Monday, February 28, 2011

Totally Useless

Today I’m taking the train down to Providence, Rhode Island, for my first official public speaking gig. It’s not a huge deal—just a panel of young science writers talking about our work. But it’s the first time I’ll be getting up in front of people—real people! people I don’t know!—and talking about my book. I suppose I’ll get used to it at some point. But right now, that feels far off.

I began to grow nervous about the event over the weekend—on Saturday afternoon, to be exact. That was right about when I realized that I should write down my thoughts in order to avoid rambling for fifteen minutes on stage. Lets just say I’ve been a bit on edge.

Saturday morning had been nice, though. I went for a run along the Charles River. It’s been months since I have been able to run outside. But this past week the weather relented just a bit, the ice melted off the sidewalk, and I took full advantage. I’ve missed the feeling of the sun on my face, even if it’s a sun that comes with the cold bite of winter wind.

When I came home, I showered and dressed. I made myself a cup of tea and sat at the kitchen table with a blank Word document open on my computer. I took a moment to collect myself—noticing the angle of the photographs hanging on the wall (perfectly straight, thanks to Matt’s obsessive use of a level) and the stems to the white orchids growing in a pot on the table (dipping delicately to the right). The living room was filled with afternoon light. I could feel the steam of my tea on the soft flesh of my palm and could hear the whine of our refrigerator, the distant clop clop of shoes on the street. Generally I love that moment of stillness, of almost-silence, before I begin to write.

But as it turned out, I was too anxious to do much of anything. No writing. No reading. I felt too jumpy to even surf the ‘net. I decided to bake. 

I found the recipe for Alice Medrich’s “New Classic Brownies” on the New York Times’ website. They looked crazy good, and so I immediately pulled an apron over my head and got to work. In the kitchen, I melted some butter with thick squares of unsweetened chocolate over a double boiler. Off the heat, I stirred in sugar, eggs, vanilla, and flour. I poured the batter into a foil-lined pan, which I then plunked into the oven. 

It was only after a good fifteen minutes—right about when the kitchen began to smell like chocolate perfume—that I realized my first mistake. I had doubled the amount of butter. Two sticks instead of one. 8 ounces instead of tablespoons. Whoops.  

But I rationalized: butter is delicious. These brownies will be okay. They had to be. Because if they weren’t, then not only would I be too anxious to write a speech, but I would be too anxious to effectively procrastinate on writing a speech. And where would that leave me? Totally useless!  

When I pulled the brownies out of the oven, I was happy to find that they looked intact despite my gaff. I placed the sizzling-hot pan into an ice-cold water bath, as Medrich instructs. And that’s where I committed my second crime: I turned my back. 

I returned to the kitchen a good ten minutes later to find that water from the ice bath had somehow seeped into the brownie pan. Half of them were totally soaked. They were sloppy and soft, like a soggy piece of bread. Gross.

Of course I quickly yanked the brownies out of the pan, holding onto their foiled edge. I did the only thing I could do: I used my chef’s knife to amputate the waterlogged chocolate limb, a desperate attempt to save the rest. The survivors kind of fell apart in the process of rescue, but I still had hope that they would taste all right.

They didn’t.

But let me tell you, anxiety plays strange tricks on your mind. Because I ate these brownies. And objectively, I knew that they were subpar. But at the same time, they were perfect.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Last night I went to hear a lecture at Harvard about nuclear war. This morning, I woke to rain. Over coffee, I found myself searching for bright, beautiful colors.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"King Cake"

The first King Cake I ever tasted arrived at Matt’s Upper West Side apartment smushed in a plastic bag. Matt’s mother had sent the traditional iced brioche by mail from New Orleans, where they’re from, and it had had a rough trip north. But smushed or not, we ate the whole cake—garish in its purple, green, and yellow sugared icing—within a day or two.

At this point, Matt and I been dating, oh, maybe just a couple of months. A liberal, Jewish girl from the Northeast and a conservative-leaning, Iraq vet from the South? We both had a lot to learn. King Cake, a gastronomical ritual for Mardi Gras and one of Matt’s favorite foods, was a good place to start.

This King Cake was delicious, as I quickly discovered: sweet and flaky, kind of like a cinnamon bun on drugs. I also learned that Matt is very particular about his King Cakes. And in New Orleans, there are many different kinds: thick or thin, twisted or braided, filled with jam or cream cheese or nothing at all. This one, a simple version from Haydel's Bakery, Matt told me, is the best. Nothing else counts.

My first piece of that cake went down smoothly. It was perfect with a mug of coffee. Or in Matt’s case, a glass of milk. On my second, though, I felt my teeth hit against something hard. Something smooth yet pointy. I pulled the object out of the flaky dough and held it in my hand: a tiny plastic baby.


“You found the baby!” Matt said. “That means that you have to buy the next one.”

“The next what?”

“King Cake.”


Well, three years and many King Cakes later, I’m still trying. Yesterday I decided to make one from scratch.

I used a recipe from John Besh’s beautiful cookbook, My New Orleans. It made a buttery, egg-laden dough, which when kneaded by hand turned out smooth and elastic. It rose once and then, separated into thirds and braided into a circle, it rose again. And last night around 9 p.m., my homemade King Cake came out of the oven puffy and golden brown. I watched as Matt circled it on the wire rack where it cooled, sniffing its cinnamon-spiked steam.

“That’s not a King Cake,” he said, finally.

“Yes it is!” I said, indignant.

“Nope,” he insisted. “It’s too round and brown.”

 “Wait until I put on the icing.”

“Do you have the Mardi Gras colors?”

“Well, no.” Pause. “I couldn’t find them at the store.”

“Nope, then it’s not a King Cake.”


But after the icing—warm and gooey with condensed milk and powdered sugar—cooled on top of the cake, we each ate a slice. (Or two: Matt!). The cake was warm and moist, sweet and lightly spiced.

I loved it. And so did Matt. But I’m only allowed to write that as long as I make it very clear that he doesn’t believe it’s a King Cake. Fine. 

I’m just going to have to wait until Matt finds the tiny plastic baby, one that I saved from our last Haydel's King Cake and then burrowed into a secret doughy spot last night. Maybe he’ll believe me then. And if not, at least it will be his job to buy the next one.

“King Cake”
Adapted from John Besh’s My New Orleans

1 cup lukewarm milk (about 110 degrees Fahrenheit)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons yeast
3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup melted butter
5 egg yolks, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 teaspoons cinnamon
a pinch of fresh nutmeg

2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup condensed (evaporated) milk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
purple, green, and gold decorative sugars [optional, but don’t blame me when no one believes you when you tell them that you’ve baked a real King Cake]
1 plastic baby [to hide in the cake after baking]

First, the cake: Pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Add the sugar, yeast, and 1 heaping tablespoon of flour. Whisk until the sugar and yeast have dissolved.

Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it’s begun to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the remaining flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and fold in with a rubber spatula until the dough begins to come together and pulls away from the side of the bowl. Now, form the dough into a ball, and knead by hand on a floured surface until it’s smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes. (Alternatively, you can knead in a standing mixer with a dough hook for about 5 minutes.) Place the dough back in the bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 1 ½ - 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.

When the dough has finished rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Punch down the dough and divide it into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece between your palms to form a long strip, like a rope. Braid the three ropes together, and then form the braid into a circle, pinching the ends so that they stick. Place the braided loaf onto a nonstick cookie sheet, and let rise for another 30 minutes to an hour, until it’s again doubled in size.

Now, bake for 30 minutes, until the cake is a pale golden brown and the kitchen smells like cinnamon. Let cool.

While the cake is cooling, whisk together the powdered sugar, condensed milk, and lemon juice in a bowl until it’s smooth. Spread the icing over the top of the cake and sprinkle with the sugars (if you have them) while it’s still wet. Tuck the baby up into the underside of the cake. Enjoy!

Monday, February 21, 2011

State of the Book (II)

As many of you know: I wrote a book. It took what felt like a million years, though in reality it was just about two. I finished writing it last spring. The edits were completed this summer. I showed you the manuscript, and then the galley and jacket cover. Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way comes out at the end of June.

Writing this book was an intense experience, a humbling one. I learned how to craft a narrative and work along different story lines. More important: I learned how to mess up and begin again. (The delete key is my friend!) In the process of reporting and writing this book, I taught myself about neuroscience, flavor chemistry, and the art of perfume. I cooked a lot and ate even more. I interviewed some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met. I can’t wait to share it with you all.

But in the meantime, I thought I’d give you a little update with some happy news: Blurbs!

In the last two months, some very talented writers have been kind enough to read (and compliment!) my book. I could not be happier (amazed/surprised/honored, etc!) to share their very generous words.

“Season to Taste would be a lovely food memoir, if it were only that. It would be a fascinating book about the sense of smell, and about a loss that might have undone someone less brave, curious, and persistent than Molly Birnbaum. But it’s also something more: it’s a book about life’s unexpected turns, about love and its complexities, and about the ineffably mysterious human brain. I couldn’t stop telling people about it, while I was reading it. It will make you see your nose, your life, and your most important decisions in a whole new way.”

Maile Meloy, author of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It

"I had a hunch that Molly Birnbaum could tell a rich, engrossing, and deeply intelligent story, but what I didn't know is that I would learn so much from it - about strength, about persistence, about the resilience of the human body and mind. This is a book I won't soon forget."

—Molly Wizenberg, author of the blog Orangette, and A Homemade Life

"Molly Birnbaum's fascinating book takes her—and us—deep inside the mysterious world of scent. Her writing about this unseen force is fresh, smart, and consistently surprising. If this beautifully written book were a smell, it would be a crisp green apple."

Claire Dederer, author of Poser

“Imagine discovering the scent of cucumber, skunk, and even your own brain. Season to Taste reminds us how much our sense of smell grounds us, is part of our identity and, without it, we are bereft of our most profound memories and desires. Molly Birnbaum’s fascinating journey, told with charm and compassion, is ultimately a story of triumph. A book for food lovers, sensualists, and all of us in search of our true heart’s desire.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

Spinach Lasagna

I made lasagna twice this week. The same recipe. The same pan. The same smell—buttery tomato sauce, crisping Parmesan cheese—emanating from the oven as it baked. The first time: Sunday. The second: Wednesday. The only difference? A pasta machine.

The first time I made this lasagna, which is a light spinach and ricotta lasagna from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, I decided to roll out the fresh pasta dough (actually surprisingly easy to make!) by hand. I’d never done that before, and I wanted to see if it would work. It kinda did. It took some elbow grease, a few curse words muttered under my breath, and a firm grip on my rolling pin. But it turned out all right. Though the finished product was a bit thick and unwieldy, it tasted good. I served it to Matt and two of our new Cambridge friends. We gobbled it right up.

The second time I made the lasagna, three days later, I unearthed my pasta machine from its box under the bed. I scooped two cups of flour into a big glass bowl, cracked two eggs, separated out two more yolks, and mixed it all together with a fork. When it came time to roll out the dough, I understood why they invented these machines: it’s much easier. After a few rolls through the metal crank contraption, the sheets of pasta came out silky and smooth. The finished lasagna was bigger, softer, with a bit more crunch on top. I served it to three of my oldest, dearest childhood friends—the women beside whom I grew up, who knew me before I even liked to cook—alongside a simple arugula salad with candied pecans and a balsamic vinaigrette. It was superb.

This lasagna is a delicate dish, not at all the classic stick-to-your-ribs, meat-on-your-bones casserole. In between layers of the fresh pasta—which give it a homey, grandmotherly feel—are thin coats of a creamy white béchamel, ricotta seasoned with olive oil and salt, and spinach sautéed with garlic. The tomato sauce, which I made using little more than canned tomatoes, butter, and onions, is sweet and salty at once. 

I’ve eaten this lasagna for three out of my last five dinners. And you know what? I'd do it again.

Spinach Lasagna
Adapted from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food

1 recipe Fresh Pasta (see below)
1 ½ cups White Sauce (see below)
1 recipe Tomato Sauce (see below)
1 bunch spinach (½ pound)
1 garlic clove, minced
½ pound ricotta cheese
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
pinch of grated nutmeg
olive oil

Wash and drain the spinach. Warm up a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the spinach until just wilted, seasoning with salt. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Set aside and let cool. Then, gather the spinach into a ball and squeeze to remove excess moisture. Chop fine.

In a bowl, mix the ricotta with the spinach. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt to taste.

In another bowl, mix the warm white sauce with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, a pinch of nutmeg, and salt.

Roll out the pasta into 5 – 6 inch long sheets. You should have seven of them. (If you have more or less, no worries, just tailor the lasagna assemblage to what works.) Cook al dente in a big pot of boiling, salted water. Drain, rinse under cold water, and then drain again. Put the noodles in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil to prevent sticking.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Oil a 10 by 12 inch baking pan. To assemble the lasagna, first spread a few spoonfuls of white sauce on the bottom. Then a single layer of pasta. Spread this with a third of the ricotta mixture. Add another layer of pasta, and then half the tomato sauce. Pasta again and then half of the white sauce. Another layer of pasta. Repeat until all of the pasta is used up, making sure you finish with a top layer of pasta. Drizzle with olive oil, and cover completely with foil.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove and discard the foil, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, and bake for 15 minutes more, until bubbling and golden brown. Let stand for five minutes before serving.

(The lasagna can be completely assembled and then stored in the fridge until it’s ready to bake. Just make sure you take it out of the fridge an hour before you bake.)

Fresh Pasta
from The Art of Simple Food

2 cups flour
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

Put the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center with your fork. Pour in the eggs. Mix, like you’re scrambling the eggs, incorporating the flour a bit at a time. When it becomes too stiff, mix with your hands. When it all comes together, pour it out onto a floured surface and knead lightly. Add a few drops of water if it’s too dry. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and let stand an hour.

When you’re ready to roll the dough, you can either use a rolling pin on a floured surface (folding the dough in half a few times and rolling it out again until its thin and even) or you can use a pasta machine. For this, roll the pasta through the widest setting, fold into thirds, and roll again. Do this a couple times, and then begin decreasing the setting on the machine until the pasta is your desired thickness.

White Sauce
from The Art of Simple Food

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in the flour. Cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, whisking the whole time. Then, add the milk bit-by-bit, still whisking in order to avoid getting lumps. Bring the concoction up to a boil. Then, turn down to a bare simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and nutmeg. Keep warm until use, or it will solidify.

Tomato Sauce

28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
14 oz can diced tomatoes
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
salt to taste

Put the tomatoes, onion, and butter in a heavy pot. On medium heat, bring the sauce to a simmer, and keep it there for 45 minutes. When it's done, droplets of fat will float free from the tomatoes. Stir every so often, and crush the big lumps of tomatoes against the side of the pot. When finished, remove the onion and salt to taste.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Flat and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yesterday I had to peel myself out of bed, one limb at a time. Matt and I had been out late the night before—at a surprise party to celebrate the engagement of two friends, a party that took us to downtown Boston, to a lounge where we sipped cocktails with what felt like a view of the whole world.

On our way home (after one too many fancy drinks, I will admit), I slipped on the ice that coats the sidewalk like a skating rink and took a hard fall: right on my butt. So I woke up with a sore body, a bit of a headache, a craving for coffee, and the desire to never again leave my home.

I spent much of the day in the kitchen, of course.

I love Sundays in the kitchen: the crisp pages of my cookbooks and the low gurgle of a pot of sauce simmering on the stove; the salty scent of butter and the sweet taste to sour cherry jam on a piece of warm toast.

I like to spend Sundays in the kitchen alone but for the sounds and smells of the stove. What is it that Laurie Colwin wrote? “No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”

I spent this Sunday with Alice Waters and The Art of Simple Food, Marcella Hazan and Essentials of Italian Cooking, Amanda Hesser and The Essential New York Times Cookbook. I made fresh pasta for a spinach lasagna and a tomato sauce with onion and butter. I chop-chop-chopped a slew of veggies that I plan to eat in the coming days and mixed up a batch of cookie dough, which I left to chill in the fridge. My headache soon melted away.

I want to share the recipe for the fresh pasta lasagna, which came out of the oven looking kind of ugly though tasting quite fine. But I wrote about pasta on Friday. And today is Valentine’s Day, after all. So I’ll begin with the cookies.

I know I’ve written about chocolate chip cookies before. But, hey, they’re good. And Amanda Hesser’s Flat and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies? Even better.

Matt and I had some friends over for an early dinner last night—a Sunday Supper, if you will. When we finished with the lasagna and the salad, I remembered the un-baked state of dessert. I preheated the oven, plopped a few two-tablespoon-sized lumps of cold cookie dough onto a buttered baking pan, and stuck them in. Ten minutes later, the kitchen smelled like a bakery. Five minutes after that: a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies, flat and chewy and very good, just like Hesser said. 

Flat and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook

2 cups flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 scant tablespoon kosher salt [Hesser recommends Diamond Crystal, because Morton is too salty. I only had Morton, so that’s what I used.  But I made it a very scant tablespoon, closer to ¾ than 1 full. It worked just fine.]
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups light brown sugar, packed
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips [or chopped bittersweet chocolate, as Hesser recommends]
2 cups walnuts, toasted and chopped [optional]

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or using a hand mixer) beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one by one, and then the vanilla. Add the flour mixture and blend until a dough forms. Fold in the chocolate. Refrigerate the dough for at least a couple of hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper or a silicone baking liner.  Roll lumps of dough (about 2-tablespoons in size) into balls, place them a few inches apart on the sheet, and flatten them into disks. [Again, I must admit: I simply put the lumps on the sheet and threw them into the oven. They came out un-uniformed, but delicious all the same.]

Bake until the edges are golden brown, between 12 and 15 minutes.  Let cool slightly on the baking sheet, and then transfer to a rack. I recommend eating them warm. With milk.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Penne with Butternut Squash, Goat Cheese, and Walnuts

Yesterday I went on a run. Unfortunately it was an indoor run on the dreaded treadmill (the dreadmill!) due to the icy sidewalks and freezing cold. I find the act of stationary running—sliding-rubber, shoe-pounding, the-Today-Show-on-mute running—to be painfully boring. Mind numbing at best. But I love to run. And I hate the cold.

Yesterday I distracted myself by listening to an NPR podcast. This is something I often do, even when I run outside. I like to set my feet to the tempo of voices as the miles pass. I have my regulars: Fresh Air, This American Life, The Splendid Table, Selected Shorts. But my absolute favorite, the one that I look forward to downloading whenever a new episode comes out, is Radio Lab.

Radio Lab is a show about science. But not technical science. Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich tell stories: human stories, animal stories, philosophy stories, stories about where they all intersect. Each episode consists of a number of them, all based around a question or a theme.

I began listening to Radio Lab when I started writing my book. I was struggling with how to write my own story—one heavily indebted to the science of the sense of smell—and I found it inspirational to listen to two people who did it so well. I still remember exactly where I was when I listened to the creepy-awesome episode on Parasites (walking down back roads in Woodstock, New York, on a brisk afternoon in September, 2009) and the fascinating one on Animal Minds (running around the reservoir near my mother’s house in Brookline, Massachusetts, on a freezing winter’s day last year). 

Yesterday I listened to their most recent episode, Lost & Found. The whole thing was well done—pigeons’ ability to find their way home over unknown terrain, a woman who has trouble recognizing familiar locations—but it was the last segment that really got me.

This was the story of Emilie Gossiaux, a 21-year-old art student who was hit by a tractor-trailer truck while she was biking in Brooklyn, New York, in October of 2010. She was brought to the hospital for emergency surgeries after suffering a stroke, a traumatic brain injury, and fractures in her head, pelvis, and left leg.  Six weeks after the accident, swollen and unresponsive, Emilie was almost left for cognitively dead. She couldn’t see; she couldn’t hear. She could move, but it wasn’t clear if she was mentally there.

Her boyfriend, Alan, however, wouldn’t give up. He sat constantly by her side. One night, he decided to trace words on the tender skin of her wrist. “I LOVE U,” he wrote with his finger. And what happened next sent chills down my spine as I ran there on that treadmill, listening to the crackly recording Alan had made on his phone. I won’t tell you what happened, though. I don’t want to spoil it. Just listen to this podcast. It’s really, really good.

As many of you know, I was hit by a car while jogging back in 2005—the accident that caused me to lose both my sense of smell and my dream of becoming a chef.  Now, my injuries were nowhere near as grievous as Emilie’s. After I was brought to the hospital with a head injury, a fractured pelvis, and shattered left knee, it soon became clear that I would recover, even if it took time. I don’t remember much of that autumn. But I have heard stories of the fear and pain that everyone in my family experienced in the days and weeks surrounding my accident. It’s been almost six years, but I still often imagine the moment when they arrived at the hospital to see me in the ICU, broken and lying in bed.

Today, as you can read here on her website, Emilie is alive, but she cannot see. An art student who lost her sight. I feel for her, and for her boyfriend and family.  They’re brave people, going through what may be their most difficult time.

I thought about all of this on my run yesterday—a run on a treadmill that has rarely passed so fast and, I’ll admit, the first time I’ve ever jogged with tears in my eyes. I thought about it when I packed up my gym bag, and when I walked home. I thought about it when I arrived at my apartment building, walked up the stairs, and opened the door to find my boyfriend, Matt, hunched over his computer at the kitchen table, working on problem sets for school. He looked handsome, and the kitchen looked cozy. Matt said hello, and gave me a kiss.

Later, I cooked a simple dinner for the two of us: Penne with Butternut Squash, Goat Cheese and Walnuts.  This pasta dish was sweet with the roasted winter squash and creamy with a sauce made of goat cheese melted into hot pasta with just a bit of water. The basil tasted fresh and the walnuts added a nice crunch. We ate together on the couch, watching an old episode of Mad Men, my new favorite way to de-stress. I felt tired but happy, snuggled up next to Matt, surrounded by shelves of good books and a plate of food that is best described as comfort. I’m lucky. That, I’ll never forget.

Penne with Butternut Squash, Goat Cheese, and Walnuts
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1 pound penne pasta (I used whole wheat)
1 cup (8 oz) goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup basil leaves, sliced
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix the cubed squash and onion together on another baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes, until the vegetables are browned in spots and cooked all the way through. Set aside.

While the squash is cooling, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Add the pasta and cook until tender but firm, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, but reserve 2 cups of its cooking water.

Place the pasta, goat cheese, and 1 cup of the pasta water into a large serving bowl. Stir until the goat cheese has melted, forming a creamy sauce. Add the squash and onion mixture, the walnuts and the basil. Toss well. Season to taste again with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Tripe Soup

For little reason beyond the fact that today is cold and yesterday it rained, I’ve been thinking about the trip that Matt and I took to Eastern Europe in 2009. He was on leave from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. I met him at the airport in Warsaw. We traveled between Poland, Ukraine, Romania, and Hungary, and spent much of those two weeks bundled up, walking around ancient cities, and eating strange food. It was freezing but beautiful. Don't worry: there is no recipe today. I don’t really miss the tripe soup.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Carrot Cake Sandwich Cookies

Yesterday the temperature spiked. The sun came out. The piles of snow began to shrink and the ice—angry ice, which had turned the sidewalks into treacherous rinks, instigating slips and nasty falls—melted into kinder puddles, pooling at the edges of the streets.  

In the afternoon, peeling ourselves away from never-ending to-do lists, Matt and I went on a walk. We walked from our apartment near Harvard Square down toward the campus of MIT. It was warm enough to wear a light jacket and a scarf but not a wool hat. We hopped over the puddles; our boots crunched on the remaining crumbles of ice. Along the way, we poked around bookstores, furniture stores, and cafes. We stopped to eat—a burger (Matt) and a plate of crispy fries (me). I bought a little bouquet of un-opened daffodils at the florist shop in Central Square. We’ve spent this winter freezing in our tiny apartment, holed up with our work, buried in all sorts of different kinds of stress. I had forgotten the feeling of the sun on my face.

When we got home, I decided to bake. I made carrot cake cookies because I had all of the ingredients in the fridge, and the orange of the carrots reminded me of spring. They came out of the oven springy to the touch, crunchy on the bottom. The kitchen smelled of cinnamon and pecans. Later, I turned the cookies into sandwiches, filled with a honey-light cream cheese frosting. We brought them to a Super Bowl party, stacked high on one of my grandmother’s antique plates. They disappeared quickly. 

When Matt and I returned to our apartment around 11 p.m., tired and a little tipsy, we found that the daffodils had already opened, their yellow beaks fanned out in a circle, like they were looking for the sun.

Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwiches
Adapted from Gourmet

This recipe originally called for only all-purpose flour. Based on the comments and reviews on, however, I adapted it to include whole-wheat flour, as well as rolled oats. I reduced the size of the cookies, and used pecans rather than walnuts, too. They turned out hefty yet soft, with just a bit of crunch. Perfect for a sandwich. 

½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup grated carrots (3 medium)
1 cup pecans, chopped
½ cup raisins
8 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup honey

Preheat the oven to 375 Fahrenheit

Whisk together flours, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.

In another bowl, cream together butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Mix in carrots, nuts, and raisins. Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. 

Drop 1 tablespoon balls of batter on a buttered cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 – 13 minutes, until the cookies are light brown and springy to the touch. Cool on the cookie sheet for just one minute, and then remove the cookies to a rack to cool.

While the cookies are baking, mix together the cream cheese and honey with an electric mixer (or vigorously by hand) until smooth. Put a nice fat glob of frosting in between the flat sides of two cookies, and press down to make a sandwich. Enjoy!