You're Doing a Whole WHAT?

I'm sorry, I thought you just said that Rachel was going to do a Whole 30 challenge. Most bloggers end their year with an interesting recap documenting the year's most popular posts. While that's an entertaining enough thing, you've read all those posts so rounding them up again isn't going to do much toward growing this little community. I mean, we could talk about how my post about hostessing failures has more page-views than almost any other post this year (even some of the old ones) and yet not a single comment. Or how a post about becoming a better coffee shop customer has hundreds more page-views than even that. Latte drinkers be advised: your manners are being considered. No, rather than round up these posts, I'm looking ahead. More specifically I am looking ahead to January when I've agreed to do the Whole30 challenge with a couple of friends. I know, right? Keep laughing - I am too. Miss Gingerbread & Cake, Queen of the Kingdom of Brie, is giving up dairy, grains, sugar, legumes, corn, soy, and a host of other convenient foods for an entire thirty days. Believe me, it took several days of severe convincing before I agreed. Unlike a lot of people, I don't want to make any resolutions come late December. I didn't want people to think I was making any resolutions. Everybody starts January with the best laid plans to lose weight, whip their eating into shape, and then generally fail. So joining the Whole30 challenge isn't about weight loss or eating reform for me. Instead, it's half a way to jump start my year by taking extra interesting care of myself in the first thirty days and half a way to challenge my cooking in a way I've only challenged myself once before.

Of course I have concerns. Of course I still enter these plans grudgingly, holding onto a bitterness about the fact that when I go to DC next weekend to see the Vermeer exhibit, I'll have to skip out on the strawberry cheesecake that has been promised me since November. I don't know. Maybe there are blogs written about people who actually like food successfully doing the Whole 30 challenge. I have a couple of friends who share these worries that keep me up at night - what about snacks? what about variety? what if I am hangry all. month. long? These friends whose commitment to food that tastes good is as determined as mine have assured me that it can be done without totally sacrificing everything we love about food. So I've decided to drag you along and document the process. We all know that I'm not the best at sticking to challenges, right? It's okay. Agree with me there. I mean, I started a 30-day yoga challenge and though I did complete it, it took me 45 days. In addition to my tendency to start thing I don't finish, we know this blog isn't about diets, or restrictive eating, or trying to get skinny. So why am I doing Whole 30 during the month of January? Well...simply because I'm afraid I can't. So in the spirit of Getting A Head Start and proving to myself that I can and will soldier through a month of Whole 30 without dying of low spirits brought on by lack of bread and cheese, I'm doing it. Ashley, Emily, Joanna, Maryanna...if I keel over dead by the time February rolls can raffle off my Kitchen-Aid mixer. I mean, I even made a Pinterest board about how terrible it's going to be and everything. As with anything, a challenge must have rules and these are the ones I am going to play by:

do not go broke
I can't shop for all of my groceries at Whole Foods. I can't afford giant piles of specialty replacements for common groceries. This means that I am going to have to find variety without completely cleaning out my finances. Meat and nut proteins will be the largest expense but I hope to compensate for that by finding deals on produce at places like Aldi.

do not go hungry
I refuse. I absolutely refuse to go hungry in the name of health. I firmly believe that you can eat in an extremely healthful way and still be full after every meal. But my schedule is busy and I am often gone from 8:30 in the morning until 9:30 or 10 at night and working that off a Whole 30 meal plan is going to be interesting. Yet I'll do it. Someway, somehow, even if that means bringing half the fridge with me.

do not get bored
Okay, so I know this one will be hard to achieve when most of what I'm eating are packed lunches that don't involve the trifecta of bread, cheese, and grains, but I am determined to stave the wolf, Boredom, off with a load of research, other peoples' recipes, and a little native ingenuity. I am already tired of the idea and it isn't January so this isn't necessarily a good sign. Don't worry. I'll be fine.

do not stop
And of course, the last one. Because if I stop before my thirty days are over, I will have proven the point I hope to disprove: that I, Rachel Heffington, can't manage to liven up a dull eating challenge or, you know, complete it at all.

So yeah. That'll be me at the end of 2017. Determined. Somber. Wary. Spending New Year's Eve casting some serious side-eye at my choices, eating cheese, and thinking about the long farewell.


Wow. So depressing. All joking aside, I'm excited to spend my first thirty days of January taking extra good care of this body and stretching my culinary creativity. It can't be that bad...can it? Happy New Year, friends! Stay safe and sound. <3

How Not To Be a Hostess - Failures in Real Time

art by Josefina Schargorodsky via Pinterest

"Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor." - Truman Capote
Some time ago we did a poll on the blog and as is the nature of such things, you voted. Your votes were cast over the period of a week and the topic in question was "Things You Want To See More Of On This Blog." By the end of the voting period the topics that came out on top were
Entertaining & Hospitality and Funny Stories From Real Life. I confess I'm a little surprised that these two categories pulled into first and second place ahead of things like "fresh recipes" and "healthy desserts" (except that the question was phrased "what do you want more of" and we already have plenty of recipes here). I'm kind of happy y'all voted that way because of course I like talking about funny things that happen in real life and you also know how much like I love a party. So it's in the spirit of listening to you about both topics that I'm going to tell you a story that happened this past weekend: a story of totally failing as a hostess. Honestly, this is kind of an embarrassing and slightly vulnerable post to write. So from the girl who called burnt pie crust "caramelized," here's a bit of candidness.

Despite the soaring triumph which was my buche de noel (shoddy iPhone pictures can be seen here), everything was not all right. See, sometimes you decide that rather than an intimate, dinner-party type group, it's time for a giant party with dozens of people. And things don't work out the way you planned. Sometimes you get to seven PM on the specified Friday night with a group amounting to the size of a bobsled team.

Best Cut-Out Cookies For Holiday Baking

Did you know you can make the most convincing little mushrooms out of egg whites and sugar and very little else? The minute I saw meringue mushrooms (traditionally used to decorate buche de noel which is GOING DOWN for my Christmas party tomorrow night after years of swearing I'd make one) I knew I had to try to make them. Of course I thought they were going to be difficult and then I realized how easy they were and I started to think that this, THIS, is the sort of party trick I can learn and be good at. People act like you practiced sorcery when they see these little guys and you can just laugh to yourself like, "No, actually, I just piped some circles and cones onto a sheet pan and then stuck them together and smudged the feet with cocoa powder." I'm serious. If you can squeeze a pastry bag, you can make these unbelievably real-looking mushrooms. I can do a tutorial if anyone wants to see one, but I'd just as soon send you to this one I used from Natasha's Kitchen. Seriously - so cute and makes you feel a little how maybe God felt when he made a real mushroom. This proud, happy, "I made that. And it looks great."

In other news, I successfully completed my gingerbread house! Much to my astonishment, the plans came together, I thought to do the intricate piping before assembling the gingerbread house, and barring the initial crash when the roof buckled and pushed off/cracked the back wall, it went so well.
My dad was handily nearby when his non-mathematics daughter was trying to design a blueprint for her cookie house. He offered helpful critique and then stood helplessly by while I put roofs on askew. I ran out of gingerbread and then there was no more molasses (or ginger) to make more with, so I ended up creating an inner wall and all of the three (too-large) a-frame roofs out of this incredible chocolate cut-out cookie dough and I ended up loving the slightly two-tone look to my completed row-houses! I wanted the piping to stand out so I opted not the put candy on my gingerbread house. I realize that's sacrilege and nine-year-old Rachel (not to mention the Rachel Who Pops Up At Easter And Over-Decorates Eggs) would be sad at me. But frankly I am loving the simplicity this year of the plain cookies piped with plain frosting. I wanted to link to the three recipes I used this year for all of my cookie-baking/decorating because I've now made multiple batches of cookies/frosting off them and can say with full confidence these are the BEST. At home we make two kinds of cut-out cookies, primarily: one is a sugar cookie - not the big, soft kind, nor the crisp-cracking one. This is a sort of in-between recipe that we've used for twenty-five years so don't mess with me on it. That is a recipe for another post, however (do you want to read it?). The cookies I've listed here are my favorite gingerbread men dough and that life-saving chocolate cut-out cookie dough. Because when all else fails and you're out of ginger and molasses, you might still have cocoa powder lurking around to save the day.

Ideal Gingerbread Men (perfect for houses, men, animals, anything)
Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies (perfect for Christmas trees, stars, and tiny little shapes)
Royal Icing (the fact that you whip the egg whites + sugar to stiff peaks if EVERYTHING)

Armed with these recipes, you will have absolutely no trouble at all making all your random holiday cookie dreams come true! I am currently doing research on how to roll a jellyroll into a log cake because I've never in my life (okay, maybe once) made I cake I have such high hopes for. It kind of has to live up to those mushrooms. Anyway, let me know what your favorite kind of Christmas cookie is and for now, happy baking!

Also, can't get enough of Molly Yeh's chocolate sea-salt mandel bread. ughhhhhhh. Can someone please give me a decade's supply of marzipan so I can make it on a weekly basis for years to come? K'thanks.

Okay, I bought a kitchen scale...

via Pinterest

"I'll never own a kitchen scale."
I remember saying that and firmly believing the words. Now I've decided to give up the habit of saying "I will never ____." I've sworn off too many things only to have them somehow come back to haunt me. Downtown Abbey, skinny jeans, shortening the phrase "two-thousand-seventeen" to "twenty-seventeen," and choosing to cook my eggs with runny centers are just some of the "nevers" which have (deviously) become frequent habits of mine. There are a few things which I have stopped saying "never" about in hopes I can trick fate into truly keeping away from them. Are you interested to know what things?

Chocolate And Pomegranate Curd Tart

Hi hi HI, friends! Holidays have happened in the space between Sticky Gingerbread Cake and now. First came Thanksgiving and then came the annual grocery famine that always happens post-holiday.
My family can't be the only one which goes through a period of not buying

Sticky Gingerbread Cake

Happy National Gingerbread Day Eve! Bet you didn't realize that there is a National Gingerbread Day...I didn't, till I checked my planner and realized that some former version of Rachel had enough forethought (sometime in January, probs) to mark November 21st as National Gingerbread Day. Who am I to argue with her good ideas? To me, gingerbread comes with a lot of expectation and ample room for being disappointed as a result of said expectations. As a kid I knew about gingerbread but I had never eaten it, nor had most of my friends. Gingersnaps and gingerbread men, yes. But those weren't the same as actual gingerbread. Am I the only kid who puzzled over this conundrum? Actually, probably "yes." But how could gingerbread and gingerbread men be such vastly different things?

2017 Gingerbread House Plans

i'm sorry for my i-phone photo.

Okay, okay. I'm not even listening to Christmas music yet so I definitely shouldn't be thinking about gingerbread houses. Sue me. You might remember last year's spontaneous gingerbread house-making. I invited my then-new friend, Christen, over to make gingerbread houses using our trusty gingerbread recipe. The only problem is that I am not skilled in 3-D projects

Eight Ways To Become A Better Coffee Shop Customer

Today we (jokingly) get to discuss being a good coffee shop customer, something that has been simmering in my brain for a little while now. In the sprawling age of coffee chains like Starbucks (and the widespread confusion it has precipitated as to the real identity of a macchiato), the quality shops have become dearer to us. The cafes and coffee bars which,

Perfect Stove-Top Macaroni & Cheese

(can easily be made gluten free, too!) The day is finally here! Most of you who follow me on Instagram have probably been concerned at the rate at which macaroni has appeared in my feed, on my stories, and

Dinner Party No. 3 - Pie & Sky

I'm halfway there - halfway to my ultimate goal for 2017 of hosting six dinner parties. Sure it's late October and I've got about eight weeks to host three more if I'm actually going to get to all six, but I think that managing to throw three in one year is a pretty good start. The truth is that hosting people takes space. Not just literal space - that is after all what outdoor parties are for - but it takes schedule space, mental space, budget space. It takes priority. These are all things, all commitments, that stand between you, and me, and hospitality. I think we know that it will cost a little bit of money and a little bit of time and a little bit of giving-up-other things in order to throw a little party.

Mac Attack - In Pursuit Of The Best Of All

via pinterest

I've met with a lot of intriguing information so far during my stint at the oil shop. Some of it is quite useful - like learning that the restaurant next door sells pain du chocolat the size of my face, or that even though the parking sign says I will be towed,

Pomegranate, Plum + Quinoa Salad

Ohhhhh franz. I love working at the olive oil shop, but it has been one long crash-course in packed lunches. What is a good packed lunch? What is a bad packed lunch? In-store we have a toaster oven but not a microwave, a fridge but no coffee pot.

Sourdough School: What I'm Teaching Myself This Fall

look at Maurizio Leo's gorgeous bread!

You know what my mission is this fall? Learning how to make sourdough bread from scratch. I've made bread in my day - a girl who loves bread as much as I do should know how to make bread. But all bread pales in comparison to sourdough. That crust. That open crumb, like a honeycomb. That flavor. That crackle. That incomparable moment of knowing you've got some excellent loaf of bread in your hands.

Welcome To WPS - Weird Produce Season

Do you remember that one time that I issued a four-week cooking challenge and only got through two weeks because life exploded into a million very busy pieces and I barely sat down to my laptop and I wasn't as strict about carbs as I meant to be? Yeah, me too.

Fresh Fig & Olive Oil Cake

Location: Norfolk, Virginia
Recipe: Fresh Fig And Olive Oil Cake
Confession: It's fig season.

I thought that'd be a good opening because if you didn't know (I think you do, though), fig season is about three seconds long. During the roughly two weeks of Indian summer, fig trees drop hundreds of pounds of highly perishable, tear-drop shaped fruits which look pretty alien when you slice them open.

Beef Stew With Root Vegetables


"There's a lot left to learn about umami...after all, everyone knows exactly what you mean when you talk about sweet, salty, sour, or bitter. If umami is just as fundamental a taste, then why does it so often need to be explained? What makes umami so obscure?"
-Bob Holmes Flavor: The Science of Our Most Neglected Sense

Raise your hand if you've heard about "umami," the fifth widely accepted "fundamental taste" -if you haven't, don't worry. That elusive savory, meaty, almost gamey flavor often associated with soups, broths, aged food products (cheese, charcuterie), and mushrooms is now called "umami," because apparently "savory," "meaty," and "gamey" are doing service no longer. I had heard of this term (which was only publicly acknowledged about fifteen years ago) but I grasped umami more as a concept. I couldn't pin an intense experience as a recent memory.

Coconut-Tahini Protein Breakfast Cookies

Protein breakfast cookies...sounds like it could either be a very, very good idea or a very, very bad idea. I mean, when somebody suggests the idea of eating cookies for breakfast I am 100% on board. Sometimes I resist but sometimes I don't even want to resist. Sound familiar? But if you're at all experimental and health-conscious, I'm sure that you've been in my boat: you know, when what you really want is an actual chocolate chip cookie for breakfast and what you've really made is a Kylie Jenner chocolate chip cookie that doesn't even deserve to bear the name. I get it - you try to healthy something up and all of a sudden it tastes like

Gelato Freeze Week Two: Lighten Up

because you do need a picture of paul and julia child in your monday.

Well, a weekend vacation happened and let's just say that it involved a birthday party, a brunch squad, a crepe shop, and four-cheese macaroni. Maybe my two-salad-a-day average bought me a grace period over the weekend when I let it go to wrack and ruin and patisseries? Yes. Let's go with that version of the story.

Kale Apple Salad With Chicken

Happy Confetti Plate Week! I don't know about you, but so far this week has been pretty easy - I didn't realize that I do typically eat at least one salad a day. Getting to eat exactly the way I normally do and counting it as part of an eating challenge is giving me such a false sense of accomplishment! Okay, honestly I have been more thoughtful about the choices I make, skipping out on things that aren't whole-grain, and successfully avoiding potatoes entirely. I love the way I've felt this week, energy-wise and mentally. It's amazing what just knowing you're treating your body well will do you for!
I'm so excited to share the recipe for this salad which we discovered last autumn and made almost weekly (sometimes more) all the way through "kale season." Chopped kale, diced cucumbers and apple, toasted pecans, blue cheese crumbles, and dried cranberries make up the majority of this salad. Then you add grilled chicken if desired (this is recommended, as it takes the salad into fully-filling territory), and toss the whole thing with a yummy citrus vinaigrette.

Gelato Freeze: A Four-Week Eating Challenge

 via pinterest

I'm sitting here with a mug of hot tea and a reheated (gluten-free, refined sugar-free) pumpkin spice doughnut I flipped up in the kitchen this morning. Turns out cake doughnuts are a cinch to make and if you're not afraid of hot oil, actually aren't intimidating to make. The other reason that I'm eating a doughnut at 9:15 PM is that tomorrow morning starts a month-long eating challenge and I wanted one last goodbye. Properly, I ought to have started a month-long eating challenge at the start of the month but I wanted to wait till after Labor Day because of reasons like picnics and gelato and sourdough bread that wanted to be eaten one last time for a bit.

How To Practice Hospitality As A Single Person

Though it may be a gift more abstract that some, we all recognize hospitality when we feel it. An extra-warm welcome at an event. A guest room stocked with all the random things (shampoo, toothpaste) that you constantly forget to pack while traveling. A table where there is always more of what you are eating. No, please, take seconds. The more I settle into my full-fledged "adulthood" the more I value hospitality. I've also grown to realize that it isn't always as easy as I want it to be.

Wild Alaskan Salmon and Spinach Soubise

In all those years of working in my Dad's landscaping business, I never imagined that wild Alaskan salmon would make its way into "things clients give my father." Those divided tins of popcorn? Yes. Popsicles on a hot day? Of course. Even designer men's clothing (for some reason all the wealthy clients seem to have either gained or lost a tremendous amount of weight and have a small Brooks Brothers thing going on in the backs of their closets with button-down shirts that no longer fit them, and they've largely determined that giving them to my Dad is probably the most logical step before The Salvation Army). Usually client-gifts of this sort are confusing, not terribly useful, and serve as funny anecdotes for years until I round them into an article or blog post. But last month a client of my father's returned home from his "annual fishing trip to Alaska" and with him brought a king's ransom of wild salmon caught, gutted, and vacuumed sealed in the presence of grizzly bears by an arctic river.

Cinnamon Roll Cheesecake

A cheesecake recipe on a Monday, Rachel? Seriously? Um, yes 'seriously.' You do realize that this is a cinnamon roll cheesecake recipe and that cinnamon buns + cream cheese + breakfast, and that you should always eat breakfast on a Monday? You see my logic? Also, let's be honest: cheesecakes take a little bit of forethought due to all that cream cheese buying and overnight chilling. I want you to be prepared. I want you to make this Friday night so that come Saturday morning, your brunch situation can get serious real fast.

Have Some Good News: An Oasis of Gentle Things

Hi, Friends! It's the weekend, hallelujah. Not that this week was bad personally, but what with the world and all, I feel like we just need a good, clean Monday. Try this week all over again. Do it right this time. Still, life keeps moving on (you know, like the Ben Rector song...he has a baby named Jane, you know...that's one happy thing!) and peaceful things lean close. I've got a cinnamon bun cheesecake chilling in my fridge awaiting a photo shoot and taste-test, some 'sweet autumn' clematis and wild passionflowers to gather from the roadside and arrange into some sort of massive, trailing arrangement. There is a whole weekend stretching out before me without terribly much scheduled and I bought the most perfect pair of lounge-about pants for exactly $9.99. But let's also deal in honesty: it is hard to see so much hatred, terrorism, anxiety, anger, and negativity simmering in our country and the world. This blog isn't the place where we dwell on those things. This is a place to celebrate the strong and fragile beauties of the everyday, the peace of common ground, and the joy of serving others. In that vein, I've gathered a list of links to all the most beautiful, brave, and inspiring stories and things I've found this week. Ready, get set, go read away! I've carefully curated this list of links to raise your spirits, bolster your heart, and help refresh your weekend so that you can pour into the lives of others. Enjoy!

  • Why not start with this clip about a band of entertainers, magicians, musicians, artists, and dancers with a mission to help refugee children let themselves play again?
  • Follow that with this video of the organization "Random Acts" as they bless a wheel-chair bound little girl with the chance to achieve her dream of being a ballerina.
  • Listen to an episode of 'Sounds Good,' while washing the breakfast dishes. 'Sounds Good' is a good-news podcast highlighting the makers, dreamers, and creatives working for a positive impact on the world around them and has swiftly become my go-to podcast for listening.
  • Come to love B.J. Novak even more when you hear that he plans to stare at the eclipse without any special glasses.
  • Be alternately weirded out and awed by the ability of these native people to stride across the sea bed to hunt.
  • While wasting time on Youtube, any fellow 90's kids out there will be thrilled to know that Disney released their first episode of the DuckTales remake which you can check out here.
  • Learn how to make crazy beautiful (and naturally violet-colored) lemonade with Love & Olive Oil's "magic butterfly pea lemonade" recipe. Yes, I went and ordered some dried butterfly pea blossoms after watching this. Bet you won't judge me after you see the post.
  • Turn on this fiery, hope-filled, grace-flooded new album by my friend, Daniel Ethridge. I'm not just saying you should listen to it because he's my friend. I'm saying you should listen to it because it will refresh your soul.
  • While you're listening to the album, I bet you'd have fun baking (or at least drooling over pictures of) Hummingbird High's white chocolate and raspberry sheet cake

There you go! Happy weekend, my loves. I hope you are able to relax and enjoy quality time with family and friends. Keep your heads high, keep your hearts true, and look for the helpers. Cheers to the weekend!

Honeysuckle Ice Cream

Did you grow up in the South? I did, though I never dreamed honeysuckle ice cream could exist. I grew up with those barefoot, firefly summers. With ice-cold well water and games of four-square in the middle of my neighborhood street. I would get tough feet every summer, able to run on asphalt and rough aggregate with minimal discomfort. It wasn't a terribly unique childhood, but it was a fantastic one and summer was the prime part.
Though autumn now has my deepest affection, there is still a freedom and childlike happiness that comes with the long golden days of late summer.

Cilantro Poblano Pesto

When you think about pesto, you probably think about basil and garlic and Italian food. I know I do. It's just sort of synonymous with the whole idea of pesto, because obviously that's what people usually mean when they say "Hey, want to make a whole pile of rosemary toast with pesto and roma tomatoes on top?" They're probably homesick for Italy (even if they haven't been yet, which I swear is a thing) and so they probably mean basil. But when my boss sent me home with a pan of poblano and jalapeno peppers that a friend had given her and told me to find something to do with them, I started to have deeper thoughts about pesto: maybe it didn't have to be Italian. Maybe we could make a Mexican pesto. Maybe we could make a cilantro and poblano pesto.

Chilling With Agua Fresca

Agua fresca - ever heard of it? Once upon a time this summer, my sister and I had the chance to spend a weekend in NYC. While there we clawed the secret of the best tacos in SoHo out of Google and accordingly wandered downtown to Tacombi where my mind was forever changed about what a chorizo taco could be. I had always thought chorizo tacos were a bit of a cop-out. No real taco-enthusiast would want them.

Baking Day - A New Way of Hanging Out

"Cheese is very much like wine. It's just milk, which, based merely on where it came from and how it was treated, can taste an infinite number of ways."
- Suzanne Going - The A.O.C. Cookbook
I am slowly reading my way through the beautiful A.O.C. cookbook that my parents gave me for my birthday.

PB&J Sandwich Ice Cream

Hello, Fam!
    Now that my birthday has come and gone, I'm twenty-five. I don't know why but rather than making me feel extremely old, this quarter-century birthday has me feeling like I can do anything and live forever. It's an odd-number year but it feels rounder than most even-numbered years and I think that's because it's a big quarter: quarter of the way to 100 and still going strong, right? Along with this not-feeling-old, I've been having fun hanging out with nostalgia. For instance, did you know that two of my siblings and I recorded a children's CD for learning about the fifty states? We each got $586 dollars and to-date it's still my favorite money I've ever earned. It felt like a million dollars to a little nine-year old who had only ever held a twenty, like, once. Anyway, it's true and we found the CD online recently and got kicked straight in the memories. So when my friend, Katrina, went and sent me an ice cream maker for my birthday, the first flavor that popped into my head to try was PB&J Sandwich ice cream. Maybe it's because I've been thinking about childhood foods. Maybe it's from that scene in the beautiful, haunting new film by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk, where they're all on the destroyer eating open-faced PB&J's. Regardless, PB&J ice cream happened and I'm so happy with the result.

Gluten-free Blueberry Muffins

"I saw blackberry birds in a blue pale sky
and I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive."
-"Blackforest Wedding" by Captain Dipper & The Strawberry Girl
It's muffin time! Gluten-free blueberry muffins to be exact. I'm like a picky child when it comes to muffins. I don't like when they're too dense. I don't like when they're too dry. I don't like when they taste healthy and by "healthy" I don't mean "wholesome and hearty." I mean "well they taste like crap but they're healthy so we're eating them because we don't have any other choice and just used about fifty dollars of coconut oil." I've come to the conclusion that if what you want is a nice, plummy, delicious not good for you item, no amount of substitution is going to come close to the real deal. Instead of forcing healthy foods to taste like classic bakery items, why don't we just explore the full potential of their own natural goodness?

Nectarine And Summer Corn Caprese Salad

Have you ever felt like you're sharing a brain with someone else? I know people are always laughing about their best friend or boyfriend or mom or somebody like, "Oh yeah, we share the same brain." But when it starts happening with strangers, that just feels weird. Currently it feels like the staff of Food52 have been tapping my brain (while I sleep, maybe?) and viewing my ideas and/or accomplishments. And then before I have a chance to edit my photos and post my project, they go and create their own version. Posting mine afterward is like racing several of your friends to google a question and you have Internet Explorer and they've got Chrome and by the time your page loads, they're already halfway through a BuzzFeed quiz. I'm never going to be a vegetarian or anything close to one, but in the summertime I love to create dishes where the fresh produce gets to take center stage. There's just something perfect about the pairing of nectarines with grilled summer corn. We were lucky enough to get a call the day before I made this salad to come pick up eight dozen ears of non-GMO corn from a local farmer's field. I quickly scrapped my store-bought corn and grilled a few ears of the real stuff. To grill corn, keep the husk on and grill over high heat. When thoroughly cooked, peel back the husk and char the surface of the corn just a little bit. It adds such dimension to an ordinary corn-cob. Sweet cherry tomatoes from the farm-stand up the road, rosemary from my tenacious little half-forgotten garden, and creamy slices of fresh mozzerella round out this salad. I served it over cold quinoa for some added protein. Quinoa is a my absolute favorite grain right now and although you don't have to include it in this salad (I haven't officially called for it in the recipe) but I think that it elevates this salad from a side to a main course without a bit of additional effort. My favorite way to cook quinoa is letting it freely boil in a large pot of salted water with a bay leaf or two. When the grains have split and begin to look like "bird toenails" as we always say, your quinoa can be drained and used however you'd like. So grab some nectarines, some summer corn, and a handful of cherry tomatoes and get on making this salad! It is a beautiful, simple, filling meal for those nights when it's too hot to bother with really cooking. Maybe I'm slightly overstating things when I call this a caprese salad. It has the mozzarella and tomatoes of a classic caprese but instead of basil, I've used rosemary. I love the way rosemary and lime harmonize when combined and I couldn't resist throwing them into this salad along with the more traditional flavors. Plus my basil died. know. We modify. All the same, I'm happy for the fact that my basil died since it led me to this happy combination of flavors!

Nectarine And Summer Corn Caprese Salad
Serves 4

2 nectarines, thinly sliced
3 ears of summer corn, grilled with kernels sliced off
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 sprigs rosemary, chopped
4 ounces of fresh mozzarella sliced into rounds
2 cups cooked quinoa (if desired)
juice of two limes
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon vinegar
salt & pepper
1.) In a large bowl, combine the nectarines, corn, cherry tomatoes, and rosemary.
2.) In a small bowl combine lime juice, olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper.
3.) Arrange slices of mozzarella on a plate and add quinoa, if desired. Toss salad with half the dressing, then top cheese and grains. Drizzle remaining dressing over finished plates for additional flavor and moisture.

Bears Like Honey

"Isn't it funny
How a Bear likes honey?
Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!
I wonder why he does?"
-A.A. Milne "Climbing Thoughts"

Summertime has fully bloomed here in Southern Virginia. And by bloomed I mean "has come out shrieking like a banshee with 90% humidity and a daily dose of thunderstorms." I dash in and out from air conditioned building to air conditioned building. And then I get into my car which is (currently) not air conditioned and my mascara melts and slides beneath my eyes and I don't notice till I've been visiting a friend and her husband for three hours and nobody happened to tell me. It's July, it's a thing. I tolerate July for several reasons, one of which is my birthday and the others of which are B) blackberries and C) fireflies D) fireworks. Without my birthday, blackberries, fireflies, and things-legally-and-safely-exploding, I believe I'd be all right to skip July altogether. I digress. Around the farm - we do have a farm, I ate sausage from our own piggies just the other morning - life is settling and swelling all at once. Settling, because the bees are humming about too busy to care about oneself and the fruit trees are nestling down to do their actual business of fruiting, and the hummingbirds have finally found the feeders my little brother strung across the front porch for them. Swelling, because the hives are getting fatter and buzzier and the fruits and beginning to look less like attempts and more like a harvest, and the humming birds go bonkers for sugar water.

 It was always a dream of mine to grow up and have an orchard. As I braved stink bugs and Japanese beetles and other gross things to get a bowl of berries and a couple photos, it struck me that that dream, at least, has come true. We do have an orchard and the fitful start of a vineyard. And a nice long avenue of black and boysenberries. As a child, my dad knew the best (only?) place to pick wild blackberries in Virginia Beach: a massive, tangled, devilishly-spiny ditch behind a Lowe's. We hated blackberry picking but we loved blackberry cobbler. I still remember the milk cartons with the fronts cut out into which we'd plunk our berries, the plastic still stained with juice from last year's berries and beyond. I always managed to wade deep enough into the brambles to fill my bucket, and also deep enough to prevent my ability to turn without cruel thorns digging deep into my chubby baby thighs. Dad would come cut me out and I'd trudge back up the embankment, scrubbing tears, sweat, and blackberry juice into my face. Life is easier now in that respect; we planted a thornless variety of blackberries. A sort of annual slap in the face to that patch we loved to hate to pick.

No, our problems are of a different variety now - a bear has been sighted in our area and I presume he's after our honey and our hives. I got the text from our neighbor at 7 Am in the morning. I stood there half-dressed, squinting at my phone and trying to make sense of her text that stated (very plainly, I might add) that a bear had run out from behind our house and crossed the road in front of her car. Funny. I'm not that concerned about seeing a bear on our property which is sort of unlike me and my propensity to think every cracking stick in the woods is a grizzly. We are blessed enough to have only the black variety of bears in our region and a black bear after honey (while devastating to a hive) is hardly as devastating to a human. But you know how I feel about our bees. No bear is going to successfully wreck one of my hives if I can help it. I'll...I'll...I'll write a strongly worded letter to the Game Department, that's what. After discussing this problem with people who either have hives that have been pestered by off-brand Poohs, it has been suggested that we finish putting up the electric fence to surround the hives and that we then spread peanut butter across the wires. Apparently the bear will lick the peanut butter and get a big shock on his tongue (the only fallible bit of a bear), and leave the hive alone. I only hope he's not working in league with a clever Christopher Robin. That would make things awkward for me, since I'm already partial to Christopher Robin and Poohs of any description.

In other news, we've picked and pickled peaches, trimmed the shrubs out front, scalped (and therefore killed) the purple basil, and otherwise are settling in for the long July-August nap. If we break 1,000 followers on Instagram by my birthday on July 20th there will very like be a celebratory 1k Followers + Birthday giveaway. So you know, we can make that happen. If we get too hot and lazy, though, that's okay too. I understand. It's July and it's Virginia. You don't have to excuse yourself.