Monday, April 20, 2009

Beat the heat.

For a Spring day in April, it's been hot hot hot. And on days like these, it makes me think of only one thing: air conditioning. I just want to somehow get away from the heat and be where it's nice and cool--even if artificially, and yes, I am somewhat of a comfort creature with not much tolerance for extreme temperatures. I do sometimes also have other refreshing thoughts, like imagining myself sitting by a pool or on a beach on some far off tropical island, listening to splashing water or waves hitting the sand, with a cool drink in my hand. And the drink will have to have one of those little umbrellas and a piece of tropical fruit as garnish.

You might already know where I'm going with this. With the weather warming up, visions of pineapples, mangoes, and papayas dance in my head. Okay, not quite--I don't really like papayas honestly, but they all kind of go together. Pineapples and mangoes (mangoes especially), on the other hand, were staple fruits in my family while I was growing up and I cannot imagine a summer without them (and it's certainly feeling like summer today).

When a (new!) friend suggested showing me how to make a mango fruit tart about a week ago, I could not refuse. We met recently through a mutual friend, and I learned that she had a passion, perhaps an obsession?, for fruit tarts. I had never made one before, and with my penchant for baking, we knew this meeting was destiny. Her recipe is surprisingly easy, no fuss, with impressive results. The only touch I added at the end was an apricot glaze, which I've seen in some other recipes. Thinking about it now, this wouldn't be such a bad substitute for relaxing on the beach if you can't get to one on a hot day like today.

Mango Fruit Tart
Adapted from a fellow dessert-lover-baker
Serves about 8

Preheat the oven to 375F; you'll also need a 9" tart pan with a removable bottom

For the crust:
1. Combine the following using a pastry blender (or food processor if you have one):
- 1-1/3 cups of unbleached all purpose flour, fluffed
- 1 stick (or 1/2 cup) + 1 T. butter

2. Combine flour mixture with:
- 1 egg yolk

3. When the dough holds together, press it into the tart pan with your fingers.

4. Bake the crust for about 30 minutes or until edges turn light brown.

For the topping:
Peel and slice two medium-sized mangoes lengthwise (or you can slice any other fruit you'd like to use)

For the filling:
Using an electric mixer, mix together:
- 4 oz. cream cheese
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 T. vanilla
(you can play with these proportions to achieve the taste you prefer)

For the glaze:
Over medium heat, stir together until syrupy:
- 2 T. apricot preserves
- 2 T. water

To assemble:
1. Prepare, bake and cool the crust after baking; remove from pan.
2. Spread the cream cheese filling evenly over the crust.
3. Assemble the sliced mango or other fruit in concentric circles.
4. Using a pastry brush or spoon, gently spread the glaze over the fruit.
5. Chill for about 2 hours before serving.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


I've been trying to get this post out but I've been at the mercy of my fickle internet service, which is back up again this morning (yay!). It's Saturday now but it's been feeling like one long Monday, and not because I couldn't get on line (though that probably didn't help). A long, long, looong Monday, that, now that I think of it, started somewhere last week, actually. It's one of those times when life just, well, sucks the life out of you. And Spring seems to have taken its own vacation around here and the clouds have rolled in again--perhaps somewhat appropriately. I really did have grand plans for this post, like cute little stories from my childhood and reflections on the joy of youth--you know, something terribly profound and thought-provoking, but I've lost the inspiration even before I've begun so maybe another time will do but not today.

The highlight in my long "Monday", though, was that I managed to do one of my favorite things on a Saturday morning this last weekend, and that was to go to the local farmers' market. Farmers' markets are really the place to be for a weekend morning, to leisurely stroll along the vendor stands and watch people with baby strollers and reusable shopping bags, as they mull around the organic produce laid out in crates and boxes. Gone is any affectation, replaced by a little more sincerity. I usually go not really with a shopping list in mind, but just to see what's in season and what looks enticing and to people watch or spend quality time with a friend, but this time, I had purpose: I was going to buy a plant for my new apartment. I have never bought a plant, never had any inclinations toward cultivating a green thumb, but decided I needed one just to brighten up my place and make it more homey and welcoming. But I didn't know what to get ("a wise bowl of sage"? maybe too clever...only at a farmers' market), so instead I saw a table of lovely, fresh strawberries beckoning, and I could not resist. Instead of a plant, I came home with the lovely strawberries, which then later turned into some not-nearly-as-lovely-but-they'll-do strawberry cupcakes (I found the recipe at; I didn't get enough air into the butter so they baked up a little heavy and my frosting didn't come out so smooth, but the taste, it was what you would think a fresh Spring day would taste like if you could put it into a cupcake...mmm).

And my mission to get a plant? I got daffodils from Trader Joe's that were so cute when I first picked them up it was enough to dispel any blues momentarily, but they have only since wilted considerably, in just a matter of days.
What could I have done wrong? I watered it faithfully, put it by the window for light, and all I can think of that was that maybe, just maybe, I didn't talk to it enough--or at all. My very first plant ever and I have already almost killed it in record time. Another thing to chalk up to the blues. But tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and that is always a marker of hope.

Strawberry cupcakes
Adapted from the recipe at (thank you Picky Cook!)
Makes about a dozen

For the cupcakes:

Preheat the oven to 350F and line the cupcake tin.

1. Puree in a food processor or blender:
- 1 cup of fresh or frozen strawberries (hulled) (there will be extra for the frosting)

2. Whisk together with a wire whisk:
- 1-1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 t. baking powder
- 1/4 t. kosher salt

3. In a cup, combine:
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1-1/2 t. vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup strawberry puree from #1

4. Cream together in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy:
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup of sugar

5. Add to the mixing bowl and mix to combine:
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 2 large egg whites, at room temperature

6. Mix into the
butter and egg mixture from #5 on low: the flour mixture from #2 and the milk and strawberry puree from #3, alternating between each but beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

7. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for about 5 minutes, then cool on a rack completely.

For the frosting:

1. In a mixing bowl, using the paddle attachment, cream:
- 2 sticks (or 1 cup) of butter

2. Mix in, until smooth:
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1 t. vanilla
- 1/3 cup strawberry puree

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Morning glory.

I am a slow riser. There are people who get up, make themselves a cup of coffee, read the morning paper, watch the morning news, maybe even go for a jog or walk their dog, and then get ready for their day. I am not one of those people. I have perfected my morning routine to take less than 15 minutes to get ready for work so I can stay in bed for as long as absolutely possible. Of course, I sacrifice a few things in doing so--such as never changing my hairdo or uncoordinated handbags and shoes, but what is that in comparison to an extra 5 minutes of sleep?

On Sunday, I ran a 10K with some friends in the city (I'm referring to San Francisco--somehow it's just become known as "The City" to those who reside in Northern California, as though there really aren't any other cities in comparison) which started at 8AM. 8AM! Not to mention the drive to get there. This was going to be a challenge. Maybe it was the race jitters or fear (most likely fear because I didn't feel that ready for it), but I was up extra early, and running 6+ miles at 8AM in the morning turned out to be a pretty awesome and awe-inspiring experience.

The route included running across the Golden Gate Bridge, which was something I've always wanted to do, and the morning was simply glorious with the clear blue skies, glassy ocean, lush hills, and bright shining sun. It was as though just for that day, San Francisco's fog lifted and let the sun shine to lead me to the finish line (okay, a bit over-dramatic). There are times when I see something and wish I could reproduce that image I have in mind in a photograph--this is one of those times, just so I could show you how breathtaking it was.

I won't try to convince you that my breakfast cookies I baked last night were just like that, inspiring and glorious. They're full of whole wheat, oats, nuts, that wholesome stuff. They're not bad at all, actually, but they do make me feel good when I start the day with one (translation = healthy--remember, I'm a health nut!), and I like that they're called "cookies" instead of something like "bars", because it tricks me into thinking it's a really special bad-for-you kind of treat or reward. I used dried cranberries and pecans, but you can use any fruit and nut combination, or even chocolate chips! It won't be a jog across the Golden Gate Bridge on a bright, beautiful morning, but it might be enough to get me out of bed a little earlier than usual--just a little.

Breakfast Cookies
Adapted from Ellie Krieger on
Makes about a dozen

Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

1. Whisk together the following ingredients in a bowl with a wire whisk:
- 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 1 t. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 t. salt

2. In another bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the following on medium to high speed until combined:
- 2 T. unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 1/2 cup brown sugar or honey

3. Add the following to the mixture from #2 and mix until combined:
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup apple sauce (or strained carrot baby food, according to the original recipe)
- 1 t. vanilla extract

4. Combine the flour mixture from #1 into the mixture from #3.

5. Fold in the following:
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/3 cup roasted, chopped pecans

6. Shape the dough into balls about 2-1/2" and flatten to about 1/4" thickness on the baking sheet. Be sure to leave about 3" in between each cookie. Bake for 14 minutes, and cool on rack.