Friday Night Lights

by Caroline

My kids are fascinated by Hanukkah. Everything about the holiday, from its length, to the rituals, the candles and the games and songs, delights them. Eli checked a Hanukkah book out of the library and is working on composing a new Hanukkah song. Meanwhile, although I haven’t fried up any latkes, I’ve found a way to spin our new favorite baked good as a sort-of Hanukkah treat. We share Jewish holidays and traditions with many close friends, and tonight, at a friends’ house for dinner, they’ll get their first chance this year to light the menorah.

At home, we’ve been gathering around our own seasonal candles: the Advent wreath. Somehow we’d gotten out of the habit of candle lit dinners last summer (not only because we had a three year-old living with us, but because early, sunlit summer dinners make candles seem irrelevant), and forgot to bring them back this fall. But I’ll make sure to retain the candles this winter even after I pack away the Advent wreath.

I make one similar to the kind my mom has created for as long as I can remember: a shallow pottery bowl arranged with evergreens and four candles. Mine uses eucalyptus and rosemary from the backyard, and since I couldn’t find nice tapers, I bought tall beeswax votives from the market. Mine is a bit messy and haphazard, but it serves its purpose well. Each night in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, we gather at the table, pause before our meal, and light a candle, adding another one each Sunday. It’s a lovely moment of calm at the close of the day, a nice reminder to slow down.

Doughnut Muffins

by Caroline

This time of year, seasonal eating is often also holiday eating, as we slide from Halloween through Thanksgiving into Christmas and New Year’s. I want to take each of these in turn, give them their due, and then take a breath before the next one is upon us.

Which is why I love Advent. The liturgical calendar I’ve followed my whole life gives us four weeks of contemplative preparation for Christmas, four weeks of lessons and carols and calm. But, sadly, no specific Advent foods. Advent’s a quiet period, not quite as abstemious as Lent, but still not a big feasting time. And this year, when its first week overlaps with Hanukkah and my boys are coming home from school talking about dreidels and menorahs, it’s been a little hard to keep them focused on our traditions. And who wants to compete with latkes, anyway?

But I think I have hit on the perfect Hanukkahvent (or perhaps Adventukkah) snack: the doughnut muffin. A bath in melted butter and cinnamon sugar gives it the fried crispiness of a latke, but it is baked — not fried — to suit the more temperate Christian holiday. Compromise never tasted so good.

Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups pure pumpkin puree
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs

For the Sugar Coating
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 12 standard muffin cups, or line them with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and allspice. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and pumpkin puree. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions pumpkin mixture, and beat to combine.

Spoon 1/3 cup batter into each muffin cup and bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine granulated sugar and cinnamon.

Let muffins cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Working with one at a time, remove muffins from pan, brush all over with butter, then toss to coat in sugar mixture. Let muffins cool completely on a wire rack. (Store in an airtight container, up to 1 day.)

recipe from Martha Stewart, Everyday Food


by Caroline

Wednesday afternoon, after lunch. We’re hanging out, starting to think about, maybe, some Thanksgiving dinner prep. My brother-in-law calls; he’s on his way, but can’t stay as long as he expected. He’ll leave after lunch on Thursday, instead of staying through dinner.

Hmm. Thanksgiving dinner is always, in our family, in the evening: at dinner time. But we have been planning to share the meal with the boys’ West Coast Uncle Fun. We briefly consider a midday Thanksgiving meal, but that’s just never been our style. Special meals should be in the evening, with candlelight. Plus, we don’t want him to have to eat and run. It is after 1 PM. Could we get Thanksgiving dinner on the table in just five or six hours? We take on the challenge.

And so I am thankful. Thankful for the friend who loaned us her son for the afternoon so our boys were happily occupied (she thought we were doing her a favor, babysitting so she could care for her stomach flu-y daughter. I’ll keep letting her think that.)

Thankful for my mom, from whom I learned how to make brown & serve rolls, which are always ready when I need them, and who taught me to keep a light touch on the pie crust.

Thankful for my sister, who posts favorite recipes on her blog (like I do) so that we could easily produce her delicious cranberry chutney.

Thankful that no one wanted turkey. This year, after experiments with stuffed mushrooms (very good), polenta-topped roasted vegetable pot pie (excellent) and even lentil-mushroom timbales (meh), we’ve even decided to dispense with the notion of a “main.” All any of us really wants, when we get right down to it, is stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce. Plus of course rolls and pie. I insist on something green (you should see my son put away the kale salad). And then we make various other things to put under the gravy. It’s a lot of chopping, but nothing needs the oven for four or five hours like a turkey does. The pans of pie, vegetables, and rolls, go in and out of the oven all afternoon.

Thankful for my brothers and my dad, siblings-in-law, niece and nephew, none of whom had much to do with this particular meal, but always figure in my thinking about food, family, and celebrations. I’m looking forward to our next big feast together!

And most of all, thankful for my husband, who has no problem cooking any meal, any time, but really kicked it into gear Wednesday to produce Thanksgiving dinner a day early. He started our in-no-particular-order to do list to make sure we got everything onto the table:

We sat down to dinner at 6:30, at a table decorated with Eli’s flower arrangement, and — so happy to have the meal on the table and my family gathered round — I did not think to take a picture of the spread. But trust me when I say it was delicious, and I hope yours was, too.

Plum Cake, for Rosh Hashanah or any other day

by Caroline

plums before

You know how it goes. The school year begins and suddenly the calendar fills up: parent association meetings; soccer practices and games; school fundraisers. You try to get friends over for dinner and it takes a dozen emails and weeks of planning. Except, every once in a while, it comes together quickly, magically, like it did for us last night, in a matter of three text messages with a friend:

#1: “Can we swing by after temple to pick up your tent?”
#2: “Sure. Stay for dinner?”
#3: “Love to!”

And just like that, I had an outlet for the beautiful black and red plums from our CSA, and an excuse to try the plum cake recipe my Mom had spotted and emailed to me, captivated by the accompanying story about the author’s search for a way to update a beloved sour cherry cake recipe. The cake is a snap to make, requires no fancy ingredients
(you could skip the demerara sugar topping if your pantry isn’t stocked, like mine, with six kinds of sugar), and tastes delicious. Even the kids, who are generally skeptical of cooked fruit, enjoyed it (with the exception of one, who preferred the traditional apple slices dipped in honey). Again and again, we’re reminded, food is stories. For me, now, the story of this plum cake is of an impromptu holiday dinner with old friends. We may have to make a tradition of it.

plums after

Homemade Marshmallows

by Lisa

The Valentine’s Day lollipops were a disaster. Two recipes, three flavors, three batches, nearly 150 suckers later, and not a single one came out right. They were pretty, but not so tasty, and didn’t harden. They’re not a good activity for kids because well, candy is really hot.

So, on February 13 we were stuck.  We had valentines, but no treats, and nearly 5 dozen kids to take care of.  And so we made something starts out very sticky which saved the day and which I suspect will not only be our Valentine’s Day go-to treat but which will grace our table regularly over the coming year.

Homemade marshmallows are really easy and fun to make and really delicious–and versatile. Once you get the basic recipe down you can add any flavoring you like:  think beyond peppermint, which is certainly a good choice: to lavender, coffee, orange blossom, lemon or zest, coconut, almond, rosemary…if you can find the extract or steep the herb in the sugar syrup, you can make a marshmallow flavor with it.

I used  this recipe on Epicurious, added red food coloring, and used only confectioner’s sugar for the final dusting.  I heated the sugar syrup, but with careful pouring, Finn manned the hand mixer for quite a while.  You should beat the mixture until it’s really, really thick, probably longer than you think you need to. Then you spread it in the pan, wait and cut. I used a pizza cutter sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.  The actual “baking” takes maybe 20 minutes, so while it will take several hours from start to finish, the active time is minimal.

The kids filled the bags assembly-line style, and we had enough left over to bring to a party on Sunday, where the adults probably ate as many as the kids. They’re that good.