Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have been waiting a long time to tell you about these cookies.

buckwheat chocolate chip cookies

They first came to me last spring, in one of the earliest emails exchanged between here and Nashville.

Then came summer, fall, winter and a move to Tennessee.

Before long, here we were in the heart of spring again, evidenced all around us by green grass and blooming flowers, powerful thunderstorms and days of rain (and I mean that whether I’m at home in the South or at home visiting Chicago—which I’ve already done twice this month, and, I know, I know, but for good reasons, I promise).

Anyway, every year I remember again how much I love this time of year and the way buds poke out of branches, the way life comes out of the ground again. It’s the kind of thing that makes me want to pull out my camera, except for a small problem I’ve also been meaning to tell you about: somewhere in the midst of the move, I lost my camera’s battery charger, and when I ordered a replacement, it practically caught on fire when I plugged it in. So while I wait for a replacement replacement, now seems a perfect time to pull these buckwheat chocolate chip cookies out of hibernation.

Not only are they nutritious, but they’re something special in terms of taste and texture: cake-like and soft, but with a little crispness around the edges, riddled with bits of dark chocolate and that unmistakable bite of buckwheat.

holding buckwheat chocolate chip cookies

Plus, at least for me and my memories, they’re decidedly spring—a welcome attribute these days, while I watch the world come to life without a camera to share it with you, but with instead with just these cookies—something almost better.

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Orange Crostatas

orange crostatas

I can’t believe it was almost a month ago already that I clicked through my Google Reader, the way I do most afternoons, and saw these gorgeous blood orange crostatas. We made them the following weekend, for our weekly Sunday dinner with friends, and had just enough so every person got one crostata, alongside homemade vanilla ice cream. But then what happened?

I say I can’t believe it was almost a month ago already because, honestly, I don’t know where the days have gone between then and now. I mean, I know—into work, into buying furniture, into daytrips to Chattanooga and long weekends like this last one that I spent back home in Chicago for a wedding and to see my family again. But it’s just that the time is getting away from me! I’m blogging less, I’m taking fewer pictures (sad fact: I lost my camera charger; good news: a new one is in the mail), I’m looking at the calendar and going, I’ve lived here for two months? What?

palm sugar

So before another month disappears, I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you about a new ingredient I’ve introduced into my pantry, especially because it’s an ingredient I’m really excited about in terms of a sugar substitute: palm sugar.

chopping up palm sugar

Rich in nutrients like potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6, palm sugar looks and behaves almost exactly like regular sugar, but it’s lower on the glycemic index (so it absorbs into the blood stream slower) and is totally natural and unrefined. Like the name suggests, it comes from palm trees—several different types of palm trees, meaning there are different types of palm sugar.

I’ve found blonde coconut palm sugar at Whole Foods, all broken up and packaged in neat bags. But it’s also available at international or Asian food marts, which is where I first bought some. At these stores, you’ll find it in a large, hard sphere that is tough to crack but significantly lower in price. With a big knife and some muscle (note who’s doing the hard work in the photo above), you can turn it into the granules we’re more used to seeing as sugar.

oranges for crostatas

oranges for crostatas

In the days since those crostatas, I’ve had two kinds of cookies with palm sugar, including another batch of the ones we like in ice cream sandwiches. In each case, this sweetener behaves beautifully, giving you the right texture and strong sweetness that is hard to find in sugar substitutes. What’s more, unlike Sucanat with its distinct molasses flavor, the flavor of palm sugar is virtually indistinguishable in recipes.

making crostata dough

But back to the crostatas: for the most part, we stuck close to The Kitchn’s original recipe, just substituting the flour and sugar for nutritional reasons and then the mascarpone and almond extract for convenience. The dough was probably my favorite part: kind of like good strudel dough, it was very easy to work with, soft and pliable, great for stretching into rustic shapes and folding over fruit and cheese. Next time, I’d definitely try a different fruit, maybe berries, because while the oranges tasted great here when cold, they were kind of bitter fresh out of the oven.

And honestly, if you’re going to make a crostata, don’t you want to eat it a la mode? I thought so.

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Pear Custard Pie in Spelt Pie Crust

Once upon a time, a girl decided to surprise her boyfriend for the weekend. It’s a classic story: she booked a plane ticket, got his friends involved and, hardest of all, fought to keep from spilling the beans beforehand. There were two months of wait time from idea to fruition, which meant lots of vague conversations and deceptive communication meant to throw him off along the way. But finally, early November came.

three pears for pear pie

She made phone plans with him for the day she was to arrive—or really, and maybe she should have seen this as a clue or as the thing we’d call foreshadowing in English class, he made phone plans with her, to cook something at the same time, from their separate cities. When she’d talked about her blog and how she’d been lacking inspiration for it (as those of you on Facebook know all about), he’d suggested this idea, and she’d said, Something with pears! Because they’ll be on sale! And she’d laughed to herself the whole time thinking, aha! he has no idea I’m coming!

making pear pie

That Saturday, after she’d landed at the airport and after she and her friend and ally had driven to his house, analyzing every option of how to actually work out the moment of surprise, they drove up to his door, ready for the sure shock that was to come, and surprise! The joke was on her—and at least it was on her friend, too—because are you ready for this? He had known the whole time, had accidentally read a Facebook message on her phone months before. So there he was, greeting her at the door. With flowers. And an entire meal. Of homemade ravioli, tomato sauce and braciole.

I know.

pear pie ready to bake

As if that wasn’t enough, two days later, they still made pear pie. And it was delicious.

streusel topping for pear pie

So to keep me from any further gushing about things other than food, let’s talk about that pear pie. Have you ever had a pie with pears? I hadn’t. Actually, I’d never even heard of it until last week, researching pear recipes. People say it’s a little like apple pie or, as in this version, like a Dutch apple pie because of the creamy custard and streusel topping.

pear pie

Since generally speaking I like pears more than apples and since there’s nothing quite like the creamy, sweet tang of a good custard, this pie is a brilliant combination.

We just used a simple store-bought pie crust (there are spelt ones in the frozen section at Whole Foods, if you’re looking for a good option), so all that was involved with this was peeling and slicing the pears (me) and mixing up ingredients (him).

piece of pear pie

It bakes for about an hour and fresh out of the oven, it’s hard to slice, so if you can wait, it’s better to let it cool and chill for a while before cutting a piece.

If you can’t wait, though—and hey, we’d get along well—then scoop it out and enjoy the creamy goodness right away.

Eating it with someone you like even more than the pie? That’s entirely optional.

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Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

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.

fall in chicagoland
crunching fall leaves
leaves wet on sidewalk

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 of their cookbook recently, complete with little sticky tabs signaling the best recipes with pumpkin, I was an easy sell.

Beginning with pumpkin cheesecake bars.

everyday recipes farmer's almanac

Velvety and creamy, these bars start with a thick graham cracker crust and finish with a pumpkin filling as rich as cheesecake. You’re supposed to let them chill before slicing, but between us, I had a piece right out of the oven, warm and golden, and it was quite nice. The next day, I ate another piece, chilled, for breakfast—because it’s October after all, and I might as well eat the most of it.

pumpkin cheesecake bars

And if you too find yourself indoors one of these beautiful evenings, away from the colors and the leaves and the chill in the air, I sincerely hope it’s because you’re making this or something like it, with pumpkin, in the season I wish wouldn’t end.

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Seattle Recap! (+ Pumpkin Muffins)

Fresh from four days in Seattle, I can tell you the city was both everything and nothing like I expected, the way most things we envision tend to be, the way you could also describe a certain pumpkin recipe I’d tried before I left.

trees in seattle

I mean, I liked Seattle. But before I went, I envisioned thick forests, days of rain, majestic mountains, lots of coffee, something called a Space Needle—and, I don’t know, people wearing lots of flannel or North Face jackets. In fact, it was all of those things. Despite our trip’s unending sunshine, the effects of rain were all around us: in the canopies of green over city streets, the fall leaves scattered on street corners, the fresh and wet smell throughout beautiful Bainbridge Island. We saw mountain peaks off in the distance, we ate soup with a view of the Space Needle, we passed more Starbucks coffee shops than I could count.

seattle fall leaves

seattle ships

wooded seattle

Indeed, Seattle is Pikes Place Market and the smell of the sea and a need for a jacket everywhere you go. But it is also something else. It is a city, like any other city, filled with tall buildings, urban architecture, the familiar retail shops. It’s hilly, like San Francisco, with steep sidewalks leading up ascending street numbers. It’s a place that makes it easy to eat organic or local or vegan or gluten-free.

seattle pines

organic ice cream

parfait ice cream

delancey pizza

Seattle is a gorgeous farmers market, a crowded Friday morning, a great dinner at Delancey—the Neapolitan-style pizza place I (and every other Orangette lover) watched develop online and now can say I’ve dined at.

Seattle was and wasn’t what I thought it would be, and that was exactly right, which is precisely the story of these muffins.

pumpkin muffins

See, just like you can have visions of a place you’ve never visited, you can have expectations of a recipe you’ve never tried.

whipped cream

And sometimes you bake something, say a cookie, expecting what a cookie recipe normally yields, be it a hard and crunchy biscuit you can dunk in tea, a large and cracked dessert speckled with powder sugar or a crumbly and mouthwatering morsel you can hold in your hand, but when you go to the kitchen, follow a recipe, make some adaptations and bake, you find surprise. What you’ve made aren’t the cookies of your imagination; they’re something else entirely—more like muffins, dense and fluffy, spreading and flattening into wide, round cakes on the baking sheet.

pumpkin muffins with whipped cream

So you pour them into muffin molds as you embrace the reality of what is, accepting and appreciating it. And you realize pumpkin muffins are exactly right.

I guess these are the preconceptions and surprises that make up our lives—be they new cities or new recipes or new faces that become friends. They’re everywhere. They’re worth noticing. I just hope they always involve such good things to eat.

pumpkin muffins

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Birthday Giveaway Three (or, how far we’ve come)

It’s pretty easy to see things I’ve inherited. I have my dad’s olive skin, my mom’s round face, the bump on my nose found in both sides of my gene pool. I like good conversation, working in the garden, making a big meal to eat with people I love. And, sometimes, when I laugh very hard or hear myself telling a story like it’s a routine, I think how my grandma used to do those things.

homemade granola

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finally getting it now

fresh strawberries

I don’t remember the first time I ate a strawberry. Do you?

I wonder if I liked it right away or if it took some time. I wonder if it was like tomatoes, where at first I hated the texture, and then I had some sliced on pizza and didn’t hate them, and soon started to want them (on pizza, on sandwiches, growing more plants every year). I kind of feel like I always liked strawberries, but who knows? I mean, some things take time to warm up to.

soaked spelt berry muffins

For example, I do remember the first time I soaked flour, and it was no strawberry. Remember that bittersweet soaked whole grain bread experience, the one where I was never quite sure if I’d done it right and the yeast plus my inexperience added up to ho-hum? I could have given up right then. I could have said no more soaking! It’s not easy to like! But then again, where would that attitude get me? I’ll tell you where: to a world without tomatoes, cherries, cheese, kefir, eggs, exercise and, heck, even some of my favorite people.

So I persevered. And go figure! I think I’m finally getting it.

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