pear + blackberry tartlets | the vanilla bean blog
sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love

(all the merry little birds are
flying in the floating in the
very spirits singing in
are winging in the blossoming)

lovers go and lovers come
awandering awondering
but any two are perfectly
alone there’s nobody else alive

(such a sky and such a sun
i never knew and neither did you
and everybody never breathed
quite so many kinds of yes)

not a tree can count his leaves
each herself by opening
but shining who by thousands mean
only one amazing thing

(secretly adoring shyly
tiny winging darting floating
merry in the blossoming
always joyful selves are singing)

sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love”
-E.E. Cummings
pear + blackberry tartlets | the vanilla bean blog
Spring! Is here! At least, our fingers are crossed it’s staying around for good. You never know in these parts.

A few things:
*If you’re a Flight of the Conchords fan, you may enjoy the new show Short Poppies,(on Netflix) starring Rhys Darby (who played Murray).

*Diala’s Kitchen! So beautiful.

*If you ever wanted to know how to make that Big Mac sauce at home, a chef from McDonalds shows you how (it’s not a joke, by the way. But it should be?).

*Two days left to vote in the Saveur Best Food Blog Awards!

*I’ve been enjoying Kate’s mixes.

*Burundi Beans are here! I’ve written about my lovely friend Kristy from Long Miles Coffee Project here and here, and you can find out about where to buy Burundi beans here. Support their amazing project!

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chocolate bread | the vanilla bean blog
‘In a way, baking stands both as a useful metaphor for the familial warmth of the kitchen we fondly imagine used to exist, and as a way of reclaiming our lost Eden. This is hardly a culinary matter, of course; but cooking, we know, has a way of cutting through things, and to things, which have nothing to do with the kitchen. This is why it matters. The trouble with much modern cooking is not that the food it produces isn’t good, but that the mood it induces in the cook is one of skin-of-the-teeth efficiency, all briskness and little pleasure. Sometimes that’s the best we can manage, but at other times we don’t want to feel like a postmodern, post-feminist, overstretched woman but, rather, a domestic goddess, trailing nutmeggy fumes of baking pie in our languorous wake.’ – Nigella Lawson

I don’t actually own Nigella’s How To Become A Domestic Goddess, but I’ve checked it out of the library a crazy amount of times, and have baked so many things from it’s pages. I’ve always loved the above quote by her; I’ve connected so much with her words: cooking cutting through things, and to things, which have nothing to do with the kitchen. There have been many moments stirring, or kneading, or dicing, that have brought me to my knees. My kitchen flour may be coated in flour, but some days I’m okay finding myself there.

Also this chocolate bread. I’ve baked this hundreds (and hundreds) of times at a little coffeehouse I worked at, but it has been years since I made it at home, just because. I was feeling rather celebratory today, and it seemed to fit the occasion perfectly. I wish I could share some with you; to say thanks, and cheers (see below).
the vanilla bean blog
And in other news: I don’t know how it happened, but somehow all you nice readers and friends nominated me for the Saveur Blog Awards, and I actually am a finalist in the Best Baking Blog category. I’m still a bit in shock, feeling stunned and terribly excited at the same time. So first of all, thank you so much. Thank you for coming to this space, and being so kind. I appreciate you all. That of course leads into secondly, which is in order to win the category, I need your votes. So if you wouldn’t mind, you can just click on this huge picture above, and it will take you to Saveur’s webpage, where you can vote. You do have to register to vote, but it just takes a login name and password to complete. Thank you so much!
chocolate bread | the vanilla bean blog

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banana pecan quinoa cake | the vanilla bean blog
banana pecan quinoa cake | the vanilla bean blog
banana pecan quinoa cake | the vanilla bean blog
banana pecan quinoa cake | the vanilla bean blog

‘Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.’ – Mark Twain

(I ran into these words by Mr. Twain this week. They were much needed after some unkind voices from the past spoke loud and clear unexpectedly. Letting go is never an easy task, aye?)

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sarah kieffer
sarah kieffer
sarah kieffer
sarah kieffer
sarah kieffer
sarah kieffer
I had another session with this lovely family; baby [M] just keeps getting cuter.

A few things:
The past few months I’ve been testing out a new app called Steller, which just came out this past week in the itunes store. It’s an app for telling stories, by using pictures, text, and video. I think it’s fantastic, and highly recommend you check it out (it’s free right now, too!). Here’s one of my favorite stories (did you know my Grandma was a contortionist?!).

Here’s a little winter mix for you (if it’s still gray and cold, like it is here).

Cara from Big Girls Small Kitchen has a dairy-free baking e-book out; it looks great!

My  husband and I can’t get enough of Wisconsin Foodie; I highly recommend checking it out out.

The Greycoats have a new song out (name your price for it!).

I’m totally making Ashlae’s two ingredient chocolate mousse this week.

I love Murray.

 

 

whole wheat pasta with balsamic-spinach-basil dressing | the vanilla bean blog
‘Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.’ – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars
whole wheat pasta with balsamic-spinach-basil dressing | the vanilla bean blog
whole wheat pasta with balsamic-spinach-basil dressing | the vanilla bean blog
whole wheat pasta with balsamic-spinach-basil dressing | the vanilla bean blog
whole wheat pasta with balsamic-spinach-basil dressing | the vanilla bean blog

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simple breakfast smoothie | the vanilla bean blog

‘Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby- awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.’ – Lemony Snicket

If you follow along my Instagram account, you know that I’ve been baking a lot lately. I’ve been enjoying all the likes and new followers my cakes and muffins and cookies have been getting, but after spending a few days in reflection, I’ve decided I need to take a little break from all the sugar and butter that’s been flying around my kitchen. There are many reasons involved here, but the main one is my food lifestyle has not been a healthy one as of late. I’ve found myself stress-eating and finding comfort in layers of puff pastry, instead of working through problems and issues that I need to face.

Several times over the course of this blog, I’ve written about needing to change the way I eat. It’s been dramatic, and hopeful, but never long lasting, or very fruitful. And I hesitate to write about it here again. Food has always been a touchy subject for me, as I spent most of junior high and high school slightly overweight and very insecure. The hallways of my high school were not safe to me; my size and shape were frequently pointed out (and, on particularily bad days, mooed at). I escaped in books and food.  I moved on to college, and set my mind on ‘becoming skinny,’  but lost weight in a very unhealthy way. I had finally obtained the frame I always hoped for, but I couldn’t love that body, either. Each look in the mirror was a critical one. I only heard the names I had been called growing up; I only saw an overweight girl looking back at me. The rest of the years played out mostly the same: a constant struggle of slightly gaining weight and then slightly losing it, but always obsessing about it. These last few years have only seen gain; after having two children, working through a friend’s death and some other personal issues, baking and eating has been a way to deal with the stress, to soothe the places of brokenness.

******
Two days ago my daughter came up to me and gently said, ‘I just think you’ve had too many treats today Mommy.’ This winter was brutal to us, cold and never-ending, with my family sick most of the time. I found myself in the kitchen more than ever. I’ve never met a kinder soul than my daughter, and her little voice, her sincere concern, really struck me. I decided then and there it was time to try, again, to make a change.

******
I’ve hesitated about posting this. This space was created to write a family food history, and while I want my chocolate cake and banana bread to be here, I think the struggle has a place, too. My normal tendency would be to start dieting or only eat fruits and vegetables for weeks and then burn out, but I know now the real issue is learning moderation, and finding a place of balance. This has always been the hardest lesson for me. I still have a few jobs that require baking, and I believe that celebrations require a cake, so there will still be butter and sugar in my life. The hard part is to work baking into my day or week, while eating well the rest of the time. I’ve taught myself an all or nothing approach, and now it’s time to learn balance. And while my last few years have taught me that there is no such thing as perfect balance, I think it’s important to try for it all the same.

So here’s my simple breakfast smoothie. It’s filling and delicious, with yogurt, bananas, berries, spinach, and honey. I’ve been making it the night before, and with a gentle stir in the morning, it’s ready and waiting to start your day off right.
simple breakfast smoothie | the vanilla bean blog
simple breakfast smoothie | the vanilla bean blog
simple breakfast smoothie | the vanilla bean blog
simple breakfast smoothie | the vanilla bean blog

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peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog
It snows in here.
It snows forever, but there’s no Christmas underneath this weather.
When it blows here and gets real cold,
I wanna trip myself and fall upon your fabulous sword
and move
here by the stained-glass window.
Forget about the inside ghetto.
Down here on the hardwood floor,
the lines on the ceiling start to swim once more
like a cheap Renoir,
a fake Van Gogh,
a pop Monet,
a blue Degas.
I breathe you.
I need you.
-Over The Rhine, Jack’s Valentine

I’ve had those lyrics running through my head since January; always winter, never Christmas* has sort of become my theme song this year. I apologize if I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but when your days consist of shivering, coughing, and cleaning up after sick peeps, you start to view the world through crazy eyes. And wake up every morning craving coffee. And chocolate cake. Although, I’ve discovered, eating cake for breakfast doesn’t really make my day any better, in fact, all that butter and sugar first thing can make it rather worse. So that’s when I came up with this breakfast bowl: peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and chocolate. Just a tiny bit of bittersweet grated over the top makes for a delicious bite, and is just enough chocolate to soothe my frazzled nerves.
peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog
peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and bittersweet granola | the vanilla bean blog
peanut butter granola with cacao nibs and bittersweet chocolate | the vanilla bean blog
‘[B]efore them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and seaweed, and the smell of the sea and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking for ever and ever on the beach. And oh, the cry of the seagulls! Have you ever heard it? Can you remember?’*
*Both from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by CS Lewis.

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chocolate mini cakes with hazelnut buttercream | the vanilla bean blog
‘Life is just this way, broken, and I am crazy for dreaming of something else.’ – Miranda July

This sentence stuck out to me today after a night of taking care of sick kids, another morning of -10 degree weather, more news of cancer and sadness, and a winter with no end in sight. Deep sighs, and one foot in front of the other.

I made these little cakes a few days ago, when the sun was shinning through our windows and we were saying things like, ‘finally we are all healthy!’ and ‘this cold can’t last much longer!’ Dreamers dreaming dreams.

Some beautiful things: Laura has a chocolate hazelnut torte up today, if you need a vegan and gluten free chocolate-hazelnut fix. Melissa made my chocolate bread and has exciting news. And, this article by The Onion helped me smile today. ‘You just have to keep carrying the flame inside you. No matter how hard it gets to be, you carry that g-d*m fire. It’s a hard world. Life is hard. But no matter what, you carry that fire, and you don’t let go.’
chocolate mini cakes with hazelnut buttercream | the vanilla bean blog

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lunch | the vanilla bean blog
Five days a week I make a lunch for my daughter to take to school. Some days she helps, picking and choosing what kind of sandwich, treats, and fruits and vegetables are tucked inside her lunch bag. I trim the crusts from her sandwich, and sneak a little note inside, reminding [W] that we are thinking of her, missing her. Other times I am muttering and grumbling as I make it, remembering right before bed that it needs to get done. Those are the nights I rummage through cupboards as I realize I am out of bread again, and desperately trying to find anything to fill up her bag.
lunch | the vanilla bean blog
But the point is, my daughter has a lunch, every day. And while occasionally it’s a hodgepodge affair, she always has healthy food to eat, and she never goes without. But sadly, there are many, many children who do not have this luxury. Did you know that 65% of all South African children live in poverty, and 20% of those children are orphans? The Lunchbox Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a daily meal for orphaned and vulnerable school children in township and rural areas of South Africa, a country where 65% of all children live in poverty. Receiving food encourages these children to stay in school and obtain their education. Today I have partnered with them and The Giving Table to help raise awareness for this important cause.

$10 can feed a child for a month, $100 for a year. The simple act of providing each child with protein-rich peanut butter sandwiches and a piece of fruit, or hearty soups, stews with vegetables or enriched porridge, makes a substantial difference as it nurtures and encourages each child’s attendance and performance at school. Not only is it often their only guaranteed meal of a day, but children are more likely to attend and stay in school to obtain this basic sustenance.

Interested in helping? Help us raise $5,000 by giving whatever you can today. Every child deserves lunch.
lunch | the vanilla bean blog
*All text in italics is from The Lunchbox Fund.

banana-chocolate-coffee muffins with whole wheat flour | the vanilla bean blog
I just got the notice, school is closed again due to cold weather. This never happens here in Minnesota, where we complain about the weather always but secretly pride ourselves in surviving it every winter. We are so strong, we can bike through blizzards! My daughter’s face will light up in the morning when she hears the news: you get to stay home yet again. She likes school just fine, but she loves home so much more.

And I like home so much more, too; I enjoy days tucked snug in our little house. But there are moments where the walls feel a bit too close together, and we are bumping into each other all day long, snippy and snappy and dreaming of oceans. We pull out mixing bowls and curl up with the same old books; there becomes less and less to say to each other.

‘Of course I’ll hurt you. Of course you’ll hurt me. Of course we will hurt each other. But this is the very condition of existence. To become spring, means accepting the risk of winter. To become presence, means accepting the risk of absence.’ (The Little Prince)
banana-chocolate-coffee muffins with whole wheat flour | the vanilla bean blog
I risk winter every year outwardly, but it’s taken me many years to begin to take a chance with it otherwise. I tend to fight it at first, but once January has set in, I usually decide to take the plunge. There is snow that muffles all sounds except a mind that won’t quiet, and a moon that seems to burn straight through frosted windows, it’s light cutting through skin and bone. There’s a wind so cold and clear it keeps the senses alive and awake through the darkest of nights. I breathe deep and rush in to ice and dark, and the hope of spring waiting for me, nearby.

A few things:

-Chris Pratt’s Ode To Jean Claude Van Damme (deleted Parks and Rec scene)

-’My smart little sister says that people are wrong when they talk about how you need to be brave to get out of your comfort zone, travel, and see things. The travel and perspective–the escapism, really–are a privilege. The real courage is needed at home, where the ordinary things don’t change unless you work to make them so, where you face old demons and new challenges, and where you can’t just get on a plane to the next destination.’ -The Yellow House

-I love Izy’s photographs.

-I was terribly excited to find myself on the Food & Wine blog last week. Also, some talk about books + food + other such things over on Paper/Plates.

 

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