New tables and other things to love

Having the time, if only momentarily, to bake at home again…

Hearing the church bells ring out every hour. At noon, they play for a few minutes. It’s so lovely…

Sleeping like a teenager, which means staying up too late reading and then sleeping in until I am woken up by either the remodeling that is going on upstairs, or preferably, the sun shining in my eyes. My baker’s sleep debt was pretty serious. This is just a temporary reprieve…

Putting the house together, with the idea that soon we will have people over for many great meals and such…

Having good reason to find new pieces of furniture….

Some warmth outside (also probably temporary) and faux-spring trickery…

As you can see, I am adjusting to the relocation, and feeling really quite good about it. The new surroundings have woken up my need to be a part of the burgeoning food community in the East Bay, and I hope to start a really cool new job shortly. (More on that when it comes to fruition.)

I never really moved as a child. We lived in the same house from when I was born until I was around 15 years old. I never wanted to move, even to be closer to friends in town. I loved that we were slightly removed from everyone. No one wanted to have a party at my house, it was simply too far. So, our little spot (or rather large and extensive actually) stayed our own, a refuge of memory and imagination uncontaminated by the strife of  high school drama  and angsty debacle. I never had a boy over to that house, never introduced any teenage loves to my treehouse. It remained, and I guess still does even though its no longer ours, my childhood home, in every sense of those words.

I have moved so much since then, to boarding school in Idyllwild, then to Seattle and back to California (three times–sorry Mom), all over San Francisco then to the North Bay and now to the East. I’ve done my time in the South Bay, staying with my mom in times of heartbreak, joblessness, or just pausing from life to gather my inertia back up. Moving back then usually meant something had gone wrong and it was time to start over. But now, as I am getting older and smarter, and with my love for Ryan and what we have everyday together, moving only means a new house, a different kitchen, maybe some new paint on the walls. I know we’ll probably move many more times in our life together, but it will always be us at the end of the day, sitting in a room full of boxes,  laughing at the ridiculous amount of kitchenware we own.

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A few last looks

It’s been a rough week, tying up many loose ends as we prepare to relocate to Oakland. By rough, I mean emotional, bittersweet, and a little difficult for me as Petaluma has been my home during a very formative, happy, healing while. I see the excitement in new challenges and new places and I am looking forward to it. That being said, a few looks back on the lovely time I have spent in Point Reyes baking.

My commute (not bad, eh?)

Post-storm green

pastoral breaths

the bakery

first sunny day in a week

the man of the house

Right after I took this picture of the rooster (named Michael Jackson-his arrival was timely) he proceeded to jump off the gate and fly at my head which really cleared up any weepy nostalgia I was feeling right then.

We move tomorrow. I barely slept last night, and not for the usual pre-move reasons. I wasn’t trying to arrange furniture in my head, or thinking of all the bills I hadn’t transferred to the new place. I was stuck in this mental rut, obsessed with the phrase “comfort food”. I almost got out of bed (should have, really) and tried to write a little something. All that is left of the thought today is the feeling that food we describe in that way is so based in the home. We rarely think of grilling or street food in that way. It is usually cooking that warms the home, physically and emotionally. Your oven is going, or that pot of soup has simmered all day. Home is where we cook together, and once we have our first meal in our new house, I think my nostalgia may take a back seat to the current memories being formed in front of me right at that moment. That sounds comforting.

ps. Ryan has been curing a fresh ham all week, so maybe that will be our first big meal in Oakland. Mmm…

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Would you like a face mask?

I know what I do everyday isn’t most people’s idea of a good time, but there are always people out there who think they would love nothing more than to rise at 1 am, don a face mask (white lung is a serious condition, people) and stick their head in a 600 degree oven (in a nice way). This makes me smile. I got into baking before I knew what I would be up to. So, every once in a while (read: once a week) someone calls us at the bakery and has read all about bread and wants to see what goes on behind the little red door. Some have no experience, some used to bake when they were younger, and are looking for a career change or a business plan. In a wierd way, I think they want to be inspired. They want to see something incredible, and that feels nice. We work hard, and I don’t mind saying a little flattery goes a long way. We can freak people out about how hard it is, or we can goad someone into a career that will change their sleep pattern and muscle distribution.

That being said, a woman came into the bakery a few months ago, wanting to watch us bake and such. She was hoping to get advice on starting her own bread business. I think she got a little more reality than she was hoping for. Since she arrived at 11 am, we were already either almost done with our day (Celine), or halfway finished with a grueling Saturday shaping shift (me). It was very nice to have someone watch with awe and say such nice things about us though, and I thought it would be fun for you all to see her post on her moment in the bakery.

A Hungry Girl

p.s. I am not an assistant. But hey…what can you do? :)

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Self-Indulgent Recap

about one year ago....

Lately, I have been treading water in holiday-land. You know, wading through lists, last-minute runnings about, and in general, just rushing my face off. I will now breathe.  Whew.

Hi. Welcome back. I feel better. I seriously did take a deep breath just then.

This past year…

It leaves me winded. What a complete suprise, a delight, the most incredible year yet. I know when I say this it sounds superfluous, fluffy, mindless. A lot of sadness encircled our world this last year too, but for the first year in a very long time, I felt that I was in the right place, at the right time, where I should be. Time and love aligned for me, and I was brought to a stellar job where I learned that I was actually capable of jumping head first into something, and with multitudes of work, becoming quite proficient at that skill. Maybe it’s just getting older or maybe it really is finding a little divot, settling into it, and discovering it was meant for you in the first place. So, as cliche as it may be, I wanted to make a little list.  Things that suprised me this year, that brought me joy, showed me a path, or otherwise made me feel warm, safe and in the right place….

~Being adopted into a business, a family really, that would be patient, endlessly challenging, better than any culinary school (and way more messy), and ultimately show me who I am and what I am made of. I think I forgot I had a work ethic until this job. Baking has reminded me that a long time ago, I was proud of how hard I could push myself. I have become that girl again.  Thank you Celine. You have educated me and I will never forget it. Thank you for my giant muscles too. That should scare off any pushy bakers at my new job.

~Somewhere Fate is having a good guffaw, because this job, so secluded, remote and really quite anti-social (bakers are a sullen bunch) plopped me down right in front of my love. Just nudged me along till I found myself standing right in front of him, asking for bacon. Isn’t that how all good love stories begin?

~Moving out of San Francisco and allowing my life to slow to a speed which I could handle was one of the best choices I had made in a long time. Petaluma has been the warm blanket I needed to heal all the little blows the past few years had dealt me. This pastoral, idyllic little town brought me a house, women friends (sorely missing over the past few years), a bicycle, and a place I could walk all over and never lose sight of those green, green hills.

~Working in the food industry is a more like a real family than a fantasy one. There are mean big brothers, sweet and generous old aunties,  cool, trendy younger cousins and mothers you can always count on. Finding your role in this community is as valuable as when you find your own little niche in your family at home. You think, Oh, this is who I am, this is what I bring to the table.

I find myself trying to be the glue that makes everyone stick together. I was throwing fits all holiday long, just trying to get all the people I love in the same room. Bribing people with booze, promising baked goods, shelling out money for gas, whatever it took so that I would have a big family holiday.

But I don’t have a big family. I have these few really profoundly important people around me, and I suddenly figured it out.  Family is about effort and connection, and these are things I think I can do well. As I get older, reminding people to come together, not because you have to, but because we must, will be in my mind every year.  The meals we share during this time of year are our most memorable, and not because of those insane scalloped potatoes or the delectable ham, or that great pinot. These are things I love, granted, but to see the candlelight on my grandfather’s face as we toasted to what was just a stellar year…..this is worth any amount of running about, driving in traffic or list-making.

Cheers.

Happy New Year

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Huddle Up!

I have been reading too much.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is such a thing. One might even consider it some kind of disorder. If you think you may have such an affliction, ask yourself these difficult questions:

1. Does your reading impede your ability to do everyday tasks, such as grocery shopping, baking delicious treats, or putting gas in the car?

2. Has reading at the dinner table become a problem?

3. Do you look forward to bed-time, if only so that you may do your extensive reading in a more comfortable environment?

Well, you know the drill. If you answered yes to any of these questions, we should probably be friends…but never have a dinner together as it might be so quiet, our companions would fall asleep in their plates.

Maybe it’s the freeeezing cold temperatures, or maybe just good book choices, but it has kept me out of the kitchen a bit. Anyway, I was tring to come up with something to bring to a little dinner get-together last week and I just wanted something light and pretty and warm. Yes, so what if it was a Patriots game-watching throwdown. I am a lady, and sometimes I force my desserts on people. But, this came together so quickly and I don’t know if it was just the cold kitchen that helped me out with the dough, but this dough was breathtaking. Literally, I was saying outloud, while rolling it out, “Ooh, holy moly, this is….so smooth and pretty and easy”. Ryan was thinking I had completely lost my marbles. Or pie weights. (Which you totally don’t need here!)

Crispy Apple Tart
(adapted from Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters, a gorgeous book with the lovliest woodblock illustrations)

Dough:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons chilled water

Filling:
2 pounds apples (I used Fuji, but I think a more tart, firm variety would be better), peeled, cored (save peels and cores), and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 tablespoons sugar

Glaze:
1/2 cup sugar

MIX flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Blend in a mixer until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter; mix until biggest pieces look like large peas.

DRIBBLE in water, stir, then dribble in more, until dough just holds together. Toss with hands, letting it fall through fingers, until it’s ropy with some dry patches. If dry patches predominate, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball. Flatten into a 4-inch-thick disk; refrigerate. After at least 30 minutes, remove; let soften so it’s malleable but still cold. Smooth cracks at edges. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush.

PLACE dough in a lightly greased 9-inch round tart pan, or simply on a parchment-lined baking sheet if you wish to go free-form, or galette-style with it. Heat oven to 400 F. (If you have a pizza stone, place it in the center of the rack.)

OVERLAP apples on dough in a ring 2 inches from edge if going galette-style, or up to the sides if using the tart pan. Continue inward until you reach the center. Fold any dough hanging over pan back onto itself; crimp edges at 1-inch intervals.

BRUSH melted butter over apples and onto dough edge. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over dough edge and the other 3 tablespoons over apples.

BAKE in center of oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown (about 45 minutes), making sure to rotate tart every 15 minutes.

MAKE glaze: Put reserved peels and cores in a large saucepan, along with sugar. Pour in just enough water to cover; simmer for 25 minutes. Strain syrup through sieve.

REMOVE tart from oven, and slide off parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes.

BRUSH glaze over tart, slice, and serve.



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Butter, butter, butter

Well, it sounds funny when you say it three times, but butter is truly something I cannot be without. When I’m reading a recipe I judge it based on the ratio of butter to the other components. What?! Only a quarter-cup in a whole batch of cookies? Nonsense. Next!

Butter isn’t simply there for flavor, which is does do marvelously. It is a textural god-send, turning flour into flaky pastry and a moist scallop into a crisp-edged bite of the salty sea. Butter has been a staple of the human diet as long as milk production itself has been around. This most valued food was initially made by mistake, as anyone who has over-whipped heavy cream has discovered. The clumps of fat form and the liquid (buttermilk) separates out. A more simple treat has never delighted me more.

I’d never made shortbread before, but I feel like it is such a great example of what you can do with great ratios of really lovely ingredients. A layered, dense sweet/salty cookie that has a grainy, fine texture. Use the best butter you can find for these, I think the reward is obvious when you take the first bite. By the way, I felt like these got better and better over time…Like a few days, a week, however long you can keep them around without sneaking one every time you pass the kitchen.

Scotch Shortbread

(adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walter, Clarkson-Potter 2003)

  • 1  3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour (easy find in the bulk section or gluten-free area)
  • 1/4 generous teaspoon salt (like heaping, I guess)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar, plus more for dusting

Preheat your oven to 300°F, and position the shelf in the center of the oven. Line a 9-inch square (or similar, I think mine was 9 x 11) with foil, pressing it into the corners and shaping it smoothly across the bottom and sides of the pan. Sift the flour, rice flour and salt together three times and set aside.

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix the butter on a medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar gradually, taking about 1 minute, and then allow to mix for about 1 minute more. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Remove the bowl from the machine and transfer the butter mixture into a large, wide bowl. Using a wooden spoon (and your muscles!) cut half of the dry ingredients into the butter until it’s almost incorporated. Work in the remaining dry by adding it in five or six small additions. This is where you must move quickly and deliberately, as you want to keep the butter relatively cool. The “dough” will look like a pile of lumpy flour that could never be a cookie, but gather it and knead it gently to smear the bits of butter.

Scoop your dough/flour ball into the foil-lined pan and use your spoon to distribute it evenly. Then, using a flat-bottomed glass press the dough evenly into the pan, being careful to get into the corners. Clean the edges of the pan with either a small spatula or a dough scraper.

Bake the shortbread for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the top feels set. It will be very pale. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Using a very sharp knife, carefully cut through the dough 1 1/2 inch intervals, making five (ish) strips, and then quarter-turn your pan and do the same going the other way, making 25 small squares. They stay in the pan. Sprinkle lightly with superfine sugar, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until lightly brown.

Remove from the pan, and using the foil as an aid, take out the individual squares and place them on a cookie sheet and return them to the oven for 10 minutes to dry and crisp. Remove and let cool on the pan for five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  And your mouth. Trust me on the previous advice to let them sit a few days in a plastic bag. They really do get better with age. :)

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Chicken, Leek, and Tarragon Pie

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Sometimes time eludes me. I feel slightly ridiculous writing that, as I have only one job, no children, the cleanest man ever, and am relatively young and so should have boundless energy and will to…well, just do things. But that seems to belong to some other person in some other universe, cause, geez, it’s not even Thanksgiving and I’m ready for a vacation. Maybe the change in weather and light makes it so, and I think I will adjust and begin to be more productive in the hours before it falls dark at, say, 4:30pm. This is all a terribly long-winded excuse for not posting more often. Bleh.

During a leisurely day a few weeks ago (yes, there is leisure, just not enough!), I came upon a new cookbook that looked more interesting than the giant wall of faces that seem to stare at you now when looking for books on food. What is that? I don’t think I’m buying books or cooking someone’s recipes because I am so deeply moved by their face or their personality. These days, I don’t even really open books written by the famous, all-knowing deities we’ve come to follow. I found this one because it was so obviously stating exactly what was within. Pie.

Pie by Angela Boggiano (published in paperback by Mitchell Beasley, 2009), is a crust bible. This woman devotes more loving detail to crust recipe and method than most people do their whole pie. The recipes are decidedly British (as is Ms. Boggiano), so that provided serious entertainment for Ryan and I as we flipped through. Game Pie, Curried Soccer Pie, Smoked Fish and Cider Pie. I think it was just so refreshing to read something other than recipes that were California-familiar. And then we stumbled upon a Lamb Shank Pie, which has the bones of the shank protruding through the golden crust like they should be pulled out of the stew and eaten with British abandon. Needless to say, we got the book.

Although I am sure we will soon try the more adventurous pies, those of you who know me are laughing at the above recipes for good reason. I am indeed a bit squeamish about meat, be it lamb, pork or beef. So we have settled on one pie we both knew we’d love without question, and here it is.

Chicken, Leek, and Tarragon Pie

from Angela Boggiano’s Pie

for the pastry:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons ice water

Sift together the dry ingredients, and then cut  half the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the rest of the butter and mix until it is the size of small peas. Mix the egg with the lemon juice and the water.  Make a well in the center and pour in, a little at a time, mixing with a knife. Use only as much as you think you need to make it come together. I used it all but my dough was still very crumbly and messy, which spells out a great pie crust. Turn out your dough onto a floured board and knead gently just to incorporate the butter. Shape into a disk,wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

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layers of butter in the dough make for a flaky crust

For the filling:

  • 1 free-range chicken, around 3 lbs.
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 4 sprigs tarragon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Knob of butter (my favorite descriptor in the book)
  • 2 leeks, finely sliced
  • 2/3 cup white wine
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup cream
  • Grated zest of ½ lemon
  • Salt and ground black pepper

Place the chicken in a large saucepan with the carrot, celery, 1 of the onions and 3 tarragon sprigs. Season with a little salt and pepper and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside to cool. Return the stock to the heat and simmer gently for a further 30 minutes until it is reduced by half.

Meanwhile heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan, add the leeks and the remaining onion and gently cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Turn up the heat to high, add the wine and simmer rapidly for 3–4 minutes until reduced by half. Stir in the flour and mix well in the pan for l minute. Pour in the cream, about  2/3 cup of the reduced chicken stock and the lemon zest. Season with a little salt and plenty of ground black pepper.

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making pie filling

Remove the meat from the cooled chicken carcass and chop or shred into small pieces. Add this and the remaining tarragon, chopped, to the leek and cream mixture and stir together. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a baking tray in the oven to heat.

Line the base of a 12 x  8 inch rectangular or 10½ inch round pie tin with two-thirds of the pastry and fill with the chicken mixture. Brush the pastry edges with beaten egg. Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid and lay over the filling, crimping the edges of the pastry with your fingertips to seal.

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cutting a few vents in the upper crust allows some moisture to cook out

Trim away any excess and brush with beaten egg to glaze. Place on the baking tray and bake for 30–35 minutes until the pastry is golden and crisp.

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dinner!

The amount of liquid this recipe calls for seems like a little too much, so the next  time I make this,  I would reduce the wine to 1/4 cup. We also felt like the wine flavored the dish too strongly so that’s why I’d chose to reduce that as opposed to the cream, which is just too good to ever reduce. Enjoy!

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