During my angsty grad school days, I wrote a dissertation on the spiritual quest in male and female Beat writers' works.
There's something about that particular pilgrimage—the spiritual, not so much the Beat—that appeals to me. A journey for something ineluctable, intangible, and yet transformative.
I like to think we're all searching, each in her or his own way, for something infused with meaning.
I love road trips, those times when the miles slip away under the humming car wheels, when scenery shifts and slides from one landscape to the next. Those times when the small space inside the car seems to contain the whole world, whether you're traveling along, accompanied by good tunes and your own meandering thoughts, or with a traveling companion (or two or four), whose own thoughts dance with your own, filling the hours with innumerable tangents.
Is life more about the journey than the destination? Endless thinkers, poets, seekers, and musicians pose this question, and some go as far to answer (thank you, Miley Cyrus).
Are we there yet?
The world shifts, tilts, and rearranges itself when the car door opens.
Are we where we were before?
Does "a journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step?" (Lao Tzu) and "what is this self I will loose if I leave what I know?" (Joanne Kyger)
A warm car, eclectic tunes, car snacks, laughter, real soul talk, travel games, and a hand to hold.
When I heard of Gourmet magazine's demise, I felt shock. It was the first foodie magazine I subscribed to, back in the late 1990s when I started to cook for myself.
Now, in addition to Gourmet, my mailbox is filled with Cooking Light, Saveur, and Bon Appetit. I regularly buy Gastronomica when I can find it, and still love Food and Wine.
Yes, friends, I am a cooking magazine addict.
And, so many recipes I mark—with dog eared corners—go unmade, as I fall into old patterns or search the blogosphere for a tried-and-true recipe from one of my fellow bakers.
But Dorie Greenspan's latest selection of apple desserts in the October issue of Bon Appetit stuck in my mind.
Early Saturday afternoon I declared to G, "I'm going to make a cake!"
He did not protest. I showed him the magazine photos of the Fuji Apple Spice Cake. When I told him the frosting was cream cheese, he grinned.
I left for the grocery store to purchase supplies, and he headed out for an unnamed errand. When I returned, a dozen roses and a smiling G greeted me. [insert schmoopy sweetness]
And so, in making the cake, I made a large, two layer eight inch cake to share with whomever, and a little four inch babycake just for G.
I also bought a pint of Haagen Dazs five brown sugar ice cream (when you don't have time to make homemade, this is a more than fine substitute), and later that night, after making Vietnamese summer rolls for dinner, and after the babycake was assembled, I presented it to him as a token of sweetness.
He shared his little cake with me, and I sent him home with a quarter of the big cake.
Readers, this cake, like most Dorie creations, is a marvel. With warm autumn spices, diced apples—I used a mix of empire and cortland—as well as applesauce—I made homemade—and nuts—I used toasted walnuts—the cake is chunky and texturally pleasing. It's moist, dense, and yet inexplicably light.
Since I have an oral allergy to raw apples, I can only eat this, one of my favorite fruits, cooked. I revel in this cake, which delivers fragrant appleness in every bite. It's the essence of fall, of sweetness, of homeyness, of comfort. I'll definitely be baking this cake again!
Martha's Cream Biscuits. Bittman's Yogurt Biscuits. Dorie's Sweet Potato Biscuits. All delicious, all favorites that I've made and enjoyed with simple soups and roasted veggie meals.
Nothing quite has the emotional pull of Mom's biscuits, often served with sausage gravy...or accompanying my standard birthday meal of fried chicken, succotash, mashed potatoes and gravy. Mmm. Even now, this vegetarian hungers for those tastes of home, of Southern heritage kept alive in the Midwest where I was born and raised.
Sigh. Now, my standard birthday celebration meal is a Neopolitan pizza at Il Ritrovo, shared with my family when possible. A little more foodie, a little less socio-cultural-emotional-familial. Something in me longs for those earlier meals...
But this post is supposed to be about Dorie's sweet potato biscuits, selected by the awesome blogger Erin, of Prudence Pennywise. I made half a batch after work yesterday. I baked two medium sized sweet potatoes, mashed their vibrant interiors, and stuck them in the fridge to cool a bit while I worked the rest of the dough. A pinch of cinnamon and a sweep of nutmeg over the grater added a hint of autumn warmth to the biscuits.
These were a lovely treat alongside roasted veggies and sauteed chickpeas and spinach. I love their orangeness, and the hint of sweetness. I imagine they would be tasty with a thick slice of aged cheddar tucked inside. Or drizzled with a little vegetarian white gravy laced with cracked black pepper, a modern update on former comfort foods...
There's something special about a slow cooked Sunday dinner, the delicious smells wafting through the house as the chatter of commentators, roar of the crowd, and smack of helmets and pads drifts from the television.
Such multi-sensory moments bring me back to childhood in the old "garage house"—the first house my Dad built for our family, which would eventually be converted to a garage when he built the second, larger home next door, fifteen years later. Throw in the panic induced by unfinished homework, and my past Sundays are complete. Delicious dinners, football on TV, and school stress.
Since living on my own, these rhythms have changed. Subtract the football, replace it with quiet classical music, increase the school stress, and toss in an often over-the-top dinner preparation for a typical dharmagirl Sunday these past five years
This fall, my life is a little different. Add in one awesome, football enthusiast boyfriend who I'm teaching all about my crazy foodie ways, and suddenly Sundays feel and sound and smell a little bit more like those of my past, and feel more like home.
"What do you think—soup or lasagne?" I asked this past Sunday as I surveyed a bulbous butternut squash.
"Mmm, I can't decide that," he said, giving me free reign in plotting our dinner.
I decided that lasagne would be easier, since the butternut squash soup I most like making also involves homemade cheese ravioli, and I didn't want to spend all afternoon fiddling with tiny pasta.
I tackled the squash with my handy Wüsthof chef's knife, cubing it, tossing it with olive oil and salt, and placing it in the oven to roast.
Note to self: always set the timer when roasting vegetables, or they just might become a little too black and crispy...
After salvaging the squash cubes, and after the first football game finished, we laced up our shoes and went for a walk in the chilly, brisk bluesky world.
As afternoon faded into evening, I assembled the lasagne: layers of pasta, a ricotta shallot chard garlic saute, squash chunks, and bechamel. The top layer was garnished with expertly grated mozzarella (thanks, G:).
Add side dishes of roasted broccoli and cauliflower, garlic bread, and glasses of pinot noir, and slip into Sunday evening mellowness.
Try to forget that tomorrow is Monday, that another weekend has ended, that numerous football teams didn't perform as you hoped, that the grading hasn't been completed, that it's cold outside, that we have to say goodbye for now.
This week, the TWD group baked allspice crumb muffins, a simple spiced muffin that sounded delicious...however, pumpkin chocolate chip muffins sounded even more delicious to me, so I went rogue and baked different muffins.
Back when I lived in Okemos, Michigan, I would purchase honey whole wheat bread from the Great Harvest Bread Company. Their ingenuous marketing strategy is to offer free slices of any of their breads when you step into their warm, yeasty shop. This time of year, they would offer a pumpkin chocolate chip bread so moist and fragrant of fall that I nearly swooned.
I decided to try to recreate this bread at home, with some success. Then, I moved, lost track of recipes, and can no longer remember whose version I followed before. A quick survey of my baking books and my cupboards directed me to the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking recipe, which relies on all whole wheat flour, three eggs, and one stick of butter for 24 muffins. (the original recipe is for bread, but I simply adapted the baking time—about 25 minutes—for muffins).
These muffins are moist, lush, spicy, chocolatey, and just the right amount of pumpkiney for someone not super jazzed by pure pumpkin flavor.
Several weeks ago, G mentioned a neat idea he saw from a writer on twitter. For the last 100 days of the year, choose something to do every day until the end of the year. If you miss a day, you start over at day one. If you don't miss a day, you'll finish on the last day of the year.
After some deliberation, I decided on two tasks I wanted to integrate into my days: daily haiku and tiny yoga. I learned about tiny yoga from Kiki at Yogademia, who credits Sark with the concept.
I hope to post the haiku here most days. And the tiny yoga varies from day to day, though usually I flow through a few sun salutations in the morning while my oatmeal bubbles and cafe au lait heats.
I like the tiny-ness of these tasks—they're manageable moments of creativity and connection, and I can see envision these moments lingering into the new year.
Football Sunday: a cool, grey day, leaves beginning to spill across still verdant lawns. During halftime I headed to the kitchen to mix up the pudding.
"Cinnamon, espresso, or vanilla?" I asked G, who was diligently checking football scores around the NFL.
I happily agreed, and cut a two inch chunk of plump vanilla bean.
"Have you ever smelled a vanilla bean?" I summoned G to the kitchen.
"Mmm." [note: more descriptive comments are not allowed as G said he wasn't quote worthy this week, and I allowed all such comments to be strictly off the record.]
I made half of Dorie's recipe, using skim milk, the vanilla bean, as well as vanilla extract, to cut down on the fat and amp up the flavor. I eschewed her food processor method, and used just a saucepan and a bowl, which worked beautifully.
By the time the game started again, the pudding was done, and we sampled the still warm mixture. Our eyes widened as the fragrant smoothness coated our mouths.
I divvied up last week's leftover ganache into two custard cups and topped each with the pudding. I settled back in to watch the Bears trounce the Lions. (boo!)
After a post-pummeling and pre-next-game walk, we ate the pudding.
Full. Voluptuous. Simple. Pure.
This recipe's utter ease requires the finest ingredients, as the flavors shine through, unmuddied by anything extra.