I wonder what inspires people.
I think a lot of people are inspired by the obvious things, like music and art. But I think it’s the unique inspirations that are really the most interesting. The kind of things that, when we admit them over cocktails at dinner parties, our dining companion’s heads tilt, just slightly, in an attempt to understand just why we love that thing we love.
My aunt is inspired by crafting and fixing things. She will find an old wooden chair in a junk heap and see that the ‘junk’ isn’t junk at all. And before you know it, she’s repurposed it, breathed it back to life, and there it sits, a shining example of a diamond in the rough with a second chance.
My cousin is inspired by lights. He’ll light any event. He’ll dig up the exact light for any moment, and place it, just so, until the effect is right. He’ll talk lumens and light sources, LEDs and incandescent. He is able see to see the world in light.
I am inspired by many things occasionally and a few things often. I am inspired by the world. And, more often than not, I am inspired by this.
The warm aroma of baking scones; the perfect light to capture the details of just exactly how the moment felt. Smoke and mirrors, with the reality to back it up. This is what inspires me: to capture a feeling and a moment and to express it. To express it so that people can see it and feel it and maybe, just maybe, be inspired by what inspires me.
Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Scones
From King Arthur Flour
2 3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup cold butter
1 cup to 2 cups minced crystallized ginger, cinnamon chips, or chocolate chips
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
2 large eggs
coarse white sparkling sugar, for topping
1) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices.
2) Work in the butter just until the mixture is unevenly crumbly; it's OK for some larger chunks of butter to remain unincorporated.
3) Stir in the ginger and/or chips, if you're using them.
4) In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the pumpkin and eggs till smooth.
5) Add the pumpkin/egg to the dry ingredients and stir until all is moistened and holds together.
6) Line a baking sheet with parchment; if you don't have parchment, just use it without greasing it. Sprinkle a bit of flour atop the parchment or pan.
7) Scrape the dough onto the floured parchment or pan, and divide it in half. Round each half into a 5" circle (if you haven't incorporated any add-ins); or a 6" circle (if you've added 2 cups of fruit, nuts, etc.). The circles should be about 3/4" thick.
8) Brush each circle with milk, and sprinkle with coarse white sparkling sugar or cinnamon sugar, if desired.
9) Using a knife or bench knife that you've run under cold water, slice each circle into 6 wedges.
10) Carefully pull the wedges away from the center to separate them just a bit; there should be about 1/2" space between them, at their outer edges.
11) For best texture and highest rise, place the pan of scones in the freezer for 30 minutes, uncovered. While the scones are chilling, preheat the oven to 425°F.
12) Bake the scones for 22 to 25 minutes, or until they're golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean, with no wet crumbs. If you pull one of the scones away from the others, the edges should look baked through, not wet or doughy.
13) Remove the scones from the oven, and serve warm. Wrap any leftovers airtight, and store at room temperature. Reheat very briefly in the microwave, if desired.
Yield: 12 scones.
When I was a kid – before the culinary explosion had completely overtaken the popular culture, before Food Network and the Rachael Rays of the world dictated that the American family's dinner plates would consist primarily of sammies, cheesy pasta and breaded chicken (woe!) – there was Jacques and Julia.
I won’t even begin to suggest that the Julia Child and Jacques Pepin hadn't already taken their places among the giants of the aforementioned culinary explosion by the time I was watching them in the early nineties (and later in reruns as a nostalgic adult) on their terribly endearing take on classic French cuisine. They were (and still are) my favorites.
Jacques, especially, with his impossibly easy way as he chops food faster and more perfectly than anyone I've ever seen – cooking “fast food” his way. And what a way it is. I can only describe it as French, or maybe more appropriately, southern French, since the recipes are always made au feeling and always look so effortless and…easy.
Just exactly the kind of cook I would hope to become – one who not only cooks well, but with feeling and with instinct – the kind of cook who cooks fearlessly.
One of the things I love most about the food Jacques and Julia would make together was that it really looked like food. The term food porn had not entered into the lexicon and while I love beautifully styled food, I also loved the way you knew that, even if it wasn’t placed perfectly on the plate - just so - Julia and Jacques' food was, simply delicious.
So I present to you something that pales in comparison to the cuisine that Jacques and Julia might have made on their show but reminds me of them because it’s simple, unfussy and in a word, delicious. The kind of food I'd like to see on the American dinner plate...no offense to Rachael.
Mexican Chicken Florentine
(adapted from Spark Recipe and suggested by the Bee)
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 (10 oz.) bag prewashed spinach
1 (145 oz.) can chopped tomatoes and green peppers (brand: Rotel)
2-3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Preheat the oven to 375*F. In a glass baking dish, place the spinach evenly over the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt and pepper to season and place them over the spinach. Pour the can of tomatoes and green peppers evenly over the chicken breasts. Place in the center of the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the chicken breast is cooked through. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, remove the baking dish and sprinkle the chicken with the parmigian reggiano. Return to the oven and cook until the cheese has melted and the chicken is cooked through.
NOTE: Ok, people. I have to tell you. I eyeballed this recipe and the amounts listed above are my best guess as to the correct ratio. So just do your best guess, too. Cook it au feeling.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day! The day of the Irish! The day of Guiness! And corned beef! And cabbage! The day we can all cast away our aversions to carbs and general good manners and drink ‘til we can’t see straight, if we want… I mean, it’s the Irish thing to do, right? (read: yes.)
Once again, in an ode to one of my most favorite places, I made one of my most favorite (and less famous among the American set) Irish foods: brown bread. You’ll remember last year I made the same thing in hopes of transforming myself into the very wonderful Darina Allen of Ballymaloe. Alas, really simple foods like Darina’s classic recipe are incredibly difficult to recreate Stateside, for an absence of ingredients. The result was a not-so-successful version of what I’m sure is a lovely recipe.
Ever the stubborn type with finding (or creating) the best recipe for my baking arsenal, I searched and I tried again. And friends, success is here. Indeed.
This recipe is the closest I've tasted to the soft, but hearty brown bread frequently found on Irish tabletops that I fell in love with. My favorite way to eat it is with Irish butter and a cup of tea with tea, but it would also be great next to a hearty stew or just plain, standing at your kitchen counter while still warm and crumbly (just a thought, this never actually happened…I swear….no lie…).
Make it today if you’re feeling Irish and still on the clearer side of your Guiness. It’s also a very Irish thing and sometin’ yer wee mam would sure like. It’s grand, ‘tis. Just grand.
Irish Brown Bread (from Epicurious)
2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
KD's notes: I was out of buttermilk so replaced it with the "buttermilk trick" - I used some skim milk and heavy cream to make it and it worked out great. Also, I added a tablespoon of sugar, rather than 2 teaspoons, per some of the comments on the original recipe. Finally, don't over mix it! This will cause it to be tough.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan.
Whisk together flours, wheat germ, salt, sugar, baking soda, and cream of tartar in a large bowl until combined well. Blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Make a well in center and add buttermilk, stirring until combined, about 30 seconds. Dough should be a bit sticky, but not wet. Do not over mix.
Transfer dough to cake pan and flatten to fill pan. With a sharp knife, cut an X (1/2 inch deep) across top of dough (5 inches long). Bake until loaf is lightly browned and sounds hollow when bottom is tapped, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool, right side up, about 1 hour.
Bread can be served the day it is made, but it slices more easily if kept, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature 1 day.
Leftover bread keeps, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature 4 days.
A commercial sized party bus, a 45minute ride into the hills, a bride, a groom, 150 cupcakes, 2 champagne toasts, innumerable glasses of wine, dinner, dancing and a shot of tequila to end the night.
72 hours later and the Blonde and the Ginger are now married.
What a night it was.
You couldn’t have asked for a more perfectly beautiful California October evening - the bright blue sky dotted by white white clouds, punctuated by perfectly cool evening – the seats framed by the vines, the stage poised. A sweet ceremony, sealed with a kiss, ended with applause and a quick jig down the aisle.
What else is there to say? It was a night full of love and joy. The dancing was great, the food delicious.
And, in case you were wondering, the cake turned out, too.