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Archive for the ‘breads’ Category

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For reasons that I can’t quite explain, when I’m unhappy or depressed or feeling glum, I make biscuits. I don’t come from a biscuit culture, growing up Polish in Arizona. As a kid, biscuits came from a tube and toast was the only choice for your breakfast. My other comfort foods are pierogies and Mexican food, which make sense, but also matzo ball soup which is curious I suppose. Over the years I’ve sort of appropriated the foods that are delicious and comforting, like a warm hug, regardless of their origins. Making biscuits is a task that I enjoy; forming the dough, rolling and folding much like a traditional French pastry, and baking them to a nice and golden crunch. While they’re still warm from the oven, I’ll sit down with a biscuit or two and peel off the layers, one by one, popping them into my mouth. I may do this a few times before I feel better.

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I’m drowning in dates right now and not the good kind of dates a girl would like to be drowning in. Actual dates. Dried fruits. With pits. To start, there was nearly a pound sitting on my kitchen table, leftover from a project I finished just before the holidays. Before I’d even had a chance to register their presence, I got the email from my friend Michele that appears in my inbox every January. “Hi. Got the dates. Want them?” You see, every year her financial advisor sends her, and her mother, a tin of dates from California as a holiday present. She does not know why dates. Neither she, nor her mother, like dates. However she, and her mother, do not want to hurt the guy’s feelings so they don’t tell him and every year, the dates arrive. And I get an email and a subsequent delivery of said dates. Two two-pound tins. Every year. It’s a lot of dates.

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Every year while visiting my mother for the holidays, I buy eggnog. Every year, I forget to drink it. And every year, a few days after Christmas when I’m back in Chicago, I receive a phone call from my mother that is basically this: “I TOLD you, you wouldn’t drink the damn eggnog. You NEVER drink the damn eggnog!” It’s part of our holiday tradition, though she will probably disagree. I always buy it with the best intentions. I love eggnog; I intend to drink the damn eggnog. I’m not sure what happens but the flurry of activity in those few packed days and the abundance of other things to eat and drink just seem to take over, pushing eggnog lower and lower on the hierarchy of things to consume. Besides, how could it possibly be a proper holiday without that phone call dripping with sarcasm, annoyance and an “I told you so” tone?

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As the weather cools and I can turn on the oven without heat blasting myself out of my kitchen, I get the urge to bake bread. The feel of the soft, silky dough between my hands, the long slow relaxing rises, the heady aroma that overtakes my apartment are delightful sensations that serve as a reminder to slow down. I love baking bread. I’ve made many wonderful loaves in my tiny kitchen but today I wanted something different, one particular memory that I’ve been pushing about for some time. Finnish Pulla.

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I’ve been up to my eyeballs in ingredients for a big project; packages of stuff are heaped on my dining room table and every time I open the refrigerator I stand back, just a bit, to avoid things that inevitably fly out. I’m packed to the gills – again – and with an inordinate amount of cheese this time. Earlier in the week while I was developing this round of recipes, I somehow overbought and ended up with too much goat cheese. First world problems, I know. But I had an idea; I hadn’t made focaccia in a while. It was time.

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I’m feeling rather tropical as of late. Must be the heat or maybe its the 24-hour cycle of Olympic events from Rio that is emanating from every electronic device I own. All this broadcasting from Copacabana Beach is making me crave tropical drinks with long straws and plastic monkey decorations like nobody’s business. A recent stop at the local produce market persuaded me to grab case of ripe mangoes bought on the cheap. I can never resist a deal. I immediately ate one warm out of the case, sticky orange juice running down my arm. The next day, I did the same thing with a cold one. I like them better cold. Two down, six to go. I made some coconut sticky rice and sliced the third one on top. Five left.

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At one point, maybe a few years after I arrived in Chicago, I picked up a second job out of necessity. My boyfriend had just started law school and my regular M-F office job just wasn’t making the ends meet. We needed some extra cash so I sacrificed my weekends. The gig was behind the counter at a fancy Italian deli/grocer where I primarily worked the register and bakery case. It wasn’t an overly difficult job and despite the tired, zombie-like haze I was in most of the time, I enjoyed it. I learned a lot about prosciutto and balsamic vinegar those winter months. I learned about porcini and olive oil and fancy jams imported from far away places. I learned that you comp the neighborhood cops their morning coffee so they will kindly take care of that illegally parked Jaguar out front within minutes. Most importantly, I learned that working in a deli means free leftover food at the end of the night, a very important thing to young struggling professionals who have high tastes and a low budget.
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