I have an Ivy League education, am admitted to the Bar in two states, have a successful career and yet I am proud of making jam, something his great-grandmother did on a regular basis without much fuss. So sue me. I’m proud of my jam. I love my jam. I bid thee to go forth and make your own jam. You won’t be sorry. [...]
I’m not much of a summer cook. I like to cook the foods of cooler weather — spicy gingerbreads, hearty stews, root vegetables that stick to your ribs. Summer, at least in Los Angeles, is really to hot to do this type of cooking, and those foods are literally the last food on earth you feel like eating. It doesn’t help that in the summertime on Bacon and Tomato sandwiches and corn on the cob, which, while providing an entirely balanced diet (what? That’s what I’ve had for dinner for the past 4 nights in a row!), is not so much the stuff of food blogs.
The problem, of course, is that summertime is when my local farmer’s market offers its greatest bounty. I am confronted with weekly heaps of Gaviota strawberries, Blenheim apricots, Elephant Heart plums, and the biggest, fattest blackberries you’ve ever seen. And while I do LOVE fruit (and my love cannot hold a candle to that of my husband and my child) sometimes I am compelled to buy more fresh fruit than even our family can eat. And so I am forced to cook, even in the summer. [...]