Posts tagged ‘Dad’

Pistachio Gelato & Blackberry Creamsicle Sherbet

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Dear Mom and Dad,

I know it’s been a while. A long while. I’m sorry that I’ve stopped sending daily photos – it’s because I don’t have any photos to send. And I know I haven’t called in weeks. Every day is a jumble of classes, radio, clubs, essays, work, and somehow the things I used to be so passionate about have been pushed aside in the struggle. But I also know how much I care about you, and more importantly, you know it too. Four days until I fly home.

Dad, it was so good to see you over Thanksgiving. I opened the car door and saw you standing in the garage. You just looked at me like you were seeing sunlight for the first time in months. I had just woken up; I didn’t care that you were in work clothes and covered in dust when I fell into that hug. I love that it didn’t take more than ten minutes for one of your smart aleck comments to get on my nerves. You probably missed the way I roll my eyes.

I missed your cooking. I was glad you remembered I like my spaghetti swimming (drowning) in tomato sauce, even though I knew you wouldn’t forget. Did you see how quickly I shoveled that potato-celery root puree down? Yes, I was hungry, and no, they don’t cook food like that in our dining hall. But what really made it good was the way it tasted like twilight on the patio, too many dishes on the counter, the warmth of a dog under the table. Even though I slept for two days straight that week, it was good to be home.

Also, it was fun kicking your butt in Wii boxing.

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Mom. I can’t believe I haven’t seen you since August. When we parted, our red currants were still in season and it was so hot in Boston, I almost passed out that afternoon at the T station. Now, the metal spokes of my umbrella are mangled from wind and my rubber rain boots have split along the sides. We’ve had little flurries of snow, but I still stubbornly wear sundresses to class. You’d throw a fit if you saw me walk out like that. I’d point to my tights, and you’d tell me to put on another coat. (You’d be right.)

I always think about the last time I saw you. We were sitting in Neptune Oyster, having our last dinner together. I had finished eating a while ago, but I kept watching you pick at your calamari. I couldn’t bring myself to get up and leave because I knew I would be gone for good. There was no chance of me saying it aloud, but I was terrified. I remember our last hug, and rushing to leave before it overwhelmed me. The last thing I remember is your face – so conflicted.

I know you stress. I hear it in your voice when we talk on the phone, even though you try not to mention your anxieties. You’re worried I’m not eating right, not sleeping enough, working too hard. Maybe. But I hope you know I’m happy despite everything. I’ve grown up a lot in a semester, in most ways for the better. I can’t wait to make you proud with what I’ve accomplished.

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The first half of my freshman year went by in a blink. The other day I got in an elevator with the director of undergraduate admissions. He recognized me, and he was seriously interested: was the school a good fit? Was I finding a good balance between challenge and creativity? I told him I was. When I visited in April, I was uncertain. Today, I am sure.

Dad, when we flew out six months ago to check this place out, you remember how much I liked the radio station and the internship opportunities. I was impressed with the students I met and the professors I spoke with. But sometimes I think the decision really came down to… nougat.

It was spring, and cherry blossoms lined the North End like pale pink bridesmaids. We were walking down the brick streets when we saw a huge group of people standing outside Modern Pastry. We’d never heard of it, but we figured we couldn’t argue with a wait like that. When we finally got into the bakery, we bought a bar of nougat – simple, unassuming, and a little out of our comfort zone.

The first bite. Sticky sugar on our fingers and the way every piece melted in our mouths. I thought I’d never had anything so good before. We fought over the last bite. I can’t remember who let who have it. I don’t go into the North End as often as I’d like, but I never forget that nougat.

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I tried to recreate it myself, a version with orange blossom water and pistachios. It was, well, utterly inedible. Recipes involving candy thermometers are my weakness, so the nougat never came together. Even after I stuck it in the fridge, it was a sticky disaster, caught between solid and liquid, and a total waste of nuts. It did make me laugh.

But I still had half a bag of pistachios, so I split their shells and poured whole milk into a saucepan. A good fit for another Italian dessert, gelato. Elegant, subtle, and a buttery green, it captured the spirit of my favorite nut perfectly. I also had a bag of frozen blackberries – remember how we picked them over the summer? – so I thought I’d make a blackberry creamsicle sherbet too. It turns out, blackberry and pistachio go beautifully together, the nuttiness of one balancing the sweetness of the other.

Maybe I’ll try the nougat again when I’m home. But most likely not. I’ll spend every day with you two, Mom and Dad, and with Grandma (I’m studying hard and having fun) and Tilly and Otis. I’ll gorge myself on some real food, catch up on a lot of sleep, and find that new balance between child and adult I’m still discovering.

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I know how obsessively you two check 17 and Baking, so you’ll read this before I’m home, probably within hours of its posting. I’m not going to say how much I love you, because that’s the kind of thing you do in person. Four days, Mom and Dad.

Elissa

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December 13, 2010 at 7:57 pm 52 comments

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 52 comments

Maple Pot de Crème

Maple Pot de Crème

I’ve never gone this long without baking.

I realize now that I took everything back home for granted – ingredients, books, supplies. Here, I don’t even own a fork. I miss my glossy black oven and my vials of vanilla beans, but I’m making the best of things. On Sunday I visited a friend who lives in Boston. Her kitchen is all blue, yellow, and white, flooded with light and breathtakingly lovely. I baked a triple lemon yogurt loaf (no photos, but heartfelt thanks to D- and her beautiful family) and brought some home to share with my floor.

The dorm food here is, well, my least favorite aspect of the school. It’s all wilted spinach, dried-out pizza and artificial-cherry Jello. Disappointing, if unsurprising. It’s even more frustrating than the screechy subway or our tiny elevators, which are always hot with the breath of people past. When the longing for good food overwhelms, I look through my collection of photos.

Maple Pot de Crème

I had sixty recipes to choose from for this post, and I am so excited to share this particular one with you. Sixty recipes baked, fried, and frozen over the course of a few weeks, and this is possibly the stand out. Maple Pot de Crème. Would you believe that something so innocent could be so dangerous?

Back in July, I baked four or five desserts every day. The first thing I did when I woke up was preheat the oven, and the last thing I did before bed was wrap up any dessert left to cool on the counter. Every Sunday I gave my dad a bite out of everything, so he could taste test it all. On that particular morning, there were a lot of things to try.

He’d sampled everything by the time I drew the pot de crème from the fridge, the last thing to try in this buffet of sugar. This pot de crème was the creamiest, smoothest, silkiest custard I’ve ever made. I don’t know whether it’s the recipe, since I haven’t made it again, or if I just got lucky, but this particular batch of pot de crème was extraordinary. You could tell, even as the spoon sunk in. I watched him frown, speechless, and reach for another bite.

He scraped the ramekin clean.

Maple Pot de Crème

We waited half an hour, and then I couldn’t help it. I reached for another. We knew it was a bad idea – my dad’s stomach has been in poor health recently – and I even joked about the amount of cream and yolk in every spoonful. It was a mistake, but a delicious one. All we could think was how close to perfection this pot de crème was, and how lucky we were to have it.

Not an hour later, my dad was balled up on the couch, and I was running down the street with my shoes half on. A neighbor drove us to the emergency room. It was rush hour, the car was barely advancing, the slightest bump made my father groan and why were we moving so slowly? Numbly, all I could think from somewhere in the back of my head was, “I shouldn’t have given him all that dessert.”

By the time we got to the hospital, thankfully, his pain was starting to lessen. By the time my mother ran in, he reassured her that he was fine. After a few hours, the pain had subsided, and we knew he was going to be okay.

Maple Pot de Crème

This is the kind of man my dad is: after the attack was over and he was discharged, my mother left to bring the car around. As my father and I stood in front of the hospital, he leaned against a post, exhausted and still weak. Another car pulled up, and a middle-aged lady struggled to open a wheelchair and help her frail mother into it. Despite everything, my father had jogged over before I’d even straightened up, holding the mother’s arm and guiding her into the seat.

Before they walked away, the woman said to him, “The world would be such a beautiful place if there were more people in it like you.”

It’s true.

And when our Toyota pulled up to the curb and we piled in to go back home, he said, “I kind of want another maple pot de crème.” They’re just that good.

My dad finally had the surgery he needed, and while multiple pots de crème still might not be advisable, he’s going to be great. Last week was his birthday, and while I wasn’t there to make something special, I hope this post makes him smile. Happy birthday Dad, I love and miss you. You’re the best father anyone could ask for, even from across the country.

[PS: Many readers have asked where I got the ramekins. They were a gift from my grandma to my dad, who later regifted them to me. After a lot of googling, I managed to find them - they're part of the Andrea by Sadek collection and can be bought at this link.]

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September 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm 91 comments

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

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Today was my first day back at school after our mid-winter break. Some of my friends flew to China, spending the week amongst hazy neon billboards and frigid vendor’s markets. Another friend passed the time in a bitter whirl of snow that could not dampen his thrill to be in New York. One of my best friends, promising to send a postcard, vacationed in Hawaii. Even without a letter, I could imagine her snorkeling through murky waters that cleared into brilliant clouds of fish.

But me? I stayed home alone most afternoons, not even reaching out to the friends who were still in the area. I watched an embarrassing amount of The Office (my new obsession) and refreshed my Facebook page until, with a pang, I realized that I was the only person online.

This happens to me all too frequently when I am left to my own ways at home – I slip into inevitable boredom. It seeps from the dim lighting and wheezy exhalations of my laptop into my very bones. I feel burdened with the monotony. It feels heavy, like overripe fruit, stifling my motivation. I just don’t feel like doing anything.

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After my second consecutive day spent in teddy bear print pajamas, I stopped even using my laptop. I had headaches that throbbed too much when I tried to fix my eyes on a screen, but I couldn’t find anything else to do. I didn’t even want to bake.

My dad urged me to go out on my own, even if my friends were out of town. “Where’s your sense of adventure?” he kept asking, like he couldn’t quite believe it had come to this. “Take the car. Venture down roads you’ve never explored. Look around downtown Seattle. Bring your camera. Get out.”

Despite all my general bravado about leaving the west coast, experiencing new things on the other side of the world, exploring everything there is to see – I resisted. I wasn’t in the mood to get lost or sing along with the radio. But finally, sick of stagnation, I swept my hair up and pulled on some boots. I cradled my camera and locked the empty house behind me, head still pressured by migraines.

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Despite my mood, I was out of the house, wearing real clothes with texture and color and substance instead of shapeless sweats. The moment the door closed, I felt the brittle February air break into my lungs. It was more invigorating than any Tylenol or television show.

At first I drove aimlessly with the sole purpose of burning gas. I discovered a new way to drive downtown. I made wide, comfortable loops that took me towards and away from my house with little thought. That’s when I saw the blueberry farm and reacted before my mind had caught up. I heard the dull crunch of my car pulling onto the gravel driveway, the slam of the door and the sound of the breeze picking up before I’d fully registered. I didn’t even bring my camera.

It wasn’t anywhere near blueberry season. The blueberry plants were trimmed down and leafless, kept in neat rows that stretched out as far as I could see. The trees along the horizon were velvety dark at this distance, and the sun shone through their peaks in solid, separate rays. As I walked, the footprints in the dirt behind me slowly filled with water. I shivered a little at first, my hair whipped across my cheeks, and a smile emerged like a midwinter sunbreak.

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Sometimes, I think the simplest things can be the best medicine. A walk through an icy, empty blueberry farm without a trace of technology or a thought in my mind. A creased postcard with sea turtles and butterfly fish on the front. Or a genuine “Thank You” and a plate stacked high with sugar-shelled chocolate crinkle cookies, baked with love and devoured quickly.

[PS: Still collecting questions for a future FAQ post, so leave a question for me if you'd like!]

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February 23, 2010 at 12:49 am 80 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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