anjou pear + apple crisp (gluten-free/vegan)

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I hope you’ve sufficiently recovered from yesterday’s food debauchery. Although every year I make the trip to Connecticut to visit my best friend and her family, this year I decided to stay home and feast on carbs and Korean revenge films. I started off the day valiantly with homemade buckwheat pancakes and maple-brushed applewood smoked bacon, however, by the time I shoveled down my gluten-free pasta with sage sausage for lunch, I was STUFFED and missing all the greenery.

This is what happens when you eat virtuously–you can no longer rock the carb casbah like you used to.

It was also serendipitous that I’d open an email from Lucie and read her incredible, inspiring blog post while eating this homemade apple and pear crisp. To be honest, I write on this space mostly for me, and while I do have you in the periphery I never assume that my words have an impact. Unless I’m physically present in your life, I never conceive of the possibility of virtual influence, and I’m always humbled (deeply so) when I hear that I’ve made an impact in your life, albeit in the smallest of ways. I love Lucie’s blog because you can tell how much care she puts into her words. Every post reads deliberate and thoughtful, and as she writes about her journey to cut sugar out of her life, I found myself nodding along.

Here’s the thing about taking trips–you may have booked the airfare and hotel, but you’ll never know where you’ll end up until you get there. A journey never is what you want it to be. Sometimes the trip changes you, takes you to places you hadn’t imagined visiting and other times you simply travel back to where you’ve come, and you book more tickets, more itineraries in hopes that you’ll not simply arrive at your destination, but rather you experience the space between where you are now and where you want to be.

If you asked me a year ago if I’d live a life without gluten or dairy, my laughter would have been louder than bombs. SURELY, YOU JEST. SURELY, YOU DON’T EXPECT ME TO GIVE UP MY DAILY BUTTERED BROOKLYN BAGEL AND MY PASTA ON THE REGULAR? Blasphemy, I’d say, among other things. Yet the distance between then and now has been remarkable. I had to make the commitment. I had to decide to change my life. I had to have the discipline. I had to sit in months of discomfort and pain. I had to feel those burning hives on my skin to know that the house I so assiduously built was burning down from the inside out.

Along the way, I dealt with a lot of people. People who had OPINIONS and had no problem sharing them. People who read magazines at length and thought that empowered them enough to play doctor and therapist. At first, I was confused, disoriented, and then I told everyone to please STFU. I have a real doctor, a real nutritionist, and I’m paying both handsomely to guide me safely through my journey. Because would I rather travel with someone who has a map, compass and the knowledge of having travelled through a seemingly unnavigable country, or do I take a trip with someone who has simply read an article about this country and is content to feel their way through the dark? I got myopic, focused, and now I’m at a place that feels normal.

What’s ironic about reading Lucie’s post yesterday is that I was feeling the negative effects of eating sugar while reading about her journey to sugar-free. Since my diet is composed of mostly vegetables, lean proteins, good carbs and wholesome snacks, save for my daily piece of fruit (I’m okay with the fructose because eating an apple that also has fiber is markedly different than downing a soft drink), I rarely have sugar. So while this crisp was BANANAS DELICIOUS, I winced after a few bites and had a bit of a headache. I had to take a nap and I only felt better when I made myself leave the house for a four-mile walk. I noticed later that when I ate more of the crisp, my taste buds had adjusted and I found myself going in for more bites, and then a little more–addict behavior–until I woke up and told myself to STOP. I put the crisp away and chowed on some cashews instead.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying thank you for letting me know that my words here matter. That they have an impact. That you’re making mindful changes in your life based on reading the words of a stranger. You can’t know how wonderful that makes me feel.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Minimalist Baker
For the crisp
4 medium-large apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I used pink lady, honeycrisp and gala for this recipe)
2 anjou pears, peeled, cored and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar + 1 tbsp organic cane sugar
1 tbsp. arrowroot
heaping 1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

For the topping
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp gluten free flour (I prefer Cup4Cup)
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp gluten-free old fashioned oats*
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/8 tsp of nutmeg
pinch salt
1/3 cup or 5 tbsp. vegan shortening (I use Earth Balance), melted over low heat. Alternatively, you can use coconut oil, but I love how the shortening makes the crisp, well, crispier

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a 9×9 baking dish.

In a large bowl, add the apples and pears. Add the lemon juice, sugar, arrowroot, cinnamon and salt. Toss to completely coat the fruit. Add the fruit mixture to the prepared dish and set aside. Also, don’t fret over the apples/pears being too dry, or feel you have to add more lemon. The fruit will emit juices as it bakes, so trust me, this will be delicious.

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt. Add the melted shortening and mix with a fork until you get the texture of coarse sand. Don’t worry if the mixture is a little too wet, it’ll crisp up in the oven.

Add the crisp topping over the apples and bake for 45-50 minutes. Let the crisp cool on a rack before serving with your favorite dairy-free ice cream.

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vanilla-cream filled doughnuts

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My writing was like a grown up child suddenly taking up residence in all sorts of strange places and sending back photos.Leslie Jamison

I’m sorry, I’m distracted. Correction, I’ve been distracted, occupied by the sort of paralysis that happens when you sent your book out into the world. Right now, my novel is in the hands of four different people around the country and they’re reading it, not reading it, picking it up or placing the manuscript gently down. Honestly, this is the part about writing I hate–taking the small, private thing you’ve harvested and setting it free. I imagine this is what a mother would feel when she nudges her child on to a school bus for the first time and watches the doors close behind her child. The thing that I once held so close has been temporarily taken from me and I worry (worry!) that people won’t be able to see what I’m trying to do, or simply, they won’t like it.

And yes, it’s so easy to say that I shouldn’t care what others think, however, this is precisely why an artist creates. The only way I can make sense of the world is through writing about it, and as a result of that process there’s a hope that others will feel something, anything, as a result of it. The hope is that they can hear the way my heart beat when I wrote about hurt, and they would somehow understand why I had to linger in that hurt. Set up shop, played house in it. I worry that the structure of my novel will turn hurt into a maze, forcing readers to work to find my beating heart in an age where people don’t want to put in the work when it comes to art. Some want art to explain and tell rather than probe and ask.

I guess I’m also worried because this book represents some of the most confessional writing I’ve ever committed to paper–more so than my first book. It’s easy to use fiction as a curtain, and as a result I was able to imbue a great deal of myself across a few of my characters; I was able to be vulnerable on the page when I have a hard time being vulnerable off it. A great deal of me is in this story–perhaps in ways you might not so easily identify–but not all of it. Perhaps the worry is the very frightening question the book poses, really, will you follow me into the dark? Are you brave enough to go there? Will you take the time to linger there? And I brave enough to have you occupy this space with me? From this solitary act comes an invitation, of which the author prays the reader accepts.

I know this all sounds a bit looney, but this is what it’s like for me right now. For four years in my head and one year in front of a computer or stray pieces of manuscript, this book was MINE. ONLY MINE. Now, in its rawest state, it’s less mine, and I just have to breathe and deal with that.

THANK GOD FOR VANILLA CREAM DOUGHNUTS, especially on those Friday nights when the novel is the ONLY thing I can think about. Will they get it? Will they like it? Will they understand how and why I built this world? Will the world and words linger? Will they hold up over the passage of time? Was me being this vulnerable in fiction truly worth the risk at all {emphatic yes}?

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour
For the doughnuts
1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast or 2/3 ounce (18 grams) fresh cake yeast
2/3 cup (160 grams) milk, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups (490 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups (270 grams) sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
3 eggs
7 tbsp (3/4 stick/100 grams) butter, at room temperature, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
Canola oil, for frying

For the vanilla cream filling
6 tablespoons (90 grams) heavy cream
Pastry Cream, chilled

DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast and milk. Stir together briefly, then let sit for about 1 minute to dissolve the yeast. Add the flour, 1/3 cup (70 grams) of the sugar, the salt, and the eggs and mix on low speed for about 1 minute, or until the dough comes together. Then, still on low speed, mix for another 2 to 3 minutes to develop the dough further. Now, begin to add the butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to mix for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is soft and cohesive.

Remove the dough from the bowl, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 15 hours.

Lightly flour a baking sheet. On a well-floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch square about 1/2 inch thick. Using a 3 1/2- to 4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out 9 doughnuts. Arrange them on the prepared baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot to proof for 2 to 3 hours, or until they are about doubled in height and feel poufy and pillowy.

When ready to fry, line a tray or baking sheet large enough to hold the doughnuts with paper towels. Pour oil to a depth of about 3 inches into a large, heavy saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until hot. To test the oil, throw in a pinch of flour. If it sizzles on contact, the oil is ready. (It should be 350 degrees if you are using a thermometer.) Working in batches, place the doughnuts in the hot oil, being careful not to crowd them. Fry on the first side for 2 to 3 minutes, or until brown. Then gently flip them and fry for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until brown on the second side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the doughnuts to the prepared tray and let cool for a few minutes, or until cool enough to handle.

Place the remaining 1 cup (200 grams) sugar in a small bowl. One at a time, toss the warm doughnuts in the sugar to coat evenly. As each doughnut is coated, return it to the tray to cool completely. This will take 30 to 40 minutes.

To make the vanilla cream filling: While the doughnuts are cooking, whip the heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold it into the pastry cream . You should have about 3 cups.

When doughnuts are completely cooled, poke a hole in the side of each doughnut, spacing it equidistant between the top and bottom. Fit a pastry bag with a small round tip and fill the bag with the filling. Squirt about 1/3 cup filling into each doughnut. Serve immediately.

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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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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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hot cross buns {without the cross}

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It feels nice to be a human again. After a week of disturbed sleep, a case of the blues and a hacking cough, I feel as if I’ve finally turned a corner, nipped this flu in the proverbial bud as it were. I’ve still got the terrible cough, but at least I can move without wincing and my mind is finally focused and clear. So much so that I printed out a few chapters from my novel last night and spent some quiet time editing.

Looking back, it’s incredible how a bout of illness can cast a dark film over the whole of one’s world. This makes me even more grateful for the calls and notes from friends and loved ones, which served as little shards of light intent on nicking away at the dark.

I’m saying dark a lot, I realize, perhaps one of the reasons being is that I changed the title of my novel from Mammoth to Follow Me Into the Dark. I always tell writers that a book is never what you set out for it to be. Once you think you’ve identified what it is, it changes its form. Novel writing is tricky this way, and while working pretty deep in the second, meatier part of my novel, I started to think about light and dark as easy and much more subtle metaphors, as opposites and partners. I played with inverting our meaning of light and dark, and all of this felt right for the story I’m trying to tell. Vague, yes, but this was a pretty big breakthrough for me as I hit 170 solid pages.

Then there’s PART THREE. GULP.

Anyway, in lieu of not working out for four days {I decided to stop being a hero and rest and recover}, I baked like a fiend, and thank god I made these hot cross buns without the cross because right now I’m hankering for one of these bad boys slathered in almond butter.

Enjoy your week!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Donna Hay, with modifications
For the buns
1 tbsp active dry yeast
½ cup (110g) cane sugar
1½ cups (375ml) lukewarm milk {temperature barely hits 100F}
4¼ cups (635g) unbleached, all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
50g (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1½ cups (240g) dried cherries + cranberries
unsalted butter, to serve

For the glaze
1 tbsp water
2 tsp gelatine powder
½ cup (110g) cane sugar
¼ cup (60ml) water, extra

DIRECTIONS
Place the yeast, 2 teaspoons sugar and the milk in a large bowl and set aside for 5 minutes. The mixture will start to foam, indicating that the yeast is active. Add the flour, mixed spice, cinnamon, butter, egg, sultanas, mixed peel and remaining sugar to the yeast mixture and mix until a sticky dough forms. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 8 minutes or until elastic. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean, damp cloth and set aside in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

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Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll into balls. Arrange the dough balls in a lightly greased 22cm square cake tin lined with non-stick baking paper. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes or until risen.

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Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). Place the extra flour and the water in a bowl and stir to combine. Place in a piping bag or a plastic bag with one corner snipped off, and pipe crosses on the buns. Bake for 30–35 minutes or until golden and springy to touch.

While the hot cross buns are baking, make the glaze. Place the water in a small bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Set aside for 1–2 minutes or until the gelatine is dissolved. Set aside. Place the sugar and extra water in a small saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Use a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals on the side of the pan. Add the gelatin mixture and cook for 1–2 minutes or until the gelatin is dissolved. Brush with the warm glaze while the buns are still hot.

Serve warm with butter. Makes 12.

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gluten-free cinnamon blueberry muffins

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I’ve never been one for the phone. The symphony of dueling voices, awkward pauses, and the all-too-frequent, can you hear me now? makes me want to hang up and walk to my friend’s house, like I used to. It’s strange to think of a time when the only ways in which you could connect with someone were the telephone, a letter, or a knock at the door. When I was small, I’d call on my friends, which was an elegant way of saying that I shouted their name from the street down below or into a static-ridden intercom. My friend would jump the steps, two by two, and we’d race out of the cool dark hallway and into the street, into the light. This is how I remember growing up in Brooklyn, calling my friend’s name and running around the street, using our spare quarter on a grape juice or bag of onion rings.

From nine in the evening last night until eleven this morning, I spent every hour on the hour drinking water, shivering, taking medicine, and falling in and out of disturbed sleep. When I realized that I’d slept through a yoga class I’d booked, I glanced at my phone and noticed my friend Sarah had left me a message. Listening to it, I smiled because she said everything I’d been thinking this past week. I know you, more than anyone, hate the idea of being sick, of doing nothing, but calling her back was an act doing something. So I called her back and we spoke for the greater part of a half hour, and what started out as a recap of my illness {replete with a classy coughing fit} dovetailed into a long discussion about food, GMOs {I swear I can taste the GMOs in this Skippy “Natural” peanut butter}, going without sugar and the new Gauguin exhibit at MOMA. A morning that started one way ended differently, and at one point my friend told me that she normally hates talking on the phone but she really enjoyed our chat.

While nothing will ever replace the kind of childhood where you shouted someone’s name from the street, I really enjoyed spending time with someone who always has the capacity to make me laugh.

When I told Sarah I was making these muffins and changing it up a bit, she gave me an amazing tip from her Ayurvedic practice: pairing protein with sugar will reduce the amount of sugar you eat. So, for example, she said, considering eating your muffin with almond butter. You’ll eat less of it, while still indulging. This may seem like captain obvious for some, but I just slathered some Maisie Jane’s Almond Butter all over these virtuous muffins.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Gourmet, July 2006
6 tbsp coconut oil melted and cooled
2/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp whole milk
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour {I use Cup4Cup}
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup fresh blueberries

DIRECTIONS
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Put liners in muffin cups. In a large bowl, whisk together coconut oil, maple syrup, milk, and egg in a bowl until combined well. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined.

Fold in blueberries gently. Divide batter among muffin cups and bake until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.

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go bananas over this semi-virtuous banana coconut loaf

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Stumbling upon Tara of Seven Spoons’ post on baking loaves was liberating. Over the years, I’ve built up a solid repertoire of swoon-worthy desserts: chocolate mousses, kitchen sink cookies, three-layer golden birthday cakes with tufts of cream cheese frosting, and my collection of loaves and simple breads. However, I’m insanely Type-A, so the idea of deviating from a recipe gives me vertigo, so much so that I repeat recipes month after month, and even though I have the ingredients committed to memory, I still need the book.

Following an outline gives me comfort. Take that for what you will.

However, when Tara said that all loaves have a core foundation of 2 cups of flour, 2 eggs and 1/3 fat, I stood over my kitchen counter, jubilant. I had no formal recipe of which to go off; I had no instructions, and I made myself go at it alone. I’ve been talking a great deal lately about being lost, and I’m wondering if forcing yourself to experience the dark is the first step in getting through it. So in my small way, this is me finding my way to light by stumbling and falling.

So I futzed with the flours. Spelt’s a grittier flour, but I thought paired up with the creamy richness of the bananas would yield a delightful texture play. But what I love most about this loaf is that it’s not entirely too sweet. The maple syrup delivers a smokier flavor, and I feel as if I can actually TASTE the ingredients {flaxseed, coconuts, etc}.

I was going to wait to publish this tomorrow, but I’m just so DAMN TICKLED.

And will you look at that? The sun just broke through the clouds. If you’re in New York, look out your window.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup gluten-free flour {I used Cup4Cup}
1 cup spelt flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
2 large eggs
1/2 cup coconut oil, room temperature
1/2 cup maple syrup {Grade A}
1 tsp almond extract {you can also use vanilla or coconut extracts}
1/2 cup buttermilk {you can also use almond milk}
3 medium bananas, ripened + mashed
1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Special Equipment: One 9X5 inch loaf pan

DIRECTIONS
Pre=heat the oven to 350F + grease your loaf pan {I used coconut oil or coconut oil spray, but you can use butter, naturally}. In a medium bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients {flours, baking soda, salt, flaxseed} until just combined. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk the coconut oil and eggs on medium-high until the mixture has combined. Reduce the speed to medium-low, and add in the maple syrup and almond extract. The mixture will appear like it’s curdling, don’t worry, all will be resolved when you mix in the dry ingredients.

Slowly add the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the buttermilk, bananas and coconut flakes. Pour the mixture into your pan and level with an offset spatula. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow the loaf to rest on a rack in the pan for 15 minutes. Carefully turn the loaf out onto a wire rack + cool completely.

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white soda bread scones + this business of bloggers and “original content”

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Truth be told, I’m starting to hate the word “content.” It’s one of those words bandied about so much that it starts to lose its flavor. The assembly of words and the composition of a photograph have suddenly been reduced to a term that feels clinical, sterile, soulless. Rarely do I use this space to talk about the more professional side of my life, but permit me this brief trespass because I think the world is overcomplicating things a bit.

Years ago, I got my masters in fine arts {MFA} at Columbia. Having majored in finance and marketing in college and coming out of a stint at Morgan Stanley, I was hardly the sort of candidate who would attend such a program. Yet, I’d been architecting sentences and crafting stories ever since I learned how to hold a pen. My first poem was a haiku about my mother, where I likened her voice to thunder. I was seven. I wrote the sort of stories that frightened people. Routinely, I was called out of class to the guidance counselor’s office, where a young woman would hold a story I’d written and ask me if anything was wrong at home. I wanted to laugh because everything was wrong, but what did that have to do with the story about a girl who hung herself from a tree? So when the writer Judy Budnitz called me and told me I had been admitted into the program I asked if this was a practical joke. She assured me it wasn’t.

I reconcile the world, and find my way through it, in my writing. It’s always been this way, yet I never had my work discussed, nor did I understand the mechanics of writing. The bones, if you will. And this is the reason why I paid a great sum of money for this program — to have the time and space to take the thing I’ve always been doing, seriously.

My second year in the program I was surrounded by what folks call “line writers.” These are of the Ben Marcus variety. They care less about the movement of plot and development of character, rather the architecture of a sentence is tantamount. The cadence of the line rises above the din. These line writers composed the sort of pieces that read beautifully but made no sense. I always walked away feeling stupid for not getting it. How is that I could understand epic poetry and its dizzying array of allusions, yet I can’t decipher a paragraph in a short story? What I remember most is one of these writers regarding my work as if it were a sullied tissue. Family stories have been done to death, she said, rolling her eyes. There’s nothing new here. After the shock wore off and I subsequently cried in my apartment later than evening, I had a thought.

EVERY FUCKING STORY HAS BEEN TOLD. A MILLION TIMES OVER.

Heartbreak, loss, love, anger, death, sorrow, guilt, pain, envy, faith etc, etc, etc — writers have been trying to make sense of the world and the way they see it through prose. From Virgil, Dante, and Shakespeare to Beckett, Woolf, and Eliot to all of the great post-modernists, there is no new terrain to cover, the only difference is the perspective. The themes never change but the voices do, and that’s what makes us unique.

Inspired by Emily’s post, and some of my own thinking as of late, I’ve noticed a dizzying proliferation of blogs that have the same look, feel, fanciful collages, and SEO-centric plugins, and while there are the motley lot who serve to be bland photocopies of others, there are scores of other voices who bring something different.

And that difference is their voice. The power of it, the sweep of it, the depth of it.

Take this post. I’ve baked a soda bread in the form of scones, and the recipe comes from a terrific cookbook author, Rachel Allen. There’s certainly nothing new about a scone recipe, why, there are thousands of them on the internet, but what’s new is how I marry image and type. How I take a recipe and somehow connect it to what’s going on in my life. It’s my voice that hopefully makes this space unique, not the mechanics of the “content.”

I’ll put on my marketing hat {a hat I’ve worn for the better part of fifteen years}. Marketing is about storytelling, plain and simple. You take a cup of coffee and you tell me why I need this coffee. How this coffee will resolve a problem I have or make me feel better. A deft marketer connects with their intended target {consumer}, understands their needs and pain points, and then cultivates stories that speak to that need and anticipated need. The tactics are the same, the content may be similar, but it’s the voice, the way we arrange the words, the way we connect them with pictures, is new. So if we translate that to blogging and this space, stop agonizing over developing that NEW recipe or sourcing that NEVER-SEEN-BEFORE interview. Focus on understanding your audience, what they love, and how you can create beautiful things every day to deliver against that love. Have the integrity to bring beauty every single day and your audience will follow and endure.

Write your family stories, adapt your recipes {and give proper credit}, make your collages, but let them be your voice, not someone else’s. That’s what makes your virtual postmark of a space original.

Other Choice Reads on the Topic: What Should Food Bloggers Write About? | Finding Your Voice Through Social Media | Handling Change Offline + Online {great podcast}

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Rachel Allen’s Bake.
450g {4 cups} unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp caster sugar {superfine, however, I used cane and the scones turned out fine}
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda {baking soda}
1 tsp salt
12 to 15 ounces (1 1/2 cups to 2 cups) buttermilk or sour milk

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Sift the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, and salt into a large bowl, and make a well in the center. Pour in most of the buttermilk, leaving about 2 ounces in the measuring cup. Using one hand with your fingers outstretched like a claw, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk, if necessary. Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy. The dough should be soft, but not too wet and sticky.

When the dough comes together, turn it out onto a floured work surface, and bring it together a little more. Flatten the dough into a round approximately 2 1/2 1-inch deep. Cut into scones, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Turn out to a wire rack to cool.

Variations on Seasoning
White Soda Bread or Scones with Herbs: Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of freshly chopped herbs, such as rosemary, sage, thyme, chives, parsley or lemon balm, to the dry ingredients, and make as above.

Spotted Dog: Add 3 1/2 ounces sultanas (golden raisins), raisins or currants, or a mixture of all three, to the dry ingredients, and make as above.

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marble chocolate crumble cake

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When we were about to board a plane for Dublin, my father asks me, How is your life? It was a deceptively easy question, the sort of query that requires only a perfunctory response. I could have said, Great! Busy! Rich! Frightening! Unsettling! Confusing! I could have delivered the simplest of monosyllabic responses, but instead I said, I don’t know. My pop likes his meat medium rare so instead of explaining myself, I fixate on a pool of blood eddying at the corner of his plate. I wanted to say that while leaving a place that resembled comfort, or at least delivered a terrific illusion of it, was the bravest decision I’ve ever made, I’ve no idea what’s next. I don’t know what it is that I want; I just know what I don’t want, and winnowing up the options seems like an impossible proposition. So I chicken out and I don’t say any of these things, I just say, I don’t know. Dissatisfied, my pop says, That’s a load of bullshit, right there. You always know. You’ve always known. You,, he says, pointing his fork at me, always know.

But nothing is ever one thing is it? We are never one thing, are we? Just as we think we know what we are, we elude ourselves. We form our own chrysalis and a new self takes shape, and all the things that we’ve loved before have lost its luster. Are we then only what we what pursue?

Last week two people I admire offer me extraordinary full-time opportunities. I get a green pass to hop the line and one lunch can clinch the proverbial deal, and instead of leaping at the thought of not having to hustle and finally, finally, I could have normal health benefits, I pause. I retreat. I tell my pop about my hesitation and he says, Aren’t you going to get a job at some point? To which I quietly reply, I don’t know.

Fuck if I know.

This is what I do know: I love baking cakes during the day. I love waking early and working on a novel already a year in the making. I love staying up late and working on marketing plans and taking meetings with people I respect and admire in hopes that I can help them find their way. I love the rhythm of all this but it feels like stasis. It feels as if I’m in a purgatory of sorts, and nothing yet has emerged.

A few weeks ago someone told me that I intimidated them because it seems as if I’ve got it all figured out, to which I respond, Define it. Age doesn’t neatly tidy up the world, it only gives you the time to make sense of it. Age gives you the gift of perspective and need and want. But there is no pattern that knits it all together.

Today I read a blog post where the author writes: So, what’s stopping you from doing your best work and not that crappy stuff that’s filling up so many hours of your day? And I think that I’m not doing “crap” and I’m not doing my “best,” I’m rather somewhere in the betweens.

Always in the betweens, it seems.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Rachel Allen’s magnificent Cake
For the crumble topping
125g {1 cup} plain flour, sifted
75g {1/2 cup} caster {or cane} sugar
75g {3oz or 3/4 stick} unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
75g {3 oz} dark or milk chocolate, in chips or roughly chopped into pieces

For the cake
225g {2 sticks} butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
225g {1 cup} caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g (1 1/2 cups} plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
50 ml {1/3 cup} milk
25g {1/4 cup} cocoa powder
icing sugar, for dusting

DIRECTIONS
For the crumble topping: Using your fingertips, rub together the flour, sugar and butter in a large bowl until it resembles thick breadcrumbs, then mix in the chocolate pieces. Set aside in the fridge while you make the sponge.

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 180C/160 fan/gas 4. Butter the sides and the base of a 23cm cake tin – if you’re using a springform tin, make sure the base is upside down so there’s no lip and the cake can slide off easily when cooked.

Cream the butter until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and vanilla extract together in a small bowl for a few seconds or just until combined, then gradually add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar mixture, beating all the time.

Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in carefully, then add the milk and mix gently to combine. Tip half the cake mixture into another large bowl, then sift the cocoa powder into this bowl and fold it in.

Place the two different cake mixtures in the prepared tin by alternating heaped tablespoons of the vanilla batter with the chocolate one. Using a skewer or the handle of a spoon, gently draw swirls through the cake mixture to create the marble effect – try not to overmix or you won’t get that wonderful marbled effect.

Scatter the crumble mixture evenly over the top of the cake mixture and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the crumble is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then loosen around the edges using a small, sharp knife and remove the sides of the tin. Place the cake (sitting on the base of the tin) on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Use a palette knife or metal fish slice to loosen the bottom of the cake from the base of the tin, then slide the palette knife or fish slice under the cake and carefully ease it onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

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mandarin, polenta + macadamia cake + the power of ten

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I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, the one great equalizer, because every moment forward is a reminder that we’ll never be able to reclaim the hours. While I’m nowhere near my twilight years, I’ve been pensive in a way that people become when they’ve allowed themselves some quiet in which to think, and I look back and sometimes lament about how much time I’ve lost. Minutes are slippery, and as your eyes close and open again, you wake to find a year has passed and what have you done? Have you invested in yourself? Living the best life you can possibly live? Did you create and feel, really allow the bandaids to be ripped off, one by one? Or did you slouch through your days, sleep through your waking life, only to find yourself a year older with the scars of thousands of emails sent and barbs traded to mark time passing.

For four years I felt like I was a mass-market version of myself. I was everywhere, did everything, saw everyone, and nights I’d come home, depleted. Falling asleep on my couch was a natural occurrence and online food delivery was a constant. I wasn’t present in my life, rather I was what I was going after. I was that next meeting, those two hours spent with someone who drained the life right out of my body.

A year ago I decided to get surgical. I said no so many times I lost count. I only spent time with ten core people in my life, really focused on nurturing relationships I’d lost during the four years I spent underwater. I read book after book after book. I took classes. I visited museums. I boarded planes to countries unknown. I scheduled my workouts with the same amount of importance and regularity as new business meetings, and when asked recently if I’d never return to an agency — even if the money was great and the work was easy — I said that I don’t want to waste time doing the things I don’t love. I no longer want to feel uncomfortably comfortable. Money is no longer a marker of a successful life, an open heart. The discomfort I crave is in the uncertainty of what’s next, but I have time, wonderful, beautiful time, to have the clarity to figure it out.

Because time is more valuable than a $5,000 status bag that will invariably gather dust in my closet. I now only see the people I truly love and respect, people who are going to add richness from my life rather than eek it away. And if anything threatens my private time, the space in which I need to refuel and rejuvenate, I retreat further. I cancel plans and reschedule, because I’ve learned that my time is my own to squander.

And in those moments of solitude, I draw outlines, and bake warm, delicious things.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Australian Women’s Weekly
4 small mandarins (400g), unpeeled
2 cups (280g) macadamias
250g butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
3 eggs
1 cup (170g) polenta
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon icing sugar

DIRECTIONS
Cover whole mandarins in medium saucepan with cold water; bring to a boil. Drain then repeat process two more times. Cool mandarins to room temperature.

Preheat oven to moderately slow (170°C/325°F). Grease deep 22cm-round cake pan; line base with baking paper.

Blend or process nuts until mixture forms a coarse meal. Halve mandarins; discard seeds. Blend or process mandarins until pulpy.

Beat butter, extract and caster sugar in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined between additions; transfer to large bowl. Stir in polenta, baking powder, nut meal and mandarin pulp.

Spread mixture into pan; bake about 1 hour. Stand cake 15 minutes; turn, top-side up, onto wire rack to cool. Serve cake dusted with sifted icing sugar.

NOTE: Native to Australia, buttery, rich macadamia nuts have a high fat content and should be kept, covered, in the refrigerator to prevent them becoming rancid. You can blend or process the same weight of other roasted nuts, such as pecans, almonds or walnuts, if you prefer, to use in place of the macadamias. Similarly, you can substitute the same weight of other citrus fruit — grapefruits, blood oranges, tangelos, etc — for the mandarins.

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buttermilk biscuits + defining {or not} what’s next

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I spent the day with one of my closest friends, architecting a plan for her to build a brand based on mindful movement. Sarah’s this great light, and she has the ability to imbue any situation with calm. Whether she’s teaching yoga, coaching authors, or writing sketches for UCB, everything she does comes from a quiet reflection inward to create tremendous movement on the surface. Her ask of me was this: how do I bring this all together? Her question put me to thinking to the definition of yoga — a union of body and breath, and while I found it so simple to distill something simple from the seemingly complicated, I for some reason can do this for myself.

Within me I feel a fissure, a very noticeable division. I am the whole of three parts: business, food, writing. After decades of drift, I’ve found that I constantly cleave to creativity whether it be helping a multi-million dollar company re-envision its infrastructure to re-imagining words on a page. I live the puzzle of it all. How I’m able to move pieces around a board to create a new shape.

How do you sell that? How do you package it neat and tidy, when I’ve never been a woman who took on the shape of those words. I know I can’t drift; I can’t get be in this purgatory of sorts, skirting the in-betweens. Today I told my friend that I’ve no idea what it is that I should be doing. All I can do is move toward opportunities that excite me, right? Take it from there, right?

I honestly don’t know. So there’s me, gathering dough. There’s me trying to find the union between art and business. There’s me trying to figure it all out.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Southern Living, via @Emptychampagne
4 cups all-purpose soft-wheat flour, such as White Lily {I used 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour, and it turned out fine}
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup {2 sticks, 8oz} cold butter, cubed
2 cups buttermilk
Melted butter

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 450°. Sift together first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until mixture resembles small peas. Stir in buttermilk with a fork until dough forms a ball. You can also do this in a food processor, blitzing the dry ingredients, adding in the butter (and pulsing for 10-12 times) and pouring in the milk through the tube. Your dough will be quite sticky — don’t let that drive you mad as it will come blissfully together and be smooth once you turn it out onto wax paper.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured sheet of wax paper. Sprinkle dough with flour, and flatten into a disk. Cover, and chill 15 minutes.

Remove wax paper, and turn dough out onto a well-floured surface; sprinkle with flour. Pat dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a 3-inch cutter, reshaping scraps once. Place biscuits 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake at 450° for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Brush immediately with melted butter.
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