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I have largely stopped doing things that scare me, and over the last few months I have found that (irony alert!) quietly terrifying. I realize that this is, by its very nature, a problem of a privileged person, so there is definitely an important element of perspective and awareness that needs to be ** here. Still, after living in an environment of non-challenge and change, I am way past due to actually take responsibility for the situation. Now, there will probably be some closer-to-home solutions to this that will ultimately carry more weight and meaning in the long run, but as a personal jump start (think Cher slapping some sense into Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck) I am off on a little travel adventure for the next couple of weeks: to chat with and learn from people I’ve known for ages, people I have only known on the internet, and people I just haven’t met quite yet. I’m going to spend a lot of time on Amtrak trains. I’m going to see parts of the country I’ve never seen before and learn something about public transportation in four new-to-me metropolitan areas. I’m going to get terrifically lost. I’m going to try not to cry in any public restrooms, but no promises!

horoscope 2014

The 2014 tarot cards suggested a challenging year ahead. Guess this is my
way of going out on the field to meet it.

Meanwhile, I have been running some small-scale, totally safe experiments here at home that I thought I might share as a “getting off on the right foot” send off. First up, this terrific stitch from the Purl Soho blog. (I want to cast on pretty much every pattern they post, and have even picked out a new project to take along on my trip.) The finished look of this slip-stitch pattern is almost a kind of woven material, at least more than any traditional knitting I have ever seen. It’s not terribly complicated once you get the rhythm down, but will take a bit of time to complete—a.k.a. consider starting next year’s xmas scarf gifts now!

woven knits

I have no actual expertise in natural remedies, but I sure do love reading about the possibilities. When the husband was feeling flu-ish and asked if I had any “potions” to help him out, my research led me to elderberry syrup. Considering there were even some studies/scientific evidence for its usefulness posted on WebMD, I decided to try it out. Not being a controlled experiment, I can’t say it worked…but with both of us nearly down for the count and then quickly back on our feet, it didn’t not work.

elderberry syrup

And finally, the polar vortex and the general unrelenting darkness of this time of the season weighing hard, something bright and healthy to eat seemed to be called for. Cauliflower is one of the only banned vegetables around this homestead but, as a result, those alterna-pizza crusts fare poorly in these parts. However, this butternut squash version (with a kale pesto instead of spinach and whatever toppings I can dig out of the fridge) is sure to be a repeat order.

Savory Summer Pie: Tomatoes and Corn and Biscuit Crust, Oh My


I may have grown up amid Ohio’s horizon-filling corn fields, with tomatoes piled high at every farmer’s stand we passed, but I had never tasted the Southern treat that is tomato corn pie until a few years ago. Since that revelatory time, however, it has become the dish that announces “Summer!” in our kitchen (and celebrates its bounty a few times more throughout the season).

Tomato Corn Pie

Despite all that, somehow it has never ended up detailed here in Wonderland. I think I get distracted. There’s that weekend when I arrive at the market and see that the stall at the end has a pickup bed backed in and filled with ears of corn, and that the man who’s been selling the fresh spring peas has now traded them for bushels of the reddest, ripest fruit. I get a little dizzy. Apparently, I don’t come to again until the pie is baked and eaten. Apparently, I don’t consider sharing.

And it also has to do with the fact that a small army of writers have already blogged their way through the Gourmet recipe and posted all about how awesome this pie is, so it has always seemed silly to add to the noise about it. There are plenty of variations out there now as well: tomatoes roasted, a crust spiked with this seasoning or that one. The fact that I am extra generous with the filling–mounding up the corn and tomato slices and going extra hard with the basil–hardly seemed worth reporting.

Tomato Corn Pie

Once, however, I did read a post in which a cook expressed extreme displeasure in the finished dish. It was all wrong, she wrote, and I was weirdly crestfallen over this, that my favorite pie wasn’t universally loved. She disliked the crust (“But it’s a delicious, buttery biscuit!” I shouted at the computer screen). It was then that she really drew down on my thick slices of heaven and blamed the mayo.

Now, I have heard of these strange beasts, people who feel about mayonnaise the way others react to cilantro–with an innate disgust that deeply confuses the camp of addicted fans. Being both Team Mayo and Team Cilantro myself, I usually take a shoulder-shrugging “more for me” stance in the face of these expressed tastes. But the first tomato corn pie of 2012 has changed all that. I got home with my produce, shucked my corn, peeled and seeded and squeezed and blotted my tomatoes, chopped my herbs, whipped my mayo and lemon, shredded my cheese, and mixed the most lovely biscuit crust of my career. I assembled it all, crimping the edges and, yes, gloating already about how lovely it all was when I chanced to look over and see that the measuring cup full of the lemony mayo dressing was still sitting there, on the wrong side of my pie.

Unkind thoughts were mentally expressed. Also, I learned that you cannot, no matter how much you might desire to, pour the dressing in through the top crust vents. Just a little FYI.

So, I tossed the sauce into the ‘fridge and the pie into the oven, counted it as a lesson in humility, and tried to move on. When I took a bite of the baked pie, however, I discovered that I just might have stumbled onto something. First, for all the “mayo is gross” sayers in the crowd, this pie is tasty–not as tasty!!–but still plenty good sans the condiment. When made correctly, however, this recipe has a tendency to soak through its bottom crust no matter how vicious you get with the draining and blotting of all the sweet juices out of the tomatoes. This time, I cut and was rewarded with a perfectly platable slice–even the first piece popped right out of the dish with barely a chip in the bottom crust. I drizzled a bit of the unintentionally reserved dressing over the top like some kind of icing. I think this just might become a thing.

So make your own tomato corn pie, with or without mayo. No need to do anything but slice off the corn kernels, in my opinion, but definitely peel and seed and squeeze and blot those tomatoes.

Tomato Corn Pie

Savory Tomato Corn Pie
as seen across the internet, most traceable back to Gourmet

For the crust

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoons kosher salt
6 T cold unsalted butter
3/4 cup whole milk

For the filling

4 large, meaty tomatoes, peeled, cored and sliced crosswise, drained of their juices
3 ears of corn
3 T finely chopped basil
1 T finely chopped chives
2 cups sharp cheddar, grated
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T butter, melted, for brushing the top crust

Prepare the tomatoes by cutting a shallow X in the bottom of each and dunking then in a boiling water for 10 seconds, then submerging them in ice water. The skins should easily peel off at this point, sticking only if there are imperfections in the fruit. Slice and squeeze gently, discarding liquid and seeds. I like to begin with this step so that I can lay out the slices out on paper towels and get as much drainage time as possible.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium-sized bowl. Add 6 T butter in small cubes and, using with a pastry cutter or your preferred method, work the butter into the dry ingredients. When the mixture resembles a coarse meal, add the milk and mix just until all ingredients are incorporated. Divide roughly in half (I add just a touch more weight to what will become my bottom crust and wrap in plastic. I like to flatten the dough into rough discs and refrigerate until ready to roll out.

Cut the corn off the cobs and roughly chop. Prepare the cheese, whisk the mayo and lemon dressing together, and chop the herbs.

When ready to assemble the pie, heat the oven to 400F.

Unwrap one of the dough pieces and place on a well-floured counter. Flour the top of the dough as well and roll out to fit your 9-inch pie plate. Working in batches, place half the sum total of each–corn, tomato slices, herbs, and cheese–in the shell and then repeat. Finish by drizzling the mayo dressing over the filling (though you may omit this step if you absolutely must). Roll out the top crust and seal the edges. Slice vents in the top and brush with the melted butter. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.

Tomato Corn Pie slice

Adventures in CSA Vegetable Preparation


This week’s farmers market/CSA haul is smaller than it might first appear, I suspect, piled, as it is, with leafy greens of all shapes and types. Regardless of its feeding power, however, it was definitely not going to all fit in the ‘fridge in its current state. Measures had to be taken.

Kale and I are historically wary kitchenfellows. I like it, but I don’t like the aerobic workout that chewing it usually involves, even when massaged with salt for raw salads (though I am impressed that leftovers will hold up for days that way). I was set to show it who was boss and pulverize the kale down into a pesto again this week, but then I caught this recipe for a vegan kale gratin that actually wasn’t playing a false game of “Look mom, I’m eating my vegetables!” by drowning everything in cheese sauce. I did make a traditional cup of béchamel sauce, but stuck with the suggestion for the nutritional yeast topping. And amazingly, when it was sauteed and baked, I had managed to get all that kale into a 9×13 Pyrex baking dish.

Healthy Kale Gratin

Healthy Kale Gratin
Based on the vegan recipe by Rosewater and Thyme

2 T olive oil
1-2 bunches kale, rinsed, deribbed, and chopped (my CSA bunch was very large–probably about 8 packed cups even after chopping)
2 large spring onions, chopped, including light green part
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup béchamel sauce (your favorite recipe, or see below)
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 T nutritional yeast

Pre-heat oven to 400F and butter a 9×13 baking dish.

Heat olive oil in a deep saute pan and cook onions and garlic until softened. Add kale. Cover with a lid and cook until wilted, stirring every couple minutes. When kale is ready, add béchamel sauce to the pan and stir until all vegetables are evenly coated. Transfer this mixture to the prepared baking dish and evenly distribute. Top with bread crumbs and nutritional yeast, and bake until top is lightly browned and kale bubbling, about 18 minutes.

Béchamel Sauce

1 T butter
1T cornstarch
1 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
couple scratches fresh nutmeg

Melt butter in a sauce pan and whisk in cornstarch. Gradually add milk in several portions and bring to a simmer, whisking continuously. Cook gently, reducing heat as needed, until thickened. Remove from heat and reserve.

Tomato, Fava Bean, and Spring Onion Pizza

Tomato, Fava Bean, and Spring Onion Pizza

This week’s shopping also included a new-to-me find: fava beans. If I had known about the labor-intensive processing required before they could be consumed, I might have skipped this purchase (or purchased more than just the scant quart box, which reduced to a mere half-cup of beans), but in the end this was probably the most manageable introduction. Once I had peeled them out of their pods and blanched them out of their exterior jackets, I suspected that my paltry net pile could be applied to little more than salad sprinkling. But I was already making dough (more on that later this week) and I was stocked with tomatoes and chopped spring onion greens (from the kale dish above), and suddenly pizza seemed like a great idea. Was there cheese in the house? There was cheese. We were all systems go.

Some notes when making pizza with fresh tomatoes that will allow you to avoid a soaked crust. 1) As early in the process as you can, slice and drain the tomatoes well (go ahead and give them a gentle squeeze over the sink) and then lay them out on a few layers of paper towels. Blot the tops with a few more. Leave them that way until ready to top your pie. 2) Pre-bake your shell for 8 minutes in a very hot oven (450F) before adding your toppings–on a pizza stone if you have one, or some unglazed clay tiles from Home Depot. Set the dough on a piece of parchment to make moving it around a snap (no sticking and safe to touch when hot), and use the back of a cookie sheet as a makeshift pizza peel. 3) Be conservative in the amount of topping (but not the type!). Return to oven and bake until crust has browned and cheese is bubbling and golden.

With a few grinds of red pepper flakes, this was a lovely and light use of fresh spring ingredients. There was no one but me home to enjoy it. #plusandminus

Grilled Fresh Caught Trout (Gone Fishin’ Edition)


I’ve recently been dipping my toes here and there into seafood eating. Having been a lacto-ovo vegetarian since I turned 15, however, I’m confronting a few issues as I break this streak. First, psychologically, I can get hung up on the idea of meat eating when a plate of otherwise well-prepared food is set down in front of me, all made worse by the fact that my stomach sometimes balks in parallel sympathy. Secondly, however, like that one girl freshman year who had never done her own laundry, I have zero meat cooking knowledge and experience. When B asks me how long to roast a chicken or how to make a meatball, I panic, my eyes reflecting that “deer in headlights” look that’s apparently attractive but makes me question my self-worth as a homemaker.

It also makes me a highly motivated student, however, so when last weekend’s activities in Vermont took a turn to include some fresh caught trout, I poked my nose and my camera lens in to see if I might learn a thing or two. The key seemed to be to keep the fish alive for as long as possible before cooking (I never caught a “fishy” whiff) and to use a very sharp knife when the time came. Kaylon, the woman whose skilled hands you will see at work in these photos, decided to remove the heads of the fish, slicing as close to the gills as possible to keep as much meat on the body. Then, with a quick slit down the belly, the entrails were removed generally in a single go. I know I would not have been so smooth, but at least I feel like if I find myself stranded on an island and I actually manage to catch a fish, I’ll have some clue as to how to prepare it. After that, it was just a very hot, very clean grill, a little lemon, oil, salt and pepper, and dinner was ready. Paired with a few cobs of grilled corn drizzled with lime juice, this was a meal not soon to be forgotten.

Grilled Fresh Caught Trout

Grilled Fresh Caught Trout

Catch enough trout to feed your party. Clean the fish, rinse well, and pat dry. Brush with olive oil inside and out, and fill cavity with lemon slices, salt and pepper (plus whatever herbs suit your tastes, if desired).

On a hot grill, cook each fish for about 5 minutes per side–taking care when turning–until fish is cooked through and flaky. Serve immediately with melted butter and additional lemon wedges.

Grilled Fresh Caught Trout: Cleaning the fish

Grilled Fresh Caught Trout: Cleaning the fish

Grilled Fresh Caught Trout: Cleaning the fish

Grilled Fresh Caught Trout: Cleaning the fish

Grilled Fresh Caught Trout: Cooking the fish

Grilled Fresh Caught Trout: Cooking the fish

Pancakes with a Heart of Gold


There’s a restaurant here in Baltimore that Brian and I pretty much regard as an annex of our own home: Golden West Cafe. Considering the frequency with which we dine there, you’d think I’d have tried everything on their rather extensive menu, but I am a child of habit and pretty much restrict myself to two (super awesomely satisfying) dishes.

There used to be a third.

At some point, however, my beloved lemony pancakes, the ones flecked with zucchini and onion and stuffed miraculously with a slice of brie cheese in the middle, disappeared from the menu. I don’t know where they went or why they left; they didn’t leave a note.

They did make enough of an impression on me, however, to set my hands to some recipe forensics. After just a few tries and tweaks, I had my own version of those flapjacks back on my plate.

Lemon Zucchini Pancakes with a Heart of Brie

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1T olive oil
1 small zucchini
2 scallions, finely sliced
1 tsp. lemon zest

6 thin slices of brie

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Set aside.

Shred zucchini and blot well with paper towels to remove as much excess moisture as possible.

Beat egg into the buttermilk and add this mixture, the oil, zucchini, scallions, and lemon zest to the dry ingredients. Whisk together until just incorporated. Allow to rest while bringing your skillet or griddle up to medium heat.

When hot, grease lightly with a little butter (I keep a paper towel nearby to spread the grease around and keep it from getting excessive). Drop batter by the scant 1/3 cup onto your cooking surface of choice; it’s somewhat thick, so you may need to spread it just a bit with your ladle, but don’t thin it out too much. You want some fluff.

The delicious, cheesy heart of the pancake.

When dry around the edges and ready to flip, place a slice of the cheese on top of the uncooked side and turn in over in the pan. If you have a problem with the cheese melting to the skillet instead of browning and crisping, lightly re-grease the pan before you set the uncooked side down on it again.

Continue in this manner until all pancakes are made. I got six 5-inch cakes.

Serve hot topped with a pat of butter and a drizzle of honey.

A Feast of Green (Spring is Here! Edition)


This was the first weekend my Saturday market produce haul has truly felt exciting in quite some time. And even though I’m usually tempted to purchase a rainbow of vegetables on these outings, this was a monochrome venture and that was fine with me. The bright greens of pencil-thin asparagus, Brussels sprouts, spring onions, and cilantro captured my eye. Some of this was imported from our neighbors to the south, admittedly, but I’ll take their hinting promises; no peas yet, but they are assuredly on the way.

Back at home, there was also a largish pile of actual cookbooks that I had been stocking up all winter and have now finally put to use (as opposed to looking again to my normal kitchen fuel—the cooking blogs of others). I first turned to Nigel Slater’s doorstop of a vegetable Bible Tender, a book I had been drooling all over, with its vegetable-by-vegetable recipes and amazing garden photographs. Even though my own vegetable patch will once again be restricted to about 18 sq. ft. this year, I’m looking forward to following him in the kitchen as if I was producing much more. To start, I put some of the asparagus towards his Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon. Though I had a bit of a pastry fail here (my error, as I added too much water to get the dough to come together, and then disliked the texture of the bottom crust, so take care) the interior was rich and silky. I tossed in a handful of chopped spring onion because I could not resist. (I know! I’m bad like that.) If I had managed the dough with more finesse, it would have been a perfect addition to a spring brunch table, for sure.

Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon

Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon Makings

Next up was a bag full of Brussels sprouts. It sometimes shocks those who have never eaten these beauties roasted in Balsamic vinegar that this vegetable is a household favorite, but even we were getting a little tired of that method. Epicurious kicked out a Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe in the Momofuku fashion that two out of two Baltimoreans definitely agree should be added to the regular dinner rotation. Don’t be afraid of the high oven heat, but do keep an eye on them. My delicate sprouts needed a bit less time to brown darkly. Also, mind your salt/sugar/heat balance in the dressing and don’t be afraid to adjust to suit your tastes, then only add enough to coat, not to drown. I had plenty left over, into which I scooped enough peanut butter to thicken it a bit. It will serve as a fantastic salad topping for the week.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

A recipe from Heidi Swanson’s inspiring Super Natural Cooking rounded out this feast. I had a mix of red and truly, deeply purple fingerling potatoes that were much too small (some not much larger than jelly beans) to Hasselback as her roasting recipe indicated, but her dish did include harissa (!) which I just happened to have a nice jar of, plus a garlic yogurt dressing. I was in heaven just reading about it and would not, could not let size stand in my way!

Roasted Purple and Red Potatoes with Herbed Garlic Yogurt

Roasted Purple and Red Potatoes with Herbed Garlic Yogurt
Adapted a bit from Super Natural Cooking to suit smaller potatoes

2 lbs. fingerling potatoes, mix of red and purple, in 1-inch chunks
3 T olive oil
2 tsp. harissa

For the dressing

1 cup Greek yogurt
2 garlic cloves smashed and minced
3 T cilantro, finely chopped
3 T fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
black pepper
lemon juice (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F.

Mixed the oil and harissa together, drizzle over potatoes and toss to evenly coat. Spread out on a foil-lined baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Meanwhile, to prepare the dressing, mix the yogurt, garlic, cilantro, mint, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Thin with a bit of lemon juice if desired.