heartbreak

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I spent last weekend in the company of two of my most favorite women. Strong, intelligent women with compassion and humor beyond words. Women who wake up every day energized to do good work to help others.

I stand at the end of a long line of smart, resourceful, empathetic mothers. Mothers who live in the grey area, who refuse to see the world in black and white, who constantly broaden the birth and depth of their compassion. Mothers who will do anything to help their families and their friends. Mothers who have never, not even once, told me that I was less than because I am a woman.

These are the qualities I voted for on Tuesday morning. I had happy tears in my eyes and I drew the little black line next to Hillary Clinton’s name. Not only did I vote for her vast experience, her belief that we are better together, her belief that every American deserves equal respect and access to opportunity, but I also voted for fact that the person who would be leading our country has moved through the same male-dominated world I do. A world that can be harsh and unsafe, a world that is far from easy. Electing Hillary Clinton as my president not only meant electing a qualified president, it also meant bringing a new type of compassion to the most powerful, visible role in our country.

It meant a so much to me to vote for a woman for President. It felt like progress deep in my bones. But I was not just voting for any woman, I was voting for the woman who I knew in my heart would do the very best job. I voted for myself, for my husband who’s belief in equality runs just as deep as mine, for our future children, for every young girl and boy so they would grow up in a world with this example, and for every woman in the world because America’s example reaches far and wide. I really thought that together we we would shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling. I felt empowered, and so, so hopeful.

As I watched the results come in from across the country, I felt sick. I felt heartbroken. Tears poured down my face, Jordan poured us each a whiskey. We watched, my stomach in my throat, my hands at my face. We cried when the path of reason was obliterated.

It is a heartbreaking and terrifying thing to realize we have not come as far as I thought we had. I had no illusions that America was perfect, I knew we had a lot to of work to do, but I did honestly believe that most Americans would understand that there is place in America for all of us, that making America safe for all people is empowering all people, that our diversity is our greatest strength, that racism and misogyny would not run quite so deep.

To elect a man for president that preaches a message of hate, of aggression, of racism, of misogyny. Who has sexually assaulted women, who has repeatedly disrespected the collective rules that make America work, who’s hate is so much his hallmark that he was endorsed by the KKK. I am outraged. I am heartbroken. I have no idea how I will meet in the middle with the Americans who voted for a man like this.

People talk about the fact that they wanted a change. They wanted someone to ‘blow the system up’. They wanted something new in politics. To that I say, your frustration has blinded you. You are not looking two steps into the future. Our government serves 318 million people, and supports countries all over the world. It is not perfect, but we live in comparative luxury and security. These things work because of our politicians. Yes, political corruption is a real thing. Corruption is a real thing across every aspect of our lives. You are taking your stability for granted. This is blindness of privilege, I did not realize just how blinding it was.

I want to have hope for the future, but from where I sit today, the future is grim. As a white, educated woman, a place of privilege for certain, even I do not feel I will have representation in our national government come January. A Republican house, a Republican senate, a President elect who brings out the worst demons in all of us. The progress we have fought so hard for over the past 50 years, it feels so tenuous. I feel sick and I expect I will feel that way for a long time. This is no regular election, these are not the feelings of a typical transition of power from a Democratic president to a Republican one. This is very different. Tears of worry continue to well in my eyes and anxiety sits in the pit of my stomach.

But, what is there to do but get to work. Work to build a future for myself, for the people I love, and for people who are far more marginalized that I am, a future that is safe, respectful and inclusive. We cannot be silent. We cannot be afraid. This work will summon all of the courage we have, but there is hope in the work.

chia seed pudding

The longer I hang out in San Francisco, the more of a weirdo tech hippie I become. Today’s exhibit: I am writing to tell you all about chia seed pudding. “Pudding” that isn’t even dessert, but rather some quasi heath food, apparently full of vitamins, fiber, protein, omega-3s. Blah, blah, you’re bored already.

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Chia seed pudding looks terrifying. Swampy, gooey and black. I admit, it’s a texture that is more on the acquired side, but after getting over my initial trepidation, I’m super into it. It’s been a great breakfast to have at work, filling but not heavy, enough to keep me going until I rise from my keyboard and somehow it’s already 1 pm. The past few weeks of Back to School have been madness, in a good way, and we’re not totally out of the woods just yet, so I’m glad to have this ‘power breakfast’ to keep me going. That’s just the type of badass boss I am.

Are you ready for it? Ready to take the world by storm after eating some tiny, jelly seeds suspended in ‘milk’ made from nuts?!? You sure as hell are, you beautiful hippie.

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Chia Seed Pudding
They call it pudding, it seems a bit odd to call a health food pudding, but I don’t have a better idea soo …
3/4 cup chia seeds (use 1/4 cup chia seeds for each 1 cup of liquid)
3 cups almond or coconut milk (I’ve done both types, in plain and vanilla. Both were good. I’ve found better quality ‘milk’ = better flavor. Chia seeds are more of a texture thing, they don’t add any flavor)
bananas
strawberries (or any other berry, or stone-fruit, whatever you got)
slivered or sliced almonds (or pistachios, or pecans, or any other nut!)
honey (more or less depending on if your almond milk was sweetened)

In a large tupperware, whisk together the chia seeds and almond milk. Let stand for a few minutes, whisk again. Let stand for a few more, whisk again. You want to make sure there aren’t any big clumps as the chia seeds gel together. Put in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. I usually do this on Sunday night while prepping dinner to get ready for the week.

The next morning, scoop a few scoops of pudding into a bowl (or – real talk – an old ice cream container/tupperware since you’re probably eating this at work in front of your computer), slice a banana and a handfuls of strawberries, sprinkle those on top. Add a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle some almonds, and you’re set.

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Jordan’s getting into it too, though I believe he still prefers toast, cream cheese, and smoked fish.

summer

Posted on August 12, 2016

Oh hi. I forgot we had a blog for a few months there. Kidding. I’ve been guilt-wracked since my last post in May. Sort of kidding?

This summer is breezing by. Despite the fact we both work in education, summer seems to be our busiest time of year.  Jordan was teaching a summer course in statistics, and we all know that brain research never sleeps. I was busy shepherding new versions of Seesaw into the edtechnoverse, planning and attending a huge education technology trade show, and then rolling right off of that into Back to School. Back to School is to us what Christmas is to every retailer. It’s go time.

Somehow, we also managed to squeeze in a trip to Portland, a trip to New York, a few weekend visits to Sacramento, and a bit of surfing as well. I decided the best way to tackle the massive time gap between my last post and today’s is by letting the photos on my iPhone dictate the story. According to my camera roll, I did a some halfway decent painting, made some food, and hung out with a lot of sleepy dogs. It’s a magical dream life.

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San Francisco
First, Willow. Willow knows what she likes and what she likes is napping. Preferably in the most comfortable spot available, ideally our bed. Second Jordan. Jordan is working in two research labs right now, teaching undergrads how to do psych statistics, and helping any student or lab-mate who asks for it. He is so open and generous with his time, San Francisco State is lucky to have him. Lastly, Emmanoodle. I love my job. Working to build something that has a real impact in classrooms, that helps kids feel engaged and empowered in their learning, helps families know how to support their kids, and makes teachers lives easier, and I get to to that all day with smart, fun, kind people, it’s my dream job. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say that before, and am so happy it’s true now.

Portland
We visited our friends Josh and Erin. They were incredible hosts, showing us their favorite spots in Portland—Sweedeedee for brunch, Shift, Pepe Le Moko and Expatriate for cocktails, Biwa for ramen/izakaya, Arbor Lodge for coffee, Otto’s for sausages, Bollywood Cinema for Indian. We drank a lot of coffee, cocktails and beer, ate great food, and admired the lush front yards of Overlook. Portland, you’re cute. Erin, Josh and Moon, you’re even cuter.

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San Francisco
We celebrated our one year wedding anniversary with cakes from Tartine Bakery, the same cake we had at our wedding. We ordered three cakes, ate lasagna with a dozen friends in our living room, and played Hank Williams’s ‘Baby We’re Really in Love’ on the hi-fi. I hope we host this party every year.

Also, the new SF Moma opened! It is huge and beautiful and well worth a visit. There are two coffee shops inside! And a few thousand pieces of precious art, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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New York
We stayed in Park Slope, Brooklyn with our dearest Miykaelah, a hostess with the mostess if there ever was one. It was a college reunion trip of sorts, meeting up with our favorites from my time at Georgetown. We walked all over Brooklyn, had three slices of pizza in one day (two slices after a dinner of BBQ and bluegrass). There was free opera in Brooklyn Bridge Park, bagels and smoked fish at Russ & Daughters. We watched the ever-elegant Katie Norton marry her sweetie Mark, and then stayed out until three in the morning catching up with some real good folks, even when we had flights that same morning at six. It’s hard to leave the bar when your heart is so full, and there’s early 2000s alternative rock on the stereo. This short trip was another reminder from this summer that our life is full of good, good people.

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Denver
The International Society for Technology in Education Conference. 15,000 K-12 teachers, a bunch of edtech vendors and a whole lot of Seesaw buzz. Our booth was packed all day, and it was such a joy to meet many teachers in person that I’ve talked to over email throughout the past year. To really feel the impact we’re having in classrooms, to hear our teachers’ stories firsthand, and to thank them for everything they do each day for their students. It was an even better experience than I could have imagined. And I’m so glad it’s done. Planning trade shows is no joke.

While we were bopping all over the country, Willow stayed at my mom’s house and worked on her suntan. Such an elegant hound.

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San Francisco
San Francisco summer has descended upon us. It is chilly and foggy and l love it. It feels like the first summer we moved here, waking up in a cloud, the sound of the fog horn in the distance, that misty city smell. We’ve both been heads-down at work, but taking a breather on the weekends to cook a bit, surf a bit, pop around the city and hang out with some really cute dogs. There’s always something to do when you live in the most beautiful city in the world, you’ve just got to walk outside.

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pelmeni and perogi

Posted on May 18, 2016

The Year of the Dumpling continues! We first had pelmeni, a Russian meat dumpling topped with sour cream, at our friends Yevgenia and Austin’s house, another couple with a deep affection for dumplings. But before we get into dumplings, let’s talk about the Davises. Yevgenia and Austin radiate positivity. I don’t think I’ve ever used the phrase ‘joie de vivre’ and meant it seriously, but these two embody it. I leave an evening with them feeling like I’ve spent a week on a wellness retreat. Now, I don’t have much firsthand experience with wellness retreats, and probably won’t need to as long as we’re friends with the Davises, but I’ve seen it in the movies.

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This recipe is based on Yevgenia’s mother’s recipe, which I tried my best to decode while making dumplings at the Davis house. This is another case of simple is best. Lamb, pork, onion, salt. Done. The lamb is makes this dish. It’s so good. Earthy and distinct.

The potato perogi recipe is inspired by a product that Trader Joe’s sold when Jordan and I where in high school. Amateur gourmets we were, we’d cook the perogis in the microwave and then dip them alternatively in marinara sauce and balsamic vinegar. Tragically, Trader Joe’s has discontinued their perogis, which left us no choice but to make our own. Think twice baked potato wrapped in dumpling skin and you’ve got the flavor profile.

And, lastly, before you think, “Sour cream and vinegar. You monster! Have all of those dumplings gone to your head?!”. Try it. It is so good.

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Perogi – Cheese and Potato Dumplings
Makes 24 dumplings
3 red potatoes
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 yellow onion, grated
salt and pepper
~1/2 package dumpling wrappers (Asian dumpling wrappers work just fine)

Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Put them in a medium saucepan and top with cold water. Bring to a boil and boil until tender. Drain the potatoes and mash them with a fork. Add the sour cream, cheddar cheese, onion and mix. Season with salt and pepper. Make sure they’re well seasoned now, bland dumplings will be a tragic waste of effort.

Lay out a few rows of dumpling wrappers. Put about a tablespoon of filling in the middle, brush the edges with a  little water, and then fold over and seal. These are a half moon shaped dumpling.

To cook the dumplings, you can boil them or pan fry them. Both are delicious. They will take just a few minutes in boiling water—enough to warm them and melt the cheese. If you like your dumplings a little crispy, pan fry them until they are golden in spots. Serve with sour cream, white vinegar and dill.

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Pelmeni – Lamb and Pork Dumplings
Makes 36 dumplings 
1/2 lb lamb shoulder, ground on the small die (or ground lamb)
1/2 lb pork shoulder, ground on the small die (or ground pork)
1/2 yellow onion, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper
~1 package dumpling wrappers (Asian dumpling wrappers work just fine)
sour cream
white vinegar
fresh dill

In a large bowl, combine your ground lamb and ground pork. Like I’ve previously mentioned, my husband is a huge fan of his meat grinder and so I let him grind some lamb and pork shoulder fresh for me. We’re fancy like that. You can feel free to use pre-ground lamb or pork. Make sure your pork is fatty.

Combine the lamb, pork, grated onion, garlic. Season well with salt and pepper. I’d start with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Then do a little taste test by cooking up a small piece. It’s worth the extra effort now to make sure your seasoning is spot on.

Lay out your dumpling wrappers. Put a scant tablespoon of filling into the center of each dumpling. Brush the edges with a little water using your finger. Fold in half and seal. Then fold the two corners onto one another to create a tortolini type of shape.

To cook the dumplings, bring a pot of water to boil. Boil the dumplings for about 5-8 minutes, until they are floating, Then scoop them out of the water and into a bowl. Top generously with sour cream, white vinegar and dill.

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ham and cheese

Posted on April 27, 2016

Growing up I was never really a big ham fan. It was turkey or peanut butter (hold the jelly), or nothing. And then I entered into a six year vegetarian phase, considered to be a dark period by both our families, and so I really didn’t have much experience with ham before moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina for my third year of college.

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Argentines are big fans of ham. You can get just about anything ‘completo’, which means topped with ham, cheese and egg. You can get a sandwich completo. An empanada completo. A pizza completo. Pizza! Topped with ham, cheese and egg! I was forced to confront my ham prejudices head on. Ham was inescapable.

And so I embraced it. My favorite way to eat ham and cheese was as a tostada. There was a little cafe in my neighborhood where you could get a cafe con leche with ham and cheese toasty. Made on thin white bread (pan de miga) with ham (jamon cocido) and mild, melty cheese (port salut), it was toasted on this terrifying wire contraption, which I tried to use at home and which always, always resulted in burnt toast. Alongside your coffee and sandwich, they’d give you two of the tiniest creme puffs. Marble sized balls of pastry filled with a tiny squeeze of vanilla pastry creme, dusted with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. If that is not a totally adorable touch, I don’t know what is.

For some reason, one particular tostada stands out in my memory. It was a rainy day, it can really pour in Buenos Aires, and so we took shelter inside a cafe to fortify ourselves with tostadas. That tostada, it was a sandwich that felt like a hug. Or maybe a towel that’s warm and fresh from the dryer. A sandwich so perfectly suited to the moment it was eaten that I still haven’t forgotten it eight years later. This specific memory popped into my head last weekend, and I had to try to recreate that sandwich.

We got close. Not perfect, but close.

For this sandwich, contrary to grilled cheese wisdom, it’s important not to butter the bread. I’ll pause there to let you take it that in. It’s a pretty dry sandwich. The cheese should melt, but not so much that it bubbles or browns. You also want a ham that is pretty mild. I’d stay away from anything honey-baked or too smokey. Honey-baked is not the Argentine way.

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Ham and Cheese Tostada
2 slices of pain de mie bread, crusts cut off (do it, it makes a difference, ask any 4 year old)
a few slices of ham (we used a french ham from our favorite cheese spot in the neighborhood)
a few slices of mild, melty cheese (we used a french port salut, raclette would also be nice)

Cut the crusts off the bread. Put the bread on a baking sheet. Top one slice with ham, one slice with cheese. Put into your oven at 350° F and warm until the cheese melts. Once the cheese has melted, put the slices together and toast each side under your boiler, just a minute or two per side.

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the year of the dumpling

Posted on April 9, 2016

We’ve been on a bit of a dumpling kick lately. Eating dumplings at spots all around the city, making our own at home, forcing friends to work for their dinners, being forced by friends to work for ours. We’re affectionately referring to this obsession as the Year of the Dumpling, but based on how things are going, it may evolve into the Decade of the Dumpling.

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I have a backlog of dumpling recipes to share, but I’m thinking it’s best to start with a classic. Basic pork dumplings. A little garlic, ginger, scallions, and that’s about it. When I was doing research, it seems that many recipes also call for cabbage, sesame oil, onions and pepper, which we added the first time we made these. The second time, we forgot those other ingredients and no one was the wiser. Simple wins.

I like my dumplings with vinegar, a good amount of it. Jordan likes chili oil. We joined forces for this sauce—if joining forces can be described as mixing together two ingredients in a bowl. If you like spicy, make the sauce. If you don’t, mix a little soy sauce and rice vinegar in a dish. Or just eat the dumplings plain. Everyone is free to eat their dumplings however they like, we accept all forms of dumpling eatery.

Dumplings also freeze exceptionally well, which is handy because this recipe makes about fifty. I love dumplings, but I can’t eat fifty in one sitting. Yet. Make sure to take the frozen-factor into account when steaming or pan frying, they’ll take a few extra minutes to cook. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re nervous if there isn’t a bag of dumplings in the freezer. (Trader Joe’s frozen gyoza are also really good, if you’re in the mood to eat dumplings but not to make them yourself). Dumplings are perfect for a quick, weeknight dinner. Steam some rice, sauté some greens, fry up a few dumplings and you’ve got yourself a great meal. We have it at least once a week.

Basic Pork Dumpling with Chili Sauce
1 lb pork shoulder, cut into cubes and ground with a meat grinder (or ground pork, the fattier, the better)
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, diced
4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thinly
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 package of dumpling wrappers (about 50 wrappers)

For the Chili Sauce
2 tablespoons sambal oelek chili sauce (find it at any Asian grocery for $1.70, or substitute sriracha)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar

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Cut the pork shoulder into 1 inch cubes and sprinkle with salt. Chill in the freezer for 20 minutes, then grind on the fine die with your meat grinder. Or, if you don’t have a husband who loves to grind meat, purchase some ground pork from your butcher. Make sure it isn’t too lean. A little fat means juicy dumplings.

Mix the ground pork, garlic, ginger, scallions and soy sauce together until everything is evenly distributed. Lay out a few rows of dumpling wrappers on a baking sheet or countertop. Put a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each wrapper. Using your finger, moisten the edges of the dumpling wrapper. Fold in half and crimp the edges.

To cook, heat a small amount of water in a pot and top with a steamer or colander. Line the steamer with some parchment paper so your dumplings don’t get stuck to the steamer. Plan to cook at least 10 dumplings per person—they go down easy. Steam the dumplings for about 5 minutes, until the internal temperature is 160° F. I recommend using a thermometer to check the temperature until you get your steaming technique down. If you let the dumplings go too long, the pork filling can end up a bit dry and crumbly instead of juicy and succulent. Top with chili sauce and enjoy!

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oysterfest 2016

Posted on April 3, 2016

Oh hi, how are you? It’s been a while. We’ve been grooving hardcore in our Northern California lifestyle. Answering those emails, building those websites, grading those exams, running those participants, and then 7:30pm/the weekend hits and it’s pure San Francisco magic. Making dumplings and sausages and paintings, doing yoga, relaxing in the park, strolling the neighborhood with a hound who’s miraculously back to her peppy 2011 self after surgery to remove glass from her paw, eating lots of foods with lots of friends. It’s a damn good life.

Now if you happen to find yourself in Northern California on sunny weekend not unlike the ones we’ve been having lately, and want to feel those good vibes that make California the greatest state in the nation, I’ve got a perfect plan for you. Go buy yourself 200 oysters for $200, drive a few miles down the road, sit on a beach and eat all of them. Works best if you have some good friends to go along with you, but I imagine you’d still have a decent time if it was just you and your shucker.

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Things you’ll need: 
– Oysters (get them fresh from the source at Tomales Bay Oyster Company)
– Ice (the boys at TBOC have got you covered)
A shucker
– Lemons and/or hot sauce and/or mignonette
– Beer and/or wine
– Bread
Cheese
– Plaid shirt
– Bocce set (optional)

The next part is easy. Sit on the beach, bask in the sunshine and eat oysters until the fog rolls in. You’ve never had a better Saturday, at least not one you can remember. That oyster-high, it’s unbeatable.

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Be back soon with dumpling recipes. We’ve been experimenting and it’s starting to get real good.

collard greens

Posted on March 17, 2016

We’ve reached the point in winter where our CSA box consists primarily of oranges and braising greens. Though I am an ardent lover of vegetables, I just can’t do braised greens. Especially mustard greens. And mizuna. Peppery, bitter and pungent, I quickly eat my portion trying not to taste them, like a kid who has to clear their plate before they’re allowed dessert. Braised greens don’t seem to phase Jordan, and as I pitifully shove greens into my face without stopping to take a breath, he just stares. If you stop shoveling or let them cool, that’s when you can really taste them.

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But, these particular collard greens, they are something else. We first had great collards when our friend Billy brought them over for dinner, along with a Velveeta mac and cheese, which was also heaven and I still think about on the regular. His collards featured a smoked turkey leg and I’m not sure what else, but it was transformative. Smoked meat and collard greens are meant to be together, and that night I learned there was a braised green I could get behind.

Silky and bacony, these collards are the essence of comfort, not the least bit abrasive like those pesky mustards. Jordan has been making these every other week or so and I imagine that will continue until we stop getting them in our farm box. A word to the wise, do not add collard greens into a smoothie. That was a mistake.

Braised Collard Greens
3 slices of bacon, cut into lardon (a smoked turkey leg or ham hock also do just fine)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken broth
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 large bunch collard greens, cut into 2 inch pieces, stems included
salt and fresh pepper

In a large, heavy pot over medium heat, cook the bacon to render out its fat. Once the fat has rendered,  remove the bacon and set aside. Turn the heat to low and add the onion and garlic and let sweat for 5-10 minutes. Then add the collards and cook until they start to wilt. Add the bacon back in, along with the broth, chili flake, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cover, and let simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve over rice or grits.

 

butter tomato sauce

Posted on March 6, 2016

I first read about this recipe for butter tomato sauce on the blog Orangette a few years ago. It seems to originally belong to Marcella Hazan, but I’m sure she attributes it to generations of Italian nonna’s before her. I make it periodically when the mood for pasta strikes (and by periodically, I mean about once a week). Over the past few years, we’ve made a few tiny tweaks, but the concept remains the same. Tomatoes, onion, butter, salt, and that’s about it.

To make a dish this soul-statisfying from such a simple ingredient list and nearly no work has me convinced that butter really is the best ingredient known to man. The sauce is sweet and mellow. The butter cuts the acidity of the tomato quite a bit and thickens the sauce until it’s satisfyingly voluptuous. It’s good on any pasta, or eaten from the pot by the spoonful.

So good apparently, that I don’t have a single photo of the finished dish. From anytime in the past three years. Please enjoy this informative photo of the ingredients instead. And some artsy photos of my plants and our humid windows dripping water on the inside. The dehumidifier is currently running on full blast to keep our mold situation under control. Once it’s done its work, I’ll use that water to water the aforementioned plants. Circle of life … or something?

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Butter Tomato Sauce
1-28 oz can whole tomatoes (it’s worth splurging for San Marzano, we’ve tested it)
1 onion, sliced in half
2 garlic cloves, pealed (optional)
6 tablespoons butter (not optional)
salt, pepper and chili flake

Now for pasta! Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a heavy-bottom sauce pan. Add the tomatoes, the onion halves, the garlic cloves, a sprinkle of salt and chili flake. Smoosh the tomatoes a bit. Let simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, until the sauce has thickened a bit and the flavors of the onion and garlic have infused the tomatoes. Remove the onion, and puree the sauce a bit with an immersion blender. Add the remaining 2-3 tablespoons butter, and season with salt and just a little pepper. Top your favorite pasta, tortellini or ravioli with the sauce, and maybe a sprinkle of parmigiano.

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king cake

We don’t celebrate Mardi Gras, Lent, or much of anything really, but I refuse to miss an opportunity to bake a themed dessert. Next Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and so King Cake!

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According a photo of an old Google search printout sent to me by my dear friend and New Orleans native, Kelly Pearsall, the king cake tradition is thought to have been brought to New Orleans from France in the 1870s. It’s eaten to celebrate the carnival season, everyone’s last hoorah before Lent. King Cakes are decorated in royal colors; purple for justice, green for faith and yellow for power, and a tiny plastic baby is hidden inside. This hidden plastic baby (or dried bean, if you can’t get your hands on tiny babies) supposedly represents Jesus revealing himself to the three wise men. The cake is served at a party, and whoever gets the baby is named King for the day, and must provide the King Cake next year.

Seeing as I got the baby last year and Kelly has moved half way around the world, I’m making our King Cake this year. I’ve followed her recipe, stashed a tiny baby in some sweet brioche dough and gotten crazy with food coloring. Truth be told, Kelly prefers to sprinkle her King Cake with colored sugar and then bake it, but since she’s 6,700 miles away, I’m going off script.

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King Cake, from my baking spirit guide, Kelly Pearsall 
Sponge
1/2 cup (2.25 oz) unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons (0.22 oz, 1 packet) instant yeast
1/2 cup (4 oz) whole milk, lukewarm (I used 2% without incident)

Dough
4 (8.25 oz) large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups (13.75 oz) unbleached bread flour
2 tablespoons (1 oz) granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons (0.35 oz) salt
1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg, whisked until frothy for egg wash
1 small, plastic baby figurine

Icing
2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons milk
green, yellow and purple food coloring

Make the sponge. Stir together flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the milk and stir until just combined. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes in a warm place.

Make the dough. Add the eggs to the sponge and whisk or beat with the paddle attachment until smooth.  In a separate bowl, stir together flour, sugar and salt. Add the flour mixture to the sponge mixture. Stir until all the ingredients are combined. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Add the butter, one quarter at a time, stirring the dough well after each addition. This should take a few minutes. Continue mixing for another six minutes on medium speed. You’ll have to scrape down the bowl from time to time. The dough should be smooth and soft.

Refrigerate the dough. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Mist lightly with oil or coat lightly with oil using a brush or paper towel. Transfer the dough to the pan, spreading it into a rectangle about 6 inches by 8 inches. Coat the dough lightly with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight, or for at least four hours.

Shape the dough. Line a baking sheet with parchment and coat lightly with oil. Remove the dough from the fridge and immediately shape into an oval ring. The dough will double in size so you’ll want to keep that in mind. Most importantly, hide your baby Jesus in the dough! Coat the top lightly with oil and cover with plastic wrap.

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Proof the dough. Let the dough rise in a warm place for about 2 hours. It will just about double in size. After about two hours, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Whisk the egg in a small bowl. Coat the dough balls throughly with the egg wash. This is what gives them their beautiful shine. Let them proof for another 15 – 20 minutes.

Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes or longer, depending on how large your cake is. It should be golden brown and 180 degrees F internal temperature. Baking brioche will make your house smell like heaven. You’ll probably want to have the scent of baking brioche as a perfume and you’ll likely text that exact thing to several friends. Cool on a rack for 20 minutes before icing.

Ice your cake. Sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl. Add a 3 tablespoons of milk. Whisk to combine. Add a bit more milk if the icing is still chunky. Divide the icing into three different bowls and color with green, yellow and purple food coloring. Ice your cooled king cake in the style of your favorite modernist artist.

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Share with friends (and share virtually with friends who’ve moved too far away for your liking). Whoever gets the baby is king for the day, and is bound by tradition to provide the King Cake next year!

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