February 3, 2016

Brunch





I can’t explain quite why I enjoy baking so much. Most of my making (food, crafts, art) is an attempt to understand and connect with the world. The inner workings of a croissant may not reveal the true nature of the universe, but it is ever so much more meaningful to me than just buying and consuming a pastry (we live near so many good bakeries that I buy and consume often, too!).

Sometimes I day dream about opening a tiny cafe. Something laid back, out of the way, sun filled where the customers never complain and the baking is never rushed. I’d love to be able to try all kinds of recipes and fill friendly hands and mouths ready and willing to taste. I’ve been employed by or involved in commercial food production from farms to cheese making to bakeries and when it is required for making a living, rather than for enjoyment and the happiness of yourself and others, it can quickly become a tedious obligation. I find great satisfaction in a job well done, in knowing how to manage time and make everything work out right, but it would be harder to find the joy in it when trying to keep a business afloat.

In the meantime, we have a monthly brunch at our place which gives me a chance to try new recipes, embark on more extensive baking projects, and feed hungry and appreciative friends. I love making food for other people, and using gatherings as an excuse to cook and bake to my heart’s content, but I am not the most comfortable or confident host. I’ve always longed for the easy friendships that make connecting and spending time together as simple as just asking, not having to juggle schedules or feel like people have better things to do. It takes a long time for me to feel totally comfortable in these relationships, so perhaps it will never feel effortless but it is certainly a worthwhile way to try to grow our community and strengthen friendships.


Hosting brunch works really well for us. We don't have to worry about bedtime, kids can play freely while adults talk and eat, many friends can find time one Sunday a month, and I always have ideas for things to make. My brunch menu usually consists of some sort of baked good, eggs (fritatta, quiche, scrambled or other), fruit, and often another side, this week it was skillet potatoes and veggies. I guess it is more br- than -unch but I try to have a mix of savory and sweet. A few more favorites, if you need brunch inspiration: these sauces and eggs were a big hit, I used the Tartine Bread recipe for the croissants, homemade pop tarts, make a batch of chai tea. I'm thinking about bagels or maybe french toast next. 

What are your favorite things to cook or eat for brunch?

January 26, 2016

Make the Best Use of It



Some days I am in the groove sitting snugly in my little boat rocking over the waves. I feel like I’ve finally arrived in a routine and rhythm that works. Without fail, I begin to believe that this is the way things will continue to go and that rough waters are behind me. Then the wind changes, the moment passes, a different day brings new and old challenges back to the surface. Early on as a parent I told myself to enjoy the good because it might be fleeting and to know that the hard parts will pass eventually and I learn this over and over again. Even if I haven’t arrived in precisely the right place or settled into the perfect routine, I am finding myself in the flow of life riding the waves as they come, trying to make the best of it or let it go.

As January nears its end, I’ve reflected a bit more on the goals and wishes that I dreamed up when the year was brand new. What I can be sure of for 2016 is that it will bring big changes (as we welcome and adjust to a new family member) and also much of the same. No matter what, I am fairly certain that this year will be more about growing as a family than anything else. I was recently reminded that the most important thing is to enjoy the journey and I resolve to do the best I can at that.

One of the more practical challenges I have set for myself this year is to do all I can to waste less. There are so many ways to approach this, but the one I am especially interested in is not so much waste less as make best use of. I want to get better at using every bit that I can before considering throwing something away (or composting, donating, or recycling, of course).

I started with citrus. First I dumped a pile of orange and grapefruit peels and rinds into a jar, covered it with white vinegar and let it sit for a few weeks. Once the vinegar is strained from the citrus, it makes for a sweet smelling cleaning vinegar. I used mine to scrub and freshen the drains in my kitchen sink. You can also turn citrus peels into candy. Before I sliced subsequent grapefruits open to devour the juicy, sweet tart fruit inside, I grated off the zest. This is a quick and easy way to get a little more out of any citrus before your peel or juice it. The zest could be mixed with sugar to make a grapefruit scented sweetener or used in a citrus salt. Store zest in the freezer for future use or save it in a jar in the fridge for a few days, as I did, before making it into a grapefruit olive oil cake.

It seems fitting that this simple cake is made with scraps that could easily be tossed aside, unused. It is perfect for any and every day and needs to embellishment and no special excuse to bake or eat.


Grapefruit Olive Oil Cake
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. I love the original version of this cake but I knew it would be excellent combined with citrus as well. I used a lot of zest in this cake since I had eaten a few grapefruits during the week, if you use less the flavor will be more mild. If you prefer to zest your fruit all at once, make sure that you use the zested fruit sooner since it has less skin to protect it from drying out or spoiling. If you don't have grapefruit zest, orange or lemon zest would also be excellent.

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup coarse cornmeal
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup olive oil
3/4 cup milk

zest of 3-4 grapefruits 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Rub a 9/12 inch fluted tart pan or cake pan with olive oil. 
Whisk together flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl beat the eggs, olive oil, milk and zest. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until combined. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes until deeply golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature. It will keep for a few days. 


January 14, 2016

New Year New Baking


The beginning of the year nearly always has me eager to open cookbooks to find new recipes, dig up forgotten favorites, and reconnect with the kitchen rhythms interrupted by a lack of motivation or too many meals and treats out of the ordinary during the holidays. I’m not sure if it is the cold weather and my love of coziness or some sort of nesting instinct but right now I want to bake everything. I am certain that my body does not need more baked goods. Luckily I've also been wanting to eat lots of big salads and thanks to refrigerated shipping I don’t have to give my child to an evil witch in exchange for a head a of lettuce, like Rapunzel's mother did. If I try really hard maybe salads and baking can balance each other out.

I could probably bake a different banana bread every day and there would still be more recipes to try but, in our house, banana bread is actually a rare thing. Bananas almost never survive to the point of over ripeness that is most desirable for baking. But earlier this week, I was randomly given a bunch and after accidentally leaving them to freeze outside, the bananas were perfect candidates for baking into bread. Despite the excess of possible banana bread recipes, I don’t have a go to recipe but I found one for a sturdy good sized loaf in Jessica Fechtor’s memoir Stir.

I really enjoyed her story of overcoming big challenges and slowly healing with the help of family, community, and food. I made the banana bread one evening when I knew I would be alone in the kitchen and could savor the short time it took to mash, sift, stir and pour. I think that is what I have been craving more than anything, time to alone to make things. Sometimes self care is salad and yoga, sometimes it's banana bread and podcasts.

You can find the recipe on her site minus the addition of chocolate chips. I will never be upset to find chocolate chips in my banana bread, but I think next time I will try it with walnuts since I love a little crunch in a quick bread. If I can ever scrounge up some really ripe bananas again this will definitely be the recipe I go to.

December 29, 2015

In Between



These last days of the year always feel like a little bonus, a gentle cushion between the activities and excitement of Christmas and the planning, dreaming, back to business, clean slate of January. Some days may be just as busy as the preceding weeks but I always hope there will be time to really relax and, if I'm lucky, read a book on the couch all day. Its nice to have this transition between the old and the new, the indulgent celebrations and the neat and tidy fresh start.

I know that 2016 will bring a new baby to our family which makes it hard to be certain of much beyond that. I have hopes for what I can accomplish in the next four months: lots of sewing for babies and preparing for our new little one and work on a project that I am excited about but have made little time for. The start of my pregnancy coincided with the end of Amos' naps and I've found only a little time for the creative work that I care about and that I hope to eventually grow into a career.

I'm considering goals and intentions and remembering hopes, knowing that it will probably turn out very differently than any expectations I may have. This in between week isn't quite a return to every day life and it offers chance to daydream, ruminate, muse about the year that has been and what the next year might bring.

December 16, 2015

O Christmas Tree (and a Reusable Wrapping Project)


This is the first year we've had a Christmas tree in our house. Its sharp, sweet scent is like the ghost of Christmas past, not bringing specific memories but a deep inhalation of many Christmas seasons that came before. At the same time, having a decorated tree in our living room also keeps me firmly planted in the present as Amos turns the colored lights on and off several times a day. He can't resist taking ornaments off and re-positioning (or sometimes throwing) them every few minutes. As far as toddlers and trees go, though, we have been lucky, at least in the few days since we put it up.




The small projects we've been doing have been, mostly, fun. Making salt dough ornaments was by far the most enjoyable for me and Amos loves playing with dough. Unless you have absolutely no concern about messes, painting fabric with a two and a half year old is probably a little ambitious.

My idea for making reusable bags for gift wrapping did not go completely smoothly, but in the end I am very happy with the results. We used fabric paint to cover a large white sheet, that I found at Goodwill, with dots, lines, splotches, and some trees and stars. When we were done painting, the sheet definitely did not look like it could ever become part of a nice looking gift. But, once cut and sewn the messy abstract colors seem festive and fun. Each basic square bag can be closed with a drawstring or wrapped up with ribbon.



Brown paper is what I use most often for wrapping gifts and beyond that I have very little interest or skill in wrapping. In my eagerness to start family traditions this year, I wanted to have reusable bags on hand for gift giving and very simple wrapping. They look nice enough to give away as well as for gifts under our tree.


The tree, the making, the wrapping, planning and attempting our own traditions also has me thinking of Christmas future. Not in great detail but the hazy knowledge that next year there will be two little ones admiring the tree. One who will hopefully have outgrown throwing ornaments (wishful thinking?) and another who might be just learning to sit up and look around at big brother and the twinkly lights. I'm sure Christmas next year, with a baby in the house, will look very different than this one so I am trying to enjoy and make the most of what we have now, while looking forward to that time ahead, too.

December 1, 2015

Making Merry



Last week it was fall leaves and now we are already spotting twinkly lights and talking about Christmas trees. Like any other month of the year, December can fly by too quickly, so I have fully embraced holiday preparations and making merry for the weeks leading up to Christmas. We stay away from most of the shopping and commercial aspects, but I am planning plenty of time for baking, sharing treats, and basking the glow of the lights that deck so many of the trees around Portland and elsewhere.

I have had this advent calendar idea for a few years and although Amos barely understands what Christmas is, I decided, why not? I came up with an activity for each day, things like read Christmas books, make salt dough ornaments, buy a toy to donate, make hot chocolate, or brunch with friends.  A combination of making, decorating, giving, and experiencing. I hope that it will become a yearly tradition that can grow and change as our family does. For now, I am trying to keep it simple knowing that I can change, add, or switch activities if we need to.



I see no reason why every day of the year can't hold small delights, acts of creativity, and ways to give, but I am especially excited to make a point of finding these things each day of this month. Preparations and anticipation (in just the right sized doses) are part of the celebration, wonder, and good cheer that can be part of the whole season.

November 22, 2015

With Gratitude




In this season that can be filled with abundance, connection, and joy, it is hard to forget the loss, fear, and despair that also fills the world. Though it is only a tiny tiny thing in the face of such challenges, I try to practice gratitude regularly and I wanted to share some of things that I am really appreciating in my life these days. So here goes. I am grateful...

For the inspiration, time and energy for new projects. As I prepare for Thanksgiving and beyond I find myself dreaming up ideas that had not previously crossed my mind but that quickly go from unimagined to absolutely necessary. I'm glad I had time to stitch these leaves for our thanksgiving table and that this week will bring lots more making.

For the opportunity to share some of the abundance that we have and to give, in small ways, to others.

For the challenging, wonderful, exhausting, fun experience of every day with my son. I am so grateful that we are part of each others lives, constantly learning, sharing, and trying to do better.

Also for parenting with and sharing a life with someone I love.

I am always grateful for good food and this week I get to cook lots of it. I am grateful for the chance to host almost all of our immediate family in what will be a crowded, cozy, messy, delicious day.

For being able to truly appreciate this time of the year with its many celebrations as well as this season of life.

Although this can often go without saying, I feel so lucky to live a safe and happy life, something that is not taken for granted by everyone and, unfortunately, not available to all. I hope to find more opportunities and ways to make sure that everyone has the things they need, the respect they deserve, and a chance at happiness or more.


Sometimes gratitude can seems like a way to gloss over or ignore the difficult things. For me, it is a way to shift my focus, to think and act from a place of abundance and to be more joyful and less discouraged. One of my favorite poems speaks to the way that gratitude and hopelessness can be intertwined. I wrote this post and was quite happy with it, then hit the wrong button and it was gone. Forever. I was writing about gratitude and suddenly feeling very ungrateful and annoyed. I've done my best to recreate and articulate the thoughts I wanted to share while both laughing and feeling frustrated with the way that life happens.

If you're up for it, please share what you are grateful for.