about bliss

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

twd: coconut tea cake

I'm in a Southern frame of mind.

This time of year, as Spring comes so achingly slowly, I miss the Southland in the Springtime, to quote the Indigo Girls. Green and blossom and sunshine and warmth arrive earlier, unlike the Midwestern come hither, play hard to get dance.

I'm reading the Oxford American Food Issue and missing Southern foodways...(If you don't know this magazine, please check it out. Superb writing, engaging stories. It is my mother's goal that I will one day be published in its august pages.)

And, after an epic conversation with one of my dear, Southern grad school friends, I long to host a tea party on my screened in porch as I did many Springs in Auburn.


This week's selection, a simple coconut tea cake would be the perfect sweet treat to end a tea party of cucumber sandwiches and champagne punch.

The cake, which I made a half recipe in a loaf pan, is moist, dense, and redolent of sweet coconut, in both shredded (sweetened, untoasted) and milk (lite) forms. I made Dorie's lemon variation, and the slight citrus tang contrasts with the sweetness of the cake.

As I nosh the coveted end piece and sip a mug of Chunmee green tea, I think of S, K, S, and J. I think of our wide ranging discussions of literature, life, and love. Mostly, I think of the distinctive sound of each woman's laughter.

And through my missing, I smile.

There's something about the Southland in the Springtime, and all year long.

Thank you, Carmen, of Carmen Cooks, for selecting this delicious, simple, and satisfying recipe.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

twd: thumbprint cookies for big kids

I was convinced I didn't have time to bake these cookies.

Until I read a few blogs this morning, and salivated over the photos of buttery cookies welled with crimson jam.

I multitasked at work, stopped at the store for organic frozen raspberries, and headed home to make jam and a half batch of cookies in between class prep and a few important phone calls.

They're fast. Simple. Stunning.

Thanks, Mike of Ugly Food Dude, for selecting this quick-to-make delicious treat.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

daily bliss: artisan bread baking

Spending the day with my friend T is always an adventure. From learning gardening tips to how to make yogurt, to sampling homemade cured Italian meats, T always teaches me something. He invited me to join him on a massive bread baking adventure, and I happily accepted.

the wet mixture

Friday morning I arrived in time to mix together the sponge and the remaining ingredients for a pecan and raisin studded whole wheat loaf. Considering that there was enough dough to make 12+ two and a half pound loaves, this entailed heavy kneading, especially once the fruit and nuts were added to the dough.

a shaggy dough

adding fruit and nuts

We divided the dough in half and each set about working the dough, though T's long arms and superior strength made his kneading time about half of mine.

the lovely kneaded dough

After the doughs were ready, T loaded me up with various vegetables from last summer's garden—onions, garlic, carrots—and a bag of frozen san marzano tomatoes. My next task was to go home and make a simple red sauce, for we would have time to cook a few pizzas alongside the bread.

At home, I sauteed garlic in olive oil while I skinned the tomatoes by popping them under hot water until the skins, almost magically, peeled off. I added Italian herb mix and a pinch of salt, and reveled at how quickly my kitchen smelled of summer.

breads awaiting baking

After a quick lunch and my sauce making adventure, I followed T's map to his friend's farm, where they have a brick oven nestled in a building that used to be the summer kitchen. The oven is over 140 years old.

I drove through prime Wisconsin dairy land, watching cows slowly meander across semi-frozen fields, admiring the old farmsteads that are still operational.

When I stepped into the building, I was surprised by the simplicity of the room. T had rigged up a propane torch to add heat to the building and warm the loaves of rustic french sourdough that take a long, slow rise, as they lack added yeast.

breads baking in the brick oven

Our first task was to egg wash, score, and seed the large loaves of rye bread before adding them to the heated oven. T showed me the technique for transfering loaves on and off the long cherry wood peel he fashioned himself. I need practice at the clean jerk, which leaves the bread in one spot.

the bread baker's apprentice:)

As we waited for the breads to cook, we set about making pizzas, by shaping the dough, and placing it in the hot oven. We added simple toppings: the aforementioned sauce, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, asparagus, fresh mozzarella, and basil. With a crisp, chewy, and slightly charred crust, the pizzas tasted almost as good as the pies from my favorite restaurant, Il Ritrovo.

rye breads

Once the rye breads were done, it was time to make another fire in the oven to add heat, which increased the smokiness in the little building and had us seeking refuge outside. After the fire died down, we added the raisin pecan breads to the oven. They baked in about 40 minutes, and then I showed off my newfound skills and removed three at a time on the long peel.

pecan raisin bread

When I left, the sourdough breads had another two hours or so of rising, but home was calling. I wanted to read, and to start a veggie stock for a winter vegetable pot pie for Friday night dinner. Today I'll stop over at T's house to pick up a loaf.

This day was just the kind of Friday I needed—a day to learn something new, to connect with a friend, and to create something beautiful, sustaining, and delicious.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

daily bliss: natal day

in from the cold

Today I turn thirty-six.

Last year I made my peace with thirty-five.

My thirty-fifth year was just really very good and nice.

I expect year thirty-six to similarly blossom with new adventures (Paris, anyone?), new paths, and new possibilities yet unseen. I cannot wait.

I hope to meet each new opportunity with grace and compassion, and, above all, with gratitude. To be alive, to be surrounded by loving people, to feel the sunshine on my face and the earth under my feet, to share my passions with others everyday: what wonder.

What bliss.

Thank you, dear readers, for being part of my life.

twd: coconut custard tart

Mmm, coconut. Toasty, crispy, sweet, and tropical.

Beryl of Cinemon Girl selected this tart, a winning choice as winter weariness sets in. Something about coconut, particularly when nestled in a custard pie, screams of sunshine and flip-flops and floaty dresses. My favorite time of year.

I crafted this tart on Friday, stowed the components separately, and assembled Saturday morning. It was my offering to G's family, but especially his dad C, who is recovering from knee replacement surgery. A sizeable contingent of the family gathered on Saturday afternoon at their home to eat and make merry. A riotous game of Monopoly and many rounds of Connect Four challenged our good sportspersonship, and made us hungry for a full, delicious meal.

The tart was a sweet ending to a lovely day. I can't wait to make this one again, whilst wearing flip-flops and floaty dresses, bippy music spilling out the open windows, a fragrant breeze wafting in.