buttermilk cake with strawberry buttercream | the vanilla bean blog

I’ve been making cakes (and cakes and cakes and cakes) for my cookbook, and I think I am almost done with that chapter. Almost. I think. I can’t stop myself from constantly tinkering with recipes and my family, my neighbors, and everyone at my husband’s office is officially tired of eating cake. But! I did make the yellow cake of my dreams, and yesterday I got the chocolate cake just right. I will need make it again tomorrow, just to be sure. Progress is exciting.

Buttercream is also being worked on. I started with the rhubarb buttercream I made last year; switching out strawberries for the rhubarb. It turned out lovely, and my daughter and I were enamored with the pale pink frosting. Technically this is a cheater’s post (since I really didn’t change that much from the original recipe), but after we put some flowers from the garden on top (and some fairies from her toy box), I thought it deserved it’s own space on the blog.

buttermilk cake with strawberry buttercream | the vanilla bean blog

buttermilk cake with strawberry buttercream | the vanilla bean blog

buttermilk cake with strawberry buttercream | the vanilla bean blog

(The pretty pink cake plate is from Dishes Only.)


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cake | the vanilla bean blog
‘The great chefs of France and Italy learn about food at home; what they do later, in the restaurants that make them famous, is use what they have learned. They build on it, they start elaborating. They take home cooking to the restaurant, not the restaurant school of cooking to the home. Inverting the process is like learning a vocabulary without any grammar…We are at risk, here, of becoming not cooks but culinary mimics. There are some things you cannot learn from a professional chef.

For there is more to cooking than being able to put on a good show. Of course, there are advantages in an increased awareness of and enthusiasm for food, but the danger is that it excites an appetite for new recipes, new ingredients: follow a recipe once and then – on to the next. Cooking isn’t like that. The point about real-life cooking is that your proficiency grows exponentially. You cook something once, then again, and again. Each time you add something different and what you ends up with differs also…Cooking has become too much of a device by which to impress people rather than simply to feed them pleasurably.’ – Nigella Lawson, How to Eat


more reading/viewing:

A day in the life of Pinterest.

The saddest cookbooks ever.

Ice Ice Baby. I love this version.

Celebrities reading poetry.

Some life advice.

Izy’s food photography tips.

National Doughnut Day! Come play along.

(Also, I have Blueberry Puff Pastry Tarts on Handmade Charlotte, and Cherry Buckwheat Scones on Food 52.)

puff pastry tarts with twangy blueberries
Four years ago when I started this space I set up a Flickr account, mostly because everyone else was doing it. I browsed through pages and pages of photographs and profiles, and after falling down long rabbit holes of foodie pics and vacation photos that inspired serious bouts of envy, I found this cake made by Tara O’Brady. There was something about it that made me pause. All the subtle streaks of color in the frosting, that uneven pattern made with a spoon, and the well-worn wood it was resting on was a perfect union of comfort and class; simplicity mixed with unpretentious sophistication. Without hesitation I clicked on the link to Tara’s blog, and started faithfully reading Seven Spoons.
twangy blueberry sauce | the vanilla bean blog
Twangy blueberry sauce is found in Tara O’Brady’s new cookbook; a collection of recipes that is “less about innovation and more about getting supper on the table, but doing so thoughtfully, and beautifully, too.” It is everything I look for in a book on cooking: beautiful photographs, thoughtful writing, and recipes I want to put on repeat. This twangy berry sauce does not disappoint. Neither does the Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies, the Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream (with candied cacao nibs!), the Poppy Seed Snacking Cake, or the most perfectly perfect biscuits you will ever make with your own two hands. My copy is already dusted with flour, and its pages are stained.

“A cookbook’s value is only half on the page; the other half is in the action it inspires. My goal in sharing these recipes and lessons is for you to come away empowered to trust your instincts, to consider your own perspective and opinions, and to keep you well fed.” -Tara O’Brady

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“I can eat anywhere, standing up if I have to. That said, I have always loved the idea of a kitchen table around which people can gather. Having spent a good year or more scouring the Internet, antique shops, and salvage yards for something that works for me, I finally decided to have one made. The idea had never crossed my mind until I saw, quite by chance, a barn pile high with thick oak planks, each one with its own notches and splits, ridges and undulations.

My preference is for a simple, unpolished, everyday table that will show the timber in all its natural beauty. A table that will get better for a few wine rings, oil spots, and maybe even the odd burn from a hot casserole. Scars can hold a great beauty…

The timber is fragile and has been dried, wrapped in burlap, and sprayed in every-decreasing amounts for up to five years. It now lies stacked, with air circulating around it, in a Berkshire barn, waiting to live again. We discuss planning, carving, polishing the wood, but I decided the moment I saw it that we would do as little as possible to it. As I rub my hand along the chocolate-colored planks, I faintly wonder what will be its first meal.”
-Nigel Slater, June 15 A New Kitchen Table


‘We live in a world where twists and turns are applauded. I’ve had my share of bacon-, avocado-, and cheese-flavored ice creams – most of which I could do without. And a whole year once passed when I didn’t eat a scoop of vanilla ice cream. When I finally did, my taste buds, wiped clean of their memory of vanilla, experienced something new. I felt like I was drinking fresh water after a lifetime of wine. ..

Real innovation is not about chasing the fashionable, but having an inherent beauty. It’s not about a sampling of cleverness, but honest consideration for what works well. That’s vanilla ice cream. If you haven’t had it for awhile, take a bite of a truly delicious scoop. It’s the one flavor that proves itself to be not just a passing fancy, but an eternal romance.’  – Dominique Ansel The Secret Recipes


I am resurrecting my Silent Sunday posts – a quote or reflection from something I’m currently reading. I’m highly enjoying Ansel’s cookbook; so much wisdom and food for thought among its pages.

rhubarb puff pastry tart | the vanilla bean blog
Rhubarb finally made an appearance at my local co-op. It’s ruby red stalks called to both me and the puff pastry tucked away in my freezer, so I took it home with me and set to work. I had this recipe in mind, and didn’t change anything except to stir some raspberry jam into the creme fraiche, and sprinkle the tarts with a good amount of granulated sugar.

My brain is temporarily on lock down, after a month of sick kids and allergy season slowly setting in. So here are some links for your Friday:

Murmuration. Pretty amazing.

I can’t get enough of Melody Gardot‘s latest song.

All the things Anne Lamott has learned in 61 years.

This is a good rumor.

What playing a musical instrument does to your mind.

The perfect cookbook to get your mom.

John Steinbeck and his diary.


Super flattered to be included in Inspired: Top Food Blogs. There are 100 blogs listed, so you can find some new reads.

Also! If you have had trouble in the past signing up for my post via email, it’s now been fixed. You can sign up on the side bar if you are so inclined.
rhubarb puff pastry tarts | the vanilla bean blog

rhubarb puff pastry tart | the vanilla bean blog

lemon white chocolate scones | the vanilla bean blog
I still have a bags of lemons and blood oranges in my refrigerator. Maybe it’s the Minnesota in me, but I never quite believe spring is really here until April is over and done. After years filled with brief moments of blissful warm followed by weeks of dreary cold rain mixed with snow, I don’t trust this ‘second’ month of spring. So the citrus stays a little bit longer.
lemon white chocolate scones | the vanilla bean blog

lemon white chocolate scones | the vanilla bean blog
If you’ve followed along here long enough, you know I have a thing for scones. This white chocolate and lemon combination is inspired by Erin Alderson’s new book, The Easy Vegetarian Kitchen. Her scones contain poppy seeds, but lately I’ve been intrigued with white chocolate, and decided to see how it paired with lemon. The marriage has my blessing.
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toasted sesame oil cookies | the vanilla bean blog
I don’t want to be demure or respectable.
I was that way, asleep, for years.
That way, you forget too many important things.
How the little stones, even if you can’t hear them, are singing.
How the river can’t wait to get to the ocean and the sky, it’s been there before.
What traveling is that!
It is a joy to imagine such distances.
I could skip sleep for the next hundred years.
There is a fire in the lashes of my eyes.
It doesn’t matter where I am, it could be a small room.
The glimmer of gold Böhme saw on the kitchen pot
was missed by everyone else in the house.

Maybe the fire in my lashes is a reflection of that.
Why do I have so many thoughts, they are driving me crazy.
Why am I always going anywhere, instead of somewhere?
Listen to me or not, it hardly matters.
I’m not trying to be wise, that would be foolish.
I’m just chattering.

-Mary Oliver
toasted sesame oil cookies with bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog

toasted sesame oil cookies with bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog

toasted sesame oil cookies with bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog
Toasted sesame oil may seem like an unusual addition to a cookie, but it’s actually quite delicious. The nutty oil is sweetened by the sugar in the cookie, and paired with chocolate it’s a perfect treat. A little green tea ice cream doesn’t hurt, either (I got some from Snoqualmie, but you could also make your own).

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espresso semifreddo | the vanilla bean blog
(1) Turn off the Radio.

(2) Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all magazines.

(3) Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You should hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken. If it does not sound nice, try again.

(4) Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means if you are interested only in writing you will have nothing to write about…)

(5) Take great pains to be clear. Remember that though you start by knowing what you mean, the reader doesn’t, and a single ill-chosen word may lead him to a total misunderstanding. In a story it is terribly easy just to forget that you have not told the reader something he needs to know – the whole picture is so clear in your own mind that you forget that it isn’t the same in his.

(6) When you give up a bit of work don’t (unless it is hopelessly bad) throw it away. Put it in a drawer. It may come in useful later. Much of my best work, or what I think is my best, is the rewriting of things begun and abandoned years earlier.

(7) Don’t use a typewriter. The noise will destroy your sense of rhythm, which still needs years of training.

(8) Be sure you know the meanings (or meanings) or every word you use.

From the letters of CS Lewis: TO A SCHOOLGIRL IN AMERICA (who had written, at her teacher’s suggestion, to request advice on writing)

I would never classify myself as writer per say, but writing has always been an important part of my self expression, for better or worse (worse being a stash of badly rhymed love poems written in my high school years that are stashed away where no one will ever find them). I’ve always best articulated my musings via the written word. This past year has been quite busy and full of change (moving and cookbooking, especially), and I’ve found myself struggling to write words, or even find words to help move my thoughts along. The good news is I’ve been reading more, mostly in hopes that someone else will have the sentences I’ve been looking for.

I stumbled upon CS Lewis’ book of letters. I had just finished reading Dorothy Sayer’s, and then Tolkien’s, and have discovered in the process that reading other people’s mail might be my favorite past time. Lewis’ book is quite a read: he starts off an athiest and ends up religious (which makes for an interesting storyline that may not be everyone’s cup of tea) but along this personal journey are letters of his travels, pages and pages of books that have inspired him, notes to young readers, tips on writing, thoughts on the death of his father and then his wife, mentions of tea-time, walking tours, and all of the other in-between times a day holds. There were moments reading when I nodded along in agreement, and then times I threw the book down in frustration (his views on women: two thumbs down). There were letters where I loved him, and letters where he absolutely annoyed me. But over the course of the book he made me want to ask more questions, and read everything, and never stop writing. A mark of a good teacher, I think.
espresso semifreddo | the vanilla bean blog

espresso semifreddo | the vanilla bean blog
Espresso Semifreddo. I tried to think of something clever to tie the above paragraphs to this dessert, but I’ve got nothing. I’ll just say that Linda Lomelino’s Ice Cream book is a gorgeous read, and while it may not send me to my desk with pen and paper, it does impel me to grab my camera and do a better job at capturing the beauty around me. Also, it absolutely inspires me to make ice cream.

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