Three great new books

Three great new books have graced my shelves over the past couple weeks, and I just have to share!

One of the small perks of this “new normal” is the plethora of book talks available online, and I was delighted to be able to attend a talk with Kate McDermott on her new book, Pie Camp. Besides being a wizard with all things pie, she is a gem of a human being who finds so much fun and enjoyment in what she does, it is hard not to share her enthusiasm. I am always a fan of people who enjoy what they do, and McDermott is no exception. I had no less than three, “wow, that is genius!” moments in the charming hour we spent together, including this: McDermott tossed together an incredible-looking berry crostata in the last 7 minutes, with which she encouraged everyone to just have fun with fillings. Marionberry preserves, fresh raspberries, and (what?!) dried blueberries tucked into the center of each raspberry, JUST FOR FUN? Genius.

If her previous book, Art of the Pie, is the “why” of pie, then Pie Camp is indubitably the the “how.” Over three hundred pages of methods, recipes, tips, and beautiful photography make for as thorough a primer on sweet pies as anyone could ask for. Fruit pies, custards, creams, crisps, crostatas — oh my! Lattices, braids, and crimps, too! I am more of a cake baker, myself, but I hit the checkout button before I even got halfway through her chat. Now I am looking forward to a pie-filled holiday season — and beyond.

Poet Maggie Smith of “Good Bones” fame has delivered us her genre-defying book, Keep Moving, at just the right moment in time. Originally spurred by her divorce, Smith’s “notes on loss, creativity, and change,” are precisely what many of us need to hear as this pandemic continues to turn our lives inside-out and sideways. Many of the entries are tweets to herself, encouraging reminders to “keep moving.” They are interspersed with the occasional meditation on a beautiful moment, a creative reflection or learning opportunity, or perhaps a small rumination on fear or hope. Whatever the you want to classify this book as, Smith’s grace in the face of change shines through in every page. She’s the encouraging voice reminding us, quietly, than even if all we can do is keep moving, it’s more than enough.

Finally, I could not be prouder of Henry James Garrett and his book, This Book Will Make You Kinder. Garrett may be better known to some as the artist behind Drawings of Dogs on Instagram, with his delightful art and his knack of piercing to the heart of so many social issues with a wittily observant caption or pun. (If you spend even just a couple minutes watching his Instagram stories, you can see what a genuinely kind and lovely person he is, and why I am so proud to hold his book in my hands.)

Now, building on his academic studies and keen interest in ethics, kindness, and morality, Garrett has graced us with an “empathy handbook” — a guide to developing our moral kindness and confronting cruelty in our world. His animal cartoons are peppered throughout his well-considered tome, but he goes far beyond his online art presence to bring us a book I think everyone can and will benefit from reading. Part philosophy, part sociological observation and critique, and entirely accessible, it is as timely as Maggie Smith’s book, but in a different way. Smith reminds us how to keep going, and Garrett reminds us that we need to do so together, with kindness and empathy. And I think McDermott has the right idea — let’s do so with a warm slice of pie.

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On home, and tea

acs_0133Thanks to Erin Boyle I stumbled across a beautiful mediation on home, travel, and belonging in Candace Rose Rardon’s essay, Home is a Cup of Tea.  She combines sweet sketches with simple musings about traveling, moving, settling, loving, and living — and how we define “home.”  Like Rardon, I have fond memories of drinking tea.  The tall, narrow cupboard in my childhood home full of tea tins, the fun of choosing a flavor for that particular afternoon, and the steamy, milky sweetness in my cup.

Even though the world may be extraordinarily challenging and difficult right now, we can pull strength and resilience from a sense of home, whatever that might be for each of us.  Some days, a cup of tea and a quiet moment to recharge are exactly what is needed.  Then we can jump back into the fray, renewed and ready to face the day.

Modern Art Desserts

After admiring the cover and peeking inside virtually every time I visit Blue Bottle Coffee Co., I finally picked up a copy of Caitlin Freeman’s Modern Art Desserts.  I am so glad I did!  Freeman’s book is a gem.  Formerly of Miette, Freeman clearly knows her way around amazing desserts — backwards, forwards, and sideways, in fact.  What made this cookbook stand out for me was the fact that is not only full of stunning recipes, but also it serves as both a personal memoir and a mini-guide to some of the works at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  While Freeman and her beautiful desserts are no longer at SFMOMA, the cookbook that resulted from her tenure there is a pleasure for the pastry enthusiast and art lover alike.

Each dessert is presented with a photograph of the pastry, an image of the artwork it was inspired by, information about the work and the artist, and Freeman’s own experiences creating the dish.  Then follows the recipe, with clear, clean instructions.  Many of the recipes are quite aspirational — the complex Mondrian cake, for example, takes a whopping two days.  However, specialized supplies and ingredients are sourced in the book, out-of-the-ordinary equipment is highlighted and explained, and a section early on gives a great rundown of both the ingredients and cooking tools you’ll likely need throughout.  Freeman somehow manages to make incredibly complex recipes seem both aspirational and accessible.  Mixed in with culinary feats like the Mondrian cake are slightly lower key options like trifle, sodas, popcicles, and even a savory snack or two, so there are certainly options for those who prefer to measure their recipe timing in minutes or hours rather than days.

Overall I was surprised and delighted by Modern Art Desserts.  It is a diverting read above and beyond being a good cookbook.  If you’re a modern art fan, give this one a whirl.  Freeman has given us candy for the eyes and the taste buds in equal measure.

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Key lime pie

Look out world: I have discovered the magic of Instacart.  It is a grocery delivery site and app that is, in a word, amazing.  I can now do my grocery shopping from my couch in my PJs.  What a time to be alive, yes?  Some kind person shops for me and delivers my groceries for a low fee, and I get some of my life back!  Win!  I was initially hesitant due to the yearly fee, but now (much like Amazon Prime) I am hooked.

My key lime pie!

The one drawback to Instacart is that seeing tiny product images on one’s screen is quite different from grabbing something on a shelf in real life.  I accidentally ordered key limes instead of regular ones recently, and didn’t realize it until I saw the bag of tiny citrus fruits in the bottom of my grocery bag.  Not all was lost, however.  I figured it was as good a time as any to try my hand at key lime pie!  I turned to my beloved Deb of Smitten Kitchen and made her delightful pie over the course of a lazy Saturday afternoon.  It.  Was.  Perfection.  Ideally balanced between tart and sweet, great flavor in the crust — just lovely.  Sunshine on a plate.

If you decide to tackle this recipe (and I hope you do!), know that I needed many more key limes than she indicated to get 2/3 of a cup of juice.  I’m not sure if my limes were tiny or hers were gigantic, but I needed about double the number of key limes she did to get enough juice.  Also, since those suckers are tiny, I’d love a juicer like this to make the juicing process easier next time.  Lastly, I found the pie to be most flavorful and easiest to get out of the pan if it got closer to room temperature before serving.  Easy recipe, yummy results, and an accidental ingredient utilized.  It’s the classic lemons to lemonade scenario, although I think I made out even better — because pie!

My pink glass pie plate can be found here.  If you’d like to try Instacart, get $10 off here.

Fridays are for cake

One week ago, I tried a new cake recipe for a Friday night dinner with friends.  Spoiler alert: it is amazing and I will be making this one again and again.  Behold: Maialino’s Olive Oil Cake.  I served it topped with dollops of the strawberry black pepper jam I made several weeks ago, and it was perfection.  Not too sweet, perfectly moist, easily mixed, and the most delightful hint of citrus.  Make it for yourself or someone you love this weekend — you won’t be sorry!  Sharing is entirely optional.


That’s my jam


This weekend I took some time on a gloriously rainy Saturday afternoon to putter in the kitchen and make some jam.  This seemingly simple project was one literally years in the making.  There was a tea bar years ago that served a lovely afternoon tea, including homemade spreads and preserves.  One of my very favorites was their strawberry black pepper jam, and I missed it when they closed up shop.  Cue the very-occasional brief longing, and then the inspiration to make some myself, and then the busyness that inevitably made me forget about it for another year, and then another… and another.  How many times do we think, “I’d like to do XYZ,” and then it hits the back burner as life and to-dos and work take over indefinitely?

Well, my friends, this was the day.  I used this recipe from Epicurious, doubled the quantity, and added a good amount of cook time to get the jammy consistency I wanted.  It turned out delicious, and I spent a very happy weekend eating my preserves on toast with a bit of chèvre.  I also now have 8 little jam pots (very Meg from Little Women, although mine jelled!) sitting in the fridge, ready to be enjoyed or distributed to loved ones.

Not only did I finally get my jam, but the whole little adventure got me thinking about the want-to vs. the have-to.  We’re all very busy, all the time.  We have tons of things we have to do.  I commute a long way, so it often seems that my downtime is even more scarce than most.  But the immense satisfaction of enjoying something you really want to do outweighs even the most efficiently handled to-do list every time (and believe me, I love a tidy finished to-do list).  Let’s resolve to find more time for the want-to.  Schedule it, prepare for it, treat it with the same priority as the rest of your to-do list.  It may seem like less “fun” if it is something you have to schedule, but it will be so enjoyable to actually get to paint that watercolor, go explore that new bakery, make that jam, or learn to knit when you finally do make time for it.  Trust.



Oh, Barcelona

When I first began planning a trip to Barcelona, I was more focused on the Paris leg of that Europe trip than anything — I love that city dearly.  But when I mentioned my trip planning, people would say, “Oh, Barcelona?  That is my favorite city…”  Their voices would be wistful and a touch envious with the pronouncement, and now that I have been, I know exactly how they feel.  Barcelona is an amazing and vibrant city, full of modern art and culture, delicious food and wine, and a spirit that is infectious.


La Boqueria

This is city’s most famous public market.  Fruits, cheeses, meats, and sweets make up a colorful panoply, rows upon rows.  Stop at the tiny Bar Pinotxo, and thank me later — many say they offer the best tapas in the city.  Cava at 11 A.M.?  Why yes!  Seriously delicious baby squid with white beans were had at this tiny eatery, served by the kindest older gentleman proprietor who could not have been more enthusiastic to share his food with us.  Make sure to grab some jamón and cheese to snack on as you wander.

Continue reading “Oh, Barcelona”

On birthdays…


One of the dearest people in my life has a birthday today (happy birthday to you!), which has me musing about birthdays, and the nature of growing.  Growing older.  Growing wiser.  Growing happier.  Growing up?  Do we ever really grow up?  These days, at least, I feel like I am stretching and growing into the woman I want to be.  It is not easy, though, I must admit.  Growth and change are never easy or comfortable, but I try to remember that those are the things can move us forward to new places, to new realizations, and even to new joys.  Shedding the self-doubts, embracing the imperfections, trying to make a difference in the face of injustice — these are the difficult, but worthy, parts of the journey.

New Year’s Day comes flooded with resolutions, good intentions, and reflections on the old year, but I think birthdays can be much more personal waypoints for introspection and new intentions.  There is no external pressure to make a NEW YOU and improve ALL THE THINGS the way there is at New Year’s — just you and your own personal new chapter, a new year of you, and perhaps some loved ones to celebrate with as you turn that page.

I won’t pretend that I am there yet, wherever “there” might be.  I’ll keep trying to learn and grow and be as me as I can muster, discomfort and all.  But in the meantime, I can surround myself with people I trust, bake an amazing birthday cake, and celebrate another year in the life of someone special.

One of the most decadently delightful cakes I have made is this peanut butter chocolate stunner from Smitten Kitchen.  Make it for someone you care about (even yourself!), and enjoy wholeheartedly.  Relish that birthday, and the person you are becoming.