nutella brownies | the vanilla bean blog
‘He stood staring into the wood for a minute, then said: “What is it about the English countryside — why is the beauty so much more than visual? Why does it touch one so?”

He sounded faintly sad. Perhaps he finds beauty saddening — I do myself sometimes. Once when I was quite little I asked father why this was and he explained that it was due to our knowledge of beauty’s evanescence, which reminds us that we ourselves shall die. Then he said I was probably too young to understand him; but I understood perfectly.’
-Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle
nutella brownies | the vanilla bean blog

nutella brownies with pumpkin ice cream | the vanilla bean blog

Billy Green from Wit and Vinegar just came out with a new book, and the recipe for these nutella brownies are found among its pages. If you haven’t checked out Billys’ blog yet, head over for good recipes and sassy conversation. “Oh, hello there. Thank you for picking up this book and flipping to this page to decide whethere or not you want to buy it. Your hair looks great today, by the way. You wanna talk about food?”

It’s an instant cure for the blues.

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Pumpkin Spice Braided Knots | the vanilla bean blog
It’s chilly today, but the sun is peeking out from behind its entourage of cloud cover. The oven is preheating, and my to-do list has so many items on it; every time I glance at it my mind goes black and can’t figure out where to start. Distractions everywhere are whispering to me. It’s so cozy on that couch. Maybe you could play Farms and Castles just one more time while watching Parks and Rec. I get out the butter, the sugar, the eggs, and flour. It’s time to get to work.

I’m sort of obsessed with these braided knots. I’ve been working on a version for my book, but couldn’t help also turning them into a post. They are so beautiful, and fairly easy to make once you get the hang of twisting and turning them.  I plan on making them this holiday season, and thought you might want try them, too.
pumpkin spice braided knots | the vanilla bean blog
Need more brioche in your life? I also have Pumpkin Spice Monkey Bread on Bread in 5 today!

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giant cinnamon buns with brown butter icing | the vanilla bean blog
I apologize for the space in between posts. I’m sort of stumbling through life right now – my manuscript is due shortly, and I’ve been working on a few side projects as well that have kept me very busy. The second my littles get on the school bus until the moment they get home, I am baking, writing, testing, re-testing, panicking, reassuring myself, still panicking, photographing, typing, and panicking. Then it’s evenings filled with trying to pry ‘what happened at school today?’ out of two beings who just don’t want to talk about it, and then homework and dinner and reading and bed (for them), and then more baking and writing and the pitter patter of small feet up and down the stairs so many times with questions and comments and scary monsters and water needs. Somewhere in there I chat with my husband and we watch an episode of Seinfeld together while I  try to sort through my inbox (apologies, apologies, if you haven’t heard back from me!) and then I shuffle upstairs and find somehow it’s morning again already, and someone hit the ‘play’ button when all I wanted was to press ‘pause’.

These are not complaints, however. Life is always in flux, and I am working hard in this crazy time, knowing that in just under two months I will send in all my hard work and then joyfully crash.  I’ve already warned my family that they won’t see me in anything but pajamas for an entire week after my manuscript is turned in, and I plan on doing nothing during those beautiful seven days except read this entire series, which has been on my ‘must-read’ list for years.
giant cinnamon buns with brown butter icing | the vanilla bean blog

giant cinnamon buns with brown butter icing | the vanilla bean blog
I’m sure however, that I will bake something during my all-inclusive vacation (all the coffee I can drink in the comfort of my own home sounds just fine at this point), and I wouldn’t mind waking up to a gigantic cinnamon bun some chilly morning in the near future. This swirly masterpiece is from Sarah Coates new book ‘The Sugar Hit‘. I’ve been a fan for awhile of Sarah’s fun and sassy approach to baking, and her book does not disappoint: ‘Think of me as your cheeky younger sister. I’m not a responsible older sibling who’s going to teach you how to apply lip-liner correctly, or explain why you should eat kale salad…I’m still working on those adult skills myself. What I have got worked out, though, is the short-cut route to the best, sexiest and tastiest sweet things for those days when it’s time to cut loose and enjoy yourself.’ (Sarah Coates) Perfect.

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Milano Cookie | the vanilla bean blog
‘I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.’ – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
milano cookies | the vanilla bean blog
(We can’t have it all. We just can’t be everything.)

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blueberry, almond, and plum crumble | the vanilla bean blog
This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
-William Carlos Willams
blueberry, almond, and plum crumble | the vanilla bean blog

blueberry, almond, and plum crumble | the vanilla bean blog

blueberry, almond, and plum crumble | the vanilla bean blog
I couldn’t resist posting that Williams poem to go along with a recipe involving plums. I’ll never forget reading it for the first time in my 9th grade English class, and becoming immediately enamored with playful poems that didn’t rhyme or seem to follow any rules. I went home and tried to mimic his style in pages of my journal, writing the worst poems known to man. But the attempts were sincere, and somewhere in my box of memories there is a stack of poems about peaches, plums, and dreamy boys who never noticed me.

Plums do make a good breakfast, however, and if you happen to have some of this crumble left over the next day, heating it up and topping it off with a little yogurt (or ice cream) is definitely a good idea. This summer crumble comes from Kate Doran‘s new book, Homemade Memories. Highlighting favorite childhood treats: ice creams, cookies, doughnuts, pudding pots, cakes, and every sugar-dusted possibility in between, it’s a collection of recipes perfect for any nostalgic baker. (Side note: I may have to give in and add this dish towel to my collection at some point.)
blueberry, almond, and plum crumble | the vanilla bean blog

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Are cookbooks still useful? Here’s some food for thought this week in the Guardian.

Food writer Prue Leith insists that “when we come to cook … the cookbook stays on the coffee table. Now the look of the book dictates the sale. In my day you could still buy a good cookbook in paperback with no pictures at all. I doubt if that would sell today. But those books were much used: they lived in the kitchen and got splattered with custard and gravy. Today, if we cook, we Google it. New cookbooks lie on the coffee table and we drool over Tuscan landscapes and rustic bread ovens. Before ordering in a pizza.”

Yotam Ottolenghi and Tim Hayward take up the argument and conclude that cookbooks are still relevant. “I believe many people do still cook from their cookbooks. They may not cook from all of them – many, no doubt, complete their job after an initial speedy flick-through, which is also fine by me – but there are certain books, illustrated and beautiful that we will always go back to, no matter how many more shiny spines are there alongside them on the bookshelves.” -Ottolenghi

“it seems bonkers to take a moral stance on how they should be enjoyed. For me, making a modern, illustrated food book means making an object that balances utility with entertainment in a way that appeals to a new and different kind of audience.” -Tim Hayward

In the comment section of The Guardian, some one brought up Daniel Pennack’s 10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader, suggesting that #6 could apply quite easily to recipes and food writing. I have to admit I agree.

1. The right not to read
2. The right to skip
3. The right not to finish a book
4. The right to re-read
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to “Bovary-ism,” a textually transmitted disease*
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right dip in*
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to be silent

*#6 – Bovary-ism: the right to mistake a book for real life
#8 – I’ve also seen this translated as ‘the right to sample and steal (“grappiller”)

“For me, a successful cookbook is one that is pored over at bedtime as much as it’s used in the kitchen. I don’t think one necessarily negates the other.” -Anna Valentine

Your thoughts? And what cookbooks are you cooking and baking from?

Raise awareness and end demand of human trafficking. My Sister T-shirts #shelivesfree
I know this is not food related, but I’d like to take a moment to shine a light on a serious topic: human trafficking.

A few months back, my friend Jonathan Sipola helped start My Sister, a benefit corporation dedicated to help end human trafficking (Not familiar with benefit corporations? You can read more about B Corps here). Did you know that there is an estimated 27 million adults and 13 million children around the globe who are victims of trafficking? Researchers estimate that more than 80% of trafficking victims are female, and over 50% of human trafficking victims are children. The FBI estimates that over 100,000 children and young women are trafficked in America TODAY. They range in age from nine to 19, with the average being age 11.*

These statistics make my stomach turn. And honestly, reading about it makes me feel incredibly hopeless. How can we change any of this? While this problem seems absolutely overwhelming, there are some small things we can do.

First, we can choose to not look away and ignore the problem. Educating ourselves will help make us aware of what is happening in our country, and even our own neighborhoods. Malls, bus stops, schools, libraries, and parks are often where victims are targeted. Second, we can volunteer. There are many opportunities out there to help victims (you can look into that here). Third, we can support people/non profits/benefit corporations who are working at making a difference. My Sister is dedicated to raising awareness, prevention, intervention, after-care, education, and ending the demand. When you buy one of their T-shirts, a percentage goes to making all of that possible (you can read more about that here). So if you were wanting to help somehow, this is an easy way to do so.
Raise awareness and end demand of human trafficking. My Sister T-shirts #shelivesfree

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no-churn mint ice cream | the vanilla bean blog

no-churn mint ice cream | the vanilla bean blog
“The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees’ blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit;
now it becomes a riddle again,
and you again a stranger.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
no-churn mint ice cream | the vanilla bean blog

In between squirt-gun fights and the jingle of bells on kid-sized bikes there is the faintest whisper, a warning. I wake up each morning knowing the sun will set a few moments sooner. The murmur, the rumor of change I choose to ignore, clinging instead to fire pits, swimming pools, canoe rides, and the blistering humidity that has reigned here all week. Let’s keep all this going, just a little bit longer. Please?

Our patch of mint has taken over the space made for it, plus the spot set aside for the basil. The tall stems are sprawling into our driveway, their muted purple flowers tickling our feet under the picnic table each time we take a meal outside. I’ve had good intentions of using those green leaves in plenty of dinners, but mostly it has just grown unruly, alive for the sole purpose of filling our house with the smell of toothpaste every time it rains. This weekend I finally took my scissors to the madness and put the plant to good use. An end-of-summer ice cream it has become; my favorite no-churn recipe that makes the whole sweet process quick and easy. You’ll now find us outside, enjoying all the melty drips while we still can.
no-churn mint ice cream | the vanilla bean blog

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“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.” – MFK Fisher

Some links:

Pretty clever junk food masterpieces

Love this version of Radiohead’s Creep

Food 52’s weekend reading lists are great

Such beautiful desserts!

Fascinated and freaked out by The Really Big One

I want to visit Japan

I’m totally enamored with Renee Kemps’ photographs

sour cherry shortcake with olive oil biscuits | the vanilla bean blog
In the cherry pluckt at night,
With the dew of summer swelling,
There’s a juice of pure delight,
Cool, dark, sweet, divinely smelling.
Merry, merry,
Take a cherry;
Mine are sounder,
Mine are rounder,
Mine are sweeter
For the eater
In the moonlight.
And you’ll be fairies quite.

When I sound the fairy call,
Gather here in silent meeting,
Chin to knee on the orchard wall,
Cooled with dew and cherries eating.
Merry, merry,
Take a cherry;
Mine are sounder,
Mine are rounder,
Mine are sweeter.
For the eater
When the dews fall.
And you’ll be fairies all.
-Emily Dickinson, Cherry-Time
cherry tree | the vanilla bean blog

sour cherry shortcakes with olive oil biscuits | the vanilla bean blog

sour cherry shortcakes with olive oil biscuits | the vanilla bean blog
A sour cherry tree stumbled into our lives this week, and after greedily picking as many cherries as I could, I am now spending afternoons pitting and freezing my dragon hoard of candied rubies. I want to make anything and everything with them, but I also am loath to use even one. It’s quite the dilemma.

I had been eying a recipe for olive oil biscuits with honey glaze in Maria Speck‘s beautiful new book, and decided to turn my little red gems into sour cherry shortcakes. I am pleased to report my treasure was not wasted. Crisp, honey-glazed biscuits, sour cherries coated in a bit of sugar, and a pile of whipped cream make the perfect end to a hot, summer day. Merry, merry, take a cherry | mine are sweeter, for the eater.
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