In honor of Kyle’s 8th birthday! Stay tuned for his birthday pics!
In between the moments when life is happening
The striving, the working
The bill-paying, the laundry-doing
Oh, the endless climbing piles of laundry-doing
The chopping, the wiping, the walking of children to school
The merciless measurement of what others are doing:
Succeeding, writing, publishing
Curing, achieving, winning, starring
The being too hard on myself
The dropping into dream-ridden sleep
The regretting, the missing, the disdaining, the bitterness-holding
The TV-watching, the reading, the exercising, the leaf-eating
In between all of those things, there are moments like last Thursday’s at the beach
When three small children and two mothers strolled the sandy coastline or climbed the rocky cliffs or plunged into the foamy surf.
We were friends, and we were together, and we changed the children’s clothes when we got back to the car so they wouldn’t have to ride home wet and sandy.
At the end, a glass of wine, a hot dinner, and falling asleep in a pile on the couch.
That was living.
I have this friend Jennie. She’s a great cook, chef, and recipe developer. She is a single mother of two little girls. And she makes time to cook most of their meals from scratch.
Her new book, Homemade With Love, is a beautiful incarnation of Jennie’s recipes and philosophy about preparing meals with and for your loved ones. It feels like an extension of her blog, In Jennie’s Kitchen, which tells a story about her life through food.
As part of a “Virtual Potluck,” I got Jennie’s book (it was right there on the “Cookbooks” shelf at Barnes & Noble, which made me a little bit teary-eyed with pride for her!) and tried some of the recipes so I could share my experience with you.
The introduction of the book is actually worth sitting down and reading. I love the new trend in cookbooks and meal planning services that tells you what you should keep handy in your pantry and why. Jennie’s personal story – including the recent death of her husband who was the love of her life – plays a big part in her love of food and her reliance on the hand-crafting of delicious meals to get her through some really hard times. The way she tells these stories in her book makes you connect with her through the pages, and when I used the recipes, I found myself marveling that I was doing the same thing that my friend in Brooklyn has done countless times. (Of course, surely her efforts yield perfect results every time, while I am still in the bumbling stages.)
I started with the simplest of recipes: hard-boiled eggs.
I know, you probably just laughed out loud, but I bought the book right before Easter, and while I’ve boiled eggs a million times, I had seen Jennie’s recipe and thought, why not? Her method is different from mine, so I tried it. And they were delicious.
Next, on Easter morning, I whipped up a batch of Fluffy Drop Biscuits. I am accustomed to making things like pancakes and biscuits with Bisquick or Jiffy Mix, but Jennie reveals that the secret ingredients in those pre-made baking mixes are the preservatives that increase their shelf lives. In fact, you can just make a big batch of your own all-purpose baking mix with flour, cane sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. For families like ours that consume a lot of bready things, we will go through it quickly, so it’s okay to make a batch that will only be fresh for 2 months. The biscuits are made of this mix, plus butter and buttermilk. They tasted wonderful, warm and steamy right from the oven.
My big project was Jennie’s homemade pizza. I’ve been making homemade pizza for years, but I use my breadmaker to make the dough, and jarred sauce and pre-shredded, packaged mozzarella cheese. For a week I plotted my attack: purchase bread flour instead of all-purpose for the higher gluten content. Set aside enough time for the two dough-rising stages. Make the marinara sauce. Pick up fresh mozzarella on Pizza Day.
Finally, a day with enough time opened up and I set to work. The marinara sauce was simple enough because it uses canned tomatoes – fancy expensive canned tomatoes but I can see why. They just taste better!
Then the dough. This was the part that made me nervous, because, well, homemade dough just makes me nervous. There are so many variables and doughs that involve yeast can be finicky.
My dough did not seem to double in volume after the first 90 minute rising time, but I didn’t have time to let it sit longer, so I just gave it another knead and put it back in the bowl for the prescribed 30 more minutes. After that time passed, it seemed fine enough, so I made a pizza.
Jennie says this amount of dough will make 2 thin crust pies, but I was unsure of my dough’s elasticity so I tried one deep-dish thick crust pizza.
This pizza made me emotional. I grew up in the New Haven, CT area, where pizza is a Big Freaking Deal for my family and friends. I have never come close to making anything like it, and I haven’t even found a pizza place in Los Angeles that comes close. There is certainly good pizza to be found around here (cough cough Fresh Brothers cough cough) but nothing that I bite into that brings me back home.
The crust was light and springy (like fried dough pizza, for those of you who know what I’m talking about), and bubbled up just like a Zuppardi’s pizza. The sauce was watery and made the crust soggy in some places, which is not a bad thing. The fresh diced mozzarella melted just so and was a far cry from the prepacked shredded cheese I usually get. Creamy and delicious.
My kids ate every last morsel of their pieces, which is remarkable because they usually don’t eat their crusts, and Kyle often turns his nose up at the sauce. My husband, never a die-hard pizza connoisseur like I am, said “Yeah, it’s good!” and that was it. He said he prefers thinner crust, and I must say this definitely was thicker as the recipe indicated. Next time I will trust myself a bit more and try making two pizzas with this amount of dough.
I sigh with satisfaction just thinking about it. There is a leftover piece in the fridge and as soon as I finish this post I’m gonna go snarf it down. Thank you, Jennie.
I know, I know, I’m a little excited about this pizza. Here is the recipe for the dough for you to try for yourself, and then you will understand!
3 cups unbleached bread flour
1.5 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon natural cane sugar
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
In a deep bowl whisk together 2 cups of the flour with the yeast, salt, and sugar. Add the water and olive oil. Using a wooden spoon, stir it together to form a wet, sticky dough. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the remaining flour on to a clean counter or large cutting board. Scrape the dough out onto the board and knead in the flour until the dough is smooth and soft but not tacky or sticky (you may need more or less).
Lightly oil a deep glass or ceramic bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot until doubled in volume (about 90 mins).
Once the dough has risen, sprinkle some of the remaining flour, about 2 tablespoons, on your work surface. Turn the dough out and gently knead it once or twice to deflate. If you’re making one thick-crust (or deep-dish) pizza, place the dough back in the bowl, cover it tightly with plastic wrap again, and place back in a warm spot until doubled in volume once more (about 30 mins). For two thin-crust pizzas, divide dough in half and let rise in separate oiled bowls.
For pizza (page 128):
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Press the dough out to the edges of your pan. Brush the outer edges of the dough with olive oil using a pastry brush. Spread marinara sauce (page 27) over the crust just up to the olive oil border. Scatter diced fresh mozzarella over the sauce, and sprinkle freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese on top. Season with salt and pepper, and back until the crust is a deep golden color and the cheese is bubbly, about 10 minutes.
Homemade With Love is on sale now. I already have two friends in mind who will be getting this book as gifts!
Here are other features and recipes from Jennie’s Virtual Potluck:
Chickpea, Parmesan, and Fennel Salad from Gina from Bowl Licker
Flexing my Mussels in Jennie’s Kitchen from Ilina from Dirt and Noise
Food and Friends from Selfish MomBaking with my Kids from Homemade with Love from Selfish Mom
Easy and Delicious from Homemade with Love from Selfish Mom
Bruschetta with Homemade Ricotta and Slow Roasted Tomatoes from Chefdruck: French Foodie Mom
Dude, I Made the Best Pizza Last Night from Kim of House of Prince
To say that Cursive was a delightful surprise would be an understatement. Friends, this is one book I hated to put down, and the joy is greater because I heard nothing about it in advance of reading it, save for the description given by its publicist.
I gleaned no further information from the outside of Cursive. The cover is elegant and plain. I avoided reading the jacket blurbs because I actually wanted not to know more. As with movies and television shows, I want to love every book I read. I silently beg each title to be awesome, to glue me to my seat, to keep my fingers flipping the pages until the bittersweet end. Any hint I hear of how the book is good or bad (or the movie or the show) tends to skew my expectations, to lower or raise the bar, most times unfairly.
Cursive starts out in a promising way, seemingly an epistolary novel, written by one Ralph Talbot in 1933 to his lover, Lillian, left behind in England while he sets out upon an adventure at sea. Talbot is young, lovelorn, and very wordy, and the old-fashioned style of his missive, for me, was a nice counterpoint to Where’d You Go, Bernadette? which I read recently, itself a novel told mostly in emails, notes, and transcripts. That was a wonderful book, too, but very much of this time, even farfetched and satirical enough to suggest the future and our inevitable ridiculousness as we devolve into a people too plugged in to our devices to relate to each other in person.
Talbot is estranged from people more literally, aboard a ship that will take him six weeks to reach his posting at a cotton mill in Africa. The style then alternates chapter by chapter – more of Ralph’s story told in letters to the lovely Lillian, and then a character sketch of several different people from around the world starting in the 1980′s, the first of which is Ralph’s granddaughter. That chapter’s voice and language proved such a jolting departure from Ralph’s fluid tone - Samantha’s tale felt clumsy in contrast and was so peppered with pop culture references of the time that I strained my memory searching for matches. It’s not her, I thought. It must be me.
I loathe to give up reading a book once I start, so I picked up Cursive again simply because it was what I was reading at the time. I do have a book that I am reading in every room most days, and also one in the car, but this title happened to fall between book club obligations while I wait for Behind the Beautiful Forevers to come up for me at the library. And so, I turned back to Talbot’s woeful tale, and then the next more recent character, and I was rewarded in the end with a connection that I hope you, if you choose to pick up this book, will be patient enough to discover for yourself.
It’s no spoiler to tell you that Cursive is about a remarkable pen and its journey from person to person, reminiscent of “The Red Violin” or a wonderful novel called Keeping the World Away (oh look, I have happened upon what I didn’t even realize is a “subgenre”). The spoiler would be to choose for you how the book will make you feel, and whether or not you will be so entranced by the story that your eyes will dance ahead to see what happens next, then meander back to drink in the descriptions you have missed, and whether or not you will pick the book up again long after you finished it to re-read an earlier chapter to see if certain events were foreshadowed or not, and whether or not you will let your children play in the park too close to dinner time because you are almost done with your book, sweetheart, just give Mommy another minute.
So here I am, telling you I loved Cursive, giving you some information, spoiling the surprise. Oh well. Otherwise, you might not even hear of it, so I believe the end justifies the means. You’re welcome.
photo from Wikipedia