Posts tagged ‘bread’

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

When I arrived at school, I came with every intention of getting super involved. I wanted to be that person – the person who squeezes in a few too many clubs and activities, the person who comes home exhausted. I honestly love being busy, and I wanted to wholeheartedly accept new experiences.

It was a valiant effort. In the activity fair my first week, I scrawled my email address onto dozens of sign-up sheets and mailing lists – social justice, poetry, photography club, the college newspaper, book publishing, even freshman government. I walked between the elms and brick buildings back to my dorm, consumed with anticipation, wondering which clubs I’d get into and which ones I’d fall in love with.

More than anything else, though, I wanted to be accepted to my school’s radio station. It’s prestigious around here, difficult to get into and fully student-run. Even though my passion is in print, in the weight of an inked word on paper, I’m smitten with This American Life and 107.7 The End (which I stream online here across the country.) I missed listening to NPR  every morning in the carpool to high school. I missed radio in general.

I’d seen the students involved with the college station, and found everything about it appealing. I wanted to carry heavy headphones in my bag and hear my voice, weirdly foreign, emerge from the radio. I picked up an application.

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

Four weeks later, I’m even busier than I’d hoped to be, even though I slowly withdrew from most of the clubs I’d signed up for. Instead, I got a job at a bakery, which I’m so excited to start. I clung to photography club, which is one of the highlights of my week – photos will come soon, promise. Add homework, classes, a few minutes for meals and – oh, did I mention? Lots and lots of radio.

I’m a reporter for the news department. I make contacts and conduct interviews, which I edit into sound clips and adjust until the levels are right. I research. I’m learning to project my voice and breathe properly on-air. I now search for potential stories everywhere, breathing in information and exhaling headlines. I rewrite press releases and post stories to the web. And at least several nights a week, I’m underground at the station past midnight, rerecording my script over and over and over… trying to pronounce all the words correctly.

I had no idea it would be this hard, or this demanding. I didn’t realize it would take me two hours to produce a 45 second clip, and… well… a lot longer to create an eight minute one. And I couldn’t have anticipated how much I’d adore it.

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

To be sure, it has its downs. We were expected to hit the ground running, and my first week was rough. I’m starting to learn the terrain, but that doesn’t make it easy. I’ve had afternoons where nobody answers my calls, where I say, “Hi, I’m Elissa Bernstein and I’m a reporter with–” only to be cut off and dismissed. There have been nights where I spent more than twice as much time editing and writing than sleeping. (Which is easier than it sounds when you’re running on 4 hours of sleep.)

I remember the shift where I couldn’t figure out how to work the dashboard, with all its dials and buttons. Once, I accidentally bumped the microphone off its stand. Another afternoon, I hung up the phone after a great interview, only to realize I’d improperly recorded the conversation (in other words, hadn’t recorded the conversation) and had to start from scratch.

As a new staff member with no previous experience, everything is trial and error.

Even though I’m only seriously involved with a couple activities, they’re full of so many unfamiliar skills and unexplored subjects, my education extends far beyond the classroom itself. This radio position is more than an extracurricular, it’s a part time job and the wholehearted acceptance of new experiences that I craved. Who knows what I’ll be able to do in the future after this? Every time you acquire new knowledge, you can funnel it into the creation of something incredible.

Like smoked grape and rosemary focaccia.

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

My parents and I discovered smoked grapes one summer night a few months ago. We used to spend hours sitting in lawn chairs around our home-built fire pit, roasting hot dogs and watching marshmallows molt. One evening, long past sundown, when the whole world was crackling logs and faraway pinpoint stars, my mother brought out a bowl of grapes.

I think it was my dad’s idea. He skewered a grape onto a thin branch still sticky with marshmallow sugar, set it over the fire. It was smoking when he pulled it away from the flames. He popped it into his mouth, and a look of surprise took over his face. He made one for Mom, and I tried the next one. The grape was warm, but not hot, with a smokiness that caught you off guard. It was so strange, so good, so full of possibility.

We tried to brainstorm how best to showcase this miracle. I thought they would be good with anything and everything. Baked into a tart. Tossed with mixed greens in a salad. Or maybe sliced with bright, fresh jimaca and mango, served over fish? That’s when it came to me – I knew what I wanted to make first.

“Focaccia,” I said.

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

Last Mother’s Day I gave my mother a gorgeous book on tomatoes. The book is filled cover to cover with some of the loveliest food photography I’ve seen, and descriptions of dozens and dozens of tomato varieties. In the back, a recipe for cherry tomato focaccia, which I had mentally bookmarked from the first time I saw it. The page swam hazily to mind as I blew smoke away from another fireside grape.

I forgot that I’m not confident with bread-making. I was too excited. Instead I found a recipe for focaccia and bought a bag of grapes. I wanted to find another smoking technique, just in case not everyone has access to a firepit, or the time to individually skewer each grape. My dad said it could be done on the grill. He snipped bundles of sturdy, fragrant rosemary and burned them under the grill’s cover with a big bowl of the grapes. Soft grey smoke streamed steadily from the grill’s sides, like bubbles rising in a fish tank.

I can’t get enough of these grapes. After smoking, their color changed from deep red-purple to burnished gold, as if you could literally see the fragrant rosemary smoke swirling under the skins. My dad had to stop me and my mother from snacking on them as the bread dough rose. I spread the focaccia into a sheet pan, brushed it with olive oil, dimpled it with my fingertips and gently pressed in halved grapes.

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

It was an experiment, since I wasn’t sure if the loaf would be too watery, if the grapes would keep their flavor, if it would need a touch less rosemary. We pulled the sheet out of the oven. I cut the first slice, and oh, my gosh – that crackle as I broke the crust, the lightness of the center, one or two grapes nestled in with wrinkled tops… That bread was perfection. We ate it so, so quickly we almost felt sick. And it’s one of my favorite memories from this summer, keeping me warm as the temperature drops.

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October 19, 2010 at 6:52 pm 51 comments

Soft Pretzels

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It’s hard to believe that only one week ago, I was between homes.

My parents and I flew red eye. As we made our way to the airport, I kept my face turned towards the car window. In the struggle to pack every suitcase into the trunk and leave nothing behind, I’d forgotten to take one final glimpse of my house, the garden, or my room. I felt uprooted and uneasy. I spent my last hour in Seattle trying to drink in the mountains, the water, the evergreens made silhouette-black by the twilight.

By the time we boarded the airplane, the sun had set completely. I spent the flight between sips of ginger ale and bouts of restless sleep. But when I awoke five hours later to the pilot’s voice, crackly as crepe paper over the speaker, the aisle was flooded with light. Boston woke up that morning to a lavender sky and a molten orange sun, one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen.

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I can’t pretend that my first days in Boston were without fault. It was uncomfortably hot and humid upon our arrival. On our first day we walked and walked and walked, until finally I nearly threw up in the sweltering subway station. And I was terrified. One of the first to move into the dorms, as soon as my parents left me alone to run some errands, I sat on my new bed and cried. It was just an accumulation of all the stresses, and you know I’ve never been good with change.

But I unpacked, and everything found its place. I fitted the bed with my old sheets and blankets, so it felt familiar. By the time my roommate E- arrived, I was ready to meet her, and that night I slept easily in my new room.

My parents left a couple days later. I met them at Neptune Oyster on their last night, where we had some really excellent calamari, smoked tuna, and raw oysters. I went through the motions of dinner like some weird dream, and fought tears when I hugged my mother and walked out. I slipped onto the T, rode home, and smiled at E- when I got back to my room.

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I’m sure that my school is the best school in Boston, maybe even the best school in America. (Half kidding.) The energy and passion here is honestly infectious. The people here are spirited, talented, and friendly to a fault. I’ve been to so many orientation events and activities that I can’t keep them all straight. I’ve met so many people that when I recognize a face, I don’t know whether it’s from an icebreaker game or the dining hall. And I love it.

Even though it’s only been a few days, I’m already in love with this dorm building. I love the creaky elevators and the beautifully detailed ceilings. I love my roommate, who is funny and outgoing and open as a book. I love my 7th floor – where to even start? On the first night, when we played a 30 person game of musical mafia? Two nights ago, when we sat beneath the purple sky in the Boston Common? Maybe yesterday, when we went to the Quincy Market together and sang “Stand by Me” with one of the street performers.

There’s P-, who is all too humble about his guitar and singing talents and wears funny shoes. There’s J-, who sounds EXACTLY like Michael Cera if you close your eyes. H-, who I shared an impromptu hug with in the elevator, S-, who looks like Mark Ruffalo, and C-, who has posters of Elvis around her bed. Is it possible that they already feel like family?

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I love the city of Boston. The way the squirrels in the Boston Common come right up to your feet. I love that everything is within walking distance, from the seedy grocery store in Chinatown to the fresh produce in Haymarket Square. My favorite place so far is the North End, where I like to walk alone through the winding cobblestone streets and carry a twine-wrapped box of cannoli.

Although I’ve tried plenty of good food here, the one thing I haven’t done yet is bake. This dorm building doesn’t have a real kitchen, and anyway, I don’t have any ingredients or supplies at this moment. My schedule’s been so hectic that I haven’t craved it yet, but I will. I can’t picture my life without mornings at the kitchen counter. I don’t know yet what will happen, but I know I can make it work.

These pretzels were the last thing I baked. It was the weekend before Boston, and my mother and I kneaded and twisted in the soft Seattle light I already miss. Neither of us had ever made pretzels before, and it was a bit of an experiment. We fumbled with the boiling water and had no idea how to form the shapes. But when the pretzels finally came out of the oven, soft and golden-brown, we couldn’t wait to take the first bite.

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My life right now is anticipation. I can’t wait to bake again, and to start classes this week. I can’t wait for the leaves to turn crimson and gold in the October breeze. I can’t wait for snow in December, by which time I’ll probably be missing the August heat, and planning my first flight back to Seattle – a trip from one home to another.

[PS: If you're interested in hearing more about my day-to-day college experiences in Boston, follow me on Twitter!]

[PPS: Would anyone be interested in a no-recipe, no-food post with just photos of Boston? Remember, though, I have enough food photos and recipes stocked up to last the year!]

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September 5, 2010 at 1:07 pm 108 comments

Orange-Cinnamon Honey Sticky Buns and The Newlywed Kitchen

Orange-Cinnamon Honey Sticky Buns

In 8th grade, my middle school French class took a trip to Paris. Back then I wasn’t interested in food the way I am now, so I didn’t take advantage of the streetside crepes and Fouchon bakery. Instead I remember how the cobblestone streets felt through the thin soles of my sneakers. The Eiffel Tower electric with lights. The fear I felt in the damp, windless corridors of the skull-lined Catacombs. And the grey parchment paper sky, wisps of clouds and the promise of rain.

Even as the trip unfolded, I knew I was making memories I wouldn’t want to forget. Every evening we’d return to our rickety two-star hotel, with bars on the windows and a spiral staircase that went up and up and up. I’d collapse onto the bed, shoes still laced. Then my friend K- and I would pull out our journals. Neither of us enjoyed updating them, but we both wanted to remember every moment of this adventure. The magic was in the details.

On our last night, we thought it would be fun to exchange journals and see what the other person had written. After all, we’d done all the same things – wouldn’t it be cool to see what each person had taken from the experience?

Orange-Cinnamon Honey Sticky Buns

I giggled when I read K-’s entries – they were as practical and logical as she was. She’d dutifully recorded all the sights we’d seen and places we’d visited. She listed out every meal, every souvenir (including how much she paid) and the method we traveled. When I handed her journal back, I saw bafflement on her face.

“You wrote about such weird stuff,” she admitted. “How is this going to help you remember anything important?”

Suddenly self conscious, I flipped through the pages. No, I hadn’t listed all the monuments and souvenirs, but the information was in there if you read through it all… I’d written about my failed attempts at conversation with a cheerful woman on the subway (I later found out I’d been talking about fishbones and stars, to her amusement.) The French perception of America I’d observed, from strange fashion posters to chit chat in the park. And most importantly, every emotion, whether good or bad, I’d experienced on our trip.

I simply wrote about what I always notice – the people and the emotional connection around me. It felt more like Paris to me than any arch or shopping complex. To me, that’s what’s important – that’s what I want to remember. To me, everything is personal.

Orange-Cinnamon Honey Sticky Buns

Like always, food is no exception. When I visit a farmer’s market, I am as interested in the growers themselves as I am in the produce. I always like to strike up conversation with the artisan bread bakers and chocolatiers I meet – doesn’t learning about their hard work and passion make their food taste even better?

Writing these blog posts often feels a lot like writing in a personal journal. And while food is a thread that weaves through everything, I find that I’m often not writing about baked goods at all. It’s about my mother’s smile when the ciabatta sounds hollow inside, and my father holding his fork just so, right before I snap the photo. It’s about the serenity of sprinkling dough with cinnamon sugar, the way everything has quietly become clear. Food is personal, and there’s no separating it from the rest of your life.

The recipe for these Orange-Cinnamon Sticky Buns came from Lorna Yee’s The Newlywed Kitchen. Lorna’s a friend, a fellow blogger, and a Seattle Magazine food writer. I usually don’t accept free products to blog about, but when Lorna asked me to review a copy, I couldn’t resist. I knew I was glad to have accepted when the book arrived at my door, glossy and making me hungry already.

Orange-Cinnamon Honey Sticky Buns

What I really liked about this book, besides the recipes and vivid photography, was how personal it felt. Every few recipes, the book interviewed famous foodies, describing the story of how they fell in love. Where she met him, what he cooked for her, the role that food plays in their marriage. Besides being incredibly sweet and chock-full of cooking tips, every story made the distant chef feel a little more approachable and the recipe a little more familiar.

Isn’t that the ultimate purpose of food, to tell a story and bring us closer?

The story behind these sticky buns is simple. I remember the fragrance of orange oil left on the zester, and the painted texture of melted butter brushed on dough. My mother coming home and gasping, “Oh, what did you make?” and timing the buns to come out of the oven just as Dad was home. I remember telling him about the sticky glaze: “Walnuts, orange juice, honey, brown sugar, cream, and butter… It’s good stuff.” And his response: a hearty laugh that pushed up his cheeks, and “No, it isn’t!” as he took another bite.

I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything essential.

4th of July Flag Cake

[PS: As we near the 4th of July, I thought I'd remind you guys of the flag cake I made last year! You might have seen this cake floating around the internet or even watched me make it on tv (you don't even know how nervous I was filming that. You don't even know.) This one's the original!]

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June 29, 2010 at 11:56 pm 67 comments

Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Coffee Cake

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We bought our first real house when I was in 4th grade. Up until then, we’d been calling a suburban condo home, but it wasn’t working for my mother. She wanted a yard to weed and nurture, walls she could paint palest lavender or creamy sage. As for me, I didn’t care much about having a patch of grass or a room painted blue. I just thought that our house was our home and I didn’t really want to leave it.

I remember the first night we spent at the new house. It was March, still cold, and we hadn’t fully moved over. The house was still half-empty, like a partially created stage set. In the dark the rooms were ominous and alien, as if the previous family had vanished into the walls. The stacks of boxes and unfamiliar furniture arrangement cast weird shadows, and I was too scared to close my eyes.

For weeks, whenever I heard the word “home,” I didn’t think of our freshly painted door or the roses outside my new bedroom window. I pictured our beige condo and its curved, carpeted staircase instead.

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Eight years later, our little green house feels achingly like home. It’s in the details that I’ll remember years from now. The dusky blue drinking glass that I use solely for trapping and freeing spiders when my mother’s asleep. The arthritic creak of the French doors to our backyard. The flood of light that drenches our living room in liquid gold on Sunday mornings.

Oh, and… my kitchen. The slick black and white checkered floor that we’ve wanted to get rid of since the beginning (we never will), the marigold walls, the flaking white cabinets that don’t all shut properly. It isn’t even truly “my kitchen.” For all my baking passion and “heart in the kitchenaid” talk, it belongs to this family much more than any one of us.

I think more than anything, home will always sound like the grating whirr of my father peeling potatoes. Taste like umami beef noodle soup that makes your whole body tingle, it’s so intensely beautiful. Feel like crouching outside in a cool drizzle, herbs bundled in my fingers as in, “I could use a handful of chives – Elissa?” And maybe most of all, the warm, yeasty smell of rising bread when the sunlight through my window wakes me up.

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I woke up Sunday morning really, really aching to be in the kitchen.

Maybe it was because I’d gone to Dianne Jacob’s food writing workshop on Saturday, and since then my mind was shrouded in hunger and taste related adjectives. Maybe it was because I hadn’t baked anything in a week. But I felt like doing something a little more ambitious, and I chose to tackle my yeast anxiety with Flo Braker’s Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Coffee Cake.

Predictably, my mother had woken long before me. She was outside, watering the irises that have simultaneously burgeoned forth. But she’d been in the kitchen first. I could smell the proofing dough before I even entered the hallway. And her fingerprints were all over the kitchen – a cleaner than clean countertop, a dishwasher full of drying bowls, and finally, a Rapunzel-esque braid of challah draped with a clean cloth.

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We juggled the kitchen after she came inside and peeled off her gardening gloves. She brushed the pillowy loaf with an egg wash while I kneaded, flour on both our noses. She showed me how to make bread rise properly in our cool house (she heats a cup of water in the microwave for 4-5 minutes to create steam, then leaves the covered loaf there to rise.)

While the challah browned on the outside and fluffed up inside like cotton, I spread my dough with lemon sugar and cut it into rectangles. The whole house seemed to be rising like bread itself. The warm air from the oven circulated up and back down until every room was rosy. The couch, the bathroom towels, my sweatshirt… everything smelled like my favorite smell, yeast and flour and home.

Mom’s challah was breathtaking, the way that homemade bread kneaded and shaped in your hands is always breathtaking. And to my surprise, the Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Coffee Loaf lived up to its mouthful of a name. The loaf baked up sumptuous and golden, envelopes of lemon zest and fluff, slathered with a cream cheese frosting.

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We gorged ourselves on bread: chunks of challah, sheets of lemony loaf. My mom would taste my bread, praise it, give me a slice of hers. “Isn’t it good? Yours came out so well,” we’d both say. As long as my mother is filling the kitchen ceiling with sweet, oven-hot air, I have a place to call home.

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May 25, 2010 at 12:25 pm 115 comments

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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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