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milklove

“I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me,” chants Mickey, in Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, a bizarre little book about baking, dreaming, sleeping, swimming, in milk.

A baby’s dreamlife, a nursing mother’s diet. I crave all bready things. . . comfort me with wheat and oats, fondue and French toast, bread and milk, milk and bread. Pizza, cream scones, croissants, café latte. So many yummy combinations of comfort food. I actually bought a fondue pot last month. Such a funny food: is it French or is it just 70s? My family has been celebrating Christmas Eve with cheese fondue for as long as I can remember. Has my dad been scorching his fingertips on Sterno since the 70s? The one I bought was a real step up: non-stick and electric. Nothing could be easier than warming up a big bowl of Gruyere, Fontina, and sauvignon blanc. Yum, yum, yum.

And now for a few more pictures of Lizzie, who’s sleeping at the moment on her cream colored sheet, dreaming milky dreams.

Happy New Year!

Lots of newness around here. Since I posted last, we have a new family member—sweet little Elizabeth Rose:

. . . and we’re buying a new house. Well, the house is old—a classic Minneapolis bungalow built in 1924—but it will be new to us.

On a much different level, another recent novelty for me is Clancey’s Meats and Fish—the simply amazing butcher shop in Linden Hills where everything is local, organic, sustainable, fabulous, or delicious, or all of the above. Our conversion experience happened when Peter’s brother Ned and his girlfriend Mariko were visiting from Brooklyn. We thought, where shall we take the foodies for sandwiches? . . . No foodie among us was disappointed. We ordered the special of the day—the pulled pork Cubano sandwich—and a roast beef, a ham, and a turkey, “with everything,” which at Clancey’s means lettuce, tomato, hot peppers, fresh horseradish, mayonnaise, olive oil, and probably something else I’m forgetting. All of this, with the house-prepared meat, comes in a crunchy baguette from Rustica.

Since that first visit, I’ve become a regular. One of the tastiest treats we’ve tried was a special they make only during the Christmas–New Year’s week: truffled tenderloin patties. These are essentially highly refined hamburgers made of coarsely ground beef tenderloin and flecked with minced black truffle. I served them simply: sauteed and sauceless, with a side of chanterelle risotto and steamed broccoli. (And may I thank Grampa Chip again for the gift of the unsung heroes of Bordeaux!)

If it’s not too weird to follow up on a photo of my new baby girl with some pictures of raw meat, I’ll let you feast your eyes on some of Clancey’s offerings:

Well, it’s time to go cook some dinner. Tonight we’ll take it easy with the wholesome Roman triad: beans, grains, and greens. And another unsung hero…

Wishing you all the happiest of new years!

figs and frangipane

Figs will always be associated with some of the happiest times in my life, and with the geographical locations of this happiness. I think of the black mission figs rolling down the steep sidewalks of the Berkeley hills, too plentiful to collect before the early autumn sun softened them too much. Homeowners guarded their Meyer lemons fiercely up there, but the fig trees, with their too-high boughs too heavily laden, invited urban foragers to find a perfect fallen fruit.

As a grad student and a poetry lecturer, we were ridiculously lucky in the location of our home: the top floor of a run-down building on a prominent curve of Euclid Avenue. Our front windows looked out over the San Francisco Bay. We became aesthetically immune to spectacular sunsets and the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny morning. This storm caught our attention, though.


This was where we lived when Jack was born, and I used to walk with him in the Baby Bjorn or Ergo all around the hills, picking up a fig here and there. I’ve been thinking about this time a lot lately because I’m trying to remember what it’s like to have a baby. Our second one will arrive in about two weeks…

Was my big boy ever this small?

The other happy fig-associated time in a Mediterranean climate that I think about is of course our year in Rome. How many fresh figs drizzled with honey did I eat? Mmmm… too many to count.

Cool shade of the fig canopy:


The other day I bought a tray of California figs at Trader Joe’s, knowing full well that they’d turn to mush in a few days. But I wanted them! And this weekend we have the perfect excuse for me to go through a pile of figs: a dinner party for which I volunteered to bring dessert. Ever since I tried the fig tart at Patisserie 46, I’ve been wanting to recreate it. I’m fairly sure the figs were nestled in frangipane—that transcendent almond filling—so I looked in all of my cookbooks for a fig or fig frangipane tart recipe, but didn’t find one. (I could have looked online, but my cookbooks have been suffering neglect.) I did find, in a Williams-Sonoma Pie & Tart cookbook that my sister gave me for Christmas one year a recipe for a pear and frangipane tart. I decided to use this one, modifying for figs, and substituting my favorite crust recipe, from Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from La Brea Bakery.

Sweet Pastry Dough
2 3/4 c. unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into half-inch cubes
2 extra-large egg yolks
1/4 c. heavy cream

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and sugar and pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter, and pulse on and off or mix on low until it’s the consistency of a fine meal.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cream. Add to the butter mixture and pulse a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Dip the heel of your hand in flour and, working with small sections, smear the dough away from you to blend it together. When the dough has been all smeared out, using a metal scraper or spatula, scrape and gather it together. Divide the dough in half and gently knead each half to gather into a ball. Flatten into discs and wrap in plastic to chill at least 2 hours, until firm. Freeze for longer storage.

Since this tart calls only for a bottom crust, I used the other half of the dough to make sugar cookies in the shapes of pumpkins and ghosts. Jack will help me decorate them later.

Fig and Frangipane Tart (based on Pear and Frangipane Tart in Williams-Sonoma’s Pie & Tart book)

Filling:
2 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 c. raw, whole almonds, finely ground
2/3 c. sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbs. rum (or lemonade)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
10-12 ripe figs
honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

When butter has cooled, mix it with the almonds, sugar, eggs, extracts, rum, salt, and zest. Spread mixture evenly in the tart shell. Slice each fig in half and arrange in the tart

Bake until the filling is firm to the touch in the center and golden, about 45 minutes. Drizzle with honey. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Great Harvest

It’s been a great week of going to inspired local events and places. Only the first one here is food related, but the food it provides is the good old staff of life: bread. In the same neighborhood as Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream shop, two boutique toy stores, and Clancey’s meat and fish shop, is Great Harvest Bread Co., one of the most welcoming bakeries I’ve ever been in. What could be more inviting than free chunks of buttered bread and a giant teddy bear?

Their bread is not at all fancy or French, but dense, wheaty, moist, and earthy. It tastes like the bread I used to make in high school, when I started using my mom’s softcover copy of the hippie cookbook Laurel’s Kitchen to learn how to bake bread. Thick slabs of this bread make amazing French toast, the only (pseudo) Frenchification it will take.

Jack loves the Great Harvest Bread Co., too, because it has a cameo appearance in the children’s novels we’re reading now—the Julia Gillian series, by Alison McGhee, in which the main character, a fifth-grader, lives in Minneapolis.

This weekend, we made our way to downtown St. Paul for the first time, and found Mears Park, where there was a free outdoor music festival featuring local acts playing everything from Radiohead-inspired rock to alt-country and reggae on Saturday, and chamber music on Sunday. My iPhone pictures don’t capture the scene well, but here’s the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which played pieces by Bach, Handel, and Bartók.

Also on Sunday, Peter took Jack to his first literary event—I mean the first one that Jack chose to attend rather than being dragged along. Children’s author and illustrator Peter Brown was reading and signing books at The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul. Jack got two books signed: You Will Be My Friend and Children Make Terrible Pets, both about the efforts of an extroverted and bossy bear named Lucy to find companionship with other, seemingly uncompanionable creatures. We also love his beautiful book, The Curious Garden, an optimistic green-minded story of a post-Wall-E-ish-world utopia achieved by the unstoppable curiosity and hope of a child and his plants.

Bread, books, and music: three of life’s necessities.

apple picking

Today was the first day that really felt like fall. It was in the 50s when we ventured outside this morning to water the plants, and the clouds overhead were rushing by. Because of these early signs, I got it into my head that apple picking would be the perfect thing to do. It’s a little early, but there are some varieties ripening or ripe by now.

In the early afternoon, we made our way through the suburbs and exurbs of the Twin Cities to Aamodt’s Apple Farm in Stillwater, MN. We had read online that kids who colored in a printable map of the farm would get a free cider doughnut, so Jack had come prepared with a diligently colored map. When we got there, we went first to the Apple Barn and where he was given his free doughnut. I have a special nostalgia-enhanced weakness for cider doughnuts, so I had to get one, too. (The last time I was pregnant, with Jack, we lived in Berkeley, CA, and I had my mom overnight me some cider doughnuts when the season rolled around.)

Then we went picking. Because it’s only September 3rd, we were too early for Macintosh or Honeycrisp. We were limited to Paula Reds, but that was fine with us. It was just the experience we were after, and a serviceable apple for crisp.

For dinner tonight on this cool evening, we had a perfect peasant meal. I made a rustic frittata with thinly sliced potatoes and onions and two sprigs of thyme, and, of course, an apple dessert.

Apple Crumble (adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion)

Filling:
3 lbs. apples (I used 8 Paula Reds)
1/4 c. rum or apple cider (I used lemonade)
2 tbs. butter, melted
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3 tbs. flour
1/4 tsp. salt

Streusel Topping:
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. oats
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Filling: Peel, core, and cube the apples. Stir together with other filling ingredients. Spoon apple mixture into a 9 x 9-inch baking pan.

Topping: Stir together flour, oats, salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, and baking powder. Chop up the butter and blend it in with your fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over filling

Bake for 1 1/4 hours, or until it’s bubbly and a deep, golden brown.

Fulton Farmers’ Market

I love living in a place with so many bountiful farmers’ markets. And maybe it’s my small-town self coming through on Saturday mornings, but I prefer the small-scale markets. We’ve become regulars at the Fulton neighborhood market, and really, it’s not just because Patisserie 46 sets up a booth every week, although that’s definitely a draw. Would you like to see some of their tasty tidbits?

Sweet pastries deriving from various French traditions are up front, and over in the sun-washed quadrant to the right, the savory breads—airy and yet toothsome—await the more patient, or restrained, purchaser. Here’s a closer shot of the mid-morning delights that have been a staple of my pregnancy diet:

I’m partial to the almond croissants, the almond bostocks (round cakey ones on the right) and the bear-claw-looking pastries whose name I forget which are front-and-center. They are flavored with orange peel and anise, and remind me of the flavors of Sicily, although they’re probably Southern-French.

To accompany these Saturday morning treats, one must have coffee. If only someone would wheel in a decent espresso maker. But I guess that might require a generator. So instead I go for the only option at the market, which is a good one: Melitta-brewed Moonshine coffee:

Jack, like his dad, prefers savory snacks. These homemade popsicles are so uniquely and strongly flavored, some of them are practically savory. Lemon-lavender today. See that pucker?

After this thirst-quenching aperitivo, Jack enjoyed a pulled pork taco with spicy slaw from Chef Shack, which is actually a big red truck and not a shack.

And here are some of the yummies we hauled home:

I admit I was skeptical about the corn, which didn’t look as milk-and-sugary as all of the great Vermont and Massachusetts corn I had this summer. But my tastebuds were treated to just as much juicy sweetness as a corn lover could want. It was delicious!

Last night we found another reason to love Minneapolis, thanks to our new friends Andy and Katherine and their boys William and David: Minnehaha Park, where the Creek that flows through our neighborhood ends in a beautiful waterfall.

Just across the bike-and-pedestrian path from the falls is a restaurant that is as close as one can come to a New England-style clam shack in this Midwestern city. We ate dinner at an outdoor table at Sea Salt. The boys played catch, and soccer, and football in the park, and dropped in at the restaurant patio just long enough to eat some fried fish with hot sauce. The grown-ups chowed down on fish tacos, a Cuban paella-type dish, crabcakes, fried calamari, and local craft beer. The dads wanted to try the Wisconsin IPA called “Bitter Woman,” but it was tapped out. She’s popular, that one. Who would’ve thought? And for dessert, Sebastian Joe’s ice cream–locally made, inventively flavored. I love their cinnamon, and their salted caramel, but last night I stuck with vanilla. It was perfect.

fruits of August

These sweet little heirlooms are from Luna Bleu Farm in South Royalton, Vermont. This was one of the farms that got me hooked on supporting local organic farmers. I was in college, taking a journalism course, and the assignment was to write a profile, so I interviewed the owner, Suzanne Long. Her dedication to living off of the land, and to biodynamic farming in particular, was inspiring to this twenty-year-old. One of my high school friends who apprenticed at Luna Bleu is now an organic farmer herself, in Guilford, Vermont.

Anyway, Caprese salad and tomato tart season is here! The tomatoes above were at the Hanover Farmers’ Market, held on the green every Wednesday afternoon. We also picked up some locally produced beer brats from Hogwash Farm, and Jack enjoyed a very large snack.

My last day in Vermont was a relaxing and delicious one.  In the morning, my mom and I drove out to Woodstock to check out a new cafe owned by a young couple, Mon Vert Cafe.

We each had a cappuccino, and I also had a piece of coffee cake that looked like your basic cinnamon-swirled bundt but that turned out to be swirled with spices much more interesting: nutmeg and clove hints laced through the cinnamon, and the crumb was as moist and dense as an olive oil cake. I enjoyed reading their irony-touched wine list, too:

Another fruit of summer that I love, although I’m not getting them locally, is the cherry. Since my mom and I weren’t getting enough help in making the huge bowl of them disappear, I decided to make a clafoutis. I used the recipe in Chez Panisse Fruit, which calls for cooking the cherries in a skillet first. The end product was a bit wet on the bottom, but there’s nothing like warm poached cherry juice, so that was fine with me. The cake part had a souffle-like lightness with a hint of almond. This will be my new go-to dessert: so easy, and yet so impressive.

Now we’re back in Minneapolis, and there’s a bowl of cherries in the fridge….

Before I end with the recipe, I’ll just drop a news tidbit. I’ve launched a new website! Please check it out at: english-thyme.com

And now, here’s a jotted-down version of the recipe:

Clafoutis

2tbs. butter
1/3 plus 3tbs. sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
2 eggs, separated
3tbs. flour
1tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 pinch saltIn a skillet over medium heat, foam the butter, add cherries and sugar, cinnamon, zest. Cook for 7-10 minutes until cherries are tender and juice thickens.  Arrange cherries in a 9-inch dish.
Preheat oven to 375.
Beat egg yolks and 3 tbs. sugar. until light and thickened. Beat in flour, vanilla, almond extract, and cream.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Fold into yolks and pour batter over fruit.
Bake 20 minutes.
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