breakfast

Sweet Rice

by Lisa

Finn is not like the rest of us.

For instance, he just ate a fish taco for breakfast.

Also, he loves rice with a passion that makes me wonder if his conception and birth were blessed by Buddha himself.  (He has, too, a kind preternatural patience and even-keeled temperament that is positively other-worldly.) If there is rice on the table he will eat it. Whereas his sister, even as an infant, sprouted an indifferent attitude toward this versatile grain, saving her starchy passion for pasta and potatoes and bread, Finn has always chosen rice above all other forms of carbohydrates.

So, I cook it more, and that means leftovers, which both kids will happily eat for lunch, pressed into cute little star/animal shapes, and sometimes rice pudding, and most often, a dish that I just call Sweet Rice because it’s not really pudding. It’s more like porridge, and I’m certainly not the first to serve it for breakfast, but it’s so easy and versatile (think breakfast, snack, dessert) that it’s worth sharing.  In fact, with some minor supervision over the stove, Finn can make it himself.

Sweet Rice

  • Leftover rice
  • Milk
  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon (part of a stick or powdered)
  • Vanilla (highly optional)

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Spoon the rice, however much you have, into a saucepan.

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All of it.

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Cover the rice with milk.

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Add sugar to taste.  We used about 1/4 cup of sugar for maybe 2 cups of rice.

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Sprinkle in a dash of cinnamon, or break off a small piece of the stick and plop it in.

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Stir over medium heat until much of the milk is absorbed and the porridge thickens a little. This is the part I supervise, so no picture.

Serve and admire.

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Taste and cheer.

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A Gift of Apples

by Caroline

I did a favor for a writer friend recently, reading her manuscript and writing a blurb for her publisher. It was an easy favor to do– I’d enjoyed her earlier book, a collection of essays called Because I Love Her, and expected I’d like the new one, which I really did. So when we met up for a movie sometime after I’d finished, I was completely surprised and delighted to receive a shopping bag full of apples from her tree.

This is how our supply looked after a week:

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In the meantime, I baked many apple-y things:

apple galette

apple galette

apple walnut bundt cake

apple walnut bundt cake

A couple batches of my mom’s apple crisp and my new favorite, apple streusel coffeecake, a recipe I adapted from good old Joy of Cooking:

Preheat the oven to 350 and butter a 13×9 baking pan.

Stir together and set aside the streusel topping:
2/3 c flour
2/3 c finely chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
2/3 c brown sugar
5 T melted butter
1 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt

Whisk together:
2 c all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

Combine in another bowl and set aside:
1 1/4 c sour cream or yogurt
1 t vanilla

In a large bowl, beat well until lightened in color and texture:
4 T unsalted butter
1 c sugar

Beat in, one at a time:
2 eggs

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the yogurt mixture, stirring until smooth. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Top the batter with 2 1/2 cups diced, peeled apples, and then the streusel topping.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

apple streusel coffee cake

apple streusel coffee cake

One Flat of Apricots. No Jam.

by Caroline

apricots
I know I should make jam. Every summer the local paper runs an article about jam making, with lots of delicious-looking recipes and helpful instructions. Every summer my good friend invites me over to her kitchen to make jam with her. I know it’s not hard, and the fact that I don’t have good tongs for lifting jars out of a hot water bath shouldn’t stop me. My grandparents all made preserves of various sorts (jams, pickles, jellies), and now my parents do, too.

But somehow the insistent chorus of “It’s easy!” is not having the intended effect on me, and I continue to stick with the oven, not the stove.

Occasionally, the farmer who sells our biweekly mystery box offers little extras, produced by her friends and other farmers, for sale. A pound of homemade lard for instance (pass), or a dozen farm eggs (yes, please). Sometimes it’s cheese or honey (sign us up), and this past week it was flats of apricots.

I thought about it. A whole flat is an awful lot of apricots. On the other hand, apricots don’t need to be peeled; they don’t even need a knife to slice them — you can just crack them open at the stem end with your thumbs. Apricots can be frozen easily, or pureed, baked into things and of course, eaten fresh by the handful.

I signed up for a flat. We probably ate a dozen the first day, and continued to eat lots of the apricots fresh out of the box over the next few days. And here’s what I did with the rest of them:

apricots on granola

apricots on granola

apricot smoothie

apricot smoothie

apricot galette

apricot galette

apricot crisp

apricot crisp

apricot sorbet

apricot sorbet

And then I froze a tray in order to capture some of this summer gold for the rainy winter to come.

frozen

Sonny’s Bagels

by Lisa

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Sonny’s Bagels in South Orange, NJ is more an industrial kitchen than a store. The commercial area is a simple slip of counter that supports an old cash register and nine or so metal mesh bins, stacked two high, into which warm bagels tumble all day long: Plain, Sesame, Poppy, Garlic, Onion, Salt, Cinnamon Raisin, Everything, and a dark, dense Pumpernickel.

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The menu is a simple piece of paper listing quantities of bagels and their cost. Beyond the counter are rows of stainless steel ovens and great vats of water into which the risen dough is plunged for boiling. There are stainless steel mixing bowls and flour-covered work tables. If you want a bagel, a friendly but no-nonsense employee waits impatiently for you to decide which, or how many pumpernickel or salt or just plain you will take today. Then, into the bag they go, so quickly it seems impossible she has counted them accurately. When I was a kid, if we arrived at a peak time, there was always a line stretching up South Orange Avenue, and we would wait for as long as it took for a brown paper bag full of a baker’s dozen, or a single bagel, still warm from the oven, wrapped in a square of pastry paper, and we would take our first bite before we had set foot out of the store, because a Watson bagel was that good.

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In the 1940’s, Watson’s Bagels, on Watson Avenue in Newark, served the booming Jewish population of the area. Sonny Amster learned to make the Watson bagel from his father, an immigrant bagel-maker, and he gained partnership in Watson’s in the late 1950s. At the time, the bagel making union restricted membership to those who had intimate knowledge of the process, and in this way ensured a de facto union membership comprised of bagel-makers and their sons. Race riots forced the Watson business to move location in 1967, but Sonny’s son expanded the business and opened his eponymous store in 1971, as well as others in neighboring suburbs.

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A Watson bagel is hand-rolled from dough made of high-gluten flour, salt, malt, and yeast. It is boiled then baked. Some attributed Sonny’s primacy to his brick ovens, others to the high quality and precise chemistry of the local water. (Decades later, my sister met a bagel maker in California who was rumored to import his water from the east coast.) But for the child I was, the magic resided in the fact that hot, perfect bagels emerged from those giant ovens all day long—they were good and abundant. There was a time, at Watson’s, when hot bagels could be had 24 hours a day, and when I was a kid, Sonny’s bins were stocked with piles of bagels in every flavor my friends and I craved whenever we wanted, 7 days a week. The bins were always full, or being filled, and there was something primordially satisfying about the simple fact of bagels, in plenty.

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In fact, Sonny’s still sells little else: a few bars of cream cheese, a few cartons of orange juice, milk, and cream for coffee. The reach-in refrigerator always appears half-empty. At Sonny’s there are no lox, no composed spreads, no butter as at other bagel stores; at Sonny’s there was nothing besides the bagel: crisp and tender on the outside, dense and chewy on the inside. Sonny’s old world beauty is probably not the product of a deliberate aesthetic, but in the end, it creates one.

And for this, Sonny’s is still ritual, for Jews and gentiles and nonbelievers alike. When I was in middle school, if it was a lucky day, a short walk and 25 cents could procure my friends and me a bagel, piping hot and wrapped in that magic square of pastry paper. Then we were independent and worldly, partaking of something both familiar and famous, knowing we had gotten our hands onto something, onto one thing, that didn’t exist anywhere else, and it was exactly ours. What more, really, does an adolescent want? Our fingers warmed, our mouths filled with bread, for moment upon moment—over and over again—our hunger was sated.

This trip, as always, we had bagels as many mornings as we could because there are many excellent food things where we live, bagels are (so very sadly) definitely not one of them.  One morning, Finn and I were lucky enough to watch a fresh batch of bagels being pulled straight out of the oven. They went from peel to bin right in front of our eyes, and I plucked one for him, which he ate exactly as I had, with pure delight.

Sonny’s is always our last, stop, too, on the way to the airport, so that we can load up our bags with a couple of dozen bagels to freeze. There is something crazy magical about arriving 3000 miles later, utterly travel weary, and then unearthing those bagels from the depths of the suitcase.  There’s the bounty to hoard, of course, but also the fact that our clothes smell like bagels, too, and in that moment, Sonny’s reveals itself, and the Avenue, and my teenage friends, and my family on Saturday mornings, and now, my son, with his mouth full, and his quiet, contented smile.

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Mueller’s Bakery

by Lisa

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It isn’t the Cinque Terre, nor is it Venice, and it’s definitely not Paris, where Caroline & her gang are lucky enough to be on vacation, but Bay Head, NJ still has quiet, clean beaches, flanked by stately homes, canals, and Mueller’s Bakery— which has got to be one of the best small bakeries in the country.

Our rental was just around the corner from Mueller’s, which we knew about thanks to my brother, who lives the next town over. Every morning, the youngest girls would descend from their sleeping garret in the attic, find me and Finn in the second floor sunroom watching Cyberchase and drinking coffee, and we’d throw on our swimsuits and walk around the block to the bakery.

Inside was everything a butter-sugar-flour addict could dream of: the best jelly donuts I’ve had in 30 years–powdered and sugared both; chocolate donuts; powdered and glazed cake donuts; melt-in-your mouth apricot and berry danishes; bear claws; cheese claws; apple bars; turnovers; sweet pretzels; cinnamon rolls and twists; fresh bagels; fat muffins stuffed with blueberries; fancy cakes; everyday cakes; loaf breads and long breads–including sweet and savory varieties like Irish Soda; tray after tray of cookies, including decorated, themed ones as well as more traditional ones; cupcakes; and the major reason for my family’s swooning: the crumb cake–the recipe for which is unchanged since the Bakery’s inception over a century ago.

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Suffice to say the crumb cake has a dense, rich layer of incredibly moist cake, and an even richer, not-to-sweet thick layer of buttery crumb, topped with enough powdered sugar to lightly dust your shirt while you eat. They’re impossibly good, the Platonic ideal of a crumb cake, and if you’re craving one right now, Mueller’s ships them. Anywhere.

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We’d grab our cakes or donuts and cross the street and sit on a bench in front of the canal, where we’d unwrap the cakes and donuts from their waxed paper bags and eat, happily, while the morning woke up around us.

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It was just like eating croissant on the Seine, Jersey Style.

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