grain-free granola (and dear god, this is GOOD)

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Sometimes I miss gluten, I do. I’ll see an Instagram photo of a thin crust pizza topped with pancetta and figs and I’ll mourn. When I was in Spain, I took an apartment next to a bakery and the waft of baked morning loaves was sometimes unbearable. I don’t miss pasta as much as I thought I would, or the laundry list of foods that contain gluten in one form or another, but I miss bread. I miss oats. I miss granola. Now you may wave your pro-oat flag and tell me that there are gluten-free versions of oats, to which I’ll solemnly shake my head and respond, no, you are mistaken. All oats have gluten, and the gf versions simple don’t have the form of gluten intolerable to celiacs. Thus, it’s safe! Let the gluten-free label mania commence!

And then there are people like me, who are sensitive to gluten of all molecular shapes and forms, who break out into hives that one day I indulged in some gluten-free oats in my pancakes. I’ll spare you the visuals.

I thought I’d have to wait 7 more months to have granola until I came upon this paleo-friendly recipe. AND DEAR GOD, ORANGE KITTENS AND CHARRED-CRUST PIZZA WITH CRUMBLED SAUSAGE, THIS IS GOOD. Better than the oat version, my grain and gluten-free friends. Believe me when I say that I didn’t even purchase my requisite coconut or almond yoghurt (don’t believe what people tell you–these versions simply aren’t as good as the dairy-ridden kind)–I ate this granola by the spoonful. I love how it’s at turns salty and sweet, and the softened figs and dates give the granola a lovely texture.

I could eat this for days. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones, one of the bread-eating, pizza-crust-nibbling folk, living a gluten, fanciful life, this granola will kick your crap oats any day of the week.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen, modified
1 cup blanched, sliced almonds
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped
3 dried figs, chopped
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup almond flour/meal
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
seeds from 1 vanilla bean (if you don’t have this, add another tsp of vanilla extract)
pinch of cinnamon + sea salt

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix all of the ingredients. Turn the mixture out onto the baking sheet and spread into a thin, even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring the mixture halfway through the baking process. Let cool completely before serving to ensure that the granola will harden into clusters.

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the cheerful chocolate avocado smoothie (dairy-free)

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When you have jet lag, you might stand in your kitchen and experience vertigo over the thought of making soup. You might lie on your couch, catatonic, watching old Katie Holmes movies. You might read a heady book on the history of the banana republics and United Fruit or wander food markets in a daze. You might watch The Shining, as if it’s the first time you’ve seen it instead of the 1,564th time.

Jet lag is real, friends, and yesterday was comical and exhausting. The idea of cooking a complicated meal was unimaginable, and I stared at the greens in my fridge and wanted to go to sleep. The afternoon wasn’t as daunting as was the evening, when I wanted to crawl under the covers at 7pm and fall asleep. Thankfully, I made it until 9pm.

For dinner, I made this huge smoothie (it’s made for two), shoved some chorizo in my mouth and tumbled to bed. Today I plan to summon the strength for a CFE class and making my lunch for the work week. Pray for a woman.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook, modified slightly
2 cups almond milk
6-8 pitted dates
2 tbsp cacao
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup ripe avocado
2 tsp unsweetened coconut flakes
6-8 ice cubes

DIRECTIONS
Add all of the ingredients to a high-powered blender or Vitamix and blitz until smooth. Serves two, or you can be a jetlagged imitation of me and drink the whole lot of it and pass out at 9pm.

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my morning smoothie + the art of self-care

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When left to my own devices, I will get a scone (blueberry, if you please) or a muffin where the edges are crisp and the cake is yielding. When I’m flush, I’ll scarf down an almond croissant dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and when I’m low I’ll feast on a bagel, and feel as I’m carrying boulders for the rest of the day.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this concept of self-care–the art of listening to your body, feeling yourself in your own skin: the space between your fingers and toes and the like. The first steps are listening and feeling, being present, paying attention, and then we do the things that are right for ourselves as opposed to the things we think we ought to be doing. Perhaps it’s taking the shape of a yoga pose we took previously, or lifting the weights that were once so effortless. Or maybe it’s the need to stay home and rest when the world demands your velocity. A good friend once told me that on your deathbed, you’ll never say, I wish I spent more time in the office or I wish I had more money or fancy finery to hang in my closet. In the end, we wish we would have lived more, loved more, paid attention more. And it’s only when we take some time to take care of ourselves do we have the strength to be our best selves with others.

I’ve been thinking about self-care when it comes to food, and I often equated self-care to self-medication. I need that scone because I need armor, protection against the host of meetings ahead of me. I need, no, deserve, that bowl of macaroni and cheese because, can I just tell you about the day I had? But the feeling of comfort is always fleeting, it departs as quickly as the sheets have cooled, and you’re back to where you started. The busy morning. The day worth shredding.

Instead, I’m thinking more about self-care, fuel, rather than anesthesia. And while this smoothie may not look glamorous, it gets me off on the right foot, as it were. Gives me the energy to start my day, sharp and clear-headed. Because I need to be healthy, present and strong for myself in order to be present for others.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup almond milk
1 ½ scoops of XyMogen OptiMetaboliX™ powder*
Fruit Options (I mix up the ingredients in my smoothie, daily): 4 figs (my favorite!); 5 strawberries; handful of blueberries; 1 peach; 1/2 cup pineapple or watermelon; 1/3 cup blackberries
Veg: a handful of kale or spinach
5 ice cubes

*Note: Here’s the rub: you can only get this powder from licensed nutritionists or medical professionals. If that’s not possible, feel free to sub in your favorite protein powder. I’d opt for vegan protein or hemp rather than whey.

DIRECTIONS
Add all the ingredients to a high-powered blender (I start with the fruit + veg at the bottom to preserve my blades), and blitz until smooth.

chocolate almond banana acai bowl

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Let’s talk about the Avocado Consumption of 2002. 2002 was the year I discovered the avocado, consumed it at every meal (I practically subsisted on guacamole), and ended up developing an allergy to it. If you’ve been a long-time reader of this space, you’ll know that I have an addictive personality. If I love something, I love it HARD until it becomes something that I hate, something that my body is desperate to reject. When I think about it, I’ve always been this way. When I love something so much I have to undress it, dig deep and burrow myself all the way in there. I have to know something until it’s completely familiar, until there’s nothing else to know.

Moderation is a joke, because I tend to skirt the extremes. But I’m trying. Hence, the nutritionist I’m seeing this week. But I digress.

I recently discovered the acai bowl. Believe me when I say that the feeling I had for my first bowl was like church. Light streaming in through the glass, cold pews, crisp paper–all that jazz. In short, I’m returning to the Avocado Consumption era. Luckily, I think I’ve hit a wall after having realized that I can’t LIVE ON ACAI. Naturally, this happened after two days of eating nothing but acai smoothies and bowls. Sound familiar?

Anyway, I love this bowl. Don’t be deceived by the look of this recipe because it’s not saccharine sweet. While the dates and banana lend some tenderness, the cacao is a bit bitter and the acai fruit isn’t your quintessential raspberry, which is to say that this bowl has wonderful balance. Not only is it insanely healthy, but you will be sated for HOURS.

HOURS, PEOPLE. Let that sink in.

Know that I’ve got a few more acai recipes cooking, so this won’t be the last of my beloved bowl.

INGREDIENTS
1 large banana
2 Sambazon‘s Immunity Smoothie Acai packs (New Yorkers, this is on Fresh Direct)
2 tsp coconut oil
1/2 cup rice milk (coconut/almond milk will do just fine here, as well)
1 tbsp cacao
2 dates
1 tbsp almond butter
1 tsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup your favorite granola
1/2 cup fresh blueberries

DIRECTIONS
Blitz all the ingredients (from the banana to almond butter) in a high-powered blender/Vitamix, with the banana being at the bottom as a buffer for your blades, until smooth. Pour into a bowl and add the coconut flakes, granola + blueberries on top. Dive in with a spoon and weep.

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chocolate banana chia pudding

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Welcome to my new breakfast. After months of blitzing up my almond butter cup smoothie to only indulge in a scone once I hit the train station, I’ve finally found a breakfast that keeps me stuffed until lunchtime–no small feat, I assure you. Inspired by TV Dinner’s post + devouring expensive, yet insanely delicious, acai bowls at Tiny Empire, I decided to fix up a chia pudding of my own. Not only does this recipe feel like I’m having dessert for breakfast, but the protein and potassium boost give me enough energy to tackle my day. I’ve had this pudding three days in a room + I’m hooked.

So, friends, my gift to you.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup enriched vanilla rice milk
3 tbsp chia seeds
2 tsp vanilla extract {coconut extract would also be lovely!}
2 tsp cacao powder
1 tsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp Truvia/stevia
1 tsp almond butter
1/2 ripe banana

DIRECTIONS
In a mason jar or a small bowl, mix all the ingredients except for the banana and almond butter. If you’re using a bowl, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and store your pudding in the fridge overnight. In the morning, uncover, mix, and top with almond butter and banana slices.

cinnamon buns + a novel update {so close!}

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Things have been quiet around here simply for the fact that except for workouts and the sole writing date, I’ve spent the past four days holed up in my apartment working on my novel. I’d been stuck on Part III, unsure of how to find closure with my characters and this story, which ended up being exactly what I never thought it would be. Suddenly, the story came like a torrent. So much so that I stayed up until two in the morning last night, writing.

Know that I normally go to bed at 10 and wake up at 5. Let’s just say that getting up this morning was ROUGH.

But I’m close, so close I can see the end in sight, and it’s terrifying and exciting. Last year, when I left my old life behind in pursuit of something other, I took a trip to Europe to get some quiet. And the week before I was schedule to fly home, I started writing. I hadn’t written anything in four years, and it came and I didn’t question it, think about or analyze it–I just wrote in front of the ocean. In sleepy Biarritz, I started writing a story about a woman who set another woman’s hair on fire. A year later and nearly 240 pages, I’ve fallen in love with these people–some of whom I’ve known since the story collection I was writing during my Columbia days–and I’m a little sad to see this story come to a close.

Yesterday, I took a much needed break and baked up these cinnamon rolls. I love baking yeast breads because it requires you to linger, to be conscious of time, and so I scheduled writing bursts between the multiple proofs, and come nightfall I savored a bun with some coffee, typing into the night.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of The Food Network.
For the dough:
1/2 cup whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1/4-ounce package)
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the bowl
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

For the filling:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, very soft, plus more for coating the pan
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

For the glaze:
2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
For the dough: Combine the milk and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan and warm over low heat until it is about 100 degrees F (but no more than 110 degrees). Remove from the heat and sprinkle the yeast over the surface over the liquid. Sprinkle a pinch of the granulated sugar over the top and set aside without stirring, until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Whisk the butter, vanilla and egg yolk into the yeast mixture.

Whisk the flour, remaining granulated sugar, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and stir in the yeast mixture with a wooden spoon to make a thick and slightly sticky dough. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead until soft and elastic, about 6 minutes. Shape into a ball.

Brush the inside of a large bowl with butter. Put the dough in the buttered bowl, turning to coat lightly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, trace a circle the size of the dough on the plastic and note the time. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead briefly to release excess air; reform into a ball and return to the bowl. Lightly butter a large piece of plastic wrap and lay it on the dough. Cover the entire bowl tightly with the plastic and proof in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.

To fill and form the rolls: Butter a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Whisk the granulated sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Turn the prepared dough onto a floured work surface and press flat. Then roll into a 10- by 18-inch rectangle, with a long edge facing you. Spread the softened butter evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving about an inch border on the side opposite you. Evenly scatter the cinnamon-sugar over the butter. Starting from the long side facing you, roll the dough up into a tight cylinder. Lightly brush the clean edge of the dough with water. Press the open long edge to the dough to seal the cylinder.

Slip a long taut piece of string or unflavored dental floss under the roll, about 1 1/2 inches from the end. Lift and cross the string ends over the roll, and then pull the ends tightly in opposite directions to cut a single roll. Repeat, cutting every 1 1/2 inches, to make 12 rolls. Place the rolls cut-side-down in the prepared pan, leaving 1 inch of space between them. Cover the rolls loosely with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until rolls double in size, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Bake the buns until golden brown and the tops of the buns spring back when pressed lightly, about 30 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes.

For the glaze: Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the condensed milk, butter and lemon juice to make a smooth, slightly loose icing. Add the vanilla and cinnamon. Drizzle the icing over the warm buns. Serve.

Note: These buns are best eaten on the day they’re baked, but they’ll keep, covered, for 1 day. For a make-ahead option, refrigerate or freeze the buns after forming. If refrigerated, allow the buns to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes, then let rise fully until doubled in size before baking, about 2 hours. If frozen, allow the buns to come to room temperature, about 1 hour, and let rise fully until doubled in size before baking, about 2 hours.

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best blueberry muffins + books that save

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For as long as I could remember, books have always been a part of my life. I had the sort of childhood that was a photograph worth shredding; I was alone for most summers, and I spent them on my fire escape reading. While squirrels and birds ravaged the trees outside my window, I sat on the hot grates of a fire escape with a pile of books. Books were my companion and teacher, and you’d be hard pressed to find me–this small girl–without her bookbag packed to the gills, as my pop would say, with books. I started reading at 3, earlier than most, and I never looked back. I read anything I could get my hands on, and I remember that I always exceeded the limit of books one could borrow from the library. When I was small, I was consumed by stories of rich girls and their finery–their fresh water pearls and Fiat cars–where a great tragedy was being alone on a Friday night. Possibly this was a result of my steady diet of John Hughes films, but I felt transported. I felt as if I could close my eyes I’d wake to be somewhere other than where I was. Books gave me freedom, even if the freedom was defined as the confined space in my head.

Eleanor & Park
Eleanor & Park

For most of my childhood, I lived in my head. I jettisoned to exotic locales and feigned sleep in a house divided by two floors. I dreamed of stairs! Of taking them two by two! In this world, my imagination was rich and vivid, and I wove elaborate stories about my life as a result of having read so many books. Having been left alone so much, these books were a constant companion, a friend who would never abandon or leave, but they also served as ammunition for the dozens and dozens of stories and poems I wrote longhand. Books felt safe and they allowed me the freedom to interpret and understand the world in which I lived in and make sense of it through prose.

I guess you can say that my writing has always been a way for me to work things out.

This weekend was not what I intended. I planned to rest, write, work-out, spend time with my friends before starting a major project come Monday, but instead I felt anxious, uneasy, nervous–my father’s health concerns me and I’ve done everything I can to push him to see a doctor, but it’s not as if I’m physically living with him and nagging him on a daily basis {which is the only thing that seems to work}. He doesn’t yet see the magnitude of his impairment, and his clipped responses and fucking pride in hiding his illness, even while I know he’s in extreme, constant pain, is killing me. Right now I know he’s angry with me because I’ve contacted his family in Ireland and have also teamed up with his boss to push him to see a doctor. I hate being in this place, feeling his cold silence, even if I know what I’ve done is the right thing to do.

As a result I shifted gears and started reading a book I’d purchased on a whim–based on a line I’d read somewhere on the internet–Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. E&P is the sort of book that crawls deep into the recesses of your heart and sets up shop there. It’s funny, endearing, smart, tender without being sentimental. Reading the love story of two misfits in the 80s made me smile when it was impossible to think that I could. I fell in love with the characters, and felt a sort of kinship with Eleanor because I understood, and was empathetic toward, her life.

You can’t know how much I needed this book this weekend. I feel a sort of unrest about tomorrow and the days that follow, but right now I feel OKAY. Right now I feel sane enough to bake my favorite {FAVORITE!} dessert: THE BLUEBERRY MUFFIN.

Because muffins make me happy.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Cooks Illustrated, with significant modifications to the topping {i.e. I used a crumble topping from another recipe}
For the crumble topping
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 cups cake flour

For the muffins
2 cups (about 10 oz) fresh blueberries
1 1/8 cups sugar (8 oz) plus 1 tsp
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp table salt
2 large eggs, at room temp
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
First, make the crumb. In a large bowl, combine the sugars, cinnamon and salt. Pour the melted butter over the mixture and stir until fully incorporated. Stir in the cake flour until a smooth dough forms and set the bowl aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 F with a rack in the upper third. Spray your muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine 1 cup of the blueberries along with 1 teaspoon of sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, mashing the berries with a spoon and stirring frequently. Continue cooking until the berries break down and the mixture has a thick jam-like consistency; the volume should be reduced to about 1/4 cup. Transfer to a small bowl and cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. In another large bowl, whisk the remaining 1 1/8 cups of sugar and the eggs together until pale yellow and thick. Whisk in the butter and oil until combined. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and whisk to incorporate fully. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture along with the remaining 1 cup of blueberries. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold until the dry ingredients are just moistened – the batter will be lumpy, that’s fine. Don’t overmix.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared wells of the muffin pan – each well should be completely full. Add one teaspoon of the blueberry jam to the center of each well of batter. Use a skewer to gently swirl the jam into the batter. Sprinkle the muffins with the crumble mixture.

Bake for 17 to 19 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are golden and they spring back when gently pressed. Transfer the muffin pan to a wire rack and let the muffins cool for 5 minutes before removing them to cool completely.

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coffee cake crumb muffins

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You know the weekend is off to a roaring start when you spill coffee all over your shirt and couch. This short week has been a bit crazy with having to deal with tax stuff {oh the joys of being a freelancer}, paperwork for my new major consulting project that kicks off next week, and a slew of lunches, meetings and calls, which have invariably left me lying on the couch, spilling coffee on myself. Good times, friends. GOOD TIMES.

This weekend I’m laying low, futzing in the kitchen, closing out a project and gearing up for a new one. Too bad I no longer have these delicious coffee cake donuts, which I immediately turned into muffins. Because, muffin.

british-style scones with dried cherries

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On the plane ride back from Dublin, my father and I agreed that we were ruined. Our drama was rooted in the fact that we had the best scones, butter and chicken we’d ever had. Believe me when I say that our lamentations were real {with the exception of the hour we endured rolicking turbulence and I grabbed my pop’s hand, to which he replied, Your hands are so clammy!}, and for the first weeks we returned both of us refused scones and chicken. Because how could we dare taint our palates?

I remember our trip to Cobb, and how the owner of a small cafe told me that she whipped soft butter in order get that cake-like, aerated texture over which I had been fawning. Confused, I went back to the States and consulted my cookbooks — all of which read that scones MUST be made with chilled butter.

Until I found this Cook’s Illustrated recipe, and the world was set to rights. If you geek out on baked goods, you’ll appreciate the story and chemistry behind the British scone and its U.S. distant cousin. So often I’ve been instructed to not overwork the dough for fear of the HOCKEY PUCK, however, in the British scone version since all the flour is sealed with fat {butter}, gluten doesn’t form so readily, and A WOMAN CAN KNEAD TO HER HEART’S CONTENT.

The result was a marked departure from the scones of which I’ve been accustomed, but it was Ireland all over again. I smoothed some butter + preservatives on my still-warm scones and nearly cried my eyes out. Please. Make. These. Now.

On a separate note, I’ve been thinking about the comments on one of my recent posts. One in particular stuck out — the forced nature of some of my food posts — because it’s something I’ve been noticing myself. Sometimes I get so caught up in a thought or idea that I start writing and I dig where I’m going until I realize that I’ve posted a picture of a salad. Going forward, I’m going to be a bit more thoughtful here, which is not to say stories won’t be paired with food, but the pairing won’t be arbitrary, rather it’ll be deliberate and organic. So THANK YOU for your feedback — super helpful.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cane sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
8 tbsp {1 stick} of softened butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3/4 cups dried currants {I used cherries as that’s what I had on hand}
1 cup whole milk
2 eggs

DIRECTIONS
Pre heat oven to 500F and place rack on the upper-middle position.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Measure out all ingredients. In your food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and pulse into combined {5-7 pulses). Add butter to dry ingredients and pulse about 20 times, until butter is incorporated and there are no longer any large clumps. The mixture should resemble sand. Add the flour and butter mixture to a large bowl, and using a spatula mix in your currants {or cherries} until your dried fruit is coated in the mixture. Set aside.

In small bowl, whisk milk and eggs. Set aside 2 tbsp of the milk/egg mixture into a small bowl. Pour the milk egg mixture into the dry ingredient/butter mixture, folding together with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until just incorporated. The dough will be wet and sticky — don’t freak out.

Heavily flour the counter where you will roll out the dough. I’m talking like 1/2 cup of flour heavy. Flour your hands as well. Gather dough into a ball on the floured counter top. Knead dough 25-30 times, until the dough forms a smooth ball. Using a floured wooden rolling pin, roll the dough out into a circle until it’s an inch thick. Cut out scones with a floured 2 1/2 inch round cutter. You’ll get 8 scones out of the first round. Gather dough scraps, form into ball, and roll out again same as before to get the remaining 4. Brush tops of scones with egg milk mixture that you set aside.

Reduce oven temperature to 425 deg F and bake scones for 10-15 minutes, rotating halfway, until scones are golden brown. Transfer to a wire cooling rack for at least 10 minutes before eating. Add your preserves + butter and chow away. Keep the scones in a airtight container and re-heat them at 350 degrees for 5 minutes before eating.

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chocolate swirl coffee cake

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There’s always a moment when I start a new project when I think: I can’t do this. I’m crippled with self-doubt and I feel like a fraud waiting to be found out. Even when confronted with the simplest of tasks, I always go through this moment of terror, and then it fades just as quickly as it arrives. Then I say that I can and I do, and the experience always ends up being wonderful. I thought about this yesterday as I met with a new client and was delivered a project which, at first glance, seemed tremendous. A global company, multiple divisions, endless processes + procedures {remember the halcyon days of completing a requisition form for a pen?!}, and a sizable budget. My client reports into the President of North America, who also knows my work, and the visibility is tremendous.

In short, this project is a BFD. It’s exciting in magnitude and scope, and I’m always thrilled to seek out the things that challenge me, or transform how I think in a particular way. But…But…this project is BIG.

So I went through my terror, which was the total sum of fifteen minutes, and then I paused. I broke down the project into manageable parts, and within those parts I dissected further. When you start from the smallest and simplest place, things don’t seem as daunting. Now I have a village of smart parts that cling to the hem of a whole, and the panic receded. OBVIOUSLY I can do this I said to myself on the train ride home. And it occurred to me that this doubt comes from a mixture of seeing the largeness of something {its vague, obtuse and grand nature} coupled with insecurity.

Over the years I’ve compiled a list. This list is for my eyes only, and details all of what I’ve achieved. From practical and measurable successes to the triumphs that are smaller in nature, I’ve written all of it down to remind myself of what I’ve done, and what’s left to do. I return to this list often, and it’s like having a drink with an old friend. Reading my list, and creating little houses of projects within the overall village that is my assignment, transformed something that was once frightening to something that is terribly exciting.

I fist-pumped on the train and rushed home to make this chocolate swirl coffee cake as a celebration.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Godiva, modified slightly
For the streusel + filling
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup pecans
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 bar (1.5 ounces) chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
5 tbsp unsalted butter

For the cake
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan. Dust pan with flour, tapping out excess.

For the streusel + filling: Place sugar, pecans and cinnamon in food processor. Cover and pulse until nuts are coarsely chopped. Transfer 3/4 cup of mixture to small bowl and stir in chocolate for filling. To remaining mixture in food processor add flour, cocoa powder and butter and pulse until mixture is crumbly for topping. Set aside.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into medium bowl; whisk to combine and set aside.

Beat butter at medium-high speed in mixing bowl for 1 minute or until creamy, using electric mixer at medium-high speed. Gradually add sugar and beat at high speed until well blended and light, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Beat in vanilla extract. Reduce speed to low and alternately add dry ingredients and sour cream, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and mixing just until combined.

Scrape half of batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Sprinkle with filling. Scrape remaining batter over filling and smooth top. Sprinkle with topping. Bake 65 to 75 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean and cake pulls away from edge of pan. Let cake cool in pan set on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool completely.

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montreal-style bagels

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Today you’ll find me munching on two of these bagels {yes, goddamn it, two!} and working on the novel. After nearly two months living in my new home, I’m finally making use of my loft home office, cleaning it out, adding lamps and file folders, and here I am, writing, eating — two of the things I love to do.

If you have some time, I implore you to make these bagels. The honey delivers a subtle sweetness, and while I’ve never travelled to Montreal, these bagels are certainly making me ache for a holiday.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of The Gouda Life
For the bagels
1 1/2 cups warm water {100F}
2 1/4 tsp (8oz, 1 packet) dry active yeast
1 tsp cane sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
3 tsp grapeseed or safflower oil
1/4 cup honey
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
4 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour, divided

For boiling the bagels
1/3 cup honey
1 tbsp baking soda

For the topping
1 cup sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Let sit until frothy, 5-7 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, salt, oil, and honey and egg + yolk. On medium-low speed, mix in 1 cup of flour in until fully incorporated. Turn the speed up to medium-high, and add the remaining three cups of flour. The dough will feel sticky and shaggy, at first, but after 4-5 minutes, the dough will smooth out and wipe the sides of the mixer clean. If you find the dough is still tremendously sticky, add in 1-2 tbsp of flour until the is supple and smooth. Add the dough to a larger, greased bowl and cover for 30 minutes.

Divide dough into 18 equal portions. Stretch or gently roll, using fingertips, each portion of dough into an 8 inch rope and bring the ends together to form a circle. Pinch the ends together and then roll gently with the heal of your hand to seal. It’s important the ends are well secured otherwise they’ll open when boiling. Place bagels on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets and cover with a clean towel for 20 minutes.

Pour the sesame seeds {or any assorted toppings you wish to use} into a large shallow dish.

While the bagels rise, bring 16 cups of water to a boil in a large pot or dutch oven. Add the baking soda and honey and turn down to a simmer. When ready, add the bagels 4 at a time to the simmering water. Let cook for 1 minute on each side. Remove with a deep-fryer spoon or slotted spatula/spoon, drag through the sesame seeds on both sides and place back on the baking sheet. Repeat with all bagels.

Preheat oven to 500. Place 1 sheet of bagels in for 10-12 minutes or until starting to brown on the bottom. Flip bagels and cook for another 5-8 minutes, watching closely after 5 minutes so they don’t over cook. They should be golden brown. Serve with creamy butter, cream cheese — or do as I shamelessly did, add a few slices of genoa salami, arugula and whippped butter. DIVINE.

Keep in airtight container in the fridge for 1 week.

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