Elliot Simon. Small But Mighty. Built From Beans and Cheese.

Apparently my kidneys didn't get the memo that it's 2017 and high-protein diets are all the rage. They were found to be "spilling"protein, causing severe pre-eclampsia, a 17 day hospital stay, and 7-week-early delivery of our baby.

My kidneys didn't get that "spilling"protein could be dangerous. That Paleo is popular and all that protein should be used to help me flip monster truck tires—just like cavemen did.

I spent 17 days in the hospital—hell for a food lover—with lots of time to reflect on my incomplete pregnancy. I felt pretty terrible for a few weeks before going to the doctor and before then I felt less than stellar too. The one thing that got me through (besides the love of my husband and family and friends) was bean and cheese burritos. Drive thru burritos, organic frozen burritos, homemade burritos, un-organic frozen burritos, fancier Mexican restaurant burritos—we weren't picky. The only criteria was that they were meatless and full of beans and cheese.

I thought I would thoroughly enjoy food during my pregnancy. But it became about sustenance (and a little flavor). There was no deeper meaning. No family recipe. It became about what could get me through the day.

During my hospital stay I ate a lot of baked potatoes and steamed broccoli—and then a good friend smuggled in some bean and cheese burritos for me. She didn't fully understand why I needed them, but she will now. 

I've felt a lot of things about being pregnant, growing my son, then being told one day at a doctor's appointment that I wasn't going home, I was getting in an ambulance for a 90-mile ride. Being able to snap some photos of the food that got me through and write all of this down has made me feel "normal".

The doctors tried to keep me pregnant until 34 weeks (February 18), but on February 14 my liver enzymes tripled and I could no longer blink away the black spots in my vision. The doctors decided, while my husband was on his way back up to the hospital, that we could no longer wait and our baby had to come out. With 5 minutes to spare, my husband arrived and I was wheeled into the operating room for an emergency C-section. Elliot Simon was born at 2:02pm, 4 pounds 9 ounces—small, but mighty, our little Valentine. 

We've been in the NICU since that day, slowly healing and figuring out how to be parents. I'm betting diaper changes will be a heckuva lot different when our kid isn't attached to wires and beeping machines. We've learned so much about ourselves and about what we can handle.

We fully understand the "it takes a village" adage. Our village is full of friends and family who have cleaned our house, brought us clothes and food, visited us from far away, fed our cat, threw me a baby shower in the hospital, organized and decorated Elliot's room, opened up their home for us to stay in, called, sent texts, sent prayers, sent good thoughts, and sent good vibes. We know how lucky we are and we're not sure the words thank you will ever be enough. We are beyond grateful that once Elliot comes home it'll be to a village who is excited to meet him and who has loved and supported his mom and dad.

Here's to all of you, our village, and to Elliot.

A Dutch Baby... and an Idaho Baby

So it turns out everything they tell you in health class as a kid is true. Boy meets girl, girl thinks, "This guy, huh?". Boy graduates and moves away, girl moves to Kentucky. They both move to Idaho and BAM—a baby on the way. 

Isn't that how the story goes? Well, it seems to be for us. 

Shortly after making this Dutch Baby for my in-laws this past summer we found out we were having an Idaho Baby—who we've been lovingly calling Spud—expected to arrive this Spring. With an estimated due date of April 1, I hope this kid is half the joker his expected birth date dictates he should be.

For those of you who are already parents, you may or may not have had the same reaction to your newfound title that I did. Something like, "Holy S#!&." Mixed with thoughts of happiness and fear and bring on the extra cake.

I took the test and saw that bright, bold plus sign while my mom was in town visiting—and my husband was off climbing something. It was so hard waiting to tell him, but the look of happiness and fear and bring on the extra beer were priceless once I finally got to break the news.

And like any self-respecting mama-to-be in 2016, I created a Pinterest board and signed up for pregnancy apps, so I could get weekly updates on our growing tater.

Real talk? This pregnancy has been a little rough. I felt like I was in a row boat on the high seas for the first 18 weeks and have been constantly comparing my "bump" (or gut, as I like to call it) to other women who don't look like they're having sextuplets.

Pregnancy so often seems to be described in precious terms, like glowing (read: sweating like a hog) and preggo. And the apps, while helpful, compare the growth of your kid to some cutesy piece of fruit. It must look like a damn produce section in there.

Why don't they ever compare my baby's size to something I can relate to—like the TV remote, or a chicken finger? Currently, at 22 weeks, this baby is the size of a mango—AWWWWWW.

Now, don't get me wrong, in between the bouts of crying and nightmares of having to give birth in a filthy public bathroom (thank you, hormones), I get unbelievably excited that I am going to get to help shape the life of this little boy. Maybe baby registries should let you register for future therapy funds... because as one of my friends said to me, half-jokingly, when I expressed my fear about being bad at parenting, "You will be."

There it was. The honesty I craved. He told me everyone is bad at first... not in the way where you leave your new baby with a hatchet and tell him to get to chopping that wood if he wants to keep warm; but in the way that no one really knows what they're doing and with love and patience, and a good sense of humor, we'll eventually figure it out.

Well, here's to our Spud, our growing family, and years of future birthday cakes and lazy weekend breakfasts like this fluffy Dutch baby— hopefully this kid likes pancakes.

TO MAKE THIS RECIPE YOU WILL NEED:

3 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup 2% or whole milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

BLUEBERRY SAUCE
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
juice from one lemon

Preheat your oven to 425.  Place eggs, flour, milk, sugar, and cinnamon in a blender and blend until smooth. Place butter in a 10-inch skillet (I used cast iron) and place in the oven to melt. Watch carefully, and remove the skillet from the oven just as the butter has finished melting. Pour batter in return hot pan to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, until the pancake is puffed up. Reduce your oven temperature to 300 and continue baking for five additional minutes.

To make the blueberry sauce, combine blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir gently and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about five minutes, or until the sauce has begun to thicken.

Coffee Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans + Sour Cream frosting

I'm constantly waffling—wait, pause, mmmmm....waffles— between the person I am and the person I want to be. You know, the classic battle of the shoulds and ought-tos against the want-tos and gonnas?

Like how I should order a salad with grilled chicken, but the burger is screaming my name. Or how I ought to go to yoga to help with my anxiety/posture/flexibility, but Hulu just put up all the seasons of Beverly Hills 90210. Truth be told, I'm rarely in the mood for salad and I hate yoga. I can appreciate why some people like yoga and what it brings them—and I appreciate its spiritual roots. But for me the room smells like sweat and rubber and, well, it's just not for me.

But you know what is for me? Leaving work on a rough day, driving about six miles on a backcountry road, and ending up at the flower farm between my town and the next. And coffee. And chocolate. (But we'll get to that in a minute.) The flower farm is several acres of annuals and perennials and each month between April and October brings new color and new growth. It's by far my favorite place in the area—but, shhhhhhhhhh—don't tell anyone about it.

I like to spend an hour or two wandering up and down the rows of blooms, listening to the bees, not listening to the Journey and Bon Jovi (no offense, guys) that incessantly plays at work, and snip flowers until my bucket doth runeth over. 

Then I come home, shew my cat away a hundred times from eating all the flowers, and put together as many arrangements as I can. We have to get our kicks where we can, right?

CoffeeChocolateCake4.jpg

Two of life's other joys? Coffee and chocolate. My parents drank coffee everyday while I was growing up—they still do. So, I was used to the house being filled with the scent of a fresh brew each morning. I still get warm and fuzzy feelings when I smell coffee. Every day. And a raging headache when I don't get my fix. I often feel un-human until I've had my first sip. 

And chocolate? My mom isn't a chocolate person (and I really want to say something snarky about how "those" people should be shipped off to an island somewhere to live a meaningless, chocolateless existence together, but she reads this thing). But my dad? Chocolate is his kryptonite. Want to bring this man to his knees? Give him a piece of really good dark chocolate—or even better, a piece of really good dark chocolate cake, baked by his daughter. 

I baked this cake for a friend's birthday and it was a big hit. It's my go-to chocolate cake recipe, which happens to be vegan and is then made extremely un-vegan with big swoops of tangy chocolate sour cream frosting. In between the layers are chopped chocolate covered espresso beans. Chopping them is kind of a pain in the ass, so only make this cake for someone you really like. 

Let's get our chocolate on.

CoffeeChocolateCake8.jpg

TO MAKE THIS CAKE YOU WILL NEED:

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
1 ¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup safflower oil
3/4 cup strong coffee
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1 cup chocolate covered espresso beans, chopped

FOR THE FROSTING:

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Get prepped. I made a six-inch three-layer cake, but you can make a two-lay 9-inch cake if you'd like. This recipe has enough batter for either. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line cake pans with parchment and grease lightly with oil. 

Dries and wets; wets and dries. In a medium mixing bowl add all dry ingredients and whisk until well combined. In a large mixing bowl add wet ingredients and whisk until combined. In several additions, add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, making sure not to over mix.

Bake, bake, bake. Pour batter evenly into prepared cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto cooling rack.

Make your frosting. In a small sauce pan over low heat, slowly melt the chocolate and butter, stirring continuously. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer. Blend in sour cream, vanilla, and salt until smooth and well combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add in powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. Gradually increase speed to medium and blend until smooth. Reward yourself by licking the beaters. You worked hard!

Assembly time. Build your cake with a thin layer of frosting on each layer of cake. Then top with the chopped espresso beans. Cover the whole cake in more frosting.

Strawberry Mascarpone Pavlova

Did you ever have History Day in school as a kid? Where you have to dress up as a famous historical figure and recite their biographyand your mom and teacher pray you don't pick someone like Pinochet or Hitler?

Well, when I was a kid I was pretty obsessed with ballet. I started classes around age three and continued dancing pretty seriously through middle school. Then I became incredibly self-conscious about my bodyballerinas typically don't grow boobsand decided to take a break. I took some classes in college and have always found a class or two to take in each city I've lived in because I think once you've learned to move your body a certain way to certain music, it's in you forever.

So, for History Day at Round Meadow Elementary (go Colts!) I dressed up as Anna Pavlovathe light-as-air ballerina, for whom this light-as-air dessert was named.

A pavlova is made of layers of baked meringuecrispy on the outside and slightly chewy and marshmallowy on the insidelayered with some sort of whipped cream and fruit. Each layer adds a different texture and level of sweetness that you can play around withit's so versatile! 

Even though it isn't technically summer yet, the college students have left town, the farmers market has started, and the first decent strawberries have arrived. You know, not the ones that taste like a whole lotta dirt and vaguely of berry? These are the real deal.

The scent of strawberries cooking on the stove is one of the quintessential smells of summer to memuch better than deet, which I also associate with the season. It reminds of when I would drag my husband to the U-Pick berry farm, convince him that we actually needed all 30 pounds of strawberries, and then spend hours making jar after jar of jam in my tiny hot, sweaty Kentucky kitchen.

This recipe also uses whipped mascarpone cheese, in addition to whipping cream. It creates such a rich and creamy mouth-feelin contrast to the crispy meringueand the flavor really can't be beat.

So, without further ado, fuete on down to the recipe.

TO MAKE THIS RECIPE YOU WILL NEED:

For the meringue:
5 egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar

For the strawberries:
2 cups of strawberries, hulled and sliced
1-2 tablespoons honey, depending on how sweet the berries are

For the whipped mascarpone:
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Make the meringue. Preheat your oven to 400. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle sugar in an even layer on top. Place sheet in hot oven and warm sugar for 5 minutesset a timer! Warming the sugar helps it dissolve more easily into the egg whites. While your sugar is warming, add your egg whites to the bowl of a stand mixer, making sure that no yolk makes it in. Begin with the mixer on low and let the yolks get frothy. Increase the speed slowly to high and continue beating until stiff peaks form-about 5-6 minutes.

Give 'em some suga. Remove the sugar from the oven and carefully add it to the egg whites 1-tablespoonful at a time, with the mixer on high. Keep adding the sugar until it's all been incorporated and stiff, glossy peaks have formedabout 5-7 minutes. 

Bring down the heat. Reduce the oven temp to 200. Line the cookie sheet with some more parchment. If the parchment you used for the sugar is in good condition you can reuse it. Divide the meringue into two even piles on the parchment and use a spatula to shape them into 8-inch circles. Bake for about 90 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. 

Meanwhile... cook your strawberries on the stove in a small sauce pan with the honey over medium heat until the berries begin to break down a bit and the liquid begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Whip it good. In the bowl of a mixer, combine mascarpone and sugar and whip until well combined, about a minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the whipping cream and vanilla, begin with the mixer on low, and slowly increase the speed to high. Whip until the mixture has thickened to consistency of whipped cream.

Time to assemble. Begin with a meringue disk, then spoon some of the whipped mascarpone mixture on top, spreading it to the edges. Spoon some of the strawberries on top and repeat the layers one more time. 

 


 

Buttermilk Blackberry Cake (and Best Friends)

The great poet Beyonce Knowles once said, "Who run the world? Girls, girls."

And for those of us ladies with a badass best friend it feels all too possible. I met mine, Ashley, about 13 years ago when we were 20 and worked for Boys and Girls Clubs. I invited her to lunch with several other people and the rest is history made in sarcasm heaven.

We haven't always lived in the same place—in fact, we've lived apart more years than we've lived in the same city, but one thing is for sure—this woman gets me.

Most recently—in 2013—I convinced her to move from the big city to a tiny-ass town in Idaho, so we could start an adventure. We opened a catering company with a mobile wood-fired pizza oven, so we could bring beautiful, freshly prepared, local food to the masses. 

If anyone appreciates food as much as I do, it's Ashley. She's curious about how things are made, where they come from, and loves to watch people's faces as they enjoy the first bite of something we've made—it's a weird voyeuristic trait that I've noticed we both have. And she's an amazing cook and baker to boot. She's also insanely funny, wickedly witty, and has a B.S. meter unlike anyone I've ever met—so watch your back. 

We had our oven at farmers market, festivals, and catered weddings and parties. We worked with local farms, made our dough and sauces from scratch, and worked our asses off in front of an 800° oven (with the help of a lot of friends and family—what up free labor?!). We both worked full-time jobs on top of our catering business, and tried to figure out some other creative enterprise for ourselves in this fickle town, but ended up closing up shop and selling our oven.

Not long after moving here and starting our business, Ashley met Kyle and fell and in love. I love Kyle like a family member, not only because he's one of the most genuine people I've ever met, but because he loves my best friend so fully.

They've recently decided to move to Arizona for work and to be closer to Ashley's family—and while I'm happy for them and their new adventure—I'm also really selfish.  I've been without her before, but this time feels different. We're adults now. We know more about life and people and the way the world works—and how best friends don't just happen. 

This cake is from a party we recently had to celebrate Ashley and Kyle and the amazing mark they left on this community. It's a dense buttermilk cake, not too sweet, with roasted blackberries between the layers, and slightly sweetened whipped cream for frosting.

I wish I could fully express how much Ashley means to me, but there just isn't a way to do that. This recipe (and others that'll pop up from time to time) will hopefully convey my gratitude and love for her—and the hundreds (maybe thousands) of meals we've shared together.

TO MAKE THIS CAKE YOU WILL NEED:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

FOR THE BERRY FILLING:

2 cups blackberries
2 tablespoons honey

FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM:

1 1/2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon honey

First things first. Preheat your oven to 350 and grease two 8-inch cake pans. I also cut out parchment circles and place them in the bottom to avoid stuck cakes and tears of frustration. 

Second things second. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, soda, and salt. In the bowl of a mixer, lightly beat the two eggs. Add in the buttermilk, vinegar, oil, and vanilla. Mix on medium until combined.

Dry meets wet. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, being careful not to overmix. Divide batter evenly among the two pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in pans for ten minutes before removing cakes and letting cool on cooling racks.

Roast your berries. Turn your oven up to 425. Place berries on rimmed baking sheet. The rim is important otherwise you will have blackberry runoff in the bottom of your oven, causing your kitchen to fill with black smoke, and your cat's eyes to fill with fear. Drizzle with honey. Roast for 25-30 minutes. Place hot berries in a bowl and slightly mash.

Whip (and nay nay) your cream. Place cold cream and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, start slowly beating the cream and gradually increase the speed to medium high. Whisk until the cream has thickened, but stop before it turns to butter.

Build-a-cake. Assemble your cake with berries in between the two layers. You can either top your cake with the extra or serve them on the side. Cover cake in whipped cream.