Wednesday, December 2, 2015

megan gordon's spiced sultana drop scones

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I was feeling a bit sorry for myself earlier this afternoon because it appears that the wonderful, cherished, beloved nap is moving on from our household.  I know it's a bit silly to complain about it, because my little guy has spent almost four and a half years now regularly napping, which is far more than most children his age. I have had more than my fair share of peaceful afternoons spent reading (and let's face it, sleeping!).  Rather than concede defeat today, I stubbornly insisted that some amount of rest occur, and miracle of miracles, a few minutes after a rather stern and partially unreasonable lecture, he was peacefully snoring.  Silently gloating in my victory, I crept out of his room, plopped down on the couch next to our sparsely decorated but charming Christmas tree, and wondered what I could do with the soon-to-be-ending free time.  

After all my grumbling, I now have the perfect opportunity to share what might be the greatest scone recipe of all times.  I have been regularly visiting Megan Gordon's blog, A Sweet Spoonful, practically making every single thing she has posted in the last few months, and it has been one winner after another. I've added her whole wheat banana bread to my rotation, and the rye chocolate brownies she shared are easily the best brownies I've ever had.  I decided to try the scones from the latest post on a whim, partially because A loves scones so much but also because the combination of whole wheat and spices just felt so perfect for the cold mornings we have been having.  I should note that I welcome and enjoy the cold-we had what felt like an eternal, hot summer, and then skipped right through fall into a genuine California winter, the likes of which we haven't seen in several years.  I'm thrilled! 

Because the scones didn't require cutting or shaping, they were incredibly easy to throw together.  In my experience, the dough for scones isn't too finicky anyway, and you should expect and embrace the fact that it's craggy and rough-being able to see larger flecks of butter spread through your flour is a good thing! Megan suggests putting the dough into the fridge for ten minutes before dropping spoonfuls on the baking tray, but I was so pressed for time I was only able to chill it for three or four, which in no way affected them negatively.  I had only a handful of raisins, and no sultanas, so I substituted dried cranberries, as per Megan's suggestion.  I almost used the raisins instead because I was slightly worried that the combination of spices with cranberries might not be that appealing, but I needn't have worried because you guys, these scones are PURE BLISS.  The buttery crumb practically melts in your mouth-it's a lighter texture than any other scone I have made.  This is, of course, because of the combination of a stick of butter + 1/2 cup of cream, but it's utterly worth it.  Many scones use buttermilk or half and half as the binding liquid and they're still lovely, but the overall taste and feel is much heartier and heavier.  The orange zest spiked through the flours and spices is the perfect foil for the cranberries, and is likely the reason the flavor combination worked so well.  We devoured half the batch between the three of us, and I had heated up the leftovers this morning-scones don't typically hold up well at all, but after a nice amount of toasting time in the oven, they were still just as heavenly.  

As is my routine when I post recipes directly from blogs, I'll simply link here to the spiced scones.  Hoping I'll be back soon...

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

movie mania

Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Oh yeahhhh.  Movie season is upon us! I didn't do such a great job celebrating cinematic masterpieces this year and plan to make up for it now.  Here's a trailer roundup of the best of what's coming:

I'm most excited about:  Sicario

Director Denis Villenueve (Prisoners) fought for Emily Blunt in the lead, a role that producers wanted to go to a man.  I love Emily Blunt-she's gorgeous, funny, MARRIED TO JIM!, and never fails to stand out.  It's exciting to see her take on something so gritty and intense.

Biggest awards contender of the season: Spotlight

Everything I have read so far about this movie has been extremely positive.  The cast is absolutely top-notch, and I'm excited to see how such a dire, tragic story is brought to the big screen.  I didn't know this at the time, but the events of 9/11 occurred at the height of the investigation, and the story had to be held back for several months.  It makes the desperation of the journalists all the more poignant.

Even though I hate space and the entire idea of climbing to heights where one can't breathe: The Martian and Everest

The Martian
I wrote about how much I loved this book in my last post, and I am totally excited to see the movie.  It took me a while to learn to love Matt Damon, but now I can't imagine not enjoying one of his movies.  He's going to make a great Mark Watney, is infinitely watchable, and joined by a (mostly) great cast.  I can overcome my dislike for Kate Mara by enjoying Michael Peña, Jessica Chastain, and Mackenzie Davis.

I have no idea why anyone would want to go up into such extreme conditions, in the bitter cold, upon terrifying cliffs covered in ice and snow, just to glimpse the highest points in the world.  They are LITERALLY climbing to their deaths, in many cases.  I am shivering and cringing as I type.  Despite the fact that I can't connect with these people, every documentary I have seen about Everest or K2 has been riveting, and I was captivated by Into Thin Air, the Jon Krakauer book on which this film is based.  Michael Kelly, most known for House of Cards, is playing Krakauer in the film which like many others on my list, has a star-studded cast.  And now is probably the time to confess I have a bit of a Jake Gyllenhaal problem.

Feeling ambiguous about: Room

I haven't read Room.  It's a disturbing story, and I wasn't sure I wanted to read it.  I have a hard time with untraditional narration, and the whole story is written from the perspective of Jack, the young boy.  The film debuted to strong reviews at the Toronto Film Festival, heralding a star-making turn for  Brie Larson, who has been putting forth strong performances for a long time (see Short Term 12). I might need to change my mind about reading the book.

Best book adaptation of the season: In the Heart of the Sea

This movie won't be a contender for any big awards, but it's satisfying to see a book that I enjoyed so much brought to life.  In the Heart of the Sea is the nonfiction account of the whaler Essex, which is widely believed to have provided Herman Melville with the inspiration for Moby Dick.  The book is gripping, a fascinating and terrifying story of survival and desperation. I'm sure it's probable that the movie will take some liberties with the story, but I'm still looking forward to seeing it.

Most exciting cast: The Big Short
Today it was announced that The Big Short, the film adaptation of Michael Lewis's nonfiction take on the subprime mortgage crisis, would have its official world premiere in December, thus making it and its cast eligible for awards consideration.  I've been waiting to see more about the movie ever since I discovered that it would star Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, AND Brad Pitt.  So. Much. Talent.  Perhaps more method acting than we can bear?  Anyway, it was thrilling to see the trailer today.  It would appear that Christian Bale is in top form, and Steve Carell made a strong impression too.  It's highly unusual to have an unexpected early release like this, and I'm hoping it's because the movie is legitimately as good as it looks on paper.

And the rest: Steve Jobs, Joy, Macbeth, The Revenant, STAR WARS (the JJ Abrams version)

It's going to be a good year at the movies.

Monday, August 24, 2015

best of summer

Monday, August 24, 2015
I am probably in the minority here, but no one could be more excited than me that summer is nearing its close. Facebook was deluged with "first day of school" pictures with accompanying sad face posts lamenting the end of summer, and while I am sure it's only a matter of time before everyone starts talking about pumpkin patches and football and pumpkin spice lattes (OF COURSE), most people actually hate to see summer go.  

Even as a kid, I didn't love summer.  I may have enjoyed the blissful lack of responsibility that comes in the first few weeks without school, but after that I was ready to see my friends again.  Growing up on a ranch was more than a little crippling on one's social life.  I was also one of those ridiculously annoying children who loved every second of school, and didn't even hate homework that much.  I missed crisp white notebooks and pencils and schedules.  

Now that I have a kid of my own, I find the reality of summer daunting.  My little guy thrives on a routine.  I genuinely believe he feels better, mentally and physically, when his life is predictable. There are some aspects of summer that are undeniably lovely-long days stretching into the early evening means lots of light for scooter rides at the park, the (PRACTICALLY DESERT-LIKE) heat that makes swimming so refreshing and exhilarating, weekly trips with Daddy to the ice cream shop.  It's been fun, but the combination of frequent traveling, friends and family being away on vacation, and the general interruption to regularly scheduled programming is tough.  

Despite my overly enthusiastic welcoming of a new season, there were definitely some great highlights to the summer.  Fun beach jaunts, fishing in Colorado, train rides and train museums, water parks and swimming pools.  Of course, there was good entertainment and eats to enjoy, too.  Here are some of the things that made summer a little easier to get through:

best reads:

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home, Jessica Fechtor-I have a food memoir/food writing problem.  Cannot get enough of these types of books.  I packed my spare copy (the fact that I HAVE a spare copy should tell you something) of A Homemade Life in my shiny new emergency kit (for earthquakes and the zombie apocalypse, of course).  
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie-One of our book club's reads for the summer, and I loved it.  I haven't felt so thoughtful during the course of reading a book and after in a long time.  It felt especially relevant to read such a book at this time in our country, too.  
Broken Monsters and The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes-Terrifying and entirely refreshing. As my dear SIL puts it, "like Stephen King but better."  
In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume-Oh, Judy Blume!  I loved what Duana, a regular contributing critic at my beloved Lainey Gossip, had to say about it.  "People always say that Judy Blume's books prove she still understands what it was like to be a young person and a teenager.  I agree, of course-that's what got me into her books in the first place-but I feel more as though she's helping me to be an adult." (

The Martian, Andy Weir-Matt Damon and the creative social marketing campaign for the upcoming adaptation of this book intrigued me.  I'm so all over the map with my reading this summer!  Sci fi! Horror! Memoir! Judy Blume! Anyway, it was actually a riveting read, IMHO.  I was genuinely anxious multiple times, and it was especially easy to invest in the main character knowing he'd be played with panache by Matt Damon.  

best tv:
Jane the Virgin-An absolute gem, a DELIGHT.  I adore this show and can't wait for the second season to begin.  Diverse, funny, and heartwarming without being overly sentimental.  Gina Rodriguez (Jane) is wonderful.  
Halt and Catch Fire-A much more serious, but equally strong show about the motivations and machinations of a trio of tech-savvy geeks and entrepreneurs in the "Silicon Prairie"-Dallas in the 1980's.  I haven't seen characters as compelling or been as genuinely invested in a show probably since watching The Wire.  All three of the leads are fantastic (and fairly unknown), but the supporting cast is solid.  Lee Pace, in particular, is infinitely watchable.  It's hard to look away when he's onscreen.  

best treats:
These need no elaboration.  They are all incredibly delicious, and with the exception of mashing crackers up to make a pie crust (in the case of the lemon pie), all quite easy.  Only the exorbitant price of limes could keep me from making the limeade every day, and I have become an utter devotee of the homemade popsicle. 
-Bill Smith's Atlantic beach lemon pie, courtesy of Food 52. 

best guilty pleasures:
Taylor Swift's Bad Blood-Delightfully over the top and ridiculous, I have watched this video more times than I should mention.  My little guy too. Yikes.  He loves Taylor Swift and is inexplicably drawn to this song.  Side note: I don't mind your friend collecting, T, but you lose points for including Jessica Alba in your star-studded video. 
Entertainment Weekly subscription-I'm supporting the print industry! 
UnREAL-I haven't finished it yet, so I can't offer any final commentary, but so far I am hooked on this take on reality television.  It's a behind-the-scenes look at a faux Bachelor-style show, and not nearly as funny as you might think based on that description.  It's on Lifetime, if you can believe it, and considered a sleeper hit of the summer. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

here's a mouthful: melon-avocado-arugula salad with crispy prosciutto and maple-balsamic vinaigrette

Sunday, July 26, 2015

About six months ago, I stumbled across How Sweet It Is, another popular food blog in the seemingly endless sea of food blogs.  I think it might have been through a link on a fashion website that I halfheartedly follow, hoping that I might get the tiniest bit of inspiration for my lonely wardrobe.

I have a type, I think, when it comes to food blogs.  At the risk of sounding completely self-righteous and food-snobby, I would say that I gravitate most towards the whole food/organic/farm fresh sites.  There are usually lots of perfectly shot photos of fresh hauls from farmer's market, captured in only the light of a golden afternoon sun.  Kale and farro are ubiquitous.  Most of my favorites are also quite heavy on the writing.  Each post is a thoughtful essay rather than just a glossy recipe.  I actually spend time reading posts from years ago on Orangette or The Wednesday Chef, just for the pure pleasure of it. 

How Sweet is not like those blogs.  It's bold and brash, unapologetically about food, glorious food.  Against a background accented with candy-colored shades of pastel pink and blue, its author, Jessica Merchant, raves with great enthusiasm about her latest successful dishes, sharing up close and personal photos of plates bursting with decadence and color.  These aren't the oat scone and bulgur salads that I tend to read about most of the time.  Bourbon and chocolate are heavily featured.  A month ago there was a recipe for strawberry buttermilk sprinkle donuts. This week I can't tear myself away from the post about havarti and arugula grilled cheese with herbed butter and SMOKY BACON JAM.  

I didn't want to admit how much I liked this new blog and Jessica's whimsical musings about cocktails and television shows.  I felt much more virtuous (and more like myself, to be honest) when I whipped up a batch of Megan Gordon's coconut cookies or returned to my tried-and-true Molly Wizenberg scone recipe.  After reading the description of the first cookbook spawned from How Sweet, cutely titled Seriously Delish, for probably the 100th time, I finally ordered it.  And I have to say, it has been the BEST thing to arrive in my kitchen for a really long time.  Every. Single. Recipe. has been utterly wonderful.  

It's true, a a few cursory glances at the blog might lead you to believe that its recipes are on the more decadent side, but Jessica's food is remarkably whole, to use a trendy food adjective.  She uses a ton of whole grains, relies heavily on coconut oil, and adores kale and bacon in equal measure.  I've truly enjoyed making food from her book, and can't wait to write more about it.  Heavenly strawberry mascarpone scones.  BBQ chicken chili so hearty and flavorful that my SH didn't even complain about eating the leftovers.  White bean and turkey enchiladas that tasted restaurant-worthy.  A bran muffin recipe so perfect that I'll never need to find another.  And THIS salad-please, make it immediately.

Melon-Avocado-Arugula Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette, adapted from Seriously Delish, by Jessica Merchant

1/4 pound prosciutto, thinly sliced (I bought a cheap package at TJ's, which wasn't quite 1/4 a pound but seemed to be plenty.  And it was delicious, for what it's worth)
6 cups arugula
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cantaloupe, washed, halved, and seeded (I opted to slice the cantaloupe into small chunks and made one big salad bowl out of it all)
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the prosciutto.  Cook and toss with a wooden spoon (or something that won't scratch your skillet) until it is crisped and slightly golden in color, 5 to 6 minutes.  Remove the prosciutto and place it on a paper towel until ready to use.
2. Add the arugula to a large bowl and season with the salt and pepper.  If your melon halves don't sit straight, slice a little off the bottom to make them flat.  Divide the greens evenly between the melon halves and add half a sliver avocado to each. (As I mentioned, I opted to make one big salad, so I sliced the whole avocado and added it to the bowl).  
3. For the vinaigrette, whisk together the vinegar, syrup, garlic, salt, and pepper in a bowl.  Stir in the olive oil while continuing to whisk.  Pour over the salad.  Add the crispy prosciutto on top.  

-I use a small jam jar for making dressings and vinaigrettes.  I shake vigorously and everything emulsifies perfectly.  This might not be the best technique for recipes that use cream or yogurt in the dressing, but so far it's worked well.
-My SH tends to *require* some kind of protein in every meal in order for it to be a "real" meal in his mind.  I grilled a few sausages to serve on the side of the salad, but in reality, we didn't need them at all.  It's a perfect meal for two adults, I think.  I ate it for lunch the following day.  

Saturday, June 20, 2015

whole grain pancakes

Saturday, June 20, 2015
Saturday morning fixture! Stunning photography, I know. 

When last I wrote, I was on a Megan Gordon/Whole-Grain Mornings run.  I'd been ready to share at least three more of my favorite, most successful recipes.  I was on a roll.  It was cooler outside, spring-like even.

No surprise here-it's almost two months later and I'm finally getting back to sharing these pancakes, perhaps the best whole-grain item I've added to our repertoire.  It's a great, simple way to start incorporating more whole grains into your routine, if that so happens to be an interest or goal.  Both spelt and buckwheat are featured, and neither are the kind of strong flavors that it could take a while to grow accustomed to, which can be the case with other whole grain flours.  Spelt, for the record, is easily interchangeable with all-purpose flour.

Here's the thing about these pancakes-they're not traditional.  Not fluffy, and you won't have golden yellow cake springing back beautifully as you plunge your fork into it.  They are sturdy little brown cakes, with the earthy, unmistakable flavor of buckwheat. Tiny pieces of oats are visible in each pancake, lending them a virtuous texture.  Despite their relative heft, the pancakes themselves cook up quite thin, giving them a delicate appearance though they are NOT at all wimpy.  We love them around here, and I've gotten into the habit of making a batch every Saturday morning.

start here:
Whole-Grain Pancake Mix

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup spelt flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
3 tablespoons natural cane sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a large bowl, stir together all the ingredients.  Scoop into a large resealable plastic bag or a large glass jar and store for 6 to 8 weeks.  Refrigerate for longer shelf life (3-4 months).  Give the mix a good stir before using it to integrate any ingredients that may have settled.  My Notes: As you can see by my lovely photo, I store my mix in a large zip-lock.  It yields about 4 batches of pancakes.  

Whole-Grain Buttermilk Pancakes

1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon butter, melted and lightly cooled, plus more for greasing the pan and for serving
1 cup Whole-Grain Pancake Mix
Honey or maple syrup, for serving

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, buttermilk and butter.  Whisk the pancake mix into the milk mixture until smooth.  Let the batter rest for 10 minutes to allow the dry ingredients to soak up some of the liquid.  If the batter feels far too thick and difficult to easily whisk or stir, add 1 tablespoon more milk or water to loosen it up.  I've never had this problem-it always is quite easy to stir, though not too thin.  
2. Melt a nub of butter in a large skillet or griddle over medium heat (you want the melted butter to completely coat the pan).  Scoop 1/4 cup of batter into the pan.  Repeat, depending on the size of your pan.  Cook each pancake until the bottom is golden brown and the top begins to bubble, 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook the other side an additional 1 to 2 minutes.  You'll likely need another bit of butter in the pan between batches. The extra butter is a must! Serve warm, topped with butter, honey, or maple syrup as desired.  Maple syrup, always. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

you need to read this: station eleven

Tuesday, April 21, 2015
"First we only want to be seen, but once we're seen, that's not enough anymore.  After that, we want to be remembered." 

Let it be known that I was NOT the last to this party.  Station Eleven has been praised and lauded from the moment of its release, perched in fancy, eye-catching displays in bookstores and undoubtedly chatted about at book clubs and cocktail parties.  It was shortlisted for the National Book Award and the PEN/ Faulkner Award for Fiction, if those sort of things are especially important to you.

I'm not going into the plot too much, partially because I'm rushing out this post before I take my laptop to a much-needed Genius Bar appointment (it's SERIOUSLY sick!) but also because describing it as a story that takes place in a dystopian future, while accurate, just doesn't do it justice. Station Eleven is really more about what matters to us even before we've lost everything, and how somehow that never changes. I highly, highly recommend this book-I was thinking about it days later, and the experience of reading it was something like being stuck in a pleasant reverie.

*I love the cover, by the way.  Sort of lonely and spare, yet hopeful, which perfectly represents the story.

smoked salmon crème fraîche tart

Confession 1: I "pre-dated" this post to ensure that I would, indeed, share a Whole Grain Mornings-inspired post for every day this week.  Now that I put that out there, I have no excuses not to finish up my posts for Wednesday-Friday! Yikes!

Confession 2: Despite loving salmon in almost every way possible, I just can't muster a lot of affection for it in its smoked form.  Yes, I'm the person who generously smears an everything bagel with cream cheese but neglects to garnish it with lox.  Being married to a Scandinavian hasn't helped matters much.  One would hardly think that the idea of a tart wherein the offensive fishy ingredient is bathed in a puddle of egg custard would appeal to me. I don't know what it was that made me decide to try this particular recipe, even though I love dishes that I can easily transport for brunch and I especially love to make things that will make for nice weekend lunches, a meal that is almost always bereft of inspiration for me.  On her blog, Megan writes that it's her favorite recipe in the book, and it might have been her mentioning how easy it would be to make it a "greens and gruyere" or "mushrooms and shallot" tart that made me decide I could, indeed give the smoked salmon version a shot.  I was sure my SH would love it, and since we're in the thick of a pickle-loving stage with our little guy I thought he might be won over by the capers.  What did I really have to lose?  I'm practically the only person in the world who doesn't love smoked salmon!

I am here to tell you that I did not, in fact, become enamored with smoked salmon after tasting my lovely, just-like-the-pictures-in-the-book tart.  However, I didn't hate it, not at all.  The crunchy cornmeal and millet crust was extremely satisfying, buttery and toothsome, and the perfect base for the flavorful filling.  The addition of crème fraîche, swirling around the perfectly pink shards of salmon gave the tart a richness that didn't feel at all heavy, and the capers and shallots made it feel special, a classy, grown-up dish that could definitely impress.  I made it for our Valentine's Day lunch, and not surprisingly, my SH devoured two huge slices. Next time, I plan on bringing it to a bigger gathering-it's definitely the kind of dish people will remember.  

Smoked Salmon Crème Fraîche Tart with a Cornmeal Millet Crust, adapted from Whole Grain Mornings, by Megan Gordon

1/2 cup fine-ground cornmeal
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour or standard whole wheat flour 
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes, plus more for greasing the pan
3-4 tablespoons ice water
1/4 cup millet (This is the first time I have used millet, and I'm excited to try it in other ways.  I ordered it from Bob's Red Mill, but it's also often available at Whole Foods)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup minced shallots (about 3 medium shallots)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup crème fraîche
3 large eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons capers, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into small pieces

1. To prepare the crust: Butter a 9-inch tart pan with 1-inch sides and a removable bottom.  Using a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse together the cornmeal, flour, and salt.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal (alternatively, you can use a pastry blender or your fingertips to work the butter into the dry ingredients).  Add the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse until the dough starts to look like wet, clumpy sand.  It's ready if a small piece hold together when squeezed between your fingers.  If it still seems too crumbly, add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time.  Turn the dough out into a large bowl and mix in the millet using a fork.  Press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
2. Preheat the oven to 375.  Place the prepared crust on a small baking sheet for easy transport to and from the oven.  
3. Bake the crust for 15 minutes to slightly dry out the top so that it won't get soggy when you add the wet filling.  Meanwhile, prepare the filling. 
4. To prepare the filling: In a small sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and sauté the shallots until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté for an additional 1 minute.  Remove from the heat.  In a bowl, whisk together the milk, crème fraîche, eggs, capers, dill, salt, and pepper to make a custard.  
5. To assemble and bake the tart: Spoon the shallot mixture in an even layer on the bottom of the crust; arrange the salmon across the top evenly.  Pour in the custard mixture.
6. Bake at 375 until the top is golden brown and the filling is set, 30-35 minutes.  Let cook for 15 to 20 minutes.  Untold the tart onto a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature.  If you have leftovers, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.