Cornmeal-Lime Cookies

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I have a bit of a bad habit: whenever I look at the operating hours of a place, I end up planning to get there five minutes before they close. Then I run late (of course) and blindly hope that they’ll stay open a few minutes later so I can sneak in.

Back when I was in Boston, I used to love-hate going to Flour Bakery on Mass Ave. I loved going – if they were open. But half the time, I’d get there fifteen minutes after they closed and stare in longingly as employees packed away the pastries. When I finally got my hands on the Flour Bakery cookbook, I reveled in the fact that I would never have to be punctual again. All of my favorite Boston bakery recipes could available in large quantities (…within six hours).

Well it turns out lack of punctuality runs in the family. The other day, my parents drafted me to make desserts for a brunch with family friends. The brunch started at 10am…we got there at noon. Whoops. Despite the fact everyone had already eaten their fill and then some, these cookies were still a huge hit. They’re a tangy, sweet reminder of the good times I had in Boston, and best of all, they’re super easy to make :)

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Scone Experimentation

IMG_2657Over the past week, the number of dreary, grey days has increased as the number of leaves on trees has decreased. Though I love apple cider doughnuts, loose and comfy chunky sweaters, snuggling into my winter comforter, and all other cozy autumn activities, it is always sad to feel the warmth of summer fade.

But autumn brings its own vibrancy, with leaves like flames and multicolored fruits and vegetables ripe for harvest. I had always associated pomegranate seeds with summer because of their “tropical” fuchsia hue and the exoticness of a fruit whose seeds shone like edible jewels embedded in bitter white pith. However, after I discovered they were in fact a fall fruit, pomegranates became a favorite fall time treat (though of course, apple cider doughnuts will now and forever be the best part of fall).

After a week of drab, depressing days drained of color, I needed something delicious, sweet, and visually striking, even borderline garish. Enter my favorite breakfast pastry, the scone, combined with my favorite exotic flavors, green tea and pomegranate seeds. Matcha imparts an earthy, slightly bitter taste, while the pomegranate seeds provide small sparks of juicy sweetness. Paired with a mug of hot tea, these scones are rays of light on rainy fall days.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_2615Though much has changed since I attended lower school – babies adept at navigating iPads, kids playing video games instead of board games, and an increasing concern with eating healthy – one thing remains the same. School cafeterias still serve terrible food.

I have choked down my share of cardboard-crusted pizza, tortilla soup made using yesterday’s leftover tacos, and slimy and grey cold cut sandwiches. However, there was one thing my school got right: the chocolate chip cookies.

From a young age, I learned to love cookies, if only because they were the only food option at school that didn’t activate my gag reflex. Every day, I would take one or two bites of my meal, then relish my two chocolate chip cookies. I switched schools after middle school into a totally different environment – an all-girls high school – but the food quality remained the same, if not worse, and the only thing worth eating was, you guessed it, the chocolate chip cookies.

People often embark on somewhat quixotic pursuits of the “best” vanilla cupcake or the “best” yellow cake or the “best” chocolate chip cookies. I’m of the opinion that it’s all rather subjective, and for me, the best chocolate chip cookies will always be those soft, under-baked cookies served at my lower school cafeteria. They did not have sea salt sprinkled on top or fancy chocolate disks, but they were moist (hopefully with butter and not shortening or lard or some weird chemicals), sweet…and they were the only game in town.

But some childhood memories are better left unsullied by attempts to recreate them. And so, I turned to the New York Times best chocolate chip cookie recipe to see if I couldn’t achieve something a little more sophisticated. With two types of flour, neither of which are all-purpose, chocolate disks instead of chocolate chips, and refrigeration time of 24-36 hours, these are quite the project.

Whether they represent something more “adult” or is simply an overly involved variation on something that should really be quite simple, I’ll leave for others to decide. They came out quite good, with a chewy, slightly cakey texture at the center, and a crunchier edge. They don’t quite measure up to the chocolate chip cookies enshrined in the memories of my youth, but then again, I suspect that no recipe, even the original recipe used by my school, ever will.

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Two Years

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It must be serendipity: last year, I posted a tomato tart recipe to celebrate the one-year anniversary of my blog, and this year, without even planning to do so, I have another tomato tart recipe!

…Or maybe September is tomato season, and I’m deeply unoriginal.

Well, it’s a certainly at least a little comforting that despite the difficulties of the past year, there are parts of me that remain unchanged. I still love tomatoes, I still adore pastries and butter and learning to cook, and I am still writing about it all.

It’s been two years of discovering that my love for food extends beyond desserts and sweets, and that I may not be as useless in the kitchen as I first thought. Two years of learning family recipes from my dad, exploring new cuisines, gaining confidence with each success, and learning from failures.

Well this is a horribly cliché post, but honestly, I (and everyone else I know) never thought Kitchen Whimsies would make it past its first year. In ancient times, if a baby lived past two years old, parents could begin to believe that their child might actually make it to adulthood, or at least adolescence. I don’t know how to measure the lifespan of a blog – in dog years? In blog years? – but hey, what matters is that somehow, we’re still alive.

I think this year’s tomato tart turned out a little better than last year’s, and I certainly had fun trying out a totally new and totally easy way to make tart crust. Enjoy :)

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Madeleine

IMG_2576When I was ten, my family chose Paris as our big summer vacation destination. After flying to Hong Kong every summer, you think we’d be used to grueling flights and jet lag, but we suffered terribly that first afternoon in Paris.

After arriving, we found ourselves at a small cafe overlooking a river, facing a menu written entirely in French. My dad recognized select words, but not enough to really understand what the dishes were. The waitstaff could not, or would not, speak English. So we just ordered blindly, and of course, some of the dishes were total misses.

I had never really been in a situation where nobody in my family could speak the language of the native population – though my sister and I understood zero words in Hong Kong, my parents had grown up there and navigated the streets and language flawlessly. In Paris, my mom and I tried to find a chocolate shop and even with a map, we soon lost ourselves in the labyrinth of cobblestoned streets. We gesticulated wildly at strangers and they gesticulated back, every person we asked pointing in a different direction. Three hours later, we finally stumbled into the shop.

Our half day of wandering and questionable food left us all crabby and drained. In our cramped, dark hotel room, we quickly fell asleep (then woke up at 4am, and spent the rest of the night fruitlessly tossing and turning).

The next morning, we came down to an airy lobby filled with light. Outside, the bustling sounds of chatter, cars, and mopeds could be heard, and in the center of the lobby was a large, circular table with a platter of madeleines. Our first half day in Paris faded like a nightmare as we sampled our first madeleines, then quickly reached for seconds.

Each morning started with that first madeleine, its light sweetness holding promises of the adventures to come. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower like good tourists, and wandered the halls of Musée d’Orsay for an entire day, not realizing how sore our feet were until after we had left. We came across a fair in a park close to our hotel, and rode what felt like the biggest Ferris wheel ever. We ate seafood and duck and pigeon, all cooked impeccably, and delicious French pastries that have since haunted my memory.

Since that trip to France over a decade ago, I’ve eaten copious quantities of croissants, brioche, and macarons, and yet, I never returned to the madeleine, perhaps because I had built it up to such an unattainable symbol of unbridled wonder that I had experienced as a child in Paris.

However, I recently flipped through a cookbook that nobody in my family remembers buying, and came across a madeleine recipe. I felt like fate must have intervened just a little, so I ran out and bought a madeleine pan that night. And these little cakes were sweet morsels of sunshine, a perfect start to our mornings in Paris and at home.

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Tour of a Witch’s Garden

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The Mulford Farmhouse in East Hampton, NY, is described on multiple websites as “one of America’s most significant English colonial farmsteads.” Being a bit of an early colonial history aficionado, I eagerly searched online for what traits made this farmhouse so ‘significant’ – maybe it housed a legendary colonial figure, or stood on the site of some crucial battlefield – and found…not much.

Mulford Farmhouse, you tease. Of course we had to go check it out.

We ended up getting a tour from an enthusiastic woman, a self-confessed colonial re-enactor whose reenactments had crossed from her work life into her home life – she described how her husband had built a bed with straw bedding and rope slats, as well as a full-on 18th century fireplace in which she made a turkey that she brined, soaked in alcohol, stuffed, and cooked over the course of four days.

As an added bonus to our tour, we received a human rights lecture and other political statements, but the real highlight was our tour of Rachel’s Garden, an herb garden where familiar herbs took on significant and mystical meaning. They could reveal to you your true love, they could save you from smallpox, they could cure the common cold.

By the end of the tour, I almost believed what she had said, not only about the extraordinary healing powers of herbs, but also about the completeness of colonial life. She gushed about her four-day turkey as the most flavorful, most tender turkey she had ever had and recounted how fermented food had saved Civil War soldiers from disease. She wondered out loud whether our diet and lifestyle today was missing something, if we had lost something crucial along the way.

And while I don’t condone a return to the colonial way of life – after all, the Mulfords owned slaves and women were treated as witches, or worse, property – I do wonder about how different, and simpler life was back then when it seemed that good things would happen if you believed hard enough.

We now live in an age where we don’t even know where most of our food comes from (though that’s slowly changing) and yet we know the contradicting statements our politicians have made, we know about conflicts in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. It’s difficult to imagine a time when people had such an intimate relationship with food that they believed it held supernatural powers.

So maybe I still don’t know what makes Mulford Farmhouse so ‘significant,’ but I’m glad their attempt to attract more tourism enticed me to visit. We laugh at the superstition, the ignorance, of the colonial era, but would they not laugh at us for our ignorance about how to produce our own food, our own clothing, our complete dependence on others for our comfort – and survival?

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Peach Treats: Mason Jar Edition

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So I’m pretty sure I’m way behind the trend on this one, so behind that Mason jar confections are probably out of the florally trendy garden party scene and have now moved into the pages of the Martha Stewart magazine and onto the tables of parties hosted by the middle-aged. Thank god children will be children and always want big cakes – making something similar to that which parents make for their kids – now that’s a generational jump I’m not ready to commit to just quite yet.

I have always wanted to make a Mason jar dessert – a dessert focused on portability and durability. For a while I entertained dreams of decorating grandeur, where I would become the master of fondants and beautiful cupcake frosting, but alas, I quickly realized that I just don’t care enough. It all looks the same in my stomach anyways, right? I have instead aimed for delicious flavors and interesting textures and subpar to decent presentation. But Mason jar desserts? They’re the perfect marriage (ew, marriage) of practicality and adorableness. Especially desserts, where each different, delectable layer is displayed enclosed in glass, the color of the fruit component elevated by the shine of the glass, like a more decadent and probably much-less-healthy parfait (at least the American version, granola and yogurt. Apparently, Europeans know how to do it right and make it a proper dessert).

It’s ironic on many levels that the person who inspired me to finally take on this project was my professor, who is in her mid-fifties and is an incredibly healthy person who teaches a class about consumption which technically touches on different aspects of consumption, from fashion to food, but really just teaches us that organic local non-GMO food is the way to go. I absolutely loved her class (I actually did all the readings!) and wished only for the billionth time that I’d gone with my gut and majored in History. Sadly, today was the last class, and as a parting gift, she brought in strawberry shortcakes in Mason jars. Even she commented on the fact that they’re no longer in style (then again, she does teach a class on consumption habits, so she’s sort of an expert in these matters). But whatever, they don’t need to be in the height of fashion to be absolutely delicious.

(Peach Treats Pt. 1 is also delicious! Check it out for another easily portable and equally delicious recipe.)

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The Battle of the Buttermilk Biscuits

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Biscuit #1: Island Creek Oyster Bar

About a month ago, I took my parents to the highly (over)rated Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston. I’ve never met anyone who loves fish as much as my mom, so the supposed best seafood restaurant in Boston was the obvious choice for dinner. But you know something’s wrong when your favorite parts of the meal involve beef and biscuits…and no seafood.

But oh my god, those biscuits. We ordered one as a side dish and it was large enough for three people to enjoy as much as they wanted (as in, my parents each had maybe two bites and I ate the rest). The layers were delicate and pull-apart buttery, and the entire biscuit had been glazed in a delicious honey-rosemary mixture. After ordering our regrettably dry and chewy strawberry shortcake doughnut dessert (sounds good in theory, but in practice involved us trying to use our spoons as knives and sending doughnut chunks flying across the table), I wished that we had just ordered another biscuit instead.

Of course I had to see if the recipe was online. Immediately. Breaking fancy restaurant/basic human decency etiquette, I whipped out my phone and found the recipe. Saveur had posted a recipe, but looking at the ratio of ingredients, I felt that the ratio of liquid to flour was off, as in, I had no idea how 1 3/4 cup of buttermilk was supposed to hydrate an entire 5 cups of flour and make a cohesive dough. So instead of sleeping like a normal person would at 2am, I decided to do a comparison – Island Creek Oyster Bar’s biscuits (according to Saveur) v.s. Smitten Kitchen’s favorite buttermilk biscuits.

Smitten Kitchen biscuits

Biscuit #2: Smitten Kitchen

The verdict? Well, as predicted, more buttermilk was needed for the ICOB biscuits. I used about 2 cups of buttermilk and still, the dough was dry and did not hold together well. I also found the biscuits to be surprisingly salty. But they ended up looking pretty cool, and with the sweet honey glaze (which ended up getting soaked into the biscuits and not really glazing them), they still edible, but nowhere near amazing (UPDATE: I tinkered a little with the ingredient ratio and now they’re amazing). For the Smitten Kitchen recipe, I used the ICOB method of grating frozen butter, but otherwise followed the recipe to a T. The biscuits did not brown for some reason, but the layers looked beautiful and the biscuit itself was delicately sweet, fluffy, and light. They went perfectly with a dollop of jam.

However, neither recipe came close to the near-religious experience of eating the Island Creek Oyster Bar’s real biscuits. I have a feeling that Jeremy Sewall (the chef at ICOB) probably weighs out his ingredients rather than use cup measurements, and something got lost in translation in the Saveur recipe. Next time I need a fun 4am activity, I’ll experiment again :)

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