I’m baking a lot of bread these days. Holding the ImaginariYUM to its name and experimenting several days a week — with different kinds and percentages of flours, with hydration levels, with folding techniques and bulk fermentation times. Even the not-so-great loaves are a thrill — the deductions of what went wrong, why perhaps this baking temperature isn’t great for that particular formula in this particular oven. It makes me remember that despite giving up in chemistry in high school, I’m a scientist at heart. I want to know how things work, why things are they way they are. Making naturally leavened bread is the perfect juxtaposition of science and my other love, art. Know thy formulas, deduce, experiment, test again, but feel it and express it with your heart and soul. Continue reading →
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.
These days are lazy. As the weather has warmed, my appetite for — and desire to cook — heavy, bready things has waned. Gone are the consistent cravings for bagels every other day. Many weekends, I don’t even want pancakes. Blasphemy! I’ve been beginning most of my days lately with yogurt, fruit, and granola, and then often have a second breakfast at lunchtime with avocado toast topped with a fried egg. Really, most of what I want these days includes protein and fruits and vegetables. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still crave some luxury on a Sunday morning. I just want it to include less flour, more eggs, and be topped with yogurt and fresh fruit. Thank goodness for the FauxMartha’s Blender Dutch Baby, because now it’s all I want to make to sate my weekend morning sweet tooth. Continue reading →
Once upon a time, in a life far, far away, my roommate, my best friend, my “domestic partner,” decided she needed to move from our lovely Jersey City duplex apartment to seek new job opportunities elsewhere. The great search for a new roommate began, and I found a girl who was sweet and funny and seemed to get along with the kitties. And then I discovered she had celiac disease, and my heart sank. No roomie pizza Fridays? No Sunday cinnamon rolls? It’s okay, I thought to myself, I’ll learn how to bake for this great new person who would become my new friend. And yet I was dreading that time when the coolest person I had ever lived with would be gone and I would be left with…rice. Thankfully, that coolest person ultimately decided not to move away, and I had to break it to CeliacGirl that it wasn’t going to happen. I felt awful, but at the same time my heart was flooded with relief.
Of course, it came back to bite me: I fell in love with a man whose mom has celiac disease, and who, we feared at one point, amidst migraines and tummy aches, might have it too. But I wasn’t going to let the fear override my instinct to bake, to eat the things I wanted to eat and share all these wonderful treats. I would experiment. We would still have pizza Fridays, bread, pasta, muffins, cookies. And pancakes. Damnit, there was no way we were not going to have Sunday pancakes.
This, truly, is where the ImaginariYUM was born. There is a whole world of flours out there — buckwheat, brown rice, sweet rice, oat, almond, sorghum. With the right proportions, and, frankly, the right attitude, those flours and so many others can create baked goods that are as good if not better than the real thing. It opens up a whole new dimension. A new opportunity to do things differently, better. Continue reading →
When I was a kid, every once in a while my mom would treat us to something extra special: French toast for dinner. Simple. White bread, dredged in egg wash, fried in butter, dusted with granulated sugar, and cut into squares, like a checker-board. It’s the way her mom used to do it when she was little, and it’s probably the way I will if I have kids of my own. The crunch of the sugar on top of the bed of golden bread was unbeatable. Now that I’m older — well, I still let other people make French toast for me. And my goodness can my fella make French toast. He takes his time — makes sure the bread is perfectly soaked (not too little, not too much), and perfectly cooked at just the right temperature — and just knows intrinsically how to flavor it just right. But one day we wondered: what would it be like with ALL the spices? What if we made Gingerbread French Toast? Continue reading →
There are days, when the rain is pouring, the wind threatens to stop you in your tracks, and you’re sick and in need of antibiotics, but genius hits, and you need to go out of your way to pick up that something special you know you need for magic, weather and aching body be damned. That day was last Friday, and that something special was Speculoos Cookie Butter. The idea: Speculoos Breakfast Buns.
It was almost like lightning struck in my office, my mind wandering from censorship to food, as it inevitably does at various points each and every day. Speculoos Cookie Butter is already genius — I want to shake the hand of the person who one day thought it was a good idea to turn Belgian spice cookies into a spread — sweet and naughty like Nutella, but somehow almost savory like peanut butter. I eat spoonfuls of it straight from the jar when I’m hungry and out of cereal — standing over the stove making pasta, chopping vegetables, or staring wistfully out a window. You’ll know it if you’ve ever stopped at the Wafels and Dinges cart at the southeast corner of Central Park after a run, or at one of their other carts parked throughout the city; Speculoos’s pairing with Belgian waffles is heaven. And so, suddenly, while dreaming of weekend bakes, I thought, wouldn’t it also be perfect in roll form? Continue reading →
When you’re training for a marathon, time is no longer time alone. Time is measured in miles. Days, weeks pass by in distance. Four-hundred-meter repeats. Eight-mile tempo run. Twenty-mile long run. Forty-mile week. Monday is no longer Monday. Monday is hill repeats incorporated into 4, 5, 7 miles. Two hundred more miles until November 1st. Time — the distance — passes quickly, until the moment you dread waking up the next morning. Until all you want is for it to be over, to cross that finish line in Central Park, and reclaim the ability to sleep in without your internal clock waking you up at 5 or 6 in the morning. Return to lazier weekends. Reclaim time as time alone.
And yet — marathon training is, essentially, a selfish thing. There are a lot of “sorry”s. “Sorry, I can’t make your birthday party. I have to get up at 4:30 the next morning for an 18-mile race.” “Sorry I can’t plan a visit that weekend — that’s the weekend of my 22-miler.” “Sorry, I can’t meet for happy hour. I have to get up for a track workout the next morning.” And even, “Sorry I’m falling asleep so early. Can you please do all the dishes, clean the litter box, and give the cat his medicine tonight? Again?”
It’s valiant to run a marathon a first time. Is it unfair to try it again? This is the question I’ve been asking myself often the last few weeks. But I try, whenever possible, to maintain some semblance of normalcy around here. I’m pretty proud of the fact that the weekend tradition of my childhood — bagels on Saturdays, pancakes on Sundays — is alive and well. And pancakes scream lazy; they scream a bit of breakfast indulgence.
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And so, there comes a point in every person’s life when she must decide, once and for all, whether cooked cherries can have a part in her baking repertoire. For me, that point came last week. Except for the earliest parts of my youth, I’ve never loved the flavor. I eschew the cherry Starbursts and Tootsie Roll pops for orange and grape. And I know what you’ll say — those candies aren’t really made with cherries. But the cloying disaster of them tainted their value for me for too long. Even maraschino cherries topping drinks and chocolate-covered ones falsely promising balance are a no-go. Everything just tastes like syrup.
It wasn’t until several years ago that I even started enjoying cherries raw. I remember that first day well: I was hanging out with my old friend Lorraine on a sunny summer day in one of the parks in our hometown. We sat on the bleachers next to one of the baseball fields, catching up, eating black cherries and seeing how far we could spit the pits. And yes, we were in our 20s. The cherries were sweet, but had a hint of acidity to give them brightness. And the pits, instead of being a burden, as I had always thought they were, became the carefree definition of summer.
So cherries have become a regular character in my warm weather novella, playing a supporting role to peaches, strawberries, and blueberries, but a critical role nonetheless. In one of our hottest Mays on record, I’ve been craving those summer bounties, which, for now, still seem like delicacies until our local orchards can catch up after our long, cold winter. So on one of those hot days, along with a pint of blueberries for my Sunday blueberry pancakes, I picked up a giant bag of sweet, ripe cherries.
Raindrops on fir trees and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and…t-shirts and shorts? It was a warm Christmas this year, which, my fella reminds me, should be the only day of the year that it actually ever snows. Regardless, along with all the gifts and all the love we shared here in our Astoria apartment, we pretended that baby, it was cold outside, and ‘twas the morning of heartwarming and bone-warming breakfast treats: scrambled eggs with cheese, crispy bacon, mint mocha coffee swirled with cream, and, of course, homemade cinnamon rolls.
I was one of those kids who grew up eating Pillsbury, popped open from a wacky cardboard can, baked until puffed, and schmeared with a hearty glopping of sugary sweet goo. We didn’t have them often, but they were certainly a treat. I had the occasional Cinnabon, too, of course, probably as a teenager, at the mall. One time, on a roadtrip, probably more recently than I would like to admit, I even bought some cinnamon bun sticks that one would dip into said pre-made sugary sweet goo, making for a slightly less messy eating experience. Pretty clever. Eating such a thing in a car, however, when one is incredibly prone to motion sickness, is not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. It’s more like one of those things that six-year-old Sarah would have done. In the car or on the couch, half a roll or a stick or two later and hello nausea and sugar headache. And have you seen the ingredient lists?? Partially hydrogenated soybean oil? Monoglycerides? Are you kidding? Continue reading →
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 →