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Friday, December 6, 2013

Spanish Club

"Hablas español?" the sweet-faced Puerto Rican gentleman asked me in Hope Depot. Evelyn and I were out getting a Christmas tree. "Sí," I responded. Thinking I was also Puerto Rican, he initiated a conversation to coo over Evelyn and use his native language. I was eager to practice my second language. We chatted about where he worked (the kitchen at Mercy hospital), how I wanted Evelyn to be exposed to Spanish, and how his grandchildren, sadly, don't speak the mother tongue.

I majored in Spanish in college, spent a semester in Costa Rica, then a year in Nicaragua. I had an internship advocating for immigrants, where I used Spanish. Why, then, many years later, do I shy away from speaking it? I feel I have lost so much of it, but it is all still there, ready to tumble out if I make the effort.

I have a few friends who also know quite a bit of Spanish, and one who knows it as a first language. We've said for years, "We should get together and speak Spanish!" So finally, I took the plunge. "Come over for s'mores and Spanish!" I told my friends. They came. We spoke. It was awesome.

Matt built the fire. Candice made lovely almond muffins. Andrea and her friend Marcela brought stuff for s'mores, and I made tea and cocoa. We sat around, talking about anything and everything, in our beloved español. Every so often there would be a pause and a request for how-do-you-say- such and such. But over all the conversation flowed so nicely, and the range of basic beginner to absolutely fluent worked well.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Brunch With My Beau

It's Fall. The leaves are crunchy. The sky is a brilliant blue. The sun is warm, the breeze is crisp. I could go on. Justin and I did something a couple weeks ago that we have looked forward to for, oh, about a year. We went to brunch. Not just any brunch, mind you. Our favorite, perfect Woodberry Kitchen.

I know it's not actually perfect. No place is. It has been, however, featured in Gourmet magazine (when they were still around) and Bon Apetit and it has plenty of other accolades. Woodberry Kitchen has excellent food, a beautiful atmosphere, and impeccable service. The waitstaff have an easy, carefree manner. The men wear plaid shirts and the women wear skirts and aprons, usually with a calico print. They are extremely knowledgeable about the menu and know where the food comes from. They look you straight in the eye every time, smile sincerely, and make you feel like you are their only table. Your water is filled frequently. The waitstaff does not hover but does not hide either. No detail is forgotten: mini jars for condiments, little cream jars, cloth napkins that are actually absorbent, a dainty spoon to stir your latte. In addition to the incredible food, it is the whole experience of dining at Woodberry Kitchen that makes such a fun date. Granted, you pay for this experience. But for us to go once or twice a year it is worth every penny.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Maple Walnut Sundae

Do you know that I never had a taste of real maple syrup until I was in college? It's true. I went almost twenty years pouring the fake stuff over my just-add-water pancakes (yeah, my food renaissance didn't happen until a few years later).

I went to school in western New York, in one of the most beautiful areas you can imagine come autumn, or spring, or summer (winter depends on your cold weather preferences). A friend who grew up in that area took me to a pancake house that was a very rustic, podunk, men in red plaid flannel kind of place. With stacks of buttery pancakes and real maple syrup. That I didn't like. Can you believe it? The first time I tried real maple syrup, I thought it was too thin. Now I realize that I prefer Grade B, which is a little thicker, as opposed to Grade A, which tends to be runnier. The thought of going back to the gooey fake syrup turns my stomach.

This past summer we went to Vermont and had a wonderful time. Justin and I had a chance to go on a long bike ride in the beautiful green hills (on which he got three flat tires -- but that is a story for another time). The bike ride took much longer than expected (thanks to the flats), and we were kind of ready to just get back, but we passed a hand painted sign advertising "Maple Syrup Here." Of course we had to stop. The man sold it out of his garage, with a few shelves of syrup and maple sugar candies in a small refrigerator. We bought both. We broke out the syrup a few weeks ago, at the first hint of fall, and poured it over waffles with ginger-y peaches.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Honey Lavender Cupcakes...And A Toddler

Last week, my daughter turned one. Just a year ago, she was a little six and a half pound slip of a newborn. She couldn't roll over, lift her head, or say anything. Just cry and poop. Now? It's just incredible. She toddles! She says "kisses"! She climbs up shelves! She goes belly first down slides! She puts the lid on my water bottle! (I know recently I did a post on the overuse of exclamation points, but I think I'm justified in my usage here, being a first-time mom and all.)

We have a lavender theme with Evelyn. Her room is purple. She has a lavender sachet "sleep pillow" that is like a comfort object when she sleeps. I usually choose purple over bubble gum pink when it comes to clothes for her. So I thought, "Lavender in a dessert. How lovely." And did you know? Infants can eat honey when they turn one. Honey cake. Of course. Lavender honey cake.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pretty Heirloom Squash + A Story

My dear mother-in-law is in town for about a week, which gives us the opportunity to catch up, cuddle with Evelyn, get stuff done around the house, and give me some baby-free exercise time. I went for a run yesterday, and it took a little while to get used to not pushing a stroller. Where do I put my hands? I wondered. It was like riding a bike without a helmet, or driving without a seat belt. The weather was perfect. Crisp air, warm sun, good pace. I was reminded of a little story I wrote a few years back when I first moved to Baltimore. This was written in 2007.

Last weekend I went running in the rain. Running in the rain, you say? Believe it or not, it can be the best time to run. The temperature was low 60's, a nice steady drizzle. Of course, initially I just wanted to get into my jim-jams and curl up with a good book, but once I got out there, it was amazing. The air in my lungs was humidified, my legs felt strong, and I easily fell into a good steady rhythm. The best part was that other hardcore runners passed by and gave me a nod of approval. A look of solidarity. As if to say, "We are the real runners. We don't just come out on the crisp fall days, but the rainy days, the snowy days, the freezing days." The passersby in their raincoats and umbrellas looked at us as if we were crazy, but that's alright. At the end of my run, I really felt like I accomplished something. I did it. 

Even though my run was not rainy, I had a similar sense of peacefulness about me. I am glad the air has finally turned cooler in Baltimore. I've been able to run without breaking into a dripping sweat. And I do love to wear cardigans and boots.

What has been cooking in your kitchen lately? Here is what I've been enjoying, plus a recipe for squash at the end.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Virtuous Food

Is there such a thing as virtuous food? Let me muse a bit. This morning I had oatmeal with raisins and walnuts and just a touch of brown sugar. It was delicious. I felt good eating it, it tasted good, and I felt good afterward. For lunch I heated leftover black beans, roasted butternut squash, and I made a tomato sandwich to accompany it. I was excited about it because it tasted good, filled me up, and felt good afterward. I even felt, dare I say, virtuous.

On the other hand, yesterday I had a little square of chewy date walnut cookie before noon. I ate it quickly, irreverently, and a little guiltily (it was not a dessert day). Later on, I discovered some highly processed chocolate toffee caramels in the bowels of my kitchen. I had a couple. Then a couple more. Oh, just a few more, why not. I did not feel happy eating them. They tasted good, but not wonderful. My gut did not feel happy later either.

Are sweets evil, and beans and legumes holy? Are homemade sweets less evil than processed sweets? How does the spectrum of "good" food vs. "bad" food line up with "virtuous" and "evil"?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"So, What Do You Do?"

This is the first question strangers often ask me. This is the first question I often ask strangers. It's how we peg people, how we wrap our minds around them. Is it wrong? I don't think so. Is it sensitive? Maybe. Is it cultural? Definitely. In some cultures, the first question to ask is, "Who are your parents?" Perhaps this gives them an idea of what type of family they come from. In a tribe in Mexico, to ask where someone is from, the question is literally: "Where is your placenta buried?" Kind of weird, but hey. Here, we peg people by what their profession is.

Over the past year when I have met new people, the first thing I usually tell them is that I run a small business selling granola at farmers markets. Then I tell them that my ultimate goal is to open a bakery cafe and employ people transitioning out of homelessness. Then I tell them I have an infant daughter and she takes up the rest of my time. It was never, "I'm a mom, and I run a small business." It was always, "Oh yeah, and I have a little one."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sometimes, You Just Eat Cold Pasta

Sleep is at a premium around here. I thought once we got past the newborn stage, out of flu season, and into the golden months approaching toddler-hood, we'd be sleeping all night long, never having tantrums, eating only veggies and organic fruits and whole grains (never processed), and sleeping all night long. Did I say that already?

Evelyn slept through the night maybe twenty times, ever. The latest was ten nights in a row with only one hiccup. Then came double ear infections and a nasty cold. So can I get mad at her? No, of course not. Even when I do, it melts away pretty quickly. But we are tired. Just plain tired.

Last week, after tucking Evelyn into bed at 7:30 pm, I wailed to Justin "Let's just eat cold pasta and raw carrots for dinner and go bed." He replied, "Sounds good to me!" So that's what we did, until she was up crying again, and trying to eat our cold pasta with us. Then a few nights ago, it was 8:30 pm. "Want to have ice cream and go to bed?" I asked Justin. Enthusiastic yes was the reply. We had our peanut butter ice cream with chocolate sauce and climbed into bed as soon as possible.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Don't Be Late, You're Gonna Be Eight!

I recently read that many authors say to use exclamation points very, very sparingly, or not even at all. If you can't find a way to eloquently express emotion without resorting to exclamation points, then you shouldn't be writing. With Facebook, emails, text messages, etc., exclamation points are everywhere. Individuals are worried they will come across as not enthusiastic or mad if they don't use exclamation points in every! single! sentence! I am also guilty of this sometimes (ok, often), especially if I'm communicating with someone I don't know that well and want to seem lighthearted and upbeat.

Over Labor Day weekend my dear sister Megan and her eldest, Lyndley, came for a much anticipated visit. I realized that there is a time in life when one should be free to to use exclamation points with abandon, and that is at the age of seven-going-on-eight. Oh, the exclamations! Oh, the amazing excitement! Some examples to illustrate:

"You have chickens!! Can I collect the eggs? Oh I love farm fresh eggs!" (Me: "Actually, they're more like backyard fresh eggs.") "Backyard fresh eggs! Yay!"

"What's that? Figs? A fig tree? Can I help collect the figs?!"

"I've never made ice cream before! Can I help!? I love ice cream!"

"Little Cat! Want to play? Come on, Little Cat!!"

We had such fun. Lyndley made me earrings out of paper she colored with a light blue sparkly pen. Later, she asked, "Aunt Becky, do you still have the magic coin earrings?" She gathered eggs and begged to hard boil one. One morning we had eggs over easy, which she calls "egg juice eggs." It's interesting peeking into the food mind of a 7 year old. Any food she helped prepare, she was excited about. Any food that was prepared and served to her, she did her duty and ate some but was not excited about it. Note to self: Involve Evelyn in all the food prep.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Savory Pancakes

I don't know about you, but I have been LOVING this summer weather in Baltimore. It sounds like an oxymoron. Baltimore? Summer? Love? Usually I get excited for spring, I dread the heat of the summer, and I can't wait for fall. September is normally just an extension of summer. I scoff when I see cardigans and sweaters lining up in stores near the end of August. It's still shorts and tank tops, people!

Today, though, I actually chose to wear jeans. Last week at the evening farmers market, I wished for pants and a warm-ie! Can you believe it? Chilled in the middle of August as soon as the sun goes down. I was flabbergasted.

And by the way, my dear dad calls anything long-sleeved that's not a sweater a warm-ie. So do I.

It is a relief to have 70's and 60's at night, and just up to 90 or below during the day. Baking granola is not so unbearable, with those monstrous gas ovens in a hot kitchen. Setting up the market tent is a breeze, with barely a sweat on my brow. Sitting and chatting with customers is all about the beautiful day, instead of can-you-believe-how-humid-it-is? And. No bugs. Justin and I have eaten almost all of our dinners out back, on the deck, with the twinkle lights on, and never had to apply bug spray. Maybe I got two bug bites all together.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


The alarm went off at 5 am. My first desire was to roll over and go back to sleep. Even though I had trained for this, I did not want to get out of bed. Evelyn woke up too, and faithful Justin went to shush her back to sleep. I roused myself and brushed my teeth. Pulling on my triathlon bathing suit and clothes felt strange in the early morning. I sat on the closed-lid toilet and put on my socks and shoes. It was a little surreal.

Downstairs, I turned on the coffee maker and started my typical pre-race breakfast of oatmeal, peanut butter, and banana. I poured my coffee and realized I had made it too weak. I hadn't been able to find my 1/8 cup scoop the night before, so I used a tablespoon scoop. Without thinking, I did two tablespoons, plus a bit more, for two cups of coffee. Way too weak. I didn't have time to make more, so I added some instant hot chocolate to the thin brew. It was just ok. I would have to wait until later in the day for a real cup of coffee.

Out the door at 6:05. Bike, helmet, swim goggles, snack, coconut water, regular water, towel, ID. I was ready! I pedaled over to the park. After crossing the street and turning right, I saw the shockingly pink sunrise over the little castle. I heard the music across the reservoir and knew it was a party I was invited to. I had trained for this. I was about to become one of "them": a triathlete.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cultured Pancakes with Local Honey

On Wednesday, I bought a honeycomb.

There I was, selling granola at the farmers market, and right next to me were some beautiful honeycombs. The man was from Pennsylvania and had just started selling his honey. He came to the market to try it out, and sold quite a bit.

"How do you eat honeycomb?" I asked. He likes to smear it on toast or just eat it with a spoon. Within a week, Justin and I finished it off with spoons (and a couple of pancakes).

It was nothing like the general honey you buy at a general grocery store. Did you know some honey actually has corn syrup added to it? I was aghast when I discovered that.

I love to try different types of honey. Wildflower, orange blossom, buckwheat. The man who sold honey said his bees just go anywhere, and his honeys ranged from medium to dark. I chose the darkest I could find, and it tasted wild and complex.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

No-Knead Whole Grain Bread

Breakfast is by far my favorite meal of the day. It is what (used to) get me out of bed every morning. (Now I have a little human alarm clock that doesn't have a snooze button). Often as I fall asleep the night before, I think about what I'm going to make for breakfast the next morning, along with how I will prepare my coffee (pour-over? drip? French press?).

I mean, think about it. You got your eggs. Creamy, yolk-y, salt and pepper. You got fruit, and sometimes veggies. You got my favorite grain, oats, in the form of warm, comforting oatmeal or snappy, crunchy granola. And, you got bread, in all of its various forms. Muffins. Scones. Pancakes. Biscuits. Toast. How could anyone not love breakfast?

Maybe I should re-title this blog to be "Becky Baker." This is the third post in a row that is baked. Baking is, after all, my life aspiration. Sure, I still cook most days. But baking is what really gets me motivated.

If you've tried making yeast bread before (or have been too scared by the idea) this is the easiest bread to make. One would think that, with such an easy bread, taste would be sacrificed, or texture, or something. No, friends, this bread is full of flavor, chewy, good as it is or toasted, pairs well with sweet jam or savory cheese, and is beautiful to behold. You can make it into a sandwich. You can top it with eggs. A smear of butter? Sprinkling of sea salt? Lovely.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Do you need a neat little baking project? Let it be these cookies. They are my favorite. Huge chunks of dark chocolate. Buttery indulgence. Whole wheat goodness. They are from one of my favorite baking books, Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce. She organizes her chapters according to flours. Whole wheat, spelt, corn, amaranth, quinoa, barley, oat...you peruse each chapter thinking, "I'm going to make that next. No that. Wait, this one first." And many times I go back to my old favorites. These are now my go-to chocolate chip cookies.

Don't be scared to use all whole wheat flour. It adds a nice, nutty flavor. The loads of butter (2 sticks!) make the cookies chewy and counter balance the whole grains. Now, I know what you're thinking. Two sticks of butter? Healthy eating is great. But it doesn't have a place when it comes to cookies. A cookie should be a cookie. Just indulge. And find friends to share the rest of the batch with, because these are addicting.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Black Skillet Bread

Here's your weekend baking project, all ready to go. All you need is flour, salt, water, yeast, oil, and a big cast iron skillet. I've made this bread three times so far, and it has turned out great each time. It's good for a weekend when you plan to be in the kitchen, because it takes a few hours and is a hands-on kneading bread.

The recipe is from a magazine my mother-in-law passes on to me: Mary Jane's Farm. It's a mix of crafty projects, rural living, and home-style recipes. This recipe called out to me because of my new cast iron skillet (compliments of my aunt) and because of the neat little quarters that I could easily tear off and give away or freeze for future.

We overspent our food budget in December, and part of getting back on track has been making our own bread. A bag of high-quality King Arthur Flour is around $5. A loaf of high quality artisan bread is around $5-6. I'm not sure how many loaves of bread I can get out of one bag of flour, but it's at least three. And oh! the rewards of smelling the fresh bread baking, of pulling it out of the oven and cooling it on the counter, of tearing off a piece to have with soup, eggs, or just because. It's more than just the money savings.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Easy Dijon Mustard Dressing

I had this salad all last week, and I gobbled it up like it was the best thing ever (because it was). I tend to be somewhat lazy with salads. Usually I have them as a side, and I just don't feel like getting fancy veggies or mincing garlic to make my own dressing. I go for olive oil and balsamic vinegar, which is nice, but it's not special. I make salads as an afterthought.

When I do take the time to make my own dressing, things are different. I make a lot and store it in a jar in the fridge. It transforms the salad. Add to that a nice cheese, a fruit, and some nuts or seeds, and you have yourself an excellent meal.

For this salad I started with my usual: organic spring mix, grated carrots, thinly sliced cucumbers. Then I added tart Granny Smith apple slices, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese. That in itself is great, but wait for it...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pour Over Coffee

So I love coffee. Anybody who knows me knows that. It started in childhood when I loved the smell of my parents' coffee. Whenever I tried a sip, though, I didn't like the taste. Until high school, when I discovered french vanilla Coffeemate, and it was downhill (or uphill) from there.

My taste in coffee has come a long way from Coffeemate (is there even any real dairy in there?). Gradually, I switched from cream and sugar to just cream. Then sometimes black. Currently, I'm on a black coffee kick, but I welcome really good, fresh cream to lighten really dark coffee.

I have five different methods of brewing coffee. What? How did it come to this? I did not set out to become a coffee snob, certainly not by using fake creamer. My first method is a little Mr. Coffee drip coffeemaker that my father bought me before I set off for college. This has brought me through the years beautifully, and I still turn to it many days of the week. The second is a French press. A lovely way to enjoy coffee, one with great fanfare in letting the coffee steep and then ceremoniously plunging the grounds to the bottom and straining out good, strong coffee.

The third method came about somewhat by mistake. At a former job as a bank teller, I liked to take my breaks at the now defunct Borders book store to get an iced coffee. The charming barista was so excited about the cold brew coffee method to make the best, smoothest iced coffee. The Toddy method. Makes lower acid, less caffeinated coffee by steeping coffee grounds in cold water for 12 hours, then straining it out to make a coffee concentrate. Add hot or iced water, and you have coffee. I make this whenever my mom comes to visit.

Then there is the little stove top espresso maker. It is like a miniature percolator for the stove, and makes good espresso drinks without actually owning an espresso machine.

And then, friends, the pour over coffee apparatus appeared. It's all the rage at hipster cafes. It's like drinking liquid coffee beans. It makes other coffees taste like coffee flavored water (ok, I exaggerate a little). 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy 2013!

Happy New Year! Justin, Evelyn, and I got back a couple of days ago from Michigan. We had a great time with family, including a Christmas Eve dinner of grilled salmon, playing games, a family hockey game at Michigan State, singing carols, cooing over Evelyn, and being together. It was so relaxing to be able to go to bed early, exercise every day, and be cozy inside while watching the snow fall. My father-in-law made some good egg breakfasts a few mornings, and my mother-in-law was so helpful with Evelyn. She also made my Benjamin muffins for breakfast on our last morning there. It's good to be back after a 12 and a half hour drive home from Michigan.

Stay tuned for a recipe later this week.