Standing Still (And Metaphorical Scones)

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I’ve been a bit melancholy lately.   I blame it on the impending equinox. I feel restless.  I’ve made up my mind to quit this blog about five times.  Every morning I want an adventure but feel like staying home.  I want to wear sweaters and run through piles of leaves but am mourning the ending of our sunshine-filled days by the poolside.  I’ve gone through my closet three times already and have started a donation pile based on colors I don’t like anymore.

My solace is that the weather is also being moody.  Cool grey mornings followed by muggy afternoons with sunny rainstorms.  I have no need of mirrors anymore, I just look out the window.

Transitions are hard. As a child constant change was the norm, we moved every few years and sometimes to a completely different country – Germany.  Also inculde Texas in the category.  During my childhood, nomadic adventurism wrote itself into my genetic code.  Then one day I stopped moving, fell in love, and decided to call one place home.

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I am grateful for this standstill, for the opportunity to lay down roots and nurture a life for my family.  It is a life I always imagined as a little girl, having a physical home, family and friends close enough for holidays and weekend gatherings.  However, as I begin to pull out boxes of sweaters and put away straw hats,  my brain and my heart begin colluding without my permission.  They start whispering, nagging “Shouldn’t we be going somewhere? Doing something life changing? Something spectacularly terrifying?”

I have no idea how to stand still while the world around me changes, how to be a constant amid fluctuation.  I am a novice in accepting small changes, such as the shift in seasons, without becoming impossibly capricious, dramatically introspective, and turning every detail into a miniature life-crisis.  Not all great things in life need to be significantly life-altering, although they often are.  The little things grow into monumental milestones and journeys cannot be had without thousands of individual footsteps.  I am learning how to embrace these little things, the simple and quiet things of my life, in a grandiose way.

I’m sure my funky mood will last for a few more weeks.  My restlessness will have me thinking about deleting my Facebook account once or twice, throwing out the couch because it takes up far too much room, and getting bangs, which I already tried this year and hated.  I think my best defense is to replace these these urges with positive action.  And so,  I am taking the recent advice of one of my dearest: to enjoy life, stop over thinking, and “cook your heart out.”

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The kitchen is a calming place for me.  With every move, my mother always first unpacked the beds and then the kitchen.  Any place could begin feeling like home once you had a place to lay your head and fill your belly.  There is something grounding about cooking and baking, despite whatever significant or insignificant thing is on my mind, the kitchen is where I am again cohered.  All I have to do is follow a recipe, new or beloved, and I get a pleasurably predictable result.

I decided to make a favorite recipe: scones also caught in the cross-hairs of the seasonal transition.  (I always love  metaphorical food.)   Strawberry Rosemary Scones are a wonderful combination of summer-y sweet strawberry and autumnal herbaceous rosemary.  Unlike heartier scones – which I enjoy – that require some clotted cream and tea to balance out, these scones are tender and sweet; perfect for enjoying with a cup of hot tea or cold milk depending on what the weather calls for.  Moreover, they are perfect for diverting me from re-arranging our bedroom on my own.  Again.

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Strawberry Rosemary Scones

2 cups Flour

½ cup Sugar

2 teaspoon Baking Powder

1 tablespoon Fresh Rosemary, finely chopped

¼ teaspoon Salt

6 tablespoons Cold Butter, cut into pieces

1 cup Heavy Cream

1/3 cup Strawberry Preserves

In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, baking powder, rosemary, and salt to combine.  Add the butter pieces and pulse just until crumbly.  Transfer mixture to a bowl.  Slowly stir in the heavy cream to form a dough.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 10” circle about ½ “ thick.  Use a 3” cookie or biscuit cutter to cut out the scones.  Place the rounds on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, an inch apart.  Gently bring together leftover dough, roll out again, and cut out more scones.  Discard any remaining dough.

Using the back of a teaspoon, press an indentation into the center of each scone.  Fill each indentation with a teaspoon of the strawberry preserves.  Bake in a 375°F oven for 18 to 20 minutes, the edges of the scones will be golden.  Cool on a wire rack before serving.

This makes about 14 scones.

 

- Recipe from Giada De Laurentiis  (The original recipe has a glaze for the scones.  I prefer mine without.)

 

 

 

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Photo Credit – The picture of LM smelling the flowers was taken by my friend, JB, at the Dale City Farmer’s Market.

Magic, Tidal Pools, & Chocolate Cake

What are little boys made of?

What are little boys made of?

Snips and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails

And such are little boys made of.

 

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The sun-kissed days of summer are taking their exit cue and while I can hardly wait for the crisp days of autumn, I am savoring these last weeks of warm breezes and bright blue skies.  Little Man has been enjoying our daily outdoor adventures, especially now that he is at this grand age of discovery and observation.  Should we stumble upon a family of obstinate geese or a fanciful and energetic butterfly, he is entranced; magically his vibrating being becomes quiet and still for a few moments.  His intensity and curiosity for this wide world, for the seemingly mundane or often ignored, renews my own zeal for life and I find myself, also, in a constant state of wonderment.

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Enders Island - Fishers Sound

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While we were at Ender’s Island, he had the pleasure of discovering tidal pools.  I had mentioned in a previous post that one side of the island consisted of slabs of rock gradually descending into Fisher’s Sound.  Here, tenacious life thrives, rooted firmly to withstand the constant rush of waves.  Small white barnacles framed the edges of rocks where air and water met and chartreuse seaweed danced with each surge of foaming water.  Also here, cohabiting in these shallow pools, were hundreds of tiny black snails.  Little Man, who was secured with his father’s grip on his overalls, sat with feet submerged, picking up and examining every snail his greedy little fingers could find.  And so we sat, contently with only the sound of the waves and boats, reveling in the simple joys of our natural world.  This moment I captured in my soul and  preserved in my heart.  In future days when I can hardly believe how old he is, or we are, here is where I will come again to play among the tidal pools.

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When snails are in short supply, that magical moment of quiet and stillness can be conjured by appeasing LM’s sweet tooth.  Our family favorite this summer was a Chocolate Zucchini Cake, or Chocolate Courgette Cake if you are partial to alliterations.  Zucchini and buttermilk make this cake remarkably moist and semi-sweet chips scattered on top add a double dose of chocolate and a little texture.  Be sure to use a great quality cocoa powder, such as Scharffen Berger, Green & Black, or Ghirardelli for the best results.

 

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Chocolate Zucchini Cake

2 ¼ cup Flour

½ cup Cocoa

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1 tsp. Salt

1 ¾ cup Sugar

½ cup Butter, softened

½ cup Oil

2 Eggs

1 tsp. Vanilla

½ cup Buttermilk

2 cups grated Zucchini (from about 2 ½ medium zucchini)

1 cup Chocolate Chips

Butter a 9 x 13” dish.  Sift together flour, cocoa, soda, and salt.  Beat together sugar, butter, and oil.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Beat in vanilla.  Mix in the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour (in three additions).  Fold in the zucchini.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the cake.

Bake at 325°F for 40 – 50 minutes.  Cool cake completely in pan.

 

- I do not recall where I picked up this recipe but is is not an original of mine.

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This excerpt is from a popular Nursery Rhyme.  And from what I can remember of my own childhood, little girls are also made of similar stuff.

Boston, MA

Our New England adventure continues. (If you missed the post about Ender’s Island, be sure to read it here.)

We decided to end our road trip visiting Mr. H’s sister and fiancé in Boston.  My dad grew up in Massachusetts so it always comes as a surprise to people, including me, that I have never been to Boston.  Ah, that is the life of a military brat – never seeing the area your parents grew up but having seen Neuschwanstein twice before you were fourteen.

Old Meeting House

It was a one-day whirlwind tour with the intention of freely wandering Boston, just following the beat of the city and where it led us.  After breakfast, we found ourselves wondering where to wander and decided to follow a little red brick trail in the middle of the sidewalk.  We soon discovered it was the Freedom Trail and were led to the Irish Famine Memorial and Old Meeting House on School & Washington Streets and soon found Old City Hall where I paid homage to a statue of the first original Francophile, Benjamin Franklin.  Little Man loved the ABC Hopscotch outside of the First Latin Public School, threw a fit when we decided to move on, fell, scraped his knee, and had a Phineas & Ferb Band-Aid applied while leaning against a short brick wall.  (Semper Paratus – always travel with a little first aid kit.)  King’s Church we viewed from the outside exploring the crooked gravestones engraved with skulls and cherubs.  Then we marched down to Boston Commons, where Little Man stuck his hands into Brewer’s Fountain, rode a Carousel, and ran in circles as we viewed the grounds, Sailors & Soldier’s Memorial, and the Boston Massacre Memorial.  By early afternoon we met up with our lovely family and our officially unofficial city guides, who treated us to a ride in a swan boat and the revelation of Boston’s most important site: the tree under which he proposed.

We watched the ducks swim in the pond, walked through a beautiful little garden, and window shopped on Newbury Street.  I only took photos of Boston’s McKim Library building upon discovering it still was not open.  I was inspired by the two statues in the front of the building: Science is on the left staring to the right where Art sits staring back.  Knowledge requires both logic and creativity, fact and fiction, the tangible and the belief in all possibilities.   These statues are a beautiful reminder.

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We were soon hungry and took the T to Kennmore Square.  (Little Man was quite undone by this combination of train and bus – I am certain this was the ultimate highlight of his trip.)  Lunch at Eastern Standard was spectacular.  It was one of those relaxing, leisurely lunches filled with laughter and absolute pleasure, both in the culinary and company aspect.  There was a long menu of specialty cocktails that was torture to choose from but we overcame.  I sipped on a chilly pink Velo made with lemon, Cognac, and elderflower and also stole a sips of Mr. H’s yellow Becherovka and lemon Metamorphosis.  For lunch I ordered Eggs In Purgatory, because with a name like that how could I not?  I also enjoyed my first raw oysters and efficiently checked a box off of my Life To Do List.  (I refuse to call it a Bucket List because these are not things to do before I die but things to do because I live.)  The oysters were such a pure and clean sensation that I fail to find it comparable to anything else I have eaten.  I look forward to enjoying many more in the future and discovering “how I take them.”

 

(“Why” you may ask “Are there no pictures of your lunch and drinks?  Don’t you mainly write about food?”  I will tell you.  This is an enormous pet peeve of mine: taking pictures when dining out.  When I’m in the privacy of my own kitchen, creating something scrumptious for this blog, I have the thought and time set aside for taking pictures.   It is intentionally for a post and not interrupting my dining/cooking process.  When I am dining, I dine.  I don’t want to stop to take a snapshot of my food because it disrupts “the moment.”  It is a bit like foreplay, a seductive instant between me and what I am about to, hopefully, enjoy.  The anticipation as the plate is lowered before me, the hushed excitement at the table as each person eyes their dish and then mine and then theirs again.  The aromas tantalizing my senses as I pick up my fork and delve into that moment unequivocal truth, of knowledge, good, and evil: will this be everything it has been built up to be?  Delicious or mediocre?  A meal I will remember or just sustenance until the gnawing hunger in my stomach returns?  To take a picture strips my meal down to only the visual characteristics and disrupts “the moment.”   I like that moment.   And this is why I hate taking pictures of food while I am dining out.)

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After our stomachs were filled and limbs rested, we trekked to Harvard to fulfill another life-long desire of mine: to go to an Ivy League school.  Now I can say, truthfully, I went to Harvard.  I did not attend but I did go there.  Semantics, people.  Alas, another library visit was thwarted as only ID card-holding students could enter the Harvard Library.  We explored a small part of the campus, admiring the brick buildings and trees and thought them all to look very smart before going to the bookstore, where I bought a Harvard coffee cup with the intention drinking from it every morning and, also, feeling very smart.

Old Court House

By the time we arrived at the Harbor, walked through Faneuil Hall, and stopped to watch the sea lions swim near the aquarium, our feet ached and Little Man was falling asleep in his future uncle’s arms.  Our gracious city guides offered to become our gracious dinner hosts, to which we happily accepted.   And this was my favorite part of Boston.

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We were greeted with glasses of wine and a comforting meal of steak, mashed potatoes, summer squashes and asparagus, and this avocado-olive salsa to go with our beef that was absolutely incredible.  I still crave it. I’ll find myself daydreaming about it while waiting at the butcher counter.  The decision not to go to a restaurant happened to be a brilliant one as Little Man’s gentlemanly-and-good-behavior levels dropped into the red, having been drained by the day’s previous activities.  Dinner consisted of picking up his fork from the ground multiple times, half conversations interrupted by whining, and the inevitable game of everyone taking a turn holding him while the others ate.  Somewhere between that all-too-usual urge to both laugh and cry when my child acts up,  I realized that this was my favorite part of our trip to Boston.

Because when we are with family we have the luxury of being our stripped-down and exhausted selves.  We can expose those dirty secrets of “our child isn’t always perfect” and “parenting is basically us having no idea what we are doing.” And family still loves us, and feeds us, and will more than likely be happy to see us again. This moment may not be a grand historical event or large monument but for me it was epic.  Because love always is.

We'll be back, Harvard.

We’ll be back, Harvard.

 

Ender’s Island, CT

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A few weeks ago we found ourselves in New England. Our particular reason for being there wasn’t a very joyous one, as we paid tribute to my late grandmother.  However, she lived exuberantly and finding moments of pleasure and beauty during our trip was only appropriate and honorable.

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We started with a short visit to one of my brothers (I am the ring leader of seven: four brothers and two sisters.) on Ender’s Island, near Mystic, Connecticut.  It is a small island.  Very small.  In fact if you stand over its heart you can look from side to side and see water.  (This observation halted my lull to sleep as I suddenly realized we were completely surrounded by water.  Then I thought it was curious and exciting, then proceeded to drift off.)  The island is home to a Catholic Retreat, a place of peace and solace for those who need it.  My brother works there whilst going to school and pursuing priesthood.  Watching my siblings become adults is delightfully riveting.  People with whom I used to create Playmobil worlds, steal sun-warmed berries from prickly bushes, and was forced to do things such as share my M&Ms are suddenly doing things like getting married, joining the military, or becoming a priest.  At times this makes me feel old.  Most of the time it makes me thankful I’m no longer in my twenties!

 

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Back to the island.  Ender’s Island was exactly what my heart needed before such a sobering weekend.  Stone walls and buildings are scattered among green stretches of grass under large shady trees.  Everywhere you turned there were little gardens filled with bright flowers, blooming bushes, and statues of saints and deities.  A small sandy beach on one end and large slabs of rock going into Fisher’s Island Sound provided immediate access to the refreshing smells and breezes of the salty sea.  Mr. H, who loves all things calm and composed, proclaimed that he’d be content sitting in a chair and watching the ocean and sailboats for the rest of his days.  The Little Man, whose current passions and hobbies are anything but placid, had many things to explore plus doting Grandparents, uncles, and an auntie to give his tattered parents a break.

The tranquility of the island is mirrored in its people as the few I met were overwhelmingly sweet and generous.  From sharing Lindt Chocolates to casual conversations between meals or in the gardens, we were, and are, so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit this little haven.

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Next up: Boston!

 

Grow Wild According To Thy Nature

 

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary.  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms… .

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It is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time… .  In our most trivial walks, we are constantly, though unconsciously, steering like pilots by certain well-known beacons and headlands, and if we go beyond our usual course we still carry in our minds the bearing of some neighboring cape; and not till we are completely lost, or turned round, – for man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost, – do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of Nature.  Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction.  Not tell we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.

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Summer is already here and I can hardly believe it.  Forever it was winter and miserably wet and cold.  Then, one morning I awoke to a world running amok with green leaves, delicate blossoms, and dusty yellow pollen.  Spring was fashionably late.

The glorious greenery is what I love the most about Virginia in the spring – there are so many shades concentrated into one area and I am always, every year, surprised by how lush and beautiful this wild State can be.  The trees with their forest green leaves begin at the sky and parade down to where the tangled weeds and vines juxtapose dense colors of fern, moss, olive, and hunter.  Other colors pop against this verdant canvas, especially the wildflowers.  Sprays of white, purple, blue, and yellow fill fields with a confetti-like ecstasy.  We’ve been enjoying the show with daily walks, stopping often to watch the bees shake little flowers or pick tiny clovers.

During the rainy days, I have kept in touch with nature with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.  I loved this book with one exception – the second half.  The first part was filled with inspirational, challenging, and philosophical discourse that I eagerly devoured.  The second half, I am convinced, would be very interesting if I was Charles Darwin or Bear Grylls.   I’m sure I would find a Discovery Channel documentary, or National Geographic article, on how pond-water freezes fascinating (I am a visual person) but Thoreau’s systematic and dry delivery had me going cross-eyed.  The Conclusion and final chapter is beautiful and re-invigorated my numb mind.  If you have not given Walden a try, now you know to enjoy the first half, skim the second unless you are an avid biologist/botanist/naturalist, and go straight to the Conclusion.

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What is absolutely wonderful, from start to finish, are these little Apricot Tartlets.  To me, the apricot is the official herald of spring.  They come a little later in the season, closer to summer, a sure sign that the cold is behind me and the sunshine will only increase with warmth and intensity.  I love to eat these fuzzy little fruits straight; sweet, tart, and always satisfactory.  Yet, I cannot resist baking with them.  They hold up well and do nothing more than improve what I am already making.

The original recipe from Mireille Guiliano is for one large apricot tart – this is easily adaptable to six tartlets if you have the smaller tins.  I love the almond mixture before the addition of fruit; it soaks up the juices and gives great texture between flaky crust and soft baked fruit.  I served mine with a small dollop of honey-sweetened crème fraîche and freshly grated lemon zest.  However, they would be great with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and a few toasted almonds.  Or, as I can personally attest to, with a bit of yogurt for breakfast, along with a cup of hot, black coffee.

 

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Apricot Tart

Makes 1 (9”) Tart or 6 Tartlets

1 recipe Sweet Pâte Brisée (for 9” tart)

1 cup Slivered Blanched Almonds

¼ cup + 2 teaspoons Sugar

1 ½ – 2 lbs. Fresh Apricots, halved and pitted

2 teaspoons Honey

Preheat the oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough to an 11” round. Transfer to a 9” tart pan. Prick the dough with a fork, cover, and chill for 10 minutes. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 375°F.

In a food processor, combine the blanched almonds and ¼ cup of sugar and pulse just until the almonds are finely ground. Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Place the apricot halves, cut side down, on top, slightly overlapping. Drizzle with honey, place the oven, and bake for 40 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned.

Remove from oven and sprinkle over the remaining two teaspoons of sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature with desired accompaniment.

For Tartlets: Only blind bake the pastry shells for about 5 minutes. Bake the tartlets for about 30 minutes.

- The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano (page 232)

 

Sweet Pâte Brisée

This makes enough for 2 (9”) pie shells; or a top and bottom.

2 ¾ cups Flour

1 ½ teaspoons Salt

1 tablespoon Sugar

18 tablespoons Butter, cold and cut into pieces

7 – 10 tablespoons Ice Water

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter and pulse until coarse crumbs form, about 10 seconds. While pulsing, add ice water in a slow steady stream until a dough forms but is not sticky or wet. (Pulse for no longer than 30 seconds.)

Gently fold and bring together dough on a lightly floured surface. Divide into two portions, shape into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

The dough disks can be tightly wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

- Saveur Magazine

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Go fish and hunt far and wide day by day, – farther and wider, – and rest thee by many brooks and hearth-sides without misgiving. Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Rise free from care before dawn, and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee ever where at home. There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here by played. Grow wild according to thy nature.

 

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Excerpts from Walden, the better half, by Henry David Thoreau.

 

 

 

A Summer Reading List

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson 

 

 

In case you have failed to notice, I love to read.   Each season brings different fond memories of how I enjoy this pastime. A summer read is energizing, requiring a glass of icy lemonade (with or without the addition of vodka), a comfortable chair on the patio or a hammock in the yard, and if I can manage it, a lovely breeze to break the sweltering humidity. It is likely I will fall asleep in this state of bliss. Then I awake,  replenish my glass, and return to my chair to repeat the process all over again.

My Summer Reading List

Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier by Alfred F. Young

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Hollow by Agatha Christie

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (This will be my third attempt.)

I always have a few  “palate refreshers” on hand that usually last me through the year. Short stories or books with little sections are great to pick up in between reads or for a mental break (i.d. Melville). Right now I am enjoying:

What The Dog Saw by Malcom Gladwell

The Innocence and Wisdom of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

 

What are you reading this summer?

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An Impromtu Picnic

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There is nothing quite like an impromptu picnic to cure the ennui caused by a long rainy week.  And today, it was a cure that the Little Man and I desperately needed.  I packed away an old alumni blanket, placed our lunch into little containers, and we ventured out to a park in search of a shady tree and a little fresh air.

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I had already planned on making these Chicken & Honey Mustard Pinwheels but the clover field and butterflies in which we enjoyed our lunch was little additional pleasure.  I must confess I am terrible at following directions. (Although, I really shouldn’t say “confess” since I am quite aware and comfortable about this character trait.*)  I forgot to soften the mascarpone cheese and added lemon juice instead of zest to the dressing –  making it more of a spread, less of a drizzle. I do think when it comes to any future wraps I will always use lavash bread. It is fabulously sturdy and chewy, full of flavor, and frankly makes tortillas seem like a ridiculous option for housing sandwiches.

These little pinwheels pack well and are prefect for small hands (and delicate in larger ones).   I packed along some crunchy carrots, a sour-sweet plum, and a few salty chips to complete our al fresco feast.  Little Man tried dirt for dessert.  I don’t recommend it.  I don’t think he would either.

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Chicken & Honey-Mustard Pinwheels

½ cup (4 oz.) Mascarpone Cheese

2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard

2 tablespoons Honey

Lemon Juice (just a quick squeeze)

Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper

1 ½ cups Arugula, slightly torn

2 cups of cooked, shredded Chicken Breast

4 Lavash Breads

Combine the cheese, mustard, honey, and lemon juice with a wooden spoon; season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the lavash with the honey mustard mixture. Sprinkle over arugula and chicken. Roll up the long side of the lavash and cut into slices.

Serves 4.

- This is a barely adapted version from Feel Good Food by Giada de Laurentiis (pg. 108). You can also view the recipe here.

 

*Essentially, when it comes to cooking, I just go with the flow.  And my instructions will portray this attribute of mine.  If you ever need any clarification, please do not hesitate to ask.

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