one bowl tiramisu | the vanilla bean blog
Twice a week in the evenings Adam has band practice. The kids go to bed, he leaves, and I’ve got two whole hours to myself. Most nights I pop the top off a pale ale into an ice cold mug from the freezer, and snuggle into the couch by the fire, covered in piles of blankets. Then up goes the laptop, on goes the TV, and I spend all my alone time burning through sitcoms, editing photos, and catching up on work. Basically just staring at screens.

There is something about a quiet house in the evening hours that makes me feel unsettled. I like the voices from the television filling the first floor rooms, I like browsing my social media channels knowing there are other people around, awake. It’s time to myself, finally, but I’m not quite ready to be alone.

“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” -Virginia Woolf
one bowl tiramisu | the vanilla bean blog

I used to spend time each day in solitude: writing, meditating, and just being present. Somewhere among the years I let those minutes slip away, and forgot how to be still without being entertained. I’ve silenced the silence.

This has nothing to do with tiramisu. But the TV was extra loud tonight; the voices clashing with all the rambling thoughts I need to deal with but have put on hold. Time to power off here, and pick up a book. Or sit in the stillness, with just the bare things…

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labneh | the vanilla bean blog
I spent some time with Larry and Colleen Wolner while working on our column for Food 52, and one of the recipes we worked on was labneh, two ways. I had only approached labneh on the savory side of things, so topping it with raspberry coulis was a very nice surprise. The Wolners served it on thinly sliced toasted baguettes, and it was the perfect appetizer. Or dessert. I couldn’t decide.
labneh with raspberry coulis
labneh | the vanilla bean blog

labneh | the vanilla bean blog

labneh | the vanilla bean blog

I apologize for the space between posts lately. I’ve been busy over here testing recipes, and find myself wanting to put everything in the book. I’m trying not to neglect the site, but sometimes it’s hard to find time for everything.

A few things:

I really love this post by Phyllis.

I’m a super nerd and am reading this book.

I recently went to Los Angeles for the first time two weekends ago, along with some fellow bloggers and Hello Society. I had a lovely trip, and have a Steller story here if you want to take a peek.

My Kieffer Bros have a new puzzle game out: Blockwick 2! I spent almost an entire plane ride playing it. The game also made the itunes ‘best new game app’ last week; I’m so proud.

My last post for Wit & Delight: Grapefruit Rosemary Sparkler.

Cookbooks! I can’t wait for Tara’s book, and Sara’s book, and the new Food 52 book, and Kate’s book. (What other books should be on my list?)

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sarah kieffer





A few things:

Super excited about Food 52’s new cookbook. Also their new videos are pretty rad.

DAVID BAZAN. Just saw him play a house show and it was beautiful. Check out his Bazan monthly recordings.

Complicated coffee. I love this video.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is working my way through this Reading Challenge (but a Minnesota book instead of a Montana one).

Wind & Willow Home’s Luna Line (inspired by the phases of the moon) is gorgeous.

I’m sort of obsessed with Chilly Gonzales. But he’s so amazing.
He has pop music masterclasses and plays the piano with his feet.

Joni Mitchell.

I really like this song.

My husband’s band just put out an EP on bandcamp. You can listen here. Also, a little video:


chocolate orange cheesecake | the vanilla bean blog
“The definition of a fairy-story – what it is, or what it should be – does not, then, depend on any definition of historical account of elf or fairy, but upon the nature of Faerie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country. I will not attempt to define that, nor to describe it directly. It cannot be done. Faerie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible. It has many ingredients, but analysis will not necessarily discover the secret of the whole.

For the moment I will say only this: a ‘fairy-story’ is one which touches on or uses Faerie, whatever its own main purpose may be: satire, adventure, morality, fantasy. Faerie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic – but it is a magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician. There is one proviso: if there is any satire present in the tale, one thing must not be made fun of, the magic itself. That must in the story be taken seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away.” – J.R.R Tolken, On Fairy-Stories
chocolate orange cheesecake | the vanilla bean blog

chocolate orange cheesecake | the vanilla bean blog
I’ve spent a lot of time lately rereading fairy tales and stories, and books about authors who wrote fairy tales and stories, contemplating why they resonate with me so much, and determining their purpose in my life. I’m at the place where I’m ‘feeling all the feelings’ but don’t quite have sentences to articulate my thoughts. I find this happens a lot; the emotion comes far before the words, and I spend days and months trying to put the puzzle pieces together. Fairy-stories were so important to me as a child, and when I’m stressed or overwhelmed they are the books I immediately climb back into. The easy answer here is that they are just places to escape. I’m curious, however, about Tolkien’s reflections on Magic, and must admit I believe in it on some level. But, that’s all I’ve got so far. I’ll keep reading and thinking during these long, cold, winter nights.

Of course this has nothing to do with Aimée Wimbush-bourque‘s beautiful new book, or the cheesecake recipe found on its pages, unless of course you believe food has some kind of magic of its own. Are there, in fact, writers who jot measurements and short stories on paper, passing instructions from hand to hand, weaving tales throughout each generation? Does food have a history, contain ancient elements that have been preserved? Is joy, curiosity, enchantment, and even escape at times invoked? Maybe the act of cooking and eating is just primal instinct, nothing more than necessity. I’m not convinced.

“And actually fairy-stories deal largely, or (the better ones) mainly, with simple or fundamental things, untouched by Fantasy, but these simplicities are made all the more luminous by their setting. For the story-maker who allows himself to be ‘free with’ Nature can be her lover not her slave. It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.”

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chai tea latte | the vanilla bean blog
This week I took part in a ‘mini-cleanse’, which was much needed after weeks and weeks of baking and recipe testing. Recently the editors of Martha Stewart Living put out Clean Slate, a cookbook and guide focused on clean eating. The book describes clean eating this way: “Start with fresh produce, whole grains, and lean proteins; prepare them simply, and take the time to share and enjoy them.” It also involves “focusing on every aspect of our meals – turning away from our screens and devices and avoiding other distractions, so we can savor the process of cooking and eating.” I like this mindset, and while I do cook a majority of our meals from scratch, they tend to be focused on dairy and carbs, especially in these cold winter months.

The book has a great variety of recipes; everything you’d need to get through the day. It also has a 3-day plan for a ‘mini-detox’ and a 21-day action plan. I started with three days, although I must admit I cheated a bit. The book has a serious detox that involves the same meals for each day, but I knew without some variety I would quit early. So I made smoothies each morning for breakfast (blueberry-green tea from the book, and this strawberry-basil one), soup for lunch (a pot of this Buckwheat Noodle Miso Soup with Bok Choy was perfect all three days), and Ginger-Scallion Chicken in parchment was a favorite for dinner. Afternoon snacks were also a must! Chai lattes with almond milk were perfect alongside chocolate bark, and garlic-herb yogurt cheese was the best way to enjoy a little dairy. Overall I thought the recipes were great, and I also felt great eating so well.
clean slate cookbook

Bok choy and shiitake mushrooms in miso-lime broth | the vanilla bean blog

Ginger-scallion chicken in parchment | the vanilla bean blog

garlic-herb yogurt cheese | the vanilla bean blog

chocolate bark with cacao nibs + fleur de sel | the vanilla bean blog
The kind folks at Martha Stewart Living are giving away a copy of Clean Slate, as well as a bottle of the Martha Stewart Essentials Women’s Mutli-Vitamin and the Hair, Skin & Nails vitamins! To enter the giveaway: leave a comment with your name and email address below.

The Martha Stewart Everyday Entertaining Collection is available exclusively at Macy’s.

Although I was provided with a copy of Clean Slate, all opinions are my own.

buttermilk cake with blood orange frosting | the vanilla bean blog
If you follow along on my instagram account, you may have noticed I’ve been baking quite a bit since September (well, quite a bit more than usual, if that’s possible). The reason is that I have been recipe testing like a mad woman, working on my first book.

I’m still pinching myself about the whole thing. I spent all middle school and junior high writing short stories, novellas, and poems in the free time I had, dreaming that maybe one day my work would make its way to book form. So while ‘cookbook’ was never in my plans (I was always working on some Nancy Drew enters Narnia with Sweet Valley High make-out scenes type book), I am so excited to have this opportunity.

I still have a lot more work to do, but my cookbook will be coming out Fall 2016, and is being published by Avery in the US and Penguin in Canada. It will be a book focused on baking with a handful of favorites from this space, but will mostly contain new recipes. I will also be photographing the entire book.
buttermilk cake with blood orange frosting | the vanilla bean blog

buttermilk cake with blood orange frosting | the vanilla bean blog

buttermilk cake with blood orange frosting | the vanilla bean blog
So, how about cake to celebrate? I’m enamored with blood oranges, and decided to top a buttermilk cake with some blood orange frosting. The bright purple juice naturally dyed the icing a light shade of pink, and I couldn’t be happier. Gold sprinkles never hurt anything, either (and the color combination was inspired by these plates, which I have fallen so hard for). Hip Hip Hooray!

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Grand Marnier Orange Cake | the vanilla bean blog
“Gathering around the dinner table has been and still is the highlight of our day… We believe that eating together is more than just everyone sitting down at the table; it’s about the communal meal, which at its best is the ritual of sharing food, of cooking together, eating together, and laughing together. Our recipes return families to the idea of a common pot.”

A few weeks ago I was sent a copy of The Pollan Family Table, a cookbook celebrating good, simple food for the family table. I always appreciate cookbooks of this variety – as someone who tries to cook a dinner meal five times a week, I often find myself running out of ideas that my whole family will enjoy. This cookbook does just that. It inspires with healthy ingredients and seasonal recipes.

Of course I was drawn immediately to the dessert section, and so made Grandma Mary’s Grand Marnier Orange Cake. This cake! I must admit I usually go for chocolate-y things, but I had a bag of blood oranges and decided to try out the Bundt cake. This cake! It’s crazy good.
Grand Marnier Orange Cake | the vanilla bean blog

Grand Marnier Orange Cake | the vanilla bean blog

Grand Marnier Orange Cake | the vanilla bean blog
Leave a comment below (along with an email address) for your chance to win a copy of The Pollan Family Table!

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peanut butter-banana-coffee shake
A few months back I took part in With Food + Love‘s “21 Days to Lean and Green” program. It’s a three week mind and body reboot, focusing on slowing down and putting yourself, and your health, first. It was a great experience – Sherrie is a constant and thoughtful encouragement, and in that short time she gave a lot of great tools to help me stop and think about not only what I am eating, but why I am eating it. If you are looking for a little New Year motivation to work on healthy eating habits, this is a great place to start. The course consists of a 45 minute coaching session, 100+ plant-based seasonal recipes, unlimited email support, great handouts and resources, plus much more (which you can read about here). While my healthy eating is constantly in flux, I’ve found myself going back to recipes and handouts from this program when I need to refocus. There are also a few things Sherrie spoke to me over the phone that were so helpful to my personal food struggles, and they have really inspired me make better choices in my daily life.(Sherrie’s next session is starting soon, and if you sign up now and mention this post, you can take 10% the Lean and Green program.)
peanut butter shake | the vanilla bean blog

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chocolate magic shell
“But the kitchen will not come into its own again until it ceases to be a status symbol and becomes again a workshop. It may be pastel. It may be ginghamed as to curtains and shining with copper like a picture in a woman’s magazine. But you and I will know it chiefly by its fragrances and its clutter. At the back of the stove will sit a soup kettle, gently bubbling, one into which every day are popped leftover bones and vegetables to make stock for sauces or soup for the family. Carrots and leeks will sprawl on counters, greens in a basket. There will be something sweet-smelling twirling in a bowl and something savory baking in the oven. Cabinet doors will gape ajar and colored surfaces are likely to be littered with salt and pepper and flour and herbs and cheesecloth and pot holders and long-handled forks. It won’t be neat. It won’t even look efficient. But, when you enter it you will feel the pulse of life throbbing from every corner. The heart of the home will have begun once again to beat.” — Phyllis McGinley
sarah kieffer
My theme for this New Year is kitchen-as-workshop; I love the picture painted above: you and I will know it chiefly by its fragrances and its clutter…the pulse of life throbbing from every corner. Too often I find myself daydreaming about how to make my kitchen space bigger and better, ignoring the simple beauty in what my hands have put together on well-worn counter tops and aged appliances. The memory I hold to from my Grandmother’s kitchen is not of her posh center island or one-of-a-kind dishware, but of her long, wrinkled hands gracefully kneading bread dough on an old, wooden cutting board. There was soul in that wood, soul that just can’t be bought. The heart of the home will have begun once again to beat.
Almond Ring

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Holiday Cut-Out Cookies | the vanilla bean blog
This past weekend the kids and I headed to my sister’s house for a cookie decorating party. It was really a few hours to eat cookie dough and spill sprinkles all over Auntie’s floor, but we all sure had fun anyway. This December has been rather odd for me; our house troubles are still ongoing (we are now currently gutting our entire basement and can’t run our furnace in freezing Minneapolis) and my father-in-law has temporarily moved in with us for a bit (to help with said basement and spend time with the kids). All those things combined make me feel slightly displaced – our home still doesn’t feel like ‘home’ to us as we struggle with trying to find root problems and share space. My facebook feed has also been filled with tragedy this past week, adding another layer of sadness. I’ve been listening to a lot of holiday music, finding solace in lyrics of Christmas cheer and hidden thoughtfulness.

The table is set
And all glasses are full
The pieces go missing
May we still feel whole
We’ll build new traditions in place of the old
Cause life without revision will silence our souls

 So we sing carols softly
As sweet as we know
A prayer that our burdens will lift as we go
Like young love still waiting under mistletoe
We’ll welcome December with tireless hope
-Sleeping At Last, Snow

Speaking of Holiday music, my Best of Christmas vol. 3 is now up on 8tracks! You can find Best of Christmas vol. 1 and vol. 2 there also. (Check out Eustace the Dragon’s cover of Justice Delivers Its Gift on vol. 3 – I’m in love with their version. Also! they have a holiday EP out now. It’s worth every dollar.)

And this made me chuckle: James Thurber pens “A Visit from Saint Nicholas IN THE ERNEST HEMINGWAY MANNER” for The New Yorker, December 24, 1927.

Also: 51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature to cure a bad day.
holiday cut-out cookies | the vanilla bean blog

holiday cut-out cookies | the vanilla bean blog

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