Oat, Pear, and Raspberry Loaf

Oat, Pear, and Raspberry Loaf 6

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

Then I realized that Boston is home.

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

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

Oat, Pear, and Raspberry Loaf 1

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

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

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

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

Oat, Pear, and Raspberry Loaf 4

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

LOVE

cerealbowl My cereal bowl. The only piece of dinnerware I own.

I’m in love with life right now. It’s unabashed. It’s warm and fuzzy. It’s happier than I thought I could be.

I’m updating the blog with this mini-post to announce that homesickness has officially hit, even though I thought I was immune. Some of the credit goes to the Seattle Times, which published an article of mine in the Pacific NW Magazine this week. But most of it goes to a care package. Monday afternoon a box arrived in the mailroom with BERNSTEIN scrawled on the side. I carried it down the stairs, through the drizzly street, up the elevator – all the way to the common room, where I split it open with scissors. A few curious floormates between classes looked up.

It was filled with solid gold, or maybe solid sunshine. A bar of Theo chocolate. A smooth cylinder of orange vanilla green tea. Salts, salts, salts! (Gourmet salts!) A coin purse shaped like a cookie, a breathtakingly beautiful teacup, and a 108-piece, double-sized macaroni and cheese puzzle (which, yes, I finished in one night.) A finger puppet. Cookbooks, some adorable CakeSpy products, gourmet nuts and popcorn, stationary printed with pots and pans.

But best of all? A card. It has a photo of Pike Place Market on the front, and inside, signatures from Seattle foodies. Thorough honesty – standing there in the common room, surrounded by people, I managed not to cry, but barely.

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It wasn’t just Seattle, even though that was a big part of it. The chocolate bar, the tea, the CakeSpy cupcake comic, all of it is so Seattle in a way that Boston can never be. I miss Pike Place Market, Molly Moon’s ice cream and Top Pot Doughnuts with serious heartache. I miss mountains. I miss the water. I miss recycling. I miss my neighborhood, the evergreens blackening as the sun drops low. All of this, all of Seattle, managed to fit into that cardboard box.

But it was more than that. With Seattle came everything else, inseparably woven with family and my old life. As I flipped through cookbooks for the first time in a month, it truly hit me how much I missed the ability to get up and bake, whenever. And as I held that letter, I was overwhelmed with humility and appreciation and unfiltered love. There are people who care about me in Seattle. And for a few seconds, I forgot that I wasn’t there, and understood the significance of what I’d left behind.

I’m okay now. I unpacked the box, passed around the salts to be sniffed, broke off a piece of chocolate and felt better. I called Jenny of Purple House Dirt, who organized the mass care package. I left her a scattered, distracted voicemail about how happy I felt, sniffling all the while.

And right now, I’m filled with joy and gratitude.

chocolates 

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

When I arrived at school, I came with every intention of getting super involved. I wanted to be that person – the person who squeezes in a few too many clubs and activities, the person who comes home exhausted. I honestly love being busy, and I wanted to wholeheartedly accept new experiences.

It was a valiant effort. In the activity fair my first week, I scrawled my email address onto dozens of sign-up sheets and mailing lists – social justice, poetry, photography club, the college newspaper, book publishing, even freshman government. I walked between the elms and brick buildings back to my dorm, consumed with anticipation, wondering which clubs I’d get into and which ones I’d fall in love with.

More than anything else, though, I wanted to be accepted to my school’s radio station. It’s prestigious around here, difficult to get into and fully student-run. Even though my passion is in print, in the weight of an inked word on paper, I’m smitten with This American Life and 107.7 The End (which I stream online here across the country.) I missed listening to NPR  every morning in the carpool to high school. I missed radio in general.

I’d seen the students involved with the college station, and found everything about it appealing. I wanted to carry heavy headphones in my bag and hear my voice, weirdly foreign, emerge from the radio. I picked up an application.

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

Four weeks later, I’m even busier than I’d hoped to be, even though I slowly withdrew from most of the clubs I’d signed up for. Instead, I got a job at a bakery, which I’m so excited to start. I clung to photography club, which is one of the highlights of my week – photos will come soon, promise. Add homework, classes, a few minutes for meals and – oh, did I mention? Lots and lots of radio.

I’m a reporter for the news department. I make contacts and conduct interviews, which I edit into sound clips and adjust until the levels are right. I research. I’m learning to project my voice and breathe properly on-air. I now search for potential stories everywhere, breathing in information and exhaling headlines. I rewrite press releases and post stories to the web. And at least several nights a week, I’m underground at the station past midnight, rerecording my script over and over and over… trying to pronounce all the words correctly.

I had no idea it would be this hard, or this demanding. I didn’t realize it would take me two hours to produce a 45 second clip, and… well… a lot longer to create an eight minute one. And I couldn’t have anticipated how much I’d adore it.

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

To be sure, it has its downs. We were expected to hit the ground running, and my first week was rough. I’m starting to learn the terrain, but that doesn’t make it easy. I’ve had afternoons where nobody answers my calls, where I say, “Hi, I’m Elissa Bernstein and I’m a reporter with–” only to be cut off and dismissed. There have been nights where I spent more than twice as much time editing and writing than sleeping. (Which is easier than it sounds when you’re running on 4 hours of sleep.)

I remember the shift where I couldn’t figure out how to work the dashboard, with all its dials and buttons. Once, I accidentally bumped the microphone off its stand. Another afternoon, I hung up the phone after a great interview, only to realize I’d improperly recorded the conversation (in other words, hadn’t recorded the conversation) and had to start from scratch.

As a new staff member with no previous experience, everything is trial and error.

Even though I’m only seriously involved with a couple activities, they’re full of so many unfamiliar skills and unexplored subjects, my education extends far beyond the classroom itself. This radio position is more than an extracurricular, it’s a part time job and the wholehearted acceptance of new experiences that I craved. Who knows what I’ll be able to do in the future after this? Every time you acquire new knowledge, you can funnel it into the creation of something incredible.

Like smoked grape and rosemary focaccia.

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

My parents and I discovered smoked grapes one summer night a few months ago. We used to spend hours sitting in lawn chairs around our home-built fire pit, roasting hot dogs and watching marshmallows molt. One evening, long past sundown, when the whole world was crackling logs and faraway pinpoint stars, my mother brought out a bowl of grapes.

I think it was my dad’s idea. He skewered a grape onto a thin branch still sticky with marshmallow sugar, set it over the fire. It was smoking when he pulled it away from the flames. He popped it into his mouth, and a look of surprise took over his face. He made one for Mom, and I tried the next one. The grape was warm, but not hot, with a smokiness that caught you off guard. It was so strange, so good, so full of possibility.

We tried to brainstorm how best to showcase this miracle. I thought they would be good with anything and everything. Baked into a tart. Tossed with mixed greens in a salad. Or maybe sliced with bright, fresh jimaca and mango, served over fish? That’s when it came to me – I knew what I wanted to make first.

“Focaccia,” I said.

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

Last Mother’s Day I gave my mother a gorgeous book on tomatoes. The book is filled cover to cover with some of the loveliest food photography I’ve seen, and descriptions of dozens and dozens of tomato varieties. In the back, a recipe for cherry tomato focaccia, which I had mentally bookmarked from the first time I saw it. The page swam hazily to mind as I blew smoke away from another fireside grape.

I forgot that I’m not confident with bread-making. I was too excited. Instead I found a recipe for focaccia and bought a bag of grapes. I wanted to find another smoking technique, just in case not everyone has access to a firepit, or the time to individually skewer each grape. My dad said it could be done on the grill. He snipped bundles of sturdy, fragrant rosemary and burned them under the grill’s cover with a big bowl of the grapes. Soft grey smoke streamed steadily from the grill’s sides, like bubbles rising in a fish tank.

I can’t get enough of these grapes. After smoking, their color changed from deep red-purple to burnished gold, as if you could literally see the fragrant rosemary smoke swirling under the skins. My dad had to stop me and my mother from snacking on them as the bread dough rose. I spread the focaccia into a sheet pan, brushed it with olive oil, dimpled it with my fingertips and gently pressed in halved grapes.

Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

It was an experiment, since I wasn’t sure if the loaf would be too watery, if the grapes would keep their flavor, if it would need a touch less rosemary. We pulled the sheet out of the oven. I cut the first slice, and oh, my gosh – that crackle as I broke the crust, the lightness of the center, one or two grapes nestled in with wrinkled tops… That bread was perfection. We ate it so, so quickly we almost felt sick. And it’s one of my favorite memories from this summer, keeping me warm as the temperature drops.

The Bar That Needs A Warning Label – “Dangerously Good”

I used to love the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a kid. Chocolate waterfalls, ice cream that never melts, everlasting gobstoppers? It seemed almost obscene! I am a chocoholic who might need rehab, a cinnamon-sugar addict who suffers from withdrawals, a sweetened coconut junkie. I have quite the sweet tooth, if you didn’t notice.

My mom, on the other hand, does not think much of sugar. No, her vice is salt. Chinese onion pancakes, crisp ridged potato chips, pretzels, these are what tempt her. She might nibble on a cookie, but there is no real desire there. Salty, sweet… compatibility might seem impossible. But whichever you are – a sugar fiend or a salt enthusiast – you might need to sit down before you take a look at these bars.

Sweet. Salty. Nutty. Crunchy. Crumbly. Chocolaty. Caramelly. I can’t even think of something witty to say about these addictive bars. Just look at another picture.

A chocolate studded brown sugar and coffee shortbread, cooked crisp so that the edges are caramelly. Then chocolate is spread over the warm bar and the whole thing is topped with salted roasted peanuts. Peanut-Chocolate-Caramel Crunch Bars. Goodness.

They were the perfect gift for my lovely neighbor who did my prom hair out of sheer kindness. Nine thirty at night, only two days before the dance, I knocked on her door with my hair in knots and frustration pouring out of me. I’m sure my desperation was overpowering, but for whatever reason, she was sweet enough to fit me into her packed schedule. When I asked her what kind of sweets she liked, she simply said, “I like nuts.”

And oh, she got nuts.

You might remember another thing from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – the amazing television commercials that Willy Wonka was perfecting. These commercials would allow the viewer to reach into the screen and sample his incredible chocolate. I used to wish it was real so that I could taste one of those chocolate bars, letting it melt in my mouth. Well, while those commercials don’t exist yet, you don’t need them to experience these bars for yourself.

You’ve got the recipe.

A Mojito Bakewell Tart To Beat The Heat – Daring Bakers

It’s nearly July.

You’ve got it in your head that you want to remodel your front yard. You’re going to pull out all the old grass, taking the moss and weeds with it, and replant new seeds. You’re going to transfer your herb garden, plant lots of beautiful flowers, and create a fence with espalier fruit trees – apple, pear, and asian pear. You might even ask your teenage daughter to help once in a while.

And generally, it’s hard work. Hard, hot work. You can drink all the water you want, but what would really cool you off?

A mojito!

I know some of you guys were intrigued by the jelly that I put up earlier this week. There were a lot of great guesses, and some of them got pretty close but nobody got it quite right. It turns out, this little jar is much more than a delicious batch of lime and mint jelly. It’s part of this month’s Daring Bakers challenge!

The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800′s in England.

The Bakewell Tart is a tart crust spread with jam, jelly, curd, or even chocolate, and then topped with moist, spongy almond frangipane. For the challenge we were asked to make the crust and frangipane as instructed, but we had freedom over the jelly.

I’d never made jelly by myself before, so I knew that I definitely wanted to make that part of the challenge. I played with so many different flavors in my head before finally settling on lime and mint. It’s a slightly unusual combination for a jelly, and it sounded so utterly different and refreshing that I knew it would make this pretty challenge even more special.

When I told my dad my flavor combination, he said, “Why not make mojitos to go along?” So he brought the mint, the limes, and the rum, and I headed next door to ask the neighbors for a bowl of ice. The result was a cool, fresh mojito. It turns out, I really like them. I think I could have probably had one or two all by myself. Luckily my parents and I shared two glasses among us and I was able to really focus on the tart as well. 🙂

I was a little unsure about how almond would pair with lime and mint, but the tart was super delicious. On its own, the jelly is fantastic. It’s tangy and bursting with flavor, and tastes so bright that everyone is a little surprised when they first try it. In the tart, the flavor was much more subdued. In hindsight, a jam like raspberry, pear, or peach would have probably better fit the tart, but the mojito jelly did add a lovely green stripe and interesting twist to an otherwise straightforward dessert.

The tart crust was a huge hit, especially with my dad. It’s officially my new go-to tart crust. And the frangipane? I’d never made it before, but I can’t get enough of it. I’d love to try making it with other nuts (pistachio or hazelnut, maybe?) and the jelly is definitely a recipe I’ll keep. Three components, three successes… what a challenge!

Adventure, Anticipation, and Appreciation

It’s the beginning of January, and I feel like the upcoming year is a note from my friend. She wrote it with love, it made its way across the room towards my desk, and now it’s in my hand. The paper is crisp and neatly folded into a little triangle, almost like a present. I don’t know what kind of message it holds yet, but I can’t help but unfold it with a smile on my face.

Thinking about the potential and excitement of the New Year reminds me that this is a year of beginnings. Twenty ten will mark the start of my legal adulthood (turning 18 in April,) the first year anniversary of 17 and Baking, and most importantly my freshman year of college. It’s more than likely that I’ll be attending college away from home, and at the moment the exhilaration of travel is on my mind.

Travel. Don’t you feel a buzz of electricity and mystery even at the prospect of the word? I haven’t been to many states in the US, or visited many places outside the country, but the small taste I’ve had of the world has worked exactly as an appetizer should. It makes me hungry for more.

When people ask me what kind of job I’d like to have in the future, I always have the same things to say: I want a career where I’m using the written word to help people, I want to explore different cultures and opinions, and I want to be moving.

By moving, I mean that I don’t want to spend the majority of my afternoons sitting still. Although paperwork and an office cubicle are probably a large part of any job, I crave exposure to new experiences, the thrill of possibility that the unexplored world presents. Perhaps this is why I find journalism so appealing, even though the future of print journalism is currently murky. A day spent around the city, talking to people of all backgrounds and stories, and writing – it matches my interests perfectly.

Adventure isn’t just excavating gold along an exotic coast or trekking through a perilous jungle… I’d like to hope that one’s everyday life can be an adventure, too, if you are passionate about your work and refuse to limit your optimism.

This is also one of the reasons I’m looking forward to leaving home for college. As 2010 begins and I approach the halfway mark of my Senior year, I’m beginning to feel the seeds of nervousness. My friends and I often lament the dull routine of our daily lives, but now that my time left in high school has a definite expiration date, it’s hard to imagine anything else.

Quite frankly, the thought that my next New Year could be spent across the country is intimidating. It’s hard to picture living without my parents, my friends, my AP Stats homework, and the lush greenery and silver sleet of Seattle. When some of my friends graduated early after Junior year, I knew then that I wasn’t ready to be on my own. I still don’t feel prepared, but I don’t deny that I anticipate the plunge.

Washington is my home, but I am seizing the opportunity to be free for the next four years. I want to be dazzled by the bright lights of a city that never sleeps, and I hope to encounter people with perspectives I’ve never considered before. I finally turned in my last application last week, and received my first acceptance letter the next day.

But for now, I’m satisfied with an adventure I’m experiencing from my own bedroom. Without leaving my home, 17 and Baking has been an open door to the whole world. Every time I see a new comment on my “Leave Your Location” post, I add a pin to the world map on my wall. The bright pinpoints are like brave explorers making their way across oceans and the unknown terrain.

17 and Baking has also brought me into contact with a diverse variety of people, exactly what I hope to achieve in traveling and in college. From professional chefs in rural towns to big-city teens who are also baking and blogging ( 🙂 JoJo), my readers completely reinforce my belief that no matter what, everyone has a voice and a story. We are all connected by a common thread, whether that is our basic humanity, or a love for good food and delicious photography.

So I want to officially thank you – for letting me connect with you, and for helping me “travel” in spirit. You guys are the one thing I am definitely bringing with me to college, certainly much more valuable than anything I could pack into a suitcase (even the KitchenAid.) Thank you for sticking with me through my adventures, and I hope your New Year unfolds into a wonderful one!

Caffeine-Spiked Mini Hostess Cupcakes

When I was younger and the family went shopping, I always drifted over to the best part of the grocery store – the bakery. Nothing was more attractive than the brightly decorated sugar cookies, the two-bite little brownies, and the cupcakes topped with a swirly heap of rainbow frosting. I would slowly walk around the tables, lusting over all the baked goods set out, and then I would stand in front of the glass-shielded cake display and simply stare.

I truly thought nothing in the world was more attractive. There was a magic in the perfectly round chocolate chip cookies and trays of brownies with fudge frosting. I could almost taste the light and creamy frosting on the chocolate cake, the soft dusting of powdered sugar on the donuts, the buttery crumble of their cinnamon scones. But on the few occasions where I bought something, I was almost always disappointed.

Looking back, it’s hard to see the same appeal. I simply don’t have much interest in store bought baked treats anymore.

These days I still wander over to the bakery section – I just can’t help myself. But instead of examining the products with an appreciative eye and a rumbling stomach, I want to be inspired. As I observe the cake counter, I can’t help but visualize which piping tips the decorator used. I find that four words inevitably flicker across my mind like an unexpected gale: “I could do that.”

Since I’ve begun to bake, my tastes have really changed. I was a child who would have preferred a pristine sugar cube to a cup of coffee, and a peppermint patty over a good bagel. Today, raw sugar doesn’t conquer all (whew!) and I now hold homemade treats over store-bought desserts. I think you can taste the love in a homemade buttercream and the tradition and passion in a homemade crust.

I no longer want to spend savings on baked goods that are likely to disappoint, especially when I could make them at home for a fraction of the cost. And though I rarely find myself longing for a name brand dessert, once in a while I am swayed by the urge to make something… undeniably sugary and comforting.

Enter these Caffeine-Spiked Mini Hostess Cupcakes. Chocolate-coffee cupcakes filled with a simple espresso frosting and topped with a bittersweet ganache. Made with ground coffee and instant espresso powder, they really do contain caffeine (I learned the hard way by eating a few before bed and not sleeping for a long time.)

First, I have to make a confession. No matter how young and how sugar-craved I was, I have never tried a hostess cupcake (or had any desire to.) But I know the hostess cupcake sits on a beloved pedestal in the American palate, and I thought a homemade version would be delicious.

I am currently in a baking frenzy where I am playing catch-up. During the months when I worked on applications, I had to miss five birthdays. Now that I have free time, I’m slowly baking my way through them, and I’m also baking to thank the teachers, counselors, and adults who helped me during the college process. These cupcakes are for my physics teacher, who wrote me a letter of recommendation and likes all things coffee.