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.

A Gluten-Free Pastry Experience

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Have you ever accidentally baked several loaves of gluten-free bread? How about accidental gluten-free pop tarts? Me. I have. And my partner and I only realized the cause of the poor pastries and irregular bread after many tears were shed, expletives elicited, and my countless mutterings of what the hell is wrong with this dough? It was sticky, difficult to roll out, and the final product: not very flaky, bland, something…off.

In every kitchen, there must come a recipe that tests the very core of your baking patience, and, causes you to question yourself as well. Such as, do I really know anything about baking? Did I measure ingredients correctly? Have I done something wrong? And your contempt for the pastry dough eclipses everything else until you’re having a cranky fit in the living room that sounds something like, “…stupid, stupid, stupid. I hate it!” For me, it went in rounds like that, each bout with a new vilifying phrase, until the experience was exhausted.

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So, that happened, and this post was originally titled “Homemade Pop Tarts (and my hatred for them),” but I’m glad to have reached understanding — that the cause of all this baking strife was the flour: a poorly labeled bin of flour in the bulk section of my local Whole Foods, labeled as All-Purpose with the fine print of alternative flour. I failed to note before purchase that the ingredients list included garbanzo beans, among other substitutes. I’m also glad that I no longer have to doubt the recipe for homemade pop tarts provided by Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs, as she had never failed me before. Yet I cursed that recipe and hated it with a fever as I rolled out my dough wondering why it was so soft, why the flour failed to bind.

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The good news: we persevered, and there were homemade pop tarts — seven of them with various fillings thanks to Nick’s foresight. He mixed an apple-ginger filling with brown sugar, we filled several tarts with chocolate chips, and the remaining few with rhubarb jam. In even better news, the pop tarts were much tastier on day two despite the flavor of the pastry itself being…not so savory.

Bottom line: this recipe deserves a do-over in the Hawk & Pigeon test kitchen. For the next round I’ll likely try a traditional pie dough recipe for the pastry, or, simply try Smitten Kitchen’s recipe again with tried-and-true all purpose flour. Gluten, gluten, gluten. I love it.

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Canning Intensive at 18 Reasons

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Food is so basic. It’s everything. Transformative, meaningful, and malleable. A means of caring for each other and ourselves. An art and a necessity — and rich with possibility. Each year as I continue to research and experiment and learn more about food and cooking and baking, I only grow more inspired. More bold. My quest for trying new ingredients and recipes: it can’t be quenched. For a while now, I’ve wanted to learn more about canning and preserving. I’ve flipped through books and done some reading on the internet, whole-heartedly gobbled my good friend Erin’s homemade strawberry and raspberry preserves, and, finally, last weekend yielded my first-ever canning class at 18 Reasons in San Francisco. The class was a very awesome Christmas gift from this fellow I know (and love), and it did not disappoint.

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18 Reasons is a community space dedicated entirely to workshops and cooking classes that cover a range of topics — from gardening to canning, knife skills to tasting seminars, they feature movie nights, community dinners, and more. And, in the words of 18 Reasons, their food programming is designed to “inspire action and foster collaboration toward creating a just and sustainable food system.”
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The class was FUN, cured my worries about sterilizing jars, and the three hours absolutely flew by as we chopped, stirred, and simmered. Our team left with eight jars of Meyer Lemon Ginger Marmalade, three bottles of Blood Orange Vanilla syrup, and sachets of loose-leaf tea: a mix of dehydrated bergamot and blood orange, lavender, and vanilla.

I’m already eager to take another class come spring; our instructor noted that there will be another canning feature with strawberries and possibly cherries (yum!). The class fee is an incredible value considering the gorgeous fruit that was used and what we left with: marmalade, syrup, recipes and tea to take home, and during class we were treated to snacks (including the most luscious date I’ve ever had in my whole life) and an orange sorbet made with leftover satsuma mandarin juice.

Next on my to-do list: researching a similar community space in Oakland, or, heck, if it doesn’t exist — creating one with some friends.

Credit and huge thanks to Andrea Sprockett for sharing her photos with me!

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