Bosc Pear, Currant, and Hazelnut Salad

Bosc Pear, Currant, And Hazelnut Salad

Bosc Pear, Currants, and Hazelnut Salad

I realize that the holidays of television specials are not, for most people, the holidays of reality. Travel is stressful; family is complicated; people have magazine expectations for non-magazine life, and those magazine expectations tend to hurt when they’re crushed. One of the best and worst parts about family is that you don’t get to pick who they are—You don’t get to pick parents who are super interested in your life or siblings who like all the things you do. You don’t get to pick aunts and uncles who know you’re vegan or gluten-free and are willing to accommodate that when you share your annual Thanksgiving meal. You might see a salad like this one at the end of November and think you want to add it to the holiday meal, but you’re not allowed to help; you might see a salad like this one and wish someone else would make it, but you’re the one already managing the long list. Going into the holiday season, for many people, confronts feelings you probably don’t want to have, and so sometimes you think it might be easier to stay home, or at least to tell the other people to; I know.

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Pumpkin Cake + Pumpkin Trifle

Exactly one year ago today, Tim and I were up in the Chicago suburbs, driving out to the DuPage County courthouse to lift up our hands and solemnly swear that we were who we said we were and get the nice lady in the sea of cubicles to hand us our marriage license, our marriage license! I remember walking out of that building, into the crowded parking lot, hand in hand with Tim and thinking, our marriage license! It’s official now! Not just in terms of a giant dress in the closet and a chalkboard seating chart, but, as in, according to the government, we’re actually about to do this thing. Three days from now, we’re getting hitched!

day before wedding | foodloveswriting.com

I know I’ve said this here before, but, seriously, there are so many more details involved with planning a wedding than I ever would have imagined, and, when you plan your wedding fast, like we did in six months, you learn to scrap a lot of those details in the name of staying sane—like a wedding cake maybe. We had pretty much ruled it out, thinking that there’d already be a full meal and a full spread of a cookie table, so who needed a cake?

My mom, that’s who.

Listen, she’d been a champ about a lot of wedding things she’d originally seen a different way: my not having a veil, my seeing Tim before the wedding, no little boxes of Jordan almonds. But the one thing she violently disagreed on was not having a wedding cake. Cake is tradition. Cake tastes good. Plus, and this is where she hit my soft spot, cakes are the thing my grandma used to make for weddings as a caterer. We have these amazing black-and-white photos of her tall, tiered versions, usually with one of those vintage bride-and-groom sets on top, and oh, you guys, I can’t tell you how much I wish she could have still been alive to make mine last October.

Caroline

So we talked about it and we talked about it, and we agreed: the next best thing to having your grandma, the one who taught you how to bake and love food, make your wedding cake is having your mom, who fed you before you knew she was feeding you, do it, especially when your mom is the kind of person who takes such intense pleasure in being the one to provide a meal.

It would be my gift to her to have one, her gift to me to make it, and, in the process, everyone would have some cake.

 

So months beforehand, Mom tested pumpkin cake recipes, almost giving up the idea once or twice. Turns out there are several truly bad cake recipes out there in the world and, not every recipe translates into three or four tiers.

But come our wedding day, her work was a thing of beauty. And that afternoon, she let the caterers transport the tall, dark, spiced cake topped with homemade cream cheese frosting down to the tent. It was simple, like us, no frills or iced flowers, and it was sweet and, honestly, I liked it quite a lot—partly because it tasted good, mostly because she made it for me.

Last week, remembering that cake and the work Mom put into it, I emailed her and asked for the recipe.

cake topper | FoodLovesWriting.com

She sent ingredients.

Do you have directions, too? I wrote back.

She said cream the wet with sugar; mix the dry; combine it all.

Baking times? I wrote back. Size of pan? Oven temp?

And then the correspondence became a confusing, winding email chain of 9X13 pans and guessing on oven temperatures and the promise of a different, much better pumpkin cake recipe, which, if she had it to do over again, is the one she would have used for the wedding last year.

pumpkin trifle | foodloveswriting.com

She had me laughing, and frustrated, and aware that when I talk to her I am looking at my future, and so an hour or two later, there I was, mixing ingredients in the kitchen like my mother’s daughter who was her mother’s daughter, according to a recipe she got from a Chicago news reporter or a lady at her old church or somewhere else, it’s still unclear, pouring it all into a greased and floured rectangle pan, letting the warm and autumn smell of it fill our kitchen.

Pumpkin Trifle | FoodLovesWriting.com

I may not have wanted a wedding cake, but I’m glad we had one anyway, and I’m glad I made a version of it last week—moist and pumpkiny and wonderful layered with homemade whipped cream and nuts—so that when I looked at it, like I looked at my mom’s in a big white tent, I could think, heart full, that more than anything else?

pumpkin trifle | foodloveswriting.com

my grandma would have loved this.

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Tennessee Apple Picking + Rustic Apple Tartlets (+ Einkorn Flour!)

Shanna Holding an Apple | FoodLovesWriting.com

It’s Saturday. I’m awake too early, still in bed but eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling, too excited to go back to sleep. Today we’re going apple-picking, which, for the joy it gives me, may as well be cookie-eating or treasure-finding, and right now, the sound of Tim’s breathing next to me, all I can think about are the bright blue skies, warm golden sunshine and endless apples that await us when we do.

Apple | FoodLovesWriting.com

What can I say about apple-picking that hasn’t already been said? That there’s something wonderful about standing amongst rows of trees, many of them heavy with fruit, the yeasty smell of fallen, fermenting apples in the air? That trekking out with your friends or family to an orchard, a basket slung over your arm, feels like a celebration, just like carving a turkey or chopping down a Christmas tree? Or maybe that picking apples, to me, is one of those activities that’s so quintessentially autumn, so like pumpkin carving or sipping cider, that when you go out and do it, with your roommate or your husband or your friend and her kids, you can count on finding yourself, surrounded by harvest and clutching your cardigan, thinking, this, this!, is why there’s just no time like fall.

Tennessee Orchard | FoodLovesWriting.com

It’s easy to sleep in on winter weekends, but on a late-September Saturday with apple-picking ahead, it only makes sense to get up early, pack a few snacks, log a few hours of work nearby and then call a few orchards so you can be on the road. That’s why, a little past noon had us eastbound on the interstate, me in my new Goodwill cardigan, Tim in his thick rugby shirt, and within 30 minutes we were at Breeden’s, 631 Beckwith, Mount Juliet, a modest orchard outside Nashville, past sloping hills and winding roads and thick clusters of trees.

Pick an Apple | FoodLovesWriting.com
Tim and Shanna Apple Picking | FoodLovesWriting.com
basket of apples | FoodLovesWriting.com

Yellow apples were the only ones available for picking, and there weren’t a ton left, but at $1/pound, the whole situation was still pretty hard to beat. We strolled up sun-kissed aisles and filled our basket, taking seven or so pounds back home with us, along with fruit-sweetened blueberry jam purchased in the adjacent country store.

Freshly Washed Apples | FoodLovesWriting.com

Back in our kitchen, we washed the apples a little more aggressively than normal, in a vinegar solution, since they were grown conventionally, and went ahead and peeled them, too. The first several became the topping for a dozen rustic apple tartlets, inspired by a photo I saw on Pinterest a while ago.

Making Tarts | FoodLovesWriting.com

The dough we made with einkorn flour, a new pantry staple we’ve introduced into our regular routine recently, and which I’ve been looking forward to sharing with you here. Einkorn is, essentially, one of the most ancient forms of wheat. (One of the biggest issues with today’s traditional wheat flours is that they’ve been so highly hybridized and hence hard on your body, but einkorn takes us back to the original form. It is considered easier to digest even than spelt, and for that reason, it may soon become the flour we use most often in our kitchen. For more information, see these posts from Nourished Kitchen and Healthy Home Economist)

So far what I’ve seen from einkorn—baking cookies, making pizza dough and turning it into the bottom of tartlets—is that it behaves similarly to spelt except that it absorbs a little more liquid, meaning recipe adjustments might require adjusting proportions slightly.

Apple Tarts | FoodLovesWriting.com

Anyway, whether you use einkorn or not, the idea for these tartlets isn’t hard to mimic: make a pastry dough and roll it out nice and thin; use a biscuit cutter to slice out 12 rounds, then top them with sliced apples in a pinwheel pattern, drizzling honey and fresh thyme and cinnamon atop that. Bake. Drizzle with honey as a sort of glaze and sprinkle toasted hazelnuts.

Apple Tarts | FoodLovesWriting.com

By Saturday evening, before sharing dinner with friends, Tim and I were popping these pretty tartlets, heating up leftovers, looking at all the apples in our fridge and feeling pretty thankful for this glorious season that is fall. Oh, apple-picking, you know how to do.

Psst — Do you already go apple-picking? What other ways do you embrace fall? And hey, to find an orchard near you, check out PickYourOwn.org and Orange Pippin.

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Brown Butter Cranberry Hazelnut Tart + Chocolate Tart

bokeh christmas tree

I never thought much about what our first Christmas would be like—which is funny because, for a classic overthinker like me, it’s rare not to think about something. Maybe it was because of how big October seemed and how faraway December felt.

first christmas

The first week, we bought a six-foot Fraser fir, purchased from a giant red-and-white tent outside Home Depot, a tree that smells like the forest and sheds needles every day. We stowed it in the back of Tim’s car, alongside a poinsettia and a fresh wreath from Aldi, and put it in our living room, inside a plastic stand Tim hadn’t used for four years and topped by white bulb lights I’d hung at that blog birthday party I had in 2009.

advent calendar

We hung a homemade advent calendar (inspiration: summer harms) on our dining room window, made of leftover wedding kraft envelopes and filled with holiday activities each of us wrote on slips of paper, mixed together and inserted randomly.

The first day was kisses every hour; the second was a thankful list to hang on the fridge.

We made a bed by the tree and read “The Gift of the Magi.”

christmas craft night

We had some of our favorite kids over to make ornaments, just simple circles cut out and hung with red string, after which we ate popcorn and watched a movie about a valiant mouse.

stockings

We took our burlap wedding runners and made stockings.

burlap Christmas wrapping

Then we took more and wrapped gifts.

pie day saturday

And last Saturday, we had a holiday pie party at our house, where everyone brought a pie to share—lemon meringue, key lime meringue, candied apple, pumpkin.

For our contributions, Tim and I made two tarts: David Lebovitz’s dark chocolate (the perfect dessert for incorporating some coffee Starbucks sent me a few months ago):

chocolate tart

And Meg Gordon’s brown butter cranberry with a hazelnut crust, beautifully Christmassy with its bright red berries and set on a nutty cookie-like crust:

cranberry tart

And so here we are, less than two weeks from Christmas Day, in the throes of new traditions and new memories, and I’m certain of one thing:

I may not have thought much about what our Christmas would be, but I know I will think, often, of what it was.

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How to Make the Perfect Apple Strudel

apples

After three attempts, two days and one satisfying result, I can honestly say I know something today I didn’t know a week ago—well, make that, I know a lot of somethings, and they all have to do with one thing, the kind of thing that’s no small feat, especially when you’re a slow learner (hand raised!) and prone to catastrophe (why yes, that was me that put wax paper in the oven on attempt #1)—I now know how to make the perfect apple strudel. There are bigger accomplishments to be made in life than this, I know, but there are few I’d be more happy about and few I’d be more excited to share with you.

So here is the story.

green apples in basket

You could say things began last Saturday, at an evening wedding on the lake, where all the tables in a big white tent in Michigan were topped by gorgeous, green apples and a certain beautiful bride insisted we take a whole basket home with us, because have you read her blog? she’s always generous like that and, our arms full while we walked to the car, we brainstormed what to do with them.

chopped apples

But in another way, you could say the story starts even earlier than that—decades earlier—in a small Maywood kitchen where my grandma liked to bake and in the house I grew up in, where my mom liked to make her recipes. I found the original version of this strudel, one in Grandma’s writing, one in Mom’s, tucked into an overflowing cookbook, the kind you have to hold carefully or papers start falling out, and although there were many [crucial! important! why-don’t-you-guys-write-this-stuff-down?] instructions missing, my third attempt at following it was a charm, particularly when I enlisted my mom’s trained eye for help.

strudel filling

Secret #1: With apple strudel, it’s all about technique.
There are many things you can fudge on: slice the apples, dice the apples; add nuts and raisins to the filling or leave them out; make one strudel or make them two at a time (the way the women in my family liked to). But one thing you can’t alter is the way you roll out the dough and spread the filling in a compact, uniform mountain right in the center. It should be high and even and just in the center of the dough. This is key.

strudel ready to bake

Secret #2: You don’t have to chill the dough. This is mind-blowing. I mean, the original instructions insist you refrigerate the dough, in wax paper, for eight hours or overnight, but: Mom has never done this, and now I’m just guessing Grandma didn’t either. I could launch into a long aside here about how home cooks really should write their recipes down accurately! for posterity! for struggling granddaughters! But I already whined about this to my mom, so I’ll just assume you all know this and we’ll move on.

baked strudel

Secret #3: You control the dough. I could have called this one, Use lots of flour or This is why you don’t have to chill it, but I like mentioning control because it emphasizes how the power is in your hands, literally. The dough will seem very sticky and elastic when you first work with it, but you are free (as free as can be!) to add flour to get stuck pieces off the parchment paper, to make the dough move around better, to just get it feeling the way you want. You’ll know when it’s the right amount because the dough will roll out easily and yet not stick uncontrollably. It’s magical.

slice of apple strudel

Secret #4: It’s OK if it leaks in the oven. Listen, the pastry dough is thin (that’s what makes it all flaky and buttery and mmmm), and the filling is wet, so you may have some leakage. That’s totally fine. Use a rimmed baking sheet, and make a little parchment paper wall around the strudel if you want, rolling up the edges. It will still taste good.

apple strudel and a fork

All these secrets would mean nothing if it weren’t for the results: a long, golden strudel with flaky crust surrounding hot, apple-pie-like insides with nuts and raisins and gooey sweetness. Have it with hot coffee! Top it with vanilla ice cream! Eat it on its own! This is an apple strudel to be excited about. And I am.

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how we are waiting (homemade nutella)

nutella on toast

These days, I wake up naturally an hour before my alarm. Every morning.

My eyes open, I blink in the early sunlight and I reach for my alarm clock, hoping against reason that it won’t be what it always is: bright blinking numbers signaling 6:30 (or worse, 6:15). Understand, it is not the time that bothers me, but the timing, a full hour or more before I need to wake up, a full hour or more before I need to have my eyes open or my arms reaching for the alarm clock. It’s a matter of waste, really, a waste of precious sleep. At this point, I have two basic choices: I can get up, and I do sometimes, or I can try to go back to sleep, laying there, awake, beneath the giant white cloud that is my down comforter, and I can close my eyes and wait—for sleep to come or for a more decent hour to arrive. In either case, when I do eventually rise, I’ll have to wait for other things. I will go to the shower, waiting for the hot water to come; to the kitchen, waiting for the bread to toast, for the water to boil; out on the roads, waiting for the light to turn green while I drive to work.

hazelnuts

A lot of life is waiting, have you noticed that? And I don’t just mean with the small stuff of alarm clocks and commuting and morning kettles. We wait for graduations. We wait for job offers. We wait for proposals to be made and babies to be born. We wait, many times, for people. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and here is what I want to know: If so much of life is waiting, how can I get better at it?

You hear people say things all the time about enjoying the journey, and I think that’s good. I want to enjoy the hour I have to relax before getting up, especially since there are a lot of tired moms who would wish for exactly that (am I right?). I want to redeem my morning commutes, with the radio, with talking to the One who never leaves me or forsakes me, and when I drive home, with gratitude for the way the sun streaks across the sky at 5:45 PM.

nutella on toast

And, on those mornings when I end up dressed and ready to go a good 30 minutes before I should head out the door, I want to sit at the table, and I want to eat toast with homemade Nutella® on top. It is a simple pleasure, but trust me: it’s one worth savoring.

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