A maple-scented pudding and a quiet moment alone.

It’s finally quiet, except for the squeak-bark of some cat-infuriating miniature dog or giant rodent on its leash and squatting beneath the wilted rhododendron bush beside the street. Nick is out for a nerdy night of board games with his friends. The baby is sleeping. I have sent out all the resumés I feel like sending out for today, and am no longer wearing pants (as is my preference). There are dried smears of yogurt and vegetable purée all over everything including the washable high chair I keep not washing, but I am not going to let that be my problem. That is why I have Nick.

We are spending a lot of time together now that neither of us is required at an office every day, and though the ratio of arms to babies is now 4:1, I’m still finding myself busy most of the time. There are cover letters to write and my resumé to tweak for each job application. Every time I click “submit” or “send” on some application I panic that I accidentally typed the bad words I’m always thinking, or that I used the wrong homonym, or that I spelled the word “editor” with two Ds.

There are meals to make: minimally spiced purées for the baby and interestingly spiced lunches and dinners for the diabetic, who answers “I’m not really excited about that” to most of what I suggest we eat. We keep producing dirty laundry. I spend a lot of time shaving my legs in case someone calls for a last-minute interview and there’s no time to find or buy pantyhose. I always have to go to the store.

But when there is no one around to bug me, I eat pudding.

The surest way to ensure that no one else touches my pudding is to make it with tapioca.

Stirring a sweet-smelling pot of goo can be relaxing, helping to erase the little panics and trifles that so often take up the days. The goo will burble softly, in a way that is wholly unlike something tedious like oatmeal or hot cereal (which splatters and plops and lacks euphony). You can make pudding for other people, and sometimes I do, but a small amount of pudding is the sort of easy indulgence that suits a night alone, in a room barely lit by a lamp in the corner that’s just bright enough to read a book beside.

The tapioca pudding recipe I like to use is at Simply Recipes, though once you make it the recipe will stick in your head forever (it’s that easy). I don’t know enough people who like tapioca pudding to have ever made a full batch, so I can tell you that a half-batch works quite nicely – it will make enough to fill four ramekins or two soup bowls (I always eat one serving warm, and then another much later after it’s been in the fridge for awhile).

I am not going to bother reprinting the recipe here as it’s all right there, but I will tell you that I make a few changes.

  • Instead of white sugar, I use maple syrup, and rather than add it after the pot comes to a boil, I add it at the beginning. It’s less sweet this way, but more complex. If you don’t have maple syrup, use honey, or brown sugar.
  • At the end, rather than add a drop of vanilla extract, I like a scrape of half of one vanilla bean.

When you are making something that is just for you, use good ingredients (tapioca costs so little anyway) – you will be more inclined to savour if you use the good stuff, and it will be the good kind of eating alone (there is a bad kind of eating alone, which I also enjoy, but for that just use the cheap stuff).

This is a good for-now recipe, for while we’re still not into the abundant-fruit season. Do you realize that in just a few short weeks and we’ll be having conversations like this one over lightly sugared local strawberries? And reading our books in patches of summer sunlight. I can’t wait.

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Sugar sandwiches.

If you read a lot of parenting blogs or websites (and oh, for the love of all the things please don’t), one of the myths you might encounter is the one about how if you do everything right, in your fourth month post-partum the pounds will literally melt off of you and you will suddenly weigh what you did in high school. It’s almost month five, and I did everything according to the literature but noticed this morning that my top is more muffin-like than it ought to be and my chins are more numerous than I remember. So you know what? Screw it. Sugar sandwiches.

By this point it’s well established that most of my happiest memories involve food, so it makes sense that some of my earliest recollections of my grandparents involve treats. My Dad’s mother died when I was very young and I don’t recall very much about her but I do remember sitting at her kitchen table, and the way my skin felt beneath my thin cotton undershirt against the cold vinyl of her kitchen chair, and the way my spoon scritched on the bottom of my bowl of Rice Krispies. I remember scraping brown sugar off the bottom of the bowl, my spoon holding more sugar than cereal, and how much better these Rice Krispies tasted than any I had eaten before.

More than 25 years later there is no more unhealthy breakfast cereal for me than puffed rice, because I can’t have it without adding too many heaping tablespoons of brown sugar – there is more sugar in my Rice Krispies than in five bowls of anyone else’s Cap’n Crunch. There can be no breakfast cereal in my cupboards.

My Mom’s Dad had as much to teach me. His penchant for sweets remains unrivaled by anyone I’ve ever met. Around my grandparents’ house there were always dozens of boxes of chocolate, some stashed in his usual spots – the kitchen, the living room, other parts of the living room, every container or drawer on his side of the bedroom – and some stored in the freezer for when his reserves ran low. At the end of every visit he would send me home with a sandwich bag full of the better flavours – hedgehogs, caramels, and never the gross orange cremes.

It was watching my grandfather that I learned about sugar sandwiches.

To make a sugar sandwich, you need good whole-grain bread (the whole-grainier, the better), non-fancy peanut butter, and brown sugar. After admitting on Twitter that I really don’t like natural peanut butter, I was comforted to discover that most people have strong feelings about, or at least have considered, what makes good peanut butter, and most of the time one remains loyal to the peanut butter of her childhood. And while natural peanut butter makes a good ingredient in other things, in sugar sandwiches we do not mess around. Use the kind of peanut butter you are faithful to.

You must smear a tasty amount of peanut butter evenly upon one entire side of each of two pieces of bread. Then add the sugar to one of the pieces of bread, spreading evenly over the peanut butter, even to the edges of the slice. How much sugar you use depends on you, but I have the kind of weak character that compels me to unapologetically don footed pajamas for company, so I use a little more than a rounded tablespoon.

At that point, you can slap your bread together and shove the whole thing in your mouth, or you can get a little bit fancy. You can add a few flecks of fleur de sel which will make your sandwich quite lovely if your peanut butter isn’t salty. You can jump back in time and toast each slice before peanut-buttering them up. You can shove the whole deal in a panini press, or you can put the sandwich under the broiler. I like the last option, because the effect of a crunchy exterior giving way to a soft interior is a sensation I enjoy. Warm, a sugar sandwich tastes very similar to fresh peanut butter cookies but it only takes two minutes to make.

Eat your sugar sandwich on the couch, with your feet jammed between the cushions and your legs covered by a blanket. You may want to have a book handy. A glass of milk or a cup of tea will complement the sandwich nicely. Linger long over your snack, drink, and book, and then indulge in a nap afterward. Calorie-counters and diabetics will take issue with this luxury, but the important thing is that Grandpa would heartily approve.

Roasted grapes.

Four o’clock in the morning is cold even when all the windows are closed and you’re wearing flannel jammies and slipper socks. 4:00 a.m. used to be different, maybe because anytime I found myself there it was because I had been having too much fun, and my veins were warmed by the coursing of so much rum through them. I remember dancing until my clothes were soaked through with sweat, then packing into the always-busy 24-hour pho place on Broadway for a bowl of rice noodles and beef wontons. It is less fun to be awake now than it used to be.

At four there is no traffic on the street outside. There is little activity on Facebook or Twitter to serve as a distraction. Even the cat will not be coaxed awake.

The baby sleeps long hours through the night now, waking only briefly every now and then – he sighs heavily and his eyes flutter, but his fussiness is mostly gone. He’s a bottle baby, so he gets to sleep while I wake every three hours to pump his meals. I keep a lamp on in the living room at night, so when I wake up I can see Nick’s face and the baby’s in the shadows, both of their mouths wide as they breathe deeply, right arms at ninety-degree angles above their heads, snarfling and snoring in their separate beds.

When I sleep I dream about sleeping.

On the one hand, I am very tired. On the other, these moments alone in the lamplight are mine, and I savour the time on my own. Also, four o’clock is a peckish hour, and I always need a snack.

Roasted grapes

This idea comes from Fine Cooking, with some adaptation. I prefer to use seedless red globe grapes, and to roast them longer than the original recipe calls for. Some olive oil, some maple syrup, and a pinch of salt are all you need. They will take on a jammy, almost molasses taste. Serve these over ice cream.

  • 1 large handful of seedless red globe grapes
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup
  • Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a small baking dish, toss grapes with oil, maple syrup, and salt.

Roast 20 to 25 minutes, turning the grapes occasionally, until they are soft and their skins have ruptured.

Serve hot, over ice cream.

These are easy to make ahead and reheat, if you’d prefer. They are great as they are, or as a side for roast pork, or as part of a fancier dessert that you might serve to company. But in those cold hours before dawn when you’re wearing flannel pants, they are at their best.

Three days!

I have spent the better part of the week whining to Nick about how I had no ideas for my contribution to the 3-Day Novel Contest, but this morning – THIS MORNING – with the sun shining and the liquor store presenting its cheapest treats at every turn, I have had the early stirrings of inspiration, and though I haven’t got the details down, I think I know what I am going to write. I have to go to the office today for a little bit, so I am going to swipe a stack of sticky notes and turn the space above my computer into a wall of ideas. I am not going to spend any time crying on the floor between the hours of one and five in the morning, and I promise, I will take naps and walks to break the time up and save my eyesight.

I also have four potent bottles of creative juice, two boxes of macaroni and cheese, chocolate milk, five pounds of stone fruit, a chunk of Cheddar, a loaf of bread, and a fresh jar of peanut butter. I think I have pickles in the fridge, and there is a bag of chocolate chips hidden at the back of the left bottom cupboard underneath several bags of lentils which I have been saving in case of emergency. Tomatoes are roasting and stock is defrosting, which means actual nourishment will be possible with some help from Nick.

The cat has food, Nick has plans, and I have washed all of the pajamas and comfortable underpants I’ll need to remain mostly clothed. The countdown is on, there are ten hours to go! Wish me luck!

Love,

Emily

A delicious thing to do with sardines.

Kitten and I are alone this weekend, as Nick is off to a rainy lake four hours away to fish for trout/drink on a boat. And so I will stay in this rainy city, with tinned fish and my pajama pants, and drink on my couch. At least tonight. Though this work-week was only three days, they were three busy, non-stop days that required focus and effort – neither are strengths of mine.

So I’m staying in, alone. And instead of cooking, I’ve opted instead to “assemble” a meal, and have put together a grazing platter that should carry me through the evening, if I am able to stay awake. The centre of the meal is a thing with sardines, and it’s based on this anchovy thing I really like called anchoïade.

Anchoïade is a French thing, and at its most basic, it’s a potent mix of anchovies, olive oil, lemon, and garlic. It’s delicious, but I can’t quite justify a large dish of the stuff because anchovies are not a particularly sustainable ingredient these days. Good news though, sardines are. They’re plentiful, and they’re from close-by – there’s a cannery in California in Monterey and when I eat them I think of John Steinbeck because I love that book and because I literally hemorrhage bliss when an item of food tickles my book fancy, if you know what I mean.

I hope you enjoy this little adaptation. It’s for Linda, who asked for a sardine recipe; she’s expecting a baby, and sardines are all kinds of good for moms-to-be. Wander over to her place and say hello!

Sardinoïade

  • 1/2 cup whole almonds (skins on), toasted
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tin sardines packed in olive oil (smoked, if possible)
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. grainy dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil

Okay. You can do this two ways.

The easy, smooth-textured way to do this is to grind almonds and garlic in a food processor, then add remaining ingredients (add the oil from the sardines too, don’t forget!) and pulse until the mixture achieves the texture you prefer. I like this way for parties and things where you can just put it out without having to explain too much about it. It will resemble pate, and it will work as either a spread or a dip.

The other way, which is also easy but has more steps, is to chop the almonds as finely as possible (or as you like), mince the garlic, and mix them both together. Dump the tin of sardines into the mix, oil included, and mash it all up together until it’s a texture you like. Stir in remaining ingredients until well combined. This is better as a spread. It’s much less attractive, but just as, if not MORE tasty.

Scoop either variation into a ramekin, and drizzle the top with good oil. Serve either on a plate with pickles, slices of hard-boiled eggs, and slices of baguette. You must also have wine or sparkling water. Pajamas optional, but always implied.

If you have any left over the next day, it’s nice to thin it out with a bit more olive oil and toss pasta with it, topped with fresh herbs and grated Parmesan cheese.

Enjoy!

Earthy toasty mushroomy deliciousness, a thing you should eat with wine while wearing pajamas.

Shroomy.I’ve been very alone this weekend, which is never a bad thing, as Nick has been out of town and it’s been just me during the days. I almost always manage to find someone to entertain me in the evenings, but tonight, with Nick away and a busy weekend behind me, and an even busier work-week ahead, I thought that this would be a good evening to do nothing. Which always involves wine and eating.

Today I found mushrooms at the market and fell instantly in love, as one does. Fat white mushrooms, earthy-looking criminis, a meaty, sturdy shitake, and a few wispy yellow chantrelles. The thing about fancy mushrooms is that you don’t need very many – I spent exactly two dollars and eight cents on all of my mushrooms, more than enough for dinner for one. Actually, two even, because this made more than I thought it would. Most of them were the cheaper white ones – those were the base.

I decided it was a good night for a hearty, comforting meal of mushrooms on toast, which doesn’t sound like much. Indeed, it isn’t, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s simple and filling, garlicky, buttery, and autumnal, a thing you might imagine eating after a fox hunt or something similarly British. Top with a couple of soft-poached eggs and serve with a heady, oaky white wine. It’s exactly what you should eat on a foggy, misty night when it’s cool out. Or, better yet, when there’s a Julia Child retrospective airing on PBS.

I’m going to tell you how to make enough to top four slices of French bread, but you can adapt this as you like, to suit more or less, or to make it an appetizer or a side dish. Multiply, divide – math it up. It’s an easy one, and not fussy.

Mushrooms on toast

  • 4 thick slices of French bread, toasted
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 slice of bacon, cut into pieces about a quarter-inch wide
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 1/2 cups mushrooms, cleaned with a damp cloth and then chopped, whatever kind you like
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme, dried or fresh
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup oaky white wine, such as chardonnay
  • 2 tbsp. creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. finely grated cheese, such as comte, gruyere, or an aged cheddar
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 eggs, poached (optional)

Since you’ve opened the wine, pour yourself a glass.

Set the oven to broil.

Melt the butter in a pan on the stove, and toss in your bacon. Let cook until the bacon is browned and crisp, two to three minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, thyme, nutmeg, and pepper, and fry until mushrooms have softened, another three minutes.

Oh! Inhale! So fragrant.Pour in the wine, coating the bottom of the pan, and scrape up any browned bits. Stir in the creme fraiche or sour cream. Pour over toasted bread, and grate your cheese over top.

Broil for three or four minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and the edges of the bread are golden brown. If you love eggs like I love eggs, feel free to top the thing with soft, runny-y0lk eggs. But you don’t have to. This is lovely, LOVELY, all on its own.

Here it is without the eggs:

No egg ...

Here it is with the eggs:

.... eggs.And now, I am a happy little badger, and very full. And Julia has just come on, so I have to go. Back soon, and I’m looking forward to waxing poetic about peanut butter, maybe tomorrow.

Bon appétit!

Lemon sugar cookies.

Strange thing, how your hands in a bit of dough can soothe you.

After midnight, it was clear that I would not be sleeping. I uploaded all of my travel photos – Disneyland with my mom, but only 12 photos, since we spent most of the time walking and eating and eating and eating and my hands were mostly busy dispensing cash and transporting foodstuffs into my face … more on all of that later – and blog-stalked all my favourite imaginary people, who are all probably real but I can’t see them in real life, and then realized that Nick was asleep and I had no one to talk to and it’s dark and I was bored. And I’m an eater, more than anything else, so to busy myself: Cookies.

Nothing strange about how butter and sugar make everything better. A little lemon and good vanilla don’t hurt either. I tried to make these with a mixer, but it’s very quiet here, so I had to quit. I used my hands instead. Very rustic.

First, measure out half a cup of butter. Don’t use margarine. Margarine never made anything better, ever. Half a cup. It should be room temperature, which, if you’re like me and leave your groceries on the kitchen floor overnight because you’re forgetful, will be normal. The butter is only cold when Nick assists.

Whisk the butter. If it doesn’t whisk, you can cream it with an electric mixer, but work quickly, because it’s noisy and maybe you don’t want everyone in the building to know that you’ve got no will-power. Is it will-power or willpower? Whatever, I can make up words if I want to because it’s late and that’s how I roll.

Zest one lemon into the bowl. Squeeze the juice out into there as well, and then pour a half a cup of white sugar into the mix. Add a teaspoon and a half of good vanilla. The Barefoot Contessa is always talking about “good vanilla,” and I’m not entirely sure what that means. Around here, it’s vanilla from Mexico. Real vanilla, the kind that actually tastes like vanilla when you dab a little drop onto the middle of your tongue. Artificial vanilla extract is the kind of thing you use if you have to bake with margarine, and life is too short to eat weird chemicals unless you’re eating Cheetos or maybe drinking Cherry Coke. I don’t know if Ina Garten would qualify it as good vanilla, but the smell when anything’s baking around here reminds me of bakeries at 7:00 am, all warm and sweet, the kind of aroma that trickles into your nose and tricks your stomach into thinking you’re hungry.

Whisk again, blending everything together. Crack an egg into the bowl, and continue to whisk. Once you’ve got everything thoroughly combined, shake the whisk off and toss it into the sink. If you miss and it lands on the floor, shooting dough hunks everywhere, whatever. Maybe you’ll get mice or something and they’ll run across the floor right when a potential buyer visits to view the place, which your landlord has listed for sale and he’s very nice so you feel conflicted about thinking unkind things especially as the apartment is his and he can do whatever he wants with it, and they’ll be so grossed out that they won’t buy it and you’ll get to stay here forever. You can get an exterminator once it’s official that you’re staying. You can’t whisk dough, and dough is what happens next.

Measure out your flour, a cup and a half, and dump it into the bowl. Measure a quarter-teaspoon of baking soda and a half-teaspoon of salt and add both on top of the flour, and stir with your finger, or perhaps a wooden spoon, until the mix begins to form a ball. Knead it lightly with your hands. Press the soft dough between your fingers, watching as it crests your knuckles and absorbs your hands, like Play Doh, and be sure to taste it, which I also did with Play Doh and doesn’t that explain a lot.

Roll it into a log, about an inch and a half thick. Maybe two inches. The width of a piece of plastic wrap minus an inch on either side. That’s what you want. Roll it up like that, wrap it tightly in the plastic, and throw it into the fridge. If you doubled the batch for sharing, make two logs of equal size.

RollTurn on your oven, heating it to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Maybe watch the last of America’s Got Talent and wonder why the guys who did the Power Rangers dance got roundly dissed by the judges when CLEARLY they were awesome and what does David Hasselhoff know anyway? Not enough to do up his shirt and cover his sparkly dog tag, which should be a secret, especially if it’s been designed for Walmart by Hannah Montana, which it probably was, so maybe I expect too much.

After 30 minutes, at least, you can take the log(s) out of the fridge. At this point, unwrap the dough. If you’d like, you can sprinkle the sides with sugar. I did. “No added sugar?” Not around here.

Using a sharp knife, slice the log into pieces approximately a half-inch thick. You should end up with twelve slices. If you have more, that’s okay. If you have less, that’s okay too, and it’s okay if you’re not good at math because they have apps now for your iPhone that’ll do it for you. There are also still calculators, which is nice.

Roll, cut.

Midnight cookies.Bake for ten to twelve minutes, unless you cut these thinner – then cook for six to eight minutes, or unless you cut them thicker, and then give them up to 15 minutes, until the sides and tops are golden and everywhere around you smells like good vanilla. Give them five to ten minutes to cool enough that they won’t burn you when you stuff that first one into your mouth.

The best thing about these cookies is that they pair excellently with a nice Riesling, preferably a French one, from Alsace. Something with a delicate hint of citrus, just enough to make the lemon sparkle. You could drink cold milk with these as well. I guess. You don’t drink wine and eat cookies at midnight on a Tuesday all by yourself? You’re missing out.

Cookies!And it’s now after one o’clock, which means I have to be up in too few hours. Fortunately, there are cookies for breakfast, and if I’m responsible, maybe a little wine?

Here’s the roundup of ingredients and their measures, for good measure. In case you were paying as much attention to the details reading as I was to the writing …

Lemon Sugar Cookies

(Makes one dozen)

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Bake at 375°F, for ten to 12 minutes.