Posts tagged ‘basil’

Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake

Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake

Ten days in LA weren’t enough.

As the plane lifted, I caught my last looks at California through the gauzy clouds. I was already thinking about the restaurants I couldn’t try, the neighborhoods I hadn’t seen, and the gems I didn’t discover. The state was simply too big to experience in a mere week and a half. When we’d parted, my friend and host C- said, “But you’ll get to see Seattle!” I rolled my eyes and told him, “I live in Seattle.”

During this summer, I’ve lived up north by the bluest water in Maine. In Atlanta, I embraced the heat in sundresses, the warm air dampening my skin in minutes. And in California, I rummaged through antique cast iron skillets and pearl rings at farmer’s markets and artisan festivals. I’ve visited more places in the past year than ever before. But the few days I spent at home? I sat around, spinning the dusty globe in our office.

By the time I unpacked my suitcase and fell onto my bed, I’d decided to make things different. I needed to change my perspective. What would I do if I only had ten days in Seattle?

Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake

We live slightly outside the big city, enough distance that it can feel foreign or familiar depending on my mood. I tackled Seattle with a fearlessness I’d never shown.

Downtown, I drove in circles trying to find parking before giving up and walking a good distance to reach any kind of store. I explored the U District alone, the little boutiques and second hand shops. I ducked into the independent theaters, painted seafoam green and dusty pink, outlined in bulbous lights, signs cracked with age… Somehow, the same movies come alive in a new way inside a theater with character.

My favorite sweets come from Seattle. In Boston I craved bullseye donuts from Top Pot, sticky with sugar glaze and raspberry jam, and Molly Moon’s Theo chocolate ice cream, so thick it’ll snap your spoon. I’m realizing just how much is still undiscovered. Last week I walked into a Middle Eastern restaurant the size of a closet and ordered something I couldn’t pronounce. I still don’t know what it was, but it was tangy and spiced, followed by a slice of cake drenched in honey.

If I approach summer in Seattle as an extended trip, the potential is incredible.

Basil Olive Oil

When I exit I-90 after an afternoon in the city, I’m filled with a strange appreciation for home. I pass my favorite old school diner, the one with the dumpy sign and the bad coffee. I like to drive slowly around the gentle, winding curves of my neighborhood.

Inevitably my eyes are drawn up to the unbelievable trees. Until I spent time out of Washington, I never knew how special our evergreens are. They tower, so tall and old, so richly green you can smell the color. In other cities the trees feel planted for decoration – but here, the houses have been nestled where the trees allow space. And when the sun is at the right angle, the light filters through in hazy planks, and suddenly my life is breathtaking.

My house is green, from the soft moss carpeting our cement patio (Mom hates this, I sort of like it) to the homegrown lettuce patch beyond my bedroom window. Our family doesn’t have the greenest thumb, but plants line our living room window, stems bowing towards the glass. My favorite of the bunch is the fragrant pot of basil.

Last crumb

Basil is my favorite herb. I like it sautéd with pasta, baked onto pizza, layered in sandwiches and churned into ice cream. With bunches of fresh basil at my fingertips, it’s hard to resist experimentation. When it results in something as lovely as basil olive oil, can you blame me?

We had a bag of bright lemons, so olive oil cake was necessary. I love the way this cake gently rises and falls, the way the sugar-sprinkled crust cracks, the way it perfumes the mouth. Each bite tastes like sunlight and comfort and dare I say it… green.

[Unsure about the 4th? Why not tackle my 4th of July Flag Cake? People have been making it ever since its creation 2 years ago. It’s deceptively simple and always impressive. Check out the post for instructions, plus a video of me making it. Have a great weekend!]

flagcake

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July 1, 2011 at 3:01 pm 38 comments

Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars

Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars

We don’t spend hours in the kitchen every evening.

Sometimes, I just pop a bowl of cold fried rice into the microwave for a quicker than quick dinner. On Tuesdays my mother and I steam broccoli, chop watermelon into chunks, sit down to watch Chopped and call it a night. I’ve even leaned against the fridge and eaten cold chicken salad straight out of the tupperware. Our kitchen is always stocked with enough leftovers to make us low-maintenance weeknight diners.

Weekends, though… That’s an entirely different matter. Sometimes the whole day revolves our food. My mother often wakes up before me to brush her bread with an egg glaze, and we juggle the oven so I can bake biscuits. She’s the queen of scrambled eggs and freshly squeezed juice, and I can press any berry into a special maple syrup.

My parents and I frequently head to the farmer’s market right after breakfast to shop for dinner, usually without a meal plan in mind. We pick whatever’s fresh and seasonal and bright, whatever inspires hunger even though we just ate. My family has been known to spend an afternoon rolling out pasta directly on our dinner table, marinating fish, picking through sun-warmed herbs. Then, we feast.

Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars

Don’t be fooled, though. There are plenty of awful mistakes, pain in the rear ingredients, and even the occasional temper. Our kitchen is what my dad likes to call a “two-butt work area.” The three of us barely fit inside it, and with the two dogs brushing against our ankles, it’s a very tight squeeze.

Usually, it’s chaotic frustration. As the sky darkens, my dad works from both the stove and the cutting board, on opposite ends of the kitchen. My mother can’t help but clean dishes in real time, sometimes whisking bowls off into the sink before we’re through with them. And me? I’m just trying to get to the oven, which is between the two of them. Add Tilly, who begs at your feet until you step on her, and Otis, who grunts whenever you drop a scrap – it’s an experience.

Yet once we carry plates to the table, settling down in our usual chairs, it’s calm. It’s relaxed. It’s all about passing plates and trying a bit of everything. It’s the subdued “Mmm!” at first bite. Cooking together is hectic, but it’s always worth it. There is something intangible about a meal created with your family… an hour of satisfaction, and a lifetime of memories.

Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars

Usually when I’m in the kitchen, I’m alone. Sometimes I’m even the only one in the entire house, especially now in the summer. I love baking in the serene calm of morning, with light streaming from the window above the sink and the French doors. It’s quiet, except for blue jays rustling in the backyard pines and the faint rhythm of my breath. It’s silent enough for me to sense the song of the kitchen in my ears and in my soul.

When I’m baking by myself, the kitchen is perfect for one person – spacious, even. I can’t help but feel that there’s no better way to spend life than alone with my thoughts and my Kitchen Aid. That is, until the weekend rolls around again. Then I’m weaving between my parents, half laughing and half exasperated, five minutes away from “dinner’s ready.” And at that moment, there’s no other place I’d rather be.

They’re opposite situations, and I like that. I like the contrast, and the fact that such distinct experiences can occur in the same room. The differences make each experience memorable and sweet, even if they don’t seem to complement each other at first glance.

Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars

I love juxtaposed differences, in life and in food. Sweet with salty, hot with cool, creamy with crunchy… Enter these watermelon bars, the perfect example of just that.

The bottom layer is the simplest watermelon sorbet, a snap to whirl together. It freezes somewhat hard and icy, but it’s utterly refreshing. The sorbet is spread with a basil-lime semifreddo, which is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made. The semifreddo makes up for all the richness the sorbet lacks, whisked with sweetened condensed milk and lightened with whipped cream. It’s so thick and creamy, it should be illegal. The zing of lime and smooth, floral aroma of basil pair gorgeously with melon.

It could be a clash of flavors and textures, but I think they make a beautifully balanced combination. Together, they pack the epitome of summer in every melting bite.

Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars

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August 4, 2010 at 10:06 pm 52 comments

My Favorite Ice Cream

Everyone knows the phrase “random acts of kindness” – and yet, I hardly ever see people do anything without reason or credit for someone else. It’s not that people are unkind or hypocritical, it’s just not something you see every day. And yet, two people in my life went out of their way to make my world even better.

The first is E-, a boy who I went to middle school with. We only had a few classes together and we haven’t kept in touch. However, I post food photos on facebook, so most of my friends know about 17 and Baking. The other day, I received a random email from him. When I saw his name in my inbox I wondered if he’d sent it to me by mistake.

But the email, only a few sentences long, was clearly for me: he’d seen my blog and bought me my own domain. You might notice that I’m 17andbaking.com now instead of 17andbaking.wordpress.com (no worries, the wordpress link will still work.) An hour later I’d made business card with my new address.

D-, is one of my mother’s co-workers. I had never met her before this summer, and I’d never spoken to her except maybe once or twice. Everyone at my mother’s office knows about my baking because a lot of leftovers and excess batches are sent straight to their kitchen.

Imagine my surprise when D- approached me and showed me some emails she’d printed. D- had emailed my blog to a prominent food writer, who had written back that I was a “darling” girl. She couldn’t believe I’m only 17, and that she was very impressed. What a compliment to see it written right in front of me! D- didn’t know this writer at all, but she just felt compelled to pass my blog along. D-, that email made my week, and I can’t tell you how sweet it was.

It’s hard to describe how I’m feeling this summer, but if I had to pick a word, I’d say nostalgic. I’m not sure why, but all this alone time is making me think a lot about old memories. The entire time I made this ice cream – and I’m not going to further the suspense any longer, it’s basil – I thought about the first time I made it last summer.

One of my closest friends came to my house on a whim, and we made this ice cream together. We took a long walk around the neighborhood while we waited for it to freeze, and that twilit walk is one of my favorite memories with him. When we got home, we ate it in cheap sugar cones and stayed up the rest of the night talking, drinking tea, and giggling.

Basil is my favorite herb in savory dishes too. I get funny looks when I say it’s my favorite ice cream flavor, but you’re missing out if you’ve never had it… Mellow, warm, sweet, and utterly summerly. People still look skeptical even after I rave about its beautiful pale green color, its creamy texture, and the surprising way the flavor rounds out in your mouth.

I just shrug and say, “Hey, mint is an herb too, but nobody raises an eyebrow at that.” And even if they can’t wrap their minds around an ice cream flavor you can’t buy at Baskin Robbin’s, I’m sure a foodie like you can!

(PS I shot these ice cream photos in 100 degree weather! :) I’m proud!)

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August 2, 2009 at 6:03 pm 38 comments


Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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