My special one took care of the celebratory dinner, so I took care of the movie!
My special one took care of the celebratory dinner, so I took care of the movie!
Nothing brings out the pumpkin and spice flavors of these muffins like quiet views and the changing colors of leaves. Best eaten when warm with a mug of hot cider and someone you hold dear. These muffins should be savored as much as the place where you eat them. In our case, this was the final ode to the cabin in fall. The next time we see it, it will be a completely different place, perhaps even a place covered in a blanket of white?
For The Batter
3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup organic buttermilk
1 1/4 cups organic pumpkin pie filling (from a 15-ounce can)*
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3/4 cup organic light brown sugar
2 large eggs (local/free-range)
*You could use regular pumpkin puree, but the store was out when I shopped, so I just used the extra spice of pie filling to my advantage.
For The Sugar Coating
3/4 cup organic brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter and flour 12 standard muffin cups.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves.
In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and pumpkin puree.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed.
With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions pumpkin mixture, and beat to combine.
Spoon 1/3 cup batter into each muffin cup and bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine granulated sugar and cinnamon.
Let muffins cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Working with one at a time, remove muffins from pan, brush all over with butter, then toss to coat in sugar mixture. Let muffins cool completely on a wire rack
As we wandered away, the road unfolded like a painting. The last Ode to the Cabin was a Sunday smile and a Sunday mile, and in some ways, it felt like a wander through time.
Let me tell you about a woman I admire. She is intelligent and dedicated, as exhibited by her collection of degrees from Carnegie Mellon, Oxford, and one PhD from Berkeley in the works. She is disciplined and compassionate, having run multiple marathons for charity. She is sincere. She’s the type of woman who will listen to your woes and give very thoughtful and intelligent advice in return. She wants to make the world a better, more sustainable place. She is creative and talented, and I admire her immensely. Beyond admiration, I have the great fortune to call Renee my friend.
Now let me tell you about a man I know. We used to be neighbors, and he welcomed me to that block of row homes with a glass of wine and a warm heart. He chose to follow creative outlets in his life and put pen to paper in a substantial way. Ramsey mixes a childlike spirit with an intelligent mind, and he has a way of filling a room with laughter.
On one fateful day, these two amazing friends of mine reconnected in my backyard. I knew Ramsey wanted to marry Renee from day one. He couldn’t contain his adoration. It was only a matter of time until Renee saw a life partner in Ramsey as well, and I was so glad to share a small part in such a love story. When the engagement announcement came, I offered my baking efforts in addition to my congratulations. To my utter joy, my two dear friends said they could not think of a better person to bake their wedding cake! So it was I came to fulfill one of my longtime goals for two very dear people, and this is how that cake began.
Renee and Ramsey were the perfect pair for my wedding cake philosophies. They both truly value whole, natural ingredients, and they left the cake details to my creativity. It was a dream experience! I chose a vanilla pound cake accented with flavors of amaretto, brandy, rum and whiskey! I added a peach compote featuring local peaches to appeal to the couple’s love of local, seasonal ingredients. Since Renee and Ramsey are avid wine drinkers, and the wedding setting was a winery, I used a red and white wine combo for the compote. I was pretty nervous about the cake, but most people went back for seconds and supported me so enthusiastically. The memory still fills me with happiness! Thank you again to this beautiful couple for including me in your festivities!
Renee & Ramsey Wedding Cake Recipe
(cut everything in half if you’re not aiming for a 3-tiered wedding cake)
Vanilla Pound Cake
adapted from Cake Love
Makes 3 layers
5 3/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 Tablespoons Potato Starch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (16 oz) Sour Cream (from local dairy)
½ cup local heavy cream (from local dairy)
1/2 cup Brandy
2 Tablespoons Amaretto
2 Tablespoons rum
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 teaspoons whiskey
1 lb (16 oz)- organic, unsalted butter, at room temp
6 cups raw sugar
10 Large Eggs (local/free-range)
2 Yolks (local/free-range)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all the dry ingredients and whisk to incorporate.
In a separate bowl combine all the liquid ingredients and whisk to combine.
Combine the butter and sugar and use an electric mixer to cream together on the lowest speed for 2-3 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time followed by the yolk, fully incorporating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the dry ingredients alternately with the liquid mixture in 3-5 additions, beginning and ending with the dry mixture.
Move swiftly to avoid over mixing the batter. Scrape down the bowl and then mix for 20 seconds to fully incorporate.
Spray your pan (loaf, bundt,etc) with nonstick spray and then fill 3/4 of the way up with the batter.
Bake a 10” springform pan for 50-55 minutes and smaller muffin size loafs for 15 minutes.
Makes 5 cups
2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks or 1 pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like ice cream.
6-8 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, SIFTED
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
up to 8 Tablespoons milk or heavy cream
Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed.
Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the sugar doesn’t blow everywhere) until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter.
Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes.
If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time.
Peach Pinot Compote
10 cups fresh peaches, skinned and quartered
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups white wine
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 cup red wine
1 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of ground cinnamon
In a medium saucepan, combine the peaches, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and 2 cups of the white wine. Mix well. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Cover, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
Stir together the cornstarch and the 1 cup of red wine.
Raise the heat so that the liquid in the pan begins to boil.
Add the cornstarch mixture and stir for 1 minute, or until the liquid thickens and becomes clear.
Transfer to a serving bowl and add the vanilla.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Can be served on cake, on pudding or with whipped toppings.
In “[It Really Was Quite] Outstanding In The Field” Part I, I focused more on the “what” behind Outstanding in the Field. The concept, the experience and the fully formed menu is so grand that one can forget momentarily the most important part: the why. The “why” is the farmer, the grower of the ingredients that inspire the chefs, who in turn inspire diners. In this case of farm-to-table eating, Blackberry Meadows was the farm of the hour!
For many of my peers and myself, we followed the established routes through life that were supposed to result in success and happiness, only to discover a lot of hype and intense questions- is this what we were supposed to do with our lives? With these questions, we have asked what is passion? What does it mean? What is my passion? Can my passion be my livelihood? What inspired me the most about this particular Sunday was the passion emanating from our hosts and farmers, Jen and Greg, who stood before us and humbly offered their story.
Both Jen and Greg came from suburban backgrounds, the type of upbringing that leads to locking doors and a moderate mistrust of everyone. When they decided to turn their interests in sustainability into a farming endeavor, a very different type of community awaited them. Blackberry Meadows Farm was one of the first, certified-organic farms in the area, and its pervious owners had been influential in many of the farmers markets and Slow Food endeavors in Pittsburgh. They mentored the couple, and they fostered a relationship between the novice farmers and their community sponsors.
After the first growing season, those same sponsors showed how strong their support was for Jen and Greg. The members of the CSA offered to help the couple financially, as they implemented their business model to pay off the farm. The overwhelming show of support proved to the couple the importance of their community, and they continue to return the commitment wholeheartedly.
Each week Jen and Greg greet their CSA members in person. They do not believe in anonymous drop-offs or dictating what a subscription contains. If a client wants a bigger squash, they offer him or her a bigger squash! Each Tuesday, the couple and interns do the bulk of their harvesting and then share a family-style meal together. For many students or young adults, this is a rare opportunity to share in a communal meal. The creation of the bread oven was another grand gesture to the community. They built the oven on the principle of Alan Scott, who started a system in which those who have built a bread oven become mentors for future builders.
Even in discussing hurdles and challenges, the couple was positive and enthusiastic. Their commitment to the land, to the community and to future generations was so palpable and inspiring. After sharing in their inspiration, we wandered through their field, to the long tables with linens and china and ate a meal like no other!
Extra Special Thanks To The Growers & Foragers :
Jen Montgomery & Greg Boulos (& Little Evelyn!)
Blackberry Meadows Farm
Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery
Cavan & Tom Patterson
Garfield Community Farm
And of course, thanks to all the chefs, food slingers and planners behind this event!
The table was dressed its nerdy best!
There were beakers, bright sea creatures and science fiction stars of chocolate and ice.
There was food!
It was all for my special one…
Then there were presents!
He likes to point out that he doesn’t obsess over Star Wars any more than the next nerd. He also likes to point out that I am not a normal human being for making it this long in life without seeing Star Wars [I thought I had seen enough of it to put it together. I was wrong]. I like to point out that his appreciation for the film is a bit above and beyond the average person. I also like to point out that I said I would watch it if he procured it. In the meantime, I just keep instigating…
They’ll be love in the bodies of the elephants too! I’ll put my hands over your eyes, but you’ll peek through.
And there will most definitely be love!
Happy Birthday To My Special One!
ps: Pop Chart Lab
My special one and I started watching Twin Peaks to keep ourselves busy during the snowy, wintry, gray hibernation months.
We’d heard about the cult classic, but we had no idea into what we were delving! There were a lot of “what the f&*k, David Lynch?!?” proclamations, as the show lured us into its addictive snare of plot twists, ridiculous melodramas and supernatural oddities set in the pristine, green hills of a fictitious, Washington town. There we sat, poised in front of the projector while it snowed outside.
A Few Thoughts…
Shots of James on his motorcycle, just being a tough yet sensitive and misunderstood guy with the “masculine” musical theme…makes me laugh everytime!
Donna…honestly…stop being a bitch!
“Oh her? We call her ‘Log Lady‘”
So glad she became a significant character!
We get it, Lynch, cops like coffee and donuts!
I can’t get this song out of my head, especially since my special one does the perfect impression. Is that what Lynch thinks teens do on a school night? Oh wait, they don’t really have “school nights,” since they skip school all the time to tease the emotions of agoraphobic shut ins.
I keep threatening to don an eye patch and scream, “Oh Ed” while running toward my special one at full force. He says this threat makes me a really weird person. I’m not convinced.
Next thing you know, we found ourselves repeatedly watching “just one more” episode and rapidly working through the series. Accordingly, we enjoyed a number of our meals in front of the projector, including a pancake brunch, in which the owls, a prominent Twin Peaks symbol, took the spotlight.
Very, very, very rarely will you find me listing the word “mix” in my recipes. A pet peeve of mine is seeing “cake mix” as a first “ingredient” in a recipe. In my purist (and possibly extremist?), self-assigned set of rules, it’s an oh no no’s. Yet, rules are meant to be broken! I make an exception for this locally grown mix of flours from a mill I like to visit every now and again, mostly because it comes in a stamped linen bag with a small, colorful ribbon.
In my hypocritical use of a mix, I stuck to my guns about embellishing the recipe. I went above and beyond the mix’s instructions, so in the end, it was really just rule bending (probably something rule breakers say).
Though I’d like to say these pancakes correlated to flavors in Twin Peaks, they didn’t. They were simply a delicious, owl accented approach to pancakes, to accompany a snowy morning of viewing. I ambitiously schemed a more themed meal until I watched the finale. I won’t spoil it, but the end left me wanting, and that wanting cut my brainstorm quite short. Thus, these pancakes may be as Twin Peaks as it gets around here… at least for the time being as we try to fill the log sized void in our lives.
Whole-Wheat Pumpkin Cranberry Pancakes
Perfect for Brunch & A Twin Peaks Binge
Saint Vincent’s Buckwheat Pancake Mix (unbleached flour, buckwheat flour, sugar, baking powder and salt)
Dash of Cinnamon
Dash of Nutmeg
Dash of Ginger
2 cups organic milk
4-5 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter, browned
1 Tablespoon organic almond extract
1 ¾ cup organic pumpkin puree
1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 cup homemade cranberry sauce (similar to this recipe)
Empty contents of pancake mix into a mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine a scant 2 cups of milk and 1 egg, mixing well.
Slowly stir the egg/milk mixture into the dry ingredients.
Gradually, add browned butter, stirring well.
Add the almond extract, pumpkin puree, maple syrup and cranberry sauce. Stir to combine.
Let the mixture stand for about 5 minutes.
[This is when I pass the batter (a lot like passing the baton) to account for my inability to flip pancakes well]
For each pancake, pour 1/4-1/3 cup of batter onto a hot, lightly greased skillet. Cook until tops of pancakes are covered with bubbles and edges appear slightly dry. Turn and continue cooking until bottom sides are browned.
Serve with butter, lots of maple syrup and perhaps some homemade whipped cream. Most definitely serve with a mug of chai!
Had I been strictly adhering to my supposed theme, we would have been drinking strong, black coffee. However, this chai is worth breaking supposed themes! I highly recommend two mugs of Rishi Masala Chai prepared with a touch of almond milk and a generous squeeze from the honey bear.
“Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair or two cups of good hot [chai].” – Agent Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks
From the dinner, we settled onto the couch, to put my birthday present projector to use. You see, part of the present was a video, to him, from me! (Did you catch that wee little rhyme?)
ps: I really like almond croissants!
p.p.s: That J.R.M is pretty special! On the grossest, grayest, NJ-spitting-upon-us day, he helped make my mecca come true even though this is how he feels about New Jersey. Why? He knew how much that giant, lovable elephant meant to me!
Oh friends, it was beautiful!
I curtsy to the multi-talented, mad scientist, Alex Mohamed for his photo documentation of the night. Knowing someone else was preserving my moment in time really enabled me to act a fool (a true fool…just scroll down)!
(Click on the beautiful table spread photo to see the rest of Alex’s photos of the night.)
Good friends brought great food, the wine flowed, the Black Velvet burned, and a really memorable night ensued! Speaking of that Black Velvet, we don’t drink it for its whiskeyness (it’s Canadian after all), and certainly, we don’t drink it for our health. We drink it because of what happened here.
Don’t expect this to normalize what’s about to transpire, but allow me to explain (and forgive me if you have already read this before)…
On that dreamlike Fleatique & Pique-Nique Sunday, I happened to be wearing riding pants and riding boots and feeling very in touch with my [nonexistent] equestrian side. One vendor even told me I carried myself with the dignity of Meryl Streep. Keep talking, vendor! In my flea market rounds, I spied a black, equestrian helmet. It was a thing of beauty, but as I don’t actually ride, could I really justify a helmet in my hat collection? I thought not, but as the market began to close, my nagging want at least merited a price inquiry.
By that time, Nicole and Nina were following my pursuit. I found the helmet vendor packing up his already full car. The price pursuit then seemed hopeless, but I asked about the beautiful riding helmet anyway. When the vendor said “$12,” I though, “sold (but I still played my poker face)!” Why not?!?
Nicole and Nina lingered by the man’s tables while I followed him to his car, which was literally packed so tightly, items were pressed against the windows. Fortunately, the helmet was on the perimeter of the colossal squish. He somehow pulled out only the helmet, and I perched it on my head (above my head really as it’s rather small). I motioned to Nicole and Nina, “How do I look?” The vendor told me I looked rich!
Meanwhile, from what seemed like a football field’s distance away, a melody could be heard. ”Black velvet and that little boy’s smile… [mumble mumble]…” FROM SOOOO FAR AWAY, Nina was serenading the black velvet [velour?] purchase in debate. I admit, it took me a moment to understand what Nina was doing, but once she hit the chorus, I made the connection, and I sealed the deal right then and there. I had to have this piece! A real Kentucky Derby helmet no less!
We tried to sing the song on the way home, but we couldn’t seem to piece together the disparate lyrics in our heads. Every sentence ended on a questioning high note- a new religion? Southern…? We didn’t find resolution until we arrived home and gathered around a computer to watch the video. It was then we realized, or rather came to a concluding question- WTF IS THIS SONG ABOUT?!!? She (do you even know the name of the singer?) sings with all the passion of some strong emotion but which emotion and why?!? Which emotion?!? We never figured it out, but we did go on a delightful train wreck of a viewing experience (ie: This and this one too). Once I discovered the whiskey version, this song really became our anthem.
Then it was my birthday, and a few AMAZING things happened…
Well friends, the future is now! Someone gave me the best birthday present ever, which gave me an idea! Though Sandra, one of my absolute bests, was stuck in Florida, there was no reason why she couldn’t join my festivities, especially when the guitar came out. You see, Sandra, Nina and I go back to 2002, and my life is definitely better for it!
You saw it here first!
Once again, I forgot to make a wish. I was so concentrated on summoning enough breath to hit all those candles, and furthermore, I was already having a perfect night!
One last antic…
As a baker, I have a silly affinity for the band Bread. As lifelong loves, Nina and I have a special appreciation for this song, which called for a rekindling of a dance we started ages ago. (You might notice our projected version featured subtítutlos en español for some reason).
The night concluded like this…
It was the best!
I “met” Johnny Battles through Twitter, once again proving beyond @x and @y’s excessive sharing of mundane details in 140 characters or less, Twitter is an amazing way to connect to interesting people in the world. Through our brief chirps, the idea of a goods exchange arose. Mr. Sweeteeth got the ball rolling with this brilliant package!
Thus, I interrupt my regularly scheduled birthday updates to bring you this special announcement…
I’m not always the best with timeliness you see, so dear Sweeteeth, please accept this video as my sincerest thanks and a bit of a stopgap while I brainstorm which baked goods of mine to send down south. In the meantime, I am very much looking forward to the Sea is for Caramel bar and this Chocosaurus…