25 August 2012

Honey Bourbon Pecan Pie

When in Lexington, eat pie.  Four days spent in Kentucky meant for me, consuming four slices of some variation of pecan pie.  Lexington was simply too wonderful to resist the gastronomic, bluegrass plate specials it holds near and dear.  In fact, Lexington was so wonderful, I have thought about that trip in early June nearly every day since. 

There is something about Kentuckians that Ohioans simply can't understand, myself included.  We are scheduled Yankees.  We keep store hours.  We keep to the hands of the clock.  Kentuckians keep to the hands of their own tune, fiddled or picked out depending on the day.  Kentuckians keep Kentucky hours which range from waking at one's own leisure to rousing at one's own discretion, to eating at one's own, well, call of hunger. Except in the case of Lexington, of course, where they keep horse hours.  Early morning feeding, work-outs, grooming, clipping and clopping sounds keep the pace of life, beat by beat in the Horse Capital of the world. 

We spent three days in Lexington, and one day visiting a dear friend in the mountains of rural, nearly desolate South Eastern Kentucky, in the shadow of Daniel Boone and the amongst the ghosts of a people driven from their own peaks and valleys.  In Lexington we found the most enchanting corner store you'd ever hope to find, nestled between horse farms and pastures of mares and colts on each surrounding corner.  The Windy Corner Market is a place I hope to find myself again, sooner than later, preferably in a state of feeling famished and with no where else to go for hours and hours.  Locally raised meats, a steaming pile of barbecued pulled pork shoulder heaped atop of a buttery, gritty corn griddle cake was my first indulgence.  Accompanied by a paper-cup full of smoky soup beans, and a dish of crunchy, creamy, sweet slathered coleslaw, this is what I imagine Kentuckians eat, and this is what I wanted as we sat on the screened in porch, breathing in Kentucky and her nostalgic air.

Dessert that night was a slice of, hands down, the best pecan pie I'd ever had--perhaps until now.  Thinking fondly of that trip, and at the request of Tiffany and her insatiable love for pie, I baked my own version of the pie I had that night at Windy Corner Market.  Because corn syrup is not one of my most valued or beloved refined products, I decided to use a recipe that required only a syrup produced naturally--honey.  While we were in Lexington, we stopped and toured the Wild Turkey bourbon distillery.  While there, I might have come home with a token of my appreciation of their age old, purely American craft, in the form of a bottle of their "bourbon for the faint of heart," American Honey.  Without question, a good glug of it made it into the pecan pie.

For those of you who may want to find yourselves temporarily transported to the Bluegrass State, to a warm and humid evening on a wrap around front porch, in the care of a rocking chair, and in the company of just the passing horses and neighboring crickets, try this recipe.  Always remember to buy local and eat well--local honey is by far, the best.

Queen Honeybea's
Honey-Bourbon Pecan Pie

1/2 cup of organic, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of white whole-wheat flour
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/3 cup cold, hard butter
2 TBS. bourbon (or water)

1/2 cup of very soft butter
1 cup of organic cane sugar
3 whole eggs
1/3 cup local honey
1/4 cup bourbon
1/4 tsp. sea salt
a pinch between two fingers of baking soda
1 cup of freshly chopped pecans
1/2 cup whole pecan halves

1.  For the crust, combine the flours and salt.  Cut in the butter (I use a food processor) until the crumbs resemble peas or slightly smaller.  Add in the bourbon and mix until a smooth, coherent dough forms.  Roll the pie crust out to fit a 9 inch round pie pan.  Shape into the pan, and roll the edges under.  Flute and set aside.

2.  For the filling, cream the butter and sugar together until well blended and smooth (using your favorite wooden spoon, of course).  Add the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition until the filling is consistent and smooth.  Add the honey, bourbon, sea salt and soda and mix well.  Fold in the chopped pecans and pour into the prepared pie shell.  Top with the whole pecan halves.

3.  Bake the pie in a 375 degree oven for 50 minutes, or until the pie is set in the center (it should not be liquidy at all, and should not jiggle when you move the pan).  You may have to put a foil ring around the crust to prevent it from burning.

4.  Cool completely and slice.  Top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.

03 June 2012

Jam and Bread

The greenest, coolest warm days of June seem the strangest of times to develop a cold.  What started with a lump in the throat and a persistent, dry cough within a few hours turned into a full fledged middle-of-winter sickness.  The kind of sickness that requires soup, orange juice, sleep and kindling to keep the coals burning in the soul.  As a child, that kindling was always one of my favorite movies.  There was something about the Austrian Alps, the pomp and circumstance of a glamorous ball, a waltz, and the story of a woman who found herself and in finding herself, found her happiness.  The Sound of Music was a stay-at-home-sick tradition for me. 

I found myself soaking in a warm bath yesterday, humming the tune that accompanies the lyrics, "My heart wants to beat like the wings of the bird that flies..." from the musical's title song.  Something about being sick afforded me an excuse I didn't even know I needed to take time I didn't know I had to lay in a full bathtub, warm and sudsy, alleviating some of the ache in my legs, and sing softly to myself.  This was after I had spent the morning doing the things I always do on Saturdays, my often too routinized routine.  It was the last weekend for strawberry picking, and I hadn't put up any jam or frozen any tender berries to delight us in mid-winter when apples have become nauseatingly familiar.  After a dose of the medicine a lovely, kind Italian doctor prescribed to me for a sinus infection, I carried a chair out to my breezy, shade draped front porch.  With a giant bowl of berries, and an old paring knife, I got to work. 

I genuinely miss that time, now that the circumstances of my life have gotten rather overwhelming.  My mind can't wander at work, it can't wander when I'm spending time with loved ones, and it can't wander when I'm doing diligent tasks, strapped with anxiety about getting the house clean or the dinner made.  On the front porch yesterday, I had some time.  For an hour I hulled strawberries, sang to myself, and enjoyed an experience about which we often fantasize but never allow ourselves to fully indulge.  I have found that often, we love documenting our lives (like I'm doing right now).  We love taking photos, we love photos of beautiful porches, of picturesque patios, of Mason jars full of iced tea.  We love reading about the fictional lives of characters we long to be, characters who drink sweet tea on the deck, who recklessly fall in and out of love, who develop far beyond what many of us will ever allow ourselves.  If we had that perfect deck, draped in ivy, would we take the time to sit and enjoy it? 

That's what I got to do yesterday.  I had one of those moments, or several of them pieced together through the process of hulling six quarts of freshly washed, hand picked strawberries.  It was the twenty minutes I spent in the bathtub, without the television or radio, without another person to entertain me.  I think those are the times when we most heal ourselves, and we probably don't take them often enough. 

Today, I have been humming The Sound of Music to myself as I stirred up a batch of Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam, and tried out a bread maker for the first time.  According to the song, I am only missing tea from this equation, and having been under the weather, I've had my fair share in the last 2 days.  I can't wait to have a slice of the whole-grain, seeded bread that is brewing inside the confines of the hard working, little bread maker on my kitchen floor, smeared with tangy strawberry rhubarb jam, accompanied by a mug of piping hot green tea, preferably enjoyed on my deck, or porch, and in the company of my most beloved--Tiffany, the kitties, and our pup. 

As strawberry season putters out here in Southeast Ohio, and we've certainly had our fill in my house, here are a few photos of the joy strawberries have brought to our house in the last month.  Perhaps this will inspire you to craft a pie of your own, or jam, or something else that will give you time to hum as you hull, and take a few moments to just, simply, be.  Remember, buy local, and eat well. 


Strawberry-Rhubarb pie


Nutella French Toast, with whole-wheat bread, smeared with Nutella, fresh strawberries, bananas, cinnamon, powdered sugar and homemade honey sweetend Snowville whipped cream.

Fresh Strawberry pie, topped with honey sweetend Snowville whipped cream.

Dinner salad with fresh local greens, strawberries, almonds, carrots, celery and honey poppyseed dressing.

01 April 2012


Sometimes, when I'm feeling exceptionally down, closing my eyes and digging deep to pull out the very roots of my heritage, the Italians within me, the bakers and cooks, my grandparents and my Mother's kitchen, is the only thing that can pull me up from there.  Daydreaming of baking seems to fill the void in the moments when I wonder what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and if it's what I'm meant to be doing.  The answer is invariably almost always the same. 

It's not just daydreaming of baking, however.  It's daydreaming of carefully cultivating my heritage, working to nurture and tend it, keeping it alive.  Sometimes, I don't just want to bake chocolate chip cookies.  Don't get me wrong, because I love them.  Chocolate chip cookies are like being seven years old again, baking with my Mom after dinner, after meatloaf and fried potatoes.  That's another type of nostalgia for another day.  Lately I've been daydreaming of baking Italian things, reminiscent of Presti's bakery in Little Italy, something I'd find in the cases there, glistening with glaze or covered in powdered sugar, speckled with non-pareils, or sliced and toasted with the exposed white meats of almonds studding their surfaces.  I want to bake a cappuccino, a small table, Nuns passing on the street, an old man and his dog and a cigar, speaking Italian, and the perfect cookie for dunking. 

Since beginning my new job, I've also begun a new friendship.  One, I have no doubt, which is directly impacting this desire for Mom and Pop Italian comfort, this cleaving for nostalgic bakery.  My co-worker Charlene and I have a lot of things in common.  To say the least, we share an office, we're both from Cleveland suburbs, we're the same age, we've had a countless number of similar life experiences, and we're both at least partially Italian, which means our families both consume what is probably too much red wine, and they also all got that genetic tendency to love food, to love to make food, and to love to share food.

Spending time with Charlene makes me feel like I'm less of a vagabond, an outcast, less of a rarity.  When I lived in Morgan County, it was hard to stumble upon another Italian, let alone another person of similarly recent American ancestry.  It was hard to meet someone who knew what a pizzele is, what a canoli is, and what it means when someone in your family simply responds to something you'd like to talk more about with just, "Okay."  And it's certainly easy to share an office with someone can quite literally laugh through tears, who can make me laugh through anything, and from whom joy seems to emanate.  She might not agree with that statement, but if she were on the outside looking in, she'd know that she's one of the kindest, most embraceable people I've ever known.  Charlene makes me smile even when she's not around, by remembering a story she's told me, or thinking about our similar experiences of home, family and culture.

We've joked about putting an Italian flag in our office, and this weekend I decided to send some of my reminiscing, my kindled nostalgia to the soldier I've been sending letters and boxes to since January.  Because I can't tell you much about that soldier, I'm just going to refer to that soldier from now on as "Chopper."  In hopes that my own soul-warming ways would also warm Chopper's heart, I baked up a batch of simple, traditional Italian cookies called Anginetti, or lemon drops.  I used a recipe from a cookbook I love called Sweet Maria's Italian Cookie Tray by Maria Bruscino Sanchez.  I made a few changes, but the cookies still turned out fluffy and cake-like, soft and zinging with lemon.  Because I wanted them to look like something from old home, I frosted them with a lemon glaze and topped them with pastel sprinkles.  I can see these sweet gems on the shelf of a bakery in my wildest of dreams, being scooped up by the dozen for smiling kids and adults alike.

I can't thank Charlene, or Chopper enough for how much joy they bring to me, simply by being themselves and being in the hustle and bustle of my daily life.  Buona Pasqua, Happy Easter, God bless and always, always, always eat well to feed your body and your soul.  Salute.

(Based off of Sweet Maria's "Lemon Drop Cookies")

3 local, free range eggs
1/2 cup grass fed low-fat milk

2 tsps. lemon extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsps. freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 cup organic sugar
1/2 cup sunflower or safflower oil
2 cups organic artisan all purpose flour
2 cups organic whole wheat pastry flour
8 tsps. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  In an electric mixer on medium speed, beat eggs, milk, lemon extract, vanilla extract, lemon zest, sugar and oil until pale and foamy.

3.  In a large bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder and sea salt.  Add all at once to the wet mixture and beat until a soft, sticky dough is formed.

4.  Drop by greased teaspoon full onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake immediately for 8 minutes, or until the cookies are gently browned on the bottom side.

5.  Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

6.  In a medium size mixing bowl, combine 2 cups confectioner's sugar, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 TBS. water, 1 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest, and a few granules of salt.  Whisk together until smooth.  Adjust liquid or sugar to make a glaze of medium thickness that will stick to the cookie and not run off.  Frost the cool cookies and top with sprinkles.

Makes 50-60 bite size cookies.

21 March 2012

Time Away

My goodness, it is March 21st.  I last blogged in January, and it feels like that was ages ago.  If you know me well, then you know my life has been full of changes, transitions, and distractions since that last blog post.  I got a new job, I moved to Athens, and I'm adjusting to not exercising three days a week or being able to bake at two o'clock in the afternoon.  It's going to take some time.

In the meantime I feel like I should at least leave a few breadcrumbs of what I've been doing the past two months while I've been on blogging hiatus.  It's not much, but I hope to write a proper post this weekend.  But for now, enjoy these photos and tidbits...

My carrot cake for a charity bake sale.  My friend Jody paid a whopping $30 for it.

Peanut brittle and vegetarian French onion soup.

Fresh carrots from the Athens Farmer's Market.  See them steamed and honey glazed below.

Homemade potato and onion pirogi.  So, so, so good.

Whole Spelt butter cookies made with grain from Shagbark Seed & Mill Company.  Happy Valentine's Day!

Beer sampling at the Great Lakes Brewing Company with Tiffany and her mom Sherrie and my Mom and Dad.

Delicious Cleveland beer.

My Mom's birthday celebration at a fabulous restaurant in
Downtown Willoughby called Pranzo.  

26 January 2012

Perfect Hot Chocolate

Two posts in one day, I know.  But I really felt like I wanted to quickly share this little recipe I just whipped up for a single cup of hot chocolate.

Tiffany has been hard at work on her biology lab homework for the past three hours.  This comes on top of the entire day she spent yesterday in her pajamas, laptop planted on the ottoman and her books spread over every upholstered surface in our living room.  She's a student and man I remember those days.  Except that Tiffany is a much better undergraduate student than I was.  So as a little kingdom, phylum, class, order, uh... yeah, we'll take a break there for a little pick-me-up in a cup.

Hot Chocolate--Straight Up, One Cup.

1 TBS. organic semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup low-fat grass fed milk
1 TBS. grass fed half & half
1 1/2 TBS. organic cane sugar
1 TBS. dutch cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla
6 or 7 grains of coarse sea salt, or literally the tiniest pinch you could manage of regular salt

In a small sauce pot, over medium-low heat, lightly melt the chocolate chips.  It will take probably less than 30 seconds.

Add all of the rest of the ingredients and whisk, turning the heat up to medium-high, until the hot chocolate is completely combined and just barely begins to bubble.  It will take one or two minutes.  Don't let it boil.

Pour into your cup and warm someone up, or yourself.  Or double, triple, etc. the recipe to make enough for a crowd.

Enjoy!  And always remember to eat well and buy local.  Goodnight, folks.

A Few Little Foodie Things...

I don't know what's up lately with rainy days and me blogging.  Perhaps it's easier to rationalize staying in my pajamas until 10am (I know, we're talking rebellion there), when it is cold and I can hear the water rushing down the gutter just outside my second story window.  Perhaps I'm more inspired on dreary days.  Whatever the reason, I thought today with the chilly drizzle and some leisurely time at home would be a good opportunity to post a few little foodie-esque things I've been doing lately.

Tiffany and I seem to have hit a peak in the frequency with which we visit Casa Nueva in Athens.  I think this sort of happened by accident, but it's been glorious each and every time.  There are exactly two restaurants in Athens, Ohio (or all of Southeast Ohio really) where I can sit down and order anything off the menu without hesitancy, questions or guilt.  Casa is one of those restaurants.  I've written about it before, but in case you've missed those posts, Casa labels itself as "the locavore's solution."  I know that everything I eat at Casa was either produced locally, and if not, then produced sustainably and ethically, without additives or other mysterious food components that I try so hard not to consume anymore.  It's wonderful.  Oh... and there's booze, too.  Lot's of it.

Our first trip was for Open Doors dance night a couple of Saturdays ago.  After downing a bowl of their seasonal Blueberry-Chipotle salsa, intermittently with sips of a house margarita, I had a fantastic plate of seasonal enchilada.  Corn tortilla, wrapped around locally raised black beans from Shagbark Seed & Mill company (the same company that supplies the tortilla chips made from Morgan County corn), local seasonal greens and squash, Laurel Valley Creamery's Cora cheese, and peanut-soy marinated tofu.  It was heavenly in all possible aspects, especially my dining partner. 

Last Saturday dawned to illuminate our first real winter storm of the season.  In Northeast Ohio where I was born and raised, I would've woken to inches upon inches of snow.  In Southeast Ohio, it takes an extra special kind of cold to make the precipitation turn to dusty flakes.  More likely, those inches and inches of snow fall as half an inch of rain, and when the temperature drops below freezing, that amount of rain turns into a quarter inch thick sheet of ice that entraps absolutely everything.  After forty minutes of unearthing my car like a Titan from the dirt and depths below, it was driving ready.  The trip to Athens that afternoon was precarious, probably dangerous, but contently peaceful.  I was alone on the slush coated roads, saline and gray.  It took me twice as long, but facilitated my quiet thoughts as I slowly navigated the slippery slopes.  The solitary trip reminded me of the days before cars, before salt trucks and black top roads, when a storm like this would've kept the cold-hardened settlers in their homes for days and days. 

You know what nostalgia like that does to me.  When I arrived in Athens I wanted nothing more than the reminiscent comfort of a cast-iron skillet, sizzling simple comfort food, and a hot cup of coffee.  I found that at the Village Bakery, my other locavorian haunt.  They delivered the perfect meal, sticking to my ribs, tenderly warming my heart, the simplest of contentment.  A plate with two bacon grease-browned over easy eggs, quick fried salty, smoky ham slices, and thick country wheat bread toasted, married with a small vessel of yellow Amish butter, nothing more than cream and salt.  It was the perfect lunch for the quiet, old, winter day.

Then this past Tuesday rolled around.  Last week I interviewed for a position at Ohio University in Athens.  It was the opportunity I've been seeking for so long.  I got a call on Tuesday morning with an offer, and with great joy and overwhelming relief I accepted it.  In just over three weeks, I'll be starting my new job in the School of Nursing at Ohio University and I couldn't be more excited or grateful.  Tiffany knew as soon as she heard the news that we'd be trekking to Athens again that evening, to celebrate of course!  Back at Casa Nueva we arrived shortly before the restaurant itself opened, so we got to spend some time in their den-like bar, dark, warmly wood paneled, with bright-eyed windows on either side.  I had a fantastic micro brew called Bach from Rivertown Brewing Company in Cincinnati.  I love Ohio beer.  In fact, I love all things Ohio. 

Finally, in the world of foodie sorts of things, I recently took on a new project.  I can't say much about it, but what I can say is that I'm sending letters and care packages to an American soldier stationed overseas, until they return home.  It's been a wonderfully fulfilling project so far, and essentially the perfect activity for me.  I am, admittedly, pretty damn good at compiling care packages and it's something I really enjoy.  I have a list of items that soldiers often ask for, and one of those items was trail mix.  After perusing the shelves of ready made trail mix at Jo-Ad Specialty Market in McConnelsville, I decided instead to compile my own.  Buying each ingredient in bulk, I came home and tossed them all together in an enormous Tupperware bowl, and when it was all mixed, I have enough for at least three more care packages.  I wanted to send the soldier things that would be good for their body, like raw almonds, raw pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries.  But I also wanted it to be a treat, maybe a sweet reminder of home in a small way, so I also included unsulphered dried pineapple, yogurt covered mini-pretzels, and two kinds of raisins.  I packed up about two pounds and added it to steadily filling box on my kitchen table.


12 January 2012

Syrup & Buckwheat Gingerbread

Chilly rain drops blanketed the valley yesterday.  From the early morning fog to evening's fall and into the night it rained hard and soft, gray clouds hovering seemingly motionless above the rooftops.  From my office window I can see the hills and river valley off to the west, and can watch the weather roll in and disappear above the window pane, passing over the building and on to Marietta, and beyond.  Out that window yesterday, the weather did not move.  It rained drearily all day, and for me, with chilly winter drizzle comes the desire for nostalgic bakery.

Lately I've had an overwhelming need to get back to basics.  I tell Tiffany over and over again how much I want to reconnect with the past, with wood stoves, with doing things by hand (why I haven't bought a bread maker), with simplicity in ingredients, and perhaps in doing so I will quietly work my way into the life I imagine will bring me the greatest satisfaction:  simple and free.  With that in mind, yesterday's weather seemed like the perfect rationale to make something warming and antique in my seasoned cast iron skillet.

Last fall I created my own gingerbread recipe, replacing refined sugar with natural sweeteners, white flour with whole-wheat, and making it whole-heartedly mine. In cold, rainy January, the smell of baking gingerbread is like radiant perfume, awaking the senses from their mid-winter slumber. I decided to revamp the recipe once again, and after tasting the resulting flavor and crumb, have decided that for now, it is Queen Honeybea perfection.

Now, it's not sweet by sugar-coated standards. When you eat the way I do, you learn that sweetness doesn't have to be overly present to be satisfying. Peanut butter will do it for me these days, and dried cranberries: that's all the "sweet," I need sometimes. If you want a sweeter gingerbread, up the maple syrup and honey. If you're so inclined, you could even add a 1/4 or 1/2 cup of organic sugar. We like it just the way it is, and it is married well with hot coffee or cold milk. Remember, everyone benefits when you buy local and eat well.

Queen Honeybea's
Syrup & Buckwheat Gingerbread

2 cups organic whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup organic buckwheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. natural sea salt
2 tsps. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pure, local maple syrup
1/3 cup local raw honey
1/2 cup dark molasses
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large, overripe banana, mashed
1 cup grass-grazed, organic milk
1 local, free-range egg
2 tbs. candied ginger, chopped
1/4 cup organic thompson's raisins
2 tbs. organic butter

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a 9 inch round cast iron skillet on the middle shelf of the oven to heat thoroughly.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the whole-wheat flour, buckwheat flour, soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Set aside.

3. In a medium size bowl, whisk together the oil, maple syrup, honey, molasses, vanilla, banana, milk and egg. Pour this mixture into the dry mixture and fold together until just combined.

4. Fold in the candied ginger and raisins until evenly distributed.

5. Using an oven mitt, remove the hot skillet from the oven. Drop the 2 tbs. organic butter in the skillet. Once melted, swirl the butter around the skillet to evenly coat the bottom and sides.

6. Pour the gingerbread batter into the hot skillet. Return to the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is a deep, dark brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan. Serve by cutting into wedges.