‘I believe food should capture your spirit. Your food, I believe, is a compilation of your journey in life – it collects bits and pieces as you go. From youth and culture, from travel, and from day-to-day experiences. It is also very much an evolution…

Food’s ability to bring people together is unparalleled. It is at the foundation of our cultures; it is the goodness we can bring to ourselves and others. When we celebrate food and retain its inherent quality, we nourish ourselves and our lives. We take the time to source good ingredients and produce. We support our local farmers and artisans, and we help sustain a beautiful cycle of goodness that extends to the people around us.’ -Karen Mordechai, Simple Fare

I received Karen’s new book this past week, and instantly was drawn to this dark chocolate cake. It did not disappoint. You may know Karen’s site Sunday Suppers, and her book is filled with the same beautiful photography and thoughtful recipes found there. I recommend checking it out.

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How to Eat a Poem
Don’t be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that
may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.

You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

For there is no core
or steam
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin
to throw away.
-Eve Merriam

*************************************************

Nicole Gulotta, of the blog Eat This Poem, has a new book out, where both the poem above and the coffeecake below are found. It’s a lovely book, filled with poetry and recipes and thoughtful musings, much like her site. I’ve met Nicole a few times over the years and have followed her progress on this book; it’s been years of work and a labor of love. I highly recommend putting it on your wish list. I especially love the poem above, and have found a handful of other poets I need to check out. There are many recipes I am eager to try as well, but, I just can’t help myself and gravitated first towards the baking section (this is the case in any cookbook I pick up). I started with this coffeecake. Nicole’s version has pears but I used raspberries, in hopes that the usually warm April we’ve been having is here to stay. My family agreed it was delicious.

A few other things

I can’t get enough of this song.

Turntable Kitchen’s Sounds Delicious is in full swing (every month you receive an exclusive, limited-edition 12? vinyl record featuring an artist covering a full-length album of their choice). I received the first LP: Yumi Zouma covering Oasis’ What’s the Story Morning Glory, and it is so good!

I just ordered this sweatshirt from Miss Jones Baking Company and I absolutely love it. It’s so comfortable.

The Blackberry White Chocolate Cake from my book found it’s way into the Sunday Times, Ireland this month, which was very exciting. You can view the recipe here (although, you have to sign up to see it – it’s free.)

Yossy used my yellow cake recipe for the base of her Meyer Lemon and Raspberry Cake (her video is lovely!)

I have Banana Cupcakes with Banana Buttercream and Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars on Handmade Charlotte.

The dishware was sent to me by Martha Stewart Living, and is part of the Fleur collection, found exclusively at Macys.

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It is a beautiful day here, one of those early spring days that throws me into a fit of nostalgia. I sit in the sun, letting it wash over my frozen white skin; the thaw is finally starting. I let my memories melt as well, bleeding into each other, taking me down forgotten roads and out-of-the way alleys.

Five years ago on a day like this you would have found me in my car, driving over to see my grandma, Virginia. She loved these kind of days, seeing them as a time to finally get out of the house after being trapped inside all winter long. She would be waiting for me at the front door, clutching her worn-out black purse and talking quietly to herself, her front porch smelling faintly like Pantene products and black coffee. It would be hard work getting her down the front steps – her arthritic hands clinging as best they could to my coat jacket, her frail legs stepping slowly, one at a time. But we would manage it and drive away, the sun beckoning to us, Louis Prima and Keely Smith swinging for us. She would tap her crippled hands on her knees, clicking her tongue to the music, momentarily forgetting her pain. As the car whizzed past rows of bare trees reaching to the blue sky, I was sure her thoughts were drifting back to dance floors she had cleaned up in her youth: days of sassy heels, high balls, and lines of suitors. She was always moving.

Our drives usually took us to her neighborhood coffeehouse, and she would wait in the car while I purchased iced mochas and chocolate glazed doughnuts. Back in the car I would break the doughnut for her, setting pieces in a napkin on her lap. She would look away, embarrassed to see her food in fragments, unable to grab the whole. Greedily we’d sip and eat while I drove, laughing at our child-like love for the bittersweet goodness coating our fingers. We’d take our time around several of the 10,000 lakes, passing the same houses we always passed, and she’d make the comments she’d always make. I’d nod, and agree, ‘yes, what a huge property!’ and ‘that is an ugly color to paint a house’ and ‘I don’t know how they keep all those windows clean.’ I wondered what she was really thinking, if she was still dancing in her mind, flitting from memory to memory, waltzing over secrets she couldn’t share. But we’d drive on, her knotted hands brushing doughnut bits to the floor, her tongue clicking gracefully to the music.

These drives were the only time we really shared a meal together. There were plenty of holiday dinners and lunches out-to-eat, but Virginia was not able to sit at the table. She was constantly darting from one room to the next, warming things, sneaking drinks in the bedroom, hiding her hands from us. She was always moving. We would shout at her ‘Sit down! Eat!’ but she insisted she wasn’t hungry, she didn’t need someone to cut her meat. There were just so many things to check on, fires to keep burning, things to keep silent. But the moments in the moving car were different, a place for her to sit and let her crumbs fall where they may.

After four years of life without her, I sometimes imagine one more meal with her, one at her long dining room table. I would cook her a feast, pour her some wine. I would serve her there, there at the table her ancestors ate at. As we talked I would be undaunted, bringing to the table the silence kept all these years. When she would try to move from her chair, frantically resisting the rise inside her, I’d say, gently, ‘Please. Just sit down and eat with me.’ I would pat her hands, unafraid of the crooked, shaking fingers, and I would cut her meat. She would be embarrassed, awkwardly bringing her fork to her mouth, but she would eat there, near me. And as her hands moved towards her face, that cover of resignation that clung to her, kept her, would fall to our laps, crashing like white lightening, sinking to a heap. We would grasp it, use it as a cloth to wipe our mouths and hands, soaking up all our stains and splatter. As we dabbed our lips they would be loosed, and there she would finally speak, the years surfacing, spilling out onto the table. We would make it through the dark hours, we would make it to the morning. And when we would finally rise, that napkin of remorse, the stained bundle that grasped at our laps, would fall to the floor. Our feet would tread on it as we left the table, and there it would lay, among our broken bread crumbs and spilled wine. We would leave behind those fragments, our traces of communion, walking arm in arm into the new morning sun.

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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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winona2 (1 of 1)A

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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