The Wren's Nest

A space for inspiration, creativity, & discovery

Adventures in Apple Tarts and the Art of Simple Food

Last night I set to work on poaching a quince, peeling and slicing eight Granny Smith apples, delicately rolling out pastry dough, and reducing quince poaching liquid to a stickily delicious glaze for an apple tart.  Piper sat at my heels playing with her baby doll, little wooden people, a playground set and two big plastic Halloween candy bowls.  Will busied himself in the kitchen with dinner — a delicious vegan classic: TLT, or tempeh, lettuce and tomato sandwiches.

Quince.  I seem to remember naively eating one raw before, and disregarding the astringent fruit completely until now.  I started to simmer a mixture of water and sugar for a simple syrup in which to poach the quince, as suggested in The Art of Simple Food.  I peeled the fruit, then thought I would be able to get through the tough core with an apple corer only to find out the center was indeed much larger and firmer than that of an apple.  With some effort I worked the core out with my small paring knife, and quickly placed the pieces in the hot pot of liquid before they began to brown.  Next, Waters suggests adding some aromatics to enhance and flavor the fruit poaching liquid.  I added the zest and juice of a lemon, half of a vanilla bean (and saved the other half to make vanilla sugar),  and a cinnamon stick.  The spices lent a warm and soothing fragrance that wafted from the pot throughout the kitchen while I went about my other prep work.  A side note: the quince never turned that pretty pink I’ve read about once it was cooked, do they always?

Rolling out the pastry dough was much easier this time.  I love the little trick of rolling the dough around the pin and then unrolling it back over my parchment lined baking sheet.  I hold my breath just a bit each time, though I feel much better about doing this little circus trick than folding it all up into squares and then unfolding it.  It just seems like my dough might stick if I did that.

Then comes the mystery of the concentric circles.  Waters suggests placing the apples into tight concentric circles, end to end around the pastry.  I thought I knew what it meant, instinctively, until Will came around and turned my apples around.  We placed them end to end, beginning our circle clockwise, and then the same way for the next set only starting out circle reverse clockwise.  It seemed to make an aesthetic difference, though I’m not sure how?  When the apples are placed vertically I think I can understand it better, but horizontally I think I was able to fit more apples (and quince, whose slices I tucked in wherever I could).  With the fruit I had leftover I froze for another use.  I’m just now remembering that I’ve left them on their plates in the freezer and forgotten to transfer the pieces to a freezer bag…

I reduced the poaching liquid, adding a bit more sugar to the mix to help it along.  After 45 minutes, I took the tart (or pizza, as Piper called it) out of the oven and let it cool on a wire rack.  We had some fun taking pictures of it on the cutting board once it cooled a bit, and then had even more fun glazing it with the quince reduction.  All in all I’m tired.  The tart tasted good, though I thought the Granny Smiths were a bit tart combined with the lemon juice in the reduction and the fact that I kept them in lemon water to prevent browning.  Will enjoyed it, Piper took a bite.  Waters did suggest using Granny Smiths, so maybe the dessert is not intended to be intensely sweet.  Though, when I told Will I thought it could be sweeter he looked at me with a raised eyebrow, as if to say “Really?”  I think maybe my taste buds had checked out for the night by then.

Now I’m up early, or it was early when I started this blog post.  Will’s off at work and Piper is sleeping in.  We had this wonderful walk yesterday, and later in the day we painted popsicle stick Jack-o-lanterns.  Oops–she’s up now!  Wishing you all an exciting day, with a slice of sweetness on the side.

Our trip to Anna Maria Island, and an Onion Tart.

Two days after a rejuvenating trip to Anna Maria Island, I’m sitting at my little writing desk listening to She & Him on the record player feeling blissful with a bit of sea salt at home in my hair.  On Sunday we woke up and decided to drive out to the beach.  Neither of us had ever been to Anna Maria Island before, so the ride there was filled with even more excitement and anticipation than our usual on these kinds of adventures.  We drove into the first beach outlet on the island, the one with a children’s playground, swings, and pastel wooden changing rooms with swinging doors set just high enough to catch a glimpse of sandy feet and toes.  The sky was fighting rain, but the air was balmy and warm.  We walked into the ocean and let the cool, clear water envelop us.  We swam and I floated on my back with my eyes closed, letting the waves gently rock me back and forth.  Near the water’s edge, though, the waves broke hard and Will spotted a few mini rip curls.  We walked along the shore, built sandcastles for a plastic tiger, and let the sun kiss our skin golden.  On our way home we finally came into some rainy weather, though a sign for Bradenton’s Riverwalk along the Manatee River enticed us to wait it out over some iced smoothies and sorbet.  Piper was excited to don her raincoat and hold her new owl umbrella.  The walk itself is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.  Boats lined the docks and proved a striking backdrop.  A busy bridge in the distance made us glad to be taking our casual walk below, which was lined with interactive art and eventually led to an amphitheater and a playground and splash pad that Piper relished.

I’ve come home contented and inspired.  Late last night, I prepped pastry dough for the onion tart recipe found in Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food.  As many of you know, any type of pie or tart baking is new to me and I’ve been very intimidated by it up until now.  I decided to just have a go (slowly), and enjoy the process.  Since we do not eat dairy, I used Earth Balance vegan butter for the crust, and I’m happy with the results.  I took care to measure the butter and even freeze it for a few minutes before incorporating it into the flour, otherwise I imagine it would spread too quickly.  Early this morning I cooked down the onions (6, thinly sliced) with some dried thyme, as I did not have any fresh.  Just as we were settling into the afternoon, I gently rolled out one disc of dough and took extra care to follow Waters’ technique.  She suggests rolling out from the center of your dough, rather than rocking the pin back and forth across the entire disc.  Of course it helps to be forgiving and patient with yourself, and fortunately today turned out to be a good day for such a project.  The edges are folded over and brushed with some egg wash, and the tart is baked on the lower rack of a 375 degree oven for 40-50 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom.  Would you believe that we ate almost the entire thing between the two of us?  Lunch paired well with a couple of glasses of red wine.  The savory-sweet onions, the crisp, buttery crust, and my love next to me to share it all with has certainly made my day today.  I’ve still got one disc of dough in the fridge for tomorrow.  I’m going to try making a sweet apple tart, incorporating the quince I’ve got lying around the house.  I’m sure Piper will be more inclined to eat a slice of that. I haven’t met many 3 year old children who jump at a plate of sauteed onions, but we’ll turn her yet!!  Teasing, of course.

Hoping you all are enjoying your week with some good eats and good company.



I love the simple beauty of a bowl of brown rice.  Best just warm from the stove, each tender grain is nutty, separate and slightly chewy.  The challenge in cooking such a pot of rice is easily underestimated; mainly, one must have patience.  We invited friends over Sunday night and enjoyed some short grain brown rice topped with kale, pomegranate arils, toasted Nori, edamame, avocado, black sesame seeds, and a citrus dressing.  The recipe is from Anna Jones’s cookbook A Modern Way to Eat.  The meal comes together with relatively little effort, though quality ingredients give the rather homey dish some kick and elegance.  The kale is sauteed in just a bit of toasted sesame oil.  The gem-like arils and tiny black sesame seeds look striking against the light brown rice.  Creamy slices of ripe avocado, kale, and chewy edamame also enliven the dish with their varying shades of green as well as with their varying textures.  The dressing is the true star of this meal, though.  Jones calls for the zest of half an orange, a lemon, as well as their juices and that of a pomegranate.  All is whisked together with a bit of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and honey (or agave).  The resulting sweet and tangy sauce highlights all of the flavors of the sushi bowl.

Sushi bowls are a great choice for kids and anyone else who prefers to customize their dish at the table.

Sushi bowls are a great choice for kids and anyone else who prefers to customize their dish at the table.

Also, I’m still hooked on Quinoa.  I roasted a sweet mini pumpkin yesterday for lunch, and tossed it together with a fresh batch of Quinoa, toasted chopped almonds and coconut, cilantro, and dressed it all with some Moroccan spices whisked into a bit of walnut oil and vinegar.  Will thought to add a bit of raisins, and even later I thought to add a splash of orange blossom water, and it all came together deliciously.  I reserved a bit of plain Quinoa for leftovers, which I’m happy I did because today for lunch I cooked up a batch of Heidi Swanson’s little Quinoa patties, recipe for which can be found in her cookbook Super Natural Everyday.  If Piper’s eating habits are any indication of how truly great a recipe is, then I’ll tell you now that she ate several of these morsels, slathered in avocado and even plain.  The recipe makes a lot, and yet we have none left to snack on later.  Whisk four eggs together and stir in some leftover Quinoa (the recipe calls for about 2 1/2 cups worth) with various aromatics such as finely chopped garlic, onion, green onions or chives, cheese (we just used Nutritional Yeast), and whatever else is handy, really.  I added a small amount of chopped jalapeno, even.  About a cup or so of breadcrumbs binds everything together, though go easy for moister cakes.  They cook in about 14 minutes over medium low heat, 7 minutes on each side (or until brown).

A Quinoa bowl with Moroccan flair.

A Quinoa bowl with Moroccan flair.

Leftover Quinoa:  Et Voila!  Quinoa patties.

Leftover Quinoa: Et Voila! Quinoa patties.

Last, and certainly not least, we’ve been enjoying our fair share of sweets.  Perhaps too much.  I made a batch of raw brownies the other day, also from Anna Jones’s cookbook, which calls for an almost exorbitant amount of dates and cacao.  In its defense, the recipe does make 20 little square servings (gone in 2 days, gasp!).  I have also been enjoying little bowls and, I’ll admit, secret spoonfuls of Ciao Bella’s blood orange sorbetto.  The super smooth texture and tart flavor had me cooing to Will about how much better it is than ice cream.

One of life's simple pleasures:  a bowl of Ciao Bella's blood orange sorbetto.

One of life’s simple pleasures: a bowl of Ciao Bella’s blood orange sorbetto.

Happy eats! Wren.

On making time for Baingan Bharta and Quinoa salad.

I’m sitting here on our couch in the living room, looking out our two front windows and thinking about how quickly the week has passed.  That it is Friday already, and I can begin to feel the first breath of cool autumn air whenever we are out in the late afternoon.  Today was a busy sort of day, complete with broken glass and a visit from the maintenance man (both unrelated, thankfully).  We did, however, find time for a short walk to a lending library in the neighborhood — the kind that’s just a little cabinet outside with a few odd books to share and borrow.  We ate noodle soup for lunch.  We’ve had days this week that have been especially wonderful.  Yesterday, Will and I celebrated our fourth anniversary together.  We took Piper to eat with us, and afterwards walked along Lake Hollingsworth.  Still on other days, we found time to sit down to a formidable lunch together at home.  I stirred a simmering pan of Baingan Bharta while the electrician fixed some wiring in our kitchen light on his ladder behind me.  Piper and Will sat in the dining room with their guitars and serenaded him.  I just have to laugh, it was all so hilarious and sweet at the same time.

A spicy meal of roasted eggplant, sauteed with a bit of fresh tomatoes, curry, coconut milk, hot peppers and fresh cilantro.

A spicy meal of roasted eggplant, sauteed with a bit of fresh tomatoes, curry, coconut milk, hot peppers and fresh cilantro.

Another afternoon, and I think it actually might have been yesterday, I came home from running some errands so famished that I couldn’t get lunch on the table soon enough.  Fortunately, we had some Quinoa and a can of black beans on hand, as well as some odds and ends like a red onion and a wrinkly jalapeno pepper lying around in the recesses of the fridge, and I was able to quickly put together a version of my favorite cumin spiced black bean and Quinoa salad.  I can’t believe how much of that salad I ate in one sitting.  We had previously been eating a lot of red Quinoa, which I think tastes a lot stronger than white, so when I tucked into that bowl of beautiful delicate white curlicues, I couldn’t stop myself.

A quick Quinoa salad with black beans, cumin, tomatoes, cilantro, red onion, jalapeno pepper and a citrus dressing.

A quick Quinoa salad with black beans, cumin, tomatoes, cilantro, red onion, jalapeno pepper and a citrus dressing.

Now Piper is napping and I’ve got to wake Will up, too, for one of his afternoon lessons.  Hoping that all of your weeks are equally memorable.  Let me know of any tasty or unusual meals that you have shared, lately!

Until the next time–W.

For a good (and sweet) New Year.

Yesterday we packed Piper, a loaf of Challah, and a pan of Tzimmes in the car and headed out to my parents house to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown fond of New Year’s traditions, both those ubiquitously celebrated and those observed on a smaller scale.  I love all of the possibility, renewal, and reflection that exists on the cusp of a new year.   Perhaps the realization that there are so many celebrations occurring at different times of the year is a testament to the idea that, surely, in every unfolding moment there also exists the potential for the same qualities that I have come to love and explore in a more focused manner a few times a year.  Growing up with a Jewish father, I do have personal ties to Rosh Hashanah.  It brings me joy to continue this tradition with my family.  During Rosh Hashanah, and during many other new year’s celebrations around the world, the food that we eat is symbolic.  Most of the year, Challah is baked into a straight, braided loaf.  For Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional to bake a round loaf representational of the cyclical nature of life and another year to come.  We eat apples dipped in honey in hopes of a sweet year to come.

Wishing those observing L’Shana Tova, and to all of you a day filled with possibility, renewal, and reflection.

Tzimmes for the whole family: carrots, sweet potatoes, shallots, and prunes slowly cooked in freshly squeezed orange juice.

Tzimmes for the whole family: carrots, sweet potatoes, shallots, and prunes slowly cooked in freshly squeezed orange juice.

Our first round Challah, shaped with Will's help.

Our first round Challah, shaped with Will’s help.

3 Years

Our sweet girl turns three today.  We were all buzzing with energy last night, wrapping presents in leftover Christmas paper for Piper to open this morning during her party.  This morning we woke up earlier than usual; Will snagged a pavilion by the playground and set up decorations, which included a pinata and various Dora the Explorer themed goodies.  I stayed home and prepped food like mad — chocolate ganache, tea sandwiches, guacamole, and a rainbow fruit tray with little vegan marshmallow clouds.  Though outside the wind snuffed out the tiny flicker of birthday candles, and flies swarmed around the food as soon as lids were lifted to grab a nibble, nature could not hold back our joy and celebration.  It felt so good to be among family and friends, and to feel just how much love and support we three (the birthday girl, in particular) have from them.  After the party my sister came around with her four children and we played even more!  Well, they played and we drank instant coffee and put our feet up, watching the beautiful chaos that ensues when you get five cousins together.  After a late lunch, when everyone was beginning to feel a bit tuckered out, we all snuggled up in bed and read Just Say Boo! and Little Goblins Ten.  Now she’s sleeping soundly in our bed.  When she wakes up I’m sure she’ll want to look through her presents quietly, now that everyone is gone.  Plus, there are still two more cards to open… the fun continues :-)

I love you Piper.  You’re getting to be such a big girl now.  You’re developing such an independent spirit, a great sense of humor, a wonderful curiosity and thirst for knowledge and adventure.  Wishing you the happiest of birthdays, that is until the next one!


Mommy and Daddy

Remembering the tale of Vasalisa the Wise

Yesterday, while I swept the kitchen floor, I remembered an old story I studied in college.  Sometime during my junior year, a friend whom I had gotten to know through an alternative healing class and our mutual interest in yoga gifted me his copy of Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ book Women Who Run With the Wolves, a collection of “myths and stories of the wild woman archetype.”  I mentioned the title to my professor who was teaching myths and legends at the time, and I can still remember her face light up as though I had come into possession of something very special and important.  She knew the collection well, and encouraged me to study the book on my own.  I soon discovered a story which I would later present on in class, and it is this same story that came back to me the other afternoon while cleaning in the kitchen.  In short, it is the Russian and Baltic folktale of Vasalisa, a young girl whose journey takes her into the woods and brings her face to face with the old hag, Baba Yaga.  Baba Yaga gives the girl a series of impossible tasks at the stake of her life.  Vasalisa, with the help of a doll in her pocket (fashioned after the girl herself), is able to complete each task and return home all the wiser for having discovered her intuition.  Estés writes that this tale “is about infusing human women with Wild Woman’s primary instinctual power, intuition.”  Well, while I was sweeping I thought about young Vasalisa, and how Baba Yaga set her to wash her clothes, sweep her yard, prepare her food and separate the spoiled corn from the good corn.  She also orders Vasalisa to separate a mound of dirt and poppy seeds into two separate mounds, one of dirt and one of seeds.  Sometimes when I’m cleaning it begins to feel like an exercise in discernment.  I’m not sure how to explain why.  Maybe in sweeping away the dirt on the floor, I give myself over to clearing a path to see deeper within myself.

Perhaps Estés says it best:

“To sweep the premises means not only to begin to value the non-superficial life but to care for its orderliness.  Sometimes women become confused about soulful work, and leave its architecture all in a mess till it is taken back by the forest.  Gradually it becomes overgrown and finally becomes a hidden archeologic ruin in the psyche.  The cyclical sweeping will prevent this from occurring.  When women have clear space, the wild nature can better thrive.”

Well, the story is only a few pages long but the symbolism and underlying themes warrant careful consideration.  I’ve only just touched on a few bits that resonate with me now, but if you’re at all interested I encourage you to read the story for yourself.  Also, who can resist a good spook this time of year, especially with October just around the corner?  If houses that sit atop scaly chicken legs that sometimes twirl around ecstatically are your thing, or if you’re just plain curious about a fearsome creature that flies around in a cauldron shaped like a mortar and rows with an oar shaped like a pestle, all the while sweeping away her tracks with a broom made of hair, this one is for you.  (Smirk)

Baba Yaga's Hut by Ivan Bilibin, courtesy

Baba Yaga’s Hut by Ivan Bilibin, courtesy

On Haslam’s and Hobbits (and a few things in between).

On Saturday we drove out to Treasure Island and St. Pete to spend our morning at the beach.  When we arrived at 10:30, the sky was overcast and so we enjoyed a few pleasant hours bathing in the gulf before the sun (and the heat) finally came out from behind the clouds.  My favorite part of the trip, though, was visiting downtown St. Pete and discovering Haslam’s bookstore.  The 82 year old store is Florida’s largest of its kind, selling both new and used books.  We stayed browsing until the store closed.  I spent most of the time in the children’s section, leafing through old classics and even managing to bring home a Winnie the Pooh inspired cookbook that I just fell in love with.  I held complete works of Milne and Potter and daydreamed about reading these longer works to Piper, when she’s just a bit older.  I didn’t even make my way to the cookery section until much later, but to my delight the first book I stumbled upon there was Nigella’s Forever Summer.  Though I didn’t buy it, it felt so good to just hold the book in my hands, to see it and to know it after discovering Lawson’s Forever Summer TV series.  We made our way to the back of the store and that’s when I discovered our first cat!  It was on a counter top, though when he heard us he raced into a hiding spot and didn’t come out again.  The bookstore already felt like a home away from home, but having cats wandering around just made it all feel so much more cozy (and quirky, too).  Along the wall there was framed newspaper clipping documenting a spooky fog that seemed to suggest the bookstore might be haunted, which of course, seems to go with the territory when you’re dealing with older places–I loved that little tidbit.  I hope we make it back again this season, especially because the store has got such a wide array of holiday/seasonal books and activities for children, and seems like such a destination, especially during these coming cooler months.  I can think of few simpler pleasures than grabbing some coffee across the street at Artpool on a cold day, and then wandering over to Haslam’s to cozy into a nook or aisle with a good book.

Here at home, I’m still trying to wrangle in some of the clutter, which only increases with children (especially toddlers).  Back in May I overhauled the house via the Konmari method (see Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up) and donated bags of things that no longer sparked joy or served their purpose.  And by bags I mean bags, and bags, and bags.  Yet I still feel overwhelmed with stuff.  I think it might be more of an organizational and routine problem now, meaning we have got to find places for the things we do have and continually commit to putting things back once we are done (this is our main problem with the toys, for example).  Piper has many toys that have little pieces and I have tried designating them to bags and boxes, but they often go misplaced anyway.  She’s at this really cute, though sometimes frustrating stage, where she hides random things in random places.  She likes to find envelopes and stick toys in them.  Or, just today, she found her June and Annie Little Einsteins characters in the box of cords that I was organizing–she got so happy because she must have forgotten them there, but how did they get there to begin with?  She also likes to take a lot of toys out at once, to play with all at once, and I just have to be vigilant about helping her put them back when we’re done.  It is really hard for me to get excited about playing with her in a room covered with random toys, and yet I often resign myself to do so because I give in to her sweet, puppy dog eyes and little cooing voice that asks, “Mommy will you play with me?” when she sees me beginning to clean up.

Anyway, we’re also gearing up to start Piper in soccer next month.  We are both just so excited for her, and we went out and got her a pair of little soccer sneakers, a ball, and a pair of shin guards.  I can’t believe they make these things in such a small size.  The parents have been asked to act as coaches for the little ones and so, you guessed it, I’m actually going to be coaching “soccer” for the next couple of months.  I say “soccer” because for the 3-5 year olds, it’s really just getting them used to the ball (or so it has been explained to me).  I’ll be tossing the ball back in, running around as they chase me, just encouraging them to make as much contact with the soccer ball as possible.  It seems wild, unfamiliar, and like a lot of fun.  Other than that our little one has a birthday coming up next month, and Will and I have our fourth wedding anniversary, and so it is just a very busy time at the Wren’s Nest.  I’ve reactivated my gym membership and (crosses fingers) hope to really get into a routine that leaves me feeling energetic, healthy, and happy.  As of late, my workout consists of the following: Nothing (unless you count chasing a toddler, or walking in circles with a vacuum, or folding mountains of laundry in one go).

Oh, and another sweet note before I go–Will and I have been reading The Fellowship of the Ring aloud before bed each night, which is another thing I just love lately.  We don’t get through that many pages before we become tired, but that’s why I love it—it gets to go on seemingly forever.  I forgot about how beautiful the passage about the fireworks at Bilbo’s party was–Tolkien writes:  “There were green trees with trunks of dark smoke: their leaves opened like a whole spring unfolding in a moment, and their shining branches dropped glowing flowers down upon the astonished hobbits, disappearing with a sweet scent just before they touched their upturned faces.”  Does it get much better than this?

Have a lovely last day of August,


Looking back

I’ve spent the greater part of the afternoon looking through old pictures stored on our portable hard drive.  I’m amazed at how long we have been together, and how we have grown and changed in the past five years.  Three houses, our wedding, Piper.  When I first graduated and moved to Lakeland in 2010, Will introduced me to our very good friend, Holly, and I started renting this dreamy upstairs space of hers.  The rooms were all wood paneled except for the kitchen, and the windows were large and overlooking our future garden space in the front, and an old bench swing in the back.  This was my original Wren’s nest.  Later on when we became engaged and eventually married, I moved all my things into Will’s place (affectionately dubbed the Nut House, being on Walnut Street).  We gave the walls a fresh coat of paint, and with the help of a skateboard moved our baby grand piano into the one bedroom, one bathroom house.  We lived there what seemed like only a few months before I became pregnant with Piper, and we moved into yet another house, where we currently live for the past three years (and where, I’m afraid, I’m beginning to feel restless to move again).  I like looking back at our life together, and seeing the magnetism and joy that existed between us from the beginning.  These pictures bring me back to a time of simple and blissful happiness, and I’d like to share them with you all, perhaps bringing a smile to your faces, too–

Cooking inspiration, lately.

I’m up early this morning.  Piper is asleep and Will is out on a walk enjoying some fresh air before it gets too hot.  I haven’t written lately, though I’m eager to get back into a routine.  Inspiration is coming from a lot of different places lately.  A couple of weeks ago we baked two loaves of Challah, which I served with a spread of homemade dips like hummus, spicy Yemenite Schug, a Moroccan inspired roasted eggplant salad, and slow cooker red lentil soup with a parsley flecked Tahini drizzle.  It was too much and I didn’t want to cook again for a few days.  Since then I have been enjoying clips of Nigel Slater’s show Eating Together on YouTube, where Slater reflects on some of his favorite foods, and then travels across Britain to find cooks from various other cultures who then share their way of cooking said food (take for example custard, noodles, hot pots, or soup).  Well, during one clip a woman prepared Fesenjan, which is a traditional chicken stew in Iran.  I’ve heard of it before when I read Rose Water and Soda Bread by Marsha Mehran, and so wanted to try and find a vegan version to make at home.  Will performed in Tampa the other weekend, and fortunately for me the place was right nearby a Persian grocery store.  It was pouring down rain when I hopped out of the car and came home with a bunch of goodies, including dried limes, orange blossom water, rose water, and pomegranate molasses.  I used the pomegranate molasses for the stew, which is probably the most exotic dish I’ve ever cooked yet.  I found a recipe that replaced the chicken with chunks of butternut squash and eggplant–but I’m getting ahead of myself.  One of the other quintessential ingredients for Fesenjan is walnuts.  You have to toast them so they begin to release their flavor and aroma, and then grind them before adding them back to the pot.  The stew is quite simple other than that, with the recipe I followed calling for some diced onion, turmeric (I’m sure in Iran they use the real deal–Saffron), and cinnamon.  Then you cook it all up–including the squash and eggplant–with some broth and a lot of pomegranate molasses.  Again, this is not the most traditional version of the stew–in fact on Eating Together the woman even used powdered Angelica, and probably no broth as she just used chicken (which would lend its own juices), but it was really delicious regardless.  The finished dish is served up with chopped parsley and little ruby pomegranate arils scattered across the top.  I did stop to ask myself, why am I making this dish in the blaring heat of August?  Though, to my defense, we have been hit with days and days of thunderstorms, which makes this kind of cooking excusable.

So then, even after that, I’m still craving these exotic dishes. I wake up and want to make Gyoza (fried Japanese dumplings) and fresh tortillas.  I guess part of it has to do with the fact that I think Piper will like to eat dumplings, and warm corn tortillas.  After the Fesenjan night, which was a success with us but understandably not with a toddler, I felt I needed to think about what kinds of foods kids like to eat.  I always liked dumplings when I was little, and I thought she could have some fun making them with us, so I decided to give it a try.  Yesterday I spent the evening making homemade wrappers, which was a really cool experience because it was so easy–but a lot of work (easy–just time consuming).  I’m hoping tortillas will be just as easy, as I haven’t made those yet.  Today we’re going to make the Gyoza filling–again in our own meatless fashion–using Tempeh along with the usual ingredients–cabbage, ginger, green onions etc.

Then, also yesterday, I brought home two pie books from the library, and they brought me to my knees.  European style butter, whipping cream, sour cream, whole milk.  I was drooling over pages of picture perfect pies, yearning to bake one myself with real deal ingredients.  Let’s be honest, are pie crusts made with Earth Balance buttery spread the same as ones made with bits of cold, cubed, full fat European style butter worked in?  Probably not.  I’m willing to try, though.  At least they do sell sticks of the stuff, and vegetable shortening, too, which I may have to use–but I just don’t know what I’m getting into here.  Maybe I shouldn’t make the pies at all?  Maybe I should just get some fresh cream and butter from people who love their cows and treat them with respect, at a small scale local farm?  I don’t want to support the horrors of industrial agriculture, or the dairy or veal industry–which are linked–but I do daydream about yogurts, and cream, and cheese.  I know they aren’t the healthiest, but who can pretend that the analogue stuff is?  Cashew cream and coconut cream are healthier than the salty, artificial alternatives, but I find they aren’t good substitutes for all my cooking needs–let’s be honest.  I guess I will have to admit that I just want to be able to make a good pie, or a cheese tart, once every now and then, for the decadence of it.  I know that we shouldn’t eat food as our only comfort to mask other deeper issues, but food is comforting in its very nature, and I see myself somewhere in between–where I do generally crave healthy foods, but every so often want something different.  I don’t know what I’ll do right now, but it seems as though I’m becoming less ascetic in my views as I get older.

Well, that’s it for now–breakfast is served!  I do intend to write again soon.  I’m reading As Always, Julia (the letters of Julia Childs & Avis DeVoto) in the meantime, which has been such an interesting look back into the culture and food of the time… but that is a story for another day!


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