homemade blueberry pop tarts!

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I have few memories of my time with my mother that are worthing saving. My chrysalis from child to adult practically occurred in the womb, so sometimes I struggle to remember moments when we were two giggling girls, happy. Before cocaine transformed the woman I loved into a cold, paranoid somnambulant, before we moved to the pristine postmark lawns and expensive finery that was Long Island, we lived in Brooklyn. We feasted on Gino’s pizza, greasy Chinese food {spare ribs + pork fried rice for two!}, Carvel banana boats and boxes of pop tarts. Back then, I’d never heard of the word “organic” or understood the perils of white flour and sugar. We ate what we could afford and splurged on junk food and “naughty” eats when we were flush.

Yesterday, for some reason, I remembered a time when I sold picture frames, wall hangings and knick-knacks on a sheet on Thirteenth Avenue, and I remember passersby regarding me with a kind of pity. I used to think that the end always justifies the means, so I scurried home with my dollar bills and bought Little Debbie cakes and sticker books.

motherWe loved our television loud and in color {we did have one small black and white set in the living room}, and nights I’d sometimes watch evening soaps and the game shows my mother liked to watch — all the while ripping apart the foil of a strawberry pop tart, my absolute favorite.

Time passes, and we turned off our television sets, moved to different parts to New York, separated. Within a span of fifteen years I told my mother that I couldn’t have her in my life. She was my first hurt, and loving her always seemed to ruin me. This is the very definition of survival, I thought, and I never touched the foods we shared a love for, again.

Until yesterday. Until I spent the day with one of my dearest friends and business partner, Angie, and I thought I’d make her kids a sweet treat.

While these aren’t the prettiest of tarts {I’m notoriously for failing at icing because I’ve no patience}, I assure you they are the tastiest. The bleached-white Kellogg’s version has been replaced by a buttery pastry dough, awash in egg and sugar and sprinkles.

Don’t be freaked out by making butter dough — it’s easier than you think.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
For the Pâte Brisée
Makes 8 pop-tarts
1 3/4 cups (245 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks / 228 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp cold milk {I used almond milk}
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (340 grams) blueberry jam

For the Simple Vanilla Glaze
1 cup (140 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 to 3 tbsp water
Rainbow sprinkles for sprinkling (optional)

DIRECTIONS
For the pastry: Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), mix together the flour, sugar, and salt for 10 to 15 seconds, or until combined. Scatter the butter over the top. Mix on low speed for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, or just until the flour is no longer bright white and holds together when you clump it and lumps of butter the size of pecans are visible throughout.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk until blended. Add to the flour mixture all at once. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the dough just barely comes together. It will look really shaggy and more like a mess than a dough.

Dump the dough out onto an unfloured work surface, then gather it together into a tight mound. Using your palm and starting on one side of the mound, smear the dough bit by bit, starting at the top of the mound and then sliding your palm down the side and along the work surface (at Flour we call this “going down the mountain”), until most of the butter chunks are smeared into the dough and the dough comes together. Do this once or twice on each part of the dough, moving through the mound until the whole mess has been smeared into a cohesive dough with streaks of butter.

Gather up the dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and press down to flatten into a disk about 1 inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

For the pop tarts: Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it in half. Press each half into a rectangle. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each half into a 14-by-11-inch rectangle. Using a paring knife, lightly score 1 rectangle into eight 3 1/2-by-5 1/2-inch rectangles (about the size of an index card).

Brush the top surface of the entire scored rectangle with the egg. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the jam in a mound in the center of each scored rectangle. Lay the second large dough rectangle directly on top of the first. Using fingertips, carefully press down all around each jam mound, so the pastry sheets adhere to each other.

Using a knife, a pizza roller (easier), or a fluted roller (easier and prettier), and following the scored lines, cut the layered dough into 8 rectangles. Place the rectangles, well spaced, on a baking sheet.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the tops of the pastries are evenly golden brown. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.

For the glaze: While the pastries are cooling, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and enough of the water to make a smooth, pourable glaze. You should have about 1/2 cup. (The glaze can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.)

When the pastries have cooled for 30 minutes, brush the tops evenly with the glaze, then sprinkle with the rainbow sprinkles (if using). Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the glaze to set before serving.

The pastries can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

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prepare yourself for the giant…

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Do you know who I am? I’m alive you understand, the life, the life, the life…Are you prepared for the atom bomb, are you prepared for my aching arms? Are you prepared, are you prepared? Are you prepared for serenity, are you prepared to disagree? Are you prepared, are you prepared for meThe Bird and the Bee’s “Preparedness”

We were a family of lottery players. We sharpened our pencils, selected numbers at random, and stood on a line that snaked the length of a city block, because we believed that all we needed was a dollar and a dream. Come nightfall we’d sit on the stoop, still wet from the johnny pump and the spray of Colt 45 that matted our hair to the backs of our necks, listening to the elders trade stories of what they’d do if they hit it big. Sadie said she was going to buy me a house where all the white people lived. Promising us that she’d stand on her lawn, defiant, knowing that they couldn’t get rid of me, even if they tried. Some mused about giant boats settling sail in a blue ocean. No one had ever seen waves swell, seen the beauty of them rise up and warble like a long note held. No one bore witness to the descent, to the waves crashing onto the shoreline. Back then the only water we’d seen poured out of spigots and sprayed out of pumps on the street.

Others hatched plans about taking a trip around the world although they secretly knew that the whole of their world would always be Brooklyn. Their prison was a ten-block radius, yet once a week they’d shuffle to the market with their dollar in tow, plotting escape.

Back then we were naive to believe that money bought you freedom. Back then we wanted the life we saw on our black and white television sets; we raged war with the wire rabbit ears to bring this life into focus. Back then we wanted the giant.

Recently, someone upbraided me for my decision to abandon a comfortable life. Think of all the money. Think about what you’re walking away from, she warned. Shaking my head I sighed and said that what I was running toward was infinitely richer. It was the ticking that was the bomb. Granted, I’m being smart about things. I’m squirreling away as much money as I can. I’m buying only what I need. I’m ridding myself of the unnecessary, the things that only bring me anxiety rather than sustenance. I’m making my preparations for the day when I’ll walk away from security to something other. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t worry about it, fret over my decision, a little. I’m pragmatic, cautious, but then I recall a conversation I had with my friend Kate a few years back. I considered renting a more expensive apartment than the one in which I’d lived, but worried that I wouldn’t have the money to pay for it in the long run. Kate told me that I should always bet on myself. I was my biggest investment and that I should nurture myself. The rent line would be stable and my potential could only grow — all things being equal, of course.

Ever since then I try to remind myself to bet on myself. To believe in myself. To know that I am the ticking that is the bomb. To know that money is actually the prison, not the thing that sets you free. To believe that I can break from third person and rush to first. That I can be the giant.

All this while having lunch at Campo de Fiori.

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the gathering kind {part 4}: the nobility of living a quiet life

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It must be very beautiful to be finished. When the train rushes into the station, to let the wind blow into your face. Suppose your whole life surges back to you. I try to believe that Harris summoned all the beauty of his life. — Sarah Manguso, The Guardians: An Elegy

Over a telephone line my father tells me about his life. It’s been five years since the day I dropped another line and sprinted twenty blocks to a train to a taxi to a farm where my father nearly lay dying. I remember his face the color of a bruise and the gash still raw from where he smacked his head on the pavement. Standing in his home painted yellow, where swords and feathers festooned the walls, I shook a bottle of pills in my hand. Why didn’t you take them? What do you mean, you forgot? Who wakes up after thirty years and forgets to take their pills? In a small voice, I said You’re killing me. Furious, he told me he didn’t need them anymore, that he had a new plan. He was drinking wheatgrass every day, you see. He was a fit fellow even though everyone around him was dying. And hadn’t he collected me from the train station in Locust Valley — when the sky was a blanket of black and the squirrels ravaged through the trees — and put me into the car when I couldn’t stand from all the drink? Didn’t he put up with the wine lips all those years? My mother, me, difficult women on the road to ruin — he shouldered all of this. A year sober, I leaned against the wall as if it had the ability to buoy me up and I wondered if this was the very definition of retribution.

Sorrow never hides, it just lies dormant. It festers, metastasizes and spreads like sickness. We’ve been here all along, it torments. Here’s our card; we’re in the business of reunion. That night I dreamt of a woman with moths for eyes.

This was the year his boss’ heart stopped and all the horses were sold, when my father was forced out of the home he’d known for ten years. In that moment, when his face was all swollen and his apartment barren, I felt the shackles clasp tight around my ankles. And my body went cold, as if all the power had gone out. There goes the moths fluttering out of your hair. Rewind the tape and I was back to where I’d started: parenting a parent. Mothering without a map. Having to clean up the blood and pack the bags in the car. I needed to say goodbye to all that, so in a restaurant in Long Island I told my father that I was done being a parent. And we didn’t speak for five years. Until now.

It occurs to me that my mother and I had abandoned our cats. Funny the things that linger.

We start by exchanging words between our telephones, not picking up from the place we’d left off but going somewhere new. We both have new jobs and we talk about my mother, how she has a new family now. How she’s a mother to a daughter who has the name I was meant to have. We don’t tread in the waters that were those lost years; we text in present tense.

When we finally gather, it’s like old times. We take comfort in the stories that used to make us laugh. He takes new pills now, blood thinners, and they make his legs hurt. After a few moments I wonder aloud if he should be taking them. We laugh cautiously and press the sentences on. He tells me about his new life, a home beautifully made on a new farm with a family who adores him. When I tell him about Paris, he proudly talks about the aftershave his boss wrapped in tissue. Smiling, I nod into the phone and ask him if he’s happy. My father’s life is uncomplicated and quiet, and this pleases him. And part of me wonders if he aches for the world and everything in it, or if this, this life, is all he ever wanted. Whether he’s content being a man who works on a horse farm, lives in a warm home and takes wheatgrass in the mornings.

When I hung up I realized that there’s nobility in living a quiet, dignified life. My father is possibly the most honest man I know. He is the embodiment of good, and sometimes I feel small against all that goodness. That I was always the ambitious one — I was the savage who wanted the world and every single thing in it. And maybe I judged him for serving as a mirror to a flaw in my character. Maybe this is why we lost all those years. Maybe he and I will talk about it one day.

What I do know is this. When he asked me about my writing, my baking, my life, when he asked me if I was happy, I remember not answering the question. I remember changing the subject. The hand that shook the bottle now shakes the head no.

Remember the photo that your mother took? The one of you with the whisk? Remember that? my father asked once. You looked really happy. When I hang up the phone I whisper to my pop that I’m getting there.

Last week, after French class, I was exhilarated. Practically levitated all the way to Smith Canteen. Ordered a pile of delicious (delicious!) food that I knew I couldn’t eat because it was SO. MUCH. But it felt like home to me. The flaky crust that caved into the sweet pumpkin, the sage mayonnaise on the turkey sandwich and the peppery bite of the sausage biscuit gave me shelter during a time when I’m starting to climb my way out of the betweens.

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we all scream for ice-cream: van leeuwen artisanal ice-cream, brooklyn

van leeuwen artisanal ice cream, brooklyn
There was a time when I was mad for frozen yoghurt. Lock me in a room with a pint of Haagen Daaz coffee and I was golden. And it wasn’t until I set eyes on buckets of whipped cream in a seemingly endless cacophony of colors, it wasn’t until I let the flavor of toasted nuts settle into my tongue, did I fall deliriously in love with artisanal ice-cream.

Believe me when I say that this sort of treat isn’t for the weak of heart or tepid of taste buds, but rather it’s for those who want a deep, enveloping flavor. So if you’re content with your bucket of Baskin Robbins, you may want to turn away. However, if you’re game to make a leap of faith, I implore you to consider this: when it comes to ice-cream, you’d better go big or go home.

Enter Van Leeuwen Artisanal Ice Cream. I first encountered Van Leeuwen in the form of a parked truck on Spring Street. A seemingly serene and astringent treat truck, the Van Leeuwen offered a handful of flavors at a price that seemed princely. Until you wrapped that little spoon around your tongue, because FOR THE LOVE OF PONY is this ice-cream divine. Whether you’re sampling pistachios grown on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily or red currants harvested in Hudson Valley or settling into a spoonful of Oak Barrel Aged Vanilla, you’re guaranteed to feast on a regal dessert worthy of servitude. And that’s just the flavoring. Let’s not forget the hormone-free milk, and a product free of stabilizers, preservatives or the tar gum so ubiquitous in those supermarket tubs.

I often fantasize about owning a bake shop, and when I walked into Van Leeuwen it’s as if my vision had come to pass. A verdant garden, white, soothing decor, and glass windows ushering in the light — this is what makes one take their time with their cup of pistachio greatness. These are the kinds of desserts worth savoring.

van leeuwen artisanal ice cream, brooklyn
van leeuwen artisanal ice cream, brooklyn
van leeuwen artisanal ice cream, brooklynvan leeuwen artisanal ice cream, brooklyn

eat here now: appertivo, park slope brooklyn

Appertivo Lunch Consider me a creature of culinary habit. Once I find a eatery worth patroning, I become addicted to it. Typically, it’ll take a crowbar and some Crisco to pry me away from one restaurant in an effort to try another.

I’ve been dining at Appertivo for the past two years, and I am positively and utterly addicted to their fresh linguine pasta with pesto topped with char-grilled chicken. Mind you, I also adore their brunch, where wholesome, multi-grain pancakes are sold amidst crisp turkey bacon and to-die-for home fries, are served. But the crown jewel is solely reserved for their Italian fare. Affordable (most dishes are under $10, and come with a glass of wine), delicious food, quick and friendly service, and an airy, open ambiance make Appertivo one of my preferred Brooklyn eateries.

eat here: get fresh table & market: park slope, brooklyn

get fresh table & market: rainy day and dessert Picture a bed and breakfast tucked away in some resplendent village. Imagine the long, wooden tables and antique chairs that have a patina, a place brimming with conversation and character. Rows of cookbooks, steel-cut oatmeal in containers and bags of freshly-ground coffee. The fare is simple, yet flavorful and a line winds its way out the door. I’ve been to many of these sorts of places over the years, and never did I think I’d encounter one in Park Slope, Brooklyn. For the most part, dining in Park Slope (for me) is abysmal. Overpriced, bland food and a sea of the entitled. However, after hearing the buzz amongst friends and neighbors, I decided to make the trek to Get Fresh Table & Market.

An ardent evangelist for clean food, I was thrilled to find local and organic fare — the greens and toasted pistachios, the quag cheese that rendered my cheesecake silky and incredibly light — and meats that were humane and free-range. The dishes were flavorful, especially the Maccheroni and Cheese with mornay sauce and crumbled toasted crumbs (just thinking about it makes me quiver a little for the dish was a touch tangy and light and velvety all at once), and the winter greens dressed with pear dressing. The coffee is French press and rich, and although I ate a great deal (including dessert!), I didn’t have that unbearable “full” feeling and requisite nausea that comes with dining out in non-clean establishments.

The ambience is perfection, the bathrooms rustic and very clean, and the service, delightful. Bonus points for not giving me alien eyes when I relayed that I’d take snaps of my food!

So if you’re making the trek to Park Slope, I beg you to check out Get Fresh Table & Market on 5th Avenue.

Note: I’m using my new DSLR!! As per the amazing Amanda’s suggestion, I’m snapping in AV mode. Some of the images were in “P” mode. If you have any tips and tricks for operating the Canon Rebel XS DSLR camera, do let me know!

get fresh table & market: macaroni & cheese
get fresh table & market: macaroni & cheese
get fresh table & market, park slope, new york
quarg cheesecake
get fresh table & market: salad
get fresh table & market: coffee