I Need To Talk To You About These Two Desserts

I’ve been baking quite a lot lately, and these are two desserts that stand out and must be shared.

First, Lemony Lemon Cake {besides anything chocolaty or custardy, lemony is my favorite kind of dessert}

I find lemons very pretty, don’t you? You’ll need a lot of them for this recipe. And you’ll spend a good bit of time zesting, but it’s worth it for the 2 lemon cakes this recipe yields.

Beautiful, fluffy, lemony dough.

Finished cake:

Next, Individual Croissant Bread Puddings with Dried Cherries, Bittersweet Chocolate and Toasted Pecans.
I made these for Sam for Valentine’s day and they were sooooooooo gooooooooood.
Like, we didn’t speak the whole time we were eating them. We just hummed.
I’m really a fan of bread pudding, but when the “bread” is “croissants” it’s just ridiculous.

The recipes:
LEMONY LEMON CAKE

source: Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Parties!

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:

  • 2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. You may also line the bottom with parchment paper, if desired.
  2. Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.
  4. Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan; spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cakes to cool completely.
  5. For the glaze, combine the confectioners sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Individual Croissant Bread Puddings with Dried Cherries, Bittersweet Chocolate and Toasted Pecans
Source: epicurious.com

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup dried cherries
  • 1/4 cup pecans
  • Canola oil for greasing
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean* (i just used vanilla extract)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 day-old croissants
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely grated bittersweet chocolate (from about 1 ounce)

PREPARATION

Preheat to the oven to broil.

Put the cherries in a small bowl, cover with boiling water, and let sit for 20 minutes, then drain.

Spread the pecans out in a pie tin, place on the middle rack of the oven, and carefully watch for 1 to 2 minutes or until the nuts are golden. Cool, then chop.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease two ovenproof bowls (with 4-inch diameters) with canola oil.

Add the heavy cream to a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds from the pod into the liquid, then add the pod. Simmer over low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove the vanilla bean pod.

Combine egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk together. Slowly pour in the cream mixture while whisking.

Tear the croissants into 6 pieces each and place in a medium bowl, then cover with the remaining cream and egg mixture. Allow the croissants to absorb the liquid for about 10 minutes. Add the cherries.

Transfer the mixture into the prepared bowls and sprinkle the top of each bowl with the chocolate and toasted pecans. Place them in the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until set, then serve.

 

Dear Students, I Love You.

It is snowing today, a lovely light snow that is floating down past my classroom windows.

It gave me an idea, so I told my Outdoor Lit kids to sit and face the windows and write poems in the form of tiny letters addressed to anything they could see out the windows. That was the assignment.

After 20 minutes, we walked out into the woods behind the school, stood in a circle under the pine trees, and one at a time, stood up on a stump and read our poems to the trees. By the end of our time outside, we all had snow in our hair and eyelashes.

Nobody told me that my idea was weird. They all just hopped up on the stump and read. Here are some highlights:

Dear snow,
I demand a white solstice.
Please get to it.

Dear branches,
You look like tiny hands
reaching up into the grey,
into the nothingness.
You are arms holding the sky.

Dear tiny little snowflakes,
Way to be individuals.

Dear winter,
We are standing here,
warmly dressed and ready for you.
Please be dramatic and stormy this year.

Summer Of Love and Books: My Summer Review


I’m officially back to work, folks. Summer was lovely and fleeting and swift and jam-packed. I read some great books, and now that I look at the stack here, I realize it was mostly a non-fiction summer. I’m tending to lean in that direction lately, I guess.

Now that I’m back to teaching, I mostly re-read the books I teach in 3 different classes, so the new ones thin out a bit during the school year. Speaking of reading books for classes!!! I AM teaching the new class I created and proposed called Outdoor Literature. I’m just a little excited. Those poor kids. I’m going to give them piles of books to read and drool all over them and jump for joy everytime we head out to the beautiful pine forest behind my school for class.

Three books from the pile are ones I’ll be teaching, so I’ll start with those. (Bless your heart if you are actually going to read all of this. I’ll try to keep my blurbs short.)

Between a Rock and Hard Place: You remember hearing this story about the guy who had to cut off his arm to free himself from a fallen boulder? It’s a GREAT read. He’s actually a pretty talented writer. It could have been done in about 150 pages less, but that’s okay.

Touching the Void: Very much in the style of Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, a survival story of a climber in Peru. It’s a real page turner.

Last Child in the Woods: A smart and thoughtful look into the gifts our children gain from playing outside and learning the cycles of nature just by being out in it all the time. I didn’t think I needed convincing about this, but some of of his research was really amazing. Not playing outside enough leads to ADHD? I believe it.

In case you’re wondering, the other books I’m teaching in this class are Into the Wild (Krakauer), Last American Man (Gilbert) Walden (Thoreau), and Outermost House (Beston) plus a 2-inch course pack full of essays and poems.

And on to the others:
Kitchen Confidential: You know Anthony Bourdain, the tough guy on the Food Network? His book is sordid and gossipy and full of interesting insights about the restaurant world. Like, never order seafood salad in a restaurant, as this is a thinly veiled attempt for chefs to get rid of their almost-bad fish. Good to know!

Under the Banner of Heaven: Yikes! Enough said.

The Way Life Should Be: A cute novel, a Maine story, and definitely meant for summer (a love story gone awry). What I loved about this main character is she ends up starting up her own little cafe and bakery on a Maine island which is a life I sometimes fantasize about.

Confessions of an Economic Hitman: One of my students from last year made me promise her I’d read this. (She said: Just think of all the books I had to read because you told me to!) Fair enough. So. This book is scary and alarming about our government’s involvement in sabotaging third world countries for the financial benefit of major corporations. It’s important for us to be aware of this stuff.

But I like to read about prettier things. Like babies and butterflies.

Out Stealing Horses: You know how I feel about that.

Here if You Need Me: My favorite of the non-fiction. A story of a woman who went to seminary after her husband was tragically killed and then became the chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. For a spiritually searching girl like me, it was perfect. I am consciously stopping myself here from going on and on and on and on. Her voice is one the bravest, clearest, and (sometimes) funniest I’ve read in a while. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Olive Kitteridge: A novel written about the main character (title) from the perspective of everyone in the town who knew her, a series of vignettes. It’s sort of dark, but many of the imges stayed with me all summer.

That’s all! I’d love to hear about the great books you read this summer too.

Take, eat.

For this week’s bread I looked through all 5 of our wonderful bread books but settled on the standby from my San Francisco days: CHALLAH.

Hello, you.

While it was rising, I was reading my book about a woman who serves as the chaplain for the Maine Warden Service, and she was writing about the difficult task of answering questions about what heaven might be like.

Here was one of her suggestions:
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixed into a large amount of flour until the yeast worked its way through all the dough.” Matthew 13:33

Well, there.

If heaven is like bread dough, it most certainly would be challah dough. If you’ve never kneaded any of this divine stuff, you must. It is remarkably similar in touch to the belly of a fat baby (Reed).

A double batch. Twice the love.

The results:

Two loaves for us for sandwiches, one for the freezer, and the braided one for our neighbors that bring us flowers and fresh-picked strawberries. Ever had a turkey sandwich with honey mustard on challah? I have.

For all you bread bakers out there, this is the very best recipe.

It comes from the cookbook The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen (which I highly recommend) but I found the recipe here.

Be careful not to overcook it or it will dry out. If you have a bread or meat thermometer, aim for between 150 and 160 degrees and then pull it right away.

I often double the batch and freeze 2 loaves.

Happy kneading

Turkey Trek 2007

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Today was our first annual Thanksgiving morning trail run…. and it was pouring rain and 35 degrees! I was sure no one would show up, so I was impressed at the 15 troopers who still turned out despite this nastiness. After a couple miles, we were all warmed up, and it was still a lot of fun. The hot shower I just took has never felt so good!

Next year, we plan to have more people, sunny weather, hot drinks, and a real finish line for people to run across.

The organizers: Christine, me, and Susan.

Christine planned to walk the trail but it was so cold, she mostly ran the 4 miles! Watch out next year!

Thanks to Shaw’s for donating the food for our runners!

For Today’s Lesson

I got to do something really fun yesterday.  Skyler and I took our smoothie show on the road, and did a smoothie making demo for her kindergarten class!

We made a bright green Green Monster first, and every kid tried it.  A few didn’t drink it all, but mostly they were very enthusiastic and sucked it right down.  I got lots of thumbs up and “more, please!” One little girl even ran up and hugged me after she drank her green monster. You gotta love Kindergarteners and how you never have to wonder how they feel about something.

Next we made a fruit and juice based smoothie with kale, and because it had so many blueberries in it, it was pretty bright blue.  We started pouring and they started slurping, drinking it all up before I could even get around the whole table.

I gave all the kids certificates because I thought they would need incentive to try the smoothies, but really, they didn’t need much convincing.

Skyler got a real thrill out of this whole process, handing out colored straws to her friends, explaining what all of the ingredients were, and stuffing the blender full of spinach with an audience of wide-eyed 5 year olds.

On the same day, Sam was invited to talk about competitive swimming to a class of 4th graders!  We’ll have all of eastern Maine working out and drinking their greens in no time!

MY CHILDREN EAT BEETS, AND OTHER LIES I MAY HAVE ACCIDENTALLY TOLD YOU  

A few posts ago, I wrote about how I’ve been eating “power foods” as much as possible to try and stay healthy, and wrote specifically about spinach salads and beets. My cousin Paige commented that she could never get her kids to eat beets.

This made me think about what other falsities I may accidentally lead you to believe.

My kids don’t eat beets. Spinach? Not a chance. Skyler will eat bowls of broccoli and peas, and Reed will eat peas and mashed sweet potatoes. With lots of butter and salt. But that’s it. They are totally unadventurous eaters. About beets, Reed says: “those are basgusting.” Roasted squash? Skyler says: “Gross.”

The biggest way that I suck as a parent is that I allowed my kids to become picky eaters, and that I started them off as little kids eating chicken nuggets (I cringe to even say those words together) and now they love them. They also love mac and cheese, hot dogs and pizza. And if I don’t feel like fighting them on it, that’s what they eat. I don’t photograph their plates of food. I have lots of friends whose kids eat what they eat for dinner and I think: damn. I screwed that one up. I cook separate meals for my kids every night and then Sam or I make what we’re having. I see a New Years Resolution brewing here.

I vividly remember that when I was pregnant with Skyler, I said: “I’m never going to let my kids eat chicken nuggets or fries so they just won’t know they exist.” HA HA HA HA HA HA. Ha. That’s rich! I also said that my kids wouldn’t drink juice. Hilarious.

While I’m at it, the other biggest way that I suck as a parent is that I let them watch tv while I’m trying to get something done in the kitchen, and when my intentions are to let them watch for 20 minutes, that almost always stretches into too long.

I know this isn’t earth-shattering stuff, and I know we all crop our photos and choose our angles to make things look the prettiest but I just feel like saying that on a typical day my kids exhaust me, I often forget to use my calm mommy voice, Sam and I argue about stupid crap, I forget to be grateful for everything that I have, I fixate on what I don’t have that I want, and my kids eat processed chicken for dinner.

Phew. I feel much better now. Thanks.

Oh wait… this one is too good to pass up: On Thanksgiving evening, my kids were hungry before any part of the dinner was ready and we were all so sick of cooking that I gave them peanut butter and jelly and sliced bananas for dinner. They were psyched.

NIKE WOMEN’S MARATHON

The RACE REPORT!

Time the hotel alarm was set for: 4:45 am

Time I woke up: 1:02 am

Time I got up: 3:13 am

Line up for start: 6:00 am

Total number of runners: 20,000

Time the gun went off: 7:00 am

Time lapsed before we even moved one inch forward: 10 minutes

Time lapsed before crossing the STARTING line: 17 minutes

How I felt when I started running: not great. my back and legs were achy. great timing.

Who I was running for:

First time I thought “there is no freaking way I’m going to finish this race”: mile 1

How far off pace I was by mile seven: 15 minutes

Why I was so off pace: Not sure. The first few miles were so congested it was hard to actually run. I can also say, in hindsight, I was just too conservative. I could have picked it up but I was holding back big time.

Steepest hills on the course: between miles 6 and 10

Lowest moment: Mile 10 1/2

Why it was my lowest moment: so tired, so far to go, dizzy

Moment when my mood brightened: seeing my mom, brother and sister waiting for me at the mile 12 marker

Secret weapon: my sister Liesel who jumped in and ran with me from mile 12 to mile 17 and completely turned the race around for me.

Point at which I knew I was going to finish the marathon: mile 15

When I felt most like a rock star: When my brother jumped into the race at mile 17 to videotape me while running backwards in front of me.

What I ate along the way: 1 chocolate GU, 4 packets of Luna Moons, 6 mini Luna bars, handful of pretzels, 2 orange quarter, 1/2 banana

What I drank: cups of water and gatorade every 2 miles

How many times I stopped to pee: 0

Most surreal: the miles between 18 and 23 sort of ticked away as if I was in some auto-pilot mode… the part of the race I’d anticipated to be the worst was just not that bad

Best idea: putting my name on my race shirt. Hearing “Looking strong Emilie!” just never got old.

Time I had hoped to cross the finish line: 5:30

Where I was at 5:30: about mile 25 1/2

How I felt during the last 1/2 mile: like every molecule in my body was firing, every hair on my body was standing up straight, and all I could hear were screams and cowbells ringing. It was everything I could ever have hoped it would be.

Actual finish time: 5:38

How I feel about that: I’ll take it, but there is lots of room for improvement

What was waiting for me at the finish line: A San Francisco fireman with my Tiffany necklace in a little blue box:

My mom, Liesel , Chris, aunt Ellen and uncle Dickie, flowers, a box of tissues (Liesel), a finishers shirt, and piles of food.

Luckiest person in the world: me

How proud was my mommy:

How many blisters I had on my feet: 0 (but I checked)

How much money was raised by this race for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: $14 Million

How I felt right after: like this

How I feel today: fantastic

Will I run another marathon? Yep. But it won’t top this one.

 

HOW TRAINING FOR A MARATHON IS LIKE BEING PREGNANT

This is just one small part of the overall “marathons are like labor” simile that I’ve been working on for about 3 months. I have to actually run the marathon before the comparison can be made in completion, but I definitely have some good material brewing.

It occurred to me the other day that if the marathon = labor, then the training = pregnancy. Here are just a few of the many parallels.

1. ACHES: When you’re pregnant and when you’re training, you talk about your aches and pains a lot with your friends. You also moan a lot, especially when you are first getting out of bed, because places that have never hurt before now hurt.

2. THE CALENDAR: When you’re pregnant and when you’re training, you are obsessed with calendars. You love to mark off the end of each week because it shows the progress you are making. You love the milestones you cross, like the first trimester, or the first run longer than a half marathon.

3. IT’S ALL MENTAL: The first night of my hypno-birthing class (which is supposed to train you to experience pain-free labor… ask me how well that worked! HA HA! HA HA! HA!), the teacher told our class that we had to stop telling people “I am going to try to have a natural birth” and begin to tell everyone “I am going to have a natural birth.” In my training, I have to work very hard on this one: “I am going to run a marathon.” “I am going to finish a marathon.” There. I said it.

4. BODY CHANGES: When you’re pregnant, your body gets bigger and bigger and also changes in alarming and disconcerting ways. When you’re training for a marathon, your body just looks better and more muscly. I guess this one doesn’t really work.

5. EVERYBODY-ELSE-CAN-DO-IT MENTALITY: When you’re pregnant and when you’re training, you feel reassured by looking around at all the other people who survived the thing you are getting ready for. You think: “Look at all these people! Every single one of them was born from a woman!” You spend hours on Youtube watching videos about marathons and see all those people crossing the finish line. You read strangers’ race reports online. Some of them scare you to death because some of the people have “marathon horror stories” but you read them anyway and add all of their mishaps to your list of things to worry about. But mostly, you are reassured by the thousands of people who finish marathons happily every year.

6. EATING: When you’re pregnant and when you’re training, you eat a lot more than usual. You eat whatever the hell you want, because it doesn’t matter at all. You eat all day. You eat big bowls of ice cream after dinner. You eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches on your way up to bed. You stop buying low-fat products. You eat half a pie in one sitting, out of the pan (I didn’t!).

Stay tuned for the complete explanation of the race and labor connections, followed by a post-race/ post pardum epilogue.

A BLUR OF WONDERFULNESS: OUR TRIP TO DC

We are home. The time in DC was so amazing that I’m actually having a time absorbing it all. I came back to running embraces and tons-o-kisses from my kids, and it is good to be home. And a little bit hard to know that the poetry-love-fest is over.

There were so many highlights on the last day that it feels like 4 days. Here is the recap.

We started Tuesday with a tour of the White House which was very cool, but I saw not one Obama, not even the dog, and they prohibited cameras, to which I said, “Hello People…I have a blog!”

No luck. Just trust me that it is gorgeous and awe-inspiring to think of all the people who have walked those floors and sat in those rooms.

Then, we went to a Congressional Luncheon on Capital Hill. Will’s mom thinks it is cute and funny that I always take pictures of food, so she wanted to take a picture of me with the lunch buffet. Funny, right?

Each student had hopes of meeting either their senators or a congressperson. Some senators popped into the luncheon to meet their student and family. We had a special situation: BOTH senators and our congressman wanted to meet Will privately in their offices! As it turned out, we had to cancel the meeting with Senator Olympia Snowe because it conflicted with the time Will had to be on the bus for the night’s competition. So we were escorted off to meet with Senator Collins (in case you don’t know, Maine has two female senators who are both Republicans).

We went into the Senate office building and found our way here.


But alas, Susan Collins was delayed, and was still in the Capital building. We thought that meant we wouldn’t meet her. Instead, it meant that her assistant whisked us down into the tunnels that connect the Senate and Representative Office buildings with the Capital, and took us TO Senator Collins.

This is the tram that takes the Senators back and forth through the underground tunnels to the Capital. We were told several times that students “never get to do this.”

Just before we got on the tram, Will and I looked at each other, and at the man walking past us. John McCain. (no photo, it happened too fast)

On our way to find Senator Collins, we walked past groups of Senators whispering in the hallways, the place all abuzz about the very recent announcement that Senator Specter had just switched from a Republican to a Democrat.

Oh, there’s Senator Dodd.

And here is Senator Collins, from Maine. She was gracious and lovely to Will, and after chatting a bit about Poetry Out Loud, and gushing over his having made the top 12, she asked Will to recite a poem.

And right there in the Capital, amidst the hustle and bustle of VIPs whisking around, Will gave her “Mingus at the Showplace” by William Matthews.

I kept thinking: I hope Will realizes how huge this is. And as we walked away, I know he did realize. He was so excited.

Okay, so I was seriously in the hunt for any Obama, or Hillary Clinton, to no avail, though I learned when I got back to the hotel that she and Michelle Obama were in the Capital when we were, unveiling the bust of Sojourner Truth. Bummer.

I was wowed by even this:

The door through which Obama stepped onto the balcony to give his inaugural address, where all of our eyes were glued and waiting.

Next stop: Congressman Michaud’s office:

Another poem recitation!

Next stop, for Will: head over to Lisner Auditorium for debriefing and dinner before the show.
Next stop, for me: walk around the city a little and get sushi for dinner and soak in my last summery evening in DC.

And then, it was this, the grand finale: The introduction of all 53 finalists (that’s 50 states + DC+ Virgin Islands + Puerto Rico). And the show began.

I love that Scott Simon (who hosted the event) already, but his charming, funny, and gracious tone added so much to the already exciting evening. Here are the top 12:

My Will did not win, but that actually didn’t seem to matter. The 12 finalists were all so good, and I was so moved after every single performance, that I didn’t think there was any way the judges could ever decide on one winner. But of course, they did. The winner was totally and completely deserving and turned out to be one of the kids we had gotten to know the best: Will from Virginia. At the opening banquet, we were all seated with Will from Virginia and his awesome family. We called him “our other Will” all weekend and were proud to track his success. His reaction to winning (the title and the $20,000) was one of my favorite moments of the whole thing.

He cried, I cried, everyone cried.

He hugged his dad… I’m still crying.

While my Will and I waited for Garrison Keillor to finish chatting with some other finalists, I took this shot of his famous red shoes.

This was a moment that Will had hoped for after first qualifying for the event and hearing that Garrison Keillor was a judge. This is the BIGGEST, brightest smile you will get out of Will.

I’m still riding the high of this experience that I’ll probably never have again (though, trust me, I’m going to try). The camaraderie between the kids and the teachers and the Poetry Out Loud staff was a beautiful, beautiful thing.