Well folks, we made it. 2016 is over and gone, and 2017 is here — of course, as we knew it would be. On the eve of a new year we always proclaim the previous to be “the worst year ever,” willing the next to be better and brighter, because it just has to be, right? Seriously, we do it every year. And while 2016 might have been an exception in crappiness, even in our current era, on the grand scale of politics and the like I’m not betting 2017 will be much better. But a friend posted a thread on Facebook encouraging people to post the good things that happened in 2016 — because on a personal level, I’ll bet there were as many for you as there were for me. I spent much of the year trying to regain my footing, find my place in the world — a miasmic endeavor that left me, often, in tears. And yet, 2016 was the year my sweet nephew Charlie was born, and it was the year I married the love of my life on the most gorgeous day of the year — two huge events that also left me in tears, but happy ones. Watching videos of Charlie laughing over and over again and just looking into the eyes of my new husbo have been a salve to my soul. And as 2016 came to a close and 2017 dawned cold and sunny, I’m stepping closer and more firmly to where I want to be, where I need to be, where I belong. And so, in honor of this awakening, I’m sharing with you these Orange Cranberry Streusel Muffins — as bright and glorious as the cold winter sun, and like a warm hug to welcome you in from the chill of last year.
This isn’t a post about moms. The ones who wake in the middle of the night at your slightest cough or gasp from a nightmare. The ones who schlep from one end of town to another, to the next town, and back again, for figure skating lessons, violin lessons, piano lessons, general shenanigans. The ones who give in and get you a cat when you’re six years old, have you jumping around your living room with your brother at the thought of bringing home a tiny grey kitten-friend. The ones who hold your hand as you wade through life’s murky waters, are okay with a phone call in the middle of the day while they’re at work just because you’re bored or lonely or wondering what to do about a weird burn. The ones who teach you “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” The ones who are there for you, every single moment of every single day, without you ever having to ask, because being a mom means being completely selfless.
No, this isn’t about that. My mom hates coconut, and I did not plan very well this week. This weekend I’m making my mom key lime pie, but this post is really about Coconut Banana Nut Muffins. After all, Mom did teach me to listen to my body and eat the things I crave.
Somewhere, deep down, I wish I remembered my first steps. Our parents always remember our first words (mine were “thank you,” or, more accurately, “gackoo” — what can I say, the potty mouth came later), but they don’t always remember where we finally stood, wobbling on our tiny feet, and tentatively waddled awkwardly over to open arms. What did we feel? Was it pride? Exhilaration? If you’ve ever been off your feet or away from the sport you love for any length of time, I think maybe you get a bit of an inkling when you finally take your first steps back. I did, last night, only hours after breaking down into sobs over the memories of my last marathon, of the stubborn thought that I might never run again, of nothing working, of nearly picking up the phone and making an appointment for an experimental treatment with a 50-50 chance of success. Suddenly, in the middle of the day, even with my under eyes still stained with mascara from my tears, my ankle felt… great. I couldn’t even manipulate the pain I had felt upon waking in the morning, that I feel nearly every day. With the weather hovering in the mid-60s, I decided to go down to the track, where my teammates were running 1600-meter repeats, and just walk, maybe jog a little, just to see. My first steps on the track were hesitant, but magical. As I continued on with my friend Tracy by my side, I felt exhilarated, free. This must’ve been what it was like all those years ago.
It must also be what it’s like to tap the sap from a maple tree as winter begins its thaw in the northeast — it’s maple sugaring season! I never knew, not until I saw a video of sap boiling in preparation for a maple syrup festival at the Union Square Greenmarket last week and Food52 posted a delicious looking recipe for maple syrup-filled “sugar pie.” Because I haven’t been terribly active these last few months, I haven’t been terribly hungry. And I’ve felt uncomfortable in my skin. If we pass Donut Plant, yes, I will buy all the donuts (hello, tres leches). But I will feel incredibly guilty about it. I have very little self-control. So I’ve been thinking a lot more about how to put nutrients in my body — and tasty treats in my face — in compact packages without lots of refined white flour or sugar. Sugaring season was the perfect excuse to experiment with these Maple Rye Muffins. Continue reading →
If you’re anything like me, you will go into a Trader Joe’s with a list of a handful of necessary things — light enough to truck two subway lines home — but end up with a heavy basketful and a wandering eye on the long, long checkout line. The last time I was there, just before Christmas, I spotted a bag of candied ginger while we were meandering closer to the registers, picked it up, and dropped it in our basket, convinced there was something I wanted it for. There wasn’t. Well, not that I knew of. But I knew people were pairing ginger with pears all over the place, and with the new year approaching, I also knew I wanted a new, healthy-ish muffin recipe in my arsenal. And what better form with which to experiment? These Ginger Pear Muffins are everything I never knew I wanted. Continue reading →
Happy Hanukkah! For the first night of the Festival of Lights, we went to my parents’ house, and I was planning on just making my good ol’ apple cider donuts. But then — I can’t say it was guilt. But I wanted to be true to my Jewy roots and dance in oil. Alight buttery balls of brioche dough, to puff, rise, and brown, showered in sugar as they cool. And fill them — not with jam, because I still just can’t do jelly donuts, but with Nutella. Because of course.
Admit it: in the midst of all the holiday hullabaloo, you completely forgot about that bunch of bananas in your kitchen. They’ve turned brown, are probably too mushy to throw in your bag for a quick pre-breakfast snack on the way to work, and you could have sworn you saw a fruit fly hovering around. Well, it’s baking season, so fear not. Turn those super sweet, mushy bananas into an even better breakfast: brown butter banana bread.
I am made of water. I crave it. I love to run beside the Hudson and East Rivers. I yearn salty ocean waves foaming at my feet. When I’m near it, in it, I feel whole. And yet — the power, its depths, the unknown, terrify me. The fear of being toppled and tossed around by a wave bigger and more powerful than any water within me has kept me from wading out more times than I care to admit. Sometimes I leave the beach without ever being further than knee-deep, when what I crave — nay, what I need — is to be in it and of it.
All of that changed — finally — last week, on my final day of a family vacation in Cape May, NJ. Let me correct that: in the final hour of that final day. With my fella and my dad beside me, I relearned how to face those waves. It’s the silliest thing, really, the truth of it. That it’s all simply a matter of preparation, of being ready for what comes, of accepting. See a wave that you can’t jump? Take a deep breath, before it’s on you, and duck. It doesn’t need to be a competition between you and the wave. Like jumping, you become one with it. Then you rise, unscathed, and simply wipe a bit of salt of from your eyes. In it and of it.
And so I left Cape May, land of historic Victorian houses, fudge and saltwater taffy, dolphins, and so many childhood memories, with a newfound respect for the phrase “roll with the punches.” It would be an understatement to say I’m ready for the cool embrace of fall. But I’ve spent too much time fighting summer’s existence. Thinking I can jump it even when it’s too big to handle. Feeling miserable from the heat. Sick and dehydrated from the humidity. But yet, I realize, with it has come the sweetest peaches I’ve had in years.
At this end of August, there are already apples at the farmer’s markets. I spotted Greenings at one of the stands in Astoria two and a half weeks ago. And I was tempted — so tempted. But I still haven’t had my fill of tender local peaches. Of sweet plums. Of juicy tomatoes and tiny kirbies and crisp peppers and all the wonderful things that are here because summer is a sunny, hot, miserable time of year. I’ve been eating peaches every day with my breakfast: diced up into oatmeal, as a side to toast and eggs, folded into Greek yogurt. And now this: baked peach crumble donuts. Because along with all the fresh ones unchanged by the heat of an oven, we need to incorporate them into flour and butter and sugar and make them more.
There are days when I dream of sun-ripened fruit and farmstand veggies and other fresh things. And then there are days when I try to Nutella everything. I’ve gotten into the habit of baking off loaves of peasant bread and schmearing warm slices with Nutella, or rescuing day-old peasant bread by toasting it and schmearing it with Nutella. It’s been my daily afternoon treat and I think it was saving me from the depths of everyone else’s winter depression. When we ran out of the sweet stuff over the weekend, we took advantage of the current thaw and took a walk up to one of our many local European markets (one of the great things about living in a Greek neighborhood) to see if they were selling it any cheaper than the supermarket on the corner. They weren’t, but they did have giant jars. Don’t worry, I said, I’ll find a use for it. But when I say “Nutella everything” I don’t just mean a schmear on things here and there — I’m talking about recreating Nutella in all kinds of food forms. Enter these chocolate-hazelnut banana muffins. Continue reading →
I’ve been dealing with a bit of writer’s block this past week. I’m not quite sure what’s gotten into me, but it’s been butting heads with deadlines, leaving me stressed out and needing to just get in my kitchen and get my hands dirty without worrying what to say about whatever’s coming off my stove or out of my oven. In fact, the first sentence here was the only thing on this page for hours after I excitedly, and successfully, baked and tasted what could be the greatest thing ever to come out of an oven anywhere ever. Hyperbole? Maybe. But come on now, say this with me: chocolate, peanut butter, banana bread.
Yes, you read that right. And it’s the thing that’s putting words back on this page. Last March, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe for what was, at the time, the greatest quick bread baked in New York City: double chocolate banana bread. I followed her instructions to a tee then (not even realizing that the cocoa I was using was, as she directed, in fact Dutch-process cocoa — but we’ll get to that later), and was in love. Last week was a food blogger lovefest, and just days after meeting Joy the Baker, I had the honor of meeting Deb and the great Melissa Clark of the New York Times at a WNYC event at the Greene Space in lower Manhattan. Again: two incredibly personable people who just want to make good food and share it with the world. I was inspired, but I still couldn’t write.
Continue reading →
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.