Accidental Chocolate Trifle

Here is something I've been thinking about for a while now: it seems for the most part that the home cooking world is divided into two camps. You see it when you're a guest in someone's home, you see it on cooking shows and books and blogs, you see it in yourself if you think carefully enough. First, there are those with skills; then, there are those with kindness. Let me explain what I mean---or maybe I'll start with what I don't mean. I don't mean that the cooks with skills aren't kind or that the cooks with kindness aren't skilled. They aren't mutually exclusive. I don't mean that cooking well makes you a snob or that wanting to have a nice dinner party means you're a monster. I think what I just mean is this: There are people who wow you and there are people who love you. And sometimes I wonder which one I'm trying to be. The first group is successful, you know? They are highly organized, on top of things---the kind of people who have you over and you are awed by every … [Read more...]

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

I've always liked pumpkin. I like the way it tastes. I like the way it looks. Mostly, I like the season it comes in, fall. The world just looks better this time of year, you know? The colors, the weather, the way you can see your breath in the morning but take your sweater off in the afternoon. This October, I've seen leaves fall in Seattle and Ohio and then back again in Illinois; I've sipped hot apple cider and walked on piles of crunchy leaves; I've felt crisp air and slept with the windows open. It's been beautiful. And even though the days are darker as we edge closer to winter, I have to tell you: I love fall. All that autumnal affection has to get channeled somewhere, and I'm happy to tell you I've found the place: pumpkin. Because listen, pumpkin is to recipes what fall is to the calendar. When I make something with pumpkin, it's like I'm eating pure fall, and I like that. That's why when the people behind The Old Farmer's Almanac Everyday Recipes sent me a copy … [Read more...]

to summer!

It's been a hot summer. H-O-T hot. It's been hot here in Chicago, on sweaty bike rides and walks; hot in Raleigh, North Carolina, by the pool and at farmers markets; hot in Ohio; hot in Nashville; hot in St. Louis; hot everywhere I've gone. I've sweated through clothes and on furniture, felt skin stick to leather seats in my car, walked into buildings for the sole purpose of feeling their air-conditioning, started keeping deodorant in my purse so I can apply it multiple times a day. You could say I'm experiencing summer this year, really experiencing it, and listen: it's not always comfortable. And yet. … [Read more...]

and here we are, with babka

I'm not going to ask where the time went. That's what everyone says, halfway through summer, after the fireworks and before back-to-school, when we're finally settled into the heat and humidity, when our arms are bronzed and our long-daylight days have begun to seem commonplace, when we're looking at the calendar and saying, July 20? July 20! More than halfway through 2010? I am just getting used to it not being 2009! and we think of all the things we still want to do and we think of all the people we want to do them with, and our hearts start to race a little bit. OK, hang on. How about instead of rushing ahead we just stop, right here and now, and take a look at this day, this July 20, this Tuesday we have and will never get again, and appreciate what's brought us here? I'll start. With chocolate babka. … [Read more...]

how we spend our days (+ announcement!)

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives" (Annie Dillard) I read the above quote a few years ago, back when I was compiling a 25th anniversary scrapbook for my parents in which people wrote and told of gifts and memories and experiences they’d had with my mom and my dad, and I was reflecting then the way I’ve been reflecting lately, about what are the most meaningful things we do, about what we really want. I've been asking myself: How am I spending my days, since that’s how I’m spending my life? And then, is the way I am spending them good? Of course the easy way to define our days is by our full-time gigs, be it school or work or motherhood or something else that requires most of our time, and I’ve done that before: I’ve sat down to dinner with friends and explained my class load. I’ve called myself a copywriter. I’ve mentally calculated some kind of personal net worth. But the older I get, the more I see those things---while important---are not the only … [Read more...]

a simple habit

When I come home from church on Sunday afternoons, after meeting my friend Jackie for lunch, listening to her tell me stories about her fourth-grade class and the funny things they say, I kick off my shoes and pull up my hair and think about taking a long, comfortable nap, with blankets piled high, the windows open and the fresh breeze flowing in. But instead, for weeks in a row now, I’ve done no such thing. Instead, go figure, I’ve been baking cakes. It all started when my brother told me about that coconut recipe he saw; then there was the yogurt I wanted to try baking with, although that might have been a weeknight; most recently, it was because I had a glass full of heavy cream about to go bad, and I didn’t want to waste it. These are simple excuses, not exactly the stuff of solid alibi, I know, but what can I say? Cakes are simple and satisfying---like cookies---and they don’t take much work, and, well, mostly, I am bad at turning them down, even when fresh sheets call my name. … [Read more...]