Candied Almond-Top Apple Pie. Whipped cream optional.
Everyone I know has strong opinions about pie, and I’m no different. I prefer a streusel-top pie, or a custard pie, anything but the dreaded double-crust pie. Double-crust! That’s too much crust. It’s rare to encounter a crust that is worthy of that sort of emphasis. I make a nice, flaky butter-based pie crust (recipe below), but still, even when crust is really good, it’s just a kind of lifeless food on its own, too inert.
Like summer tomatoes, tart baking apples are a kind of fleeting, seasonal produce. You can find Granny Smith and Gala apples in the grocery store year-round, but if you want to make a good pie with them, you’re going to have to put a lot of other stuff in the filling to make it taste good.
It’s been a lean year for apples here in the Midwest. Not just because of the drought, which has made national headlines this summer. No, we had a weird spring, too, with many 80-degree days in a row in early April. The fruit trees all bloomed, and then a few weeks later, a late, sustained frost came and froze most of the budding fruit. Really, there’s no denying that the weather rules are changing. People who don’t believe in science may try to tell you otherwise. This is frustrating but try to keep in mind that they’re just as hurt and wounded as the rest of us. They’re just dealing with it differently. You can still share your pie with them, if you want.
Since I haven’t been able to get my usual hoard of baking apples this year, I felt like I had to do something really special, really extraordinary to make use of these few, beautiful baking apples and all of their piquant complexity. I made a variation of my usual streusel-top, but took out most of the flour, got rid of the oats, and added a bunch of sliced, blanched almonds. The result was a thin, crisp candied shell, caramelized and rich, studded with toasted almonds. I don’t even know how to describe how delicious this tasted in combination with the tart and creamy apples, and the flaky butter crust, but I can tell you: we all got quiet as we ate. It was so good that it relieved us of our thoughts. All my clever talk and my burdensome opinions all crowded out to make way for the wonderful news coming in through the senses: OMG. OMG. Yum.
Our first heat wave is over, and we’re all walking around and breathing comfortably in the air again just like normal human beings. It was an unwholesome heat, hotter than 100 degrees every day, and so bewildering, to waste summer day after summer day hiding in the air conditioning, feeling like veal. In the evenings, dinner was not cooked, it was chopped, sliced, and put on plates, eaten cold. I would go into the grocery store thinking, “If I could just get an avocado. And cut it up. And put that on top of some other cold thing. That could be dinner.”
A few more days like that and we would have simply had popsicles for dinner. Bean-sicles, cheese-sicles, bread-sicles. And naturally, Peach Creamsicles, my new favorite sweet.
Peach season is almost over, and I froze a bunch of peaches this year instead of canning them, as I have in the past. I just couldn’t bring myself to fill the kitchen full of steam. I processed the peaches and froze them on baking sheets covered in wax paper; this worked out beautifully (instructions below), but I had a few leftover peaches that wouldn’t quite fit in the pans. So I buzzed them in the blender with some milk, cream, melted white chocolate, and sugar, and poured them into popsicle molds. Unexpected popsicles. One of the gifts of summer.
There are two potentially time-consuming steps to making popsicles: one, prepping and blending the ingredients together to make your popsicle recipe, and then, two, trying to remember and find where you put the popsicle molds away at the end of last summer. If either step takes up a lot of time, something has gone wrong.
Today is July 1st, the start of high summer and all of its little emergencies. This morning Jeremy found a cicada that was molting its old skin, and we watched it emerge, a surprising shade of jade green, tender as a sweet pea just out of its shell. A rare moment, one we had to attend.
At breakfast our older daughter, who is three, asked, “At night-time, do I fly?” Fantastic disquisitions often start this way, under the pretense of simple fact-checking. I said, “I don’t know, what do you think? Do you fly at night-time?”
Oh, yes, she said. She told us: “I fly at night, I fly in the dark, I fly in the night with the birdies.”
You mean, in your dreams? we asked.
“No, not in my dreams,” she said, annoyed at our stupidity. “I fly at night with the birdies.”
So mysterious. What’s it like to be her, to live inside that sweet little head? It feels like such a privilege, to be here at the emergence of personhood. It feels like high summer all the time.
Two nights ago it rained. The days have been brilliant and sunny and suffocating in their humidity ever since. The melon plants in the garden seem to double in size and blossoms every day. The baby learned to crawl. Storms seem to threaten on the horizon and then break up and dissolve into nothing. In a fit of pique, the three year old bit me on the thigh hard enough to draw blood.
One requires refreshment. Sometimes in the form of a cocktail.
I picked some melon flowers, some borage flowers, and basil leaves for the wine spritzers I made this evening, an apertif that I served with toasted, peeled hazelnuts. The base of the drink was Vin de Peche (from David Lebovitz), which I made by infusing wine with leaves from my peach, plum, and cherry trees; I liked this spritzer enough to give it a name, christened it The Leaf Cup - recipe below.
If you have a porch, may I suggest drinking this spritzer on your porch on an evening. The heat and humidity might strike just the right balance and evoke that feeling of borderlessness between your body and the air, and you might have funny, corny thoughts like, “I am a part of all this, and it is a part of me,” when you hear the night chorus of frogs and birds and crickets. You might hear the first cicadas of the season, the sound of those tiny little engines as they begin to whir to life.
Optional garnishes: Fresh basil leaves, fresh mint leaves, or edible flowers like borage, melon, or nasturtium
Vin de Peche is a bit potent, alcohol-wise, and so I mix it on either a 1-to-1 or 1-to-2 ratio with seltzer. For a light, refreshing drink on a hot day, I prefer the lighter ratio, mixing 1/4 cup wine with 1/2 cup seltzer. Garnish each glass with a squeeze and slice of lemon, ice cubes, and any of the optional leaf and flower garnishes.
I think this would make a very romantic punch, served in a pitcher at a picnic, or in a punchbowl, strewn with herbs and flowers.
Kale is all the rage here in Iowa City, partly because of work of the awesome and amazing Dr. Wahls, who rose from her wheelchair with help from the power of kale. (A diet of fresh greens helps her keep her MS in check.)
My needs are not so dire, though, but I adore kale, and it’s kale season in the garden. We are kale-rich. I open the door to the refrigerator and see two bags of fresh, washed kale, and think, “And how will I get my kale today?” I’m always trying to come up with new ways of eating kale, new kale delivery systems.
When kale is young and tender, it’s great for for smoothies and other raw preparations. A raw kale smoothie is so refreshing and invigorating that I usually find that if I have this smoothie at breakfast, I don’t require my usual third cup of coffee. I’m sure Dr. Wahls could probably explain this in a more scientifically credible way, instead, I’ll out myself as a huge flake and say that raw kale just seems to have a a lot of chi in it.
Here’s one of my favorite raw kale recipes, a coconut kale smoothie, a cooling and nourishing breakfast or a snack. And the coconut milk is so rich, you really feel like you’ve had something delicious and hearty. And you have.
Coconut Kale Smoothie
Serves 2 for a snack, 1 for a meal.
1/4-1/3 cup (to taste) of coconut milk
4-6 small to medium kale leaves, or 2-3 large leaves with the tough center stems removed
1 ripe banana
1/2 cup water
5-6 ice cubes
juice of 1/2 lime
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
1 peach, cut in half, with the pit and skin removed (optional – If you have a peach, it’s nice to put a peach in there, if not – eh, it’s still good)
Put all of the ingredients in a blender, blend, and taste and adjust the honey, lime juice, or coconut milk to your liking. I recommend letting this blend for a minute or two, until the kale leaves are really pulverized – otherwise, the smoothie’s a little chewy.
At 600+ pages, The King Arthur Book of Whole Grain Baking takes up a precious bit of real estate on my cookbook shelves, but that’s more than alright – it’s earned its place there with its recipe for Buckwheat Crepes.
Wherever you are in life, these hardy crepes will leave you in good stead. I used to have a terrible job that I dreaded and that paid badly; I’d cook a big batch of crepes on the weekend, and then come Monday morning, peel off a couple of crepes, sprinkle them with chocolate chips and microwaving them until they were melty, and eating them drizzled with honey and vanilla yogurt. It was an encouraging way to start the day.
And as a younger romantic person I cooked these crepes for my boyfriend, filled with squash blossom flowers cooked gently with butter and spring onions and green garlic, all baked together in a cream sauce.
That boyfriend and I got married. We bought a farmlet, and in those early days when the house and the garden demanded somuch work, I’d take a crepe out of the fridge for a quick lunch – I’d wrap up a few radishes and arugula from the garden with a hearty pat of butter and sprinkle of salt, and eat it standing up, looking out the window and daydreaming.
And now, we’ve got two little kids, and dinner has to get on the table every night in a timely fashion. Sometimes this nightly event makes me feel like a contestant on some Japanese game show where there are no rules and everyone is screaming at me.
For example, last night at the dinner hour, within a span of twenty minutes, the baby pooped in her diaper, the older one pooped in her underpants, and our dog achieved an ample, platter-sized pee on the welcome mat just inside the door. Read the rest of this entry »
I had a glorious weekend cooking project planned – a special lamb stew recipe. This recipe, it was slowest of slow food. You bathe the lamb in milk and herbs, massage it, read it Petrarchan love poems, pluck out a tune on the mandolin. And you cook it sooo slooooowly, so that the whole time it’s just thinking, “I’m just hanging out in the sauna with my friends, Potato and Fennel. And it feels GOOD.”
Garlic Roasted Cauliflower with Pasta
And the whole afternoon, while it’s cooking, you feel greedy and excited about the amazing meal coming your way. But you might also be worrying, “Am I worthy of such deliciousness?”
You are! We are! We all are. But, worthy though I may be, it wasn’t in the cards for me this weekend, alas. Suddenly it was Sunday afternoon, and there was no lamb, and no poetry, either.
So I made one of our classic Sunday night dinners – Garlic Roasted Cauliflower & Pasta, a comforting, luxurious meal that’s easy to make.
Yesterday was grey and I felt blue, so I turned on all the lights, put some music on, and made some cinnamon rolls. It’s hard to stay blue when the kitchen is bright and fragrant with yeast and lemon zest, cinnamon and cardamom. Isn’t this, after all, how the Swedes get through their dark and endless winters, with sweet rolls and coffee cakes? And how can anyone feel too terrible when there’s a batch of cinnamon rolls on the way.
Plump and gooey and ready for the oven
It’s been a punishing month – the loss of a loved one, the weather one long terrible tone-poem of gray winter mush. And so it’s probably no coincidence that I’ve been making a lot of yeasted rolls and breads lately. Last week I made some curious and lovely ensaimadas that I found at delicious:days, and I’ve made a few batches of yeast-risen waffles.
Working with dough just makes you feel better. Kneading is like a meditation. Let your mind go blank. Become the dough. And there’s the small miracle of putting together some flour, some yeast, some liquid, and having it come together in your hands – elastic, resilient, whole. It builds a small victory over doubt into your day: the dough will rise.