Posts tagged ‘crunchy’

Crackly Crackers

cracker1

I spent my last day in Seattle with my parents. We woke up early and got pancakes at one of our favorite dives, a run-down little restaurant near the airport. I spent the afternoon at home with Dad and the dogs, looking through old photo albums. We shared some good sushi for an early lunch, and ice cream sundaes for dessert. Even though sleet fell and dirty puddles collected, damp leaves sticking to our soles, I couldn’t have felt happier about my last afternoon.

At home after dinner, I watched my mom boil water for tea, facing away from me. I sat at the table and checked my email as she talked, only half listening. She stopped mid-sentence, and I finally noticed that she’d been crying – so quiet I hadn’t heard from three feet away.

She left the kitchen and I heard the closet open down the hall. She came back with a white cloth napkin with sky blue trim. “Recognize this?”

The last time I saw my parents before winter break was in Boston, a few days before classes started. We had dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant in the North End, a light meal before I left in near tears and caught the next train to my dorms. We didn’t say goodbye for very long because I didn’t want my parents to see I was upset.

cracker3

“After you walked out, I started crying,” my mom said. I unfolded the napkin and turned it around in my hands. It was so neatly folded and wrinkle-free that it looked new.

“Your father and I left soon after you. We walked down the street and he gave me the napkin – he stole it from the restaurant. He said he thought I might need it.”

And here it was now, a seeming lifetime later, in our chipped little kitchen.

“We walked a little further and went into some of the stores. Your dad, he picked up this jar of something and said ‘Oh – Elissa would really like this.’ He just kept looking at it and finally he bought it. He said, ‘We should give it to her.’”

“The fig spread?”

cracker5

I remembered this. I thought I’d said goodbye to my parents for the last time, but later that night, my dad stopped by the lobby of my dorm. He had a box of water crackers, a thick wedge of creamy brie, and a small glass jar of an incredible fig jam. It was the last real quality food I had before I settled into my routine of café sandwiches and dining hall chicken fingers. It was the last little bit that felt like Seattle as I settled into Boston.

The first week of school, I passed it around the common room and shared it with my floor. Nobody had eaten anything like that fig spread before, and I saw people right, left and center falling in love. Between my roommate E- and I, the jam lasted a few weeks. When it was gone, I washed out the jar and set it on the windowsill. That’s where it is now, catching the fleeting light that filters into my room.

When it was gone, I craved more, but I wasn’t about to buy more on my college student budget. One afternoon E- came into the room with a grocery bag. She pulled out a package of crackers. “I keep thinking about that fig spread,” she admitted. With or without it, the crackers satisfied us, and now our room is always stocked with a box or two.

cracker2 (Left to right: Parmesan Cheese Crackers, Orange Sugar & Spice Crackers, Lime Thyme Crackers)

Mom was smiling now. “After the hard time your dad gave me about being upset, he was the one buying stuff for you half an hour later. He said we should go to Whole Foods and get something to go with the jam. I thought he was being ridiculous but he was so stubborn about the idea.”

They didn’t know where Whole Foods was, but they took a train and managed to find it. I can picture Dad walking up and down the cheese aisle, like he used to when we shopped together, looking for the particular brie I’m so smitten with. I imagine him looking at shelves and shelves of crackers, deciding which box would go best with the spread.

As I thought about all the work behind that simple gesture, a paper bag with a last-minute snack, I started to feel sad for the first time about winter break ending. I gave my mom a long hug and told her not to cry. I folded up the napkin, following the creases, and handed it to her.

“Hang onto this. I’m serious. Keep this forever, okay?”

“Okay.” She paused, and then smiled. “I’ll use it at your graduation.”

cracker4

She put the napkin back in the linen closet, Dad came and sat down, and the two of them talked at the dinner table as I finished packing.

Boston, here I come.

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January 16, 2011 at 1:23 am 64 comments

Savory and Summery

Avocado and Sundried Tomato Eggrolls(Mom wants me to let you guys know that we she grew the lettuce on that plate.)

These past few weeks, I’ve felt suspended in limbo. In a lot of ways, this summer feels like my last. The last summer I can get away without having a steady job. The last summer where my high school friends are all in town and trying to keep us together. The last summer I’ll see the world the way I do right now. I keep having to remind myself that I’m a high school graduate, and that everything is about to change in September.

I don’t feel like a college freshman, the way I still don’t feel like a legal adult. Once in a while, when I hear from a friend or spot the square graduation cap in my closet, I’m stifled with hesitation. There are moments where I don’t think I’ll survive if I’m tossed into the depths of the unknown. But sooner or later, I walk past someone with a Red Sox tee or tell someone about my expected major – and then I’m overwhelmed with a desire to pack up and move to Boston already.

The morning after I graduated, I thought to myself, “This is it. This summer is like the eye of a hurricane.” A month in, though, I’m seeing it a little differently. The next two months aren’t the calm before an unstoppable storm… they’re a window of opportunity. The opportunity to relax while shouldering a bit of responsibility, and to enjoy every second of this limbo.

Avocado and Sundried Tomato Eggrolls

So what have I been doing with my last days in Washington? Even though Seattle is currently going through a miniature heat wave, I’ve been spending most of my hours in the kitchen.

It started about a week ago. My dad and I were at the dinner table, talking about college and 17 and Baking. Up until then, I’d felt unconcernedly confident about maintaining the blog through the school year. After all, it simply had to work out. How hard could it be to keep up the blogging?

But little by little, tiny cracks chipped away at my optimism. I came to the unpleasant conclusion that I can’t bring the KitchenAid mixer with me. It’s so heavy, how we would transport it across the country? And where would I keep it – my dorm? Would I carry it down the streets of Boston in search of a kitchen? I reluctantly admitted there were flaws in my idealism, all the way down to the simple issue of where I’d store flour and eggs. Would I even have time?

So I’ve begun baking like crazy to stock up on photos. While I’m thrilled that I’ll be able to keep blogging through the blustery chills of October and the January freeze, it contradicts my general philosophy of only using seasonal items. In the past week, my searches for wintery produce and dabbles with autumn spices have only reinforced my appreciation for seasonal ingredients.

Avocado and Sundried Tomato Eggrolls

It’s July, and it’s also a window of opportunity for the fruits and vegetables I’ve waited for all winter. I’ve missed the satisfaction of a real tomato, heavy with juice and sweeter than sugar. It’s been too long since I last eased a knife through the streaked hull of a watermelon. I’ve been craving the fuzzy blush of a peach and the first seed-studded bite into a strawberry ever since January. They just aren’t good in April – some things are worth waiting for.

Gosh, I’m hungry again.

And with the ingredients come the dishes I’ve been lusting after. Spontaneous fruits-of-the-moment fruit salads, cold cucumber soup, sparkling herb lemonade! Even water tastes better when you’re drinking it between forkfuls of grilled salmon with grape and melon chutney.

I know I’m not the only foodie in town excited by summer produce. My parents have both been waiting, and it’s finally the time of year for my dad’s zesty blueberry corn salad with lime, and my mom’s avocado and sundried tomato eggrolls with chili dipping sauce. There’s only a short window of time when we can indulge ourselves in these savory summer dishes, and we’re taking full advantage of it.

Avocado and Sundried Tomato Eggrolls

I love my mother’s eggrolls. She first came up with them last summer, and when avocado season rolled around this year we began eating batch after batch. She starts with a gorgeously ripe avocado – as creamy and thick as butter, the kind of green that sends happy flutters in your stomach. Add sun dried tomatoes, fresh cilantro and sharp red onion, and you’ve hit upon something special – smooth, crispy, chewy, and indulgent.

My dad loves the combination of fresh blueberries and gently cooked corn. The corn is still a little warm, still has a little pop to it. The blueberries are cool and sweet. Spritzed with lime, they become like dark pearls, stunning against the light yellow kernels and flecks of zest. There’s only a small period of time when blueberry season and corn season cross, so now’s the time to make this refreshing salad… over and over again.

In the coming weeks, as summer draws to an end, I might get sick of flaky eggroll skin or juicy corn. Before long, I’ll be longing for pumpkin puree and for the give of a ripe pear, the way it smells like crisp leaves and November rain. But everything is worth the wait. And for now, I’ll enjoy the summer’s bounty as long as it blooms, ripens, and warms in the July heat.

Blueberry Corn Salad with Lime

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July 11, 2010 at 12:16 am 65 comments

Checkerboard Cookies

Checkerboard Cookies

Yesterday, for the briefest moments, it started to feel like June for the first time.

It’s the last weekend before I’m done with high school classes forever, but rain has drizzled coolly for the past week. The temperature has dipped into the fifties, the wind has blown pine needles all over our damp cement patio, and the moss is drenched with icy water that seeps into your socks. It’s June, and I’ve worn my red rubber rain boots to school twice.

But yesterday the sun was bright enough to warm up our garden bench, nestled between the spindly apple tree and the velvet plum-purple irises. The sky was the kind of blue that makes you crazy – “turn up the radio” blue, “now pull over and dance” blue. Thin clouds stretched out like ferns, and it made you see the sky’s overwhelming vastness, a rarity in hilly Seattle.

On paper, my Saturday certainly wasn’t memorable. I woke up and drove to a friend’s house to work on our environmental science project. Then I drove home, had lunch, took some photos, and lounged outside all day. Somehow, though, it was one of the most perfect days I’ve had in a long time.

Checkerboard Cookies

I drove home with music swirling inside the car like a snow globe of sound. I even honked at a cute boy on the sidewalk, and he winked at me as the light turned green. At home, my parents were working on the yard. My dad was up on the ladder, trimming the trees that tower throughout our backyard. My mom brushed up leaves and debris – under her watch, the yard is cleaner than my bedroom. I settled onto the bench and tried to write this post.

But it was so hard to be with a computer screen. I thought about everything but the checkerboard cookies. Like the lunch we’d had. Mom had made avocado and sundried tomato egg rolls, creamy and chewy and crisp. Dad came up with a cool Sriracha dipping sauce. I made a strawberry salad with home-grown chocolate-mint, lemon, and dark chocolate shavings. It’s a meal I’ll remember someday in college when I’m longing for home, with nothing to eat but a bruised apple.

I almost began to write something for 17 and Baking, but then the laptop died. And I could have moved inside, plugged it in, and typed it up at the dinner room table. But I closed the screen and pulled out my macro lens instead. I photographed the spidery veins of leaves, the peachy curve of a lily, and the tattoo of woodpecker drills circling up a tree. I stayed outside with my skin as sun-warmed as our garden bench until twilight fell.

Checkerboard Cookies

This morning I woke up to the sound of splashing raindrops on our roof. I poured myself some cereal and looked outside – our stone path was dark mahogany and black, in the way that wet rock always looks richer. All of our plants were slick and alive. They stood up taller, leaves fanned out and saturated with color, quenched. When I opened the door and took a quick walk outside, it smelled green. Somehow, the rain didn’t seem so bad.

Now I’m bundled in a fleece blanket, curled on the rocking chair, typing this. It’s been too long since my last post, I know. But there is too much beauty in my life right now, in my family, in the garden, even in the moments of silence. These are the times I don’t want to forget, down to the last drop. Even now, though the sky is like white paint and the house is cold as a carton of milk, life is perfect. I didn’t do much this weekend, but the little things are making it extraordinary. The little things are essential to remember.

I’ve made these checkerboard cookies a total of four times – they’re that good. The first time I made them, the checkerboard pattern wasn’t quite even, but the taste! Buttery, a little crisp, a little chewy, and an indescribable flavor that came together like magic. I photographed the cookies, but I didn’t like them. I made them again a month later, but the texture wasn’t right. I’d somehow messed up. A third time, and they were still off. I’d messed up somewhere, and the wheels didn’t all align.

Checkerboard Cookies

But today, all the little things came together. My butter was at just the right temperature, soft enough to yield to a fingertip but cold enough to keep its shape. I used a ruler to form the checkerboard pattern and though it isn’t perfect, I almost like the imperfection. And the photographs? The lighting was off the first three times. Yesterday I used the dragonfly-wing light on our kitchen counter and it was just right.

It’s rare for me to make a recipe multiple times, but I know I’ll make these cookies again before summer finishes. As simple as they are, they’re unforgettable.

[PS: I know it's been a while since my last post. The last week of school, and it's catching up to me with finals and projects. Won't happen again over the summer!

Also, since I'm getting a lot of questions about it, I wanted to talk about college. Unfortunately, I can't reveal which school I'm going to (at least at this time.) It's simply an issue of privacy. Here's what I can say, though - it's a great school for communications in BOSTON! and I'll study to become a print journalist and writer, just like I always dreamed. In August, I'll move into my dorm and 17 and Baking will continue like always, from the City on a Hill. I'm starting to miss Seattle already, but I can barely contain my excitement about this next big step in my life. Thanks for sticking with me!]

Checkerboard Cookies

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June 6, 2010 at 11:37 am 91 comments

Jam Tart

tart2wm

Lately, it seems to me that one of the most important things about being alive is, well, food. Even before this whole “baking thing” :) became a part of my identity, food has been as important as housing and education.

I come from a family where my grandfather laid the foundation for food appreciation… Heavy, dusty potatoes, long, gorgeously orange carrots, crackly-skinned poultry and lots of real cream and butter (lots of it.) My father has kept the tradition alive, too – among my favorite weekend dinners are homemade butternut ravioli with home-grown tomato sauce, barbeque ribs made with his secret hand-mixed chili powder, and crisp, creamy sweet potato fries.

It’s not just the holidays and weekends when we eat well. My mother claims not to enjoy cooking, but I don’t buy it for a minute. I’ve seen her make potstickers, mixing together the skin with only flour and water, chopping pork and herbs for the filling. I’ve seen the way her face lights up when I taste test a new red bean filled bun. She likes to cook for the same reasons I do: to savor something delicious, and to watch other people do it too.

tart5wm

When I was in middle school, lunch was the only unhealthy meal I got, paid for out of a vending machine. I’d wolf down a bag of potato chips, a pack of sour gummy worms, and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. Not so much anymore. When I eat out, it’s sushi or potato and mushroom piroshkies; when I pack it myself it’s a turkey sandwich on homemade bread and a blackberry yogurt.

Most of the things I blog about aren’t healthy, but I don’t treat myself to chocolate cookies and peanut butter cheesecake every day. I know you’re meant to eat these things wisely and share the rest. It’s important to us to eat healthy, and that’s what we do. And even when it’s not completely “healthy,” like when we generously add heavy cream to our mashed potatoes or deep fry halibut cheeks, at least we know we’re using quality ingredients.

I can hardly remember the last time we bought bread, since my mother makes it all herself: fresh tomato basil, ciabatta, carrot dinner rolls, naan, pita pockets and hamburger buns. Our herb garden is flourishing under the shy Seattle sunlight, and the vegetables are following – acorn squash, Japanese cucumber, arugula, snow peas, butter lettuce. We’ve got the promise of apples, pears, currants, and Asian pears to come.

tart8wm

As for what we don’t grow or make, we get pickier and pickier as the years go by. We’ve switched mostly over to organic fruit now at the grocery store. We love the fresh, firm fish that the Puget Sound has to offer. I like to use organic evaporated cane juice instead of white granulated sugar. We still only buy what we can afford, and we budget our shopping list, but we have definitely gotten choosier.

When Mother’s Day rolled around this year, I settled on making a Jam Tart. I didn’t exactly plan ahead, so Sunday morning I had two hours to get the whole thing baked. I put the tart crust dough in the freezer to chill, and then I rummaged through the fridge until I realized we didn’t have any jam left. Drat.

I remember, as I drove to the closest grocery store, being annoyed at myself for not making fresh jam myself earlier. Blackberry? Orange marmalade? Strawberry? I could have made all of those from scratch, I thought. When I got to the store – one I wouldn’t have picked if I hadn’t been pressed for time – I stood before their unimpressive selection of jams and jellies.

tart3wm

I didn’t even bother looking at the inexpensive generic brands or the sugar free versions. I picked up a jar, turned it around, scanned the ingredients. I grabbed another, checked the origin of the fruit. On the top shelf, I finally found one small jar of marionberry preserves – a little glass thing faceted like a black diamond. The brand seemed solid and the ingredients looked good. It was also two dollars more pricey than anything else.

But I didn’t think twice before buying it and running back to the car, barely on schedule.

Inexplicably, days after the tart was eaten and gone, I found myself thinking about that jar. There was definitely nothing wrong with the jam. It was smooth, sweet, fruity – but it was expensive. And it wasn’t even eaten straight from the jar with a spoon or spread onto a crusty loaf. It was baked into a tart. In hindsight, perhaps I should have bought something a little more affordable. You have to make sacrifices somewhere, right?

tart4wm

Am I turning into a food snob? I swore I never would. But I’m the one person of my friends who won’t eat if we go to Qdoba or Wendy’s for lunch, instead walking to the next door Trader Joe’s or waiting to go home to eat. I shop for fruit the way some girls shop for shoes. And even though we can’t exactly afford it, I beg to go to Whole Foods on special occasions.

I think it’s a good thing to care about your food: where it comes from, what it’s been treated with, how fresh it is. But I think I’ve also got to consider what things are really worth, and when they really matter. It’s easy enough to buy a little $6 jar of jam when the only thing I spend my own money on is ingredients. But when I’m on my own at college three months from now, I won’t be able to get away with those kinds of food purchases all the time.

I think the key is balance. I won’t compromise my food ethics, and I’ll always have an appreciation for good food. But I’ll never force it on anyone else, and I’ll still have to be responsible about my purchases. Maybe not everyone will agree, but I think that’s just another aspect of caring about your food. For now, I’ll take it one meal at a time, forkful by forkful of Mother’s Day jam tart.

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May 15, 2010 at 1:34 pm 55 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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