Monday, May 9, 2011

A Bowl of Soup

Yikes! I logged into my blog today and realized I had never posted this! So, even though it is about 5 months late, here is my post to greet the new year!

The past year of my life has been full of unbelievable circumstances and life changing events. If someone would have asked last new years day what my life would look like today I couldn't have told them, and certainly couldn't have fathomed it would consist of what it does!

Last new years day my dad and I were in Brooklyn. Though it was bitter cold we walked through Brooklyn Heights to the promenade and gazed across to Manhattan then hopped on the train and found ourselves having tea and sandwiches in one of my very favorite places, The Adore, near NYU. That night we once again braved the cold, went down to TriBeCa and had BBQ at Bubbies then wandered up 5th Avenue to look at the department store windows and see the tree at Rockefeller. All of those things feel like a lifetime ago. In fact when I think of them it feels as though I am watching them unfold on a screen, a scene from someone else's life. We were still very much in shock from my mom's death and I think were just going through the motions. I have pictures of us in front of the christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza and there are smiles on our faces but there are no smiles in our eyes.

To be perfectly honest I couldn't have told you with any certainty a year ago that I would still be here today. The thought of living a whole year without my mom was unimagineable. It seemed impossible. How are you supposed to go on living when your life feels like it is over?

But here I am. Here we are. Still alive and learning to live again.

Everyone who has ever written or spoken about grief and losing a loved one talks about starting new traditions after you've lost someone. This becomes especially important around the holidays because for many doing what you've always done feels wrong and empty. We didn't celebrate Christmas this year and all the excitement around New Year's Eve seemed like "so what?!" but we are trying and have started some new traditions of our own.

Previous to my dad's new years trip to NY he had also come out in October to visit me and we had eaten our way around the city as I dragged him from one favorite place to another. We had such an enjoyable time and I think it was the first trip we took with just the two of us (I guess it wasn't techinically a trip because I lived there, but it felt like one). One of the highlights was showing him the Lower East Side; visiting Russ and Daughters, going into a tiny hat shop, looking at the tenement buildings and imagining NYC in a different lifetime, and eating at Katz's Deli.

My dad and I often say to each other "Ahh, I wish we were at Katz's right now, eating a pastrami sandwich and a bowl of Matzo ball soup!" This phrase seems to pop up all the time and seems appropriate for all sorts of occasions. Is it cold outisde? Katz's Deli is the answer. Is it late at night and I've just spent 18 hours at the bakery? Katz's Deli is the answer. Are we eating something else for dinner that is pretty tasty but not as good as pastrami and Matzo? Katz's Deli is the answer!

So, when trying to decide what our new New Year's Eve tradition would be (not that we really ever had one before but now seemed like a good time to start one) we decided Katz's Deli was the answer. But since we live here, in Colorado, and I only get a matter of hours off before I am to be back at the bakery pumping out pastries, we decided to make our own version of a visit to Katz's.

I am happy to report that our first attempt at matzo ball soup was successful (with the exception of the recipe just not calling for nearly enough broth for the matzo balls to swim in!) and that there is a deli in Fort Collins that is nothing like Katz's but has some pretty tasty pastrami and giant crispy pickles that will stand in in a pinch. So our dinner last night was not quite like going to Katz's but it was tasty and gave us the opportunity to reminisce about a time when we were there eating pastrami on rye, sour pickles, and a big bowl of steaming soup under a sign dangling from the ceiling that says "Send a salami to your boy in the army" (said with a NY accent so it sounds like "send a Sah-lami to your boy in the Ah-mi"!) and remembering a time when everything was still right with the world and the future was hopeful.

We have made it through a year without my mom. It is still unbelieveable and feels impossible. I can't fathom what my life will consist of a year from now but I can say, at least for myself, the future once again holds a bit of hope and if nothing else goes the way I plan at least I know have the certainty of what I will be eating next New Year's Eve!

Monday, October 18, 2010


Today I am not going to write about food. Today I need to use this space just to write.

This summer I attended an 8-week suicide survivor support group. At the end of the group the facilitator gave each of us a little gift bag of things to help us honor and remember our loved ones as we continue to try to understand what it means to live without them. I brought it home, set it on the floor, and kind of forgot about it.

In a recent brief, but somewhat effective, cleaning spree I re-disovered the bag and opened it. Inside was one of those fridge magnets bearing an insightful quotation. Most of the time I think those things are glib and oversimplify life and the struggles contained in it. But this one made me stop and think. In fact I taped it in the middle of my bathroom mirror so that every morning and night I have to look at it and read it and think about what it means and ask myself if this is something I will accomplish and how I will do it.

"Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with grace, love, and gratitude."

There is something about it that I don't quite understand and so I read it over and over and the thought that lingers is: I don't want happiness to be only a spiritual experience. I want it to be a human experience. I want it to be tangible.

My life does not feel happy right now.

There is a woman from the drop in support group that I attend who always attaches a quote to the end of her emails. One day the quote said something about how life without our loved ones is like thirst, the longer it goes on the harder it gets. It was more eloquent than that but you get the idea. Of everything I've heard and read and thought in the last 10 months that statement rings the most true. People who are lucky enough to be on the outside of this looking in seem to think that it should be getting easier. Afterall, why shouldn't it be? It's been 10 months. That ought to be enough time to get over losing the person you've known and loved for your entire life, who knew you better than anyone else in the world, who made everything "right".

There are days I feel like I am drowning. If I get one more phone call from someone trying to sell me something, or if I have to sign one more paper for the bank, or if I see one more gray haired lady in the grocery store and for a split second think it's my mom I think I will implode. There are times I wish I could just cry and yell at them and tell them how they have no idea what my life is like and what I have been through and that I am doing the best I can and would they just leave me alone?! I want them to understand that the truth is losing my mom IS like thirst. The longer she is gone the more I want her back. The more I miss her. The more I feel like this can't possibly have happened and it has to be over soon. That the healing that happens in 10 months is the equivalent of trying to use one of those little round band-aids to stop the bleeding from a gaping wound.

I am trying to live my new life with grace and love and gratitude, but right now I feel so very far away from happiness.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Today I am going to tell you about pickles. And I'm going to tell you about how much I love pickles. I love them this (I am holding my arms as wide as they will go) much. I love pickles of all kinds: carrots, beets, cucumbers, cauliflower, shallots, you name it. If it has been soaked in vinegar chances are I love it. I even love the name. It's fun to say. "Pickles".

I was first introduced to vegetable pickles, other than the cucumber variety, by an ex-boyfriend who worked at a great restaurant. One bite of their housemade pickled okra and I was hooked. Then my horizons expanded even more when I moved to NY and ate a little dish of pickled vegetables at The Spotted Pig in Manhattan. They were crunchy, spicy, and had just the right amount of nose-wrinkling vinegar to set my little heart a flutter.

Then came pickled onions at the greatest holiday party I've ever attended, made (both party and pickle) by my friend Katie. If I remember right they sat atop miniature french toast topped with barbequed duck and were amazing!!!

Two summers ago in NYC I went to a fantastic market event called the New Amsterdam Market. It was a food lover's paradise with stands selling everything from wild foraged herbs and roots to basil goat cheese ice cream to little ham and pickle sandwiches.

Those little sandwiches from Marlow and Sons were quite possibly the tastiest little sandwich to ever cross my lips. They were little brioche buns slathered with sweet cream butter and topped with a shaving of ham and a little stack of bread and butter pickles. I stood in line for 20 minutes for one of those little guys and let me tell you, it was worth it. I was practically heartbroken when I found out that they didn't sell the pickles by themselves. But, with a little interregation, I learned I could buy some of the pickling spice at their shop in Williamsburg. And so a few months later when I and Katie, of pickled onion fame, found ourselves ducking into the little storefront on a drizzly winter day, all I could think of was pickles. Sure enough up on the counter were little bags of pickling spice which I hurriedly purchased lest anyone else walk through the door with visions of pickles in their head.

The sad part of this story is that the little bag of spices sat forlornly in my spice drawer, untouched, for the entire next summer. I don't know what was the matter with me. I had wanted these pickles for so long and then when there were cucumbers to make them with I never did. I do have to admit that part of the hang up was that beyond having the pickling spice, I wasn't sure how to make a pickle. Do you use all vinegar? Vinegar and water? Sugar? Salt? Both? How much spice do you put in? How long do they sit? I guess, for whatever reason, finding the answers to these questions seemed an insurmountable task.

This summer the cucumbers are back and they are even better because they are in my backyard and are growing like crazy. I've picked at least 10 over the last two weeks. As luck would have it, about the time I had 5 cucumbers piled up in my produce drawer, a post appeared on Smitten Kitchen for none other than pickles. Bread and butter pickles to be exact. To know that Deb had made them and undoubtedly made any necessary revisions to the recipe was all the motivation I needed. I followed her advice for reducing the sugar by half, doubled the amount of brine, and substituted a fairly equal amount of my beloved pickling spice mix for her spices, and lo and behold I had me some pretty tasty bread and butter pickles! Now for those brioche buns and ham . . . .

Marlow and Sons Wannabe
Bread and Butter Pickles

1 pound cucumbers, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 medium sweet yellow onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/4 c Diamond kosher salt or 2 Tbsp Morton or other kosher salt (why the difference? see here)
1 c sugar
1 c distilled white vinegar
2 Tbsp pickling spice
(mine was composed of mustard seeds, whole coriander, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, whole cloves, crushed bay leaves, and whole allspice. I don't have exact proportions since I purchased the spice but if you were trying to make your own, which I will undoubtedly be doing once I run out of this little pouch, I would work through the list above starting with mustard seeds being the spice highest in quantity and ending with whole allspice being the least. I would suggest starting with 2 Tbsp of mustard seeds and working your way incrementally down the list so you end up adding a teaspoon or so of whole allspice.)

In a medium bowl combine the cucumbers, onion, and salt. Mix well and cover the mixture with ice. Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours. In a non-reactive pot bring sugar, vinegar, and spices to a boil. Drain the cucumbers and onions. Add to the brine, stir well, and bring almost back to a boil. Remove from the heat and spoon the pickles and spices equally into 2 pint jars. Pour brine over to cover (I initially followed Deb's sugar and vinegar amounts but ended up way short of covering the pickles in the jar and made nearly another full batch to top them off. I have adjusted this recipe so you should have enough on the first try.) Let cool to room temperature, cover, and place in the fridge. You can store the pickles in an airtight container for up to three weeks in the fridge. The cucumbers will begin tasting pickled in just a couple of hours.

Don't be afraid to eat some of the pickling spice clinging to your pickle especially the mustard and fennel seeds though I might steer clear of the alspice or clove as they could be too overpowering. Also be forwarned that too many peppercorns on one little pickle sets a person's mouth on fire. I speak from experience.

Yields: 2 pint jars

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Scream, You Scream, We All Want Some Ice Cream

Last summer my ice cream machine got a work out churning out flavors like strawberry frozen yogurt, gingersnap ice cream, and concord grape sorbet. This year I've been a wee bit tardy in  whipping out the old freezer bowl, but after reading Molly's popsicle post I was inspired to get back on track.

Talk to me about any frozen dessert and my interest is sparked. For a little flavor direction I pulled out the book of every ice cream lover's dreams, The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, and began to peruse. I was immediately taken with his Orange Popsicle Ice Cream, a throwback to yesteryear's creamsicle. This combination of orange and cream is perhaps one of my favorites. I know it was also one of my mom's favorites which warms my heart a little knowing I have found one more way to carry her memory forward, even if it is just through eating ice cream.

I love this recipe (and a host of others in David's book) because it is yolk-less and doesn't require cooking. In most cases I prefer a french-style, custard based ice cream to a yolk-less Philadelphia style, but there are times when I want to make a cold creamy treat and don't want to mess with separating eggs and slow cooking a custard. This book is perfect for these times because there are a myriad of recipes to choose from and more importantly they are all creamy and delicious! This man has done his homework.

Due to ingredients I had on hand and personal taste I made a couple of minor substitutions to David's recipe, but the finished product is quite like I imagine he intended. One lick and you know there is no going back to those little day-glo orange creamsicles from the grocery!

Orange Popsicle Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

2/3 c. sugar
Grated zest of 3 oranges, preferably organic so they aren't sprayed
1 1/4 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
1 c. sour cream
( I used creme fraiche because I had a lot on hand, but next time will use the sour cream because it turned out a little too fatty with creme fraiche. I know, I wouldn't have guessed that was possible either.)
1/2 c half-and-half
2 tsp Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

In a blender pulverize the zest and sugar until it is very fine. Add the orange juice, sour cream, half-and-half, Grand Marnier, and vanilla extract and blend until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Chill the mixture thoroughly and then freeze it in your ice cream maker or pour it into popsicle molds and freeze.

Yields about 1 quart of ice cream or 10-12 popsicles depending on the size of your molds.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hand Me a Pie

I have considered not posting this until I have a foolproof, all fruit method for you but the fact is these little guys are so delicious, and it may take me eons to figure out what the problem is, that I would feel like I was holding out on you and depriving you of perhaps one of the finest summer treats of which you should partake. How was that for a run on sentence? (And to think I once planned on being an English major!)

The story of me and hand pies began last summer. I blame it on Alton Brown. Through some stroke of luck my roommate and I were the recipients of the Food Network channel though we had no subscription to cable. This being the first time in my life that I have had unrestricted access (read while neither visiting my grandparents nor in a motel while traveling) to television that is about food, all the time, I became an addict. Really it is not my fault, for what other self proclaimed foodie could resist that with the click of a button you can invite Giada or Ina or Alton into your living room to cook amazing food and throw lovely little dinner parties?

Back to the point. One evening I happened to have the Food Network on and lo and behold Alton was doing an episode about things wrapped in dough that you eat with your hands. True the focus of his show was savory hand pies such as empanadas, pasties, etc. that you could make and throw in a lunch box for a hearty meal on the go. This did not deter me however from immediately deciding I needed to pursue making one of these hand held pastries filled with fruit. Forget the hearty meal-on-the-go, I wanted a handy dessert-on-the-go!

Having found all kinds of berries at the market I decided it was time to give the hand pie a go and decided to treat my colleagues at TCR to a little 4th of July pie. Things did not go as planned. The filling was delicious. The crust was delicious. They looked really cute. But somehow when you put a dab of filling into a little round of dough, fold it over, pinch it closed and bake it what you end up with are empty fruit flavored pockets. Not quite what I was going for. My co-workers were polite and ate them and a few even thanked me for them, but I know they were really thinking "wasn't there supposed to be something in here?!".

A few weeks ago I once again found myself on the 4th of July wanting to make hand pies. This time I determined that I should make much larger rounds of dough and stuff them to the gills with fruit. Surely this would work. There's good news and there's bad news. The good news is that using larger rounds of dough was a step in the right direction. The bad news is that  7 out of 13 pies still ended up as empty fruit flavored pockets. "Why?!" you ask? If only I knew. For some reason when filled with sturdy, less juicy fruit such as apples the pies (6) turn out gloriously. When filled with a mouthwatering filling that I was oh-so-looking-forward-to such as raspberry rhubarb the pies (7) blow out their sides partway through baking and inevitably ooze all that tasty filling out onto the tray leaving you with an empty pocket and something resembling a seedy fruit roll up.

A couple of weeks ago I made the trip to Lincoln, NE to visit a couple of wonderful and amazing friends for the weekend.(On a side note, can I just say how smitten I am with the mid-west and big pink skies and farmland and little one horse towns of yesteryear right now?) 

This is the ORIGINAL(!) Pony Express Station in a little town in NE!

For our Friday night dinner party I was summoned to make dessert. Upon asking what kind of dessert would be most desired the answer was pie. Here it was, my chance to give this another try. "What do you think of a hand pie?" I asked. "A pie you eat with your hands?! Why, that would be divine!!" (I may be embellishing a little.)

Again I chose a firmer filling, this time making peach hand pies, and again they turned out glorious. As lovely as those were and as many compliments and commands that I become the official 'Butter Book Club' baker as I recieved, I am still vexed that I can't make my raspberry rhubarb (or for that matter I would guess any berry based filling) pies come out as anything other than something to be scraped off the tray and eaten with a fork.

So until further testing and investigation occurs, here it is. A hand pie recipe that only works with firm fruit. I know. I'm sorry. But a firm fruit hand pie is better than no hand pie at all. I speak the truth.

Firm Fruit Hand Pies

1 recipe Best Pie Dough chilled, rolled to 1/8-inch thick, and cut into rounds. I traced an upturned cereal bowl that is about 6 inches in diameter with a sharp knife for my rounds. Chill the rounds slightly before you fill them, but you want them to still be pliable.

Peach Filling:
4-5 firm-ripe peaches cut into small-ish cubes, I like to wash the fuzz off and leave the skin on
1-2 Tbsp minute tapioca
3-4 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

These are approximate measurements and will vary with regard to the sweetness/juciness of your peaches, feel free to adjust accordingly. Toss peaches, sugar to taste, salt, and vanilla extract in a bowl. When you add the tapioca it should start soaking up the juices within a few minutes, so start with the smaller amount and then if it still seems too watery you can add more. What you don't want is to end up with over-starched pie filling that is gummy.
Apple Filling:
6 cups sliced tart baking apples, I like to leave the skin on for texture
(if your apple are big measure them in slices then cube them up so they fit into the dough rounds easier)
3/4- 1 c sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2-3 Tbsp brandy
1/2- 1 Tbsp minute Tapioca

Again these are approximate amounts. I find that I like a lightly spiced apple pie versus a pie really heavy on the cinnamon. If you like a spicier pie feel free to double the cinnamon, and add 1/4 tsp ground cloves. I have also decided that brandy is perhaps my new favorite ingredient. It is divine added to anything chocolate, apple pie, and even chicken with mushrooms! I digress. So, on that note I have upped the brandy amount in this recipe. If you don't have any on hand you could substitute part vanilla extract and part water.

I pre-cooked my apple filling on the stove to make sure the apples would be tender enough in the finished pie since a hand pie only bakes for 20 minutes or so. Mix all ingredients in a pot and cook gently over low heat until the apples are tender. Allow the mixture to cool before filling the pies.

Preheat the oven to 375 F (I might even go so far as to say 400 to really get a jump on that flaky, crispy crust, just be sure to keep an eye on them that they aren't getting too brown)

To fill a pie:
Take one round of dough. Place 2-3 Tbsp of cooled filling in the center of the dough. Using your finger wet the edge of the lower flap of dough with water. Carefully fold over the top flap of dough, being sure not to let any filling ooze out because this will prevent the dough from sealing properly and you will end up with fruit roll ups rather than pie. Gently but firmly press the seam together with your fingers and then seal again with the flour dusted tines of a fork. Place on parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough rounds. You can re-roll your pie dough scraps a couple of times, I found that even on the 3rd roll they were still delicious, though a little less flaky. However I personally would rather have a less flaky pie than fewer pies and a garbage can full of dough scraps. It's your call.

Now if you are patient you can put the whole tray of pies into the fridge to chill for 30 minutes or so before baking them. This will aid a flakier crust. I was not so patient and didn't chill my pies. Either way brush the top with a little egg wash (egg and water or egg and a pinch of salt whisked together) and sprinkle with some cinnamon sugar or sugar in the raw crystals. Cut a little slit in the top of each pie to allow steam to escape (I initially thought my failure to do this was the downfall on the rhubarb raspberry pies, but they didn't work any better with a slit, in fact it seemed to be just an easier escape route for the filling).

Pop into the oven on the middle rack. I found in my oven that baking one tray at a time works best. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the dough is turning golden and you begin to see bubbling juices through the slit or perhaps out of the seam of your pie. Cool slightly or to room temperature. These pies are great for breakfast too, should you have any left over and wonder what to do with them(!).

Yields 8-10 pies

The filling recipes yield more than you will need for the pies, but they are delicious cooked stovetop and served over ice cream or pancakes or what have you.