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It took me three years to get this one right.  Every August, when the apricots are absolutely perfect, sweet and juicy, I’d pull this recipe out and try it again.  But only for those few weeks.  Beautiful seasonal fruit is fleeting in these parts and this just isn’t as good with mediocre apricots.  I’d make it once, but probably two or three times, and make cursory notes that never made sense a year later. I’d stare at the computer screen wondering what the hell I meant by “too poufy” or “iffy meh” and what I was supposed to do about it.  I have trouble remembering what I was thinking 12 minutes ago, much less 12 months. All my attempts were good yet I always felt it could be better.  And then just as quickly as they came, the apricots were gone and the weather started to cool.  Next year, maybe next year.

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Over the last few years, I’ve become a big lard fan.  All hail pig fat!  It makes a fantastic pie crust, a delectable biscuit and a surprisingly tender cake.   I was at a pig butchery demo not long ago with Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman and the subject of lard arose.  In the middle his demo, Chef Polcyn held up a large piece of pure white fat, the leaf lard surrounding the kidneys, and said something to the effect of “if only pastry chefs understood the power of lard.”  Ahem.  I, of course, spoke up in my brethern’s defense.  Oh buddy, we are well aware.  Little did he know at the time that I had 7+ pounds of unrendered leaf lard back home in my freezer.

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There are few things that I love more than things stuffed into dough.  Pierogies of course but also dim sum delicacies, ravioli, blini, empanadas, crepes, tamales, calzone, samosas.  I could go on for days.  Once, I told a friend that I had a great idea for a cookbook – Dumplings of the World!  I passionately explained, bright eyed and gesturing wildly, that every culture had a dumpling of some sort, a delicious filling or tidbit encased in a moist dough and baked, boiled or fried to perfection.  Dumplings are universally wonderful and feed the world!  He smiled, bemused, then turned around and pulled this off the shelf.  Dammit.  I still think it’s a great idea; so what if someone beat me to it?

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So today is “World Nutella Day” according to … someone.  That’s the thing with these “food holidays”.  Some random person, industry board or group declares a particular day the time to celebrate whatever it is they’re obsessed with or promoting. Some, like this one, are fun while others like, National Apricot Day in January make no sense whatsoever (unless you live the Southern hemisphere I suppose).  For World Nutella Day, it appears that two food bloggers got together in 2007 and made a proclamation that February 5th would celebrate all things Nutella.  Good enough for me and a great start to my annual February of Chocolate.  And by the way, did you know today is also “Chocolate Fondue Day”?  Oh yes, it is.  According to someone.

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I’ve always wanted to visit Scandinavia. I knew I’d get there at some point, the opportunity just hadn’t presented itself.  Yet.  Then during a trip to Napa Valley last June, there is was, right in front of me.  After many, many glasses of wine my friend Rachel leaned across the bar and said “Kathy, you have to come to the wedding.”  “Of course!” I replied, “I’m game for a road trip to Iowa!”  She looked at me, dead serious, and said “No, it’s in Sweden.  On Thanksgiving.”  “Wait …what?”  “Yep, Sweden. In the town my mother grew up in. Höör.”  And that my friends, is how I came to find myself in Sweden, in late November, in a curiously named town, in a tiny country church built in 1727 witnessing two friends tie the knot and enjoying a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner at the reception.  You can’t make this stuff up.

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Sour cherry season is notoriously short – blink and you miss them – but this year it was even shorter.  Due to devastating weather including an unusually warm winter and a late spring cold snap, it’s estimated that 90% of the annual cherry crop, along with quite a bit of orchard fruit were wiped out.  My favorite farmer and friend Pete had a depressingly low amount of sour cherries on his market tables for exactly two weeks, about ½ the typical season.  I was there both weeks, picking up a half flat of Montmorency and Baletons the second week.  Good thing too … the next weekend they were but a mere memory.  He’ll have gallon buckets of frozen cherries for a while but I prefer to pit and freeze my own.  I’m funny like that.

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I was in a bit of a funk at the start of the year as I came off the frenetic holiday season. My ever-intuitive friend Caroline invited me over for dinner, correctly assessing that I needed a little lift. When you cook for a living, having someone else prepare a meal for you is a gift, a wonderful pleasure to be savored. I don’t care what it is – hot dogs off the grill or fine French cuisine – as long as I don’t have to make it. The mark of a true friend is knowing when you need this.

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