Cranberry Crumb Bars

Quick post today, since finals week doom is looming over my head at this moment.  Currently I'm working on a paper for my genes and behavior class (an elective for my psychology major) that I'm actually really excited to write.  Each week throughout the quarter we discussed a different behavior, usually a human behavior but sometimes we looked at an animal behavior that was relevant to studying humans, and the genetic basis for that behavior, which could be one or the product of a number of factors: inheritance of a specific allele, altered expression of a certain gene (or multiple genes), epigenetic modifications (basically modifications that effect gene expression indirectly rather than directly), programming effects (when conditioned changes to the genes of parents are passed on to their offspring, usually differences in gene expression or epigenetic factors), and so on.  We learned about the mechanisms behind these factors, the ways scientists construct experiments to study them, and the specific animal systems used to model different human behaviors.  We read two or three scientific papers on each week's topic and wrote a one- to two-page response; but for the final paper, we get to choose our own topics, and we're writing longer essays involving several more scientific papers each.

I've chosen to write my paper on the genetic basis for sexual orientation.  It's really important to me to establish a biological explanation for sexual orientation, since it's often misunderstood as a lifestyle choice, sexual preference, or even psychopathology.  There's been a lot of literature that's tried to identify a gene for homosexuality to explain its prevalence among humans when it's not an evolutionarily beneficial trait (since you're not a reproducing member of the community).  In the past couple of years, scientists have moved away from trying to find a specific gene for sexual orientation, and instead have been looking more at epigenetic factors (so those factors that indirectly affect the expression of genes rather than altering genes directly), especially epigenetic changes to the parents' genetic makeup that get passed on to their children.  I apologize if this is getting too technical, but I'm nerding out pretty hard over it.  I'm integrating a few studies into a comprehensive view of sexual orientation as a multi-faceted epigenetic phenomenon influenced by both maternal and paternal programming effects and accounting for anatomical, neurological, and behavioral features that have been correlated with sexual orientation.  

So much for a quick post.  Happy first snow in Chicago everyone, curl up with your laptops, hunker down for finals, and have a snack.  

Cranberry Crumb Bars
from Deb Perelman via Lottie + Doof

2 sticks cold butter, cut into cubes
3 c all-purpose flour
1 c evaporated cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 large egg
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
3 c fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Line the bottom of a 13x9 inch pan (or you could use a standard sheet pan like I did, but you'll get much thinner bars) with parchment paper, and butter the sides and paper to prevent sticking.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and spices.  Work the butter into the flour mixture until the pieces are the size of peas, then mix in the egg.  When the mixture becomes a coarse meal, press half of it into the bottom of the prepared pan.

In a food processor, combine the orange juice, zest, cranberries, honey, and corn starch.  Pulse until the berries are chopped but not pureed.  Spread the cranberry filling over the crumb base, then crumble on the remaining dough.

Bake 30-35 minutes until lightly browned.  They're best on the day they're made while they're still crunchy, but are still mighty tasty the second and third day.

Thanksgiving, featuring Sweet Potato Biscuits

Do you know what day it is?

Today, my dear friends, is the anniversary of this lovely little corner of the Internet right here, otherwise known as Strong Coffee.  My first recipe for Gingerbread with Espresso Glaze was posted December 3, 2012, and now here we are, talking about a full Thanksgiving dinner.

Such fooding.
So blog.

A lot has changed since then, mostly in ways I could've never anticipated.  I'm quite the planner; not to the point where I have no room, or patience, for spontaneity, but it's definitely an impulse to make the uncertain certain.  I enjoy exercising the power of organizing chaos.  Usually I find out that I don't actually have that power; but, fortunately for my dinner guests and me, I successfully organized the chaos that is Thanksgiving.  Armed with my beautiful, glorious spreadsheet, all of my dishes turned out as planned.  And I didn't mess up the turkey!  You've probably seen a million gajillion recipes floating around the Internet in the past couple weeks for turkey: how to brine your turkey, how to not brine your turkey because brining is evil, how to cook the perfect turkey, deep fry your turkey, turkey is overrated, blahhhhhh... So I won't bore you with the recipe I used for mine.  If you want to know, it's from Alton Brown, because he the Zeus of culinary gods, just sayin'.  Let's not extend that metaphor too far, okay?  Don't go there.  He's awesome, that's it.

I will, however, share with you the recipe I used for sweet potato biscuits.  Because I would've risked the biggest, most gloriously painful food coma of my life to eat three more after dinner, if only they hadn't all been devoured already.  My post-Thanksgiving morning sandwich on a sweet potato biscuit would've been too glorious for words... If only.  But thankfully (har har) they're really simple to make.  You just have to expend a little extra effort to roast a sweet potato, and spend some extra time to let it cool down.  Then just mash it up, eating the skin as a nice little snack of course.  They were great for Thanksgiving prep, since I was able to roast my sweet potatoes on Monday, then make the dough and form the biscuits Tuesday, freezing them on sheet trays overnight before putting them in a gallon-size Ziploc, so that on Thursday all I had to do was let them thaw out on the counter for an hour and bake.  I made a double batch, which made 14 substantially sized biscuits (I mean, if I'm going to have a biscuit, I want a biscuit), and that's what I've posted below.

I won't go too much into the sappy details of Thanksgiving and the evening that followed, how loved I felt surrounded by people who care about me, how fortunate I am to love and be loved by the wonderful people in my life, to have made new friendships and gone down new paths this year, et cetera et cetera, because I'll digress as I'm digressing now into a little pile of soft cuddly mush.  Suffice it to say that I am a very fortunate person, and I love that these months of November and December always make me step back for a moment to really appreciate it.

Okay, it's biscuit time, enough of that cheesy stuff.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
from Tanya Holland at Food & Wine

2 c chilled sweet potato puree*
1 1/2 c chilled buttermilk
4 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c brown sugar
1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 sticks cold butter, cubed

*To make the sweet potato puree, roast a couple of sweet potatoes at 400 degrees F.  I just poke mine several times with a fork (to release the steam that'll get trapped under the skin), drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and wrap in tin foil.  Be sure to put your wrapped sweet potatoes on a sheet pan to catch any juices that'll leak out.  Depending on the size of your sweet potatoes this'll take an hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sweet potato puree and buttermilk.  Then, in a larger bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour through salt).  Using your fingers or a pastry cutter if you have one, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the pieces are the size of peas.  If the butter has become too warm, pop the bowl in the freezer for a couple minutes.  Carefully stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined.

Dust a clean surface with flour, and dump out the dough.  Pat the dough down with your palm until it's 1-2 inches thick, depending on your preference.  Using a glass (or an actual circular cookie cutter if you have one, ha), cut the biscuits to the desired size.  Again, if the dough has become too warm, pop it in the freezer.  At this point, you could freeze the cut out biscuits completely to bake another time.

Brush the tops with a little melted butter if you feel so inclined, then bake for 15-30 minutes (again, depending on the size) until they're crisp on the outside and firm on the inside when you press gently with your fingertips.  Serve warm.  A drizzle of honey wouldn't hurt.

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure: Pizza

Friends, I am hosting Thanksgiving this year.  This is the first holiday dinner (of many, I hope) that I'll be cooking and serving as the executive-chef-extraordinaire.  I'm so excited to pull this off... A little nervous about the turkey though, and the sheer amount of food I'm making, but I've got it under control.  You should see my master planning spreadsheet, good lord.  It's beautiful.  It has tabs for the prep schedule, guest list, menu and ingredients, grocery list, and all the odds and ends it takes to make a holiday meal for 9 people.

I'll be roasting my first turkey ever (!!!!!) and serving it with mashed potatoes, apple cider cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sage and onion dressing, sweet potato biscuits, gravy, brussels sprouts salad with brown butter vinaigrette, and roasted root vegetables.  My parents will be preparing a ham, hors d'oeuvres, and beverages.  And let's not forget that my friends will be baking lots of goodies too as post-dinner fare: kourambiethes (a family recipe for a kind of Greek cookie from the one and only Tor), apple crisp, and pumpkin pie.  Ohhhhhh boy.  This is gonna be good.

I'll share my Thanksgiving escapades next weekend... We'll see if I mess up the turkey or not.  But for today, let's talk pizza.  Now, if you've looked below at the recipe, you may have noticed that there is salsa in the pizza sauce.  Okay, calm down.  It's going to be alright.  Apparently this is a thing, and while I was also skeptical when Jimmy told me his family always does pizza this way, it turned out to be really yummy.  A little unorthodox perhaps, maybe a little blasphemous, but who cares if it tastes good... Am I right?  Can I get a hell yeah?

Errr anyway, we caramelized a bunch of onions, and fried up some Italian sausages and bacon for toppings.  I also had some leftover pesto from dinner earlier in the week, so we pulled together the makings of some epic pizza.

Here's the kicker though: Jimmy doesn't like cheese.  Like at all.  Like, as I grabbed hunks of cheese that had been destined for the pizza and stuffed them in my mouth instead, he sort of gagged a little.  I mean, more for meeeee!  But I am baffled by this.  He tolerates it on pizza, since it holds the toppings in place, but not too much.  Just enough.  Now me, I want the cheese to be oozing all over the place, and stretching into long steaming strings when I try to take a bite.  So we made 4 small pizzas, one of which I could cheesify to my heart's content, and the others we sparsely scattered such that we could share them.  The thoroughly cheesified pizza was a simple margarita-style, with just the fire roasted tomatoes sans salsa, and we also made a pesto with bacon and caramelized onions.  The other two had the salsa-tomato combo with the toppings piled high and interspersed with slices of mozzarella.  For all my heckling about his disdain for cheese, and the blasphemous nature of our pizza creations, they really did turn out well.  I'm very happy.

Pizza Dough:

2 1/4 teaspoon (1 packet) instant dry active yeast
1 c warm water (~110 degrees F)
1/2 tablespoon sugar
~3 c bread flour
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for the bowl
1/2 tablespoon salt
~3 tablespoons cornmeal

In a large bowl stir together the yeast, water, and sugar gently, then let bloom for 20 minutes (it'll puff up).  Add the olive oil and salt, then stir in 2 c bread flour.  Once it's come together in a sticky mass, dust a clean counter generously with flour and knead 10-20 minutes, adding ~1 c dough over to create a soft, supple dough that's tacky but not sticky, and smooth.  Oil a large bowl with some more olive oil, then coat the dough with oil by turning it about in the bowl.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces, wrap with plastic, and let rise overnight in the refrigerator.  Before making the pizzas, let the halves sit out on the counter for a couple hours covered with a kitchen towel, so that they return to room temperature.


1/2 can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1/2 jar medium salsa

Mix together equal parts of salsa and tomatoes, or to your liking.  It sounds weird, but it's good.


Caramelized onions
Sliced apple
Crumbled Italian sausage
Basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.  If you have a pizza stone, awesome, use it.  I don't have one (sadness), so we just baked them on sheet trays dusted with cornmeal (you should dust your pizza peel with cornmeal too if you're using it with your pizza stone).  To roll out the dough, either use a rolling pin and your fingers to create a thin center and thicker edges for the crust, or stretch it using your knuckles if you're a pro.

We made 4 small pizzas, 2 per sheet tray, baking them on the top rack until the cheese was bubbling and dark brown, and the crust sufficiently crusty.  I tore basil leaves over the hot pizzas right when they came out of the oven, perfuming the kitchen with lemon and licorice, which mingled with the aroma of freshly baked bread.

Gingerbread for Breakfast: Yogurt Scones

Last night, my best friend Tor and I engaged in a scheduled quarterly breakdown.  By this I mean that we've been waiting for the appropriate point in the quarter at which we can declare that we're too overwhelmed by the amount of work we have to do any of it; and so naturally, instead of settling in for a night of hard-core studying, we must have a dance party in my kitchen while baking and devouring pastries and ice cream.  

We made peppermint mocha brownies, which will appear in the next post unless I get to the pizza or cranberry crumble bars with mulling spices first (yessss, so much food in my life), in addition to these gingerbread yogurt scones.  They don't exactly follow to the theme of breakdown food (which may be characterized as may I have some butter with my cream and chocolate please), since I made them with the intention of eating them for breakfast in the coming days.   But their being healthy allowed us to justify our subsequent dessert of warm brownies with espresso ice cream.  Win-win.

It should be no secret to you at this point, since this blog is almost a year old now (oh my...), that I love ginger.  I eat hunks of the crystalized stuff while I'm waiting for my oatmeal to cook in the morning, and then proceed to stir some (read: a lot of) slices into the oatmeal once it's done.  And add them to trail mix.  And ice cream.  And plain Greek yogurt with raspberry jam and flax seeds.  And, and... Yes my mom thinks I'm gross (she also thinks I'm gross for eating the frosting off her cake, or most of the dough when I'm making cookies; so clearly she is misguided), but ginger is just so pungently sweet and spicy at the same time, like it's sparkling on your tongue; and when crystallized it also becomes soft and toothsome, like gummy candies (you should also know by now that I love gummy bears and worms).  Often the salty-sweet combination gets the Ideal Flavor Combo Award, but I like spicy-sweet even better.  If you're not as much of a fan, you could - dare I even say it - forgo the crystallized ginger in this recipe.  But I would be sad.  So, so sad.  

P.S. I adjusted the recipe below to reflect any changes I'd like to make with a second batch.  The molasses flavor wasn't strong enough, so I replaced the maple syrup I'd added to the recipe with more.  I increased the amount of sugar to compensate for the lack of maple syrup, but I didn't add too much, since I liked that they weren't incredibly sweet.  These are for breakfast, after all.

Gingerbread Yogurt Scones
adapted from here and here

1/2 c all-purpose flour (unbleached)
1/2 c white whole-wheat flour (unbleached)
3/4 c oat flour (use a food processor to grind regular rolled oats into a powder)
1 c rolled oats
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons Muscovado sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, plus extra for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 large egg
3/4 c plain yogurt
1/4 c molasses
3 tablespoons milk, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
~7 strips crystallized ginger, sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, oats, baking soda and powder, 4 tablespoons sugar, spices, and salt.  In another smaller bowl, whisk together the egg, yogurt, molasses, 2 tablespoons milk, and vanilla.  Chop the butter into 12-ish pieces, making sure it's super cold, then cut the butter into the flour mixture.  The mixture will be crumbly and the pieces of butter the size of peas.  If you think the butter's gotten too warm, just pop the bowl into the freezer for a couple minutes.

Fold the wet ingredients into the butter-flour mixture gently.  Once there are only a few streaks of flour left, add in the crystallized ginger, adjusting the amount to suit your taste.  Mix until just combined.  On a clean surface that's been dusted with flour, dump out the dough and pat it down into a thick disc.  Cut the disk into 8 wedges, then arrange them on a sheet pan that's been covered with tin foil and buttered.  Brush the remaining 1 tablespoon of milk over the scones, and sprinkle with ground ginger and the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm and browned.  

Pork Tamales

PSA: I wrote this a few weeks ago (this being the text after the ***), after I'd finally gotten back into cooking and made both the Egg and Tofu Spring Rolls with Nori and the Sausage and Rye Bread Pudding.  I hadn't cooked in a very long time, which, as you might guess, was both indicative of the mental hole I was in and instrumental in keeping me down in it.  I was planning on posting this soon after I'd written it, but it became tangental rather than central to both of the other two posts as I tried to write them, so I cut this out.  I've included it for this post instead, since I enjoy writing in stream of consciousness sometimes.  I like the way it turned out, anyway.

This week, now that I've been sleeping more in addition to cooking more, I've been feeling so so so much better.  My work ethic has decreased to accommodate an adequate amounts of sleep each night, which isn't an excellent thing to do, but it's important.  You have to take care of yourself sometimes.  I've overcommitted myself this quarter for sure, but I am surviving, and now I know what my limits are.  I just have to hang on, get my schoolwork and work assignments done, and not ever ever ever again give myself a schedule like this.  Not ever.

Note 11/21/2013: Pictures are up, finally!


I went grocery shopping after practice and made myself a nourishing meal.  Several meals, actually, for the days to come.  I haven't done that in quite a while, mostly subsisting off the tamales I'd made with Jimmy and Stefan a couple weeks ago and stashed in the freezer.  But yes, oh how lovely it was that I came home after practice and didn't do any school work, no real (that is, job) work, no coding psych data.  I just set my groceries on the counter and went to work: sautéing sweet onions and sausage, chopping up stale rye bread into fragrant hunks redolent with caraway seeds, tossing them in a quick milk-and-egg custard with fresh parsley and a sprinkle of nutmeg, and throwing my savory bread pudding into the oven alongside a couple sweet potatoes, before setting my sights on some rice paper wrappers and nori sheets I conveniently had in the pantry.

I heated up a skillet with canola and sesame oils, put my pretty red kettle on to boil, and broke apart a slab of silken tofu, tossing it with the warm oil and a mound of grated fresh ginger.  I pulled a couple eggs from the fridge and beat them before tossing them gently with the tofu to make something of a tofu omelet, which I cooked completely and chilled before slicing into strips.  Avocado, nori, omelet, and a sauce of tahini and soy were folded into the rice paper, which had been softened by the hot water.  I took photos in our apartment's bright living room, filled with light from the east-facing windows, first of the delicate spring rolls, and then of my sausage and rye bread pudding that was still steaming from the oven.

Pork Tamales:

1/2 pound dried corn husks

Soak the corn husks in water overnight.  When you're ready to make the tamales, drain and rinse the husks.

Braised Pork Shoulder:

4-5 pound bone-in pork shoulder
1 bay leaf
1 large onion (or 2 small)
4 garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano (it's okay if you just have regular dried oregano)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
~1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Place the pork shoulder in a large slow-cooker and cover with water.  Peel the onions, quarter them, and add them to the pork, then peel the garlic and add the cloves whole as well.  Add the bay leaf and spices, adding more or less of each as you see fit.  Cover and cook on high for ~6 hours until the bone basically comes out of the shoulder on its own and the meat falls apart at the touch.

Let cool slightly before transferring the meat to a bowl and shredding, either with your fingers or two forks.  Remove the bay leaf from the broth, then blend the vegetables into the stock in a blender (or with an immersion blender, which is especially useful here).  Add enough broth to the bowl of shredded pork to keep it moist but not drown it (you don't want the tamales to be too watery).


1 1/2 c lard
6 c masa harina
~2 teaspoons salt
~2 teaspoons chili powder

In a large bowl combine the lard, salt, and chili powder, then whip thoroughly until aerated.  Stir in the masa harina.  Begin by adding 1 c of broth, and continue to add more broth in ~1/2 c increments until the dough has come together and it doesn't crumble when you try to roll it into a ball with your hands.  I mixed my masa by hand rather than with a utensil, but you could use a hand mixer instead if you'd like.  If you put a little ball of masa into a cup of water, it should float when it's properly hydrated and beaten.  When you're mixing the masa you really want to make sure to aerate it by beating well.

Fill a large pot with a steamer basket in the bottom with about an inch of water.  If you don't have a steamer that can fit inside your pot, you can just throw a bunch of silverware (that won't melt with the heat) in the bottom so that you can put tamales into the pot without them touching the water (you just want the water to create steam).

To form the tamales, take a couple tablespoons of masa and roll it into a ball between your hands.  Hold a corn husk such that the tapered end is facing away from you and the edges are curling upward.  Smear the masa against the front half of the corn husk such that you have a 1/8 inch thick rectangle with an inch or so border of husk showing on the bottom, right, and left sides (you're going to fold up the back half, so you want to keep that empty too).  Take about a tablespoon of shredded pork and place it in the center of the masa, making sure to leave some masa showing all around the filling.  Fold up the right (or left first, if you're so inclined) side such that the exposed edges of masa touch and create a seal all around the filling.  Fold the other side over to enclose the masa pocket with the corn husk, then fold over the bottom half to create an envelope (the end that was closest to you will be left open).

Fill your prepared pot with tamales - you can just stack them on top of each other.  Set over high heat to bring the water to a boil, then reduce to medium-low and simmer for ~2 hours.  Make sure to check the water level often and add more water as necessary.

I served my tamales with salsa, sour cream, and black beans.  I wish that I'd had some cilantro too!

Sausage and Rye Bread Pudding

Thus life returns to normal.  And by normal I actually mean excellent.  It's strange how suddenly the reversal came - like I was gradually returning to emotional equilibrium when suddenly, I took a sharp turn that dislodged all the awful feelings I've been harboring since, well, May if I'm being honest.  Granted, I'm drowning in work, and nursing my back injury that has continued to nag me.  But I am terribly happy, finally.

This weekend I raced at the Head of the Hooch, a pretty sizable regatta in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with 190 crews total competing.  UChicago has never gone to this regatta before, for lack of money or time for another race in our schedule, especially one so far away, et cetera et cetera.  I've had my heart set on competing here since, oh I don't know, probably July, with the intention of bringing the entire varsity squad.  Usually for regattas like this, which are outside the Midwest and feature a relatively high level of competition, we only bring priority boats; that is to say, only a select group of the fastest rowers.  That's all well and good, but I really wanted to involve the whole team in a big race like this, which is on par with regattas like Dad Vail in Philadelphia and ACRA in Gainesville, Georgia, if you're familiar with the rowing scene.  Anyway, the non-priority rowers deserve not only to compete at an upper echelon regatta like the Hooch (or Dad Vail or ACRA), but also to be involved in the inherently social experience of traveling, essentially living, with their teammates for a few days.  Those are the experiences that we remember, the stories we tell to the new novices every fall and to our friends (who don't know what we're talking about but smile and nod along anyway, because they understand how much it means to us).  

There were a couple members who weren't able to be boated this weekend, which disappointed me, since I wanted everyone to be able to come.  But we had 23 rowers and coxswains from our 29-person varsity squad compete, and that was excellent.  I was so proud to be there, and to have made it possible for us to go.  Of course, there were so many other people instrumental to making that race a reality, especially my crew little sister Annika who helped me with the preparations and all the donors, who in total sent $5490.  Amazing.  That's a lot of money.  And even though my boat didn't win our event (Women's Club 8+), or medal for that matter, I was incredibly happy just to have planned a successful trip and to be healthy enough to row.  

If you could see me writing this I have a big stupid grin on my face.  It's great.

Sausage and Rye Bread Pudding

1/2 loaf stale rye bread
~1 tablespoon canola oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, diced small
3 links sweet Italian chicken sausage (or whatever sausage you want) removed from its casing
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Handful parsley, chopped
4 eggs
2 cups whole milk (you could use a lower-fat milk if you're so inclined)
~1 dash ground nutmeg
Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Heat the canola oil in a medium-sized skillet over a medium flame.  Reduce the heat to medium-low/low and sauté the onion with a dash of salt and pepper until soft and translucent.  Push the onions into a pile off to the side of the skillet, then break up the sausage into the center.  Cook the sausage until crisped, then add in the maple syrup and Dijon and cook for another minute or so.  Remove from the heat and stir the onions into the sausage.

In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, and nutmeg, then stir in the parsley.  Chop the bread into 1 inch cubes and stir into the egg mixture.  Let the bread soak up some of the custard while the sausage cools.  After 10 minutes or so, add the sausage mixture.  Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray and add the bread mixture.  Bake for 35-50 minutes until the custard is set and the top of the pudding has browned.  I'd suggest serving this with gravy, or an egg with a nice runny yolk oozing over the top.  Mm.

Egg and Tofu Spring Rolls with Nori

Disclaimer: I wrote this last weekend.  I still think that it's important for me to post this, but know that I've become much more positive as the week has progressed.  I won't pretend that I'm magically better - but I can say that, especially as I write this little note now, I'm much happier than these words below would have you believe.  Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...

Being disoriented by your own emotions is an interesting phenomenon.

One moment you recognize that you're feeling one way, like you're content with yourself, working at your desk, pouring over a genetics study; then suddenly you find yourself with your head in your hands, and you're rocking back and forth in your chair in the middle of the library, with people and voices streaming all around you.  You become aware of yourself, how sick and sad you must look, or otherwise how incredibly invisible you are when no one meets your eyes, as you look up and scan the room for someone, anyone, you know.

It's not just in the library, either.  It's at crew practice, it's walking through the quad to class, it's waiting to fall asleep in the darkest hours of the early morning.  It's like everything is collapsing in and shattering outward at once, in a gray and quiet way; but you know quite well that you are being dramatic, that anyone else in your position would be handling this much better than you are.  Anyone else would be put up walls.  The feelings would just be waves, breaking against it, and the sound of them crashing would simply fade out into a dull roar, which itself would become almost nothing as the walls grew higher, stronger.  Maybe I'm not able because I'm not willing, deep down.  Or not willing because I know I'm not able.

I'm sorry if you don't want to read about this, whatever this is, or if you think it's not appropriate for me to share these struggles in this kind of forum.  I'm not sure myself if I should even be posting this.  I don't want people to worry, and I don't want you to think I'm just crying out for attention here.  That's not the point.  If you know me in person, you know that I don't hide very much.  I'm not good at concealing how I feel.  It's not that I can't keep my mouth shut when a thought pops into my head (well, some people would probably debate that I can't keep my mouth shut, I can be chatty), it's that everything I'm experiencing emotionally shows on my face.  I'm a terrible liar.  And I've always considered this lack of composure, so to speak, a weakness of mine.  I mean, several people who are close to me think it's a weakness, too: how are you supposed to be successful in your career if you cry when you're frustrated, no one will take you seriously if you show too much emotion, you're only hurting yourself and the people around you when you can't maintain your composure.  These aren't exact quotes, but you get the idea - some of it is gendered, like oh you're acting like such a typical woman, all emotional, ugh, pull it together, but that's clearly not the whole story.  It doesn't have to be gendered to be a negative position on emotional toughness.

Nonetheless, it's been drilled into me that this is a personality flaw.  It makes me a burden, while also making me a weak person; it is a hindrance to social and economic success, and so on.  I've tried so hard to make myself tough, especially in these past two months.  I've tried just not to feel anything.  It doesn't work.  It can't work, and it shouldn't work, because it's not a flaw.  It's how I am.  And it can be positive.  When I feel something, I feel it deeply, and you know that I feel it.  And that kind of transparency, while leaving me vulnerable in many ways, also renders incredibly sensitive to the people around me.  I let people into my world who are willing and able to be a part of it, without boundaries (and sometimes people who aren't willing or able to be a part of it, apparently, as I've discovered).  That can be an incredible gift, both for the people in my life and for myself.

So I'm not going to try to hide too much here.  I'm purposefully being non-specific, mostly keeping names and personal events anonymous.  Those details aren't incredibly important to understand what's going on with me, and are too much information to give as far as I'm concerned.  The reflection is enough, I think.  And it may be too much.  So if it is too much I'm sorry.  If you're worried, don't be, I have an incredibly strong support system.  It's just that writing here helps me, for whatever reason.  Maybe I should keep a personal journal, but I probably wouldn't keep up with it when it's just for myself like that, so I let my thoughts overflow here instead.  I hope that those of you who are similar or are feeling similarly will understand, and even benefit from reading this.

Here's to solidarity.

Egg and Tofu Spring Rolls with Nori (for one):

1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/5 block soft tofu
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small avocado
2 sheets nori
3 rice paper wrappers
2 radishes, sliced thinly (I didn't actually use these, but I really wanted something crunchy, so I've written them in here for when I make them again)
~2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce (I didn't have any on-hand so I made a random sauce that evoked similar flavors, but I would've preferred straight-up Hoisin)

In a small non-stick pan, heat canola and sesame oils over medium-low heat.  Once warm, crumble in the soft tofu and warm in the oil for ~5 minutes (basically a quick marinade).  Beat the eggs with the salt, pour over the tofu to cover the pan (making sure the tofu is evenly distributed), and cook low and slow until the eggs have set.  Slide the omelet onto a plate and chill in the freezer.

Heat a couple cups of water until it's almost simmering (it should be steaming but not burn your hands when you go to dip the wrappers in).  Meanwhile, tear each nori sheet into 3 pieces and slice the omelet into 3 pieces as well.  Slice the avocado thinly.

To form the rolls, pour the water into a round dish or cake pan (~9 inch diameter).  Soften one rice paper wrapper at a time in the hot water, then lay flat on a clean surface.  Lay 2 nori strips over the wrapper, making sure to leave space to fold up the sides later, then smear some Hoisin sauce on the nori.  Lay on a third of the avocado, a third of the egg, and some radish slices.  Fold up the sides and roll (like a burrito).  Finish the other two, cut each roll in half, and dig in!      

Rye Bread

Hello, friends.  It's been a long time since we've talked.  How are you?  A lot has changed, for me, anyway.  I haven't been able to write in a while... Like I actually have been physically and emotionally incapable of writing here.  I haven't even wanted to take pictures really.  I've been making lots of food - cherry jam shortbread tart, chicken pot pie, garlic bread, mint chocolate chip gelato, butternut squash and chickpea salad with tahini dressing, maple wheat bread, and some other things I'm forgetting - so it's not like I haven't had material to share with you.  I'm sorry, I'm going to be better about posting.  To give you a recap on what you've missed around here:

- Crew preseason began at the beginning of September, and I hosted two of my lovely crewmies in my apartment for the month.  I don't know what I would've done without them, honestly, they kept me sane.

- Then, when it came time to seat race for the Head of the Charles lineup, my MRI results from August came back, revealing that I have a bruised spine (which is the beginning of a new stress fracture).  I'm going to see a spine specialist soon, but over the past couple weeks I've switched to rowing port (that won't mean anything to some of you, but it matters because now my back is twisting a different way from the one that hurts a lot).  It's actually helped, but we'll see what an actual doctor says.

- This week has been the trial period for novices who are interested in joining the team, so things have gotten more chaotic at the site.  But in a good way - it's nice to have fresh faces around.

- This past weekend, I went to Paris!  We were only in the city for 46 hours total, but it was lovely and incredibly beautiful, just as you can imagine.  I was there with four other UChicago rowers and our novice men's coach for the annual La Traversée de Paris, which is essentially a 34km row on the Seine.  I'd hesitate to call it race, since it's more of a parade, with a couple hundred boats rowing past the Eiffel Tower, Pont Alexandre III, the Musée d'Orsay, the Louvre, and the Notre Dame, and often stopping to take pictures.  This is the third year UChicago has sent a contingency, and we were the only American crew in the event, so it's a very special privilege for our crew.  We each stayed with our own host families from a rowing club in the suburbs of Paris - I miss mine already, she was so wonderful - and met some of loveliest people there.  Now I want to learn French and return to immerse myself completely in city.

- I'm still working at Arete, having been promoted from Project Assistant Intern to Program and Operations Assistant.  I'm moving up in the world!  I've also started working as a research assistant for the Experience and Cognition Lab on campus, run by Daniel Casasanto, and it's really cool.  I'm happy there.

- I'm also taking an EMR (Emergency Medical Responder) class - so basically right now my life is rowing for UChicago, EVP responsibilities for rowing, 4 classes plus the EMR class twice a week, and 2 jobs.  Yeah.  I'm pretty busy...

... I'll sleep when I'm dead.

Rye Bread

3/4 c bread flour
3/4 c rye flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 water, room temperature

Flour mixture:
2 1/4 c bread flour
1/2 plus 1/8 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1/2 tablespoon course salt

Combine all the sponge ingredients in a large bowl, whisking until very smooth and thickened by intentionally incorporating air with the whisking motion.  In another bowl, stir together the flour mixture ingredients.  Gently scoop it over the sponge to cover completely.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise for 4 hours (or at least 1 hour - the longer the rise the better).

Dough and baking:
1/2 tablespoon canola oil
~2 tablespoons cornmeal

Add the oil and stir with either a wooden spoon or your hand until the flour is moistened.  Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then knead on a clean surface that's been sprinkled with flour for 5 minutes.  The dough will be less sticky after you've kneaded it, then cover with an inverted bowl and let rest for 20 minutes.  Knead for another 5-10 minutes until the dough is very smooth.

Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl, turning in the bowl to cover the dough with oil as well, and let rise 1 1/2-2 hours.  The dough should've doubled in size.  Punch down the dough, re-oil the boil, and let rise another 45 minutes.  Again, punch down the dough; but this time, form it into a round loaf shape and let rise on a sheet pan dusted with cornmeal for 1 1/4 hours until almost doubled in size.

Place a baking sheet - or even better, a baking/pizza stone - in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F.  Make a few 1/4-1/2 inch slashes in the top of the bread.  Place the baking sheet with the bread on it gently onto the preheated baking sheet or baking/pizza stone in the oven.  Bake for 15 minutes, lower the heat to 400 degrees F, then continue to bake 30-40 minutes until the crust is golden brown and a skewer inserted to the center comes out clean.  Let cool, then slice for a sandwich such as the following:

Mustard Chicken Sandwich

1/2 cooked and shredded chicken breast (I roasted mine, bone in and skin on, with olive oil, dijon mustard, ground allspice, salt, pepper, ground cumin, ground ginger, and chili powder at 400 degrees F for ~45 minutes)
Gruyere cheese
Spicy brown mustard
Lettuce (I used turnip greens because lettuce is boring)
Ground black pepper

Having discovered that the toaster oven is a beautiful invention, I now make many warm sandwich creations with it.

Slather both pieces of bread with mustard before topping generously with cheese.  Also top one of the pieces of cheese-bread with the chicken, then toast until the cheese is all melty and the bread is crusty.  Place the greens and pepper over one piece of bread before putting the halves together and digging in.

Daddy Sauce

This sauce has been a staple in my family ever since I can remember, and long before that.  It's simple and warm and so, so satisfying.  The recipe makes a lot of sauce, but that's kind of the point - you'll want to have this on hand in the freezer for easy, impromptu dinners.  I finally got those pictures for the Maple Wheat Bread post up, so have faith, I'll have sauce pictures for this one too.  It's hard to make meat sauce look elegant - no offense Dad, you know that I know it's darnnnn tasty - but I will do my best for all of you.

Daddy Sauce

3-4 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4-8 cloves garlic
3 pounds ground beef
Italian seasoning
2 cans whole tomatoes
Dried oregano
2-3 cans ground tomatoes

Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a large stock pot.  Chop the onions into a medium dice, then sweat in the olive oil with a liberal amount of salt and pepper to taste until the onions start to become soft.  Crush or finely mince the garlic into the onions.  Cook until just aromatic, then push the mixture off to the side of the pot in a mound before adding in the ground beef.  Increase the heat to medium or medium-high heat and give the beef a light coating of Italian seasoning, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks, until all the meat has browned.

Remove the whole tomatoes from their juice and add them into the pot.  Using a knife or just the firm wooden spoon, break up the tomatoes into the beef.  Sprinkle generously with oregano, then add in the juice from the cans of whole tomatoes, the cans of ground tomatoes, and half a can of water.  Place the lid at an angle over the pot to allow the steam to escape and reduce the heat to medium-low/low.  Cook, stirring very frequently, for 3-4 hours.  After every hour or so adjust seasoning by adding more Italian seasoning and/or oregano.  Depending on the beef, there may be a lot of oil floating on the top of the sauce - just skim it off during cooking.  The sauce is done when you can't distinguish the ground beef from the tomatoes, and the onions have almost disappeared completely.  

Maple Wheat Sandwich Bread

This summer has been a roller coaster and a half, my goodness.  And honestly, I haven't posted in a few weeks since, well, I haven't done much cooking.  I really need to get back to it.  I don't meditate or pray, I can't do yoga (no headstands, thanks), and I don't go on food cleanses or juice diets (someone please shoot me if I ever try to juice).  I've been coming to the realization that I'm not the type of person who can refuel by crawling into my own personal bat cave and surfing the Internet, playing video games, or watching TV for hours.  By refuel I mean destress, decompress, center myself, bottle up all the crazy, et cetera.

On the one hand, I need to spend time with people - and I don't mean doing all sorts of activities, I mean sitting around talking or enjoying a show together with a couple friends.  And then on the other hand, I do need quiet Holly time alone, but I need to be doing something: kneading a mound of bread dough (hence the post today), tending to a pot of simmering sauce on the stove, or pounding piles of fresh basil into a fragrant paste with my mortar and pestle.  I can let myself get caught up in the food, the textures and flavors and steam washing over my face, and in the motions of my body stirring, folding, pressing, pushing.  I can let my mind wander, but only so far.  This is the most crucial aspect of my refueling, because when my mind wanders too far, I can't reel it back in, and it can go to some pretty dark and depressing places.

I've been spending so much of my time in my own head this summer, for various reasons, but all of them culminating in my inability to prevent these rumination-depression cycles.  My thoughtfulness turns into unhealthy rumination, which sends me further and further down the unhappy thoughts rabbit hole.  I mean, I used to do this a lot in middle and high school, as I'm sure a lot of young women do, with body image.  You see the picture of the beautiful, flawless model in the magazine, or the movie star on TV, and soon you're thinking too hard about how perfect she is, and how not perfect you are, and then down you go, pointing out all of your imperfections to yourself, dwelling on them, hating your body.  It doesn't have to become clinical to be painful.  And as a caveat, this isn't limited to young women either, I'm just using that cohort as an example.  At some point, though, this body image cycle seems to matter less, whether for acceptance or love of your body, or for some other reason, the more you mature.  

Yeah, this is a huge generalization, but all I'm trying to say is that this general obsession with body image is usually a teenage phase.  And one that I've experienced.  So I'm sure that this too is a phase, spurred by the normal growing pains of being a twenty-something and by recent events specific to my own life.  It just took me a while to realize it is all.  It's nice having a name, too, the rumination-depression cycle.  It makes it easier to identify, which makes it easier for me to consciously divert my attention away from those thoughts.

Aside from a little self-exploration in these past weeks, I spent a too short weekend on the Cape earlier in August.  I haven't been that happy in a long time.  Being with John was a large part of that happiness, but I also just felt so full of joy to be in New England again, swimming in the Atlantic Ocean - oh, salt water, I missed you - and feeling so at home.  My mom, dad, brother, and I, along with my Auntie Carol, Uncle Jonathan, and their daughter Sydney, used to spend a couple weeks on the Cape every summer.  Those were always the best weeks, my hair tangled with salt water and sand, and my hands sticky from Sundae School ice cream.  We would spend a day in Province Town, where I'd swoon over pretty polished sea shells and salt water taffy and Cuffy's sweatshirts, and where I bought my favorite perfume so many years ago.  We'd play mini golf and raced go-carts.  We'd eat to our hearts' content, lobster rolls and steamers, hot dogs and corn on the cob, and so, so much ice cream, and finished bins full of art projects.  My mom and Auntie Carol would always finish [or at least attempt] a puzzle, too.  Maybe sometime I'll write more about my Cape Cod summers for you, but now, I'm not in a place to reflect on them fully without being overwhelmed by nostalgia.  Suffice it to say that even though I've only spent a handful of weeks in the grand scheme of my life on the Cape, I'd sooner call it home than anywhere in Chicago.

Maple Wheat Sandwich Bread
adapted from Florence Fabricant via The Wednesday Chef

1 c milk
1/4 c plus 1-2 tablespoons grade B maple syrup, divided
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 c warm water (about 110 degrees F)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg beaten
2-3 c whole wheat flour
2 c unbleached bread flour

Place the milk, 1/4 c maple syrup, butter, and salt in a saucepan over low heat.  Bring to a boil, being sure to stir frequently to prevent burning on the bottom of the saucepan, then set aside to cool until lukewarm.

Dissolve the yeast in the water and sugar in a large bowl.  Once frothy, ~5 minutes, stir in the egg, and then the milk mixture.  Add in the unbleached bread flour, stirring to combine, then begin adding the whole wheat flour 1/2 c at a time until the dough comes together in a ball.  Dust a clean work surface with more whole wheat flour and knead the dough ~8 minutes until the dough is smooth and tacky, but not sticky, adding more flour as necessary.  Place in an oiled bowl, turn in the oil to coat all of the dough, and cover with a clean towel.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, ~1 hour.

Punch down the dough, then turn out onto a clean, lightly floured surface.  Roll out the dough into a 9x12 inch rectangle (it doesn't need to be exact, don't worry about it), then, starting from the narrower side, roll up tightly like a jelly roll/cinnamon bun.  Fit seam-side down into an oiled loaf pan, then let rise once more, ~45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Using a pastry brush (or just your fingers if you don't have one), glaze the exposed dough with 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup.  Bake ~45 minutes until the top is golden brown, and when you rap on the top of the bread with your knuckles, it's firm and sounds hollow inside.  Cool completely before slicing and making the best PB&J of your life, or slathering on some Nutella.  If it starts going stale before you can eat it all, this would be great for some french toast.

Sour Cherry Pie & In My Lunchbox

Eeeep!  Over 100 of you have liked my Facebook page!  Thanks!  If you haven't yet, go here to like Strong Coffee, and then you'll get status updates from me whenever I post something on the blog.  Sweet, right?  I thought so too.

This pie though.  Oh my goodness.  It's perfection.  If you thought the peach pie was good, this sour cherry pie is stellar-awesome-delicious-want-to-eat-the-whole-thing-right-now-om-nom good.  It was one of Lottie + Doof's first posts, via Bon Appetit, and it's no wonder he revisited it again on his site.  I could just eat a bowl full of the filling alone, with pleasantly pucker-inducing cherries slumped and bound together by a sticky-sweet sauce of sugar, lemon, and vanilla.  And then, with the crust, you get a hit of crunch and texture, with that luscious, soulful flavor only butter can provide.  Together they're magical, truly.  Every night last week I inhaled a slice for dinner, and didn't regret it one little bit (one night I even had two slices, but, errr, let's not talk about that).  My dad even proclaimed that it was the best cherry pie he's ever had, and I'm pretty sure he's tried a lot of cherry pie in his life.  So there.  What I'm saying is, get your hands on some sour cherries, and get to work.  If you're in Chicago you should go to Green City Market, they're delightful, and that's where I found mine.  I haven't seen them in a regular grocery store before.

For another picture-less In My Lunchbox entry I want to tell you about a little simple summer salad.  I know, I know, I posted about salad last time.  The thing is, I do eat a lot of salad, but it's only so I can justify my multiple snacks a day (and my pie for dinner).  I'm pretty sure I eat the most, and the most frequently, out of anyone in my office.  It may be a little sad, actually.  But when I'm munching on a handful a pretzels, oh boy am I productive.  The munching helps me concentrate, I think... Or it may just be that being full helps me concentrate.  Either way, I like to snack at work, so I end up eating several little meals a day rather than eating a couple big meals.  Especially since I'm getting into work around 7:30 in the morning, sitting in a coffee shop for a while until the office has actually become populated, working a full day there, then either taking the CTA up to the river site in Lincoln Park for sweep practice or biking up Lake Shore Drive to the lagoon site to teach the Learn to Row class, it's 9:30 or 10 at night before I can actually sit down for dinner.  At which time I should be going to sleep again.  So the 3-square-meals-a-day plan doesn't really work out for me.  Girl's gotta eat.

Anyway, so this salad.  I have to digress again for a second to talk about heirloom tomatoes.  Now, I'm not going to say that by virtue of them being heirloom and fancy (and more expensive obviously) that they're better than your average vine tomato.  But when I'm at the grocery store, the quality of the heirloom tomatoes has been consistently better in my experience than that of the little bundles of vine tomatoes, or the giant beefsteak tomatoes, which have tended to be watery-tasting.  At the farmer's market, though, the quality of those regular tomatoes is so good that I don't feel compelled to buy heirloom.  If you prefer heirloom unequivocally, then by all means.

So grab a medium-size tomato and gently dice (use a serrated knife to cut tomatoes, you won't squish them this way).  Throw it in a bowl.  Then, take half an avocado, remove it from the skin with a spoon, and slice it thinly.  Fan out the slices, placing the fanned-out stack on top of the tomatoes.  Do the same slice-then-fan process with a cooled roasted beet, skin removed, and place it over the avocado.  Douse with a glug of good olive oil, a splash of sherry vinegar, and a little freshly ground black pepper.  Shave a few slices of parmesan over the top with a vegetable peeler, then dig in.  The tomato juices will mingle with the oil and vinegar to create a luscious, slurpable dressing in the bottom of the bowl.  I suggest eating this with a hunk of crusty bread to soak up the sauce, or you can just drink it out of the bottom of the bowl like I do.  Shhh, don't tell.

Sour Cherry Pie
adapted from Lottie + Doof

2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided
2 sticks really cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
5-8 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, divided
3 tablespoons corn starch
5 cups whole pitted sour cherries
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
~1 tablespoon Muscovado sugar

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 3/4 teaspoon salt.  Toss the butter in the flour mixture and work with your fingertips or a pastry cutter until the mixture is the texture of damp sand and the butter is lima bean-size.  Make a well in the center and add in 4 tablespoons of water and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, beginning to work into the flour mixture and adding more water as needed for the dough to come together.  Divide into 2 halves, then roll each into a ball, pat into a disk, and wrap with plastic wrap.  Refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Keep cold until ready to use, but let it sit out on the counter for a couple minutes before rolling to soften.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and lemon juice in a large bowl with the cherries.  In a small bowl, whisk together the 1 c sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and corn starch, then add into the cherries also.  Roll out 1 dough round into a ~12 inch circle, then transfer into a standard pie pan.  Trim the overhang to 1/2 inch, then pour in the cherry filling.  Roll out the other dough round, place it over the top of the filling, then trim the overhang to match the bottom crust.  Using your fingers or a fork, seal the top crust to the bottom.  Brush the exposed crust with the egg, then sprinkle with Muscovado sugar.  Cut a few vents in the top crust to allow the steam to escape during cooking.

Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet, then bake for 15 minutes before turning the temperature down to 375 degrees F and cooking for ~1 hour.  If you're worried that edges will/are browning too quickly, gently cover with a thin piece of tin foil.  Cool completely before serving with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  Or both.

Lattice Peach Pie

If you don't read The Wednesday Chef, well, you're missing out.  I haven't made many of the recipes she posts, but I enjoy her personality so much, and that she writes about what she feeds her son Hugo (he's only about a year old now).  I really love children, especially infants and toddlers, so I live a little vicariously through her posts about Hugo.  I also recently read her book My Berlin Kitchen, which makes her blog even more of a joy to read.  I feel like I know her a little better, y'know?  The book is basically a memoir with relevant, and delicious-sounding, recipes at the end of each chapter.  But it's even better than that, because her life is actually a fairy tale, with a happily-ever-after and everything... And recipes!  That's the best-sounding fairy tale I've ever heard of.  Anyway, even if you just read my blog to check up on me and you're not exactly a lover of cooking, I think you would still like the book.  It's cute and heart-warming.

After I finished that and House of Leaves I tried to get into The Omnivore's Dilemma.  I'm struggling to stay interested, which is odd, because that should totally jive with me, right?  I was expecting it to be more about food I think, and less about what's wrong with 'murican business and government.  I'm also weary of the central claim that there's a national eating disorder - i.e. an overwhelming obsession in America with healthy eating fads, due to the lack of a strong culinary culture that would guide our food choices.  This is certainly true to some extent - my impression, though, is that it's a bit of an overstatement.  I mean, there are plenty of intelligent people who take all of the hullaballoo that's stirred up by new health trends with a grain of salt, and plenty more people who just don't really care about the trends and just eat how they want to.  But this is also after only reading the introduction to and the first chapter of the book, so I should probably get through more of the content before I knock it.  At this point, I'd just make the counter argument that while this country may not have a strong, cohesive culinary culture like Italy, France, or Japan that guides the answer to the question what's for dinner, individuals and families develop personal, consistent food cultures that shape their daily food choices.  And these can be just as resistant to the stormy weather of popular opinion and trendy diets as national food cultures.

Enough talk, now for pie.  Frankie (whom you've seen here before, when he helped me make cookies during Christmas last year), made this with me.  He's my dough-mixer and lattice-weaver extraordinaire.  I almost couldn't believe my ears when, after topping the pie with the dough lattice mostly by himself, he turned to me and proclaimed wow, baking is fun.  You should've seen the smile on my face, oh my.  It was great.

Peach Pie
crust adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon regular granulated sugar
1 1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided
2 sticks really cold butter, cut into cubes
~1/2 c ice water
~1 tablespoon Muscovado sugar
1 egg, beaten
~3 1/2 pounds peaches (6-8 peaches), cleaned and cut into thin slices
1/3 c brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
~3 tablespoons corn starch
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Toss the butter cubes in the flour to coat.  Then, using your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the butter is lima bean size, and the mixture resembles the texture of sand.  Make a well in the center of the mixture, and pour in 1/4 c of the ice water and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  Begin incorporating the liquid into the dry mixture, adding water as needed for the dough to form a smooth ball.  Divide the dough in half, pat each half into a disk, and wrap with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In another medium bowl, prepare the filling.  I didn't bother peeling my peaches, since I'm lazy and I like the skin anyway, but if you prefer then you can peel them.  I sliced mine pretty thinly, into sixteenths, but if you want larger pieces feel free, you'll just have to be aware of the adjustment in cooking time.  Place all of your peach slices in the bowl, then toss gently with the 1/8 teaspoon salt, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of corn starch.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Roll out one disk of dough into a 1/4 inch thick circle, using lots of flour to prevent sticking to the rolling pin or surface you're rolling on.  Turn the dough evenly and often to make sure it's not stuck.  Transfer gently to a standard pie tin, then trim away the dough that hangs over the side.  Sprinkle the dough on the bottom of the pie tin with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, then pour over the peach filling.  Roll out the other dough disk to the same 1/4 inch thickness, making it more of a square shape, since you're going to trim it into a square anyway.  Once trimmed, cut the dough into 12 even strips.  Lay 6 strips, evenly spaced, over the filling.  To create the lattice, pull back every other strip (so you'll have 3 strips folded over and 3 laid out straight).  Lay another strip, perpendicular to the others you've already placed over the pie, over the 3 strips that are laid out straight.  Fold the other 3 strips back over, so it's covered by 3 strips and covering the 3 others.  Repeat with the next dough strip, this time pulling back the other 3 alternating strips.

Does that make sense?  If it doesn't just leave me a comment here and I'll edit the description.  It probably would've helped if I'd taken pictures of the steps.  But  I'm sure you'll get the hang of it - just keep interweaving the strips like this until you've used them up.  Trim away the excess dough hanging over the side, and then using a fork or your fingers, seal the lattice strips to the bottom crust.  Brush the lattice with the egg, then sprinkle with Muscovado sugar.  Bake for ~15 minutes until the lattice has begun to brown, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and back for another ~30 minutes.  Once the filling is bubbling hot and thick, and the crust is cooked through, remove from the oven and let cool completely.  You don't want to cut into it and create a soupy hot mess, do ya?  Once cooled, cut into slices and serve with a drizzle of cream.

Fig & Mascarpone Tart

It seems fitting that the last creation I made at home was my chocolate chip banana bread.  Frankie and I also made a nice peach pie last week (which he claimed was too sweet despite there being about a 1/3 cup of sugar in the whole pie, I think it was too tart for him but he didn't know how to express that), so I'll share that next time.  But I'm back in Chicago now, back at work.  I'm just trying to be positive, focusing on getting super strong for crew preseason in September.  Going back through the last few posts I've written, I sound pretty depressed, and that's not really what you're here to read... This blog functions as something of a diary for me, but I have to be mindful that hey, I kinda want people to read this thing, and also, that this is on the internet for everyone to see.  I don't want you to visit this site and think oh, here comes emo kid again, cue the Evanescence and dark makeup.  So I can't, or shouldn't, be too explicit about my life or feelings.  I do find it comforting, though, that a least a handful of people visit this site to see what I've been up to, and hopefully care about what's written here.  I will try to be more positive when I write for you, because this should be a happy place for both you and me to come together and think about food.  Because food is the happiest thing there is.  And evidence from neuroscience strongly suggests that humans can learn to activate the areas of our brains associated with the experience of happiness, and recover more quickly from the effects of negative emotions.

Ah, science.  You make me so hopeful.

May I digress slightly for a moment?  It is so irritating when I hear the suggestion that psychology isn't real science or hard science, and is instead basically just hogwash and a soft science.  I'd like to point out that there are several branches of psychology varying in the degree to which they employ techniques from the hard sciences like biology and chemistry, or from social sciences or the humanities.  It depends on which branch you're talking about, first of all.  Secondly, those branches which are more social science- or humanities-based aren't hogwash or non-empirical necessarily.  What is hogwash is how members of the academic community like to put down other fields to make theirs seem better, truer, more righteous, et cetera.  I'm sorry that you have to put down other people and their fields of expertise to inflate your own sense of worth and purpose.  All branches of psychology deal in facts and research.  I mean, stupid is as stupid does - a psychological study can be just as full of questionable material and conjecture as a study in any other field, but it isn't lacking in interest or intellectual merit simply because it is psychology and not pure biology or physics.

Aaaand I'm back.  I just had to get that off my chest and enlighten you as to the wonders of psychological research.  I'm not angry, just passionate.  It's funny, I hadn't considered studying psychology until this past September - I was scrolling through the course catalogue, projecting my inner monologue onto John about how I shouldn't major in Russian Civilizations because what will I do with that and linguistics is really cool but it would either be a career in linguistic research or the CIA for me and I didn't want to narrow down that much yet blahhhhh... When he suggested that psychology might be a good fit for me, take a look at the course offerings.  I realized that I was interested in most of the classes, and after I took biological psychology winter quarter last year, my mind was actually completely made up (I've been waffling on this subject since my junior year of high school).  Of course, I was also planning on double majoring with linguistics still, but have since dropped that to a minor.

In any case, what my parents thought was a whim has lasted, and I'm still totally smitten.  That doesn't mean that I really have any idea what I want to do with my future.  I'm trying to adopt John's one-day-at-a-time approach.  I'm not very good at living in the moment, either dwelling on the past or looking too far ahead, both of which are very stressful for an already antsy person.  I'm going into zen mode.  I'm sick of being stressed out about all the things I want to do but can't yet and all the things I should've done, or the things that should've (or shouldn't have) happened.  It doesn't change anything.  The question is, what am I doing right now, and what will I do later today. Of course, thinking ahead is necessary to guide the here-and-now, but only to a certain extent.  It's about finding the balance.  Well, this is what I'm telling myself right now anyway to keep me calm and to will myself into not being miserable anymore.  I am taking control of my feelings and realizing that I deserve to be happy and confident and strong.  I'm not quite at the point where I'm going to repeat you are strong and beautiful or something into the mirror every morning to remind myself, but I am so sick of letting the people in and circumstances of my world, and especially the past few months, hurt me.

It seems that in my college life this has happened several times, where I've felt wronged and wanted closure from those who have wronged me, but it's never come.  I want them to recognize that they have hurt me, experience the pain of remorse, and give me peace so I feel validated and happy once again.  When it doesn't come, though, there's a choice - I can continue to dwell on how I've been wronged, and let the negativity invade my dreams at night and my work during the day, or I can let it go.  The letting go is so hard because it feels like giving up.  It feels like I haven't stood up for myself, like I've let the people in my life walk all over me and tell them it's okay, tell them that it's really my fault.  I want to get what I deserve - closure.  I do deserve that at least right?  It doesn't work like that, though.  And so I have to make the closure I deserve for myself.  Because above deserving closure from those who've made me feel horrible, I desire and deserve happiness.  As my close friend Kathy says, I deserve the best, no exceptions.  She's right.  But you have to define what's the best, and that's the tricky part.  This time, for me, the best is owning my own sense of self-worth.  It's mine, and I can't let anyone take it from me again.

So, after that nice self-help rant, without further delay, a fig and mascarpone tart for your trouble.

Fig & Mascarpone Tart
adapted from Flourishing Foodie 

1 1/2 c all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough
2/3 c almond meal
1/4 c brown sugar
7 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes and really cold
1 egg, beaten
~1/4 c ice water
450 g mascarpone cheese
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1/2 lemon
5 figs
~2 tablespoons pure honey

In a medium bowl combine the flours and brown sugar.  Quickly and gently cut the cold butter into the dry mixture, making sure to leave lima bean-size pieces of butter throughout.  Make a well in the mixture and add the egg.  Drizzle in 2 tablespoons of water with the egg and begin to combine, adding more water as needed for the dough to come together.  Once you can gather it easily into a ball, pat it down into a disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  On a clean surface with plenty of flour, roll the disk out into a circle 1/4-1/2 inch thick, or so that the dough will go ~1 inch up the sides of a tart pan.  Carefully transfer the dough into the pan (I just used a regular springform pan because it's what I had, but it would be prettier in a tart shell, with high sides mind you).  Dock the dough (poke lots of holes in the bottom with a fork to make sure the steam can escape) then bake for ~15 minutes until cooked through.  Set aside to cool.

In another medium bowl, beat the mascarpone, cream, and sugar until soft peaks form.  Add the vanilla and lemon zest, then beat until there are stiff peaks.  Spoon the filling into the cooled tart shell.  Cut the figs into eighths and arrange as your heart desires.  Drizzle over as much honey as you like, then serve.

Spinach and Eggplant Steamed Buns

I have a thing for glass bottles and jars.

It's the little hipster inside of me trying to get out.  I like to drink out of mason jars, eat from old jam jars, admire my collection of milk bottles.  I like that they're not matching, but cohesive in their own way.  I like that they used to be something else.  

These are the last few days in my house.  In my town.  Cooking in my kitchen.  I've been home on vacation since July Fourth, and I go back to Chicago on the fourteenth.  Once I move into my Hyde Park apartment on September 1, that'll be my home.  It's not like my family is moving to some other east coast house that I could get used to calling home.  My dad's apartment isn't home, and the new apartment he and mom will have once she comes out to Chicago too won't be home either.  The "home is where your heart is" cliche doesn't even apply here.  My heart is in so many places.  So home is where I'll be.  I'll have all of my cooking gadgets and gear, my glass bottles and jars, my cookbooks.  I'll have my roommates and my schoolwork, and I'll have the crew team.  It's sad that my student apartment is going to be the most stable thing in my life, isn't it?  Well that, and my cookbooks.  Those aren't going anywhere, and they're not going to change.  

Isn't that the best thing about books?  You can hold them in your hands.  Feel their weight.  The pages have that peculiar paper smell that only ripens with age.  And it's funny, how it seems like the text is more lasting when it's typed up, logged away on someone's harddrive, or in the cloud.  But there's something about your access to it having an off-switch that makes it seem less real.  Like it could slip away from you at any moment.  A book, though, its pages may yellow and the binding may crack a little - but its yours, and it'll never leave you if you take care of it.

Spinach and Eggplant Steamed Buns
adapted from Love and Olive Oil

1/2 c warm water (~100 degrees F)
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 c milk, room temperature
~2 teaspoons canola oil

1/2 - 3/4 pound baby spinach
1 medium eggplant
~1 tablespoons canola oil
~1 teaspoon sesame oil
~1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
~1 teaspoon ginger root, minced
2 Kaffir lime leaves

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the water and honey, then sprinkle over the yeast and let sit until very foamy, ~10 minutes.  Stir in the milk and salt, then fold in the flour.  Once the mixture has come together, knead the dough on a clean, floured surface for 4-6 minutes until smooth and still slightly sticky (we're not trying to pass the windowpane test here).  Place the dough in an oiled bowl, making sure the exposed surface of the dough has also been oiled.  Set aside in a warm place, covered with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel, for ~50 minutes until doubled in bulk.

Meanwhile, set the oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut the eggplant lengthwise into thin, flat slices (you'll have ~8 of them, depending on the eggplant).  Lay them on parchment paper without any oil or seasoning, and bake until softened (the exterior will appear to be dry, so press down lightly to see how soft the inside has become).  Flip the slices over every 10 minutes.  You're not trying to cook the eggplant completely, just until it is soft inside without having slumped.

After removing the eggplant from the oven, heat ~1 tablespoon canola oil, Kaffir lime leaves, garlic, and ginger in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Dice the eggplant in the meantime and set aside.  Once the aromatics have softened, add in the eggplant and saute until the flesh has become cooked all the way through and caramelized.  When they're just starting to slump, add in the soy sauce.  Remove the eggplant from the pan, then add the spinach into the hot pan in batches to wilt all of it down.  Drain off any excess liquid before chopping the cooked spinach and adding it into the eggplant.  Adjust seasoning and set aside to cool.

Now comes assembly.  Punch down the dough and move it to a floured work surface (I just used a cookie sheet with some flour dusted on it).  Pat the dough into a square, then cut it into 16 equal pieces. Roll them between your hands to make small spheres of dough, then set them aside under a clean kitchen towel to rest for 10 minutes.  Cut out 16 squares of parchment paper (about 3 1/2" across and tall) and bring a pot or wok with ~2" of water to a boil.  Working with 4 balls of dough at a time, roll each one out into a flat circle, ~1/4" thick.  Place the dough round onto your palm and cup your hand to create a little well, and spoon ~1/4 c of the filling onto the dough (don't overfill it, otherwise you won't be able to seal the bun).  Bring the edges of the dough together around the filling with your other hand, pinching tightly to seal.  Then place it on your work surface seam-side down and push on it gently.  You'll have a little knot of dough on the bottom that protrudes upward into the pocket of filling, and the whole package will be sealed nice and tightly.  Place each bun on a square of parchment paper and load a bamboo steamer with the packages.

Once you've formed all the buns and they've been placed into the steamer, set them over the pot of boiling water and cook 10-12 minutes until the dough has cooked through thoroughly.  The amount of filling I made yielded 10 buns, but I had enough dough for 16, so I just froze 6 of them for future use (they should keep for a couple months in the freezer).  Serve with Sriracha or another sauce of your choosing (they really need something spicy and saucy to go with them).