MAPLE SEASON

Ciao’d with a slice of cinnamon streusel coffee cake.

Maple-Chocolate Chip Blondies -blog.jpg

When fall arrives in Northern California, those of us from the Northeast go wild for the snippets of autumn color that illuminate the Japanese maple, ginkgo and persimmon trees. These trees are diminutive in size but they carry their voluptuous colors well.  “We finally have a season!” we exclaim to fellow Nor’easters at the market, in the gym, around the neighborhood. As if the back of the year, punctuated by glittering rain, luminous sunlight, shawls of fog and salty bay breezes, was hard labor. 

As our East coast friends prepare for the first frost, removing screens from porches and doors, mounding decaying leaves around the hostas, and ensuring that the plow man has them on his schedule, we bask in the pumpkin glow of a generous, warm autumn. No cold or rain in sight – so far.

From where I sit and watch from the Adirondack chair on the terrace, the Japanese maple stretches its slim limbs, reaching for the autumn sky and the waning sun. The lower branches dip and drip their color but it’s the ruddy red leaves hanging on the new-growth branches at the top of the tree that catch my eye.  When the breeze ruffles through, bringing the leaves to life, they shimmer like ruby earrings when a head tips in laughter.   The finches and wrens chirp and bob from branch to branch. 

Soon a billowing wind or weighty rain will send the leaves to the ground where they will mulch the grass until the gardener comes and blows them away. The summer birds will take flight to warmer climes. The crows remain though. Sitting heavily on the bare branches, they are camouflaged in the inky morning light. 

I don’t mourn the falling leaves. Their fleeting lush green and then riotous rush of color leave behind a broad, fresh view of the western horizon. November rain will slick the branches. The tree will stand stoically in the thin light. The hummingbird feeders will sway silently.  Once the woodpeckers return, they’ll visit – and rule - the suet feeder, scattering the nuthatches and brown creepers with their raucous laughing calls. 

Japanese maples do not produce sap, as I am sure you know, but the change of season gets me thinking about maple syrup and the sugar maples from whence it comes. While sugaring season occurs in the spring, maple syrup enjoys its beyond-pancakes moment in the fall.  It caramelizes roasted acorn squash, slicks bacon (you’ll never go back), glazes holiday ham. It’s a natural complement to other sweet flavors. Hence these Maple-Chocolate Chip Blondies. I gave a batch to my college son at Family Weekend. “They’re the bomb, mom,” which means he thoroughly approved. I think you will, too.

Note: if you’re looking for an alternative or a complement to Thanksgiving pie, these blondies are just the ticket. Make them now and freeze until the big day.


🍁. 🍁. 🍁

MAPLE CHOCOLATE CHIP BLONDIES

Makes sixteen 2” blondies

1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

Melt the butter and brown sugar together in a saucepan over low heat or in a heatproof bowl in the microwave. Remove from the heat and stir in the maple syrup. Transfer to a large bowl, let cool, and then add the eggs and vanilla and stir to combine.

Fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture being careful not to over mix. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the top is golden brown and shiny, about 20 to 25 minutes. Do not overbake. A bit of a jiggle in the center is okay. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack and cool to room temperature before cutting. Recipe slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour.

Note: Store the browning at room temperature for up to one week, or in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

AUTUMN COME SHE WILL (WITH TOMATO BREAD PUDDING)

Ciao’d with a cup of mulled cider.

Tomato_Bread_Pudding_Blog.jpeg

Just as a rose smells sweetest before its demise, autumn flaunts its fleeting nature. This season of tailgate picnics (see you soon, CU Buffs!) and leaves crackling underfoot urges us to recognize time’s ephemeral quality and to treasure each moment.

After sending off our son to his freshman year of college with exhortations along the lines of “Best 4 years of your life!” my husband and I returned to a house resounding with silence. Rather than answering the morning (every morning) call, “Hey, mom, I can’t find my Vans/backpack/car keys,” I sit with my cup of coffee and gaze at the garden. The autumn wind rustles through the trees, their branches becoming barer with each passing day. The wind seems to have sucked the energy out of the house, too.

Teenage boys exude distinct energy. It’s all consuming, lurching from pound-my-chest masculine bravado to outright immature silliness. One evening in August, I heard Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl blaring from the speakers in our yard and my son’s friend shouting over it, “Happiest song of the summer!”

Okay, let’s take a step back, shall we? Brown Eyed Girl was written in 1967. We listened to it in college, and it was throwback even then. But some things gloriously transcend time. Brown Eyed Girl is a song about youth, growing up, and okay, it’s about “making love in the green grass,” too. It is a paean to memory. It’s nostalgic. How perfect that the boys would be playing this song on the cusp of their yet-traveled adventures.

I will miss that riotous and richly textured boy energy. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, though. I can already hear their voices trilling in the crisp autumn air. I smell their weed, oh I mean chicken katsu from the Hawaiian take-out place. I feel the pleasant softness of well-worn sweatshirts when we hug, and I see them tossing lacrosse balls (and dice for beer die). I can taste their joy.

In the meantime, speaking of ephemeral, the last of the season’s tomatoes hang heavily on the vine. My friend harvested hers this week and bestowed me with a basket of red, ripe treasures. I’m a bit tired of Caprese salad and gazpacho, so I took an autumn spin and made tomato bread pudding. Layered with cheese and laced with herbs and garlic, it’s just the thing for a warm, cozy dinner.

bird feet.png

TOMATO BREAD PUDDING

Bread pudding is traditionally made from stale bread. If you have it, great. If not, a fresh crusty baguette or country loaf will do just fine. If you’re the traditional sort, toast the fresh bread slices in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

½ pound country bread, sliced about ½-inch thick
3 large, ripe, tomatoes, sliced (about 1 pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
3 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 ounces Fontina or Gruyere cheese, grated (about ¾ cup)
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
4 large eggs
2 cups milk (low-fat okay)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish with olive oil or butter.

Layer half of the bread slices in the baking dish. Top with half the tomato slices. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and half the herbs and garlic. Top with half the cheese. Repeat the layers.

Beat together the eggs and milk. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and pour over the bread and tomatoes. Bake until puffed and golden, about 50 to 60 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Adapted from The New York Times.

bird feet.png

Summer's Swan Song

Ciao'd with a tomato sandwich. Mayo mandatory.

IMG_4184.jpg

Hey, everybody!

It's been awhile - almost a whole summer - since I've posted. How could I take a step back when there is such a bounty of deliciousness to highlight in recipes. But yeah, I took most of the summer off. This doesn't mean I wasn't cooking and eating. And eating. And cooking. And eating more. 

I woke up today with the realization that summer is singing its swan song. Hate to be a downer but ain't it the truth? We only have weeks left to enjoy juicy plums and peaches, mouth-watering tomatoes, sweet corn, and I could go on and on.

So before I take the next few weeks off (I will be grieving my only son having left for college), why not a nod to the tomato, tomahto? 

If you go to the archive (click on it above), you'll find lots of tomato-y recipes. One of my favorites: Italian Gratin with Tomato and Zucchini. This gem is archived under the date August 25, 2016 and carries the title A Cry for Tomato Help (And The Italian Gratin Answer). Let's face it, as we think about back-to-school, it's the tomato and the zucchini that would become the fast friends at carpool. Perfectly matched.

The lead to the recipe is a story about (human) friendship of the girlfriend kind. Where would we be without our sister friends?

Enjoy! See you in September. 

Anthony

Ciao'd with a robust glass of red.

I don't know who took this photo. Please let me know if you know. Brilliant.   

I don't know who took this photo. Please let me know if you know. Brilliant.

 

I was at once enamored and scared of him. Completely transfixed. He was like the guy I met in a college bar who I knew my parents would never approve of. Because! Because Anthony Bourdain was a firebrand. He was the kind of guy who touched my soul in places that enlivened me, excited me, and made me feel like I could stretch beyond my expected norms. His weathered exterior masked his kind, sensitive heart.

It wasn't just about Anthony's food knowledge. He was not a cooking channel talking head. Not by a long shot. Anthony gave a master class in storytelling. His global curiosity was unmatched.  And perhaps most moving, his authentic and soulful love for real people around the world torpedoed through the television screen and into our hearts and minds. With food as his lovely, melodic instrument, Anthony united us with people in other (and sometimes strange) cultures. From Seoul to Tokyo, Hanoi to Hawaii, and so many points in between, Anthony Bourdain was #badass. 

"Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”  Roger that, Anthony.

This recipe is great, but if you choose not to make it, please read the recipe. His voice, true and exciting,  resonates. God, we need more people like this. Rest in peace, Anthony Bourdain. You were a force. 

bird feet.png

MUSHROOM SOUP

 

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, thinly sliced
3/4 lb (12 ounces) button mushrooms
4 cups chicken stock
1 sprig Italian parsley
Salt and pepper
2 ounces dry sherry

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the mushrooms and the remaining butter. Let the mushrooms sweat for about 8 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock and the parsley and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour. Remove the parsley and discard. Let the soup cool for a few minutes. Transfer to the blender and blend at high speed until smooth. Do I have to remind you to do this in stages, with the blender's lid firmly held down, and with the weight of your body keeping that thing from flying off and allowing boiling hot mushroom puree to erupt all over your ktichen?

To astound your guests with a Wild Mushroom Soup, simply replace some of those button mushrooms with a few dried cèpes or morels, which have been soaked until soft, drained, and squeezed. Not too many; the dried mushrooms will have a much stronger taste, and you don't want to overwhelm the soup. Pan sear, on high heat, a single small, pretty, fresh chanterelle or morel for each portion, and then slice into a cute fan and float on top in each bowl.

And if you really want to ratchet your soup into pretentious (but delicious), drizzle a few tiny drops of truffle oil over the surface just before serving. Why the hell not? Everybody else is doing it.

bird feet.png

FIRST-WORLD PROBLEMS, WHITE WHINES (AND OLIVE OIL BRAISED POTATOES)

Ciao'd while watching the French Open.

Olive-Oil-Braised-Potatoes-blog.jpeg

Before you play the race card on me, the white whine moniker was coined by Streeter Seidell, author of White Whine: A Study of First World Problems (2013, F+W Media, Inc.). If you take a step back, you have to admit that the title is not only brilliant but true, too.

Lately, I have been hearing a lot of complaining among my crowd about persnickety “problems.” There’s a Hatfield and McCoy battle waging at my tennis club (that alone raises the eyebrow). Non-members are attending tennis clinics. And they are super loud, laughing and calling to each other on a court adjacent to courts occupied by members. Said members are consequently bugged to distraction. Granted the noise is not prescribed tennis etiquette but it begs the question: if the pros at the US Open can play through rowdy crowds, why can’t a 3.0 player just get on with it?

Here’s another first-world whine: Queuing to get on your flight to Hawaii/Mexico/Europe because your miles did not sweep you through to first class.

Oh, and another one: A crying baby on that flight to paradise.

And how about this: Standing behind a person with 16 items in the 12-item market cash-out line.

And this: Candy corn or Peeps not sold all year long.

I can go on:

Your kid not getting into the college dorm he wanted.

And on: A sweat-showering person posing next to you in hot yoga.

And one (or two) more: No WI-FI. Wonky GPS.

Listen, I am guilty of more than one of the whines above. Stuff bugs me, too; however, in light of what transpires beyond the entitled masses, I am trying to maintain perspective.

I’m thinking about stuff like this:

For 1 billion people safe water is scarce. It takes less than 3 seconds for the water to cascade from our faucets (thewaterproject.org).

Around the world, 62 million girls are not in school (usaid.gov).

42 million – roughly one in eight Americans – rely on food stamps (CNN Money). These are fellow Americans who make only (or less than) $26, 600 a year for a family of three. Do the math - approximately $555 a week – for EVERYTHING. 

More than 13 million kids in this country go to school hungry (No Kid Hungry).

In a single night in California in 2016, 21.48% of the population experienced homelessness. In New York, 15.7% (National Alliance to End Homelessness).

I could go on with these stats but I think you get my drift.

Am I an activist? Do I have an answer for these real problems? No, but I think I finally became less of an ostrich and more of an eagle. I am well aware of the strife in the world but, until recently, it swirled around me rather than alighted upon me.

When I was overwhelmed, my grandmother told me, “Take one step and your other foot will follow.”  Recognizing that something needs a solution is the first step to making it happen. So I guess this post is the first step.

This recipe for Olive Oil Braised Potatoes with Sage and Bay Leaf pays tribute to another strife. During the mid-19th century, a blight destroyed virtually every potato in Ireland, a staple for the country’s population. About 1 million people perished. Seriously, aren't we so blessed?

bird feet.png

OLIVE OIL BRAISED POTATOES WITH SAGE AND BAY LEAF

Cooking the potatoes in olive oil elicits their creamy, buttery flavor.

Serves 4

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ pounds small red potatoes, halved
1 small shallot, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 small bay leaf
1 cup chicken stock + more if needed
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, shallot, sage and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, until the potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. If the potatoes dry out, add a bit more liquid.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.

bird feet.png

SOFFRITTO LAMB STEW

Ciao'd watching Frankie and Grace (finally)

Italian_Lamb_Stew_blog.jpeg

I heard a wonderful term the other day: the hundred days of May. God, it's so true. From the beginning of May until mid-June, when school lets out, it is literally a race to the finish. Teacher appreciation day. Step up day. Sports semis and finals. Banquets of every color - honor society, varsity athlete, you name it, these are just the ones I am attending. And then the finish line. Pre-school to elementary school. Elementary school to middle school. Mid to high school. And then (insert sob here) high school commencement. It sounds like a ramble but every mother knows it is a wink. 

The days go by fast and the moments even more so. My son's school sent a message the other day asking parents to collect photos and make a collage for display at the sober (hah!) grad night. I am trying really hard not to embarrass him but I am partial to certain memories. My son in his high chair, age one, with cupcake frosting on his face. Our black lab chasing him bare butt-naked poolside (if Coppertone can do it, why can't I?). The first lacrosse game when he, like his fellow second graders, were mere bobbleheads (small boys, big helmets). A sneak pic when he, in his teenage lankiness, was languidly asleep in his bed (mouth open) during our college tour. 

I am a human pin cushion. Each day during these hundred days of May a pin pricks my heart. How to slow down time? I wish I had an app for that. But we can't manipulate nature, regardless of our net worth or influence. That's why I decided to make a stew today. From chopping the ingredients to browning the meat to simmering the stew, this is not a get-food-quick endeavor. It is, however, a satisfying one. And isn't that what we wish from all our days?

bird feet.png

SOFFRITTO LAMB STEW

Soffritto is the holy trinity of Italian cooking. Translated, it means "fried slowly." Soffritto is the undercurrent of flavor in so many Italian dishes. Onions, celery, and carrots are the underlying flavors but, like Italians, soffritto loves variations. In this recipe, the soffritto is composed of onion, celery, parsley, rosemary, and garlic. It adds a jolt of freshness to the rich lamb.

Serves 6

3 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks + leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups dry white wine
3 1/2 cups beef stock
one 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
12 baby potatoes, cut in half
1/4 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas

In a large bowl, sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper. Toss the lamb in the flour until evenly coated. 

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or other deep pan. Add the lamb to the pan and brown on all sides. Do this in batches so as not to crowd the meat. If the pan becomes dry, add a bit more oil. Transfer the lamb to a plate. 

Add the onion, celery, parsley, and rosemary to the pan and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes more. 

Increase the heat to high. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half, stirring to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

Return the lamb to the pan. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and beef stock. Cover partially and simmer until the lamb is tender, about 1 hour.

Add the potatoes and cook for 15 minutes. Add the green beans simmer until the  tender, another 5 to 10 minutes. Toss in the peas and cook until thawed, about 5 minutes more. Taste for seasoning and serve. Crusty bread makes the perfect accompaniment.

bird feet.png