buttermilk cake with rhubarb frosting + cardamom cream | the vanilla bean blog
This cake was made in celebration of Saveur Magazine’s 20th birthday. When it comes to cake I only think in chocolate, but I got the idea of rhubarb buttercream in my head and thought it would pair better with a white cake (although, after eating it, I think it could go either way). There are 21 cakes altogether on the above link, and I recommend checking them out; so many beauties.

We’re still in the moving zone here; we’ve got one week to pack up the rest of our house and say our good-byes. I feel very bittersweet about the whole affair, but am looking forward to the change.

“So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”-Herman Hesse
buttermilk cake with rhubarb frosting and cardamom cream | the vanilla bean blog

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sarah kieffer
Sorry for the silence over on this end. It’s been a crazy month; we are in the process of selling our house and buying another, and my days have been filled with taping boxes and filling them with everything we own. So instead of a recipe I bring you some photos from a few family sessions I’ve done recently.

And:
I have Shortcakes with Roasted Fruit and Rosemary on Wit & Delight, as well as a Cherry Skillet Cake on Handmade Charlotte.

Lady and Pups. I want to make everything.

How Animals Eat Their Food. (I love this. Also, Part 2.)

Gary Provost on writing.
sarah kieffer
sarah kieffer
sarah kieffer
sarah kieffer
sarah kieffer
srah kieffer
sarah kieffer

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chocolate pots de crème with lavender and sea salt | the vanilla bean blog
Back when I worked at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse, I spent a lot of time making banana bread. It was one of my daily tasks, and after weeks and weeks of mixing and mashing I could have made the bread in my sleep. However one Friday afternoon, after making it had become more routine than pleasure, I had four loaves that sunk in the middle and tasted terrible. I had no idea how it happened, as this recipe was etched in my soul for all eternity. Larry (the coffeehouse owner) walked over to my prep table to take a peek at the wasted loaves, and I’ll never forget his words. “The kitchen gods are always watching,” he said. “You may think you have a recipe down, and that you can never make it wrong, but the minute you feel you own a recipe, or have pride approaching your workspace that lacks any form of humbleness for your ingredients and movement, the gods will remind you, and teach you respect again.” He said it in all sincerity, and in such a strong, kind voice, that those sentences have never left me in my own kitchen.

Which brings me to chocolate pots de crème. It was Thursday. I was just going to ‘whip these up, easy,’ while also interacting with two little ones who were officially on summer vacation and were already bored, working on three other things in the kitchen for blog posts and our own evening meal, and trying to clean my house for dinner guests. I rushed around, unfocused on what I was doing: the chocolate looked completely melted, it must be. I didn’t bring the eggs to room temperature, but they will be fine. But what came out of my oven, 30 minutes later, was not creamy chocolate pudding. The top was bubbly and the darkest brown, and the bottom almost gray with tiny flecks scattered throughout it. I didn’t stop to really notice this, however, and threw them in the fridge to cool. “They’re fine! How bad can pudding taste?” Actually very bad, as my dinner guests and I found out later that evening. Grainy, gray pudding is not what one wants to serve new friends who just finished asking you questions about your food blog. Larry’s words came to mind as our guests graciously finished their cups and said kind things. I had forgotten to take that moment to breathe, feel my ingredients, linger in the whisking and melting and pouring. I had served myself humble pie (or, pots de crème, I guess), aware of the gods above.

Later that week I made the dessert again, taking my time to get things right. I’m happy to report it is delicious: creamy and dreamy, as I knew it would be. I offered up thanks to the heavens, grateful for hard lessons that eventually bring beauty.
chocolate pots de crème with lavender and sea salt | the vanilla bean blog
chocolate pots de crème with lavender and sea salt | the vanilla bean blog
Vibrant Food Cookbook
chocolate pots de crème with lavender and sea salt | the vanilla bean blog
Months ago, Kimberley Hasselbrink from A Year In Food asked on Facebook if anyone would be up for testing recipes for the book she was working on. I immediately emailed her; I had been a fan of her site for such a long time. A few weeks later she sent me some to test: Cornmeal Pancakes with Kumquat Syrup, Autumn Breakfast Bowl, and Summer Berry and Peach Crisp. I knew right away this cookbook was going to be on heavy rotation in my home.

One thing I love about The Year In Food is Kimberley’s unique, yet unpretentious recipes. I always leave her space wanting to make something; I may have to pick up an ingredient or two, but the recipes are beautifully simple and never boring. So here’s another cookbook to add to your wish list: Vibrant Food.

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rhubarb-blueberry-apple pie | the vanilla bean blog
Last week I received my copy of The Homemade Flour Cookbook by Erin Alderson in the mail. I’ve been a fan of Erin’s site Naturally Ella for a long time, and last September had the pleasure of meeting her (and photographing her wedding). Erin is a hardworking, go-getting woman, and one of the most generous souls here in blogland. I’ve been terribly excited about her book.

The premise of the book is exploring ‘the different ways to grind flour including electric and non-electric grinders, food processors, blenders, and even coffee grinders, making it easy for any do-it-yourself homemaker to have fresh flour whenever needed.’ The flours range from barley and einkorn, to gluten-free grains like quinoa and corn, and even legumes: chickpeas, lentils, and beans all are used. Erin explains the different ways to grind them, and has a vast array of recipes for all kinds of eaters.

I had a pile of rhubarb in our garden, and a pint of blueberries that were on their way out, so Erin’s Whole Wheat Rhubarb Pie immediately jumped out at me. It’s a jem, and one I will look forward to making each summer.
rhubarb-blueberry-apple pie | the vanilla bean blog
(Also, A few things:)
Jennifer Causey and Yossy Arefi made this lovely video on the pie making process: Raspberry Rhubarb Pie.

Sara had her baby. I can’t get over these gorgeous and amazing photographs.

A little documentary by Flight of the Conchords. Don’t know how I missed this!

I love this song by PHOX.

Don’t forget to enter my giveaway! You could win a copy of Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book, a year subscription to Pure Green Magazine, a bottle of Lavender Extract from Hatchery, or a copy of The New Artisan Bread in Five

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chocolate pudding cakes with no-churn basil ice cream | the vanilla bean blog
“I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.” -Anne Lamott
chocolate pudding cakes with no-churn basil ice cream | the vanilla bean blog
pudding cakes with no-churn basil ice cream | the vanilla bean blog
chocolate pudding cakes with no-churn ice cream | the vanilla bean blog
Three years ago to(almost)day I started The Vanilla Bean Blog. I don’t have a grandiose paragraph to write about this space, but I have to say that I never imagined all the wonderful opportunities that have come my way would happen. When I began blogging, I was a stay-at-home mom with two small children looking for a little outlet to help keep my whirling, never-quiet mind slightly sane. Now, I am a working-from-home mom with so many good things filling my plate.

It’s been a lovely adventure.

And I have to thank YOU (yes, you!). So many beautiful people have come into my life because of this small space, and I am blown away by your kindness and encouragement. So here’s a little giveaway to give you my thanks. There will be 4 winners for these four items: a copy of Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book, a year subscription to Pure Green Magazine, a bottle of Lavender Extract from Hatchery, and a copy of The New Artisan Bread in Five. I’ll pick the winners in one week, just leave a comment on this post with your email address. (And much thanks to Cooks Illustrated, Pure Green Magazine, Bread in Five, and Hatchery for donating such lovely gifts!) (Also, because the items are being shipped from the companies listed, the giveaway is only open to US residents.)
vanilla bean blog giveaway
And, of course, there’s chocolate pudding cakes with basil ice cream. This recipe is actually one of my very first posts, but I decided to re-do it. I’ve changed the recipe a bit here and there, and since it is one of my most favorite desserts, I thought it deserved another chance to shine (not buried away deep in the archives).

And! Minneapolis peeps! Recently I asked for your help in voting for me in the Saveur Food Blog Awards, and a good friend commented that if I won, “I bet she’ll make us chocolate cake!” I agreed, and now want to follow through on my promise. If you are a Minnesota local (or will be around here this Thursday) would you like to join me for chocolate cake and some sweet door prizes at Forage Modern Workshop? We’ll also be celebrating the Vanilla Bean Blog turning three. RSVP only, so if you’re interested in coming, please email me at thevanillabeanblog@gmail.com and I’ll give you all the details. I’d love to meet you and say thanks!

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Pure Green Magazine
*photo by Pure Green Magazine

‘In later life the idea of a moveable feast for Hemingway became something very much like what King Harry wanted St. Crispin’s Feast Day to be for “we happy few’: a memory or even a state of being that had become a part of you, a thing that you could have always with you, no matter where you went or how you lived forever after, that you could never lose. An experience first fixed in time and space or a condition like happiness or love could be moved or carried with you wherever you went in space and time.’ – Patrick Hemingway

I have a piece in the newest issue of Pure Green Magazine. It’s about Larry and Colleen Wolner from The Blue Heron Coffeehouse; the couple who made me fall in love with baking, and gave me structure for all my kitchen adventures. I spent a weekend with them last summer and we spent a lot of time in the kitchen: cooking, talking, and taking pictures. Here are some outtakes from our time, and a recipe for the simple, yet amazing, raspberry tart Colleen made. The story I wrote and other photos can be found in Pure Green Vol. 8, which you can order here. It’s a beautiful publication and if you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend doing so.
The Blue Heron Coffeehouse
The Blue Heron Coffeehouse
The Blue Heron Coffeehouse
The Blue Heron Coffeehouse
Colleen Wolner | The Blue Heron Coffeehouse
The Blue Heron Coffeehouse
The Blue Heron Coffeehouse
The Blue Heron Coffeehouse
One other unrelated thing:

Recently I asked for your help in voting for me in the Saveur Food Blog Awards, and a good friend commented that if I won, “I bet she’ll make us chocolate cake!” I agreed, and now want to follow through on my promise. If you are a Minnesota local (or will be around here the first week of June) would you like to join me for chocolate cake and some sweet door prizes at Forage Modern Workshop? We’ll also be celebrating the Vanilla Bean Blog turning three. RSVP only, so if you’re interested in coming, please email me at thevanillabeanblog@gmail.com and I’ll give you all the details. I’d love to meet you and say thanks!
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homemade vanilla extract | the vanilla bean blog
I’ve had ‘make vanilla extract’ on my to-do list for quite some time, and finally got around to doing so. Ever since Ashlae sent me a bottle of her delicious brew, I just wasn’t satisfied with the extract I purchased in the store. So this week I got to work, slicing open vanilla beans, jamming them into pretty bottles, pouring vodka all over them, and shaking them gently. Pretty easy work for something so wonderful. And now I must wait patiently for at least 8 weeks, and longer if I can manage it.

I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
One world is aware, and by the far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness, I can wait.
– Walt Whitman

homemade vanilla extract | the vanilla bean blog
homemade vanilla extract | the vanilla bean blog
homemade vanilla extract | the vanilla bean blog
homemade vanilla extract | the vanilla bean blog
homemade vanilla extract | the vanilla bean blog
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brioche doughnuts with chocolate glaze | the vanilla bean blog
On December 10, 2007, I was 9 months pregnant with my first child, my daughter Winter. That particular day in December was also her due date, and my 10-year ‘dating’ anniversary with Adam. Ten years ago that very night after walking around for hours talking about how we wanted to be more than just friends, we found ourselves in front of the Winona Middle School and kissed for the first time sitting on the cold, concrete steps. I was wearing my white grandma sweater that came with me everywhere, and Adam had on blue and red: sweater, jeans, hat, and gloves; it was all red and blue. He walked me home, and we were together from that day forward (well, except for the break-up, and the break-up in the break-up. It’s complicated).

So ten years later, we climbed in our car and decided to hit the town to do something special. But I had achy hips, and the strong braxton hicks contractions I had been experiencing all afternoon were terrifying me, so I insisted we stay within 10 minutes of our house. This sort of put a damper on ‘hitting the town,’ and we drove around and around our neighborhood unable to decide where to eat. Finally after a half hour of arguing about restaurants and laughing hysterically, we pulled into an Applebees.

It was not the place I wanted to celebrate our years together. But, all I wanted was a chocolate malt. I wasn’t hungry, really, only tired, as my body was about to produce another body. So we sat down in an over-sized booth, and I drank my chocolate malt while we spent our time remembering so many important details from that night on the middle school steps.

*******************************
April has not shown herself to be kind, and we just made our way through another stressful weekend on top of a stressful week. In a moment of weakness I jumped in the car at 8 pm Monday night and bought ice cream and chocolate syrup at the local grocery store. As I loaded the bag in my trunk, I glanced across the parking lot and saw that same Applebees all lit up like a Christmas tree. I hadn’t been in since our anniversary date, and I found myself smiling, remembering that night so long ago. Here I was again, years later, about to sell my birthright for a chocolate malt. I went home to Adam, and put the ice cream and syrup and a huge splash of bourbon in the blender. We drank those cold shakes in silence, smiling and nodding. It may have rained for forty days and nights this week and I have more on my plate than I can chew, but it was quietly forgotten for a brief moment. I sat there, remembering how I looked into Winter’s eyes for the first time. They were dark, murky pools; they had never seen light. I held her close to me, memorizing her. She belonged to us now, and we belonged to her.

old wool sweaters, concrete stairs,
first kisses, hats and mittens,
comfy booths, long talks,
red and blue jeans, winter walks,
a splash of bourbon and chocolate malts,
that’s what little girls are made of.
brioche doughnuts with chocolate bourbon glaze | the vanilla bean blog

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wind and willow home
I’ve been a big fan of Wind and Willow Home for a long time now. Araya’s colorful bowls are popping up everywhere, and rightly so. A few weeks ago I stopped by her home studio to see her space and snap a few photographs. I was happy to find she was kind and funny, exactly how I imagined her. She is an artist worth supporting.
wind and willow home
wind and willow home
wind and willow home
wind and willow home
Recently Araya started a new project, for coordinating table wares such as tea towels, napkins and table linens in the same organic modern to style Wind and Willow Home has come to be known by. She has a campaign started on Indiegogo to bring her unique, hand inked soft goods line to life. And while the linens and towels are gorgeous, what I’m equally excited about is her BOWL FULL project.

It has always been a dream of mine to help change people’s lives. I have been so fortunate in this endeavor that I want to show my gratitude by paying it forward.   A portion of the funds raised through this Indiegogo campaign will help to launch our BOWL FULL initiatives.  Through the BOWL FULL project, Wind & Willow Home will donate a minimum of 1 meal per item sold to feed the hungry near and far, in addition to volunteering our time in pursuit of this cause. 

If you’d like to help Araya and the BOWL FULL project, check out her campaign here.
wind and willow home
wind and willow home
wind and willow home
wind and willow home
wind and willow home

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mixed berry scones with creme fraiche and lavender | the vanilla bean blog

“How can I find the words? Poets have taken them all and left me with nothing to say or do.”
“Except to teach me for the first time what they meant.”
-Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Dorothy Sayers: A Busman’s Honeymoon

I’m not one for using expletives much in my day-to-day, but I must admit this past Monday a very loud one flew out of my mouth as my twitter notifications lit up my phone. Somehow, I had won the Reader’s Choice portion of the Saveur Food Blog Awards for Baking and Desserts. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m still pinching myself. It’s a huge honor, a dream come true, and I have you to thank. All you wonderful, lovely readers who took the time to cast a vote my way, thank you so much.

I share the category with the amazing Izy from Top With Cinnamon (who won Editor’s Choice), and I am excited that in just over a month I get to meet her, along with so many other favorite bloggers.

But in the meantime, scones! My family went out Monday night to celebrate with dinner, but I just had to bake something, too. Mixed berries, crème fraîche, and lavender seemed like a good combination, and they might be my favorite scones to date. The berries are tart, the lavender subtle, and the crème fraîche smooth and dreamy, rounding everything out. A perfect way to start the day.
mixed berry scones with creme fraiche and lavender | the vanilla bean blog
mixed berry scones with creme fraiche and lavender | the vanilla bean blog
mixed berry sconese with creme fraiche and lavender | the vanilla bean blog
Also, a few things:
-Michael Jackson. Amazing.

-Great writing advice, all in one place.

-The Office Stare Machine.

-I can’t wait for Kimberley’s new book! And, Erin’s too!

-I’m now contributing over at Wit + Delight! You can check out my first post, for Strawberry-Basil Smoothies.

-I also have Chocolate Sugar Cookies up on Handmade Charlotte.
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