A Breakfast Picnic

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If you were to look in Little Man’s cave of a mouth, you would see some newly formed pearls desperately trying to make themselves noticed in this world.  They are quiet obnoxious, their mischievous shenanigans during the afternoons have deprived him of enjoying simple things like completing a puzzle or smooshing play-doh into the carpet.  Crayons are being bitten and he is miserably demanding popsicles and ice cream for all meals.  By far, their worst offense is coming out late at night to play, waking LM up from his silent slumber with their raucous soirees.  Three in the morning or five seems to be when they are particularly devilish.

Just as most adults, LM hates being miserable alone and often extends the invitation for me to come and be miserable along with him. (Mr. H does help out, too, but lacks the super-sonic bat-hearing I possess.)  After a while a tooth matures, takes its place among the other decent teeth, and has become useful member of society.  This development takes about two weeks or so.

Unlike most adults, LM doesn’t realize that sleep is a glorious institution to return to after such an ordeal and he must be re-trained to sleep through the night for a day or two.  By then, while I quite remember and desire to return to a normal sleeping habit, I discover that I am in the god-awful habit of rising at five in the morning and wondering what to do with myself.

Sunrise

My go-to routine: make coffee, open the windows to watch the sun rise, enjoy a little uninterrupted reading, and possibly make a delicious breakfast.  On a recent morning with a glorious apricot-pink sunrise I was craving coffee cake.  Not any coffee cake but the coffee cake of my childhood.  Not because we had it often but because we didn’t.  It was my mother’s standard contribution for my dad’s work functions or church brunch potlucks.  The torture my siblings I would endure as we smelled it baking knowing that, unlike cookies or bars, obtaining a taste would not go unnoticed and we should therefore abandon the idea of such luck.  On the rare occasion the cake was for us, we devoured each piece, licking the jam and crumbs from our fingers.

My mother’s recipe calls for Raspberry Jam and Almonds, which is divine.  Of course, the morning I wanted to make the coffee cake I was out of both.  I substituted Apricot Preserves and Hazelnuts, and decided to add bit of Cardamom because I cannot help myself.  (If I were a spice...)  For not being the nostalgia-evoking original, this cake was scrumptious.  Like raspberry, apricot is tangy and balances the richness of the cream-cheese layer.   The cake itself is tender and delicately sweet.  And of course the best part is the crumb topping with crunchy, toasted nuts – it is absolutely impossible not grab little bits from the edge while the cake cools.  You have been warned.

Fog

A new cake demanded a new memory.  The weather was just warm enough for me to conceive the idea of a breakfast picnic on our patio; moreover, to convince Mr. H. (He is fond of spending his mornings in a warm robe, on a warm couch, inside the warm house, where people should be at such a time.)  Freshly baked cake and hot coffee are also powerfully persuasive.  We sat bundled up in our sweaters, quietly eating, ritualistically licking jam and crumbs from our fingers.  We sipped coffee as the fog rolled in, dimming the sun and adding a chill to the air.  It was a glorious morning and hopefully to be repeated as the next set of  little molars make their unsubtle debut.

 

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Apricot, Hazelnut, & Cardamom Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

2 ¼ cups All-Purpose Flour

¾ cup Sugar + ¼ cup

¾ cup Butter + a little for the pan

½ teaspoon Baking Powder

½ teaspoon Baking Soda

¼ teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon Cardamom

¾ cup Sour Cream

2 Eggs

1 teaspoon Almond Extract

8 ounces Cream Cheese, softened

½ cup Apricot Preserves

½ cup Hazelnuts, chopped

Grease and flour a 9 or 10” spring-form pan.  In a large bowl, combine flour and ¾ cup of sugar.  Cut in butter until mixture forms coarse crumbs.  Reserve one cup of the crumb mixture and combine with hazelnuts.

To the remaining mixture add the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cardamom.  Stir in sour cream, one egg, and extract; blend well.  Spread batter in the pan pushing up the sides, about two inches.

In a small bowl, blend together the cream cheese, ¼ cup of sugar, and remaining egg.  Pour over the batter in the pan.  Spoon preserves over the cream cheese filling, gently spreading out evenly.  Sprinkle the hazelnut-crumb mixture on top.

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 to 55 minutes. The cream cheese filling should be just set and the top of the cake golden brown. Cool for 15 minutes before unmolding and serving.  Serve warm and store leftovers in the refrigerator.

 

- One of my mother’s old Pillsbury Cookbooks.

* For the original recipe: swap the Apricot Preserves for Raspberry, sliced Almonds for the chopped Hazelnuts, and omit the cardamom.

The Heralding Day of Autumn

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I woke up last week and discovered that magically, in the deepest black of the night, autumn had subtly made her arrival.  The morning sky was grey and foggy, sprays of yellow and red crept into the verdant tree line, and the air was cool, intoxicating, and begging for me to inhale it all voraciously.  I smiled and my soul laughed.  This is my season and regardless of whatever storms are brewing, I feel my most powerful, most grounded in the autumn.

I took LM out to a local park on this glorious day.  He enjoyed exercising his physical limitations on a playground while I watched in awe of how strong his little body has become and how eagerly it collects every bit of mud and dirt it can possibly find.  We walked around the lake looking for deer and observing the new colors of wildflowers dancing in the brown, summer-burned fields.  They are not as ornate as the spring wildflowers yet are lovely in their own right.  The forest was anything but silent as acorns made their descent from towering branches.  They “pop” as they hit limbs and twigs on their gravitational ride downward; their tiny percussions echo, piercing the woods with an elegant staccato.  Then, as if enticed by the little symphonic beats, the rain began to fall pattering the leaves and puncturing the glassy lake with rippling little circles.

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The rain was still drizzling by the time we arrived home a little muddy yet invigorated.  Hot cocoa was in order as was baking something autumnal.  This impromptu baking urge required something simple and comforting.  Ah – Apple Blondies!  A household favorite enjoyed only once, or twice, a year.   Imagine buttery blondies with their thin, crunchy exterior giving way to a soft, melt-in-your-mouth interior with sweet apple in each bite – perfect for the heralding day of autumn.

 

Apple Blondies

½ cup + 1 tablespoon Butter, melted and cooled

1 cup All-Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

½ teaspoon Baking Powder

½ teaspoon Salt

¼ teaspoon Baking Soda

1 cup Sugar

1 Large Egg

2 Large Apples, peeled, cored, cut in half, and sliced

Use one tablespoon of the melted butter to grease a 9 x 13” baking pan**.   Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.  In another bowl, beat together the sugar, egg, and melted butter until pale, about two minutes.  Fold in the flour mixture.  Pour the batter in the pan and spread to the corners.  Place the apple slices on top of the batter, overlapping slightly, and pressing gently into the batter.

Bake the blondies in a pre-heated 350°F oven for 30 – 40 minutes.  The blondies will be lovely golden all over and the apples just starting to brown at the edges.  Cool the pan on a wire rack for half an hour and then cut into bars.

 

- Martha Stewart (Original Recipe here)

 

*When it comes to baking, I usually prefer McIntosh or Granny Smith. For these blondies, being they were a made on a whim, I used Galas.  They aren’t as strong in flavor as the other apples but do just as well and hold up nicely.  Do you have a favorite baking apple?

** The original recipe calls for an 8 x 11″ pan.  I do not own one and find a 9×13″ with a shorter baking time is fine.  If you want a thicker blondie then try out the smaller pan and aim for the full 40 minutes.

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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

Spring14.1Greenery1

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.

 

Beetle

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