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.

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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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