Tag Archives: life

You win some, you lose some

To be perfectly honest, friends, I flubbed this whole blog thing a bit the past couple of weeks. Work has been extremely busy and all of my creative pursuits (including this one) have gone by the wayside.

I was going to try to pull the wool over your eyes by sharing a lovely rhubarb compote that I whipped up before the rest of the stuff hit the fan, but it turns out I’ve lost my notes on the recipe. So, I can’t even do that. Ah well, I guess you win some, you lose some.

The compote was based on this recipe, which is an old stand-by for me during rhubarb season, but it was slightly less sweet and made with local Meadowfoam Honey. Just look at how delightful it is:

finished compote

I am still very glad I made it because it has been my constant breakfast companion during this hectic time. You can spread it on toast or dollop it onto oatmeal and Voilà! A plain breakfast suddenly feels special and ever-so-spring-like. Maybe I’ll give it another go, now that things have calmed down, and share it with you then.

In the meantime, I highly recommend whipping up your own version if you get your hands on some rhubarb. The original recipe is quite simple and easily adaptable. It mixes well with berries (fresh or frozen), it takes kindly to the addition of chia seeds, and you can use almost any sweetener you have on hand. I even grated a Granny Smith apple into it one time because I was low on sugar and honey. Now that’s my kind of recipe.

So…what else do you want to talk about?

How about the cherries that I was absolutely delighted to find sprouting this week on the tree in our backyard? The thing with this cherry tree is that we knew when we moved in that it was a cherry tree, but we didn’t think it was going to bear fruit this year (or for a long time) because of the way it was pruned by the owner. Blah, blah, blah, long story, but lookit!

cherries

Those are cherries in the making, my friend, and there are lots of them. I’m so excited! Now, I’ve been warned about the havoc that birds can wreak on a producing fruit tree, and I have already begun planning evasive maneuvers (that will not hurt any birds!) So, assuming that goes well and we have cherries in the next month or so, I’ve also begun gathering cherry recipes.

Cherries are generally a fruit I enjoy raw because they are a) delicious raw, b) SO expensive I never want to buy enough for a recipe, and c) a pain in the butt to pit. If I have enough free cherries to eat raw and cook into to tasty treats though, you better believe I will do just that. Here are some of the recipes I have my eye on:

Do you have any other ideas for me? I’m all ears! And I promise to keep you posted on the results. Maybe I’ll even get it together enough to share an actual recipe on this very blog. Go figure!

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Filed under Food, Miscellany, Odds & Ends

Eat butter, preferably as shortbread

One of my sisters celebrated a birthday this week…a big birthday. I won’t say which one, but – to make this all about me for a second – it made me feel really old that I have a younger sister that is this age.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were driving to high school together through the gray Alaska mornings and singing along to the radio to keep each other awake? It seems like it couldn’t have been more than a couple weeks ago that we were crawling through six inches of snow in our new yard looking for a place to build our first snow fort. Or more than a couple years ago that we spent our afternoons after school tramping around the fields of our childhood home scanning the ground, looking for arrowheads and looking to avoid cow pies.

sisters

Where, oh where does the time go?

sisters

Since this was such a big birthday, we all chipped in and got her a present she’s been wanting for a while and that was equal to the occasion: a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. When I got my own stand mixer it totally changed my cooking/baking life, and I was so excited to give that gift to my sis. As a little extra treat for her day, I whipped up one of the recipes that makes me oh-so-thankful I have a stand mixer of my own.

zest and herbs

These are a basic shortbread cookie, with some additions that make them special enough for a birthday present. Shortbread cookies have a lot of butter, and as such, there is a lot of whipping together of sugar and butter. This is exactly the type of task that you want a stand mixer for (not to mention making bread and whipping egg whites).

Sure, you could do it with an electric hand mixer, but with a stand mixer you can turn the thing on and go about your business prepping the other ingredients. Then, a few minutes later, you can turn back to the mixer and find perfectly whipped sugar-butter. (Or butter-sugar, in the case of this recipe.)

creaming butter and sugar

It really is a thing of beauty. And the great thing about being in the decade we are both in now (you and I, little sis) is that you tend to care less about things that once seemed so important. Like eating too much butter.

sparkly shortbread

Meyer Lemon & Thyme Sparkly Shortbread Cookies

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
Makes about 36 cookies

These cookies keep fabulously well, and can be reliably sent across the country to a birthday girl (or boy). If you’re not sending half the batch away, you may also like to know that the uncooked dough can be frozen for later.

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • zest of two Meyer lemons, divided
  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons…!) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg yolks (save one of the whites)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Dump the 1/2 cup of granulated sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Zest one of the Meyer lemons on top of the sugar, and then rub the zest into the sugar. (This is an important step, trust Joy the Baker).

Beat butter, 1/2 cup of zested granulated sugar, powdered sugar, and salt together on medium speed until creamy and fluffy (about 3 minutes).

With the mixer on low speed, add in the egg yolks one at a time and beat until incorporated.  Then, still on low speed (the lowest you can go), add in the flour and thyme and blend until just incorporated – do not over mix. The dough will be very soft and pliant.

Divide the dough in half and dump onto two pieces of plastic wrap. Shape dough into logs about the size of a paper towel roll. Wrap each log up in the plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least three hours and up to three days. (If you are freezing any, you can just put it in the freezer at this point.)

While waiting for the dough to chill, make more zested sugar with the remaining two tablespoons of sugar and the zest from the second Meyer lemon. Do this on a piece of parchment paper or foil so that you can roll the logs in it to give them their sparkly crust. Set aside.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°. Brush the logs with the leftover egg white and roll in the reserved zested sugar. Then, cut the dough into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Bake on a lined baking sheet for 17-20 minutes, or until the cookies are golden around the edges, but still pale on the top.

Keep for yourself or send to someone you love. ❤

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Filed under Dessert, Food

Have friendship, will travel

I traveled east last week, clear across the country to Raleigh, North Carolina. If you know me, or have read this post, you know I hate to fly. This time though, I packed up my things, gulped my Xanax, and boarded my planes happily because I was going to see a dear friend. We met during that chaotic, miserable, ignorantly blissful time known as our early twenties, and I couldn’t be more grateful that ten years later she still puts up with me.

Six months ago, she and her lovely husband welcomed an extremely adorable baby boy to the world, and I had of course been dying to meet him. You could imagine then, how excited I was when the dates for my trip were finally set.

It didn’t take long to dawn on me, however, that if I was going to see them in person I really should finish that baby blanket I started knitting not long after my friend told me she was pregnant… (In case anyone’s counting, yes, that would have been about a year ago!) So, that’s what I did during most of the free time I had leading up to the trip.

baby blanket

The blanket was a success. It came out at once nubby and soft, and looked charmingly homemade, but not embarrassingly so. My blog post writing during this time was not as much a success, in that it was non-existent. This is why I am talking to you about friendship and nubby baby blankets right now instead of food or books.

I know I can count on you to forgive me though. That’s what friends do after all.

I did read a lot on my trip, so I promise to be back soon with a review or two of food-related books I think you’ll enjoy. In the meantime, get in touch with a good friend – in the words of my ever-wise friend Jessica, it’s good for the spirit.

flying above the clouds

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Food Books I Love: Memoir of the Sunday Brunch by Julia Pandl

Food can stir up memories like almost nothing else. Perhaps it’s because we eat with so many of our senses at once? Take coffee for instance. I hardly ever drink it, I’m more of a tea girl, but the smell of coffee brewing in the morning makes me think of my dad every time. I blink and I’m seven years old, the smell wafting into my bedroom where I’m still warm under the covers and half asleep, knowing he’s up and getting ready to leave for work, waiting for him to come kiss me goodbye, his mustache tickling my cheek and the smell of coffee on his breath.

Or blueberry pancakes. While a lovely idea, the sight, the smell, or (god forbid!) the taste of them will forever start my stomach quivering with the memory of a particularly bad flu I had as a child. I’ll leave it at that.

I’ve talked about this idea before. Here in reference my grandma, and how she is so connected to Italian food in my mind that almost anything with red sauce conjures her up before my very eyes. And here, when I told you about this decidedly un-hip Snickerdoodle, one bite of which drops me in the middle of the kitchen floor in my childhood home.

It’s a theme I can’t help repeating though. It is the key to why food holds such an important place in my life. It turns out I’m not the only one. In the book I just finished reading, Memoir of the Sunday Brunch, food is the center around which Julia Pandl’s family orbits.

Memoir of the Sunday Brunch

Her parents own a restaurant and, at the age of 14, Pandl is conscripted into the family business just like her eight (!) brothers and sisters before her. The coming-of-age story that unfolds from this event is punctuated with food: from a scarring breakfast sausage to smoked trout with a hangover to fiscal responsibility as taught by a can of peanuts.

It is certainly cliché to say “I laughed, I cried…,” but I did both. Pandl has an understated, self-effacing, but steady humor that had me chuckling through much of the book. And when fear, loss, and grief creep in and take that humor’s place, as they of course do in life, they are all the more moving for its absence.

The book is broken into two distinct halves. In the first we grow up with Pandl and get to know her family, especially her parents, through the lens of the restaurant, Pandl’s in Bayside. In the second half, we go along for the ride as Pandl wrestles with life, examines her faith, and explores her relationship with her parents. My only slight complaint is that the halves are too starkly different. That one moment I’m surrounded by the warm, comforting smell of brunch in the restaurant and the next I don’t get so much as a pancake for chapters. That is also, I suppose, how life is though. You think you’ve figured out what your life is all about and then it turns out that’s not it at all. The loss of what we think is important can be one of the surest ways to show us what is truly important.

For Pandl and her family, as for me and I’m sure many others, food is the vehicle through which memories are formed. It is the catalyst for them to be shared and related to. Ultimately, however, it is the people we love who are the substance of our memories and the true sustenance of our lives.

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Life happened

Um…hi! That was a longer break than I planned. As I weighed how to return to posting here after so (so!) long, I hemmed and hawed and considered not picking it up again at all. I found that idea made me really sad though.

So here I am.

Since we last talked life happened in a serious way. I graduated from grad school in June.

grad diploma

W00t!

I was super fortunate and got a job right away. Before the summer was over we (me, boyfriend, and pets) moved to Oregon for said job.

pretty oregon

And I am now a real, live librarian!

librarian

It is still a little surreal that I pulled this career-and-major-life-change off, but I am happy I did. We are settling into our new life in Oregon, grateful to still be in the lovely Pacific Northwest, exploring the area, trying to make friends and become a part of the community.

As part of that settling and expanding into this new life, I’ve been working on becoming a human again with interests and pastimes and things I do outside of work that don’t involve studying (imagine it!). And that’s when I got to missing this space. I missed the creative outlet it provided me, the sense of community I felt with you who read the stories I had to tell, not to mention the excuse to cook up delicious things, read delicious books, and then talk about them.

So, I will be doing that again and I will be honored if you are still interested in reading.

See you here in just a few days when I will tell you about a wonderful book I’m almost done reading…

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Coming up for air…and taking a break

Well hello there. As you may have guessed, I got sucked back into the undertow of grad school and thus had to desert this space for a while.

Since we last talked, I made it through yet another insanely busy quarter (just two more left!) and then promptly went on vacation to Hawaii. It was glorious (the vacation, that is).

post 30 pic 1

After Hawaii we celebrated the holidays quietly, here at home in Seattle. It was just the two of us and our pet family.

post 30 pic 2

And of course I cooked. And baked. And then cooked some more – making up for the kitchen-time deprivation of the months while school was in session. We had a delicious vegetarian Christmas dinner. I made my first soufflé (and it worked!) For dessert, a rich and intense old-fashioned Gingerbread Cake that we ate off of for the better part of a week.

post 30 pic 3

I made Christmas cookies, Sweet Potato Cornmeal Bread, and also various soups and stews to nourish and balance us in between and after the big meals. Our celebrations continued into last week too, with David’s birthday on Friday. I even had the time to make him a cake – yellow buttermilk cake with fudge frosting.

post 30 pic 4

It has been lovely. And delicious.

It has also been a time for reflection. When I first came up for air in early December, after classes were over but before we left on our trip, I realized a couple things.

The 1-year anniversary of BookLoverCook came and went while I was absent. This realization was bittersweet. On the one hand it is an exciting milestone to reach, but on the other hand it came with the recognition that I have not been able to devote the necessary time to make this blog what I hoped it would be when I started out over a year ago. Of course, that itself is not entirely a bad thing since the time has been wholly devoted to something else very important to me – my future career as a librarian.

Thus, the second realization: until I am done with grad school, I need to set this blog aside. I was able to (mostly) keep up with it last year, but this second year of my program is simply too demanding to allow me time for blogging. This has meant that over the past few months BookLoverCook has turned into just one more thing for me to stress out about, and to feel guilty about since I wasn’t posting. More stress is something I do not need – grad school is stressful enough! So, I have to give myself permission to take a break.

I promise that I will be back. I love this blog, and am very grateful that you have taken the time to read – and eat – along with me.

Take care! ♥

post 30 pic 5

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Food Books I Love: the French edition

At any given time since I was 16, you could have called me, quite accurately, a Francophile. Lately though, this interest/mild obsession has been reinvigorated by some lovely books about France and – more importantly – French food.

I can trace my love of all things French back to high school when I made the romantic and wildly impractical decision to take French class instead of Spanish to fulfill my mandatory language credits. Those classes led to my participation in a high school trip to Europe (still not sure how I got my parents to pay for that one). It was three days in each of three cities: Edinburgh, London, and Paris.

Paris was my favorite and those three days are solidly etched in my mind as three of the best days of my life. Could this dramatic distinction be the result of the haze of nostalgia and hyperbole of teenage emotions? Possibly. But I did have a wonderful time.

There was one afternoon in particular that has always shined the brightest in my memory. It involves getting lost, as I often was before the age of smart phones. But this time, as my friends and I wandered the streets of Paris with little to no idea where we were, instead of nervously trying to figure my way back to something I knew and recognized, I embraced the adventure of the unknown.

In my memory, which is vivid if not 100% accurate, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, Paris has put on its finest garb to greet the wide-eyed Alaskan high school students that wandered in its midst. Wandered with only a few francs each, I might add. After a couple of hours blissfully walking the streets looking at everything, but looking for nothing, we happened upon a bakery. Like you do in Paris. I’m not sure if it would have been up to snuff by Parisian standards, but to my taste buds it was ambrosia. We sat at a little round table out in the afternoon sun and shared a couple different pastries between us (remember the dearth of francs), each more delicious than the next.

I sat there outside that pastry shop, in my own version of heaven, and remember imagining myself living this life. Imagining what it would be like if I lived in this neighborhood, in that building up the street where each apartment has its own little balcony – mine would be the one with the overflowing flower pots that left just enough room for someone to stand among them and look out over the city. Imagining that this was my neighborhood bakery and that every evening on my way home from work I would stop in to buy myself a sweet treat for dessert. It was intoxicating, this imagining.

This experience, small (and a tad naïve) though it seems now that I retell it as an adult, was pivotal to me as a teenager on the road to becoming an adult. It opened my eyes to another way of life, to a big world that existed outside of my own experiences. I might have known, in theory, that there was a big world out there that I hadn’t seen, but the reality of it hit me like a smack in the face and left me dumbfounded and grinning.

This one afternoon, My Afternoon in Paris as the file in my brain reads, made me want more of that big world. I talked about this afternoon in college admissions essays, it inspired me to study abroad my junior year, it was one of those moments that shapes your life. And all over some pastries. Some damn good pastries.

The women in the books I review this week are certainly very different, from me and from one another, but they too embraced France, welcomed it into their lives and their imaginations, and it changed them.

My Life in France cover

My Life in France is beloved and iconic chef Julia Child’s autobiography. It spans her life, but really focuses on her time in France while she got her culinary education, both formally at Le Cordon Bleu and informally on the streets of Paris, and spent almost a decade writing her landmark cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

After reading this book, I wanted to be Julia Child’s best friend. And I wanted to move to France. Since neither of these things is likely to happen any time soon, I treasure the presence of this book in my life. I can pluck it from my bookshelf (or, ahem, check it out from the public library) any time I want and be instantly transported to Julia’s France – and oh! what a France it is. I defy anyone not to fall in love with the French locales described in this book. The colors, the smells, and, most of all, the tastes of all the places Julia and her beloved husband Paul lived and visited – from Paris to the port city of Marseille – will stay with you long after you finish reading.

And then there is Julia herself, whose character simply bursts off the pages. She has this big, fun, boisterous, passionate personality and you really come to feel as if you know her – as if she is speaking straight to you from across a little, round, Parisian table, telling you her stories.

Many of these stories are about her cookbook, her life’s work, and contain all the right kind of fascinating details about the process of its creation – making you feel like you are a lucky observer peeking into a wonderful, secret world you were never meant to see. Many other stories are personal ones of her life with her husband Paul. Their tender, solid relationship is the part of this book that I was least expecting, but most enjoyed. Their life as described in these pages – despite unavoidable hard times, including a brush with Senator McCarthy and a depressed period of living in Germany – is truly enviable,  full of adventure, laughter, mutual respect, and intense devotion.

This book was also, of course, the inspiration for the Julia-half of the 2009 movie Julie & Julia, written and directed by the late Nora Ephron.

Lunch in Paris cover

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard, is in many ways a similar tale of a woman who finds herself, both physically and symbolically, in France.

Elizabeth falls in love with a French man and moves to Paris where, after some hemming and hawing, she marries him. In many ways, however, this is just the beginning of the story. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to love in the recounting of this early phase of Elizabeth’s relationship with her eventual husband, Gwendal, including some very seductive recipes that I wanted to rush to my kitchen to make immediately.

The parts of Elizabeth’s experience that really spoke to me though, are the ones that go beyond the romantic ideal she seemed to be living. These are the stories about her struggles to build a new life – a stranger in a strange land. Her accounts of the loneliness she felt, how difficult it was to make friends, her attempts to understand French women’s nuanced attitudes toward food and body image, her integration into a new family. All told with an honesty that is inviting, an optimism that is inspiring, and a graceful wisdom that instructs.

The method of sharing her experiences in vignettes can sometimes feel a little choppy, simply because they can make the reader feel like there are parts of the story that are missing and you don’t want to miss one second of this engaging tale. The overall structure of the book is a success though – it is narrative and reads like a novel, but includes recipes at the end of each chapter that pair perfectly with the theme of what preceded.

Don’t forget that you can find reviews and rating for these, and other books for food-lovers on my Good Reads page!

Now, you’ll have to excuse me while I go find a pastry…

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