banana cake with penuche frosting | the vanilla bean blog
My family is still fighting off colds and coughs and what-have-yous,  so it may be very obvious as you read along that I have not had enough sleep this week, and have spent the majority of my days listening to chapter books being read, catching up on my multiplication tables, and watching too many episodes of whatever it is sick peeps want to watch (I’ll admit it’s funny, but my head is about to explode from Candace and Dr. Doofenshmirtz).

But I did sneak in baking this cake, and I bring it to you just in time for the weekend. It’s found among the pages of Food 52’s Baking Book, a lovely collection of baking ‘best-ofs’ from the site. I’ve always had a thing for bananas in cake, although I rarely make it – chocolate seems to reign on high around here. This will have to be added to the rotation, however, as it’s so dang good and won’t be overlooked any longer come birthday time.
banana cake with penuche frosting | the vanilla bean blogbanana cake with penuche frosting | the vanilla bean blogbanana cake with penuche frosting | the vanilla bean blog

A few things that helped us all this week:

The new Innocence Mission Album

This book – my daughter and I both teared up at the gorgeous drawings and bittersweet ending. Also, James Marshall kept us laughing every day.

Episodes of Family Tree (why just one season?)

Trying to find a used copy of this amazing series that doesn’t cost my soul.

Have a lovely weekend! I’d love to hear what you’re reading/listening to/watching.

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bittersweet chocolate shortbread tarts | the vanilla bean blog
I have a thing for this bittersweet chocolate filling; I used it for years when I baked professionally, and find myself turning to it often when I need an upgraded dessert. I have a similar recipe for it here (which I had forgotten about until after I made and photographed these, of course), and I’m not sure which version I prefer. The shortbread crust is rich and pairs nicely with the smooth chocolate, and the brown sugar whipped cream makes each bite a dreamy affair.
bittersweet chocolate shortbread tarts | the vanilla bean blogbittersweet chocolate shortbread tarts | the vanilla bean blog

 

bittersweet chocolate shortbread tarts | the vanilla bean blog
My brother and (almost) sister-in-law came over this weekend; I took some ‘save the date’ photos for them. Now that Cassie is part of the family, she finds herself roped into helping me with photos here as well (my sister and brother-in-law finally get a break). Martha Stewart Living sent me some pieces of from the Stockholm Indigo Collection (from the Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s) to highlight, and Cassie willingly put on an apron and held some tarts for me. She’s a keeper.

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blood orange + chocolate shakes | the vanilla bean blog

 

blood oranges | the vanilla bean blog

 

blood orange + chocolate shakes | the vanilla bean blog
‘I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.’
-Gary Soto, ‘Oranges’

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sarah kieffer

sarah kieffer

sarah kieffer

sarah kieffer

sarah kieffer

I finally got to meet baby Margot, and take a few pictures of her as well. This family has been dear friends for years and years, and it is such a joy to welcome their new little.

Some links for your Sunday reading and viewing:

I have always believed that trees are friends, and I can’t wait to read this book

I’m a big fan of Vivian Maier’s street photography, and this glimpse into her past is an interesting read

Top 10 kitchens in literature

You’ve mostly likely seen this, but it makes me laugh every time I watch it: Kylo Ren: Undercover Boss (also, outtakes)

Nigel Slater on the joy of cooking

Portlandia food sketches

How to write: a year in advice

That time Jane Austen drank too much wine

 

 

chocolate chip cookies: the year of the pulse
January is almost over, and I’ve officially caught my first cold of 2016. Somehow I squeaked through the first half of winter without one, but alas, I’m currently curled up on the couch with a box of kleenex. This means, however, I can perhaps do some catch up in internet land. It’s been slow around here (you, ah, might have noticed) as I’ve been finishing up work on my cookbook.

A little bit of blog news: The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulse, and I’ve just taken the Pulse Pledge, committing to eat pulses once a week for the next year. Pulses are beans, chickpeas, lentils and dried peas; leguminous crops that are good for your health and good for the environment. I’ll be posting recipes involving them periodically this year, incorporating pulses not only in my savory cooking, but baking recipes as well. That may sound scary, but I promise it’s not.
chocolate chip cookies: the year of the pulse

 

chocolate chip cookies: the year of the pulse Read More

sarah kieffer

sarah kieffer

sarah kieffer
This past week I got to tag along while my sister-in-law-to-be tried on wedding dresses, and sneaked a few shots during our time. We’re all terribly excited she’s going to be part of the family.

David Bowie and Alan Rickman left us this week. Here’s some Sunday morning reading and viewing to celebrate both:

oh!youprettythings
David Bowie’s Formative Reading List
Chilly Gonzales: Pop Masterclass
David Bowie cookies
David Bowie: Invisible New Yorker
Seu Jorge Sings Changes
Musical Changes
All the Tributes
David Bowie Answers the Famous Proust Questionnaire
My Real Name is David Jones

afterallthistime?always
Empire Interview
Daniel Radcliffe remembers
Alan to Alan
Top 20 Movie Quotes
GIF Tribute
Snape Forever
The Last Interview
sarah kieffer

This post is in partnership with The Quaker Oats Company.
Mocha Oatmeal | the vanilla bean blog
January is often a time of reflection and change, and after spending the past 15 months baking my little heart out for my cookbook and buying and consuming more butter than I ever thought possible, it’s time to pay attention to the foods I’m eating. I’ve always been terrible with moderation; I usually cut all sweets and fat out of my life for a determined amount of time and then find myself slowly back on sugar train, in a never-ending circle of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ eating. There is a place for a variety of food in a diet, but I’m still learning how to integrate them well.
Mocha Oatmeal | the vanilla bean blog
Quaker reached out and asked me to be a part of their Bring Your Best Bowl program, a contest that celebrates oatmeal and all the different ways it can be enjoyed (to enter the contest and create your own unique oatmeal flavor, see below). I thought it would be a good fit for this New Year, as oatmeal for breakfast is always something I’ve wanted to incorporate into my routine. I came up with a flavor combination that was a little indulgent; it was inspired by my need for daily coffee and an afternoon bite of chocolate. It was a very good way to start my day.
Mocha Oatmeal | the vanilla bean blog

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yogurt bowl with honey saffron | the vanilla bean blog
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”
-Neil Gaiman
yogurt bowl with saffron honey | the vanilla bean blog

saffron honey | the vanilla bean blog

yogurt bowl with saffron honey | the vanilla bean blog

yogurt bowl with saffron honey | the vanilla bean blog

yogurt bowl with honey saffron | the vanilla bean blog

yourt bowl with saffron honey | the vanilla bean blog
Hello, and happy New Year. Things on this end have been terribly busy, and I apologize for the silence again. I’m popping in quick to bring you this amazing saffron honey from Heidi Swanson‘s new book, Near & Far. It’s been one of those cookbooks I curl up with on snowy afternoons and late evenings, enchanted by Heidi’s beautiful captures and intriguing flavor combinations. I highly recommend adding it to your book collection.

I hope your January is off to a good start, and I’ll be back in a few days with some breakfast goodness for you.

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sarah kieffer

I wrote this a few years back and revisited it recently; it was a good reminder to myself on what I want the focus of the Holiday season to really be.

The Holiday season has come and gone again. I sit quietly in my home, and although the fire is burning bright, I am chilled from too little sleep. I always feel so reflective in this time, so nostalgic. The ripping of paper, the ringing of laughter, the smell of peppermint and ginger fill my memory again. I am a child, reveling in Christmas cheer, and yet also I am a grown adult, making memories for my own children. Somehow this is all rolled into one big blur; an abstract painting of time and emotions. There is no picture, yet there are many pictures. Happy and sad, joyful and tearful, the silence of night and the clanging bells of morning are all on my canvas. I stare, taking time to ponder their meanings.

My parents did not grow up in normal, well-functioning homes. When my mother, rather reluctantly, tells us stories of her Christmas past, I always find myself amazed at the carelessness of my Grandparents. It’s hard for me to even write this, to recall that my Grandma was the dearest of Grandmothers, but not an attentive mother. All the cousins, those tiny dear little ones looking to the Heavens for Santa to come, were left to their own devices, alone on Christmas Eve, while their parents enjoyed Christmas parties somewhere else. The adults would arrive home too late to recall, and spend Christmas Day miserable and hung over, yet still filling their cups high, trying to drown out their own memories. When I think of this story past, I am reminded of wise words I jotted down years ago, “But then there are days when we feel like we’re auditioning for a starring role in the book of Ecclesiastes. Did any of it matter at all? Did we accomplish anything even remotely unique, or worthwhile, or useful? … [S]ome days are a drawn veil: we just can’t seem to access the meaning in any of it… [T]here are days now when we pan back on a chapter that’s ending, and the overwhelming feeling is, we had so little time. The years vanished. Take care what you hang a life on.”* That last line flitters through my mind frequently. Take care of what you hang a life on. If someone had whispered that to my Grandmother, and if she would have listened…

But these are not my memories. When I think back to my childhood, my holiday experience, there is a rush of sincere joy that fills me. We had an old, rugged Christmas tree that didn’t require water, but there was nothing like the thrill of my dad pulling the giant, torn box it was kept in out of the laundry room. He would mutter under his breath as he assembled it; it was miserable work and that darned thing wasn’t well made, but we were oblivious to his mumbling, dancing around the half-assembled tree, singing songs full of holly and cheer. Joy to the world! My sister and I would grab for the tree decorations, fighting over who got to hang the prettiest ornaments. My little brother would tackle our legs, knocking things out of our hands and singing out of key. We would chase him, yell at him, laugh with him. The smell of sugar cookies, ornately decorated by all of us just before, filled the room. Mom would start a simmering pot of hot chocolate, complete with tiny mini marshmallows. We would start the count down to Christmas Day. It was beautiful, all of it.

Then Christmas Eve would arrive, and the celebrations would begin. There were appetizers at Grandma’s – a table piled with food and more food. In one corner tiny meatballs soaked in a crock pot full of thick sauce, surrounded by bowls full of potato chips in every color. My Grandma’s stash of roasted salty nuts were scattered around the house, along with trays of black olives and carrot sticks. My sister and I always found spots by the cheese tray and filled our small faces full. After all the eating, we would start on gift opening. It was as if my Grandma had purchased a small toy store and moved it into her living room; there were so many boxes and bags we could barely see above them. We were sure we were dreaming. When it was time to leave we were a complete mess, wired on a sugar rush, ready for Christmas Day. My parents would drive us around the city to look at all the Christmas lights, and we would sing softly together. Silent night, Holy night. Our hearts willingly prepared room, and we were calm and bright.

The next morning we would wake up with a start, bouncing off the walls with excitement, racing out to that old tree to see what was under it. And there, somehow, the presents had miraculously doubled, no tripled; my dad having spent much of November and December working overtime so he could watch his children’s faces light up at the sight of so many toys and goodies. After all the paper had been thoughtlessly torn, and the house was completely covered in every kind of wrapping, we would then spend the day together, enjoying our new gifts; enjoying each other. We nibbled on leftover cookies and bars, we sipped hot apple cider. We were content, glad to be in good company. There would be dinner later with family and friends, but those quiet hours together on Christmas were the real beauty of the Holiday.
sarah kieffer
When I compare my Christmas story with my parents’ version, I am always reminded of the power of choice. My mom and dad did not have the happiest memories, but instead of allowing them to dictate their future, they shaped their own way. They made the choice to not follow footsteps in careless wandering, but instead ventured off the path of bitterness and alcoholism, and from scratch made something beautiful and sustainable for their family. They took a right turn into wholeness and healing, beauty and giving. Of course, not everything was picture perfect that day – there was fighting and arguing among us kids, and some passive-aggressive behavior among the adults, but in my mind, those things are overshadowed by the beauty that my parents helped paint for us.

So now, as I study that painting in my mind, intent on those complex lines and shapes, I change my focus. Yes, there are imperfections and flaws, patterns and colors that don’t seem to make sense, but standing back I see the whole. I will now pick up my brush and add to it; colors and strokes to add form and direction that is clear and purposeful. They may seem messy now, and are wet from being freshly painted, but I hope when my daughter and son stand here, looking, they see the beauty and meaning that our family fought and worked for.  We will take care what we hang our life on.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
From ‘Ring Out Wild Bells‘ Alfred Tennyson

*’Take care what you hang a life on’ is from a letter Linford Detweiler sent out years ago to his devoted fan base. Mr. Detweiler plays and sings in the lovely band Over The Rhine.

ginger cake with crème fraîche buttercream and sugared cranberries | the vanilla bean blog
“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.” -Andrew Boyd

The theme of Christmas is a tale of benevolence, no matter what version of the story you are celebrating. We purpose to turn to our neighbor and offer what we have: there are good intentions of shoveling sidewalks, delivering cookies, donating money. Our children are reminded there is more to all of this then receiving, although it gets harder each year to convince them. They are introduced to Rudolph and Charlie Brown and Frosty on the screen, while adults everywhere paste on a smile and try to tune out the ill-will demonstrated across the lands. ‘Peace on earth,’ we sing together, in churches and on snowy walks, while decorating sugar cookies and sitting quietly by the fire. This year the words fall flat; hands that could be stretched out to give are too busy pulling triggers and pounding on keyboards, tearing down with a disturbing ease. Our news feed promotes constant anxiety with war and rumors of war, and depressing options for future leaders.
ginger cake with crème fraîche buttercream and sugared cranberries | the vanilla bean blog

ginger cake with crème fraîche buttercream and sugared cranberries | the vanilla bean blog

ginger cake with crème fraîche buttercream and sugared cranberries | the vanilla bean blog
Even as the last candle on my mantle flickers on these darkest nights of the year, my husband walks into the room and turns on a light. ‘Why are you hiding here in the dark?’ he laughs, and sits down beside me. I look around and see food and water, beer and cheese. There are piles of blankets and a roof that covers too much space; it keeps out rain and snow. I snuggle in next to him and remind myself that all is not lost. We have been given so much, more than we need. Although all spaces seem to be bombarded with hopelessness, we will still choose to do some good with our own hands, to share what we have, even if our hearts are ripped wide open* in the process. We will teach our children to do the same.

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

-By Wendell Berry (Nicole from Eat This Poem posted this piece last week, and it’s been a much needed read. Her post about it is very good read, too.)

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