Posts Tagged ‘Tuesdays with Dorie’

Having a child isn’t like what they say.  Most of the time as parents, we navigate a private, intimate, singular relationship, one that happens while lying together on a hammock and staring up at the clouds, or holding hands and watching two linked arms cast long shadows across the hot asphalt, or sitting together in the darkened room with only a tiny nightlight to see each other by.  These moments have nothing to do with Supernanny’s naughty seat, Ferber’s sleep technique, the Magic 1-2-3 method of controlling tantrums, or Jessica Seinfeld’s recipe for sneaking pureed spinach into brownies.  Most of the time, we’re parenting off the grid, and no manual or methodology can help us.

Take my almost-5-year-old daughter’s bad dreams, for example.  She has been waking up many nights, moaning and/or crying, and either my husband or I will drag into the room, perch on the edge of her bed, and hope that it subsides quickly without too much bargaining over how many more minutes she needs us to stay and stroke her tiny legs.  Neither one of us is a particularly gracious night waker.  Dave turns into Sherlock Holmes, quizzing her on who, what, where, when, and why, hoping to solve the problem right then and there.  Then he stumbles back into the room saying, “I don’t know what’s going on.  But she fell back asleep.”  I, on the other hand, become Marcel Marceau.  I grope my way through the dark, my eyes barely open.  I lie down beside her on the bed, rub her back, then creep back into my room and hope that she doesn’t wake up when I step on that creaky spot at the top of the stairs.

Because our 3:00 a.m. tactics manage but do not in any way prevent these episodes, my husband devised a new strategy.  He told Sofia that she should draw a picture of the very scene she wanted to dream about each night and put the drawing near her bed, so it could guide her dreams all night long.  She got very excited, and announced: “I’m going to dream about riding on a horse!”  So we set her up with some paper and pens and retreated downstairs for dinner, wine, and quiet conversation.

At bedtime, I walked upstairs to my bedroom and found a lovely drawing sitting on the floor, at the entrance to my bedroom.  It pictured two horses, one with a girl on its back.  Everyone in the picture looked very happy, peaceful even.  She does this often.  She leaves her drawings under our bedroom door, like a little love note we get to see before bed.  But this one was an obvious depiction of the horses she so badly wanted to dream about.

Dave had tears in his eyes.  He was so happy she took to heart his ‘visualize your dreams’ project.  I was overcome with a bittersweet feeling, acutely aware of the ways that we’re trying to protect her from the pain our own minds will inflict, both in sleep and while awake.  How much longer would a “magic wand” beside the bed, or a drawing of her ideal dream, or any other technique we devise, work?  And who am I to be dispensing sleep wisdom anyway?

Before bed, every night, I read a book, listen to a meditation podcast (not that I actually meditate, but the guy’s voice is like Ambien), or ask my husband to tell me a story.  Sometimes I do all three.  Judd Apatow spoke about this on Fresh Air not long ago.  He said he needs to hear other people’s voices in his head at bedtime to avoid listening to his own thoughts.  That’s probably a very good description of what I’m doing.  At the end of the day, I don’t want to be with my own thoughts anymore; so I substitute someone else’s.  It works like a dream.

Sometimes I feel that we’ve given our daughter this flimsy tool, a creaky mechanism to deal with her nighttime fears.  An artistic dream journal. But then I have to ask myself: isn’t that what art is for?  It’s a place to express your dreams, to visualize the world and your place in it; to see what is, and to imagine what could be.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “In landscapes, the painter should give the suggestion of a fairer creation than we know.  The details, the prose of nature, he should omit, and give us only the spirit and splendor.”  Children seem to know this instinctively.  My daughter’s drawing are filled with smiling suns, gorgeous butterflies, rainbows.

I guess what I’m saying is, we don’t have any overarching strategy, or explicit guiding principles, or road map for this.  The best we can hope for is to teach our kids a few coping skills, so they can navigate their way through those long, dark nights, years and years hence, when nobody will come in to stroke their back and say, “It’s ok.  Everything’s ok.”

Oh, hey, how about those chockablock cookies?  They’re a tour-de-force of oatmeal, molasses, chocolate chips, coconut, raisins, and almonds.  At the same time, they’re a touch out of control, hectic, unbalanced.  I had these for two nights in a row, then went back to my favorite NY Times chocolate chip cookies, and it was a relief.  My dad likes to quote Thoreau, so I will, too: “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.  I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.”

What he said.  And that goes for cookies, too.

Thanks to Mary of Popsicles and Sandy Feet for selecting this week’s chockablock cookies.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 86 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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There’s something about the word cake.  I love that word.  When I hear “cake,” I may appear composed on the outside, but inside I have a response more akin to a werewolf.  At first, I think, calmly, Cake.  Then, in a singsong voice, Mmmmmmmm, cake!  Left unchecked, it devolves into a primal growl, Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake!!  I don’t think I grow long fingernails and tufts of fur, but do (cake) werewolves ever really know?

The werewolf response is reserved for my ideal cake: tall, fluffy, tender, moist, with a thick layer of frosting or pudding in the middle, and another layer of frosting on top.  Boston Cream pie.  Tall and creamy Hummingbird cake.  Chocolate Blackout cake.

Tea cakes are so dainty, they don’t qualify.  That’s why I’ve relegated them to breakfast, where they’re perfect.  This Swedish visiting cake deserves a prize for it’s many lovely tea cake qualities.  First, it’s so easy to make, you can fit it in even on a busy morning.  I made this while getting my kids ready for preschool (which is saying something during “Teacher Appreciation Week,” where I have to cajole the kids into making six, count ’em, six homemade cards).  The cake is baked in a cast iron skillet and the results are delicious: lemony, almond-y, lightly crisp on the outside, soft and tender on the inside.  This is my favorite tea cake from Dorie’s cookbook, hands down.  And I assure you, when I eat tea cake, I’m very ladylike.  🙂

Thanks to Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs for selecting Swedish Visiting Cake.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 197 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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You’ve got to love a recipe that fits into the general chaos of family life.  I made this coconut tea cake last week, on a weeknight evening, between 5-6 pm.  I proceeded cautiously, moving in little, manageable, non-committal steps.

I got out the ingredients.  Looked around.  Noticed that the kids were dragging the coffee table to the edge of the living room and pulling off all of the pillows from the couch.  I know what’s coming, and it’s a good sign for me and my little baking project.

Sift the dry ingredients.  Set the bowl aside to answer the high-pitched pleas for music.  A request for Coldplay.  Oh, thank god, because I’m not sure I can stand another round of songs from The King and I.

Warm the coconut milk and butter in a saucepan amidst cries of “I don’t want this song.  I want ‘bum-BUM, bum-BUM, bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-BUM.'”  That’s 2-year-old speak for Coldplay’s Death and All his Friends.  The kid has an uncanny ear for rhythm and that’s how he names one of his favorites.  I change the song and return to my project.

I’m getting a little more committed now.  It’s time to beat the sugar and eggs.  But both kids are dancing full out now, and my daughter suggests that they put on dresses, a request my son agrees to instantly.  So they run upstairs to put on more formal dancing wear.

This is my chance.  I’m all in.  I beat in the vanilla and rum, reminding myself for the hundredth time to adjust the measurements (I’m only making 1/4 batch), then add the dry ingredients, knowing full well that the baking powder is already doing its work and I can’t turn back now or the cake won’t rise properly in the oven.

Both kids come giggling down the stairs in their “princess” dresses and resume dancing to Cold Play.  They’re dancing mosh-pit style, crashing into each other and tumbling onto the couch pillows, pink tulle and sparkly sequins flying up.  They come much too close to the sharp edge of the coffee table. and though I’m in the middle of pouring the batter, I set it aside to clear the coffee table far away from their barely-controlled “princess” slam dance.

I finish pouring the batter and I’m almost there, but then realize that my oven is still set at 425 because I’m roasting fennel.  I yank that fennel out and turn the heat down to 350.  But there’s no time to wait for the oven to cool down because my son climbed up the back of the couch and hoisted himself up onto the two-inch window ledge, flattened himself against the window pane, and he’s asking for help, so I shove the cake into the oven, slam shut the door, and come to his rescue.  Does everyone bake like this?  Is it just me?

In any event, these coconut tea cakes were delightful.  My 1/4 batch allowed for three mini-cakes.  The first night, after the kids were in bed, I made a buttered rum glaze and my husband and I split the cake.  Yum.  The second night, we got wise and each had our own individual cake.  This time, I made some vanilla pastry cream, cut the individual cakes in half, and filled them with pudding.  I put hot fudge on mine (Boston cream pie-style) and Dave put caramel on his.  Divine.

The cake itself is a cross between a pound cake and a sponge cake.  Dense, slightly springy, with a small crumb, perfect for brushing or soaking with a sweetened glaze.  I loved the combination of coconut and rum, and the buttery rum glaze couldn’t be easier.  Here’s the recipe:

Buttered rum glaze

1 1/2 sticks butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup rum

Boil butter, water, and sugar for five minutes.  Stir in rum.  Drizzle over anything you like!  Because I didn’t make a whole cake, I reduced this recipe a good bit: 2 Tb. butter, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tsp. water, 2 Tb. rum

Thanks to Carmen of Carmen Cooks for selecting this week’s coconut tea cake.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 194-195 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.  And thanks to my two young children for making life such a crazy, beautiful ride.

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I shamelessly stole from the Vosges line of chocolate bars *and* the pastry chef at Magnolia Grill for inspiration this week.  My favorite Vosges chocolate is the Barcelona Bar: milk chocolate, sea salt, and smoked almonds.  My favorite dessert at Magnolia Grill is the Barcelona Tart: dark chocolate, sea salt, smoked almonds.

I’m not sure why they both have “Barcelona” in the title.  Spain is famous for its Marcona almonds, but then shouldn’t they be called Marcona Bar and Marcona Tart?  I’ve been to Barcelona and my strongest food memory involves me and my husband eating paella on a terrace, poking at several mysterious chunks of meat in hopes of identifying their origin.  Eel?  Horse?  Meanwhile, several cats rubbed against our legs beneath the table and my husband inspected the meat, gazed back at the cats, looked more suspiciously at the meat, looked back at the…. well, you get the idea.  Me-ow.  We didn’t have much of an appetite that night.

Dorie’s original tart recipe calls for berries, but I substituted toasted almonds and smoked sea salt.  I hoped to smoke the almonds, but I don’t have a smoker, or a dehydrator, or any of the other nifty tools that are used for smoking.  And soaking the almonds with liquid smoke?  Forget it.  The smoked sea salt would have to do.

I’m getting crotchety in my old age.  This dessert wasn’t chocolate-y or silky enough for my taste.  It tasted too much like a brownie in a pie shell, and I was hoping for rich, dark, and intense.  Ah well, at least I can say with confidence that no cats were harmed in the making of this soft chocolate “Barcelona” tart.  🙂

Thanks to Rachelle of Mommy? I’m Hungry for selecting this week’s soft chocolate and raspberry tart (the original title).  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 354 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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I saw this week’s recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie and thought, “Come on, I’m not making these.”  They’re made with wheat germ.  What’s next:  flax seed sandies?  Bulgur bars?  Cookies and health food really shouldn’t mix.

This reaction only intensified when it became obvious that Dorie’s chocolate chip cookie recipe set off a series of chocolate chip cookie tastings among Tuesdays with Dorie bakers.  I decided that it’s time to establish my own rubber match between the  NY Times chocolate chip cookie (reigning champ) vs. Ad Hoc At Home chocolate chip cookie (feisty upstart).

But I glanced at the honey wheat cookie recipe — it deserved at least that much — and the recipe is loaded with lemon zest and honey.  I already had wheat germ in the house (we put it in our waffles), so I decided to give this recipe a shot.  Half a batch won’t hurt anyone.

As it turns out, these honey wheat cookies are quite good.  They remind me a bit of my childhood, and I’m not exactly sure why.  My mom cooked from the Moosewood cookbook, and that book is laden with wheat germ and honey concoctions.  My grandma Theda belonged to the Ethical Culture Society, so we may have been served a lot of wheat germ and honey baked goods at that summer camp.  It’s hard to say.  The cookies aren’t much to look at, and they’re rolled in wheat germ(!), but they’re chewy and lemony and oh-so-wholesome.  Next up: the chocolate chip cookie championship!

Thanks to Michelle of Flour Child for selecting these honey wheat cookies.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 81 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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So I had a long post in mind for this week, based on a fascinating Fresh Air interview with Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide.  He talks about the fact that it’s easy to overwhelm the prefrontal cortex of our brains by hyper-multi-tasking, and the brain must compensate by abandoning some of its other important functions, like managing impulse control.  It was all going to relate to how busy our lives become, especially as parents, and how I now understand why some of us must eat chocolate chip cookies every night after the kids go to bed.  Alas, that post had to be abandoned.

This afternoon I got the news that our house — which we’re trying to sell and which was under contract — is now going back on the market.  Long story short, the inspection did not go well.  Mold.  Such a beautiful thing for Roquefort or Gorgonzola.  Not so good for a crawl space.  Sigh.

But I made these chocolate chip cookies and they were good.  Very good.  I’m a NY Times chocolate chip cookie recipe devotee, but this recipe has just slotted itself into second place.  The cookies are buttery, chewy, a tiny bit crispy on the outside, and worthy of exceptionally-good chocolate chips (like Valrhona feves, my personal favorite).  The batter comes together very quickly, which is a good thing, especially when the prefrontal cortex loses its way.

Thanks to Kait of Kait’s Plate for choosing this week’s chocolate chip cookie recipe.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 68 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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A few years ago, my father-in-law and I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies together.  Kind of a bonding experience, in its way, especially since he’s not the chatty type.  Just before we slid the first batch into the oven, I grabbed a spoonful of batter and stuck it in my mouth, as I’ve done since I was old enough to hold a spoon.

He stared at me in horror.  “Did you just eat the raw dough?” he asked.  “Yeah!  Want some?!”  I jabbed the spoon in his direction.  He recoiled as though I had just shouted “En garde!”

“I wouldn’t be caught dead eating raw dough,” he said.  He insisted on calling it raw dough, which somehow made it seem more threatening.

Now I looked at him in horror.  “I’ve never made a batch of cookies without eating several spoonfuls of the dough.  It’s the best part!” I said.

I’m sure at that moment we each felt an acute sense of pity for the other poor misguided soul.  My father-in-law, an infectious disease physician, has taken an oath to protect people from the nasty bugs that hide out in places like raw eggs, bugs just waiting to attack a defenseless gut.  He looks at raw eggs and pictures all manner of human suffering.

I, on the other hand, grew up in a household where our chocolate chip cookie recipe, taped to the back of the kitchen cabinet, had a little handwritten note at the bottom that said, “Remember to leave some dough in the bowl for mom.”  Whenever we cooked together, my mom and I would stand next to the bowl with our spoons and scoop out the perfect ratio of batter/chocolate chips.  And it wasn’t just cookies.  We’d swirl our spoons over the top of brownie batter or cake batter, ostensibly to “smooth it out.”  For years, I underbaked my cookies, brownies, and cakes, trying to hang on to some of that batter-y goodness.  And I still love desserts that have a soft and warm feel, like chocolate pudding cake or molten lava cake.

In any event, these chocolate brownies –Rick Katz’s brownies for Julia — made me think about my father-in-law, because when I tasted the batter, it was noticeably eggy.  For a 9×9 pan of brownies, 4 eggs is a lot.  I dare say, it’s too much.  Once baked, the brownies’ texture was all over the map.  The middle was soft, chewy and sticky.  The edges were browned and crisp.  The space in between, impossibly straddling the two extremes, was kind of chalky.  I much prefer Dorie’s quintuple chocolate brownies.  And, in my opinion, the Baked cookbook still has the all-time perfect chocolate brownie recipe.  Still, it didn’t keep me from “smoothing out the batter” just a bit more than was entirely necessary.  🙂

Thanks to Tanya of Chocolatechic for selecting this week’s recipe.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 91 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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This cocoa-banana bread exposed a serious flaw our new house.  And it’s not just a matter of taste, like ugly counter tops or bad wallpaper.  No, it’s the oven.  For all you inveterate bakers out there, you know this is a problem not to be taken lightly.

So, here’s the situation.  The oven has all digital controls.  I can’t just twist a knob to 375 degrees and walk away.  I have to program the temperature by pressing buttons.  That makes my oven sound hip and cool and futuristic.  It’s not.  It’s old, tiny, and poorly designed.  Because these very same buttons control the timer.

The cocoa banana bread cooks for 30 minutes, then it’s tented with foil to avoid over-browning.  So I program my oven, set the timer for 30 minutes, and go on my merry way.  After 30 minutes pass, I hear the timer, turn it off (as one will do with noisy beeping sounds), tent the pan, reset the timer for another 30 minutes, and go on my merry way again.  When the timer goes off a second time, I return to the oven to check the bread.  It hasn’t risen properly and it’s still more batter than bread.  Hm.  I set the timer for another 15 minutes, stick it back in the oven, and realize the oven is cool.  Not cool as in “groovy.”  Cold.

I bring all of my Sherlock Holmes powers of deduction to bear and realize, with sagging shoulders, that when I hit “clear” to stop the timer from beeping after the first 30 minutes, it also cleared the temperature to zero and turned off the oven.  Sigh.

My daughter wanted to take a bike ride through our new neighborhood so I put the bread back in and willed it to cook fast.  After another 20 minutes, I pulled it out even though it still left streaks on the tester.

After our bike ride, we came back inside to try the bread.  Chocolate and banana struck my husband as a weird combination, but think banana splits and Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.  They work.  This bread does, too, in flavor.  But the texture is unforgivably dry.  Every time I cut a slice, a shower of crumbs decorates my counters.  Days after we finished up the bread, I still found cocoa banana bread crumbs in various corners of the kitchen.

My 4-year-old, who never pulls a punch when it comes to evaluating my cooking, was spot on in her assessment.  I said, “Do you think it’s good?”  She said, “Yeah, it’s good.”  I said, “Do you think it’s really good, or just ok?”  “Just ok.”

Thanks to Steph of Obsessed with Baking for providing yet another reason to start shopping for a new oven.  You can find the recipe for this cocoa banana bread on her site or on page 46 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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We moved this weekend, and I made these chocolate oatmeal almost-candy bars a week before the move because I knew once in the new house I’d want/need to make some classic, comforting family favorites.  Moving into a new house makes me feel unmoored.  Even if it’s just across town, as my move has been, I’m still viewed as a stranger in the new neighborhood.  It’s not exactly like a man in a cowboy hat is going to ride over on his horse, furrow his brow, squint his eyes, and say, “You ain’t from around here.”  (Quite the opposite, in fact.  Two young children scampered up to our door and begged to play with our kids, followed by two lovely parents who invited us to brunch the following morning.)  But it’s a strange feeling nonetheless.

Then there’s the mental process of packing up all your stuff, purging what’s not worth saving, giving things away to Goodwill.  And the physical process of dragging boxes full of books that you’ve already read, and may not ever read again, but can’t bear to part with anyway.

But most unnerving is the psychological process of reviewing where you are in life.  As I paw through old files, old photographs, old letters, old clothes, and think about the time when they were important, and why they’ve now lost their importance (or not), and where I thought I’d be at this point in my life and where I am and how I got here and how I’ll get to whatever’s next, well, it’s all a bit exhausting.

Cooking provides such a beautiful and uncomplicated connection to the past.  I can bring all of my old, beloved recipes wherever I go, and it feels like home.  When we moved into the new house, I unpacked the kitchen boxes first.  I had to.  I needed to see my KitchenAid mixer, my cookbooks, my good knives, my roasting pan.

This first weekend in the new house, I made roast chicken with mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, blueberry pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, blondies, coffee cake.  Later today I’ll make challah.  It’s all part of making this house mine.  I want it to smell like my coffee cake.  I want to see my chocolate chip cookies cooling on the counter.  I want to create a life here for my family, one that’s warm, inviting, and comforting.  Cooking does that, effortlessly.

As for the chocolate oatmeal almost-candy bars, I still have a couple left in the freezer.  These bars aren’t decadent, but they’re good to have around, studded with crunchy peanuts, soft chocolate, chewy raisins and oatmeal.  I would suggest substituting almonds instead of peanuts and good-quality bittersweet chocolate instead of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Coconut would be a nice addition, too.  Ok, back to the boxes.  Who knows what relics and treasures from my past lie in wait.

Thanks to Lillian of Confectiona’s Realm for choosing this week’s chocolate oatmeal almost-candy bars.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 114-115 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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Shows what I know.  I’ve been calling this dessert Mrs. Scherben’s Vogel all week long.  It’s called Mrs. Vogel’s Scherben.  Got it?  The name doesn’t exactly go trippingly off the tongue, and, unfortunately, the dessert itself doesn’t fare well on the tongue.  Big disappointment this week, and I’m surprised, because I’m a sucker for sweet, warm, sugary, fried dough.

Exhibit A:  When my brother and I were little, we spent summers at my grandparents’ house in Maine.  The house was conveniently located about 100 yards from the East Boothbay General Store.  On weekends, the general store churned out the most delicious classic donuts.  Mike and I would get up in the morning and walk to the store to buy a bag full of chocolate donuts rolled in sugar.  They were always warm, soft, and delicious, and I dream of making donuts that will be as good as those.  When the store stopped making the donuts, my dad started buying very good Harris-brand boxed donuts, and my favorite were the chocolate covered in coconut.  A very noble successor, but not the same as freshly-made, warm donuts that stained our brown paper bag with grease and sugar.

These scherben seemed like a shoo-in with their combination of sweet, warm, sugary, and deep-fried.  Alas.  It’s not that they were bad, but the fried dough was beyond plain.  Plain is a nice word for it.  More like stale crackers.  If you really plastered them with cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar, they were perfectly decent.  But mine weren’t greasy enough to take a thick sugar coating.  All my lovely cinnamon sugar slid off the scherben and gathered at the bottom of the bowl, leaving me with the stale crackers.

There is an upside.  This week’s Tuesdays with Dorie dessert was chosen by Teanna of Spork or Foon, and she’s one of my favorite TWD’ers, so go check out her site and read about her experience with the vogel, er, scherben.  She will make you laugh, I guarantee.  And she’ll have the recipe, in case you want to give these a try.

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