about bliss

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

twd: thanksgiving twofer pie

close up of my pecan crusted twofer

I wasn't going to bake this pie.

You see, I had this idea that I didn't like pumpkin pie. And why waste all those precious pecans on pumpkin?

And so I spent last Sunday night peeling Jonathan apples and composing a poem, "After Apple Peeling," as a riff on Robert Frost's delightful and dark meditative poem "After Apple Picking." Only these apples were bad. As in every single one I started peeling was half brown and mushy. I suspect that they are last year's crop posing as new, relatively local fruit. Ugh.

And so, Monday morning I threw the remaining unpeeled apples and a single peeled one as evidence into my trunk, intending to return them to the grocery store after work. (Am I really now the woman who returns produce to the grocery store? So it would seem). Not wanting to deal with more apples, and missing the communal adventure of baking the week's TWD recipe, I gave into the promise of Dorie's Thanksgiving Twofer Pie, selected by Vibi of La casserole carrée. I filled my cart with all the goodies I needed, and headed home to bake.

Now, Monday night was one of those catch-up-and-cram evenings, in which I graded a handful of essays, read three short articles for class, talked to my best friend S, and made the Twofer. And hence I made this rookie mistake--I baked and talked. On the phone. And so I forgot the bourbon I was going to use instead of the rum. And I mixed the pecans into the gooey syrupy filling (I used maple syrup instead of corn syrup because I'm a little crazy about avoiding corn syrup) instead of following Dorie's advice to layer them over the pumpkin. And so my pie was a little messy and a little haphazard, but I can unequivocally say that it's also delicious. I would eat Pumpkin pie like this all day, all season long.

I brought the pie to a multi-cultural club harvest feast on Tuesday, and it was a lovely finish to a meal with foods as diverse as pierogi, papaya salad, Italian macaroni and cheese, and stollen.

For my family, I made my classic Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie. I use an all butter crust, and a Bon Appetit recipe from the November 2003 magazine, replacing the corn syrup with dark/Grade B maple syrup. My parents and I polished off the last large piece today before we drove through the snow so I could fly back to Wisconsin after a fabulous long weekend. It was the sweetest end to a delicious holiday.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

mad about madison!

photo of Wisconsin State Capital, Madison, taken by Darin ten Bruggencate, courtesy of wikipedia, and licensed by GFDL

"Well, if there's a long wait at the Nepali restaurant, then we could go to the Greek place," so said M as he, D, and I walked up and down State Street in Madison deciding where to eat.

Now that's a sentence you don't often utter when considering places to dine on a remarkably chilly evening. Or any other evening, for that matter.

Lucky for us, there was an open table by the window in the tiny restaurant, and we settled in for our very first Nepali meal at Himal Chuli. Or anywhere else, for that matter. I selected the Roti, Dal, and Takari, and I further chose the Chana Takari with chickpeas, potatoes, and carrots. The food was delicious--utterly familiar and vastly different than any other food I've ever eaten because of the spice and herb combinations binding together favorite foods. A gentle heat underscored the dal and the takari, and the mild soft, buttery bread was a perfect accompaniment.

We headed back out into the cold, in search of a basement bar where D and M could drink Strongbow hard cider and I would sip a Bombay Sapphire G & T as we talked about the conference on Liberal Education that had brought us all together from various corners of the state to the Capital city.

The next afternoon, after attending more sessions and parting ways from new and old friends, I bundled up in an extra layer, slung my messenger bag across my shoulder, and walked up State street to the Capital Square. I made it to Cafe Soleil just before they stopped serving lunch, and enjoyed a Dairyland classic: grilled cheese. This one melded together several artisan cheeses and caramelized onions and thinly sliced tomatoes. I stopped by fromagination on the recommendation of several fellow bloggers, and selected a cheese to bring to Michigan for Thanksgiving, dried cranberries, local chocolate, and local crackers. One more stop: Barriques Coffee Trader, a brilliant coffeeshop cum wine shop, stocked with reasonable bottles of wine and an espresso bar. I purchased a French pinot noir and an Argentinian torrontes. Loaded down, I walked back down State Street, past the hippie shops and fair trade coffee shops, smelling nag champa incense whirling on the air and mingling with a thousand cuisines.

And then it was back to my car and a long drive across the state, past a graceful field of wind turbines and rolling farmland, and back home.

Monday, November 17, 2008

twd: arborio rice pudding

arborio rice pudding pre- Big Chill

The first gentle, shimmery skiff of snow to drape on roofs and line my deck fell tonight--a preview of months of whiteness (and grey, but don't let's speak of those more-than-touches-of grey tonight) to come. Despite my despair at never ending months of winter, that first snow has a holy, mystical quality, especially when it comes gently like it did here and not en masse as it did on my native side of Lake Michigan (drive slower, dear brother of mine!). I'm almost tempted to haul the antiquated VCR out of the closet to watch "First Snow," an episode of Northern Exposure where the town celebrates this very moment (though I'm not sure I can look at Alaska quite the same way again post-Palin).

And so, after reading the weekly dose of Annie Dillard for class tomorrow--her delightful chapter "Stalking" that recognizes the convergence of quantum physics and mysticism --and grading more painful-to-read research essays that require me to wield a pink highlighter with utmost precision--I took to the kitchen to cook this week's TWD recipe, arborio rice pudding (black or white or both) from Isabelle of Les Gourmandise d'Isa.

In my 30+ years of existence, I have never eaten, much less cooked rice pudding. I was always skeptical of this "Dessert," which seemed much too virtuous to be in the indulgent category that I generally reserve for Desserts (simple fruit concoctions notwithstanding). Now, Dorie suggests a chocolate variation, but still, chocolate and rice? Don't misunderstand--I ♥ rice, but in Dessert? I needed some convincing.

Luckily, my grocery store has a nifty little natural/organic/bulk foods area where, among many other rice varieties, one can purchase arborio rice. I love working with this starchy powerhouse, which makes for a simple and delicious risotto, a lovely dish to prepare when one needs a little kitchen zen. Say, after a stressful day of grading and navigating certain political waters, not to mention coming to terms with the seismic seasonal shift (I swear I'll adapt to winter one of these days, or at least stop bringing it up in every paragraph).

Though the rice pudding didn't demand as much stirring as a typical risotto, it was still a quiet, calm dish to prepare. No powerful whirl of the Kitchen Aid. No vigorous slapping (!) of dough. Just the soft, metallic scrape of my squared off spoon on the bottom of the pot. And the fleece-blankety warmth of hot milk and vanilla wafting through the house.

It is now chilling overnight, and in the morning, in lieu of my daily oatmeal, I will sample this heretofore unknown delicacy, feeling indulgent because I'm eating Dessert for breakfast.

Bon Jour! After a long chilly walk along the lake shore, the zebra mussel shells encased in frost, the hoary grasses reaching for the sun, I returned to the warmth of my kitchen to taste the rice pudding...while it did not thicken as much as I expected overnight, the flavor and texture wrapped around me with shouts of vanilla! comfort! home! I topped my little portion with dried cherries and pecans and savored every luscious bite. Hooray, arborio rice pudding!

breakfast time!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

root vegetable lasagne

root veggie lasagne

Are you familiar with Lynne Rossetto Kasper's delightful radio program The Splendid Table? I've been listening to podcasts of the show on my daily walks and learning much about food, cooking, and gastronomic trivia. For instance, I learned that lasagne is the proper spelling of the completed dish, as lasagna is the word for a single noodle.

This afternoon as I walked along the Lake Michigan shore, bundled in fleece, down, and wool, crunching over the empty zebra mussel shells and watching freighters crawl across the lake, I listened to Lynne and thought about dinner. I remembered the enticing photo of root veggie lasagne from one of my fellow foodie's blogs (whose is now escaping me), and remembered the recipe from this month's Cooking Light magazine. My pace quickened as I headed back to the house to make a grocery list and procure the few missing ingredients.

The house now smells spicy and roasty and I am well fed: the aforementioned lasagne, a wedge of crusty bread, sauteed broccoli and chickpeas, and a glass of pinot noir. A delightful Sunday evening!

weekend waffles

My Dad has a thing for food traditions--like Mexican food Wednesdays and Weekend Waffles. Last night I was talking to my Mom, who was prepping waffle batter (we make the yeasted, refrigerate overnight variety) for a Sunday morning breakfast with my Grandpa, and I was inspired to make waffle batter too.

The recipe is adapted from Cook's Illustrated. I like to make a half batch when I'm a) low on milk and b) low on freezer space to store the extra waffles. I have a Cuisinart Belgium Waffle maker, and this recipe makes 2 and 1/2 batches (i.e. 5 single rectangles).

7 oz. skim milk
2 TBS butter
1 c. flour (I used 1/2 cup white whole wheat and 1/2 c whole wheat)
1/2 TBS sugar (I used raw sugar)
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. yeast
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
cinnamon to taste

Heat the milk and butter until butter is just melted; cool until just warm to the touch.

Mix together the dry ingredients in one bowl, and whisk together egg and vanilla in another bowl.

Add the cooled milk/butter mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Finally, whisk in the egg mixture. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, remove the bowl from the fridge and allow it to warm up as your waffle iron heats. Follow the directions for your waffle maker, and enjoy! I like to top my waffles with local maple syrup and nuts--pecans or walnuts--and whatever fruit I might have. This morning I ate fresh pineapple slices on the side, along with a cup of orange juice and a mug of hazlenut coffee with the very last dregs of milk, steamed to frothy perfection.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I've been thinking about friendship quite a bit lately, as I settle more into my new home and my new job and continue to make new acquaintances. Building community proceeds slowly and hinges as much on serendipity as intention--the few non-work friends I have in M- are people I met either at the Farmers' Market or volunteering for a political campaign this fall.

But more I've been thinking of friends from other stages in my life, those thoughtful men and women who joined me for part of my journey, whether through the awkward days of high school, the halcyon days of undergrad, the fleeting years of my Master's program, and the intense days of my doctoral program, not to mention the in-between post-grad years before I landed this tenure-track position. Living the rather itinerant decade or two of life that higher education and life in academe requires, I've becoming increasingly separated from these friends, not only geographically but also in life stages. We email, facebook, or chat on the phone occasionally, but it's hard to bridge the distances between our lives when faced with so many competing demands and new challenges.

In the idealistic world in my mind, we would move along together at a similar pace. But, priorities shift, new locales beckon, unforeseen opportunities and new relationships arise, setting us on an altogether different course than our dear friends. And the beauty of it is that we learn and grow from one another, even as our paths diverge. I think it was Anne Shirley, the plucky heroine of my childhood favorite Anne of Green Gables series, who famously declared that true friends were together in spirit, a sentiment that seems fitting and comforting.

Monday, November 10, 2008

twd: kugelhopf

a hot loaf from the oven...

Yesterday afternoon I took a break from my winterizing frenzy to begin the long process of making this week's twd recipe, kugelhopf, from Yolanda of The All Purpose Girl. The dough came together easily, and it kept me awake longer than usual since it requires periodic monitoring and slapping, yes, slapping.

The sunrise and my alarm clock came too early and too chilly this morning. My friend H arrived at 6:30 and we headed out for our Monday morning run along Lake Michigan, and changed our return route to take in a stop at a cute little coffee shop. We walked the rest of the way to my house sipping steaming coffee in the twenty degree chill, and chatted about the week ahead before she left for home and I prepared for the day. On Wednesday mornings, I drive to her house for a run along another stretch of the Lake. We've pledged to continue these early morning jaunts through the winter, though I can imagine blustery days when it will take something stronger than a cafe au lait and a brisk jog to drag me out of bed!

After a long day at work wringing my hands because my lovely composition students are posting to the class blog and *not* citing sources in their entries, I returned home to check on the dough and set it out of the cold confines of the fridge. I did not order a kugelhopf pan--a gorgeous fluted tube style baking pan. My tube pan is huge, and bundt pans too cute, so I opted for my emile henri loaf pan. I patiently waited while the dough rose, attending to a quick chili and a pan of corn bread.

Finally, as I read student rough drafts in which the citations did not follow any of the *rules* I provided, I placed the risen (?) dough in the oven. After 10 minutes, the elemental smell of yeast blanketed me, and I faced a conundrum: what is better--the smell of chocolate baking or of bread? I might equivocate and say chocolate bread, like the babka my friend N and I made at Christmas time two years ago, eating thick slices and drinking a King Estate Pinot Noir she brought from Oregon.

The kugelhopf continued to rise and to brown, and I finally removed it from the oven after about 25 minutes total baking time. I quickly unmolded it, spooned melted butter over the golden edges, and sprinkled with raw sugar. I ate a piece of crust that stuck in the pan and thought of brioche. The texture, so light and airy; the flavor so delicate and rich; the dried cranberries, soaked in maker's mark bourbon, so tart-sweet.

While my cake cooled, I finished reading "Fecundity," from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for class tomorrow, one of the darkest chapters in the entire text. I thought of my student who just lost her grandfather and want to tell her not to read. I want the rest of my students to crack open their dictionaries or go online and learn Dillard's vocabulary of memento mori and anathema and fecundity itself...

And then I checked the cake, which was nicely cooled, and I sprinkled just one corner with powdered sugar, and cut a narrow slice. I fixed an earl grey latte, a neat trick from H: steam milk with honey and brew half a cup of earl grey tea; combine and enjoy. The floral overtones of the bergamot infused tea nicely highlighted the subtle flavor of the cake.

In all honesty, I wasn't thrilled about this week's recipe, but after baking, I can say that I very much enjoyed the change of pace. Using my Kitchen Aid mixer, I hardly did any work transforming the raw ingredients into a queenly loaf. The cake, really more of a bread, is simple and the sort of thing I would serve at a holiday brunch or tea party. Or on a just-winter evening, with a tea latte, and a surfeit of words.

unmolded and not exactly pretty, but definitely delicious

Sunday, November 09, 2008


snowflakes, against an autumnal backdrop, view from my deck, november 8, 2008

Yesterday I drove one hour to a six hour meeting (seriously? a work meeting on a Saturday?) in the first *real* snow of the season. Fat flakes fell fast, and melted into puddles on the road, preventing any driving difficulties. There's no more hoping for Indian Summer--winter teases and beckons every other day or so now...

And so, after a contemplative and quiet and lazy morning, I set about winterizing my little home. It was time to lower all the storm windows. Time to cover the patio furniture on my second floor roof deck and stow the umbrella in the garage. Time to rake the front yard again,and time to empty the terra cotta pots of withered plants--goodbye, ghosts of summer, may you sweeten the compost pile! Time to change all the bedding from filmy cottons to heavy flannels and faux down. Time to store the straw purses and set out my hats and gloves and scarves.

It's time to stock up on tea and cocoa powder. Time to read new soup recipes and then experiment in the kitchen. Time to shift my exercise increasingly indoors. Time to visit my yoga mat and to savor a square of dark chocolate each day, those little antidotes to SAD.

Time to kindle the creative fires, and time to find that inner light to stave off the coming darkness and greyness that months of winter bring. It is time.

And though I'm never quite ready, never quite prepared for the immensity of winter, today went a long way in signaling the season shift. I want, now, to feel a shift inside me, an eye towards the beauty of fresh snow; a mind towards new creative paths; and a heart open to comfort and love.

Monday, November 03, 2008

twd: rugelach

Oh, tonight I'm a bundle of nerves waiting for tomorrow...I want all readers to feel welcome, so I shall keep my political views and hopes quiet, as hard as it is at this moment when I want to shout from the rooftops of the world...and so this blog post will be brief...

Instead, let me share this plate of rugelach with you! I'd like to thank Piggy of Piggy's Cooking Journal for choosing this delicious pastry cookie. I've never made, much less eaten, rugelach, though they've beckoned me from the shelves at Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I read the recipe, and pondered fillings. Then, at lunch a few days ago rugelach served as a safe, diversionary, bi-partisan topic to engage friends of differing political persuasion who were being mocked by other colleagues at the lunch table. Our little corner of the table focused on baked goods and not shallow political jabs, and B. gave me tips for making the dough (lots of refrigeration) and filling ideas (poppy seed and honey being a most intriguing possibility).

In a marathon round of Sunday baking, I made homemade butternut squash ravioli--I even made my own pasta! I made foccacia--which crusted nicely despite the absence of steam in my oven. And, I made the rugelach. My homemade raspberry jam is on its last dregs, and I cannot abide store bought jam, and I couldn't find directions for the poppy seed filling my friend mentioned, and so I decided to improvise. Honey, walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon proved a classic filling that my other friend B said was akin to Baklava when I brought him a cookie today. I'm waiting to hear B's assessment of my pastries--he and his wife are experts!

I used 1/3 less fat cream cheese in my dough, which rolled out smoothly and quickly. I had no problems rolling up the crescents, and they baked to golden nut-studded loveliness in no time at all. I like these cookies--they are very subtly sweet, romantically rich, and perfect with a mug of dark roast coffee or a cup of delicate darjeeling tea. I could use one right now to soothe my nerves, but I left them in my office to share with all who vote for deliciousness:)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

farewell, farmers' market

This Saturday was the last farmers' market until next May...it was with a heavy heart that I walked down to the market, my trusty market bag filled with a mini apple pie I made for the T's, my favorite farmers' market vendors and friends.

apple pie, made with a melange of fruits

I stocked up on cranberries--one of Wisconsin's unique crops--and a selection of Apples--Cortlands, Empires, Jonagolds, and Russets--for Election Day pies. I snagged a half gallon of cider that I'm now afraid to drink--not because it's unpasteurized, exactly, but because of my oral allergy to raw apples. A few years ago I realized that whenever I ate raw apples (or grapes), my mouthy would feel scratchy and like something was stuck at the base of my throat...so now I only eat apples that are cooked. Say, in pies, or applesauces, or crisps, or other delicious goodies. I have a marvelous apple cupcake recipe that uses both apples and cider--the perfect autumn treat!

And, from my friends, I purchased spinach, carrots, garlic, onions, and peppers to last at least a week. And then it will be back to the grocery store...

the season's bounty

And so, another sign that summer is *officially* long gone, fall is fading, and winter is returning. It's time to cook with a vengeance, to fire up the stove for breads and roasted vegetables, to simmer pots of soup and steaming, endless mugs of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.