Sunday, March 31, 2019

Asian slaw

Popping in to tell you about a slaw! It has fish sauce in it, so I call it "Asian Slaw." Blogger Luisa just calls it “Perfect Slaw.” You can call it whatever you like.

The important thing to know is that it’s light and bright with a delightfully rich tang and a fabulous crunch. I’ve thrown it together twice now. It’s therapeutic to make — there’s something energizing about chopping great mountains of green vegetables — and utterly satisfying to eat. It was a revelation served alongside Korean beef, but I also liked it all on its own — just me and a fork and heaping platefuls of slaw.

 Try it.

Asian Slaw
Adapted from Luisa of The Wednesday Chef.

The second time I made this slaw, I discovered I didn’t have any rice wine vinegar so I used apple cider vinegar instead. It was fine, but I prefered the slaw made with the rice wine vinegar.

for the slaw:
1 small to medium head of napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1-2 carrots, julienned
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, seeded and julienned
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 generous handful cilantro, chopped
½ cup salted, roasted peanuts, chopped

for the dressing:
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
juice of 1 lime
½ teaspoon brown sugar
¼ cup neutral oil

Combine all the vegetables (but not the peanuts) in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients, pour over the slaw, and toss lightly to combine. Sprinkle the peanuts on top. Devour.

This same time, years previous: the art of human rights, absorbing the words, the quotidian (3.30.15), babies and boobs, baby love, grape kuchen with lemon glaze.

Friday, March 29, 2019

now that she's back

While my older daughter was in Florida, my younger son took over the chickens and fed the steers and goats most mornings, but all in all the animal tending was pretty minimal — farmers we are not. But now that she’s back, the animals are actually getting cared for again.

She likes to hang out with the steers, hand feeding them and letting them chew on her clothes and maul her arm.

The goats’ hooves were in dire straits — one of them was actually limping — so the other afternoon, she wrestled it onto its back...

and then sat on it.

I watched her clip away for awhile, but when I learned after about five minutes that she was only half done with one hoof, I got bored and went back to the house.

Then yesterday she got a call from a neighbor: Did she want two bottle lambs?

"It’s your project," I said. "It’s up to you."

So she hauled an old water trough up to the barn and lined it with hay for their pen, asked my husband to pick up a sack of milk replacer in town, and then drove over to the neighbor’s house after supper to fetch the lambs.

One is super, super tiny — her previous owner called her Teacup — and appears to have a broken leg, so fingers crossed she’ll make it. The other is a good bit more sturdy.

This afternoon when I was home alone (the older kids off snowboarding with their father and the youngers at a waterpark with friends), it was my job to give them their bottles. They both guzzled down their milk, tails a-wagging.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.26.18), for-real serious, the day we did everything, the quotidian (3.28.16), seven-minute egg, Good Friday fun, braided bread, cream puffs.

Monday, March 25, 2019

the quotidian (3.25.19)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Sample plate.


Sour cherry.

Cereal snaps.

Back from the slopes.

Bossing the college students like a pro.

Rosebud lips.

Mystery photo: Wanna guess?

First day of Spring (naturally).

Rehearsal space.
(Anne, Mrs. Van Daan, Mr. Frank, Mr. Van Daan)

This same time, years previous: apricot couronne, the tables are turning, the last weekend, applied mathematics, no buffer, oatmeal toffee bars, fabulous fatira, caramelized onions.

Friday, March 22, 2019

almond cardamom tea cake

The day we did our NIMH testing, I’d just completed a rather grueling (if somewhat low-key) week: four evening rehearsals, four early morning writing sessions, three runs, and three afternoon fireside chats, each one with a different friend (one being my mama). So that day, a Friday, I declared the morning off. I slept in, helped the kids with their studies, and supervised chores.

Mid-morning, I decided to bake a cake — specifically Samin’s Almond Cardamom Tea Cake from her fabulous, fabulous, FABULOUS book Salt, Fat, Acid (and if you haven't yet seen her Netflix show, get on it!). I love cardamom, and I had an overload of almond paste squirreled away in the freezer, and besides, I’d been thinking about that cake for weeks. Maybe even months.

I had to race the clock to get the cake done — we were supposed to be over at my parents' place at noon — so it was still warm when I flipped it onto a glass stand and dusted it with a flurry of powdered sugar. My son chauffeured me over the snowy hills to their house, the cake stand balanced on my knees, the rich scent of buttery almond filling the car.

At their house, I plunked the cake on the counter — Mom had set out a tin of banana bread, too — and off and on that afternoon, while drifting from one test to another, we snacked on cake.

When I asked my mother what she thought of the new recipe, she announced, "The almond flavor is too strong."

"It's just almond!" I said. "Real almond!"

"Oh," she paused. "I guess I just don't much like almond."

I thought the cake tasted exactly as it should — like almond!!! — and everyone else seemed to like it well enough. The research director even went out of his way to compliment it.

Back home, we (mostly me) polished off the last few pieces over the next several days. As with other rich butter cakes, the flavor seemed to deepen and mellow with time, making this an excellent do-ahead cake. 

Almond Cardamom Tea Cake
Adapted from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat.

For the crunchy bottom layer, Samin says to make a caramel syrup from the butter, sugar, and almond, and then pour the sauce over the bottom of the pan before adding the cake batter. Mom wondered if it would work just as well to moosh together the butter, sugar, and almonds with a fork and then pat it over the bottom of the pan before adding the batter. Wouldn’t the heat from the oven transform it into caramel (like the sweet roll filling that puddles on the bottom of the pan) while the cake baked? Just something to consider....

Even though there are two and a half teaspoons of cardamom in the cake, the flavor is surprisingly mild. Feel free to add more, if you like.

for the almond topping:
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup sliced almonds
1 pinch sea salt

In a small saucepan, cook the butter and sugar for a couple minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid bubbles. Remove from heat and stir in the almonds and salt. Pour the sauce over the bottom of a greased, parchment-lined 10-inch springform pan. Set aside.

for the cake:
1 cup (9 ½ ounces) almond paste
1 cup sugar
2 sticks butter
4 large eggs
2 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon each baking powder and salt

In a small bowl, stir together the eggs, cardamom and vanilla. In another small bowl, lightly stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Roughly chop the almond paste, put it in a food processor and pulse until sandy. Add the sugar and pulse until blended. Add the butter and pulse until smooth and fluffy — a couple minutes. With the processor still running, add the egg mixture slowly, a spoonful at a time, stopping every now and then to scrape down the sides.

Transfer the almond mixture to a large bowl and add the flour mixture, gently folding it in in three additions. Do not overmix. Pour the cake batter into the prepared, almond-sugar crusted pan.

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge and then inverting onto a plate. Remove the parchment paper and then invert onto a cake stand so that the almond crust is now on the bottom.

Dust the cake with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve either warm or at room temperature.

This same time, years previous: spring hits, the solopop quiz: what did you eat for lunch?, all things Irish, a morning's start, warmth, roasted vegetables, cherry pie, oatmeal pancakes.

Monday, March 18, 2019

the quotidian (3.18.19)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Same quantity of dough + two baking methods = noticeable difference in loft.

While listening to Don't Fear Math: Ice cream and Monopoly.

When I said "train the dog," I did not mean "to sit on the table."

She's home!

Why I keep running out of clothespins.


Circuit board flashlight.

FAFSA fun.

She opens the door and then waits: Maybe, just maybe.....

This same time, years previous: good writing, wear a helmet!, a good reminder, the creative norm, bolt popcorn, from my diary, all by himself, blondies.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

puff pastry, expanded

Ever since I posted that recipe for croissants, I have been steadily chipping away, familiarizing myself with the process, experimenting with different variations, growing ever more comfortable and self-assured.

I’m still not all the way there, of course — that will take months — but I am much, much, much more confident.

I mean, just look at these babies! ARE THEY NOT SPECTACULAR?!?!?!?!

(In case you were wondering, the answer is, "Yes, Jennifer. Why yes, they are.")

In fact, I do believe I have crossed the line from experimental puff pastry baker to The Real Deal. The proof? I keep a couple pounds of Kerrygold butter in the fridge at all times, just for puff pastry.

I even gave my niece a lesson in puff pastry. (No fair! my former self cries. No one ever taught ME how to make puff pastry!)

When she arrived, I had Day Two and Day Three doughs in the fridge ready for laminating and baking, respectively. Together, we mixed up a new batch of dough from scratch, laminated a batch of dough, and then baked up a tray of croissants and Danishes. And all in one afternoon, shazam! I should’ve been on TV.

A few of my experiments:

Puff pastry twists: I loosely bundle together the cut-out scraps and then brush with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. Same for little round dough cut-outs.

Tip: for added deliciousness, dust with powdered sugar. They’re dangerously addictive.

Puff-wrapped Brie: Actually, this was two bakes, and a complete failure, to boot. I split the brie in half and did part cranberry-pecan and the other part onion jam-pecan.

But the pecans were a mistake — the crunch messed with the gooey cheese — and I didn’t bake it long enough so the puff was doughy. (Should've stuck with this recipe.)

The chickens had a feast, at least.

Almond croissants: I thought almond croissants would have almond paste in the them, but no.

The vast majority of recipes said I was supposed to split stale croissants in half, brush the cut sides with an almond-flavored simple syrup and then fill with a mixture of almond flour, butter, vanilla, and sugar before slapping the two halves together, spreading more filling on top of the croissant and sprinkling with sliced almonds. Then, bake.

We weren’t fans — not enough flavor (weirdly enough) and too buttery (again, weird). I’m still holding out for a more authentic version, and now I have a jar of almond filling rotting in the fridge, ugh.

Danishes: These are fun!

It’s taken me awhile to figure out how to fill these in such a way that the filling doesn’t mash down the puff pastry and make it doughy (or spill out the side).

I’m still not a hundred percent there, but I do know these are definitely worth figuring out.

Cinnamon buns: these are, of course, crunchier and flakier than regular cinnamon buns (which I prefer), but still exotically delicious.

I’d also like to figure out puff pastry cups (flipping muffin tins upside down, draping with dough, and then baking, probably) so I can fill them with my favorite chicken salad. And what about parmesan twists, or using the pastry as a topper for chicken pot pie or as a crust for a simple cheese pizza? And I think I owe it to myself to make at least one batch of cronuts, right?

A few notes about the puff process (and I will be cross referencing this information with the actual post on croissants):

*I think the gumminess I was struggling against in the beginning was due to the moisture in the butter. I read somewhere that I should warm the butter to room temperature and beat in a couple teaspoons (tablespoons?) of flour before spreading it into the desired square shape and refrigerating until set. I’ve never done that — too complicated — but I do sprinkle the top and bottom of my butter with plenty of flour before rolling it out. Ever since, I haven’t had any trouble.

*Confession: I said that you can’t use Rapid Rise yeast — it has to be instant rise — but I’ve used both and I can’t tell the difference. In fact, I’m not sure why I couldn’t use my regular yeast. I use hot tap water — the milk is cold, and so is the butter, but the hot water, plus the friction from the six-minute mixing is probably enough to activate the yeast. But maybe not? Hmm, for a dedicated baker, it’s quite shocking how little I understand about yeast.

*After Day Two’s Lamination process, the dough can live in the fridge for several days. I kept thinking the long refrigeration might result in a smaller rise, or a sour taste, but I needn’t have worried.

day three (or five?) dough: LAYERS!!!!

The croissants were as good as ever.

*On Day Three, I often cut the dough in two parts.

Again: LAYERS!!!

I bake one half and rewrap the other half in plastic and return to the fridge for another day.

*After brushing the croissants with an egg wash, do not cover them with anything — neither cloth nor plastic — while they rise because they'll stick.

*While croissants can be frozen raw (after rising), they seem to do best if they’re baked fresh, without the freezing. They just get so lofty high and lovely!

*Baked croissants freeze well. My parents froze a couple that I gave them, and just this week my mother sent me the following email: They freeze perfectly and we had perfect ham-and-cheese croissants for breakfast. So there you have it — perfection!

*To keep the bottoms of the croissants from getting too dark, I often slip a second baking tray under the pan around the 18-minute mark for lovely golden brown, unscorched bottoms.

*I store baked croissants, uncovered, in the jelly cupboard. After several days, they’re thoroughly stale but still quite delicious, especially with a smear of knock-off Nutella.

This same time, years previous: fresh ginger cookies, the quotidian 3.13.17), homemade pepperoni, raspberry ricotta cake, chocolate babka, a love affair, sugar loaf, now.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

for science

Back in the fall, my brother did a report about an NIMH bipolar research study that was targeting people of Anabaptist heritage. Bipolar runs in my family and we’re Anabaptist, so I signed up. So did my husband (even though he’s Catholic), my older son, my parents, and one of my brothers.

Over the last few months, we completed paperwork and some of us did phone interviews, and then, Friday afternoon, we all gathered at my parents’ to meet the research team who had traveled down from Washington to study us. There were six of them, including the head of the research project (who told us he only goes out to the field about once every two months). We were a bit surprised that so many researchers came, but they explained that having a whole family like ours participating all in one go is rather unusual so Party!

Photo credit: older son

We spread out all over the house: blood draws at the kitchen table, private interviews in the upstairs bedroom, more tests — face recognition, memory, decision-making, and a bunch of other stuff for who-knows-what — in the downstairs bedroom and study. At the end, they did skin biopsies on my mom, brother, and son. (They wanted to do biopsies on all of us, I think, but they ran out of gloves.)

I had the most fun with the psychological tests. To me, they felt more like puzzles, or games. The word memorization test (celery, squirrel, truck, cabbage, desk, spinach, cabinet, motorcycle, zebra, bookcase, boat, cow, subway, giraffe, onion, lamp) was a hoot. And the pattern recognition test (it was very much like Question 4 in this article, and it reminded me of Set) actually made my brain hurt.

After they left, we all stood around comparing answers and the logic behind them. Who knew getting studied could be so much fun?

And then it occured to me that these sorts of tests — the shape one, in particular — would be a great family reunion activity: simply project these problems up on a wall and then figure out, as a family, which pattern fits and why.

This same time, years previous: another adventure!, kitchen concert, the singing bowl, family weekending, adventuring, the quotidian (3.12.12), perfect pretzels, with a side of poison.

Monday, March 11, 2019

quotidian (3.11.19)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

The search continues.

Egg custards.

A regular gig, finally.

We miss her.


Airborn: the girl is fast.


Tucked away in his Harry Potter office.

Upon discovering that long, long ago their very UN-sparkly and UN-pink father collected unicorns, my children purchased this decal and, without asking permission (he's an UN-decal
person, too), slapped it on his computer. And now I call him Mr. Magical.

This same time, years previous: one-pan roasted sausages with vegetables, Shannon's creamy broccoli soup, the quotidian (3.7.16), by the skin of my gritted teeth, the quotidian (3.10.14), work, oatcakes.