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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Standing Still (And Metaphorical Scones)

River

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.

SummerDays

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.”

Storm Clouds

 

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.

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.

 

Beetle

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

 

 

 

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.

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“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.”

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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– 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

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‘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.

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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.

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– 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.