Several weeks ago, after recovering from one of my last long runs, the fella came home from the bagel shop with a small container of mystery cream cheese, spooned some out, and asked me what I tasted. I couldn’t put my finger on it — I was craving my salty everything bagel, and this was sweet and smoky, and not at all what I wanted. I asked him to just tell me what it was. After some more pleading, because I wouldn’t play the game, he told me: maple bacon. “OH!” My eyes widened, my palm went to my forehead, and once I knew, I immediately wanted more.
We schmeared it on freshly baked and toasted peasant bread later that afternoon and lamented its quick disappearance. We returned for more, but it was for naught. Everyone wanted the maple bacon cream cheese. It was gone. Continue reading →
On Sunday I had the honor of meeting the amazing Joy Wilson of joythebaker.com, who was in New York to promote her new book, Homemade Decadence. Filled with simple and elegant recipes, with a twist on the nostalgic, it’s a masterpiece of sweet. That’s sort of a lot of what Joy the Baker is, really, on her site, in her recipes, and in person. Disarmingly funny, she wants us all to eat, to enjoy. The best way to do that, without being directly in her kitchen? Make her recipes. I’d be fooling you all if I didn’t say that Joy was a huge inspiration for me when I started this blog. Her food and her writing are, unequivocally, her. There is no high-brow or low-brow. It’s just fabulous deliciousness that can be created equally by all.
Before heading to The Brooklyn Kitchen for the event, I had been keen on working on a pumpkin recipe for the ImaginariYUM. ‘Tis the season, after all. Last year, Joy posted a recipe for pumpkin pecan scones with brown butter glaze. This was during the time that I was convinced that my fella, Ray, hated scones — they’re too dry, too crumbly, he’d tell me. I had even saved him some of my nutella scone from Dean and Deluca three years ago, believing that he would fall over himself with glee when he tasted the glorious swirls of his favorite condiment embedded in such a tender crumb. I was wrong. So I kept the pumpkin scone recipe from my repertoire, but bookmarked it just the same. And since my love of scones hasn’t abated, I would have to make him love them, too. Over these last several years I’ve started wearing him down, creating scones with a more moist interior to please his palate. He’s started to ooh and ahh. After meeting Joy, I knew that the time was ripe for pumpkin scones.
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My brother got married over the weekend. The setting was a picturesque country club and golf course in the mountainous northeast corner of New Jersey, just over the New York border. Just outside the lodge, next to the gazebo where he and his lady would say their vows, was a gorgeous maple tree nearing its peak: bright red against what was, at the beginning, a cloudy October sky. It was brisk after pouring all day, and we froze in our dresses as we stood waiting for the photographer to get everything he wanted. But the scent out there was pure autumn. There’s always something about grass and trees after the rain, but it takes on even more fullness in fall. When I got home, I wanted that in my kitchen. I wanted apple cider doughnuts.
When I lived in Jersey City, we had an amazing farmer’s market just outside the PATH station, with several farmers and orchards from around my hometown, in the heart of northwestern New Jersey. I picked up cider doughnuts every week, sometimes more, for the duration of the apple season. Now, don’t get me wrong, Grow NYC – the organization that brings us the sprawling Union Square Greenmarket – is incredible and a boon to the community, and I would be utterly miserable without it. But in Astoria the markets are still small, with only two orchards, and to my spoiled taste buds the cider doughnuts sold by one of them are lacking. If you’ve ever fried doughnuts and eaten them the second day, you know how foul that soaked-in oil tastes. Fried doughnuts should be fresh every day, and – in my humble opinion – shouldn’t be bagged or boxed. They should be sold one at a time from a container that keeps the cinnamon-sugar topping fresh and crunchy. But that’s a discussion for another day.
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A video went viral recently in which an explorer and documentarian, clad in a heat-protective suit, climbed down into the crater of Manu, an active volcano on the island archipelago of Vanuatu, later describing it as a “window into hell,” like looking into the center of the earth. The churning, bubbling, exploding sea of lava before him sent chills down my spine, in utter awe of the life within our world. But in those crashing waves I also saw something else: I saw a pot of sweet, spicy, boiling, churning oatmeal.
It’s one of my favorite sounds: milk and oats, rising and colliding and becoming more than they were alone. Expanding, creating. I have my method: milk, brown sugar, a healthy dose of cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Bananas folded in off the stove, topped with sliced almonds and another sprinkling of cinnamon. Toss in some blueberries and it’s heaven on a cool morning. Delicious, filling, and – time consuming. It got me thinking: can I make this in muffin form, for an easy, grab-and-go breakfast treat?
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Like everything we are and do, baking has its roots. Feet and hands planted in memory of something larger than life while we are very small. Chocolate chip cookies after school with Mom. Brownies with your best friend during a sleepover. And pancakes, every Sunday, with Dad.
I remember standing on a chair in the blue-flowered kitchen of our weathered grey Long Island ranch with a metal spoon in my hand, making the “eggs” that would form the well of dry ingredients for the wet. I may have also measured or dumped ingredients. I may have stirred. But that image of watching my hands create perfectly-shaped ovals with my spoon as I pushed the flour up the sides of the bowl is enduring. It was as tactile as playing with Play-Doh. The soft give of the flour, leaveners, and salt beneath my fingers informed my entire being of what it meant to create. Continue reading →