mini cakes

“Who I am is certainly part of how I look and vice versa. I want to know where I begin and end, what size I am, and what suits me… I am not “in” this body, I am this body. Waist or no waist.

But all the same, there’s something about me that doesn’t change, hasn’t changed, through all the remarkable, exciting, alarming, and disappointing transformations my body has gone through. There is a person there who isn’t only what she looks like, and to find her and know her I have to look through, look in, look deep. Not only in space, but in time.

There’s the ideal beauty of youth and health, which never really changes, and is always true. There’s the ideal beauty of movie stars and advertising models, the beauty-game ideal, which changes its rules all the time and from place to place, and is never entirely true. And there’s an ideal beauty that is harder to define or understand, because it occurs not just in the body but where the body and the spirit meet and define each other.”
-Ursula K. Le Guin on Aging and What Beauty Really Means (you can read more on Brainpickings, or find her book here.)

mini cakes

mini cakes

mini cakes

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Dunn Brothers Coffee

**This post is sponsored by Dunn Brothers Coffee. As usual, all opinions are my own.**

Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup. – Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

Spending time at a coffeehouse for hours on end has been a huge part of my life. My first introduction was at age eighteen; my friend Laurie picked me up in her sparkly white Saturn and drove me out of the suburbs into South Minneapolis, where we sunk into beat-up old couches in a grungy-but-rad neighborhood shop, sipping granitas. It was a smoke-riddled, Johnny Cash playing-by-day, Sound Garden-playing-by-night kind of place, where the locals sat around talking, chain-smoking, and drinking java until they were kindly kicked out each night. I was instantly hooked.

Sure, I drank some kind of slushy, sugary brew that made the coffee go down easier, but I loved tucking away in a corner and studying all afternoon during the winter months, or else chatting into the evening hours with people who I had nothing in common with, but somehow our coffee connection made us fast friends all summer long. (Also, I may have had a few months where I drove there each afternoon after work to ‘spend some time on my poetry’, sitting in a quiet corner feeling artsy and hip, but let’s pretend that didn’t happen.)

But now it is 2017 and I don’t have to drive far to get my coffee fix, as there is literally a coffeehouse on every corner, in the city and suburbs alike. So the question becomes: where should I purchase my coffee? There are many factors that are important to me when I go to answer this question. Taste and consistency is needed and valuable, but I also care a great deal about ethical sourcing practices (having friends who own a washing station in Burundi has made me even more acutely aware of how important this is).

Which brings me to Dunn Brothers Coffee. I honestly had overlooked Dunn Brothers back in my coffeehouse studying days; I had already established my routine elsewhere and change has always been hard for me to deal with. So when Dunn Brothers reached out, asking me to learn more about their shops and celebrate 30 years of business, I was eager to see what I had been missing. I knew there were quite a few Dunn Brothers in Minnesota, but didn’t realize they were scattered across Texas, Tennessee, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Iowa as well. And while some people may view them as ‘just another chain’, I was happy to discover that they are so much more than that.

Dunn Brothers Coffee

Dunn Brothers Coffee

Dunn Brothers Coffee

Dunn Brothers Coffee

Dunn Brothers Coffee

Dunn Brothers Coffee

Dunn Brothers Coffee

Dunn Brothers Coffee

I recently sat down with one of Dunn Brother’s owners, Skip Fay, who got me up to speed on the history and mission of the coffee company. Dunn Brothers started in 1987, and Skip opened his store (along with Chris Eilers) in 1992, with the intent of straying from the trendy shops on the scene; instead of cigarette smoke and alternative jams it would have a calmer vibe with clean air. People loved the atmosphere, and Dunn Brothers took off.

There are a few key factors that set these stores apart. Unlike chain stores, each is locally owned and operated. Another way Dunn Brothers strays from coffee chains is that individual stores roasts small batches of coffee beans on site daily. Much care and expertise is required here, so there is a master roaster at each location trained to make sure the beans are roasted properly and consistently.

Also, Dunn Brothers still relies on their baristas to make quality drinks; there are no super-automatic espresso machines or computer-actuated foamed milk extruders. There is attention to craft and pride in one’s work, as well as high standards for each drink prepared.

A final important emphasis is on community. Skip Fay highlighted this point in our conversation together, asserting that their mission was not to simply set up shop, but to become a trusted neighbor in the communities Dunn Brother resides in. He notes that “if we treat people right and serve them right, the experience touches their soul. In today’s time-starved, data-driven, mass-produced culture, Dunn Brothers offers food and beverages prepared in real time, by genuine people who enjoy sharing their craft with other people.

Dunn Brothers Coffee

Dunn Brothers Coffee

Dunn Brothers Coffee

Dunn Brothers Coffee

I spent some time hanging out in a few different Dunn Brother’s stores (I especially liked the one in Uptown, on Hennepin, and the Downtown store), each with a completely different feel, but with drinks that tasted the same throughout.

I fell in love with their nitro-brew, which is dreamy and creamy and perfect. Someone mixed me one with vanilla and a little cream (its official name the is the Iced Vanilla Nirvana), and it was honestly the best sweetened cold coffee drink I’ve had, ever.

I also took a bottle of their cold press with me (I drink cold press year round, and often make it myself at home), and it was deliciously smooth and deep. I see myself headed back soon to work and read, especially at the Uptown location (which has wine and beer! and a patio!). (Also I can’t stop thinking about that iced vanilla drink.)

Dunn Brothers cold press

Dunn Brothers

Dunn Brothers

Dunn Brothers Coffee

Dunn Brothers coffee

One last thing I was really impressed with is Dunn Brother’s partnership with the American Refugee Committee. Dunn Brothers launched the Changemaker Collection, a selection of coffee beans sourced from the very same communities around the world where ARC works with refugees.

Last year marked the arrival of the second bean in the Changemaker Collection, from Uganda. Sales from the Changemaker Collection Uganda bean helped the ARC team in Uganda provide things like clean water and protection to refugees living in places like Nakivale refugee settlement – a refugee camp established 60 years ago. (You can read more about it here). This year Dunn Brothers committed an additional $10,000 to ARC and the first of the two Changemaker Collection beans will be from the Congo. They will be available in late March/early April and can be purchased in Dunn Brother’s stores.

Coffee is a luxury purchase, and I like knowing the money I spend on it is going towards helping others in need. I appreciate forward-thinking businesses that look to give back to both their community and the world at large, looking beyond cash registers and bank accounts and trying to make a difference as much as they can. I’m happy to see Dunn Brothers doing just that, and doing it well.

So if you are looking for quality coffee that is ethically sourced and carefully prepared, don’t overlook your local Dunn Brothers. You will find me there as well, sipping and reading and thankful for the simple joy of coffee.

“Dunn Brothers has successfully proven to its customers and competitors that, even in the crowded coffee category, great-tasting coffee that is carefully brewed from hand-selected, freshly roasted beans boldly stands out in a class of its own. This Minneapolis-based, award-winning coffee company was founded on the principle that premium coffee customers deserve coffee that adheres to higher standards of quality every step of the way, from cultivation to cup. From sustainable, ethical sourcing practices to daily, on-site roasting, artisan hand-made premium beverages and community-connected local ownership – Dunn Brothers Coffee takes every possible measure to ensure quality coffee experiences at each of its 82 retail locations across the country.”

(I have a little coffeehouse mix for you over on Spotify! It’s a playlist I would have on if I was still a barista. You’ll find I’m a bit stick in the late 90’s with my electro-jazz selections, but there is some other good stuff in there as well. You can find it here.)

**All text in italics (excluding the Stein quote) taken from the Dunn Brothers page.

 

citrus poundcake

‘What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.’ – TS Eliot, Four Quartets

Somehow we’re back to blood oranges. A year ago I made doughnuts with them, and quick bread. I’m not quite sure where the time went – months have flown by, with so many changes, yet somehow it is all a blur.

This Bundt cake is adapted from Yossy’s beautiful book Sweeter Off the Vine (the doughnuts mentioned above are found among its pages, too). I find myself taking far too many trips to the refrigerator to sneak another sliver; the sweet, tart flavors and pieces of citrus flesh scattered throughout the cake (Yossy describes them as ‘jammy pockets’) are worth any extra indulgence on my part. If you don’t have Sweeter Off the Vine, I highly recommend it. It’s a stunning collection of recipes and photographs, and everything turns out delicious.

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blood orange glaze

Last fall, the day before my book came out, I decided I was going to spend the entire winter reading. My plan was to take my kids to the bus stop each morning, send them off with a kiss and a wave, and then take a giant mug of warm coffee (with a splash of half and half), curl up in my bed under piles of blankets, and read all the books. Yes, all of them. However, today as I was washing dishes after an entire day in the kitchen baking, it occurred to me that I haven’t done this once, not one.single.time. (O, to be sure, we laugh less and play less and wear uncomfortable disguises like adults, but beneath the costume is the child we always are, whose needs are simple, whose daily life is still best described by fairy tales.*) Alas. The pile of books on my nightstand will keep growing, I guess.

But, today, while I was bustling around my toasty warm kitchen, I did make treats to share with you. I know it’s been quiet around these parts (I’ll blame an entire month of recipes that just didn’t quite turn out as hoped, and still need some work), but I’ll have some new posts for you soon. And I do have cookies! I love them almost as much as I do my chocolate chip cookies. Plus they are pink, without any food coloring whatsoever.

But before you head off to find the recipe, I have one question for you. I am currently trying to revamp my newsletter/email, and am wondering what exactly you would like to see in such a thing. I’ve sent out a couple with new blog post highlights and any upcoming events, but I’d love your feedback on what actually makes you want to click open an email and read it. Or do you hate them? Delete them immediately? Tell me all.

*Leo Rosten

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A few weeks ago the lovely people at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse had a book signing and dinner to celebrate the release of The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. It was a wonderful afternoon and evening. I saw familiar faces I used to wait on in my barista days; I met new friends, and celebrated with old ones. If you’ve read through my book you know the Blue Heron is mentioned frequently, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance and encouragement of Larry and Colleen.  (Once again, thank you, thank you, for everything.)

I’ve been quiet here. The past few weeks have been filled with word searches, as I’ve been trying to articulate my thoughts on the whirlwind of activity in our country. One never knows what one’s in for when one starts thinking.* More soon. I’ll have a recipe for you in a few days.

Here are a few things, book related, and around the internets.

I had an interview with Rick Nelson from the Star Tribune you can read here.

I also had an interview with the National Post.

Laura’s post really resonated with me. (Psst. You can also pre-order her book here.)

Aran from Cannelle et Vanille has a gorgeous new video series, A Cook’s Remedy, on her website. Also, just check out her amazing photographs.

Haley Bonar, Tiny Desk Concert. Also digging The Secret Sisters.

Currently on my nightstand: Still reading this. And rereading this. Started this with my kids. This came in the mail today.

*CS Lewis, The Collected Letters, Vol. 2

 

Blueberry Apple Bars

A kind reader pointed out to me that there  is a slight mistake this Blueberry Apple Crumb Bar recipe in The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, so I’m putting the recipe here (with corrections). The ingredient list is correct in the book, but the directions mention ‘baking soda’ instead of ‘baking powder’, and list cinnamon in the filling when there is none. Sorry about that!

If any of you happen to live in Winona, Minnesota, or are visiting there this weekend, I’ll be doing a book signing at The Blue Heron Coffeehouse from 2-4 this Saturday, January 14th. The Blue Heron is the coffeehouse I talk about throughout my book, and where I learned to bake, and it’s wonderful to be going back for this event.

I am also teaching a class in St. Paul at Cooks of Crocus Hill Sunday, February 5th, from 1-2:30. I’ll be doing some demonstrations, sharing treats, and signing books. You can register here if interested!

You can find a few of my recipes from the book around the web. So many beautiful posts, I’m totally overwhelmed! Julie from Always with Butter made my chocolate chip cookies. Molly from My Name is Yeh made my yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Michelle from Hummingbird High made my cheesecake, and Cynthia from Two Red Bowls made my cheesecake with a hazelnut twist. Alex and Sonja from A Couple Cooks made my shortbread with chocolate. Food 52 made my oatmeal white chocolate cookies. Sara from Sprouted Kitchen made my whole wheat banana chocolate muffins. Cindy from Hungry Girl Por Vida made my honey cake and added grapefruit. Elizabeth from Brooklyn Supper made my orange cranberry bundt cake. Alana from Fix Feast Flair made my brown butter buttercream. Alanna from Bojon Gourmet made my peanut butter granola. There are a few more that I will post later!

Thank you again for all your support. It’s been so fun to see what everyone is making from the book on Instagram, and I appreciate all your kind words and reviews. If you make something from the book, please tag it #vanillabeanbakingbook so I can find it!

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pumpkin bread

Happy Merry. I hope you and yours had a wonderful Holiday season, however it looked and was celebrated. We do Christmas here, and had a loud and lovely Christmas Eve with family, then ended up being rained in (which is very weird for Minnesota – freezing rain and howling winds, but no snow) Christmas Day. So we watched movies, ordered Chinese food (my father-in-law was nice enough to venture out), read books, and put together elaborate Lego sets.  Both days were perfect, and I felt completely content as I fell asleep.

The tree was thrown out the day after Christmas, sadly. We picked a bad one this year (I blame it on 2016) and it needed to be out of our house. I usually hang on to those green pine needles as long as I can, not willingly to let the jingle bells and the silent nights go. But it felt nice, actually, to pack everything up just a little early and start thinking about the New Year. I’m not really one for resolutions and crash dieting come January, but I do like to spend some time reflecting on what I hope for in the next year. I also like the feeling of a fresh start. After a whole month of too many cookies and too much peppermint bark, focusing on health and wholeness is a necessity.  I enjoyed adding Pulses to my diet this year (although I will admit December didn’t see as much of them), and want to carry out my Pulse pledge in 2017 as well.

pumpkin bread

pumpkin bread

This bread is another baking recipe I’ve created as a Pulses Ambassador this year. The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulse, and I’ve taken the Pulse Pledge, committing to eat pulses once a week for the next year. Pulses are beans, chickpeas, lentils and dry 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. I’d love for you to join me! If the Pulse Pledge sounds interesting to you, you can read more about it here. It’s a 10 week commitment, and it doesn’t require elaborate baking: a serving of hummus and a bowl of soup are good ways to take them in, too. Also check out my Vanilla Lavender Cupcakes.

This post was sponsored by USA Pulses & Pulse Canada. All opinions are my own.

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I spent ten Christmas Eves in a row working various retail jobs, everything from barista to Barnes and Noble. The holiday season started the day after Thanksgiving, with mile long lines continuing to Christmas Eve at 4pm, when the store gates finally clanged shut and stayed that way for one whole day. Work shifts in December were spent answering the constantly ringing phone, running around the store trying to find would-be presents, standing at the cash register hour upon hour swiping credit cards, dreading every 30 minutes when Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime would come on again, and cleaning up gigantic messes left by frantic customers. Then, at last, the night before Christmas, when the store gate was shut (although often people were begging outside it: please, can I buy just 1 pound of coffee? I just need one more book for my sister-in-law, will you let me in?) all the employees would feel that smack of exhaustion, the same one that comes at the end of finals week, when you are finally driving home for spring break. It would take hours to clean the store, and almost everyone could feel a serious cold coming on. Someone would order a pizza, and we’d munch in silence before taking off to our various celebrations, usually arriving sneezing and crazy-eyed, just wanting to crash into a bed.

I’ve now had ten years off on Christmas Eve. It is spent at home, quietly listening to holiday music, baking a batch of cookies, snuggling with my little ones watching White Christmas, and heading to my parent’s house early for festivities. I have a no-shopping on Christmas Eve rule for myself, but I must admit I feel something lacking each year without the craziness. The month of December doesn’t feel as sparkly and exciting to me without all the noise, the crowds of people, Mariah Carey singing Christmas songs through loud speakers all day long, racing up and down stairs trying to find books for exasperated customers. The thing I didn’t want to make the holiday about has now ended up defining the holiday to me. Those formative years of my teens and twenties, working hard all December long now shape how I need Christmas to feel to me as an adult. I can’t escape that, somehow.

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I remind myself each year that just because something feels a certain way, it doesn’t mean that’s how it actually is. This is usually easier said than done. As a parent, I now determine how the holiday will look for my children. I start traditions and routine both for enjoyment and for recognition. I see my kids feeling so many things, and getting swept up in what makes Christmas so exciting. But my mission as a caretaker is more than that. It’s to teach what the reason behind this month long, money-spending, jingle-belling really is. At the very core, it’s to look to others, to give with no expectation of getting anything in return, and to remember that we all belong to each other, all of us, across this spinning round snow globe that’s so easily shaken. No matter how the actual days of December end up shaping my two little ones, I want them to still always be able reach past how they feel, and know, deep down, the joy and hope of Christmas, and their capacity to bring it everywhere they go. “If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” —Lucy Larcom

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pumpkin scones

My littles are on Brightly today, making Pumpkin scones from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. If you haven’t been to the Brightly site yet please check it out! The space is a resource for parents to help create lifelong readers, something I’m passionate about. Launched in partnership with Penguin Random House, Brightly features book recommendations from all publishers for every age and stage, reading tips and insights, seasonal inspirations, author essays, contests, gift guides, and more. There are so many great book lists and ideas here.

pumpkin scones

pumpkin scones

pumpkin scones

pumpkin scones

pumpkin-scones

You can get the recipe for the Pumpkin Scones here. These scones are a family favorite, and might be what we wake up to this Christmas morning. “If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” —Lucy Larcom

 

wreath30a

‘The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended…

and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found —
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.’
-Mary Oliver, excerpted from American Primitive

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Many of you know that I contribute over at Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day – I’ve been working  for Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François about four years. While I write some blog posts for them and spend a good deal of time pinning to their Pinterest boards, one of the highlights of my job is helping them work on cookbooks. A little over a year ago we spent another week together, along with photographer Stephen Scott Gross, mixing buckets of dough and baking piles of bread for their book.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I was a fan of the Bread in Five series before I met Jeff and Zoë, and now after spending time with the two of them, I can’t rave about them, and their books, enough. I’ve made boules, baguettes, bagels, doughnuts, beignets, coffee cake, sandwich bread, dinner rolls, bostok, and cinnamon rolls with their dough. They recently put out a new edition of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which is revised and updated with new recipes. I’m a huge fan of the whole wheat brioche dough, and use it often in my baking. It works great made into whole grain doughnuts, Christmas Stollen, Caramel or Cinnamon Rolls, and this Pistachio Chocolate Twist, which is a new family favorite.
pistachio wreath

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If you haven’t tried out any Bread in 5 recipes yet, I highly encourage you to! If you’re new to bread baking, their recipes are a great place to start, and if you’ve been baking bread for awhile, there is so much room for experimentation. It’s an easy and delicious way to make bread a part of your daily life.

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Purchase my cookbook!

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