Posts tagged ‘oats’

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

So I’m officially a college sophomore. Could my freshman year have gone by any faster?

After classes ended, I headed up to Maine to spend a week with my boyfriend I- and his family in the pine tree state. My last trip was full of snow and bluster, but this time, sunlight broke through the morning fog and the coastline couldn’t be bluer. Maine is beautiful in the spring – all crabapple blossoms and forsythia flowers. It makes you want to grab plastic sunglasses, tumble through grassy fields, and buy fish and chips from the roadside seafood shack.

The food in Maine is good. My theory is that the town is so small, your business has to be solid or people won’t come back. In the mornings I ate eggs, sunny-side up, blueberry pancakes, home fries and chewy bacon. I tried a sweet potato and carnitas burrito (mind-blowing) and a triple-decker crab BLT. For dessert, we gorged on soft-serve hot fudge sundaes.

The food at I-’s home was delicious too. My first night there, I practically inhaled my dinner. It was such a comfort to eat a hot, home-cooked meal that didn’t come out of a can or a microwave. For dessert, I-’s mother gave me a spoonful of strawberry rhubarb crisp and a generous scoop of ice cream.

“By the way,” she added casually, “the rhubarb is from the garden.”

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

I can count the number of times I’ve eaten rhubarb on one hand. I know it’s not an uncommon ingredient, but we don’t grow it, and my family generally passes it as overpriced in the grocery store. Rhubarb is a luxury for me, something that elicits oohs and ahhs. “Will you make it again with me?” I asked.

I-’s family has made this crisp for years. I-’s mother pulled a card from a tightly packed box of recipes. His parents cut the recipe out of a newspaper 30 years ago – the paper is yellow and faded, and they can’t remember which paper it came from anymore. The clipping is full of cross-outs, changes and substitutions as they made the recipe their own over the years. I told them that made it officially theirs.

She cut a bunch of rhubarb from the plant outside. They sat on the counter, striped red and pink and cream, billowing into dark green leaves. I couldn’t believe how vivid and thick the stalks grew. Then I tried fresh rhubarb for the first time. I bit off an end, gnawing down the fibers, and slowly chewing. It was definitely more bitter and stringy than I’d expected, but I dipped the end into sugar and discovered tangy bliss. I-’s mother peeled off the rhubarb skins, like glossy ribbon on a birthday present.

We tossed the rhubarb chunks and strawberry halves into a bowl, and let them macerate in sugar and their own juices.

I-'s Family Recipe Box
Rhubarb Skins

After dinner, I made the topping with I-’s father. He popped the butter in the microwave until it was just shy of melty. I used my fingers to rub it into the almonds, oats, and flour. Together, we tumbled the fruit into a pan, blanketed it in crumble, and slid the dish into the warm oven. “It’s that easy!” he said, smiling at me.

As the fruit bubbled and I walked up the stairs, I realized how much I’d missed family time in the kitchen. It’s not just about good food, though I ached for that too. I missed the intimacy of standing side by side at the counter, slicing potatoes and whisking salad dressing. I haven’t danced around my parents in so long, the three of us weaving among each other to grab pots and pans in our too-small kitchen. I suddenly wanted to sit at the dinner table after a long meal, listening to water run while my mother filled the dishwasher, a sleeping dog against my toes.

In my year away, I’d started to forget that family is the smell of simmering beef broth, and that home is the warmth of hot oven air. I called my mom, dad, and grandma that night. As much as I loved Maine and half wanted to stay forever, deep down I also wanted to see my family.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

I’m home at last. I already long for the bustle of Boston. Sometimes I get bored without the rush of classes, work, and extracurriculars. I miss my friends, my roommate, and especially I-.

But Seattle is sunny and even greener than I remembered. I love the familiar murmur of rain on the roof at night, the way the towering trees nestle around our house. When I came home my mother showed me around the yard, pointing out where the groundcover had spread and the plants that had burgeoned forth.

She led me to the vegetable garden, dotted with slender green stems and tiny leaves. I saw the apple trees, lush and fragrant with blossoms – I can’t wait to see the branches bowed over with ripe fruit. But most hopeful of all? Our strawberry plants, which have seriously flourished, carpeting the entire ground.

They make me crave rhubarb.

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May 19, 2011 at 12:57 am 56 comments

Oat, Pear, and Raspberry Loaf

Oat, Pear, and Raspberry Loaf 6

Last night, someone put up a video of my high school’s 2010-2011 homecoming assembly. For a moment I was brought back to senior year – I knew exactly how the new seniors felt sitting in those bleachers. It was so surreal to suddenly realize that high school was continuing without me. All the sophomores and juniors I knew are upperclassmen now, my old friends are scattered across the country, yet life goes on like normal back home.

Then I realized that Boston is home.

I still haven’t felt homesick yet. I just don’t have the time. My journalism homework is very hands-on, sending me into the city for interviews and investigations. I’m submitting short stories and articles to the literary magazines. I joined the photography club in a heartbeat, and I’m smitten. Every week we get a new assignment and arrive with a new photo to critique. It’s inspiring me to look at the world from new angles and keep a camera with me at all times.

And for 15 hours a week, I’m a reporter and writer in the news department of my school’s radio station. I’m learning so much (mostly from my mistakes) and absorbing as much as I can from the experienced vets. I’ve never read the paper as often, stayed so up-to-date with the news, or known so much about Massachusetts politics. I’ve also never heard my voice coming out the radio until now, but there’s a first for everything.

Oat, Pear, and Raspberry Loaf 1

After a long day, when I get off the T and see my dorm in the distance – I get the same feeling I used to get when I pulled into the driveway of my house. The comfort of knowing you’re safe and just seconds away from where you belong.

Every day, I have to remind myself that I’ve only been here a month. I feel like I’ve known my new friends for years – we have classes together, late night talks, we support each other without judgment and love each other like family. The city of Boston, too, already feels familiar. I’m spending enough time off campus that I can navigate parts of Boston based on street names and landmarks, without a map. In four weeks, I’ve fallen into a steady rhythm.

I didn’t know I could be so busy. Every Monday morning I drag myself to my 8 am class, clinging to sleep until I sit down in the cold classroom. I’ve written pages and pages of notes for my literature of the Americas class, the most difficult course I’m taking. And I adore my photography class, even though it’s in the furthest building from my dorm, even though I have to cross rainy streets and climb the stairs up because the elevators are full.

In the evenings my floor hangs out in the common room, passing around a bag of honey pretzels and a tub of Nutella. I stop at the cafe to wolf down a panini between classes. But best of all, every weekend I visit the nearest Trader Joe’s for soy milk, yogurt, crackers and veggie chips. Then there are the farmers markets – Copley on Tuesdays, Haymarket on Fridays – and it almost feels like Seattle again.

Oat, Pear, and Raspberry Loaf 4

[In an effort to make my front page load faster, I'm putting more of each post after the jump. Click through to read the rest of the post, and the recipe!]

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October 2, 2010 at 9:05 pm 50 comments

Blackberry, Peach, and Ginger Crumble

Blackberry, Peach, and Ginger Crumble

It’s August, and that means it’s blackberry season in the pacific northwest.

The blackberry bushes here are inescapable, weeds even. I pass the thorny plants growing along our neighborhood, behind my school, and against the sidewalks. We had some in our backyard when we first bought the house, until my mother hacked the branches away in a fit of determination. Every year, when I spot the fat berries hanging low on their vines, like clusters of black beads, it feels more like summer than anything.

I’ve been seeing them all month, but I haven’t been craving them… Until a few days ago. I was sitting at the dinner table, thumbing through the pile of cookbooks that live there permanently. It’s my habit when I’m bored. I flip back to the dessert section and try to make myself hungry. That day, I saw a marionberry tart, but for some reason it made me want blackberries.

Blackberry, Peach, and Ginger Crumble

Because they’re so expensive, I didn’t eat a lot of berries growing up. Even today, in my mind they’re exotic. Raspberries, blueberries, marionberries – they should be reserved for special occasions, like a birthday or celebration. But blackberries are so plentiful here, and so easy to get.

When I was in elementary school, my mom and I liked to visit a park by our old condo. I’d never seen so many blackberry bushes before. They towered high over my head like a maze, and the air between them seemed to buzz with insects and filtered sunlight and the sweetness of sugar. It all came back to me in a rush as I sat there with the cookbook in my hands.

I couldn’t get blackberries out of my mind. When I decide I want something, I just can’t avoid it. I mentioned the berries over and over to my parents. My mom said she remembered where the park was, so after breakfast we headed out. We were nearly there when my dad pulled the car onto a fence-lined stretch of gravel in a rare patch of shade.

Blackberry, Peach, and Ginger Crumble

“This isn’t the park,” I protested, but he pointed along the side of the road.

“They’re everywhere,” he said, pointing at the blackberry brambles twisting in and out of the barbed wire.

I was doubtful as I opened the trunk and passed out bowls to my parents. This didn’t seem as nostalgic and serene as my memories at the park. Even in the shade we couldn’t escape the hazy swelter of the afternoon sun, like hot breath on our backs. Spiders dangled from leaves and cars sped behind us in a whirr.

We spaced ourselves several meters apart from each other. I reached for the darkest, plumpest berries on the highest vines, straining on my tiptoes and stretching up. As gentle as I tried to be, they burst out of their skins when I dropped them into my bowl. Before long my hands were perfumed with juice, which stained the ridges of my fingerprints purple-red and smelled like August.

The whole way home, I breathed the fragrance in and dreamed of dessert.

Blackberry, Peach, and Ginger Crumble

And I got it. The blackberries are truly the star of this blackberry, peach, and ginger crumble.

The peaches are really delicious too. I like peaches, but I can’t say that I love them. I don’t think I’ve ever had a perfect peach, or even a really good one. The rest of my family has – every year my grandma wistfully describes fresh peach ice cream and lattice peach pie. Or better – fresh and still sun warmed, eaten off the tree. But me? I’m satisfied to cut them into rough chunks and toss them with berries in a crumble.

And the ginger was almost an afterthought, but such a good one. I loved dicing the crystallized ginger into tiny cubes, because it left big sugar crystals and the sharpness of ginger all over my cutting board. You only get a little in each bite, but you know it when you find it.

The original recipe calls this dessert a crisp, but I substituted some cream cheese into the oat topping. I had some leftover to use up, and the result was delicious. I could taste a subtle tang, and it made the topping a little soft and chewy. I’m not sure what makes a crumble a crumble, but somehow “crisp” didn’t seem right. All I know is that I shamelessly dug into whatever-you-call-it straight out of the pan, hot or chilled, for breakfast or for dessert in the warm twilight.

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August 16, 2010 at 6:05 pm 49 comments

From Blogs to Applications

Nobody in my class ever actually said that they expected senior year to be a breeze – but in all honesty, we were all sure that it would be a free ride. Senioritis kicked in halfway through sophomore year, we have easy classes on our schedule, and besides, we’re seniors now. Doesn’t that mean teachers are supposed to give us a break?

The first couple weeks of school were easy enough. The homework was nothing but syllabuses for parents to sign and simple worksheets that reviewed instead of taught. I had plenty of leisure time to bake, browse my favorite blogs, and take long walks with my camera pressed to my cheek. School was a short occupation for a few hours a day, but never on my mind once the final bell rang.

Unexpectedly, those unassuming “pass classes” began assigning huge chunks of homework that took hours to complete. I spent a memorable, horrible day studying for a psychology test, thinking to myself, “Oh, right… I’d almost forgotten what this was like.” Environmental science, which had seemed no harder than planting  seeds in empty pop bottles, assigned a slew of projects and presentations without warning. And my stats class… oh, that’s a true nightmare. It may be my most hated class of all time, all four years of high school and all three years of middle school included. It’s that dull and unpleasant – and it’s the class that gives me the most homework.

But even if high school hadn’t just kicked into gear, I’d still be busy. College applications are proving to be one of the most intimidating, frightening pieces of work I have ever faced. I can’t help but feel like so much of my future depends on that application…  no first impression has ever held so much at stake. And surprising as it might be, the toughest part of the application for me right now is the essay.

I know I have it in me to write a good essay. I love to write, I even want to go into writing as a career. And yet, every time I sat down to write an essay, I felt as blank as a peeled potato. Nowhere to begin, nothing to say, and no ideas to put into words. I wanted so badly to come up with something meaningful and vibrant, but all I could think about was, “Everyone is expecting my essay to be fantastic.” And the slow but steadfast pressure of it all seemed to compress every creative impulse in me. I spent thirty minutes looking at the cursor blink on the word document before finally giving up.

Feeling stressed and a little uneasy, I decided to work on a new 17 and Baking blog post. I assembled the photos, opened up wordpress, and started to write. I was halfway through the post, describing the warmth of toasted hazelnuts in my palms and the sweet scent of pineapple sage rubbed on my fingertips, when it hit me. Ten minutes earlier, my writer’s block had been so severe that I couldn’t continue. But now, with the stress of college and expectations lifted, I was free to really capture the words that formed in my head and the emotions that stirred in my heart.

Writing a blog post is so different than writing an essay. I don’t need to feel anxious about grammar, word choice, tones and themes and figurative language. I enjoy writing essays and writing comes naturally to me, but it would be a lie to call it easy. Writing an essay takes time, work, and a lot of thought on my part. But whenever I write a blog entry, the words simply flow out, fluid and easy. I never prewrite, or even plan what I’m going to say until I’ve sat down and begun to type. It takes no longer than 15 minutes to write a post, and it captures my voice so clearly that you, the reader, probably know me as well as anyone does.

I began to tackle my college essay the way I tackle 17 and Baking – I pretended each essay I worked on was a blog post. There was no need to be perfect, just to write what was in my heart. The words began to come out now, slowly, but without squeezing my mind through a funnel. I wanted to write about baking too, and for inspiration I went through every single post on my site, picking out the ones that were potential college essays in themselves. They’re all roughly a page long, describe me, my life, my passions, and my motivations, and talk about baking – something that I hope will stand out among a sea of “the big game” and “the day my grandmother died” essays.

Yesterday, I wrote a draft of the first college essay I’ve been happy with so far. I felt the knot loosen slightly in my stomach as I printed it out, and then I laughed and baked cookies to reward my perseverance.

October 1, 2009 at 5:52 pm 36 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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