Posts tagged ‘herbs’

Chocolate-Mint Ice Cream Cake

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Where to begin the story of this chocolate-mint ice cream cake? Sure, it technically begins with a cool carton of cream and a stack of cracked egg shells. But I think it really starts two years ago, when my mother decided she wanted to remodel our backyard.

Our yard is L shaped, wrapping around our house. One of the strips is nice, just cool green grass and evergreen trees. But the other strip of yard, the one visible from the kitchen window and the dining room, was once utterly unimpressive. It was brimming with uneven grass, moss that squished under each footstep, and unappealing patches of yellow. My mother began sketching out designs, writing down ideas, until she’d come up with an ambitious blueprint.

She wanted to remove all the grass in that section and fertilize it. Then she wanted to transform it into something stunning, a rainbow of growing, breathing plants. Lime-green creeping bugleweed, black stemmed rhododendrons, pink-throated lilies, pure white bleeding hearts in the shade… And a natural stone path weaving through it all. Maybe a birdbath in the corner.

I thought it was wishful thinking, but my dad told her, “Let’s do it.”

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We did it all ourselves that summer, and it was more work than any of us expected it to be. I imagined the process of removing grass to be a very simple, straightforward one. I didn’t realize that we’d have to lift up the sod, like heavy strips of carpet. We sifted through all of the rocks and roots by hand, which is every bit as laborious as it sounds, and turned the soil with fertilizer.

Forming the stone path felt like the bane of my existence. It needed to be nine inches deep, three feet wide, curving like a snake from one end of the yard to the other. After that, we had to smooth it out, fill it with gravel (wheelbarrowful by wheelbarrowful) and then with dirt (shovelful by shovelful.) By the time we began to fit in the rocks, I had complained enough for the whole summer.

We went to the nursery every week and drove home with a lush jungle spilling out of the car trunk; I’d sit in the back seat with silvery leaves and purple flowers brushing my cheek. We planted hummingbird-friendly flowers near the kitchen window and spindly ferns in the shade. We carried in an old stone bird bath. We even dug out a fire pit at the end of the path and built it with leftover slabs of stone.

We’d turned our backyard into something so much more than an offhand glance out the window.

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The next spring, despite an unusually freezing winter, my mother’s garden grew back like some kind of miracle. It’s even fuller, even greener, and there’s a palpable buzz, a pulse. It’s bursting with life. I remember the thrill of our first hummingbird, hovering in the air like a jewel. The first time we saw a blue jay sipping cautiously from the birdbath. The first baby green leaf in a vine we though had been choked by the cold.

We have already gotten so much from our yard, it’s easy to forget how much work went into it. We cuddle up in lawn chairs around the fire pit, setting pumpkin spice marshmallows on fire and running out for hot dogs. We look up between sips of coffee at breakfast to see the flowers shaking off dew and waking up with us. Oh, and the herb garden…

It might be my favorite spot in the whole yard now. I squat down and just rub my fingers over everything: pebbly sage leaves, then the gold-edged leaves of lemon thyme, then the thick, soft stalks of rosemary. The fragrance of fresh herbs is so comforting. It smells like handwritten recipes and golden midafternoon sunlight and “Let’s eat on the patio tonight.”

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And ever since the chocolate-mint plant has taken root, it has clung to life vivaciously. It’s spread faster than any of our other herbs, growing rounder and rounder, so that we’re forced to pick leaves and pull roots to keep it in check. It’s no surprise that ever since last summer, I’ve wanted to make mint ice cream.

I finally got the chance a couple weeks ago. One of my best friends, M-, has a thing for chocolate mint ice cream cake. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t make one for his 18th birthday, using the freshest, sun-kissed mint I could find?

I brought it to school and we devoured it in the cafeteria. I stole a slice and a plate from the teacher’s lounge and took these photos in the courtyard. When I came back, only half of the cake was left, and by the end of the day the only evidence that it had ever existed was my camera full of photos and the lingering grin on M-’s face.

RelaxingMom and Dad two years ago, taking a break from an afternoon of yard work

Mom in the garden Mom last year, drinking tea into the twilight on the patio. Someday, you won’t even be able to see the ground – all of those green plants will spread out to the stone path winding through them.

[PS: My camera is finally fixed! I got it in the mail today and went a little crazy. It's been three weeks and I've missed it like a picked peach misses the sunshine. And I finally hit 1,000 fans on Facebook, thank you all!

PPS: Dad, I know I didn't get your permission to publish a photo with you in it, but mom said it was okay.]

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May 6, 2010 at 7:58 pm 44 comments

School, Seattle, The Northwest… The World?

I think the first time it happened was near the end of April last year.

I was standing in line for lunch, feeling bored and hungry and a little irritated, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and faced a girl I didn’t recognize, whom I’d never met before. She looked a little nervous and said, “Sorry, I just had to ask – are you the girl with the food blog? My mom and I really like your photography.”

It was such a strange feeling and such an unexpected moment, to be recognized. It didn’t feel like fame, but I had no idea how else to put it. I thanked her, gave a real smile because I was grateful and honored, and went on with my day in a much better mood. But it’s happened over and over again since then.

On Facebook, I have an album called “Food Photography.” It has around 250 comments and is “liked” by 40 people, many of whom I never talked to until they complimented me on my baking. I’ll be sitting in environmental science when someone will quietly complain, “I’m so hungry!” and give me a meaningful look. The sophomores who ride my bus smile at me and ask if I’ve made anything neat recently. And teachers stop me in the hallway to say they’ve heard about my blog, and could I please write down the address for them?

Even though I’m a senior and my high school is relatively small, I’m not well known. I have classes with the same people over and over, and I’ve never been much of a social butterfly. And I know I’ve said this before, but it’s true – when I first created 17 and Baking I didn’t tell anyone about it because I thought it was embarrassing. I didn’t think it would be cool to have a food blog. I thought people would think I was weird. So I kept it to myself and tried to hide it from the world.

I only showed it to one of my friends when I’d written about him, and I thought he would get a kick out of seeing it. To my surprise he ended up making a blog of his own (suited to his own interests) and linked to mine. Unlike me, though, he wasn’t shy about sharing, and soon many of my classmates had seen his blog – and through it, mine. (If you are interested, he has a great economics blog called the Marginalist.)

To my surprise, people didn’t think it was uncool or strange. Food is universal. Food brings people together. Because really, when it comes down to it, who can resist anything warm and fresh from the oven, whether a sweet chocolatey cookie or a soft chive-studded cream cheese biscuit?

As I began to write this post this morning, I received a message on Facebook from an old friend I haven’t talked to in four years, N-. “Hi Elissa,” she wrote. “I don’t know if I’ve told you this before, but my big sister goes to Berkeley and she loves to bake, and she likes your blog.” N- continued on to tell me that her sister decided to have a bake off with her new roommates. One of them suggested a certain cookie recipe from “this blog… seventeen something…” to which N-‘s sister (whom I’ve never met) exclaimed, “That’s Elissa!”

It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever heard, to have spread not only through school and the food blogging world but to college students in California simply having a bake-off. It lifts me off my feet and makes the sun shine out of my heart. Thank you for reading my blog – thank you, thank you, thank you!

Normally I wouldn’t, but I’ve got to ask – if you’re reading this, please leave a comment! Whether it’s your first time visiting or I’m welcoming you back, I’d really appreciate it if you left your location. I’m just curious to know where my readers are. I’ll start… Seattle, WA!

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October 9, 2009 at 10:40 am 1,583 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

17 and Baking Makes Some Dough – Lemon-Thyme Shortbread Hearts

“17 and Baking Makes Some Dough,” and I don’t mean dough in the literal sense. I mean that I just did my first paid order. And it was pretty sweet. Bad puns all over the place, I know. I can’t resist, sorry!

A girl from my school wanted cookies for her mother’s birthday, and she offered to buy them! A floaty, unexpected feeling washed over me as I told my parents I’d gotten my first paid order. It felt like the start of something new.

I remember the first “real” cake that I baked – you know, not from a mix or anything. It was a sponge cake with golden raisins and when it came out of the oven, I couldn’t believe that it looked just like the picture! I was so proud and ate the whole thing.

Of course, looking back, I can see all the mistakes. I didn’t know that the butter had to be at room temperature. The cake was uneven and the frosting didn’t come together properly. But I didn’t know any of that at the time, and felt pretty good about myself!

I’ve often thought about baking that cake again, just to see how far I’ve come.

When I bought that cake cookbook from Costco for the pretty photographs, I never dreamed that one day I might actually make money from baking or that people would know me as the girl who likes to bake. Thinking about that first cake I made, it’s incredible to see how much I’ve learned at this point. It makes me anticipate all that I have yet to learn and the happiness I’ll get as I tackle even fancier and trickier baked goods.

It’s only been three years since I became interested in baking. Who knows what the next three years will bring?

Baking has been a learning experience, from my first real baking disaster (during which I actually sat on the kitchen floor and cried,) to the first time I brought cookies to school, to my first Daring Bakers entry. And this simple batch of shortbread proved to be another landmark in my baking career.

My client (!) asked for shortbread but left the flavor up to me. The sun has been good to our little herb garden, so I decided to use our Lemon Thyme in my shortbread. Then I found these cute little heart cookie cutters… and Lemon-Thyme Shortbread Hearts were born.

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June 12, 2009 at 5:54 pm 41 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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