Summer Update

Back in April, I biked home along the same route I walked so many times during the winter, when the T was out of commission (or, more often, too messed up to be of any real service). During the dark days of winter, Beacon Street was one big mass of white; snowbanks stood shoulder-high in some places, and some spots were so minimally shoveled that I practically had to climb to cross the street. In the spring, the Back Bay streets still glowed white, but this time, it was because of the pale, fluffy blossoms covering all the trees, as far as the eye could see. It was almost as if Boston was sending me hundreds of bouquets to say, “Hey, friend. Sorry I was such a jerk to you a few months ago.” And even though that week still contained a few mornings so chilly that I had to slip on a pair of gloves for my commute, I accepted the city’s apology– and now it’s summer, and winter weather is just a distant memory.

While the weather has calmed down in Boston, life certainly has not. It’s shaping up to be a year of big changes, including a new job and an upcoming change in living situation, and plenty of other, smaller things. If life is like a game of Monopoly, then I basically just gathered all the tokens off to the side and flipped the board. (For what it’s worth, when it’s my turn to choose a Monopoly token, I usually like to be the wheelbarrow or the thimble: sticking with a domestic theme, surprise, surprise.)

Change is a good thing, even if it’s a little scary. It keeps you on your toes and broadens your horizons. It does not, however, leave a lot of time for blogging. While I’ve been baking and cooking as much as usual (perhaps even more so), the pictures have largely gone un-snapped, and the anecdotes have gone unwritten. But I can only stop writing for so long before I feel a definite sense of something missing. So with that in mind, here’s a quick recap of a few of the things I’ve made, read, and enjoyed during the last however-many months.

I hate to start out with this one, because it was actually kind of a disappointment. It was basically cacio e pepe, a fantastically simple dish that is one of my go-to dinners when I’m by myself, but this version included springy fava beans and fresh mint. After spending about half an hour shelling the fava beans, a surprisingly difficult task I didn’t particularly enjoy, I made the crucial mistake of not trusting my own instincts when the recipe called for an inordinate amount of olive oil. Note to self: this isn’t your first rodeo. Listen to that little voice in your head saying, “Are you sure about that?”

The dish did look pretty, though, once I strained it out of its olive oil bath.

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In other spring vegetable news, my refrigerator has been lucky enough to contain a steady supply of ramps for the last few weeks. Although I think I love garlic scapes a little more than ramps, I have to admit that ramps are easier to use; the leaves make good substitute for spinach, basil, chives, or other leafy herbs, and the white stalks can be used in place of garlic, onion, or scallion stalks. I used one bunch of ramps to make a batch of pesto so garlicky that Alex was reluctant to come near it (the patience of a saint, that one), and I used some of the leftover stalks in place of garlic in this vinaigrette. I am excited for summer, but I’ll be sad to say goodbye to ramps for another year.

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I’ve also been on quite a cake-baking kick lately. I’ve been especially interested in simple, homey pound cakes and bundts, so when I ran across this recipe, all the lights in my brain started flashing. I kept the tab open on my phone for weeks until I finally had time to make it.

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It was worth the wait. The base recipe was a simple vanilla butter cake, but it was dressed up with lemon, lavender, and an out-of-control lavender-vanilla bean infused sugar sprinkled over the glaze. The lavender definitely gives the cake a floral, tea-time feel, but it never veers into that weird territory where lavender desserts start to taste like soap and old lady perfume (my favorite kind of perfume, incidentally). The only problem? I made this cake while watching a documentary about childhood obesity, which ends with a challenge to eliminate all added sugar from your diet for 10 days.  Needless to say, I’m going to take a pass on that challenge.

While simple cakes have ruled my spring, I did make one decidedly not simple cake a little bit after the lavender number. Alex and I hosted a dinner for some of his colleagues, and it just happened to be the birthday of one of our guests… so naturally a good, decadent layer cake was in order. I picked a recipe from the Ovenly cookbook entitled “Chocolate Stout Cake with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Buttercream.” Um, yeah. How do you not make that? Even though I undercooked the caramel for the frosting, which robbed the completed cake of a little toasty depth, it was still a hit, and I’ve decided to own it.

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One recent evening, Alex and I were settled in on the couch, wine glasses in hand, not planning to leave the house again, when Alex announced that he had a doughnut craving. While I’ve jumped up off my cozy couch at 10pm for far lesser temptations than a doughnut, we decided it would be even better to wake up early the next morning and pay a pre-work visit to Twin Donuts, an Allston establishment I will miss dearly when we move. (I don’t think our heads have ever popped up off the pillows so quickly.) Despite all the fancy doughnut shops popping up around the city, I love these homier versions that are cakey and practically crispy. Also, eating two doughnuts before going in to work? That’ll put a little bounce (or three) in your step.

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Miraculously, Alex and I have also managed to have a few days off work at the same time: a rare treat indeed. One rare treat calls for another, so we spent one of them having lunch at Sweet Cheeks, which serves up delicious barbecue, sure, but also the most amazing buttermilk biscuits this side of the Mason-Dixon. IMG_2313

I’ve also had time to do a little bit of reading lately. I found The Supper of the Lamb, byRobert Farrar Capon, at the library just before Easter; I read the back cover, and discovered that Robert Farrar Capon was “a passionate and talented chef who also happens to be an Episcopal priest.” Annnnnnd into my bag the book went. It was written in the 60s, but it took me several chapters to figure that out; it’s so beautifully written, and it resonates with me so strongly, it feels like it could have been published yesterday. I especially like this passage:

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I also discovered Oxford American this spring– and by “discovered,” I mean that it came highly recommended by two good friends and I went out to buy it as soon as they told me to. It’s easily one of the best magazines I’ve ever gotten my mitts on, and it didn’t hurt that this issue had a big ol’ section on Southern food. Sunday morning coffee and Oxford American on a café porch: heaven.

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We’ve also been grilling A LOT. We have a teeny-tiny grill that’s barely larger than a dinner plate, but we’ve pulled a lot of excellent meals out of it. Perhaps most importantly, we learned how to make banh mi!! We use Shutterbean’s recipe for the pork, and this recipe for the pickled carrot and daikon. It’s surprisingly easy and so, so delicious. I just have to figure out where to find a baguette as crusty and light as I want. (Let’s be honest, I’ll probably have to go to Chinatown, and I’m just too lazy to do it.)

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We have also learned that salads are even more amazing than usual when the majority of the vegetables are grilled. And they are out of control when accompanied by bruschetta, prosciutto, and cold wine, preferably with the lights turned off, the last bit of evening light coming through the window, and two candles on the table.

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Alex has even gone so far as to grill in the rain. What a guy.

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I had a birthday last week, which meant lots of cake (yay!), lots of friends (YAY!!!), and a trip to the RMV because my driver’s license expired (boooooo). On the upside: the RMV is right across the road from the North End, and after sitting in the waiting room for an hour and half in order to complete a process that took maybe five minutes, gelato was a no-brainer.

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And that’s the summer so far. I hope to be back soon with something more substantive. But in any case, happy summer from Alex, Moose, and me!

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