Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thanks, Mom

In early October I went back home to AZ for a dear friend’s wedding and some much-needed family time. Each day was sunny, my hammock on the back porch was the perfect getaway, and the evenings were spent around one of two tables: the dining table with steaming plates of Mom’s Spaghetti, or the coffee table playing Apples to Apples.

Going home is just so good for the soul. And my tummy.

Saturday morning before the wedding, my Aunt Deb came over for breakfast. As I’ve mentioned before, Saturday Morning Breakfasts are not a small thing by any means at our house. They are, indeed, a Very Big Thing, and my Mom, God bless her, is the Queen of these breakfasts.

Since I was last home, she has discovered two new breakfasty staples that I’ll not soon forget. In fact, I’ll be pining for them till Christmas Morning Breakfast, since that’s all I’ll be asking Santa for this year. These two things are: a Sausage-Mushroom Breakfast Bake and Ina Garten’s Cheese Danishes.

From The Vagabond Table

Breakfast, my friends, has gone beyond pancakes and French toast.

I love egg-baked-things. How can you not love the versatility of something that’s ideal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Especially something made with sausage (yum!) and mushrooms (double-yum!) For the vegetarians out there, just take out the sausage and you’ll still have a hearty dish, worthwhile and filling. It is quite the breakfast casserole.

From The Vagabond Table

Also, Cheese Danishes. I never thought that these could be made at home, but Ina Garten has found a way, and just in time. Better than any cheese danish I’ve had at a bakery, they are warm, light, lemony, and ultra-addictive.

From The Vagabond Table

Breakfast turned out to be a lovely affair in the shade by the pool with everyone catching up over hot cups of my Dad's coffee and plates laden with deliciousness. I am a lucky daughter. Not only to have a mom that throws together such hearty breakfasts for a wayward, DC-based daughter such as myself, but to have a family that continues to gather together during the week to simply eat, talk, and laugh. It’s a ritual as old as time but somehow never seems to get old.

Christmas can’t come soon enough.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Chocolate Chip Cookie, Revisited

I have a confession. It’s been a while since I’ve branched into cookies.

The roomie and I make these cookies all the time. They’re easy and taste like pecan pie. They travel well, you see, which is good for all of our friends and families that live in other states, but not good for our palates which, once they find something they like, refuse to try anything else. Palates are a finicky bunch. I’ve found you have to trick them a bit with words like “dark chocolate” and “walnuts” and go from there.

From The Vagabond Table

It’s been a while since this disappointing chocolate chip/oatmeal cookie episode 2 springs ago, and I thought I’d try my hand at a new recipe. One tested by none other than Amanda Hesser herself, the gal behind Recipe Redux, the great New York Times Magazine food blog that takes old-timey recipes and makes them new. (I can’t wait to make my own Worcestershire sauce!) Also, I saw a picture of these cookies from The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by the same Amanda Hesser in my latest Saveur magazine, and, well, sometimes the stars align and you find yourself just totally committed, whether you even realized it or not, to baking new cookies.

The thing is, I think we are sometimes a bit obsessed with BIG. 60 oz. Thirstbusters you can swim in from 7-11. Extra-large value meals. SUVs. All-You-Can-Eat buffets. Bigger, I’m afraid does not always make for better. And these cookies are a rarity to find in the ‘biggest, best’ world we live in.

From The Vagabond Table

For one thing, they’re flat.

Also, they’re small-ish with crispy edges and chewy in the middle. But, you see, they have shaved chocolate throughout the entire batter, in addition to chocolate chunks and some walnut pieces thrown in.

And, bonus points, you can stack them. So fun!

These are just good, solid chocolate chip cookies. They might not be the biggest. But they are a pretty fun take on an old classic, a throwback to some golden era of Grandma’s Cookiedom, one I’m welcoming with open arms and a bear hug because that is ONE thing we can all agree on. Hugs are best when they’re big enough to reach for the world and grab you instead.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Oktober Already

What is it about Fall that makes room for my (seemingly) infinite amounts of nostalgia?

From The Vagabond Table
Local pumpkin patch

It’s not like I grew up in a place that had a lot of FALL around. Somehow, I lucked out with one gigantor Mulberry tree amongst the saguaros and Palo Verdes in the backyard, that did, indeed, change with the seasons. Beyond that, and some pretty sweet pumpkin carving on newspapers in the carport, Mesa, AZ was a sunshiney place that would be like summer anywhere else. Leaves don’t turn. I guess the birds go away for a bit, but the oranges, lemons, and limes come out and it’s suddenly citrus season. The desert just gets a little browner, a little dryer, and a bit colder.

From The Vagabond Table
Sedona in October

But Fall in DC is something distinct. It is sudden and blusters in with playful winds and rainy days, enlightens you with clear and crisp weekend mornings, and moves you towards mugs of hot somethings, like cocoa or toddies or coffees or chai teas. It’s also the time when it is totally okay to sit and watch four episodes in a row of Mad Men, all curled up in the blanket your mother knit for you before your freshman year of College. And it is breathtakingly stunning, especially when the Gingko trees light up, bright yellow, like legendary warning lights before the dead stop of Winter and big orange pumpkins bring smiles to your face as you hug them close. Fall, it seems, is that strange dichotomy between the absolute best of things and the sad knowledge that all warm and sunny things must come to an end, at least for a while.

It is also the time, (albeit somewhat delayed by my American calendar as opposed to Das German Kalendar!) for Oktoberfest. I honestly can think of no better party than Oktoberfest to celebrate the coziness of Fall with the fun of Summer. To the bountiful Fall and beer and brats! To pretzels and mustard! To Oktoberfest!

From The Vagabond Table

Here are a few recipes for you, if you should so choose to have an Oktoberfest party this Fall. Heck, I’d throw this party any time of the year, because I love good beer, and, now that I know how to make homemade Bratwurst Bites with BEER MUSTARD, it’s totally worth it. You know what else is worth it? Serving this absolutely fantastic Braised Red Cabbage dish alongside a gigantic soft pretzel from Whole Foods.

From The Vagabond Table

Autumn is good, and, while it may make you a bit nostalgic and dreamy, it’s absolutely worth it, especially when you have Brews and Bratwurst Bites and a sweet-tangy Red Cabbage dish to accompany you and your friends. Because I don’t think you can quite enjoy an epic Spring without living through an epic Fall.