Beautiful Mornings

 

Sunrise1.3

 

I am, by nature, not a morning person.  I am a creature of the night, or so Mr. H lovingly calls me.  The jive of the stars, the occasional sonata of the moon, the aria of the darkness swelling with mysteries and discoveries make me such a creature.  I am captivated by wonder and comfortable in the unknown – this is where I thrive and my imagination gorges itself on all possibilities and impossibilities.

Unfortunately for me, we live in a sunrise-to-sunset society.  This is my bane.

Mr. H works a 9-to-5, or later, grind and the Little Man is up with the sun.  And when I say “up with the sun” I mean “sprinting with the sun” until he falls in a heap at some undetermined time in the evening.  What is unnatural for me is only natural for them.  What is also very natural for me is to be reticent and aloof before 10 AM.  While I am usually boasting that embracing one’s nature is healthy, I began hating how much I loathed the morning.  The blurred rush of covers tossed, feet on the ground, diapers changed, coffee made, poured, and drunk did little more than put me in a foul mood for the rest of the day.  Not to mention feeding people.   It appears that morning people like to eat at odd hours.   The morning may not be my favorite but the start of one’s day shouldn’t be detested.  This much I know.  And so I decided to take on the Herculean task of making my mornings beautiful.

Morning-Coffee

I began by rising a little earlier and beginning my day in personal solace – orienting myself in these foreign hours.  As my amicable attempt at a relationship with the morning continues, I am finding there is indeed beauty in it, unique to itself.  The light filling the sky and breaking the barriers of our place, casting its golden life onto every surface is a constant intrigue.  I smile at waking sighs of my loves: heavy and stalling groans from the taller one and high-pitch coos and laughter from the smaller one.   Even the singing of the birds, which once grated, gnawed, and drilled against my ears, can, on occasion, transform itself into a melodious sunrise concert.

As I find beauty in these first moments, breakfast has also become a pleasurable moment as opposed to a necessary chore.  On most occasions we stick to toast or yogurt.  However, the need for variety has me looking for simple, fast, and energizing starts, such as our new favorite: Oatmeal Pudding.

Oatmeals

It is actually Baked Oatmeal but we found it to be of similar consistency to Bread Pudding, and so have named it thus.  (Yes, pudding for breakfast!  I wonder how long the Little Man will believe this one.)  The best part is that it is made the night before, kept in the fridge overnight, and baked the following morning.  As the kitchen fills with the delicious aroma of the false notion that I have been up before dawn preparing a scrumptious breakfast, I can sip coffee, read BBC, and feel particularily awesome about myself.  The second best part is that this pudding is a blank canvas and easily adaptable to a variety of tastes and preferences.  The boys love Peanut Butter, Bananas, and Maple Syrup while I love Yogurt and Fruit.  There also the classic standby of Raisins, Milk, and Brown Sugar.  Butter, Jam, Honey, Toasted Coconut or Hazelnuts… the possibilities are yours for the making.

Enjoy! And may you have a beautiful morning.

____

 

Overnight Oatmeal Pudding (or, Baked Oatmeal)
¼ cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
2 Eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons Honey
1 ½ cups Whole Milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla
3 ¼ cups Old Fashioned Oats
½ teaspoon Sea Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
½ teaspoon Cinnamon
¼ teaspoon Nutmeg

Grease a 9 x 9” pan with a little extra olive oil or cooking spray. Sift together the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, eggs, honey, milk, and vanilla. Add the baking powder-spice mixture and oats, and stirring to combine. Pour into the prepared pan and using a spoon or spatula press the top to even out. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and keep in the refrigerator overnight.
In the morning, preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the covered dish in the hot oven and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 – 15 minutes until the top is golden. Remove from oven and let rest for a few minutes before cutting into nine slices. Serve warm with desired accompaniments.

Store remaining oatmeal in the refrigerator, reheating individual pieces for future breakfasts.

- Adapted from various recipes

Oatmeal-Baby1

See more of my daybreak inspirations HERE, on my Good Morning Pinterest Board.

 

A Snowy Day At Pooh Corner

The clock was still saying five minutes to eleven when Pooh and Piglet set out on their way half an hour later.  The wind had dropped, and the snow, tired of rushing round in circles trying to catch itself up, now fluttered gently down until it found a place on which to rest, and sometimes the place was Pooh’s nose and sometimes it wasn’t, and in a little while Piglet was wearing a white muffler round his neck and feeling more snowy behind the ears than he had ever felt before.

Snow-RedCap

“Hallo, Eeyore,” said Christopher Robin, as he opened the door and came out.  “How are you?”

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.

“So it is.”

“And freezing.”

“Is it?”

“Yes,” said Eeyore.  “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”

Snow1

WinterSky

By Virginian standards, this winter has been tremendous.  Most of the places I have lived provided a sense of  predictability in regards to the weather.  Germany offered cold, snowy winters and breezy, cool summers.  Florida’s pendulum swung between periods of warm winds and muggy rains.  Texas was so awful I have forgotten it completely.  Virginia, however, must be just south enough and just enough north to never really know where it is, offering a wonderful unpredictability when it comes to every season.  In my twelve years here, I have never seen so much snow in one winter.

This snowy season has been an adventure with interesting discoveries:  One, we do not own a shovel -  something that might be useful in getting to one’s vehicle.  Two, I don’t actually own proper gloves for a real winter, but I do have a wonderful selection of hats.  Three, even if Little Man’s socks are soaked and mittens soggy, he will throw a loud and flailing tantrum when I carry him back inside from playing in the snow.

Once we are indoors and warmed through, we find various activities to occupy the little mind and busy hands.  Then something magical happens in the afternoons: He tires.  Not tired enough to nap, yet just enough where his little limbs find comfort as they sink into the couch and chubby fingers curl around neck of a small stuffed giraffe.  And so we are, during the quietest part of the day, piled under soft blankets with a stack of books, completely immersed in a world of childish wonder and imagination.

A few afternoons ago, as the snow hovered down softly, we began The House At Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne.  The first story in the book follows Pooh and Piglet as they build a house for their friend Eeyore in the midst of a snow storm.  I laughed aloud at Eeyore’s brand of optimism and for the first time sympathized with a timid little pig.  We finished our story time and with new energy  Little Man began to make soup with a pot and wooden blocks.  I reheated some coffee and I felt the urge for a little smackerel of something.

What could be more perfect than Honey Madeleines for our snowy day at Pooh Corner?

Madeleine1

These madeleines are superbly moist and sweet with the floral richness of honey.  While they are fine at room temperature, they are best warm, right out of the tin.  I could never confess how many I immediately devoured – it is quite embarrassing.  I should be ashamed of myself.

Madeleine2

Honey Madeleines
Makes 18 Madeleine Cookies.

¾ cup Unsalted Butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces

1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter, melted

1 cup All-Purpose Flour, plus extra for the madeleine tins

1 teaspoon Baking Powder

3 large Eggs

¾ cup of Sugar

3 tablespoons of Honey

Brush the madeleine tins with the melted butter and dust with flour then tap out excess.  Set the tins in the freezer.

In a bowl whisk together one cup of flour and the baking powder.  In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the eggs, sugar, and honey until pale yellow.  Add the butter, one piece at a time, beating  constantly.  On low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture.  Set the bowl in the fridge to rest for one hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Remove the madeleine tins from the freezer and the batter from the fridge.  Give the batter a quick stir and then place heaping spoonfuls into each madeleine mold.  Don’t worry about the batter touching all the edges as it will spread while baking.  Bake in the preheated oven for 10 – 15 minutes, the edges should be golden brown and the tops of the madeleines should spring back gently when touched.

Cool on a wire rack until the madeleines are cool enough to handle.  Remove from the tins and serve at once.

- Recipe from The Essentials of French Cooking by Williams-Sonoma, with additional explanations.

Ice-Honey

Excerpts from The House At Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne.

BlockSoup

Peace On Earth, Good-Will To Men

I heard the bells on Christmas Day                             And thought how, as the day had come,

Their old, familiar carols play,                                     The belfries of all Christendom

    And wild and sweet                                                        Had rolled along

    The words repeat                                                           The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!                        Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

BullRun3

Till ringing, singing on its way,                                     It was as if an earthquake rent

The world revolved from night to day,                       The hearth-stones of a continent,

    A voice, a chime,                                                            And made forlorn

    A chant sublime                                                             The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!                      Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

Then from each black, accursed mouth                   And in despair I bowed my head;

The cannon thundered in the South,                       “There is no peace on earth,” I said;

     And with the sound                                                     “For hate is strong,

    The carols drowned                                                      And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!                       Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Citrus - OrnamentBullRun10

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

    The Wrong shall fail,

    The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

BullRun

A few weekends ago, Mr. H and I found ourselves with a free day.  The weather was beautiful –  chilly with sunny, blue skies.  We decided to take advantage of the day and go on a little historical adventure before the unpredictable Virginia winter arrived.  Our destination was Bull Run Battlefield in Manassas, Virginia.

We walked the fields, hand in hand, watching our son run wildly and in no direction save for where the crickets jumped and the dead leaves blew.  Whenever I visit Bull Run I am filled with a hollowing reverence and overwhelmed with wonder of the lives lived and lost here.  Am I tracing the footsteps of someone once before?  Were they brave? Excited for their cause?  Or misplaced and caught between the crossfire of their fellow mankind?  Did they go on to live another day?  Or, is where I’m standing, where they drew their last breath?  The land is alive with history and memory.  And it is sorrowing to think that such a beautiful place was once filled with so much terror and bloodshed.

I called to mind one of my favorite poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and his well-known poem-turned-carol “Christmas Bells.”  I was about twelve when I fell in love with Longfellow and his strong, manly Blacksmith.  I was seduced by Revere’s Valiant Ride and my heart broke before a Snowy Cross.  However, my everlasting devotion was secured with his Christmas Bells, a poem he wrote after the death of his son, a Union Soldier.

I am always transfixed by this piece and instantly moved to tears.  For suffering so much loss in his life, Longfellow still had hope and belief that there was good and joy in the world even if it wasn’t forcefully evident in his own life.  Christmas is said to be the most joyous time of year.  While I have always believed that, I know this belief is because I have been richly blessed.  As I count my blessings, I remember the sacrifices made by those before me and pray for those whose holidays are less than merry.  May they may find hope; and may we all find and practice peace on earth and good-will to men.

_______

When I’m not crying over poetry during the cold winter months, I’m sipping wine in the kitchen and creating something scrumptious.  These Chocolate & Cranberry Cheesecake Brownies are adapted from Green & Black’s Chocolate & Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies, and are sure to be your new holiday favorite.

And let me say, if you are going to  put the effort into these brownies, or any baked good for the matter, spend the money on good chocolate.  People often ask me what my secret ingredients are, and the simple matter of the fact is: quality!  Green & Black, Ghiradelli, and Scharfenberger are my current baking favorites. Yes, they cost more, but are absolutely worth it.

Brownies - Cranberry10

Brownies - Cranberry9

Chocolate & Cranberry Cheesecake Brownies

For the Brownies:

10 ounces / 2 ½ Sticks Unsalted Butter, plus a little extra for the pan

6 ounces 70% Dark Chocolate

1 ¾ Cups Unrefined Cane Sugar

½ Cup All-Purpose Flour

Pinch of Salt

5 Large Eggs, preferably free-range

2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract

3 ½ ounces White Chocolate, broken into small pieces

For the Cheesecake:

1 Cup Cream Cheese, at room temperature

½ Cup Crème Fraiche, at room temperature (You can substitute with additional cream cheese.)

1/3 Cup Unrefined Cane Sugar

2 Large Eggs, preferably free-range

1 teaspoon Vanilla

1 tablespoon Cointreau (optional)

1 ½ Cups Fresh Cranberries, washed and dried on paper towels to remove excess water

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease and line a 9 x 13” pan.

To make brownies, melt the butter and dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.  (Make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water.) Stir until completely melted and combined.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Combine the sugar, flour, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Pour the cooled chocolate over the flour-sugar mixture, and stir until smooth.  Beat eggs in a separate bowl and then add along with the vanilla extract.  Stir in the white chocolate pieces.   The brownie batter should be smooth and shiny.  Pour the brownie batter into the prepared pan.

Next make the cheesecake mixture.  Whisk the cream cheese, crème fraiche, sugar, and eggs until well combined.  Whisk in the vanilla and cointreau.  Carefully pour this mixture over the brownie mixture, trying to create an even layer.  Use a fork or spatula to drag the cheesecake mixture through the brownie batter, creating a marbled effect.  Drop the cranberries over the brownies, letting them settle into the batter a little.

Bake for 30 minutes and check to see if the brownies are set.  They should still have a slight wobble in the center.  If they need longer, return to oven until done.  Remove pan from oven and let the brownies cool, covered with foil.  Once cooled, remove brownies from the pan, and cut into small pieces.  They are very gooey and best stored in the refrigerator before serving.

Makes 30 small brownies.

BR2

- This recipe is adapted from Green & Black’s Ultimate Cookbook, page 36.

- This poem is titled “Christmas Bells” (Christmas Day, 1863) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

- For more information on visiting Bull Run Battlefield, please view their website.  This beautiful historic spot is perfect for nature lovers, children, and pets as it has many hiking paths and open fields to explore.  History buffs can find great resources at the Visitor’s Center to jump-start their tour.  Three Day Passes are $3 a person for people ages sixteen and up.

Autumnal Farewell

Lake2

‘Your eyes that once were never weary of mine

‘Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lids,

‘Because our love is waning.’

 

And then she:

‘Although our love is waning, let us stand

‘By the lone border of the lake once more,

‘Together in that hour of gentleness

‘When the poor tired child, Passion, falls asleep:

‘How far away the stars seem, and how far

‘Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!’

 

Autumn - Bridge PumpkinLeaves7

Pensive they paced along the faded leaves,

While slowly he whose hand held hers replied:

‘Passion has often worn our wandering hearts.’


The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves

Fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once

A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;

Autumn was over him: and now they stood

On the lone border of the lake once more:

Turning, he saw that she had thrust dead leaves

Gathered in silence, dewy as her eyes,

In bosom and hair.

 

‘Ah, do not mourn,’ he said,

‘That we are tired, for other loves await us:

‘Hate on and love through unrepining hours;

‘Before us lies eternity; our souls

‘Are love, and a continual farewell.

Mushrooms1

I am emphatically captivated by autumn:  The gold and crimson leaves shocking the grey skies;  the smell of nutmeg and roasting squash filling my kitchen; brisk morning walks invigorating the body and awakening the spirit; dark evenings spent reading  a good book.   As of late, Yeats has been my read of choice, rekindling my love for poetry.  “Stolen Child” is has always been a favorite.  I’ve read and re-read it so many times that the words have rooted into my memory, and yet, I still always cry a little at the end.

However, this year “Ephemera,” has entranced me, emphasizing another aspect of my beloved autumn: Growth and Renewal.   I find this season of celebrating life and harvest irrevocably intertwined with the acknowledgment of death as its partner.  As the leaves fall, making way for impending winter, I remember that to grow with dignity and evolve with grace I must accept the ending of things with just as much elegance and fortitude as preparation for future challenges.  Whether it is a habit or expectations that I lay to rest, a relationship, or a chapter in life, I can never realize my greatest potential by carrying with me all of my past.  Our memories should propel us to greater things ahead, never should they imprison us in the shadows and ghosts of a long-gone reality.  Before us lies eternity, and as we move toward eternity, we must live presently in our continual farewell.

Cake EsspressoFall9

Even if it is a little mourned, a farewell should be celebrated.  I prefer to celebrate with cake.   Perhaps you find it odd that I discuss poetry, philosophical musings, and then proceed to  cake as though it all goes together.  Is this comprehensive?  Does it all flow?  I’ve given up on order and structure a long time ago – not only is it boring, but is an expectation that is rarely fulfilled.  Life is moves rapidly, chaotically, one most bathe in every depth and dimension of it.  Soak in the color of the autumn!  Vow to self-refinement!  Read intelligently!  Love ardently!  Celebrate in the little things, trinkets, and tidbits of time that connect the dots of our existence!  Eat cake!

This Pumpkin Cake is a celebration in and of itself.  It  is anything but pretentious, reveling in its own simplicity and brilliance.  You could serve it plain with a dusting of sugar, but the Brown Butter Frosting is a religious experience, transforming this cake from delicious to transcendent.  I actually broke into a little fit of enthusiastic, and for some reason, slightly diabolical laughter when I first tasted it. The Brown Butter adds a smooth, nutty, buttery fullness that plays well  with the cotton candy-like sweetness of the frosting complimenting perfectly the simplicity of the cake.  This is best served with strong coffee and stimulating conversation.

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Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Frosting

For the Cake

8 tablespoon  Unsalted Butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan

1 2/3 cups  All-Purpose Flour, plus more for the pan

1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

¼ teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

¼ teaspoon Ground Allspice

½ teaspoon Salt

½ teaspoon Baking Powder

½ teaspoon Baking Soda

1 ½ cups Sugar

2 Large Eggs

1 cup Pumpkin Purée, canned or fresh

½ cup Whole Milk, warmed (110 degrees)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a 9” round cake pan and line with parchment.  Butter the parchment and then coat the pan with flour, tapping out any excess.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add eggs and beat until combined.  Add pumpkin purée and milk, beat until combined.  Add the flour mixture, beating on low speed until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake for 40 – 55 minutes, until the center is springy to the touch or cake tester comes out clean.  Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool and let rest in the pan for 20 minutes.

Unmold the cake onto a plate and let finish cooling before frosting.

For the Frosting

8 tablespoon Unsalted Butter

2 cups Confectioner’s Sugar, sifted

2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract

2 tablespoons Whole Milk

Place a tempered bowl in a fridge to chill.  In a small saucepan, melt butter over low to medium heat.  The butter will begin to foam then crackle, turning brown and develops the nutty aroma.  The whole process takes about 10 minutes.  Pour brown butter  into the chilled bowl and set aside.  (You can complete this step earlier in the day, keeping the brown butter at room temperature until you are ready to make the frosting.)

Pour the brown butter into a mixing bowl, add the confectioner’s sugar, 1 tablespoon of milk, and the vanilla.  Beat on medium-high until smooth.  Adding the remaining tablespoon of milk, little by little, until a spreadable consistency is achieved.  Use immediately.

Cake3 - Pumpkin

- Original Recipe from Martha Stewart (here).  For everything you need to know about making Brown Butter, view this post from one of my favorite blogs, Poires au Chocolat.

 

 

-This poem is titled “Ephemera” (1895) by William Butler Yeats.

Time Travel

Play - Leaves

Time is not linear or progressive.  It bends, flowing chaotically, moving us from place to place, from moment to moment.  Sometimes you can travel through the minutes and years with an instantaneous thought, recalling sensations and intimacy of a forgotten existence.  Sometimes you need a time machine.  They really aren’t that hard to come by, you just need to know how to find them.  We all have our own, particular to us.  They surround us, always ready for use, patiently waiting to bring us through worlds past and present, remembrance of things good and bad.

My latest time machine was a purchase.  Usually they are free, but sometimes you need to buy one.  This one was small red box decorated with pictures of animals.  I originally bought it for my son, as a little surprise, unaware of its transmutable power.

There we were, my boy and I, sitting on a blanket I had laid out on the floor.  He rubbed his eyes, still sleepy from an afternoon nap, and his wispy blonde hair stuck up on one side of his head.  I sipped Earl Grey.  Tea time.  One of my favorite moments in the day.  I placed the red box in the middle of the blanket.  His eyes opened with curiosity.  I pulled up the lid, revealing a brown waxy package crimped at the top.  A sugary aroma mixed with wheat and cardboard drifts upwards as I pull apart the edges and exotic creatures begin their escape.

I no longer exist in the now.

Grass-Sun

I am pulled and replaced.  My hands are small, fingers long but still a little chubby, poking through a metal framework of squares.  My knees are up to my chest, making room for boxes of spaghetti, cans of soup, and a bunch of bananas also residing in my space.  My mother and brothers are nearby, but I do not see them.  Right now I am obsessed with the same red box, being held by a thin, papery, white string looped around my arm.  There is a circus in my little purse.  I stop poking my fingers through the side of the cart, reach inside, and pull out a ridiculous monkey with a banana.  He is ridiculous because all monkeys are.  He runs along my knees, attempting to jump through one of the little metal squares, but today is not his day.  I devour him, head first of course.  That is the merciful way to do it.  Next, I pull out an elephant, who was quite furious that the monkey was let out first, until he, too, realized his fate.  One by one, giraffes, hippos, and lions leave in my ultimate enjoyment, until the only crumbs and a few limbs remain.

I begin to move.  Traveling forward, my pasts intertwine, where glimpses of my life move through a zoetrope of space and time progressing faster and faster.  Memories blur, seconds collide.  Faster and faster until I – STOP.

Playtime

My son has his hand deep in the heart of the circus and pulls out a giraffe.  He laughs and knowingly bites off the head first.  He is not old enough to time travel yet, but I know I’ll be back here one day – sitting with him and watching his sheer pleasure over his first box of animal crackers.  I’ll tell him about it.  The day he tamed lions, ate a giraffe, held an elephant in the palm of his hand, and danced around with ridiculous monkeys.

Cookies - Animal Crackers3

Summertime Peach Crostata

‘Miss Eliza Bennet,’ said Miss Bingley, ‘despises cards.  She is a great reader and has no pleasure in any thing else.’

‘I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,’ cried Elizabeth; ‘I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.’

- – -

“Then,’ observed Elizabeth, ‘you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.’

“Oh! certainly,’ cried his faithful assistant, ‘no one can be really esteemed accomplished, who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with.  A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.’

“All this she most possess,’ added Darcy, ‘and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.’

‘I am no longer surprised at you knowing only six accomplished women.  I rather wonder now at your knowing any.’

Orchard - MtVernon

Summer_2013

This is my seventh time reading Pride & Prejudice.  The exact same copy.  Dover Edition published in 1995 with the cream cover embellished with flowers and a peach and turquoise peacock.  The pages have begun to yellow and each turn emits the smell of dust and vanilla.  Memories are evoked:  Being thirteen, falling in love with Darcy and finding a kindred spirit in Elizabeth; staying up late on summer nights, reading with anticipation despite already knowing the ending; placing it on the windowsill-cum-bookshelf of my first place altering my shabby surroundings into something of a home…

This is why I could never own a Kindle or get Botox.  I’m too attached to my passing of time, the memories and talismans that create my history. The old books, faded photographs, a movie ticket stub from a first date that turned into a first love, or the increased lines around my eyes reflecting the joy and terror of parenthood.  These small measures remind me where I’ve been, where I’m going, and most importantly, to fully invest in where I am.

And where I am right now is in the middle of summer.  I take advantage of the long days filled with sunlight perfect for small adventures and excursions.   I delight in the bountiful farmers’ markets filled with red berries, bright verdant zucchinis, and fuzzy peaches bursting with sweet juices that run down to my elbows.  It is the summer evenings I take pleasure in the most, with its seductively warm breezes carrying the mellow sound of the serenading cicadas as the stars appear on their stage.  These are the nights perfect for curling up next to someone comfortable, with a good book, and perhaps a piece of something tantalizing to share.  One plate, two forks.

PeachCrostata1

Summertime Peach Crostata

For The Pastry

2 3/4 C. All-Purpose Flour

1/2 C. Granulated Sugar

1 1/2 tsp. Baking Powder

1/2 tsp. Salt

Freshly grated Zest of 1 Lemon

3/4 C. Unsalted Butter, chilled and cut into pieces

1 Large Egg + 1 Large Egg Yolk

1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract

For The Filling

2 C. Peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced

1/2 C. Granulated Sugar

2 TB. All-Purpose Flour

For The Topping

1 Large Egg

Demerara, Turbinado, or Other Coarse Sugar, for sprinkling

To make the pastry, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest in a large bowl.  Stir to mix.  Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture.  Using a pastry cutter, fork, or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture forms large, coarse crumbs the size of peas.  (You can also use your hands, which is what I usually do.)

In a small bowl, whisk together the whole egg, egg yolk, and vanilla until well blended.  Pour the egg mixture over the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough is evenly moist and begins to come together.  If the mixture seems dry, add a teaspoon or so of cold water.  Transfer the dough to a work surface, divide with one piece sightly larger than the other, and form into two disks.  Wrap separately with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.

Position the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375°F.  To make the filling, in a bowl, toss together the peach slices, granulated sugar, and flour.  Set aside.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the larger dough disk into a 12″ round.  Carefully roll the dough around the pin and position pin over a 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom.  Unroll dough onto the tart pan and press gently, yet firmly, into the bottom and sides of the pan.  Trim edges of the dough, leaving a 1/2″ overhang.  Fold the overhang over against the inside of the rim of the pan.  Pour the peaches into the pastry-lined tart pan, spreading them into an even layer.

Roll out the second dough disk into a 10″ round.  Using a pastry wheel or knife, cut the dough into 10 strips, each 1/2″ wide.  Arrange half of the strips across the top of the tart, spacing them evenly.  Give the pan a quarter turn and place the remaining dough strips across the top to form a lattice pattern.  If the strips break, patch them together with a drop of water.  Press the ends of the strips against the sides of the tart shell to seal.

To make the topping, in a bowl, whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon of water. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the dough strips with the egg mixture.  Sprinkle the strips generously with the coarse sugar.  Bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 45 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack, let cool for 10 minutes, then remove the outer ring and cool until warm or room temperature.  Cut into wedges to serve.

- From Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian

Peaches

Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view.  They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberly House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound.  It was large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; – and in front, a stream of some natural important was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance.  Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned.  Elizabeth was delighted.  She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.  They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

Excerpts from Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen.