So, I did a thing. I had one of those serendipitous moments in the kitchen recently that may very well change my life and lead me down a road of bromelain-fueled alcoholism. I accidentally created a cocktail so good that I cried a little. My husband took a sip and fell a little more deeply in love with me. Time and space were still for a single, fleeting moment when that first taste passed my lips.
I think I saw God. And I’m not even religious.
I mean, I don’t want to oversell it here, but it was damn good.
A couple of months ago, I took a wee momcation to Honolulu and made an impulse purchase in one of the ubiquitous ABC Stores. It was a sampler pack of Koloa rums, made in Lihue on the island of Kauai. The rums came home with me and were innocently sitting on the counter as I made a Grilled Pineapple Creme Brûlée. I had grilled and pureed a pineapple, and was straining out the excess juice when inspiration struck.
Hrmm..I wonder what that tastes like. Let’s try it.
That. Juice. Was. Delicious.
The hubs and I quickly agreed that it would be even better with a spirited boost. First, we tried Malibu Rum. No offense Malibu, but the smoky char on the pineapple only enhanced your suntan oil aroma. Next we tried Koloa’s white rum. Better, but something was missing. Their coconut rum was next up to bat and it hit it out of the park and then some. It has a fresh, clean coconut flavor and is the perfect mate for our caramelized pineapple juice!
Sorry, we drank it too fast to take more than the one quick photo above. Because we’re true professionals here, we’ll be sure to test this cocktail again, and again…and again..
I’m too busy licking the ramekin clean to write much here. Inspired again by our Grilled Pineapple Curd, we tried our hand at make creme brûlée.
It is worth it. Trust me. Make them ahead to serve at your next dinner party, and I promise that your friends will be raving about you for weeks (after cursing your name at the gym, that is..).
I’m going to let you in on a little secret used by pro bakers everywhere: Perfect Pan Release! It’s
super complicated easy, a real splurge inexpensive, and very hard to find I bet you already have all of the ingredients in your pantry.
Are you ready? Maybe you should print this page to reference again and again through this complex process. (Not!) Ok. Here we go.
Mix until smooth equal parts of the following:
Aaaaand that’s it! Boom. You’re done. Just paint it on your cake pans and pie tins prior to use (or better yet, ask a kid to do it!), and that’s it!
Use a neutral oil that is liquid at room temperature. I’m currently using avocado oil because that’s all that I had the day I mixed my current batch (and it’s my favorite!). It works very nicely, but a smarter baker will use a cheaper oil. Sunflower, safflower, canola, vegetable oil blend, anything that won’t flavor your baked goods is just fine.
I’ve made this using the old standby Crisco. It works beautifully in the pan release, but I’m not thrilled with it. Full of trans fats and soybeans, I don’t really enjoy having it in my pantry, even if it helps my grain free beignets rock! I’ll soon be trying that recipe with good old fashioned lard, and this one with coconut oil. Keep an eye out for updates!
You can really make the pan release with only oil and flour, but beware that it won’t paint on as well, and may drip and leave portions of your pan without good coverage.
That is the (very good) question! Many baking recipes call for greasing the pan and applying a coat of flour. Bakers do this to prevent whatever you’ve greased the pan with from baking into your creation, and to keep the lubricant on the pan to do its job. I usually skip it though when using the pan release. The flour is already in the goop, for one thing. For another, in all the baking I’ve done with it, I’ve never needed it. Even cakes baked in intricate bundt pans slip right out with ease.
But there is an exception:
If you’ve baked a chocolate cake, you should consider dusting your greased pan with cocoa powder to prevent white residue from sticking. Case in point: the Espresso Pomegranate Fudge Cake that the kids and I made for my birthday. We forgot this step, and you can see some white goop on the sides. (FYI, she wasn’t a beauty queen. No one cared, and the cake was still fab!)
Since we have a whoooole lotta bakin’ going on, I make it with a cup of each ingredient. Occasional bakers should reduce to 1/4c or 1/2c. Perfect Pan Release will keep just fine in a pantry for a couple of months. I keep mine in the fridge in an air-tight container, and have used it for up to 6 months with no problems. Just zap it in a microwave for a few seconds or give it a few good, hearty stirs to loosen it up, and you’re all set!
Happy non-stick baking!
This grilled pineapple curd is truly one of my favorite things! Grilling caramelizes the sugars in the pineapple to create a deeper, less cloying flavor. It’s versatile and can be used in a wide array of dishes. It really looks and tastes like island sunshine in a jar: the perfect pick-me-up in the middle of a brutal winter!
To explain my deep affection for pineapple, I have to take you back to Krabi, Thailand in February 2004. Like the rest of the world, I was shocked by the news coming out of Indonesia, Thailand, and nearby coastal regions. A massive tsunami had struck in the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas. The stories that the survivors told were terrifying, and I wanted to help.
I dug deeper and learned more, and stumbled upon a website that listed the condition of every affected beach in Thailand, from north to south. Most were decimated. But one stretch reportedly had little damage and hotels that were still open. There was discussion in the news about the economic impact the tsunami would have on the region. The coastal regions are highly dependent on tourism, and that revenue contributes about 20% of the country’s GDP. After all of the loss of life and property damage, the subsequent lack of tourists would be insult to injury. I happened to have a couple of weeks of vacation in February, and decided that if they were ready for tourists, I was happy to go be one!
There are conversations in the travel industry about “disaster tourism”, and I believe there are right and wrong ways to go about doing it. Showing up, giving people jobs, and contributing to the local economy is a needed and often appreciated thing. But timing is critical, and intent is everything. Arriving before a destination is capable of handling visitors isn’t only rude, it’s potentially dangerous. Contribute where you can without getting in the way, and be respectful and mindful of the fact that the locals have just been through a traumatic experience.
Once I had settled on a hotel on Ao Nang Beach, I called and asked if they and the town were ready for guests. The answer was a resounding yes, and it became one of the most gratifying and rewarding travel experiences of my life. Thai people are notoriously nice and kind, but it seemed that there was another layer to it during this trip. The camaraderie was different, sweeter, with both the locals and our (few) fellow travelers. Many were eager to tell their stories and share the photos of the immediate aftermath, and they often thanked us for being there.
The only goals of my trip were to eat a lot of delicious food and get a Thai massage every day that I was in the country. The massage hut right on the beach made that delightfully easy to achieve! After every one, I’d buy the most succulent, perfectly ripe pineapple wedge on its own stick from carts on the beach. I marveled at the way the sellers deftly cut the pineapple – I’d never seen it done like that before. It was perfection! My recollection may be influenced by the post-massage haze, but I don’t think I’ve ever had better pineapple in my life. Those sweet people expertly slicing that sweetest pineapple on the beach are among my most vivid and favorite memories of that journey.
I think of Krabi and Ao Nang beach every time I bite into one now. Most of us live far away from pineapple growing territory though, and finding a perfectly ripe specimen can be a bit of a challenge. How do you pick a good one? Look for a pineapple that is:
Making the curd is very simple! Begin by chopping up a small to medium pineapple. Pro tip: don’t cut out the core! Pineapple is the only natural source of the powerhouse anti-inflammatory enzyme bromelain, and the highest concentration is in the core. It’s usually a bit tough to eat whole but it purees beautifully, especially after being softened on the grill!
Grill it up, and try not to eat half of your pieces. Remove them from the grill to a high powered blender and puree. Don’t be shy, puree the heck out of that baby! You’ll want as smooth a consistency as possible for the curd.
Strain out any excess juice (don’t throw it out!), and place in a small sauce pan with all of the ingredients except the butter. Whisk the mixture constantly over medium heat until thickened, typically just as it begins to bubble a bit. When it coats the back of a wooden spoon without running, it’s perfect. Add more cornstarch, a tablespoon at a time, if it’s still too liquid once it’s reached a very low simmer.
Remove from the heat, gently whisk in the butter, and your jar of sunshine is finished! Use it as a spread on toast, biscuits, and scones! Add it to yogurt and granola for a tropical parfait! Use it as a dip on a fruit platter! Make my amazing Coconut Grilled Pineapple Ripple! Get it a little sauced with our Coconut Macadamia Nut Rum Cake! Wow that special someone (or indulge and keep it all to yourself!) with my decadent Grilled Pineapple Creme Brûlée! Create something completely new (and share with the rest of the class, please!). Or dig in with a spoon. It’s just that good.
สวัสดีค่ะ * Sawatdee Ka!
Inspired by the coconut rum I picked up in Honolulu, this delicious cake combines many flavors of the Hawaiian islands. It’s like a luau in your mouth!
This cake began with an impulse buy. I was momcationing in Honolulu, and popped into one of those ubiquitous ABC Stores. The ABC Stores are absolutely over priced on some items, but absolutely convenient: They have EVERYTHING and they are EVERYWHERE. I was on the hunt for a particular nut butter that I had purchased there on a previous trip: macadamia nut honey coconut peanut butter. It sounds like a mouthful, and that’s fitting because I just want to eat it by the spoonful. It’s so perfect on top of my favorite buckwheat waffles that I almost don’t want to make them without this nut butter.
I scoured every ABC Store in Waikiki and didn’t find it, but the sampler pack of Koloa rums did catch my eye. On tasting them with my husband after returning home, we were particularly taken with their coconut rum. It’s amazing in a cocktail, but this rum begged for something a little more special. Remembering the rum cakes that my aunt made years ago, that us kids were never allowed to taste, I wondered how a coconut version might fare. Perfectly, it turns out!
We begin by making a grilled pineapple curd for the cake’s filling. You can make the rum cake without it, but you’d be missing out. The mellowed pineapple layer of flavor really takes this cake to the next level!
Next up to bat is the batter, and we start with flour. You may use traditional all purpose flour, or any gluten free all purpose flour. I’ve made it several times now using a variety of ready-made gf flour blends. They’ve all turned out really well, but my favorite for texture and flavor is Cup 4 Cup’s Multipurpose Flour. It’s so good that your celiac friends just might corner you to verify that it is truly gluten free!
Whatever gf flour you use, when baking you need to look at one thing in particular: xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is essentially a gluten substitute. Some all purpose gluten free flours already contain it, and some don’t. If your gf flour does not, you’ll need to add it or one of the other gluten stand-ins!
Gluten is the “glue” that holds everything together in baking. When gasses bubble up as our baked goods cook, gluten provides the structure and elasticity to allow dough and batter to stretch and rise and contain those gasses. Without it, our breads and cakes become a flat, crumbly mess. We need to replace that gluten with something else in gluten free baking. Xanthan gum is the most common gluten substitute because it most closely approximates the results we get with gluten, but there are other options: guar gum, psyllium fiber, agar agar, and more. We’ll explore this more in a future post, but for now, the general rule is to add around 1/2 tsp xanthan gum per cup of gf flour for cookies and cakes, and 1 tsp per cup of flour for breads.
The next addition to your mixing bowl is 1 cup of coconut flour. It has a delightful flavor, and definitely adds a pleasant texture and chew to baked goods. Being high in fiber and protein, we can almost pretend for a hot minute that this cake does something good for us, too! For a grain-free alternative, you can absolutely skip the all purpose flour altogether and make this with 2 cups of coconut flour. It comes out a bit more dense, a lot more filling, and extremely satisfying. Usually, you would need to add more liquid ingredients when baking with coconut flour as it is surprisingly absorbent, but that isn’t a problem with this extremely moist cake! Make it as-is or add more of the rum syrup at the end to achieve that glistening, saturated goodness typical of rum cakes, whichever you prefer!
With your flours, sugar, pudding mix, baking powder, and salt in the mixing bowl, it’s time to add your room temperature butter and vegetable oil. I have a confession to make here. I’m a butter snob, and unapologetically so. Given the access and the funds, I will splurge on cultured European butter for baking every time – especially in a cake as rich as this one. Cultured butter has been treated with bacterial cultures, much like yogurt, and this adds flavor. European butter has a higher butterfat content than most American butters, and makes for richer dishes. I challenge anyone who thinks this is silly to bake two batches of your favorite cookies: one with a standard butter, and one with the best stuff you can find (which may be in the artisan cheese section of your grocery store). Gather your friends and family for a taste test, and I promise you’ll all be infected with buttersnobitis, too! Once afflicted, Kerrygold and Lurpak are both outstanding, and easy enough on the wallet for every-day meals. When you want to bang on the big drum, try Échiré, the butter with a cult following.
Mix on medium speed until you have a sandy consistency, then add your room temperature milk, still mixing. Add your room temperature eggs one at a time. Pause the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix again until well combined.
Let’s pause our discussion here too, and talk about why we want room temperature ingredients when baking. Simply put, cold ingredients won’t incorporate as evenly as they would at room temp, leading to clumpy batters with less air whipped into it, and a less fluffy cake. If you’re deep into your recipe and realize that you forgot to take something out of the fridge ahead of time, we have some easy fixes.
Now it’s time to add your coconut rum and vanilla or coconut extract, and you have some choices to make. I’ve made this cake with Malibu Rum and Koloa Coconut Rum. Malibu made it sweeter, and Koloa had a more crisp and fresh coconut flavor. The Koloa was definitely also more potent, with 40% alcohol by volume compared to Malibu’s 21%. Both versions were fantastic! There are many other coconut rums out there on the market, and we’d love to hear what you used and how it turned out! Drop us a line or feel free to leave a comment below!
I prefer using vanilla extract here when I’m going for a smoother, richer overall cake, or coconut extract when I really want to highlight that flavor. The choice is yours, and you can’t go wrong either way!
Take a minute to paint some Perfect Pan Release into every nook and cranny of your favorite bundt pan. This stuff is the bomb! It’s a baker’s secret weapon and virtually guarantees a perfect bundt cake every time.
Now divide your batter, and add the chopped macadamia nuts to one half. Place the nutty half of the batter in the bottom of the bundt pan, and spoon the grilled pineapple curd into the middle of the batter, all the way around the pan. Pour the rest of the batter into the bundt pan, atop the filling, and bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes.
When finished and while cooling, make the rum syrup. Combine the butter, water, sugar, salt, and rum to a small sauce pan, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 5-10 minutes to thicken, adding the vanilla extract at the end. Using a skewer, poke holes down through your cake, all the way around. Pour the rum sauce a bit at a time all over the cake, using it all. Cover and let sit overnight.
Now for the moment of truth: getting this sticky cake out of the pan in one beautiful piece. Start by filling your sink or large basin with an inch or three of very hot water. Sit your bundt pan in the hot water for a couple of minutes to loosen up the sticky rum sauce. Remove from the sink, place an upside-down cake stand or plate over the opening of the bundt pan, and carefully invert. If you’ve used the homemade pan release, it should loosen quickly and easily. I’ve made dozens of bundt cakes using the pan release, and it’s been perfect every time! If it doesn’t let go, let it sit for a bit or give it some light taps all around. For a stubborn cake, carefully turn it over again and repeat the hot water trick or warm for 10 minutes in a 350°F oven and try again.
Your cake is ready to serve! Turn up the tunes, kick back with some strong Kona coffee, and get your Hawaiian vibes flowing! Enjoy!
Leftovers Musubi is a lunch box favorite around our house, and not just because they’re tasty and filling! They can be made in a snap by both kids and adults, and they USE. UP. THE. LEFTOVERS. Win-win-triple win!
Whether you call it onigiri (in Japan) or musubi (in Hawaii), one thing is clear: it’s delicious. The compact rice balls are readily available at nearly any corner market or convenience store in both locales, with various options on the filling and typically covered in nori (dried seaweed). Salmon, pickled plum, smoked tuna, and kelp are common inclusions, and Hawaiians have put their own spin on it with the ever-popular Spam musubi. Yep, you read correctly: SPAM! Hawaii’s love affair with Spam bloomed during the second World War, and has spawned a number of dishes. From the ubiquitous gas station Spam musubi to high end fare from award winning chefs, it’s everywhere and available at every meal. Have a little Spam and eggs for breakfast, Spam fried rice for lunch, and Spam loco moco, a local favorite, for dinner.
If you aren’t Spam-ed out, head to the annual Waikiki Spam Jam! I noshed on a little Spam sushi on a recent trip to Waikiki, and I’ll admit that it is actually pretty tasty despite being the butt of many jokes during my childhood!
I don’t often have Spam at home, but we do have sticky rice with dinner about once a week. My kids love it, partly because they know that sticky rice for dinner = Leftovers Musubi in their lunches the next day! Whether left plain or filled with a bit of leftover veg or protein from dinner, they’re easy enough to throw together while cleaning up after a meal. They travel beautifully, too. Leftovers Musubi is the perfect snack to take along wherever you’re going!
The Table For Six family enjoyed some delicious baked salmon with sticky rice last night, served with sauteed bok choy and our zingy watercress cream sauce. Follow along as I put our leftovers to use AND make tomorrow’s lunch box snack in just a couple of minutes!
Smash and compact the rice into whatever you’re using as a mold. Deep cookie cutters and biscuit cutters work well, or you can use your hands to press the rice into the traditional triangle shape. I use a broad, flat spatula, my hands, or the back of a spoon. Dip whatever tool you’re using in salty water to keep it from sticking.
Press a divot into the center.
Add a surprise in the middle! We’re using our leftover salmon.
Smoosh and smash more rice on top until it’s smooshed and smashed together.
Press it out of the mold, and you’re done!
Now that you have the basics, you can get a little creative. Roll your musubi in black sesame seeds. Cut some cute shapes out of a nori sheet and “glue” them on with salty water. Or go next-level and delight your kids with these adorable onigiri molds and special nori cutting tools.
甘い * Umai! * It’s delicious!
Watercress cream sauce is an easy addition to nearly any grilled or baked fish or meat for a quick but tasty meal.
Watercress is a relative of horseradish, and has a similar peppery flavor that may surprise you. It’s no slouch in the nutrition department either. In fact, on the Centers for Disease Control’s list of Powerhouse Fruit and Vegetables, watercress takes the number one spot!
This is a super easy and quick sauce for an easy and quick week-night meal. Just throw everything in your blender, whizz it up, and YOU’RE DONE. Minimal prep – wash the greens and peel a few garlic cloves. No cooking. Easy clean-up. Your boring Wednesday night chicken just got a big burst of flavor, and everyone gets a dose of greens and real food!
Make it even easier: make a double batch and freeze a few in portions. Cream sauces tend not to freeze well and can separate after thawing, but this one has always survived the deep freeze for me! Give it a whirl and let us know how it worked for you!
I’m going to rehab. Mommy rehab, that is.
My husband’s work schedule will become very unpredictable next month, and remain that way for the foreseeable future. The pressure is on to take that mama getaway I’ve been fantasizing about. We’ve been talking about it for over a year, and I have needed it – but there’s always something in the way. I pretend it’s an event on the calendar that I don’t want to miss or some expense that calls more loudly for the money I’d spend. In reality it’s just that parental guilt saying stay, keep plugging away at the day to day. Be there. Always.
The problem is that my ability to keep plugging away is slipping. I’m tired. I’m irritable and easily agitated. The house is a mess, the kids are spending too much time on their devices, and even with a very hands-on spouse, I am barely managing the mundane chores of life in a full house. I know I need a reset, and yet, I hesitate. Is this what Stockholm Syndrome is like? I’m finding it difficult to break free of my captors. I really just want to be here and make them dinner and clean up the legos (but cheerfully so, while reasonably rested, and with just a hint of a tan!). Despite an avalanche of memes reminding me that mothering is “the most important job in the world” and a to-do list longer than I care to recite, I’m bored. No, bored isn’t the right word. I’m dulled, unmotivated, and approaching burnout.
“Burnout Syndrome” describes a state of physical and/or emotional exhaustion, detachment, and a feeling of inefficacy or lack of accomplishment. It’s been studied in parents and in occupational settings, and has been proposed for consideration as a distinct and defined illness in itself. In other words, it’s a real thing with real consequences. As parents, we know that it’s our job to look out for the well being of our kids and it’s all too easy to put our own needs on the back burner. But our well being affects our kids deeply, and they benefit when we are healthy, happy, and high functioning. Taking care of ourselves IS taking care of our kids, so it’s time to put that mama guilt aside and go for it.
We (barely) manage to squeeze a block of days into the bulging calendar where I can be officially off the clock, and I sit down to figure out what I want to do. As we’re thick in the throes of a particularly cold and snowy Wisconsin winter, warm beach wins.
I don’t need much: a decent place to stay with a kitchen, warm, near a beach, no rental car needed. An inexpensive Airbnb studio in the heart of Waikiki, within spitting distance of a grocery store and a block from the beach fits the bill. It’s just across the street from the hotel we used to layover at during my flying days, a neighborhood where I’ve spent time more than once. I book it, and now it’s real!
It takes me a good day and a half to come down from that always-on caregiver high. I was fidgety (but well-fed!) on the flight over, and kept myself busy on the first full day. It’s hard to be still when most of your time is spent in perpetual motion. That’s the purpose of the trip, to slow down and unwind. I feel tense and awkward walking around without small hands to hold, with no little people to help navigate the streets as I cross them. Finding no stray children who need mothering, I press on until it feels normal again.
I imagine that most folks visiting Honolulu might prefer to do little more than indulge in a lot of beach time and mai tais, but I figured I could manage to put that off for a couple of hours. The hubs had given me a gorgeous ukulele for Christmas and I was eager to learn more about the instrument and do something a bit off the beaten path. The folks at KoAloha were really wonderful, and clearly passionate about what they do. Our guide Lloyd walked us through the entire process that takes their raw planks of naturally-felled koa acacia and turns them into beautiful ukuleles.
Luckily for us, it was a teacher inservice day in the local schools, and this meant that Lloyd’s daughter Kennedy was hanging around the shop. A budding young musician, she treated us to a lovely impromptu performance with a clear, soaring voice and beautiful uke playing – even with a splinted finger! Meeting Alvin Okami was another bonus. He’s the creator of KoAloha, the “Picasso” behind their spectacular custom ukuleles, and a warm and engaging musician as well. By the time my group was finished, we knew that the sign hanging over the door wasn’t lip service. They are a family, ohana, and they made us feel like a welcomed part of it.
Back in my little apartment, I spend some time on the balcony with my ukulele, pretending that my view of a dodgy alley is a little more inspirational. My place is kind of a dump to be honest, but this week it’s my dump, and it’s quiet. Ish. If you’ve never been to Honolulu, know that it isn’t the idyllic natural setting that thoughts of Hawaii often conjure. It’s an urban city with a great beach, wonderful local flavor, and a lot of tourists. I like Honolulu quite a lot, but FYI, it’s not the spot for your Moana-inspired dream vacation.
Day 2 finds me at Duke’s for lunch and an obligatory mai tai (or two). Duke’s Waikiki, named for this handsome guy, is an institution, and I can’t be here without stopping by for at least a cocktail (or three). There is always a lot of camaraderie at the bar, and the conversation flows as easily as the booze. Uninterrupted adult conversation is a luxury in my life, and I drink it up. I meet a lot of couples, extended families vacationing together, and men, but I see no women alone and ask the bartender about this. He’s been slinging drinks here long enough to know his clientele. Except for women here on work trips, it’s not terribly often that he meets women traveling alone, just for fun. I order another mai tai and think about this. I really learned how to confidently travel solo when I was a flight attendant. Long layovers are often parties or group sight seeing adventures, with a few crew members meeting up to do the big stuff. Other times you’re on your own to explore, and I did a lot of that, wanting never to take for granted the gift of being in interesting places. I love taking trips with friends, with my husband, with my kids – but I’m a person that needs quiet time with myself too, and I love wandering in new places with no one else’s agenda to manage but my own. By mai tai number 3, I thought about how enormously lucky I am to have a spouse who gets that and is nothing but supportive of it.
I leave Duke’s and make my way to the sand, and decide that it’s perfect napping weather. It is! I kick back and feel really and truly relaxed for the first time in some time. The knots in my muscles loosen up and my toes dig deep into the sand. My mind wanders back to the constant movement of motherhood and the energy required for it. I remember my fourth grade teacher telling us that energy is neither created nor destroyed. Where does it come from during those times when the well is dry? Where does it go when rest finally comes? After years with a spent well, I think I know. The body spends energy during rest and sleep repairing itself, righting the wrongs, patching the knees and darning the socks of the brain and other necessary parts. It feels as though I’ve been stuck in a loop of borrowing energy on credit from my rest and repair bank, like a payday loan customer who can’t quite get ahead and out of the cycle. That bank has been calling, and it’s time to pay up.
I’m 85% beneath an overpriced (but worth it) umbrella. My calves are hot and soaking up the UV, synthesizing some vitamin D. Seems like I can imagine that reaction happening if I tune out everything else and think about it. A light, pleasant buzz just below the surface. The rest of me is cool and shaded, and bathed in ocean breezes. I’m repaying my loan. Pennies at a time, but something is better than nothing, and pennies become dimes become dollars. Maybe the more I repay, the more work my rest and repair bank can do. I make a promise to invest more in self care and rest. I’ve made that promise before, though. It’s a tough one to keep.
I hear thunder in the distance, the bellowing of catamaran horns, tourist helicopters, and the staccato admonitions from the Japanese grandmother at the umbrella nearest mine to the right. Her pleadings are louder and more disruptive than the boys’ playing. I think about this often when I’m busy micromanaging my own kids. Who is more annoying to outsiders here, me or the kids? Often, I know it’s me, but in the moment it doesn’t matter. I’m parenting, doing something, in perpetual motion, as always. It’s probably better for all if I just stopped and let them be a little wild. An innocent and unfettered kid is the best kind of wild. It is comforting, though, to watch other mothers doing this, as I lie here motionless, melting into warm sand.
It’s a luxury now to let the mind wander without distraction, to let loose the stream of consciousness that has been stalled and stunted and interrupted. I feel at times closer to my death than my birth. I wonder if that’s just what happens as we age, the quiet anxiety that comes with being unwell for too long, or a true premonition. Hard to say, but the feeling is strong enough that as I lay here I wonder if my ashes should be scattered among delightful ocean breezes. Or perhaps deep in a mountain canyon, cool and green. Whiteoak Sink in the Smokies has just the right feel. Earthy. Dank and light simultaneously; a place heavy with decomposition, where the new green life and incredible wildflower show just outpaces it. Balanced. Grow from your past.
I should go on a hike tomorrow. Balance, balance, balance. Life balance. More nature. Less stress.
Morbid thoughts for a beach holiday, but fitting lately. We’ve had quite a season of loss…family members, friends, old teachers, acquaintances. Some passed suddenly or unexpectedly, and others were a long time coming. All have been tragic in their own way, and all with lessons and reminders to live well and take nothing for granted. I’d like to say when my time is up that I packed a lot of living into it, and this drives me to keep exploring.
I doze off, then am awakened by the swallowed laugh-snorting of the couple at the first umbrella to my left. They’ve got THAT giggle. You know the one. The giggle-snort that they think-hope is quiet, but they’re not really trying. It’s conspiratorial, but loudly so. It’s a snicker that is only produced by that substance that is illegal in Hawaii unless you have a medical card. They must have something edible. I contemplate befriending them when I hear him whisper-chortle-shout, “Do you want to go upstairs?”
They giggle-scurry off to their hotel room. I fall back asleep.
I wish to be lying here naked, with the hot sand and cool breeze doing some serious skin to skin. Listen to me…skin-to-skin, like I’m talking about babies or sex, intimacy. Skin-to-sand. Skin-to-air. Skin to anything that isn’t bundled up beneath multiple layers, bracing for the latest polar vortex back home. Skin exposed and warm. I miss this in winter. Maybe I should save my pennies for a sauna.
I wish this beach didn’t smell like fried chicken.
The grandma-obaasan next to me relaxed, and the kids soon followed. There are at least 200 people on this beach, but it’s very peaceful. We have a good thing going right now, and it feels like a cooperative effort. I’m smiling, and I’m pretty sure everyone else is too. I take a deep breath and exhale, melting a little more into the sand, into the sunset. Bank up, repair team. I need you.
It’s day 3, and I’ve found my groove. I sleep in as much as the jet lag allows, have a little breakfast, take a stroll to my favorite coffee shop in Hawaii, and head off for a long walk on the beach. I’m really feeling it now, at ease and more like my old self. Part of me feels obligated to go do all of the stuff. Hike up Diamond Head, take a surfing lesson, go whale watching…do something Hawaiian to make coming all the way out here more worthwhile. But I’ve done most of that on previous trips, and I’d rather go look for whales with the kids anyway. The kids who I miss, but I push those thoughts away. The “stuff” I came here to do was relax and be an independent adult sans dependents, so I decide that I’m doing just enough as is. I go for a swim (without lifeguarding my kids) and sit on the beach (not making sure they aren’t running off too far), watching the rest of the tourists learn how to standup paddleboard and maneuver outrigger canoes. I open the book I brought, and realize a half an hour later that I’m on the same page (but not because I was refereeing an argument or kissing a boo-boo or asked to make a lunch).
This is exactly what I need. Some enterprising woman really needs to open a mommy rehab center. It would be so easy. No activities. No phones. No jobs to do. Just sit in a beautiful place and smile and laugh and chit chat and do nothing until your internal battery is charged up.
The very best and worst parts of traveling alone are the same thing. You can do anything you want, whenever you want it. But what do you want to do, and when do you want to do it? That’s a dilemma when you’ve operated largely for other people’s needs for a decade. Having hit my limit in the sun, I wander the shops; another luxury. Try that with 4 little ones. I meander. I roam. It took me until the 3rd full day to feel really mellowed out. I could really use just one more whole day like this, but beggars can’t be choosers, and tomorrow I am making the long trek home. I stop myself before I mentally start going home a whole day early. It’s that Sunday afternoon dread before Monday morning work, and it does nothing but shorten the enjoyable part of your weekend.
I push that thought off and go in search of a different mai tai to compare, and the Beach Bar at the Moana Surfrider delivers. The setting and design are perfect late afternoon chill, with Jack Johnson-esque live music and a sea view beneath a banyan tree so impressive that it’s on Hawaii’s Rare and Exceptional Trees List. Their cocktails are as top-shelf as that old tree, as is the rest of this gorgeous Westin property. This was the first hotel built in Waikiki, and it’s old school-grand in all the best ways. I head to the beach for the last Honolulu sunset of the trip, and bid the Pacific aloha.
Something is different when I wake up on this last day. The movie soundtrack in my brain has changed, modulated, moved up tempo. I take this to mean that I’m ready to get back to my family. The Kona coffee is brewing as I set about to tidy up my little apartment. This place is far too small and dumpy for an orchestra pit, but somewhere there is a conductor watching me on stage. She’s directing the pitch and yaw of the music, tweaking it up a notch every time I complete some task that will lead me out the door and to the airport and back to frigid Wisconsin. My winter coat throws some side-eye my way from the chair I’d thrown it on 4 days ago, pockets stuffed with things never needed here. Hat, scarf, gloves. I finish the dishes and the violin bows a little faster. Pack my toiletries, phone charger in my backpack, sandals in a bag in my suitcase and the music shifts ever more. Before I know it I’m at the airport, through security, and ready. My bags are a little heavier, but I do feel lighter on my feet and inside my head – all signs of a successful rehab. My task now is to keep this going at home: make time regularly to recharge, be a little healthier, stay a little happier and lighter in my head, and infuse it all into my family.
I wish I could say my flight home was as enjoyable as the trip itself, but honestly it was possibly the least comfortable flight I’ve ever taken, and that includes the time I was working and an 80 year old man threw up on me. And not a little bit. But as I sit here in my middle coach seat between two men who must have been linebackers (hi guys!), I don’t mind. I’m content, soon to be hugging my kiddos, and I have a wee tan and a suitcase full of chocolate covered macadamia nuts to share with them. Happy mamas have happy babies, and that’s why we momcation. Mahalo!
If you’ve been to New Orleans as a gluten or grain-free person, or been with someone who is, you know that sad feeling in the pit of your stomach. You know that look. The one that says, “I really don’t crave gluten stuff anymore or…I thought I didn’t. I mean, I really don’t, but damn I really wish I could have a beignet!”
Well friends, guess what? YOU. CAN. TOTALLY. HAVE. A. BEIGNET!!
I was in New Orleans a few months ago, and the “gluten envy” hit me hard.
Gluten Envy is a distinct phase in the emotional process that one goes through when forced to make massive, sweeping changes to their diet. It lives well beyond the physical food cravings of the foods that you miss, but not yet past the resentment that can sneak up on you at a restaurant, party, or any outing where food is served. It’s that moment that you want more than two menu items available at a restaurant. When you don’t want to have to think twice about every single food. When not eating would seem rude to the host, but when asking to check ingredient labels in her pantry would be too. And of course, when you want to try all of the local food when you travel, especially when, pre-diet-change, you relished being that adventurous eater who would try anything, anywhere and any time.
Eventually we work our way beyond gluten envy, too, to a place where we are content and all of that is just a part of life. NBD. But every now and then, gluten envy launches a sneak attack. And so it was as we strolled past Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter. The aroma of chicory coffee, fried, yeasty pastry dough, and powdered sugar was a bit too much, and I vowed to perfect a gluten free beignet once I was back home. We took it a step further and made this beignet GRAIN FREE as well, and it’s so delicious that you won’t miss wheat flour for a second.
The heart of this beignet is cassava flour. Cassava flour is made by drying and grinding the root of the cassava plant (also known as manioc, yuca, tapioca, and others), and it’s rightly getting a lot of attention lately. Cassava flour is grain, gluten, and nut free, can be substituted 1:1 for conventional wheat flour in many recipes – and without any of the off-putting flavors that some “alternative” flours have (I’m looking at you, amaranth!). I did have to adjust the amount of cassava considerably from the recipe that I adapted, but this is to be expected with yeasted dough recipes.
After making the cassava dough, turn it out onto your counter and gently roll it out to about 1/4-1/2″ thickness. (No rolling pin? No problem! I use a tall, smooth beer glass!)
Add more cassava flour a bit at a time if it’s too sticky. Cut parallel lines through the dough, then again on the diagonal. Leave your dough to rise for 30-45 minutes.
Add about 2″ of oil to a deep pot suitable for frying (or use a deep fryer to your machine’s specs) and, using a thermometer, bring it up to about 365°F. Cafe Du Monde suggests cottonseed oil for authenticity. I’d like to try that one day, but today I’m using vegetable oil since I already had some in my pantry. Drop a few beignets in your oil and let it sizzle for 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook 2-4 minutes, until golden brown. Remove to a screen or a paper towel-lined plate, and douse generously with sifted powdered sugar.
Hey, hey now…it isn’t that kind of blog. What I mean is that the hubs and I had a quick three hours in New Orleans last week. Just the two of us. With ZERO children. This is forgotten territory for us, so we did what consenting adults do and promptly
found a secluded alley got wasted on hurricanes flashed for beads perused art galleries until we stumbled upon a lovely restaurant. I had the blackened fish and two glasses of chenin blanc, the latter of which is responsible for my forgetting the name of the place. I’m pretty sure all of this means that we are getting old maturing. Actually, I did pick up an allegedly Finnish rune from Marie Leveau’s House of Voodoo that promises to protect my health. You know, since we’re old.
Truthfully, it’s a city rich with history and its own unique and vibrant culture. So much of that is lost when we head down there to party heartily, but that’s ok. Letting your hair down and having a good time is certainly part of that culture! But it’s nice to see it through (mostly) sober eyes, too. That quickie left us hungry for a little more, and we are already fantasy-planning a weekend in the French Quarter. With ZERO kids.
One thing I really wanted to do was head over to Café Du Monde for a little beignet and café au lait. We didn’t. Partly due to time constraints and mostly (entirely) due to the fact that Café Du Monde’s beignets are a gluten fest that would have sabotaged the rest of my Louisiana jaunt. I had enjoyed them back in the day, though, and decided to perfect a gluten free version once we were home. Today’s ice cream was inspired by the coffee and chicory combo that is a Louisiana classic and popularly served at the Café. Together with a dish of beignets, they make a perfect trinity. Let’s put on some New Orleans jazz, turn it up, and get cooking!
Continue reading below for more recipe details and tips!
Adapted from Melissa Clark’s fantastic Master Ice Cream Recipe.
What the heck is chicory, anyway? It’s the root of a plant with beautifully delicate periwinkle-colored daisies, and you’ve probably eaten its leaves – or more accurately, the leaves of its close cousin: the are the endive on your crudité platter. When roasted, ground up, and steeped, chicory root has a surprising coffee flavor. I first tried it on its own when my local health food store was giving out samples, offering that making the switch could help if you were trying to give up the hard stuff. Chicory “coffee” contains no caffeine, and does bring a little protein and fiber to the party. Historically, chicory was used primarily in France and during the US Civil War as a coffee substitute when actual coffee was unavailable or too expensive, and the coffee-chicory blend caught on once those times had passed. In the French-influenced areas around New Orleans, the tradition persisted, most commonly served as café au lait: half chicory-coffee and half boiled milk. Chicory-coffee blends are readily available in stores and online, but nothing beats having the real McCoy served to you in a hangover daze in the French Quarter (or so I’ve heard…)!
First things first: let’s make the custard base. This is the cornerstone of most of my cow milk ice creams. You can still make a delicious ice cream without the custard, but nothing beats the richness that it adds! In a medium sauce pan, bring your heavy cream, milk, sugar, salt, and coffee-chicory blend to a low simmer. You don’t really need to bring it to a full on boil, just enough to fully dissolve the sugar. If you’re using instant chicory-coffee here, you’ll want to dissolve that as well.
While it’s warming up, separate your egg yolks into a medium-large bowl, and whisk them up. When your hot liquid is ready, add a small bit to your yolks while whisking, then gradually and slowly add more and more while whisking until everything is combined into a lovely custard. Combining the hot stuff into the yolks slowly will bring up the egg temp very gradually. Going in hot and heavy will likely curdle it, and you’ll end up with scrambled eggs in your ice cream. If you’re using instant chicory-coffee, you can strain it through a fine mesh straight away. If you have ground beans on board, let it sit and steep for a bit. Less for a delicate flavor, and longer for more intensity, up to 30 minutes.
Pro tip: don’t press your custard through the mesh with your spatula. As tempting as it is, you may end up pushing through some chewy egg bits or anything else that hasn’t incorporated. Gently tap the strainer side to side and let the custard seep through for the very best texture!
For our recipe, I used 1/2c of Café Du Monde’s blend. This coffee and chicory comes only in a fine grind, and some of the grinds will come through the strainer and make for a heavily flavored ice cream. I strained mine twice, and loved the results. The strong coffee kick perfectly balances the sweet beignets! I also found that it was less bitter after my ice cream had been in the freezer overnight, so give those flavors time to mingle and marry up if it’s a bit strong for you straight out of the machine. If you absolutely prefer a more mild flavor, reduce amount of coffee and/or the steep time in the custard, or consider using 2Tbsp of instant chicory-coffee instead. If you’d like to custom make your own blend, roasted and dried chicory is available in many health food stores or online.
Cover and place it in the fridge to cool, preferably overnight. (While you’re at it, make sure your ice cream maker bowl is in the deep freeze if needed!) Some say you can get by with just a few hours of chill time, others insist that the flavors are better after a long crisp night in the fridge. I haven’t noticed a great deal of difference in the flavor department, though that may depend on the flavors you’re using – but I do know this: cold bowl + cold ingredients = better ice cream. The quicker it sets into ice cream, the fewer and smaller ice crystals you’ll have, and that means better flavor and way better texture.
When you’re sufficiently chilled out, run your custard through your machine according to its specs, and toss in some chocolate in the last 1-2 minutes of churning. I used 1.5oz roughly chopped dark chocolate, the good stuff. This ice cream deserves the best, and so do you. Merci and bon appetit!