A big batch of small things

July 20, 2013 § Leave a comment


Most dishes need only one pair of hands; dumplings demand a crowd. It’s not that they are fussy or fancy or sensitive to time, it’s just that when one makes a big batch of small things, it’s best to be many-handed. There was a stand at the canteen where I studied in Singapore where two women and a girl would pan fry homemade dumplings for the students at lunch or dinner. One woman would roll out the dough, the girl filled and shaped the small packages, and the other woman would stir the pan and trade to the hungry line for coins. All the while chatting ceaselessly to each other. They were so absorbed in their world, and so oblivious to me, that watching them over the counter was almost like watching a family behind a screen or on stage, and had not that paper plate of hot, delicious little clouds been thrust in my face I might have forgotten my purpose in standing there. 


I have made these dumplings twice (twice!) this week, because they are delicious and I have been lucky enough to have friends who volunteered to help me. And while I don’t think we mastered the rapid assembly of the Singaporean women, the extra time only proffered us extra conversation. A lucky thing too, because as soon as we pulled the little dumplings out of water, as the salty sweet pork and chives melted into our mouths through the soft casing, all talking stopped.
 Pork Dumplings
Adapted from the amazing Andrea Reusing from Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill
*Note- I doubled the recipe because most dumpling wrappers come in sets of 50, and if you are going to make 30 you may as well make 50. They disappear quickly.

1 pound fatty ground pork

1 tablespoon rice wine

1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon May Puoy chili sauce

1 tbs  finely grated peeled ginger

1 teaspoon rice vinegar (not seasoned)

4 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon kosher salt

large pinch pepper

6 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro*

6 tablespoons finely chopped flowering chives, flat Chinese chives (garlic chives), or scallions

50 round dumpling wrappers (preferably with egg)

*The original recipe called for just cilantro stems but I went ahead and chopped up the leaves as well.

Place pork in a metal bowl. Combine all ingredients (except pork cilantro , chives, and wrappers) in a small bowl, stir. Pour over pork, and mix well. Then stir in cilantro and chives.

Place a slightly rounded teaspoon of filling in center of a wrapper and moisten area around filling with water. Fold in half to form a crescent and press the top to seal. Pleat the edges by folding the right side of the wrapper toward the center and press to seal.

Cook dumplings in a large pot of gently simmering water until pork is just cooked, about 3 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a platter.




Moon pies and other luminaries

July 15, 2013 § Leave a comment


I always loved the name. A moon pie sounds beautiful, like something they might eat in Narnia or in Cosmicomics. And if the moon were edible, why it seems more fitting for such a soft white thing to be a pie than a round of cheese.

I always loved the name but I never loved the dessert: oversweet sponge between flavorless crumbs dipped in wax chocolate. When I graduated from college, however, my friend Evangeline made moon pies. And because Evangeline makes everything lovely, she transformed the waxy little circles into something that actually is luminous.

These are essentially oatmeal-pecan cookie sandwiches, sealed together with marshmallow crème and drizzled with melted dark chocolate. They were delicious studded with cherries, but the second time we made them we had to do without and there weren’t any complaints.


The original recipe is here.


1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup dried tart cherries, chopped (we did without these but they would only improve)
1 cup pecans, chopped
3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (4 ounces), chopped into chocolate chip-size chunks
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 jar marshmallow creme

Chocolate Dipping Sauce

3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (2 1/2 ounces), chopped
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup heavy cream


  Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Combine oats, cherries, pecans, and chocolate in a large bowl.
  Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in another large bowl, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat to blend. Scrape down sides of bowl. With machine running at low speed, gradually add flour mixture; beat just to blend.    Stir in oat mixture with a wooden spoon just to blend.
  Scoop out about a tablespoon for each cookie—we had about 40 in a batch. Press down a bit to flatten them because they don’t spread that much.
   Bake cookies for 12 minutes. Rotate sheets front to back and top to bottom; continue baking until cookies are golden brown and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will appear underdone and shiny in centers),. The original recipe says to bake longer but ours were done in 12.
  Spread 1 Tbsp. marshmallow creme on bottom of half of cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies.
If necessary, flash freeze the cookies that are oozing melty marshmallow crème. I

Chocolate Dipping Sauce

  • Place chocolate and honey in a medium bowl. Bring cream just to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour over chocolate and honey; let stand for 1 minute; stir until melted and smooth. Drizzle over cookies. 

Ordinary Celebrations

July 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

It’s been awhile since I’ve written, and I don’t know how to summarize or touch on all that has passed between posts, so I won’t. I’ll jump to the brightest landmark of the weeks—the 4th.
When I was young we went every year to a neighborhood barbecue at a friend’s house, complete with baked beans and burgers and bare feet. But (and I don’t know how, exactly) over the past years I haven’t been able to go, leaving me somewhat traditionless when it comes to one of the most traditional holidays.
4 years ago, I spent the 4th at a professor’s house in Thailand—watching Venus and Serena, eating pizza and doughnuts and singing in the streets. 3 years ago I spent it with my brother and his best friend and a pie on top of our roof, just the 3 of us and the remnants of a pie I baked for a party I was too shy to attend. 2 years ago I was eating those shelled ice cream bars in front of Shakespeare and Co in Paris with Lauren and Sara, listening to bluegrass busking and laughing at the serendipity. Last year I was in Mississippi with my favorite teachers on a well-earned day off–resting my myopic eyes on the big Southern sky alight.
Maybe it’s a sign of privilege or maybe of youth: each year varying so much from the last. This year I spent the 4th with most all of my friends at my home, having my own version of the American backyard barbecue. And while it seems a much more ordinary thing to do, to me it was the most extraordinary of all my summer 4ths because even with torrents of rain all over the state, the people I love most managed to make it to my kitchen. And the rain stopped just long enough to let us shoot off fireworks, picking up again halfway through Ray Charles’ “America the Beautiful” for a little accompaniment to the slow swaying. Nothing beats that, nothing.
Following is a recipe for lemon-blueberry jam cookies that Emmett and I made in anticipation of our friends visiting (and with a bounty of you-pick blueberries that we didn’t wish to waste). The cookies start out crisp like shortbread but soften after a day. We made them for those trickling in, and put out the rest at the actual party: they were delicious.

(A more formal red white and blue)IMG_0496

Lemon Blueberry Jam Cookies
from Bon Appetit
2 cups fresh blueberries (12 ounces)
2 tablespoons powdered fruit pectin
1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons finely grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour

For jam:
Combine blueberries, fruit pectin, and butter in large nonstick skillet. Stir constantly over medium-high heat until mixture boils. Add sugar and return to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until mixture is reduced to 1 1/3 cups, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer mixture to small glass bowl; cover and chill until jam is cold, at least 6 hours (jam will thicken slightly while chilling).
For cookies:
Using electric mixer, beat butter, 1 cup sugar, lemon peel, and salt in large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add yolks and beat until blended. Add flour in 2 additions, beating just until blended after each addition. Gather dough together; divide in half. Place 1 dough half on sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper. Form dough into 1 1/2-inch-wide square or round log; smooth with dampened fingers. Wrap log in waxed paper. Repeat with second dough half. Chill dough until firm, at least 4 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with silicone baking mats, smooth side up, or parchment paper. Cut dough logs into scant 1/4-inch-thick squares or rounds. Arrange on prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Sprinkle half of dough squares or rounds generously with raw sugar (leave remaining plain).
Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until edges are light golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer cookies to rack and cool completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
Just before serving, spread 1 generous teaspoon jam over bottom (flat side) of each plain (not sugared) cookie. Top each with sugared cookie, sugared side up, and serve.

The Northern Campaign

June 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

ImageBred in the South and having fallen in love with my state and my region with its wild complexity, I am often compelled to defend it from slights of all kinds. The evangelist in me recites statistics on diversity, the origins of popular American music, famous writings—trying to round out the perceptions of those who may not have seen (or tasted!) the wealth of the south amidst the sometimes more obvious fool’s gold. I can recall and applaud the good in other places, but I have a convicted faith in my own.

 For the past week I have been traveling on what my friends refer to as “The Northern Campaign.” An effort to win me over to the ways of the north with a trek through some of the most beautiful and delicious places above the Mason Dixon line: Boston, Cape Cod, Newport, West Hartford, New York City.  

 My northern friends have met me in each place and have proffered nothing less than kindness, frequently in food form.  On my night in New York, the owners of a little bakery called “Bee’s Knees” gave my friend and me four cups of homemade cakes out of pure sweetness; later a bartender poured me a fancy whiskey for the poor man’s price, and a nice boy bought me a 1.00 slice of pizza on the walk home (at the time I swore it the best pizza of my life!).

 So maybe for this week at least, and the upcoming one where we as a nation celebrate, I will loosen lines and stretch borders and be thankful for all of America and its riches (and the crown jewel, of course, Carolina).  There’s no place like home.

Pilar at the Danish Pastry House outside BostonImageEmmett and his yogurt on the cliffwalkImagePhil and his bagel in NYImage


June 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

When poor wandering students happened upon our kitchen, staring wide-eyed at whatever mountain my mom expected them to eat, my dad would share his favorite anecdote of how he lived through college. Every night I would come home, survey my pantry, and choose what I would make for dinner. I’d ask myself, what will it be tonight? Pasta with red sauce or pasta with white sauce? He’d give a signature loud inhaling laugh and then reach over and add another slice of bread to their plate.


And beyond the clear family trait of forcing food on unsuspecting friends, a moment like that yields a major truth about my dad: he shares. He shares his food and his stories, engaging others in his interests and partaking in theirs. My whole life, he’d stop what he was doing to teach me how or why he was doing it; he’d sit with my friends for hours and wonder with them about justice and grace and mercy.

This weekend we ate a meal in honor of my father’s father, Granddad. It was beautiful– definitely an upgrade from pasta with red/white sauce.  Before blessing the food, my father reached over and put another piece of bread on my plate. And I gave thanks.



We made a cherry pie with a lattice crust, my grandfather’s favorite pie. Because cherries are not yet in season, my mother and I found a jar of homemade sour cherry-almond pie filling at the farmer’s market, so unfortunately I don’t have the recipe for the filling to pass on to you. We made the crust from scratch, however, from one from our favorite strawberry-rhubarb recipes. It is the best crust for a fruit pie I’ve ever eaten. It helps if you freeze the shortening ahead of time, and pinch the dough together instead of stirring or kneading. Otherwise you may overwork it. 

Fruit Pie Crust

heavily adapted from Bon Appetit 

For crust

3 cups all purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup frozen solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces

8 tablespoons (about) ice water

1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)

Make crust:
Combine flour, sugar and salt in large bowl. Using 2 forks or a pastry cutter, cut in shortening and butter until coarse meal forms (be okay with chunks of butter and shortening. It is better to underwork than overwork). Spoon in enough ice water 2 tablespoons at a time to form moist clumps, turning dough with your fingers to distribute eavenly. Pinch dough into ball; cut in half. Flatten each half into disk. Wrap separately in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling.)

Roll out 1 dough disk on floured work surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Trim excess dough, leaving 3/4-inch overhang.

Roll out second dough disk on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Cut into fourteen 1/2-inch-wide strips. Spoon filling into crust. Arrange 7 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly. Form lattice by weaving remaining dough strips in opposite direction atop filling. Trim ends of dough strips even with overhang of bottom crust. Fold strip ends and overhang under, pressing to seal. Crimp edges decoratively.

Brush glaze over crust. transfer pie to baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake pie until golden and filling thickens, about 1 hour 25 minutes (time will vary depending on filling). Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.

Kitchen Music

June 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Mama and I have our own kitchen music—a capella versions of the Beach Boys (you know, the versions without the harmonies) syncopated by chopping knives and accompanied by instrumental humming as we sample from each other’s  pilings. When the mood strikes us, we may change it to Dolly or Tammy or Patsy in allegiance with all women everywhere, but mostly we sing the Beach Boys because the Beach Boys make happy music. And in the kitchen we are happy.


The recipe below we made for a wedding shower for a coworker. Instead of making perfect cubes, I just quartered each potato lengthwise and cut into 1nch pieces. The sweet potato sweetens in the oven and softens the bite of the spicy andouille sausage. I suppose you could use any smoked sausage, but the hotness plays well with the cool citrus mayonnaise. We served the squares at room temperature


Sweet Potato “Squares” with Sausage and Lemon-Garlic Mayonnaise

Adapted from Southern Living.
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch “cubes”
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 oz. smocked andouille sausage
32 wooden picks
fresh thyme sprigs
Lemon-Garlic Mayonnaise

1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

For cubes:

1. Preheat oven to 450°. Place sweet potato cubes on a foil-lined baking or jelly-roll pan. Drizzle potatoes with 2 Tbsp. oil, and sprinkle with pepper and salt. Toss to coat.

2. Bake at 450° for 15 to 20 minutes, turning cubes twice.

3. Cook sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until browned. Drain on paper towels.

4. Place 1 sausage slice on top of 1 sweet potato cube; secure with a wooden pick. Repeat with remaining sausage slices and potato cubes. Serve with Lemon-Garlic Mayonnaise. Garnish with thyme.

For Mayonnaise:

1. Stir together all ingredients. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 7 days.


June 9, 2013 § Leave a comment


When I was very young, I found underneath our banana yellow slide a nest of baby mice-who-were-actually-bunnies.  My favorite book at the time was Pam eats Jam in which 2 mice (Pam and Sam) eat tasty rhyming things (namely ham and jam), and in my rudimentary classification of animal species, small grey creatures were obviously jam-eating mice. Image

My dad said not to touch them because sometimes mothers disown their young just because the unfamiliar scent confuses and frightens them; because sometimes we can’t take things back after we’ve done them; because they were babies and babies need their rest.

But how do you tell a girl who has discovered the best thing in the world (because, what is better to a 4 year oldthan a baby bunny? Or, for that matter, to a 23 year old?) not to intrude its world? Heedless I dragged out my entire household to see my mice-bunnies. And somehow the nest of mice-bunnies may or may not have been ransacked. As they scattered across the yard into cover, we caught one who became ours for a day—the best day. Douglass the bunny and Sarah the bunny captor.Image

While I don’t exactly feel awful about casually destroying the bunnies’ nest, I do worry if in some way, calling attention to those secret, private joys and revelations might transform them to spectacle. Or worse, into some precious didactic example. It’s a sticky wicket, the line between public and private life.

At any rate, I offer to you a poem and a cake, things that are undeniably best shared.

Tres Leches Cake from The Pioneer Woman