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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Years ago my aunt gave me a recipe for roasted tomato soup that called for beefsteak tomatoes, which, truly, are only available in good form in the summer. I made it several times, because, who are we kidding? I can eat soup on a hot day. Especially if it’s tomato soup. It’s a weird thing I picked up from my mentor at an internship eons ago: great soup (say, with a bagel) was filling – and cheap. It became a ritual. What can I say? I’m a creature of habit.
After I left that organization I needed to recreate the soups that got me through the simultaneous reaffirming and heartbreaking work (and gave me super human rights powers?), and this recipe, which I did only make in the summers, was spot-on. But the heat from the oven, and then the stovetop, was generally intolerable, so after a while that hand-written recipe left the rotation, relegated to the inner folds of my recipe binder, several pages down from two different summer-y panzanellas and nestled between two decidedly wintry soups.
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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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There once was a little boy named Lambert. Colored like a lion, with a voice like a lamb, fur like a teddy bear, and shaped like, well, a little biscuit. Lambert, the Sheepish Lion, who turned out to be so brave, was the cat my family adopted from a shelter along with his mischievous, impish, orange and white brother, Loki, in March 2002. Such sweet boys, like apples and honey. Loki passed away last year, and Lambert left this world just last week. Their lives seem so short, but they were rich, and full, and spoiled. We could never keep a loaf of challah any place where Loki could get to it: he would rip the bag open with his paws and his teeth and chow down. And Lambert? Besides the eggs, the chicken, the (yes) steak he would beg for around our feet, that little cat loved his cheese. Two cats after my own heart.
After I went home to New Jersey to bury him and say goodbye, all I wanted was comfort. I wanted something in his honor. Cheddar? Definitely. Pastry? Of course. Apples? Well, Lambert didn’t eat apples. But the way autumn shone on him when he found a sunny spot to sleep or lounge in was stunning. He glowed. This was his season. These apple cheddar biscuits are for him.
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