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Sweeter Than Honey

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“L’shana tovah u’metukah,” or as we now say simply, “l’shana tovah,” the Hebrew wish for a sweet new year. Food shared during Rosh Hashanah is symbolic— such as honey— for a happy and prosperous new year. Typically honey is eaten with apples during this holiday. Honey has been a symbol of sweetness in the Jewish heritage of poetry, as in this passage of Song of Songs: “Your lips, my bride, drip honey. Honey and milk are under your tongue, and the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.” In these ancient rhapsodic poems, the beloved bride’s lips ‘drip honey’ symbolizing the sweetness of love.

According to the Jewish calendar, it’s the year 5775, which makes me ponder time and how we perceive and experience it. My grandma calls to wish us “l’shana tovah,” school is closed. My youngest daughter and I bake pumpkin spice madeleines. I’m not religious at all, yet I’m honoring my Jewish roots and celebrating the autumn solstice by baking pumpkin madeleines using freshly ground homemade pumpkin pie spices and sticky honey, which is, to me, the perfect way to relax and enjoy Rosh Hashanah morning. Out in the backyard, we share warm madeleines with tea, and I’m reminded of the writer Marcel Proust, how he fondly remembered the sensual combination of a crumbly madeleine dipped in a flowery tisane.

“…I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place.”

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I love the fall not only for the cooler weather it brings, but for the baking and cooking that it inspires. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices like star anise and mace make me want to wrap myself in an apron, turn on the oven and whip up a batch of pumpkin spice muffins. I have madeleine pans, so I fill them with the extra batter. My youngest daughter helps, and we watch the batter spill over from one muffin cup to another.

“Uh-oh,” my daughter giggles.

“Quick!” I say, holding the bowl over the madeleine pan.

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I’ve read and re-read the passage written by Marcel Proust about tea and the madeleine while eating my own crumbly pumpkin madeleine cake, drizzled with honey and dipped in tea:

“She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?

I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing its magic. It is plain that the object of my quest, the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself. The tea has called up in me, but does not itself understand, and can only repeat indefinitely with a gradual loss of strength, the same testimony; which I, too, cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call upon the tea for it again and to find it there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my final enlightenment. I put down my cup and examine my own mind. It is for it to discover the truth. But how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.”

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I cannot take credit for making these from scratch. I used a boxed mix, adding a few spoonfuls of canned pumpkin into the batter, along with extra vanilla extract, pumpkin seed oil, and freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg. Sometimes, as a working mother, short cuts are allowed. If I could, I would’ve spent all morning creating the homemade recipe.

Trader Joe’s is my friend during the busy work week, and goodness there was a bounty of pumpkin items when I went in for a quick shop. Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix is great to add your own touch to when you just want pumpkin bread or muffins without much ado. I added two heaping spoonfuls of their organic canned pumpkin, along with their brand of coconut and pumpkin seed oil rather than the suggested vegetable oil given by instruction on the side of the box. I have Cinnamon Hill cinnamon sticks to grate fresh amounts of cinnamon, and whole nutmeg.

For the mix version: Add two eggs, water, and vanilla into a bowl, all measured as directed on box. Pour the coconut and pumpkin seed oil in (again, measure as directed) then add the two tablespoons of canned pumpkin, and blend by hand. Add the dry mix. Grate cinnamon and nutmeg over batter. Stir. Pour into molds. Bake. It’s that easy.

For a recipe from scratch, here’s a pumpkin spice cake recipe I found (via Martha Stewart). You can substitute the butter with 1/2 cup coconut oil and a touch of pumpkin seed oil — or —  I suggest a 1/2 cup Earth Balance as a butter substitute. If you use Earth Balance, I recommend original (not whipped) or the vegan buttery sticks.

Pumpkin Spice Madeleines

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan (substitute Earth Balance or coconut oil)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice (or 1 1/2 teaspoons grated cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon whole grated nutmeg)

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar (raw coconut sugar is great instead of white sugar)

1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin puree (organic if you can)

 

DIRECTIONS

1) Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Butter — or use coconut oil spray– two madeleine baking pans. Mine make 12 madeleines per pan, so you’ll make 24 madeleines.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin-pie spice. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, butter (or oil), vanilla and pumpkin puree until combined. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, and mix gently until smooth.

3) Pour batter into prepared madeleine molds. If you have extra batter, pour into muffin tins.

4) Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs, 25 to 30 minutes.

5) Cool cakes 10 minutes in pans, then turn out of pans, and cool completely.

6) Drizzle with honey and eat them slowly with tea while reading a book.

 

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Maille Mustard Tasting Soirée

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It’s 7 P.M. in Culver City at the Helms Bakery enclave. The Maille Mustard Bar is in full display as we walked up to the door of Chef Sang Yoon’s private kitchen courtyard entrance. After the heatwave of 100 degree weather, the evening breeze felt balmy, and daylight faded golden into dusk.

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The mustard bar lured us with its array of jars, cornichons and pretzels. My own tasting plate was created by one of the ladies tending the bar, offering a black paper plate daubed in a palette of mustards circling a cornichon in the center. “The idea is to taste counterclockwise,” she explained, “from lighter to stronger flavors.” I dipped the long pretzel into the Honey Dijon. A suggestion of sweet flushed my mouth in a warm spicy tingle. Honey Dijon is a favorite of mine, so I’m already partial. I took an extra dip into it for another long savor. My next sample, the Rich Country mustard. A swipe of the pretzel into the golden globule brought its spicy bouquet to my senses. The pretzel was crunchy, salty and crumbling into a spatulated shape, making it the perfect vehicle to gather mustard. So I doused my pretzel with Maille’s Old Style. The grainy dollop seduced with its granules of mustard seed, tangy with vinegar zing. I smeared the mustards together in a swivel of the pretzel and a swift motion up to my mouth. I can never have enough, and sometimes I’ve gone too far, using too much mustard until it’s gone beyond a good thing—like a kid eating too much chocolate— something so uncontrollably delicious.

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Mustard dripped down my lower lip, and wanting to remain the lady, I simmered inwardly, enjoying the heavenly pungency of that distinct Dijon aroma, feeling that pleasant sting through the sinuses, similar to the way wasabi fills the nose with its heat and twang. The Horseradish mustard saturated my palate with a piquant bite.

My pretzel was now tater tot-sized, only one bite between my fingers. Soon the cornichon was all I had left. Dijon Originale. Yet the Maille mustard bar was but an amuse bouche before entering the private tasting event.

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Twinkling lights strung above, the kitchen door swung open, servers came out and went back in, guests stood at tall cocktail tables, the bartender poured. There was wine, vin rosé, très français. Chardonnay, mais oui. Mango juice infused drinks made with a French imported juice blend were one of the highlighted cocktails of the evening. With my propensity to indulge, I reigned myself in with a glass of summery rosé after finishing a glass of light Chardonnay. Water, please. I want to absorb the mustard tastes with all of my senses aroused and alive. Alors, quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire. So, when the wine is drawn, it must be drunk. The same for food and mustard.

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The open air courtyard was perfect for this intimate soiree. Servers handed out tasting spoons and skewers of mustard-inspired creations by Chef Sang Yoon, chef and proprietor of Father’s Office gastropub and Lukshon restaurant. Cured Tasmanian sea trout in a tiny tasting dish, fresh with a sprig of dill and a powdery sprinkle of Maille Dijon snow. The innovative use of “snow” — or mustard frozen by nitrogen into a flaky ice — was unique. I witnessed the creation of the mustard snow later in the chef’s private test kitchen, where he demonstrated how he transformed the mustard in the nitrogen bath. The Maille mustard snow melted delicately on the tongue, imparting the essence without the heft.

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Potato salad deviled eggs with tarragon and Maille Rich Country Dijon passed by on serving plates without my chance to taste. They looked tempting. But the sandwiches that came out of the kitchen in a humble fashion made everyone’s eyes roll with pleasure. The Cubano, Jambon de Paris, smoked pork, Gruyère, Maille Dijon and Maille cornichon relish. The Lukshon style of “pops” made its signature appearance as ‘salt and pepper chicken pops’ with Maille Dijon and longan honey, and the binchotan grilled wagyu rib eye with Maille horseradish Dijon looked appetizing even to this vegetarian, or pardon my français, pescetarian. I’m willing and sometimes tempted beyond the garden of earthly delights.

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Of course, the menu wouldn’t be complete in its gastropub glory without Father’s Office Frites served with Maille Dijon aioli. Pomme frites (French fries as we Americans call them) are my weakness. I admit I did glance around the tables for a fresh basket of those crispy hot fries before becoming completely distracted by a skewer of the pretzel and mustard bread pudding. Warm from the oven, a skewer of the bread pudding cubed, a dollop of Maille honey mustard, mustard sugar and whipped honey became my obsession. I ate four of them, five, then, six. Just one more. Il est difficle de vaincre ses passions, et impossible de les satisfaire. It is difficult to master one’s passions, and impossible to satisfy them.

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It was the way Chef Sang used mustard. But in his kitchen, we talked about ketchup. His eyes expressed contempt as he described it, and I was amused. How we came to the subject of ketchup, among the platters of his mustard-inspired tastings, I’m not sure. He’s clearly on the side of mustard lovers and makes no exceptions. Dogmatic about his menus and choice of ingredients, he’s well known for being anti-ketchup since the beginning days of his flagship Father’s Office in Santa Monica. It made perfect sense that he was chosen to experiment with mustard as an ingredient rather than a condiment, using his culinary alchemy to bring mustard into a higher range of flavor.

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The elegance of each taste held my mouth in suspense like the long kiss of a lover. Of course what I mean is that I was in love with the pretzel and mustard bread pudding. The compressed olive oil cake with strawberry mostarda won my heart as well, its magic made heavenly on the spoon with a hint of Maille honey mustard, a frill of balsamic mustard Chantilly, decorated with mustard seeds like candied nonpareil sprinkles. I may have eaten an entire service platter of the two desserts, and unapologetically so. “Le seul vrai langage au monde est un baiser,” said Alfred de Musset, and it’s true, the only true language in the world is a kiss. I had many kisses of mustard, and mostly the pretzel and mustard bread pudding, its language only my tongue could decipher, delight and dance with. It was almost embarrassing how I made love with each mouthful in public view, though I didn’t care. “Dessert without cheese is like a beauty with only one eye,” said 18th century French food critic Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, however, for me at that very moment, it would be mustard rather than cheese, married with the sweetness of sugary and savory, causing me to swoon in absolute pleasure. It made it complete, the realization that Chef Sang is an alchemist.

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I was happy, laughing, talking with friends, eating. The elegant Sophie Gayot was in attendance, and I saw Aarti Sequiera, cookbook author (buy her deliciously new cookbook!) and host of her YouTube show Aarti Paarti, with her husband Brendan toting their adorable little Boodle baby around like a sack of rice, but much cuter. Chef Nathan Lyon was beaming his effervescent fresh face around and we enjoyed a little chat together. He’s lovely. His cookbook Great Food Starts Fresh can be found on his website. My darling man, LA Magazine food writer Eddie Lin, was my guest this time, and of course he was, he’s my sweetheart.

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clockwise pictured (from top left) cookbook author Aarti Sequiera with Bruce Seidel of Hot Lemon Productions and Chef Nathan Lyon, The Maille Mustard Bar (top center), (top right) me with Chef Sang Yoon, (center left) Brendan Mc Namara with his edible little baby, (center) Maille mustard palette, (center right) me with my sweetie Eddie Lin, (lower left) me with Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco, (lower center) The Cubano sandwich, (lower right) food writer Eddie Lin with cookbook author Aarti Sequiera “Aarti Paarti”

It was also wonderful to meet Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco, founder of Fraîche PR in New York, along with her partner Jane Peck who manages Fraîche PR in Paris, France. Elisa Galassi, the US Area Manager for Maille, looking très chic, spoke in her lovely French accent and I was charmed. These are the elegant, intelligent and exceptional women that coordinated such a marvelous event with grace. We sat together at Father’s Office later in the evening, sharing stories and thoughts over more of Chef Sang Yoon’s offerings, this time in his signature gastropub style setting where only mustard could truly shine. I now understood the chef’s reasons for omitting lesser condiments such as ketchup. Mustard, the food language of Dijon, was showcased beautifully in his menu for Maille.

“Il n’y a que Maille qui m’aille” Only Maille can make me smile… A slogan from 80 years ago that still keeps us smiling today.

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Sensual Summery Sangria with a Juicy Twist

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Bursting with juicy flavor, a twist on Spanish Sangria and the Italian Bellini fills your glasses with sensuality from the farmers’ market using fresh seasonal produce. 

 

I’m driving through the winding road of Topanga Canyon toward the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean, swerving the rugged curves of the road with ease. Suddenly, the car in front of me slows, along with the other cars ahead, stalled in a little traffic on this morning drive. But it’s beautiful, I’m listening to flamenco guitar, and I have sangria on my mind.

The view is majestic through the canyon, as rays of morning light illuminate the foliage of trees and brush like a painting. Inhaling the faint scent of salt from the ocean, I take a moment to relax while visualizing the perfect twist on sangria. I want to get there early for the farmers’ market, on a quest to gather fresh produce for aphrodisiac cocktails. The long weekend is here and I can’t think of a better reason to open up a bottle of wine and start up the grill to cook with friends and family.

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Sangria is traditionally made with red wine like Rioja, steeped in its Spanish roots, only adding fresh fruit. It’s a festive party drink, chilled in the fridge, and easily poured to share. In the south of Spain, Sangria is called zurra, created with peaches and nectarines. Traditional Sangria is made with red wine, fruit juice, soda water, fruit and brandy. Once prepared it must chill overnight in the fridge to blend the flavors together. Rioja is the most authentic Spanish wine to use in this drink.

When we think of sangria, we may recall summer parties serving an iced wine poured from a pitcher, mulled with cut apples, oranges, lemons and limes, sometimes a splash of brandy, Cointreau, Triple Sec, and sugar. But I want something different other than Spain’s popular refreshing libation, something more descriptive of the California sun and sea. Of course, adding fresh juice makes it a West coast twist from Spain to our sunny backyards.

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Succulent freshly juiced peaches, herbs like basil, lemon verbena, hyssop, mint, a splash of balsamic and pomegranate spritzer. Drink recipes pour into my thoughts. White wine or champagne for a lighter version pairs well with the abundance of peaches and berries in the farmers’ market stalls. Especially champagne. It becomes a drink that Aphrodite might sip seductively. Bellinis and Botticelli’s Venus wander into my imagination, strewing edible flowers and basil leaves everywhere. Just as I saw the wide expanse of ultramarine blue ocean at the end of the road where Topanga Canyon meets the Pacific Coast Highway, my cell phone rang.

My friend Matthew Biancaniello called just as I was approaching the light. I’m still stuck in some traffic, albeit taking in the spectacular scenic drive, as he tells me he is leaving the farmers’ market. I’d miss him by minutes. I explained my passionate idea to make aphrodisiac sangria this weekend using fresh juice, champagne, and herbs. Matt suggested strawberry figs, watermelon, and other unconventional ways to mix up and create a cocktail spin on sangria. Whom better to ask than Matt, L.A.’s hottest mixologist known for crafting his magical creations using farm fresh organic produce. His talent for combining unusual flavors and textures with foraged herbs, fresh from the farmers’ market fruits, vegetables, homemade syrups, and seasonal ingredients is unrivaled by far.

I feel gratitude pour through my body like a glass of something delicious. My ideas for these drinks fizz with pleasure and I’m inspired. I wander the open air market with an eye out for those lusty strawberry figs. Then, golden raspberries call to me, among blue boxes full of blackberries and red raspberries. I’m seduced by the aromatic scents of basil and lemon verbena. My senses are heightened by the late August harvest. The vendor hands me flowering hyssop to apologize, as he’s sold out of the borage flowers I asked for. The blossoms are bright periwinkle, such violet blue. Gathering a handful of lemon verbena and basil, I inhale their fragrance, bury my nose into the green, and fill up my bag. The fig vendor hands me tastes of fresh strawberry figs. He tears figs in half with his hands and I eat each one, marveling at the flavor and texture. I take home everything I can fit into my basket.

Transcending the traditional sangria, when poured full of fresh fruit juice, it becomes something altogether marvelous. I prefer champagne rather than red or white wine, so I pop the bottle. Ice cubes clatter into the glass. I place a leaf of lemon verbena inside, a tiny strawberry.

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It tastes bright and fresh with juice, full of bubbly fizz, bountiful with blackberries, little wild strawberries, edible flowers, lemon verbena, figs. My cutting board scattered with mint, basil and lemon verbena leaves, my hands foraging among the golden raspberries, halving a fig with my knife, setting each ingredient into the bubbling champagne, gently pouring a touch of pear flavored balsamic into the glass. I’m having fun with this and want to eat the juicy fruits as much as I’m filling the glasses with them.

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A splash of balsamic makes the fruit flavors sing with a sensuous bouquet — Williams-Sonoma’s d’Anjou pear flavored balsamic is quite extraordinary in sangria.

It’s easy to create your own homemade cocktails, mocktails, Bellinis and fresh juice sangrias at home. I love my Vitamix blender, so this was pure pleasure to add my otherwise smoothie mixture to champagne and/or pomegranate spritzer for a juice-infused drink. Using a blender turns nutrient-rich fruits into whole food freshness. No waste as with a juicer and plenty of good-for-you fiber. You can find juicers and blenders online or in store to make your own fresh fruit blends. I prefer Williams-Sonoma’s Vitamix, but they also carry other brands and types of blenders and juicers.

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Here are three drink recipes abundant in farm fresh produce made absolutely indulgent with juice, champagne, herbs, balsamic and fizzy spritzer. Use them for your own backyard party or an afternoon in the garden. Williams-Sonoma-dAnjou-Pear-Balsamic

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Aphrodite’s Garden Bellini

This sparkling sangria-inspired Bellini uses champagne and fresh peach juice, enhanced with the fragrant blend of orange blossom water and tangerine. I enjoyed using Williams-Sonoma’s Bellini Mix for a twist on the Venetian classic. Williams-Sonoma offers delicious cocktail and Bellini mixes, and they pair perfectly in combination with fresh juice. Coconut water lends a refreshing flavor to the peach blend.

Makes 4 glasses

Ingredients:

3 peaches, sliced

1 cup ice 1/2 cup Bellini mix (Tangerine and Orange Blossom)

1/2 cup coconut water, fresh or bottled

4 cups champagne, or as needed

1 tablespoon d’Anjou pear flavored balsamic vinegar (to taste)

 

garnishes

wild strawberries

figs, halved

raspberries

blackberries

peaches, sliced

edible flowers

lemon verbena

mint

basil

hyssop

ice for glasses, as needed

 

Directions:

1.) In a blender, place ice, fresh peaches, Bellini mix, and coconut water. Blend.

2.) In a glass, place ample amounts of  figs, blackberries, strawberries.

3.) Pour champagne halfway into glass.

4.) Strain the peach juice into a measuring cup.

5.) Pour blended and strained peach juice mixture into each glass of champagne.

6.) Dash of balsamic per glass as desired.

7.) Garnish with more halved figs, strawberries, blackberries, if you like, as well as the finishing touches of edible flowers and herbs such as lemon verbena, basil and mint, as desired and serve.

 

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Aphrodite’s Kiss Bellini 

Here’s another version of a sangria inspired Bellini recipe. Keeping this drink simple with the frothy fresh peach blend is just as intoxicating without the alcohol, as the scent of orange blossom mingled with peaches is truly a sensual pleasure. Coconut water, fresh peaches, over ice, garnished delicately with a few raspberries and/or strawberry. The froth is luxurious. If you want to add champagne and Aperol, it makes a lovely cocktail. Leave unadorned and non-alcoholic for the naked juice version that can only be suggestive of Aphrodite on the half shell, wearing nothing but sea foam and flowers.

 Makes 2 glasses

Ingredients:

3 peaches, sliced

1 cup ice

1/2 cup Bellini mix (Tangerine and Orange Blossom)

3 tablespoons or just a splash of orange blossom water (can be found in most Mediterranean/Middle Eastern supermarkets)

1/2 cup coconut water, fresh or bottled

two sprigs of fresh mint, leaves

4 cups champagne, or as needed, perhaps you’d like to share the bottle

 

Directions:

1.) In a blender, place ice, fresh peaches, Bellini mix, mint, orange blossom and coconut water. Blend.

2.) In a glass, place ample amounts of ice cubes.

3.) Pour the peach juice Bellini mixture over ice.

4.) Garnish with raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, edible flowers, and other fruits and herbs as desired.

Serve and enjoy.

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Pomegranate Peach Sangria

Here’s a refreshing sangria using juicy ripe peach juice, ice, coconut, orange blossom water that pairs beautifully with pomegranate spritzer, just add strawberries and raspberries as edible garnish. It’s a simple way to please your palate and you won’t miss the champagne or wine with this bountiful glass of goodness. Of course, if you add champagne or a sexy Spanish Rioja red wine, no one will blame you.

Makes 2 glasses

Ingredients:

1/4 cup coconut water

1 cup pomegranate spritzer

1 cup fresh peach juice, strained (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons balsamic (recommend Williams-Sonoma’s d’Anjou pear flavored balsamic)

1 (750-ml) bottle Champagne, Prosecco or Rioja red wine (optional if you want a non-alcoholic mocktail version)

garnish

raspberries

strawberries

blackberries

figs

edible flowers

hyssop

mint

Directions:

1.) In a glass, fill with ice cubes.

2.) Strain the peach juice mixture.

3.) Pour half the glass with peach juice mixture.

4.) Pour fresh coconut water in.

5.) Pour in pomegranate spritzer to just about the rim of glass, leaving room for fruits and garnishes.

6.) Dash of balsamic per glass, as desired.

7.) Garnish generously with figs, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, basil, hyssop, mint and edible flowers.

8.) Serve and enjoy.

Peach Juice Mixture

3 large peaches, sliced

1 cup of ice

1 cup of coconut water, fresh or bottled

1/2 cup Bellini mix (Tangerine and Orange Blossom)

– or –

2 fresh tangerines, peeled and segmented

1/2 cup orange blossom water

Directions:

1.) Place the sliced peaches, ice, coconut water and Bellini mixture or freshly segmented tangerines and orange blossom water into a blender. Blend well.

2.) Strain through a fine sieve into a large measuring cup or pitcher.

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Plums in July

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I’m creating a garden in my backyard. This is a dream come true for me. I took a day off to accomplish a list of things, but instead of recipe creating and taking photos, I’m drinking iced tea with lemon and mint, while instructing the gardener and crew around the yard, showing them where I’d like to plant the large pots of jasmine, bougainvillea and creeping fig. I’ve got my hands and feet in the soil, digging holes with a spade to plant lavender and rosemary. The scent of earth is alive and renewing my senses.

A green beetle flies around drowsily, then a butterfly. My bare feet sink into the damp grass. The budding fruit on the orange tree fills my heart with promise, and reminds me that only last year I lived in a cramped and dark two bedroom apartment with my three children, just dreaming of this moment.

Even my kitchen is a daily reminder that I am realizing what for many years felt impossible in times of single parenting struggles. Now I have so many recipes in progress, so much abundance tumbling upon my kitchen island where the bounty of farmers’ market produce is displayed, and I am overwhelmed with the harvest of summer. My colander filled to the brim with juicy cherry tomatoes hand plucked from a friend’s garden, the stems a-top like little green bows, such gifts of exploding sweetness on the tongue. I slice them in half easily and roast them very lightly with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt. Fresh pops of cherry tomatoes are just as good or perhaps better in a green bean salad. I serve it cold, simply dressed in a miso cashew vinaigrette and toss it together with quinoa. Parsley too, cilantro. I cannot believe my luck, and a rush of joy swells in my body.

The plums were just too beautiful for words.

In the fruit stall at the farmers’ market, stunned by their beauty, the dark purple plums heavy with ripeness, globes of crimson violet fit perfectly in the palm of my hand. Baskets full of such plums— Santa Rosa, Black Beauty, Yellow plums— bedazzled by the many jeweled colors as the waft of their jammy fragrance meets my nose, I’m in awe of their splendor. The farmer behind the table slices a plum, hands me a sliver of fleshy fruit, its juice drips down my fingers, as my lips and eyes close in bliss, tasting it. So sweet.

This is how I found the plums.

Soon I held plastic bags weighted full of them. The farmer hands them to me and gives a toothy grin, sprinkling change into my hands. I place the plums gently into my canvas grocery tote. He winks at me as if to say, enjoy.

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The hot sun beat down as I walked with the heavy loads of produce in each hand, gathering bunches of colorful sweet peppers along the way, bouquets of basil, mint, marjoram, rosemary, purple basil, and a wildly grown bunch of Malabar spinach. I found a bouquet of squash blossoms, but much to my dismay, they were too delicate and faded quickly in my refrigerator later.

I had planned to make something special with the squash blossoms, a raw vegan recipe using pistachios, cashew cream, pesto, purple basil leaves. Yet I didn’t have time to prepare such a dish within a day after buying them. They wilted, turned dull and looked gray. I was too slow to use them immediately, too busy, driving all over the city running errands, driving my children to summer camp, working my day job, and you know, the things that take time away from the simplest pleasures in the kitchen. Busy life. Sometimes there’s just toasted bread with almond butter rather than the grand idea of creating a special recipe or making homemade vegetable soup, if only to use up all of the richness from the open market. It seems I’m always in such a rush, watching the clock, the days, weeks, how they go so quickly.

I want to savor each day like a ripe plum eaten from the market stall.

Then I had a conversation with a man I met at a friend’s cafe about the importance of being present. He was a spiritual guide and counseled couples. He sat next to me during lunch and chatted about food, the appreciation of eating, and what is good for our soul. I expressed my understanding through nods to him and bites of my seaweed salad. He told me that he had gone to a meditation retreat once where the food was so marvelous, he actually tasted the love given to it. The chefs gave silent prayers over every dish as they created them in meditation. This made so much sense. After awhile, we really understood one another and everything he shared rang true.

“Today, standing in my kitchen, grinding fresh-roasted spices with a mortar and pestle, holding those ancient implements in my hands, watching, feeling, hearing, touching, inhaling and imagining my friends enjoying the flavors, I thought: This is it. This is life. What else could I want?” ~ Rob Ackerman

Love, the essence of it, whether it is self-love, maternal love or romantic, and all the many colors of love, is an essential ingredient. Your fingers, while cooking, infuse emotion, which is why I cannot allow myself to cook if I am sad, upset, frustrated or angry. For instance, at the end of a relationship, I over salted a quiche. It was inedible. Salt water is represented as tears during a Jewish Passover seder. I had cried more tears during that last year. It began to change my face and my cooking. We sat at the table that New Year’s Eve, pushing aside the quiche. He mumbled, pensive and downward glance. I sighed and looked away. Inedible. But in the springtime of our romance, all we did was cook and eat together.

There was once, like a ripe plum, juicy kisses and sweetness in his touch. But he never liked stone fruit. It bore a childhood memory of eating the rotten selection at his family fruit stand, because they didn’t have much, so his mother insisted that he and his brother and sister eat the mealy peaches, the bruised apricots, the sodden and moldy plums. It was all he knew of harvested fruit, and perhaps, love.

I’ve over-seasoned things, undercooked dishes, while tangled in muddy thoughts of depression, frustration, annoyance. In those cases, I could not serve dinner, nor would I feed my children and partner such disasters from moods where I could not add the taste of love, joy and happiness.

“Tita knew through her own flesh how fire transforms the elements, how a lump of corn flour is changed into a tortilla, how a soul that hasn’t been warmed by the fire of love is lifeless, like a useless ball of corn flour.”
~ Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

It comes through our fingers and hands, emotions. Being present and completely attending to the act of making something, such as a tart dough, is a meditation. You can give everything to it. You have the time. Being present brings us to the center of our heart.

The sweetness of ripe plums. It becomes love from the earth, from the tree, from the sun.

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Part of this recipe is to give it love. I contemplate the happiest moments of my life while I cook and prepare. Pinch of salt, meditate on what I am grateful for and how am I using the difficulties I’ve had in the past to season my appreciation for where I am. Cup of sugar, the birth of each one of my children, witnessing their eyes opening for the first time, looking deeply into their newborn face. Pure joy. Add two teaspoons of vanilla, remembering the way my lover kisses the back of my neck so softly, feeling his warm hands upon my skin. Alright, add more of that vanilla, will you? To add kindness, don’t over mix your dough. Feel the texture with your fingers, skip the mixer.

Since the essential ingredient for this recipe asks for very ripe plums, please use them right away. Eat them in the kitchen as you decide upon exactly how you want to make this dessert. This is important: taste the plums first. If they aren’t anything special, consider blueberries or raspberries instead.

If you are overwhelmed and daunted by recipe given below, or maybe just too darn busy (I understand this), you can make a crumble rather than the tart. It’s a suggestion here, because I find that the plums, while so sultry and ready for you to eat, as lovers the throes of passion, cannot wait another moment. You must taste pleasure now.

Plum Tart with Hazelnut Crust

FOR THE PÂTE SABLÉE (Hazelnut Crust):

2 1/3 cups all-purpose whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting

1/3 cup hazelnut flour

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/3 cup coconut sugar

6 ounces French-style butter (such as Plugrà), plus more for greasing pan, at room temperature

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract (always add more if you desire)

5 egg yolks

zest of 1 lemon

 

 

ASSEMBLY:

1 tablespoon Chambord liqueur to thin the jam (optional)

½ cup plum jam (mixed berry jam if you can’t find plum)

5-6 ripe plums

powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

ground hazelnuts, for dusting

 

PREPARATION

To make the hazelnut flour: Place hazelnuts on a sheet pan lined with parchment and roast for 15 minutes. Keep your eyes on them, don’t let them burn, please. Roll the hazelnuts on the sheet pan by giving them a shake. When toasted, remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes. Place in a bag or a dish towel. Seal bag and gently roll over nuts with a rolling pin. Put the hazelnuts into a high speed blender (Vitamix) and pulse until a fine powder.

Set aside.

Make the pâte sablée: Sift flour, hazelnut flour and confectioners’ sugar into separate bowls. Place butter, salt and sifted all-purpose whole wheat flour in the bowl. Mix with your fingers and use your hands to crumble the butter until the flour and butter just come together. Add sifted hazelnut flour and confectioners’ sugar. Continue to crumble and mix with your fingers until ingredients are lightly fluffed and blended.

Here’s where it gets sticky and sensual. Add vanilla extract and egg yolks, mixing with your fingers until ingredients come together. Scrape dough out of bowl with your hands and a spatula. Press into a 1/2-inch-thick round shape. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to rest.

 Unwrap dough and cut into two equal pieces. Wrap one piece and refrigerate or freeze for use in another tart.

Prepare the tart shell:

Butter a 9-inch metal tart pan with a removable bottom very lightly and evenly. Place parchment paper on a work surface and dust lightly with flour. Pound the dough gently with a rolling pin to make it soft. Roll dough out carefully to about 1/4-inch thickness, frequently rotating it to roll evenly. Work it at a steady pace so the dough doesn’t warm up and get sticky. Dust with flour if necessary.

Cut a circle around with a knife that is a little larger than the tart pan. I use the tart ring as a guide by setting it on top of the dough. Keep the excess dough on the side for shaping the crust edges. Lightly dust dough with flour. Wrap dough loosely around rolling pin to lift it up from work surface, then immediately unroll it onto tart pan. You can also turn the tart pan upside down upon the dough and flip it into the pan.

Gently guide dough down the sides of the pan with your fingers, making sure that dough leaves no gap between the bottom edge of the sides of the pan and the bottom. Shape the edge of the crust by pressing and pinching the dough into the mold of the tart pan. Trim away excess dough hanging over edges. Refrigerate tart shell, uncovered, for at least 1 hour to rest, preferably overnight.

Assemble the tart: Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Remove tart shell from refrigerator. With a fork, poke holes in the dough, 1 inch apart.

Bake tart for 20 minutes, until crust is golden and the tip of a paring knife comes out clean when inserted. You can check on the tart shell to make sure it isn’t over-baked. You will want the crust to be like a shortbread cookie texture. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

Remove tart from the ring, leaving the base intact to support the tart. With a small spatula or brush, spread jam over surface in an even layer (If jam is too stiff to spread easily, place it in a small saucepan and warm it slightly first on top of the stove. A dash of Chambord liqueur gives it dimension and thins the jam).

Arrange fresh plums on the jammy surface. Just before serving, sprinkle with ground hazelnuts among the plums and dust with powdered sugar.

The tart is best when eaten the day it is made, but can be refrigerated for a day.

 

YIELD One 9-inch tart, plus dough for an additional tart shell

Adapted From Martha Rose Schulman’s “Raspberry Hazelnut Tart” recipe via original recipe from “The Art of French Pastry” by Jacquy Pfeiffer

 

 

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“… a paradise of fruit: white peaches like globes of perfume, pesche gialle, juicy and orange, grapes, figs, green and purple, cherries, melons, then plates of anguria: crisp and succulent at the same time, like love, sex, food…”
 (Ode to Italian Fruit, Barbara Hamby)

 

It’s summer and I’m in heaven when I see beautiful nectarines by the bountiful basket loads in the market. I just love summertime!

Here is a recipe that is simple, takes little effort to combine juicy fruit and a creamy vegan version of zabaglione. You won’t miss the eggs, though I do love them and the traditional Italian version of zabaglione, a frothy custard.

It’s a light, creamy vegan cashew-based cream flavored with sweet Marsala. All you need to do is generously spoon the ‘zabaglione’ over juicy nectarines for this delightful summery dessert. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

If there is an aphrodisiac ingredient in this dish, it’s definitely the cashew cream. Coconut blended with honey and spice is actually considered an aphrodisiac in India, so I’ve heard. Basil is fragrant and makes a seductive garnish. Nectarines are suggestive with their juicy ripe flesh. I’m confident that you’ll be pleased, and pleasure is all the ingredient you need.

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Nectarines with Cashew Coconut Zabaglione

1 1/2-2 cups raw cashews

1 coconut, opened– use entire contents of water and meat

3 ripe nectarines, pitted and sliced

1/2 cup (4 fl. oz.) sweet Marsala

5 tbs. maple syrup (to taste)

3 tbs. raw honey (to taste)

dash of vanilla

dash of grated cinnamon

fresh basil leaves for garnish

 

In a high speed blender, put the cashews and add the entire contents of coconut water and coconut meat inside. If possible, allow to soak for an hour. Blend. Add cinnamon, honey, maple syrup, Marsala. Blend again until creamy. Set aside in refrigerator.

Slice the nectarines and place them in bowls. Spoon zabaglione over the fruit, and add more slices of nectarines if you please. Garnish with basil leaves and grated cinnamon. Serve.

You can save the remaining zabaglione for other uses, such as a decadent cream for fruit and granola in the morning for breakfast, or a sumptuous treat over more nectarines, peaches or any other fruit if you’re in the mood. I’m tempted to try it with coffee and chocolate, perhaps some kind of tiramisu creation. Maybe a crumble of dark chocolate over a small bowl of zabaglione with cherries? I’ll leave it up to your wildest dessert imagination.

Bon Appetit!

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