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.

Blackberry Sage Grilled Cheese

Lunch-time can be a hurried affair, but it can also be a chance to cast a spell over commonplace ingredients and transform them into something almost other-worldly.

"Cheese, bread, fruit." Chant these monosyllables together and there might materialize a perfect picnic or an ideal breakfast. Chant them a little slower, add to the incantation another monosyllable, "sage." Wait for the alchemy to work. The August hiss of butter hitting a hot cast iron pan. The scent of sourdough sizzling, of sun-ripe berries smashed flat with your fingers into the melting cheese. Almost reverently, lay the willow-green sage leaves flat on top. Look forward to the accompanying covering of sourdough which will soon be flipped and smashed further into the fruit and herb and cheese. The magic has been made. Suddenly you're tasting summer, as summer was always meant to be tasted: ripe, hot, sweet, green.

This wizardry is not complicated. Sometimes you want something magnificent - a monument of flavors as pretentious as a destination wedding. Other times you let the simplicity of three ingredients melt like pure sorcery into a better, finer whole. Blackberries, sage, and Gouda cheese. This trio is like something (pleasant) straight out of Greek mythology. Maybe like the Sisters of Bacchus, if any sisters ever existed. The directions could not be simpler or more at-hand if you, like me, have a small patch of ground that (while all but neglected) somehow has the Goodwill Toward Men to produce a few hearty herbs. Butter some bread (sourdough, wheat, whatever you prefer), add some mild (not smoked) Gouda cheese, smash a few blackberries, flick on a bit of sage, and heat it over medium-low till melted and golden and magical.

You've got the stuff. Now go do the same, little muggle.

Cherry Galette With Cookie Butter

A recipe for cherry pie. Have I really never made one? I never had. Is there anything more American than a golden, woven, flaky cherry pie? Probably a golden, woven, flaky apple pie. That's really probably far more American than cherry pie, albeit not as red. And to be fair, I've never made a cherry pie until this week. But to me there is nothing mentally as gingham-and-bunting as a cherry pie. Nothing looks better on a picnic blanket, nothing smells as good coming straight from the oven, and nothing reminds me more of George Washington than a big old cherry pie. Canned filling doesn't count and tart cherries should be used if at all possible - sadly, living in the hot, humid, American South as I do, sweet cherries were the only ones to be found. Still, they make a dang good pie.

"Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy boy, Billy boy?

Can she bake a cherry pie, charming Billy?"

I once memorized every single verse of that ridiculously long folk-song and liked to test my homemaking capabilities by whether or not Billy's mother (presumably the song's writer?) would find me making the cut or not. I don't think I ever met with her approval.

Y'all know how much I don't like messing with pie crust. I wish I loved it because I love the way that you can decorate a pie and make it look beautiful and trendy or rustic and hipster. But the step of making enough dough for a double pie crust (or a single crust + decoration) is just a bit much for my patience. That's where galettes come in. A galette is the lazy woman's answer to a pie. No pie pan involved, no double crusts. One just rolls out a single crust, spreads a prepared filling in the center, accordion-folds the edges toward the filling, and then shoves it in the oven to presumably forget about it until the buzzer dings. They are basically fail-proof and (as long as you've precooked your filling in some fashion) never suffer from the dreaded "soggy-bottom." For this galette, grab some speculoos cookie butter and spread it thin. The subtle spice of speculoos pairs gently with the subtle spice of cherries (am I alone in thinking there's an almost cinnamon undertone to cherries?). The only hypothetical danger would be a over-abundance of moisture due to the cookie butter + juicy cherries. To circumvent this, the recipe calls for grilling the cherries on a pan on the grill. If you don't have a grill handy, a similar effect can be achieved by roasting them in the oven on 400 degrees F. for ten minutes. Grilling cherries just seemed far more in keeping with the Fourth of July which holiday inspired this whole project to begin with. I recommend letting your galette cool completely to avoid further enhance the flavors, the serving in a big, generous wedge with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The pie crust recipe used here is the same as in my rant about Paul Hollywood because believe me: this is absolutely the only crust recipe I ever use. I'm including it again as part of this recipe so you don't have to go link-following. A note on the cookie butter: though you may be able to find it at your (nicer) local grocery store somewhere near the produce section (don't ask me why they don't put it with the peanut butter), it would probably be much simpler if you just ordered it online. That way you don't get started on a crazy wild goose-chase involving a dozen stores and no cookie butter. Amazon Prime, babes.

Anyway. Happy fourth of July, friends! I hope that whatever you bake (this galette, something else) that it is eaten in peace with a crowd of favorite people under a sky of stars and fireworks. What else is independence for?

Cherry Galette With Cookie Butter
one galette, serves 6-8

(for the crust)

2 cups all purpose flour

1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into small chunks
1 egg, lightly beaten
2-3 Tablespoons ice cold water
1 Tablespoon white vinegar

(for the filling)
1/2 cup Biscoff cookie spread
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon coconut sugar (regular sugar may be used)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cups pitted cherries, halved

1.) In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients for the crust. With only your very fingertips, cut in the butter until your mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
2.) Mix together egg, vinegar, and two Tablespoons of the ice water in small measuring cup. Make a well in the center of your dry mix and then mix together quickly with a wooden spoon. Add remaining water if necessary. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour before using.
3.) Meanwhile, toss your cherries with the cinnamon, sugar, and olive oil. Spread flat on a grill pan (or if using the oven, on parchment-lined baking sheet) and grill (roast) for 8-10 minutes or until tender and caramelized.
4.) When crust is chilled, roll into a 10-12" circle. Spread cookie butter into the center but not all the way to the edges.
5.) Heap cherries over cookie butter and then fold the edges in like a pleated skirt. Brush with an egg-yolk wash (1 egg yolk, a bit of water) and then sprinkle with a little bit of granulated sugar.
6.) Bake at 400 degrees F. for 25 minutes. Cover with a piece of foil and bake an additional 20 minutes. Cool completely, then enjoy!