Remember when you were a kid and nothing in the world mattered, except for the love of your parents, Saturday morning cartoons, and a 'shotgun' system, which had you and your sister alternating turns in the front seat on the rides to and from school? (This was a big deal. I'd get the ride to school, and she'd get the ride home. These were hard and fast rules - zero negotiation. And to this very day, these rules still apply. Our. 30's.)
Those were the days when my sister and I would ride our bikes through the village in our pajamas, late into the evening. The summer evenings we'd run naked across the pier down by the beach and dive off the end with our cousins, into what seemed like a vast abyss, but probably didn't go deeper than about five feet. And they were the days we'd venture into town on our own, like adults, only to spend pocket money and be picked up by our parents, like the kids that we were.
When you were a kid, you ended the day tired from running around too much during recess, spending an afternoon splashing around in the pool and crushing seven Pixie Sticks, before realizing what you were in for.
These days, if I didn't know what was good for me, I'd probably snort a Pixie Stick, if it meant I'd be able to push past the inevitable 8:00pm shut down my brain goes through at the end of every work day.
These days, I don't sit down on the couch, unless I plan on waking up there two hours later. To be honest, I don't go home, unless I plan on staying there. Must. Keep. Running. I've been known to put on heels, line my eyes, and pre-game with a glass of wine or two, only to accidentally nod off and realize that the pre-game was actually the 4th quarter. (I swear I'm young and fun, just don't let me sit down!)
'Adulting' will take it out of you. There's a reason 'happy hour' is between 5:00 and 7:00 - after 7:00, the only thing that keeps us out, is momentum.
Admittedly, I don't do myself any favors by working a full time job and a part time job in a six day period, but I'm the happiest when I'm busy, so I don't see myself slowing down any time soon. Even with one job, I'd find a way to wear myself out - guaranteed.
As a reminder of the days when I'd head out to meet my friends at 10:00pm for a movie followed by a party, instead of 10:00am for a boozy brunch followed by a nap, I wanted to make something fun, bright and sweet. (Like me, during the first half of my day.) These days, however, bright doesn't come in the form of artificially colored boxed cereals and packets labeled 'fruit flavored'. These days, if it's 'fruit flavored,' I like it 'flavored with fruit.'
But hey, just because you've grown up, doesn't mean you can't still 'taste the rainbow.' These frozen yogurt pops are packed full of vitamins and protein, and will satisfy a craving for something a little bit sweet, as the warm days start to come. They may also give you that extra kick of energy you need to keep you out past dinner time, now that the days are getting longer.
Prep your fruits - puree the mango, kiwis, blueberries and raspberries in separate batches and divide them into 4 bowls.
If you're sweetening your yogurt, go ahead and do that before adding it to the fruits. I used coconut milk vanilla yogurt, which was already a little sweet, so there was no need - but see how you feel. A little honey ain't gonna kill ya, so if you need the extra sweet - do it! Also, it's best to chose a yogurt with some fat in it. A fat free popsicle will go a little icy in this case - doesn't have to be whole milk, if that's not your thing, but I don't recommend fat free. Your call. It's easier to layer yogurt with a thicker consistency. You won't have to freeze at all between layers, if your yogurt is thick.
Divide the yogurt among the four fruits, reserving some for the plain white layer. Mix them all thoroughly.
Start layering your yogurt into the popsicle moulds. White, yellow, green, purple and then pink. Place the lid on your mould, and insert the popsicle sticks.
Freeze them for a good couple of hours, or longer, ideally. (Mine have been freezing since last weekend, because I ran out of light and had to run to work.)
To be fair, I'd probably still dive bare-assed off the end of a pier with my sister and cousins - but only if we hit up happy hour, first.
For Sundays That Carry The Weight Of The Week On Their Shoulders
When your days end with a sweet paste of moistened powdered sugar packed into your cuticles and splotchy stains of pastel food coloring inching up your forearms, sweets are usually the last things you crave. When dusty flour finds its way into places you could have sworn had been covered with layers of clothing and chocolate is discovered behind your ear in the bath, five days in a row, your weekends are usually spent avoiding a kitchen, at all costs. Particularly the sweeter side of a kitchen.
Well, I can tell you that whipped cream flecked my forehead for a good hour on Monday, rainbow sprinkles found their way into my shoes on Tuesday, I accidentally sat in frosting on Wednesday, Thursday, cake batter splotched my jeans and on Friday buttercream, in every shade of the rainbow, cloyed my palate as a result of too much quality control.
And while Saturday was decidedly savory, today, on the seventh day of a very sweet week (one of many sweet weeks spent in the world of deserts meant to surprise and delight as many millions as possible) I found myself craving the sweeter offerings of brunch fare. Pancakes, to be precise.
But, honestly, I couldn't bring myself to pour yet another measure of sugar into a bowl, or to sift bleached, stark white flour into a milky batter. Not after a full week of it. This morning, I needed naturally sweet. I needed sweet that would tint my glasses rose, to match my still-stained, candied fingertips.
Now, I've made two-ingredient banana pancakes before (look 'em up - so good!), but today I wanted something with a little more substance. A pancake that was light and fluffy, but packed full of protein and flavor. I mean, if you're opting for pancakes over eggs, you need to kick 'em up a notch.
These babies are healthy, delicious and they'll keep you going, even when all you want to do is bury yourself in the generic cushions of your IKEA couch and binge watch every happy ending Netflix has to offer. (You can still do that - no judgement - just fill up on these first.)
Mash your bananas to the consistency of baby food, then whisk in the eggs and coconut milk until well combined.
Add the almond flour, rice flour and baking powder and whisk until incorporated. Finally stir in the extracts and salt.
Grease a pan set over low-medium heat with coconut oil (or butter) and spoon about 2 tablespoonfuls of batter per pancake, onto the pan.
Since these are gluten-free and have a lot of moisture from the bananas in them, they will take a little longer to cook, so keep the heat relatively low and cook them for about 2 minutes per side, until golden. Just like regular pancakes, they are ready to flip when little air bubbles pop on the surface.
I heated up some wild blueberries with a little honey in a pan and poured them over-top.
After a week that had me willingly take a needle full of vitamins to the gluteous medius and a bath (or two) in sugar-syrupy water, these pancakes still hit a spot I didn't know I'd want to hit again, any time soon. Bananas, right?
Because after the Holidays Die Down, you need little Moments of indulgence to look forward to
As I slowly emerge from the foggy-headed and bleary-eyed stupor that is the emotional hangover induced by the conclusion of 'the Holidays' and the jet-lag brought on by a nine hour time change, it dawns on me that we have made the leap into January and the beginnings of a new year. A year full of hope, possibilities, and second chances (or third, fourth and fifth chances, in some cases), is upon us, and the much anticipated, annual 'reset' that somehow makes January 1st rich with a brand of optimism that the end of the previous year could no longer sustain, has begun.
But let's be real, just for a second. All that well-meaning #newyearnewyou, #freshstart and #lookout2017 aside, the middle through the end of January can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. And by a bit, I mean the whole damn amusment park - all six flags.
Though Thanksgiving and Christmas have us stressed out, running around and sneaking whiskey into coffee cups for those moments when family discussions turn from pies to politics (just me? I think not), the stress they induce is eclipsed by an undeniably welcome feeling of anticipation and excitement. No matter what you celebrate, the end of the year gives you something concrete to look forward to, and a finish line to cross.
And yes, the first few days of January find our hearts aflutter with excitement and determination, but come about the 5th of the month, those feelings are often followed by a thundering anti-climax, at which point we realize that the cold was only made warm by the glittering of twinkling ligths and the dulcet tones of Bing Crosby on the radio. (Actually, if I'm honest, for me, Christmas has always played to the tune of Wham's 'Last Christmas', and probably always will. Sorry, Bing.)
January can be a little bleak - especially when you've spent the last few months enjoying some of the best food the year has to offer, only to be met with a feeling of guilt about having eaten it and an abrupt (and decidedly liquid) shift toward all things 'detox.'
Given the extreme turnaround, it's easy to find oneself feeling equal parts hopeful and deflated.
So, particularly during these introductory weeks, it's important to recognize that just because Starbucks has gone back to its very ordinary white cup, devoid of snowflakes, hearts and cheer, doesn't mean you aren't allowed to find moments for indulgence and comfort, in everything from your cup of coffee to your choice of breakfast foods.
No, it's not Christmas, it's Tuesday. Sure, you may well have started your day with a juice promising eternal life and complete detoxification, but you can still end it with a cookie and a cocktail, without all being lost.
The tree may be down, the ornaments may be stowed, but the opportunity for atmosphere, merriment and enjoyment wasn't put away when Bing dropped the mic.
Light some candles, pour yourself a glass of wine, revisit less seasonally specific gems by Wham, and make yourself these chewy, lemon-y almond cookies. No, not because it's a Holiday tradition - just because you want a cookie. (And don't worry, they're gluten and dairy-free, so it's basically like having a juice, anyway.)
Set your oven to 350*F.
Combine the almond flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and mix well.
Add the agave, lemon zest and vanilla extract, and mix until a homogenous dough forms.
Using your fingers, pinch off bits of dough, about a tablespoon each, and roll them into balls between your palms.
Place the balls unto a lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Using the bottom of a glass, or the like, gently press the cookies into discs. Don't push too hard, as the cookies will split. Once you see that the edges start to splay a little, you're good. Mine were just over a 1/4-of-an-inch thick.
Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, until they're a very pale, golden color, then let them cool completely.
For the glaze, I combined about 1/2 a cup of powdered sugar with about a tablespoon of lemon juice, and mixed them well with a fork. You want a consistency that spreads, but doesn't run off the cookie. Start with a teaspoon of liquid and work your way up, until you're happy with it.
Spoon the glaze onto the cookies, sprinkle them with a little more zest, if you're feeling fancy, and let the glaze set.
These cookies are great right away, but if you keep them in an airtight container overnight, they take on this amazing, super chewy, consistency - almonst like baked marzipan.
Now sit back and enjoy - November and December can't possibly have the monopoly on treating yourself...and January can't be all about fiber. #theresalwaysfebruary
Listen up, ladies and gentlemen, because we're talking melty, dark chocolate, buttery, rich panettone and just a kiss of sweet, aromatic bourbon, baked in a custard and served warm, drizzled with more chocolate. Do I have your attention? (Personally, I'm riveted!)
I have always been a bread pudding kind of girl. It's one of those desserts that I just can not pass up. Even when I really, really have no interest in something sweet at the end of a meal out, I'll order it, if it's being offered. 'Yes, I'm totally stuffed, but by all means, please bring a big bowl of bread soaked in an egg mixture and bathed in some sort of vanilla cream sauce - I'll find room.' (Everyone knows there's an extra pocket inside, specifically designed for dessert - biology 101, y'all.)
Of course there are good bread puddings and there are bad bread puddings. Too little custard and too much bread, results in a pudding that's dry and heavy. Using a bread that's too dense, results in a pudding that's stodgy and feels, well, a lot like a brick plummeting straight through dinner, to the bottom of your stomach.
But a good bread pudding...well, a good bread pudding is pretty much bliss. Day-old bread, that's airy and light, is transformed into comfort on a spoon - transporting you straight back to childhood. The flavor of toasty, nutty butter, caramelized sugar and vanilla-y custard soaks deeply into every crevice, and the light, eggy base puffs what once was bread, into pillows of moist, mouthwatering dessert. (Sometimes I think the line between Harlequin romance novels and food writing, is very fine, indeed.)
With the intent to make a blissfully good bread pudding, I picked up a dark chocolate chip panettone, the other day. (Trader Joes has one, and it's yummy!) In case you're not familiar, panettone is a sweet Italian bread, that is both eggy and buttery, and is traditionally made around Christmas. It is often studded with raisins or candied orange zest, but can sometimes be found laced with dark chocolate chips. Its airy texture makes it perfect for a lighter rendition of bread pudding, and when left to dry out for a day or two, it serves as the ideal sponge for a rich and decadent custard.
If you can't find a panettone with chocolate already in it, simply add about 1/2 a cup of dark chocolate chips to your soaking bread.
Cut your panettone into 1-inch cubes, add them to a large bowl and mix in 2 tbsp of sugar and the melted butter. Give it a good toss and then set it aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the eggs and remaining cup of sugar, and whisk with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy - about 3 minutes.
Then add in the milk, cream, salt and vanilla. Mix that well. Finally, add the bourbon and mix until fully incorporated.
Pour the custard over the bread, mix it gently to combine everything, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and chill it in the refrigerator for as little as 2 hours or up to overnight.
Heat your oven to 325*F. Butter an 8-inch round, 2-inch high cake pan liberally, and pour the bread and custard mixture into it. Pat everything down gently, to make sure you have an even bread pudding, and bake it for about an hour to an hour and twenty minutes. You want the pudding to be slightly springy to the touch and golden brown, but you don't want to see any liquid remaining.
Let the pudding cool slightly in the pan, about 10 minutes and then flip it out. Drizzle it with melted dark chocolate and sprinkle it with powdered sugar. Be sure to serve it warm - and hey, if you wanted to throw some vanilla ice cream on top, I wouldn't call you crazy.
Yes, it's dessert, but it's full of eggs, milk and bread, so it's technically breakfast, too! Christmas morning, anyone? You know a day spent in pj's with your entire family and all the chaos...umm, I mean joy - all the joy that brings, could use a few tablespoons of bourbon at the start of it. (Perhaps followed by the middle and end of it, too!)
Because no one likes Getting their hand Caught in a goopey cookie Jar
So, the other night, in an effort to slow the passing of December and spend an evening actually indulging in 'the holiday season' as opposed to just stressing over it, a couple of girlfriends and I decided to drink wine and frost cookies. (Oh, and take down heaping bowls of homemade spaghetti and slowly simmered meatballs - because when you give a group of girls wine, comfort food and dessert that's basically a craft project, being faced with a season of relentless traffic, overspending and too many hors d'oeuvres on a stick, seems somehow managable.)
Along with white, red, rosé and bubbles (yes, we covered our bases), we had an assortment of sprinkles, silver dragees, sanding sugars and sparkles, with which to decorate a big batch of festively-shapped butter cookies. I mean, Martha Stewart eat your heart out! The only things missing were matching pj's and monogrammed stockings hung by the fire with care. (More like hung by the fire-escape with Command strips - but, hey, renter's semantics.)
As a contribution to the edible 'craft table', my sweet friend brought with her a tube of mysteriously sparkly and vibrantly green decorating gel. As stated on the packaging, this eye-catching, sugary paste was intended to jazz up everything from cakes to cookies, and with its super spreadable consistency, it seemed like a simple way to tackle the intricacies of giving a cookie snowman its hat or a star its sparkle.
What the packaging failed to mention, was that this goopey green gel never hardens - not ever! A fact we came to realize, three snowmen and a star later. Yes, it sparkles. Yes, it's unnaturally attention grabbing. And yes, it will end up all over the inside of your cookie jar, treat bag or purse, several hours after applying it. It's one hell of a sweet mess, no matter how you spread it.
Fortunately, I had made us a batch of trusty royal icing as well.
Royal icing is pretty much the only way to go, when decorating cookies. As the mortar to your gingerbread bricks, and the glue to your cookie's adornments, it's the only way to ensure a secure, hard dry on treats you want to stack, build, box and give away. It's the icing we used when I was a kid, on all our gingerbread houses, and it's the icing I use today when throwing back wine and innaporopriately enhancing gingerbread men and women, once the pasta's worn off and the bubbles set in.
It's also what will save you from sending your girlfriend home with a to-go bag she'll have to think twice about sticking her hand into in the morning.
Optional: Food coloring
With a hand mixer or stand mixer, whisk the egg white into stiff peaks. (Stiff, but not totally dried out.)
Add in the powdered sugar, and whisk until it's totally combined. Then, whisk in between 1 tsp and 1 tbsp of lemon juice or vanilla extract. I used lemon juice, but you can use whichever flavor you prefer. (Peppermint extract would be good too!) You want the consistency to be sticky and pipable, but not runny. Add just enough liquid, so that you can pipe it through the tip of a piping bag, in a steady stream. Don't worry, if it becomes too runny, you can always add more sugar.
At this point you can add a little food coloring, if you want to brighten things up. I'm a bit classic when it comes to cookie decorating, so I leave it white and let the sprinkles and dragees do the rest.
Add the icing to a piping bag and decorate your heart out - it will fully set in about an hour, but add your decorations quickly, while it's still super tacky.
Now gather some friends, libations and a big bowl of something yummy, turn on the Christmas music and get your cookie on!
You can get back to worrying about estimated shipping costs, finding parking, getting to the store before everyone else does and holiday travel, tomorrow.
(...Or Puffed Pancake balls, if you prefer)
As the annual Christmas trip to Denmark draws nigh, the anticipation of treats consumed far too infrequently (in my opinion) grows both in our minds and in our bellies.
From the Swedish Christmas ham, which is unmatched by any other (and rationed out with such obnoxious yet hilarious stringency by my grandmother), to the special 'snaps' my uncle infuses with herbs and magic, particularly for this occasion, the edible traditions of Christmas surpass any the rest of the year has to offer...by a Danish country mile!
Though it's hard to pick a favorite, I must say I'm quite partial to the combination of æbleskiver and gløgg (or, if you're having a hard time wrapping your tongue around that - puffed pancake balls and mulled wine.)
Now, we rarely make either of these at home - there's simply too much going on in the little galley we call a kitchen. Between the 16lb turkey making its way into an oven designed for Danes who typically don't eat 16lb turkeys, and my grandmother cooking her 'risengrød' (a rendition of rice pudding consumed with cinnamon sugar and butter as an illogical first course on Christmas eve) with her face practically in the pot, we're decidedly aware of our limitations.
So, despite the sub-zero temperatures and the complete absense of light after 3pm, we head into town to our favorite little café, for some warming, spiced wine and powdered-sugar-dusted balls of dough served with jam. The gløgg does wonders for the cold that seems to find its way through countless layers straight into your bones, and the æbleskiver turn what could be oppressive darkness, into a sweet, cozy, candle-lit experience worth savoring. They also make handling the inevitable moments of chaos that only the Holidays can bring, just that much easier. Like the time the suitcase containing the aforementioned turkey (yes, we actually transport a frozen turkey from the States to Denmark, every single year) was lost by the airlines, and arrived Christmas eve, fully thawed and inedible. More gløgg and egg nog, please! (As a side note, the look on Granny's face, when she thought we'd be tucking into the ham outside of its scheduled mealtime, was absolutely priceless. Tradition is traditon, after all!)
So, if the Holidays find you with your own rendtion of the 'our-turkey-went-to-Germany-instead-of-Denmark' story, or the 'our-grandmother-won't-relinquish-control-of-the-proceedings-despite-being-94,' saga, you may want to whip up a batch of these with your favorite Holiday tipple.
Don't worry, you don't have to pronounce them, you just have to enjoy them!
In a medium sized bowl, combine the dry ingredients until fully incorporated.
In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, vanilla, buttermilk and lemon zest, and mix well.
In a third bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, but not to the point where they become dry.
Fold the dry ingredients into the egg yolk mixture, until a smooth batter forms, but do not over mix, then, gently, fold in the egg whites until fully incorporated.
Heat the pan over medium heat on the stove and add a little knob of butter to each indentation.
Fill the indentations 2/3 of-the-way full, and cook, as you would a pancake, until you begin to see little bubbles bursting on the top - about 2 minues. Then, using a fork, gently push the 'pancake' so it flips, and cook the other side for about a minute, or until golden.
Serve these æbleskiver warm, dusted with powdered sugar, alongside a dollop of your favorite jam for dipping.
Now if that's not enough to make you forget (or at least manage) the chaos of Christmas, have another gløgg, and you should be alright.
Because Sweet Potato pie isn't the only game in town
Have you ever arrived home, to find a big, beat-up box of sweet potatoes perched on your doorstep? No? Well I'm sorry, but you're missing out! That's exactly what I discovered the other day, and I've been reaping the sweet rewards ever since.
A dear friend from Atlanta, GA took it upon himself to send both me and my sister, some of the best sweet potatoes the southeast has to offer, and since the day I opened the box, they've appeared in almost every meal I've made, served and eaten. I'm convinced that, by this point, the blood in my veins must be running sweet and orange to the tune of Alabama's 'Song of the South.' Just bring me peaches and call me Scarlet, dammit - it's all 'y'alls' and big hair over here.
From curried sweet potato and peanut stew, to sweet potato and gruyere gratin, to rich and creamy pie that proved a welcome respite from its pumpkin-y relative, I've found myself sneaking this highly nutritious and stupidly delicious root tuber into as much as I possibly can.
But you know, there comes a certain point, when you look at the last four sweet potatoes lying in a basket on your kitchen floor, and your mind draws a total blank. With whiskers quietly but certainly beginning to sprout, and skin puckering ever-so-slightly at either end, it's only a matter of time before what once was a complex carbohydrate, turns into a compost carbohydrate, and the sweet indulgence of a box shipped with care, turns decidedly sour.
Scrolling through my internal Scandinavian-meets-Southern girl index, I recalled a recipe I stumbled on not too long ago, and thought 'heck yes, y'all - that's it!'
Though the recipe I found for butternut squash muffins, was a great jumping-off point, I felt it could use a few tweaks - and given my current produce inventory, one such modification was staring me right in the face. With the addition of a crumbly nut topping, significantly less oil and the abandonment of butternut squash, these gluten-free, dairy-free muffins are light, airy and totally delicious.
(Recipe adapted from Paleo in PDX)
Yield: About 8 muffins
Set your oven to 350*F and line a muffin tin with cupcake/muffin liners.
Combine the mashed sweet potatoes, coconut flour, 1/3 cup coconut oil, honey, baking soda, salt, eggs and extract in a bowl and mix until a smooth batter has formed.
Using an ice cream scooper, for evenly-sized muffins, fill the liners almost all the way to the top. The muffins won't rise a great deal, so don't worry about them spilling over.
Mix together the brown sugar, chopped nuts and remaining tablespoon of coconut oil to create a crumbly topping, and divide it evenly over the muffins.
Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, until a tester comes out clean when inserted.
So, next time you find yourself with a big box of Mississippi reds (or any other sweet potato, for that matter), break out the mixing bowl, muffin tin and Southern drawl and get to it. You'll be glad you did.
Y'all come back now, y'hear!
No neon fruit, just lots of moist, rummy goodness
So, I called my sister yesterday, to tell her I'd just put the better part of ten cups of fruit and nuts to soak in a healthy dose of rum and port for Christmas cake - Christmas cake that I'd be bringing home for the holidays. Her response? 'Great! Uncle Martin and uncle Thomas will love that!' Now, as much as I'm thrilled at the idea of my uncles enjoying the heck out of some homemade, fruit-studded and rum-soaked cake, I was hoping for something more along the lines of 'oooh, I can't wait to try that!' All I heard was 'I'll pass on the fruitcake, thanks.'
Though she'll be getting a sideways glance or two from me this Christmas, if she doesn't at least try it, I'm not entirely surprised by her response. Fruitcake, for most, is a tradition best left in the past. It is a sweet 'treat' that is, more often than not, surreptitiously folded into a napkin under the table, and deftly maneuvered into the trash, amid concealing napkins and the wrappers of sweets more unanimously enjoyed.
It's fair to say that fruitcake has a bad rap.
Whenever I think of it, I think of being a child and peeking into the larder in my grandparents cellar, which bore a handwritten note with the words 'no goings in here' scrawled across it. (The 's' on the end of 'goings' has always baffled me, but is somehow so like my family, that I'd be even more bothered by it not being there.) As a prominent doctor in Copenhagen, my grandfather was a receiver of countless gifts, most of which were either in the form of booze or edible, and the walls of the larder were always lined with bottles of wine and port, boxes of cookies and chocolates, and come the end of the year, an inevitable fruitcake.
Now, this was the kind of fruitcake you could see, even if the lights were off. The candied cherries, pineapple and green mystery fruit (still, to this day, I have no idea what that is, and it's probably better left to my imagination, at this point), glowed neon and bright, and practically lit the cake from within.
Some years, that cake would sit on a shelf through the entire holiday season, without so much as a modicum of attention being paid to it, and some years, someone (usually my grandmother), would take pity on the poor thing and bring it up from the depths for a taste.
Though well intentioned, the cake never satisfied. Dense, heavy, unnaturally fruity and hot with old liquor, this relic of yuletide tradition would be bitten into by a few brave souls, before promptly finding its way back onto the shelf from whence it came.
So, when my sister says she'll pass on the fruitcake, I remember that she, too, stuck her head into that dark room in the cellar all those years ago, and witnessed the glow of a cake not meant for human consumption, and that she, too, hoped we'd never be made to eat it again.
But, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Christmas cake, when made the right way, can be absolutely delicious! When you forsake the candied fruits and dry crumb, and replace them with plump, richly sweet and dried cherries, prunes, currants and raisins that have soaked, along with almonds and ginger, for a full week in dark, caramel-y rum and ruby red port, and then bake them into spiced and molasses-y cake that ages for three weeks or more, it can only be a good thing.
And when said cake disappears into the darkness of a wine-lined shelf, the moment the lights by the cellar door are turned off, you know this ain't your grandma's fruitcake.
After a lot of researching and reading, this Caribbean style 'black cake' is a new favorite. I adapted it from a recipe I found on Chowhound, when digging around, and I think you'll love it.
Makes two full-sized loaves plus a couple of mini loaves
(Note - the fruit in this cake soaks for a full week before you begin the baking process.)
For the fruit:
For the cake:
Combine all the fruit, nuts, ginger and peel in a bowl, add the rum and port, give it a good mix, and then seal it tightly. Place the bowl in a cool dark place for a full week.
A week later...
Heat your oven to 300*F and grease two 9x5-inch loaf pans, thoroughly.
In a bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and whisk together. Set the bowl aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or if you're working on serious bicep strength, by all means, use a regular whisk and extreme patience) cream the butter and sugar until pale in color and fluffy (about 3 minutes) and then add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Finally, add the vanilla.
With the speed on low, add in the flour mixture, the soaked fruit and all its rummy, porty goodness, and the burnt sugar syrup, and mix until just combined.
Fill both loaf pans until 3/4 of-the-way full. (The remainder can be used to make mini loaves to give away!) and bake the cakes for 2 hours. The tester should come out clean, but know that the cake will be very moist. Check it at 2 hours, if you feel like you need more cook time, add 10 more and see. Altitude, cake tins and a number of other factors can affect cook time on this one.
Let the cakes rest for 30 minutes in the pan, then turn them out to cool completely. Brush with a couple of extra tablespoons of rum.
This cake can be eaten right away, but if you really want to treat yourself, let it age. We've got just about four weeks left until Christmas, so take that time and get some age on your cake.
Wrap it in cheesecloth and store it in an airtight container or cake tin - not in plastic wrap! Every few days, you can brush a little more rum over it - if you're into that sort of thing!
It's the sort of cake your uncles will love, and your sister will be requesting next year!
*Burnt sugar syrup is also known as 'browning' and can be found in specialty stores. If you really can't find it, or order it online in the week while your fruit is soaking, substitute blackstrap molasses, though the flavor won't be quite the same.
For chilly mornings that need a little something extra
It's the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and it's cold and grey beyond the panes of my window. As a matter of fact, the rain is coming down in droves, and when I finally swung my legs out from beneath the covers and onto the bare wooden floor this morning, I promptly pulled them back up and safely under the covers. It's chilly, y'all!
Finally, after weeks of prematurely dressing for the season of cable knits and densely wovens, I find myself reaching for a sweater and scarf out of necessity, and not a feeling of confused obligation. It's the moment I've been longing for! Not only because, as a southern California resident, I crave seasons like a plant in dry soil craves water, but also because it signifies the beginning of days spent with family, of Holiday parties, and of efforts being made. It's the time of year when we find ourselves going the extra mile and speaking our hearts more freely. And, perhaps because of the cold, we find comfort and warmth in our friends and family as mush as we do in the balls of thick yarn that cloak us.
I'm three days away from going home, and I've already checked out. My bag is mentally packed (though not physically, of course - that'll happen at 2:00am before a 6:00am flight on Wednesday, at which point I'll undoubtedly forget underwear, my toothbrush and anything that actually comes together as an outfit, but hey, family doesn't care), I've stopped grocery shopping, and I find myself in an emotional holding pattern, just waiting to join in the fun. I'm already sat on the bed, late at night, gossiping with my sister and watching an episode of something scary that will inevitably have her passed out long before I dare close my eyes. (Cue the gentle nudging and the 'hey Alex, you're still awake, right?') I'm already listening to the clinking sound of my dad making the tiniest Manhattans in the biggest glasses, to which the follow up is a chorus of the popular tune 'let's have another!' And I'm certainly already elbow deep, seasoning the cavity of a turkey that'll feed an army, while my mother holds its legs unceremoniously in the air.
So, in an effort to tide myself over and indulge in a morning perfect for caramelized custard and syrupy apples, I whipped out my cast iron skillet and the scraps left over from an evening that ended before the baguette ran out, and made myself French toast. Because, why not.
And because it's the Holiday season, I threw in bourbon. (It's a three hour time change, after all, so even if it's not yet five o'clock here, the rest of my family is certainly breaking out the jiggers and shakers, and I'll be damned if I'm not participating, even if in the abstract.)
For French toast:
Heat your cast iron skillet to low-medium and add the coconut oil and butter to melt. Then add the apple slices, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until soft.
Meanwhile, whisk together the milk, eggs, maple syrup, bourbon, vanilla and salt to form the custard.
Dunk your baguette slices in the custard and submerge them fully, allowing them to really soak up the liquid. Set them aside, momentarily.
Once the apples are soft, stir in the cinnamon and maple syrup, and cook for a further minute. Then move the apples to the sides of the skillet, add another tablespoon of butter, and place a couple of slices of soaked bread in the center.
Cook the toast until golden, about 2-3 minutes per side.
Serve with more maple syrup and a little powdered sugar, and then enjoy the heck out of it!
No, I'm not yet able to join in the family fun, but I do take a little pleasure in knowing that the onslaught of bourbon French toast and the like, doesn't happen until I get there. So, as much as I'm looking forward to going home, they're most definitely looking forward to having me.
Because the cooler temperatures of Fall and all the Warmth they bring with them, can't come soon enough
Do you ever have those mornings where you wake up and hope it's raining? That when you crack your eyelids open, the room is just barely brighter than the inside of your eyelids? Those mornings that lead into guilt-free days of pure, pyjama-clad indulgence, where the simple fact that it's not 75 and sunny, is reason enough to dial it back for the day. (I'm aware that I may have lived in southern California for too long – I can feel an incredulous mob of damp-haired east coasters and northern Europeans rolling their eyes at me as they read this!)
I must admit I have them often – apparently you can take the girl out of her overcast, drizzly homeland, but you can't take that homeland out of the girl. There's just something about the half-light that makes my heart swell. When it's warmer inside than out and when a soft, electric bulb glows in harmony with a smattering of pooling wax candles, I'm taken straight back to short winter days in Denmark with my family, a good crime story to read and the sound of raindrops on the roof. Come to think of it, I'll take a torrential rainstorm in verdant Atlanta, GA, with the smell of something fragrant in the oven and the promise of a bath to round out the night, just as soon as I'd take a trip across the Atlantic. My childhood is rich with rain, and as an adult I crave not only precipitation, but also the nostalgia it drizzles down my window panes.
Cut to the end of October in Los Angeles, where the holiday season rapidly approaches and the temperature gauge still reads 90*F, despite the fact that persimmons, pears and pumpkins have hit every menu in town. Angelenos are being force-fed fall, even though we still find ourselves ordering our coffees iced and our toes painted pastel. Every day, with hope in our hearts, we preemptively don our sweaters, tights and jackets, in anticipation of a much longed-for dive into cooler temperatures, and every day we break a sweat, stripping back down to comfortable and barely decent.
I realize that, before I know it, the days will go from too hot to too cold, and the longing I have for long sleeves and a cold nose, will dissipate into a cold I can't shake from my bones – but, until then, I'll continue to keep my eyes shut for just a moment longer, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the clouds have descended upon this city of angels. (I'll also turn the air conditioning way down low, force myself into woolens, and perfect the perfect hot chocolate recipe in anticipation of a day so cold, I'll need it to warm my insides.)
This hot chocolate recipe is rich, comforting and totally vegan! (Not because I'm vegan, but because drinking a cup of hot dairy turns a cozy day in thick socks, into a day I'd rather not add to the memory bank.) For those of you lucky enough to bask comfortably in the delights of cow's milk, don't worry, you won't miss it – I promise.
In a Vitamix (or blender) combine the can of coconut cream (reserving about 2 tablespoons of the solid mass on top for garnish), cacao powder, dates, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Blend on high until the dates are completely incorporated and the mixture is smooth.
Heat in a pan (unless using a Vitamix, in which case it's already hot), until it reaches your desired temperature for drinking.
Pour the hot chocolate into two mugs, then whip the reserved coconut cream until light and fluffy. Top the hot chocolate with a tablespoon of the 'whipped cream' and some chocolate shavings.
As I sit here with my warm cup, staring out at clear blue skies and the mild distortion of air so hot you could slow-cook with it, I can see, way off in the distance, the promise of cold, drizzly days that taste of cacao, coconut and sweet dates, and imagine the window panes fogging with the warmth of their steam.
Soon, I hope.
*In order for the cream part of the coconut milk to really set up, store the can in the fridge over night. When you go to open the can, flip it first - then the creamy, solid part should be on top, ready to scoop out. If you live near a Trader Joe's, they sell cans of coconut cream that are perfect for this.
**I simply use a vegetable peeler and shave along a chocolate bar to achieve these chocolate shavings.