Hello there, honey apple cake

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I’m taking baby steps back: to blogging, making more time for myself, I dunno . . . a lot of things. Do you ever feel life going, three steps forward, two steps back? I’m in the thick of that mode. Change comes in waves only to be followed by the challenges coming with it. I sent out writing to contests and journals four months in a row and felt like I was on a roll getting back in a creative groove, and received news of all rejections back — almost at once . . . which was depressing (so it goes). I decided to give up writing entirely one day, and then sat down and wrote a page or so the following day. Perhaps I’m overdue for a 1/3-life crisis; I seem to be up and down — kind of unsteady this fall and trying to take heart and burrow down and wait for it to pass.

With busy days lately, it has been difficult to even take real note of the months passing. Like, summer. Where did that go? But I’m no stranger to fall and it’s often my favorite season. So I swept away a small acorn of time for baking cake last weekend, for Deb’s sunken apple honey cake.
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This cake is an absolute delight to pull from the oven as golden-hued apples peek out from their tender-crumb caverns; it would make a simple yet lovely addition to any dinner party or potluck, as it appears like a trick at first. Folks will be thinking, how did they insert whole apples into that cake…Which is exactly what I thought the first time I saw it.
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So, luckily, when all else fails, there is comfort to be found in simple things; small acts of pleasure like baking a cake (And then a pumpkin pie, two days later — let’s not even talk about that, okay). For full instructions and details on the magic of this cake, visit our always lovely smitten kitchen.

Fireworks and Pie

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July has been a magical time: filled with fireworks, barbecuing, friends, and a sort of insane amount of pie…

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                                                   Dimond Park, Oakland

My friend Christina recently asked if I could teach her how to make a pie, which is very exciting since I’ve been deep into pie practice and the concept of “Pie Sunday,” (or, Pie Saturday) which involves some baked creation and asking neighbors or friends to come over and enjoy. It’s an easy way to get feedback on my latest baked goods, and a great way to keep practicing various dough recipes and fruit combinations.
 
I’ve also been researching what is involved in becoming a registered and licensed cottage foods operator. So far, it sounds like various applications, several permits, and a yearly fee. But not too many hurdles between making pie at home for friends, and being able to sell pie to friendly folks on Sunday. I’m feeling excited about this opportunity and am working on a new website and brand for this venture, currently.
 
But before I go too far down the road of planning, dreaming, and supposing, recent weeks have included…
 
Nectarine-peach-apricot pie for father’s day:
 
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 Blackberry-plum pie, just because:
 
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Two galettes for the Fourth of July:
 
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And a genuine mixed stone fruit/mixed berry pie in honor of Nick’s mom visiting from Nebraska:
 
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This last, I think, was the tastiest of all pies of-late. I’ve ventured very timidly into the world of cherries in pastry or pie, because I always read that on their own they are not very flavorful; that the sour cherries, only to be found once a year for a brief window of time, are what make a cherry pie special. But I beg to differ! I think the texture of sweet cherry, along with its perfectly bite-sized package, is what makes it special. And tasty. And my new favorite stone fruit in pie.

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And a few weeks after the Fourth of July, we finally got around to using the last of the sparklers and fireworks (thanks Dan and Andrea!). Last night was especially warm, and even just before midnight there were plenty of people out in the neighborhood. It was one of those sultry, content summer nights, and a good opportunity for some photos.

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For more photos from the month, see the gallery below.

May Short List

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May: that glorious month in the Bay Area — the first burst of summer bringing sunshine, blossoms, stone fruit, and a thousand ideas of what to bake, preserve, and just plain gobble with peaches, and cherries, and strawberries at every turn. California is pressing forth in the wake of a drought and very little rain the last two years, so we’ll feel the scarcity of summer fruits later this season, I’d wager, and are already witnessing the price increases per pound of these beauties.

In the meantime, your May Short List (in June), posthaste.

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1. The season’s first cherries.

And a quiet Saturday evening sitting on the stoop with my partner, sharing ginger beer and lager and spitting cherry pits across the driveway into a garden bed. The simplicity of it and our easy happiness all spelled L-O-V-E.

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2. Homemade churros!

Nick’s sister had the ingenious idea to bring these to a work party, and it was the first time I’ve ever deep fried anything in my kitchen. Amazingly, it was simple! Dan used a pastry bag to pipe dough into the pan of oil, and before long we had piles of fresh churros which Andrea sifted in a mix of cinnamon-sugar.

 

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3. Fresh strawberry ice cream.

And, um, overflowing the ice cream maker and being forced to eat the overfill right away…which, really wasn’t the problem I thought it would be. I added both lemon and lime to my blend of heavy cream and milk and sugar before adding it to the ice cream maker, and it created a very bright flavor.

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4. Several rounds of Adventure Bread.

A delicious, dense, gluten-free loaf from Josey Baker Bread, it’s packed with seeds and nuts, all toasted to lend a beautiful earthy flavor. This bread is reminiscent of the European-style loaf from Trader Joe’s, except it’s 1000x yummier. So far, we’ve used almonds, sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds, and I expect each incarnation of this loaf to become even more experimental.

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5. Boston!

A quick yet jam-packed trip over Memorial Day weekend was stunning; the weather was perfect, and we hit an amazing amount of tourist sights, tempered with downtime spent candlepin bowling, eating cannoli and ice cream,  running the esplanade next to the Charles River, and visiting with friends. More on that visit to come.

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Life is Short, Love Your Body

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This idea formulated many moons ago, though, it wasn’t even my idea — the phrase just struck so soundly within me that it deserved, and deserves, repeating. I want women all over town to take this message to heart; I want girls to feel love and wonder for their limbs, not resentment or a belief that they don’t measure up.

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This problem is bigger than the media; we’ve got to personally strip over-saturated and self-critical language from our mouths. Turn the tide back to our bodies being sacred, or, more simply, the shell we are given to experience this life. Good or bad, it’s all we’ve got.

Several years ago I embarked on a conscious effort to change my perceptions of my own figure, to stop evaluating it. And I can’t say in a brief way what an impact that effort had on my life — I can say it changed everything. It’s work I still tend to, but what has carried over is a greater sense of joy. Quiet in the mind, a small but sure river of confidence. And relief.

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When I read about a stencil project over at Oh Happy Day, I felt inspired to make my own stencil with this phrase, and, something like seven months later, I’ve actually done it. It’s clear I’m at the bottom of a major learning curve regarding the use of spray chalk, and I’m aiming to find a more rigid paper for the stencil. For this piece, I used tyvek, a fairly indestructible waxy paper used in my bookbinding projects, which worked fine but did not lend itself to distinct edges on each letter. Alternately, I do want a material that’s fairly lightweight, so I can keep the stencil in a trunk, bag, or back pocket, if need be.

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Here’s hoping you east bay folks happen to see this piece of street art in your neighborhood soon, and that it inspires some conversation.

Model Bakery Croissants

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There have been so many inspired treats and dishes coming out of our kitchen lately, it’s hard to know where to start. But these lovely pastries have been on my mind — with more filling ideas for round two — so we’ll start here with an overview of croissant, from The Model Bakery Cookbook. It’s just one of a few new page-turners in the kitchen (Josey Baker Bread and Girl in the Kitchen, we’ll talk about you soon).

The Model Bakery was a grand discovery during our March trip to St. Helena for my dad’s birthday. Their english muffins are a wonder. Their loaves and cakes look superb. And on this same trip there was a great debate about the correct pronunciation of the name of the bakery, so I now refer to them affectionately in my mind as Model (m\O\-del) Bakery, even though the correct pronunciation is model, as in, a woman strutting down a runway.

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What is it about baking croissant that inspires the exchange of tender and endearing sweet-nothings for pastry? Perhaps it’s impossible to not feel the depths of buttery affection while prepping and rolling and folding each piece of dough, so after pulling this batch from the oven I found myself finally uttering, “You are adorable, my little babies,” and making kissing sounds at each golden package, while transferring them to wire racks to cool.

And as we waited patiently for them to become a proper temperature for scarfing down, I also heard Nick pass them in the kitchen and say, “Hey, croissant, whatcha doin’ up there?” At least it’s not just me, right?

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Nick looks so happy about all that butter.

I’d wager the affection is the result of a fairly serious time investment. There was nothing terribly strenuous about croissant (especially when you’re the one watching most of the action: me), except it’s a process. Prep dough, wait. Roll out dough, slather with butter, fold, roll out again. Refrigerate. More waiting. And then two or three more rounds of rolling, folding, and waiting. If we’re being grownups, we’ll say that stage is simply building anticipation and all good things are worth waiting for. More plainly, that part is a pain.

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But it is amazing to look at the final cross-section of dough after all that folding and rolling, and see the flaky croissant-layers that will be, with butter distributed evenly throughout.

Forming the croissant shapes and selecting filling is the fun part. Since this was our first go, we attempted a few different things: plain, chocolate-filled, and chocolate-peanut butter filled.* We also rolled several in rounds and dipped them in a blend of sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon, to enjoy a few tiny morning buns. I’m already excited to try a few jam fillings next time.

*I was skeptical about this filling, but should not have been — if the color of gold, or, sunshine on a spring morning, had a flavor, this filling would be it.

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It’s best to eat/share the croissants within a day or two while fresh. If your rate of consuming delicious things is anything like mine, this really will not be a problem. More shots in the gallery below!

What’s Happening at the Homestead

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Bet you thought I vanished, hm? Certainly not gone for good, but the last few months have provided a genuine crush of activity with visitors, birthdays, and trips out of town, and the usual baking, too. By way of catching up, and before we return to somewhat regularly-scheduled programming . . . there has been:

A cheeseboard. Beautifully and perfectly utilized with a spread of cheeses arranged by my loving person; all cheeses are displayed on a one-of-a-kind cheeseboard made by Mamie Breard of T-Vine winery from reclaimed wine shipping crates.

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Homemade granola. Loads and loads of it laced with dried fruits such as tart cherries and apricots, nuts like almonds and pistachios, shredded coconut, peanut butter chips, and candied ginger — the recipe changes every time.

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Preserved lemons and lemon bread, adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for a grapefruit loaf. Nick found an article noting several recipes to try with preserved lemons, so he assembled a concoction in a mason jar with lemon slices cured in salt, lemon juice, and lavender and sprigs of rosemary infused throughout.

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A trip to wine country for my dad’s birthday and incredible visits to Schramsberg, T-Vine, Madrigal winery, Charbet, and Laura Michael wines/Zathila Vineyards. This trip also included the discovery of Model Bakery’s famous english muffins. Huge, hand-shaped, and fried in butter, it didn’t take long before we recreated those muffins at home.

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A tour of Alcatraz, which provides stunning views of the Bay in every direction.

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Camping at Steep Ravine Cabins, which warrants a post all its own. An early Valentine’s Day treat, we spent two days hiking and just one night in a cabin perched right above the Pacific — it was like looking out at the edge of the world while the moon lit the waves lulling us to sleep. And it turned out our trip was well-timed; with rains earlier in the week, our hikes were muddy and verdant and blessed with creeks rushing and waterfalls around nearly every bend.

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A tour of Speakeasy brewery for a birthday party.

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Peanut Butter Pie. A bet I’m prepared to lose is one that includes dessert as the wagering token. The recipe for this pie comes from Homeroom’s own cookbook; Homeroom is an outstanding mac & cheese joint in Oakland. This pie can be served as an icebox pie, with an ice cream consistency straight from the freezer, or, when served closer to room temperature, it becomes silky, creamy, and oh-so-smooth. I prefer the latter.

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And, suddenly, there’s spring all around us and a trip to Boston ahead. More, very soon.

 

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Cinema

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Thanks and photo credit to Dan and Andrea Sprockett

So the cinema of love is a silent film
and there’s no going back now;
the grace of him, when he holds her.