Marfa Texas

What do we really know of a place, what do we really understand about the places we are from, the places we visit, the places we live, and the places we hear about in the news? To really understand a place do you have to stand in it; feel the temperatures change and see how the light moves?  What do we really know of another person and their experience? In todays super fast world what do we really know about our own country?

I have always been proud of my travels and the many stamps in my passport, but I have always been a little more reluctant or less motivated to see some of my own country. This past year I started to change some of that – I started 2018 in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree, I spent a weekend in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with friends this fall, and I ended 2018 a few weeks ago in Marfa Texas. As a child from one coast who moved to the other coast Texas has always been a place that somewhat baffled me (I admit there were preconceived notions) but there was one small town in the high Texas dessert that always intrigued me and called to me. A small art destination a three-hour drive from the closest city, El Paso, it seemed a mystery and I wanted to experience it. 

I went for a long weekend with a friend; we flew into El Paso and started the drive east along Interstate 10. Once we were out of El Paso the sky was large and the road stretched endlessly through empty land dotted with cactuses and prickly pear. We would drive past rolling mountains and wind through more enormous open spaces. As we drove the empty landscape the stretches along the boarder it felt hard to not think of all the rhetoric we hear about walls, and harder yet to not imagine how difficult the long journey would be across so much space, and ultimately how endlessly ridiculous closing ourselves off could ever be. But it was also so beautiful, so much more beautiful then I ever imagined the light and clouds continued to dance and move and shed and reveal the landscape in an ever changing relationship.  

Our fist destination was a star party high in the Davis Mountains above the towns below and removed from the light of civilization. We drove and continued to climb with the landscape changing and pine trees and snow along the roads, but the sky and light continued to dance and dazzle through sun set. 

Marfa is a small town of only a few thousand residents surrounded by cattle and ranch lands, but in the 1970s the artist Donald Judd fed up with the New York art scene relocated there and started the Chinati Foundation. Artists have continued to follow and today Marfa is a small town with a large, off beat and impressive contemporary art scene. Waking up in Marfa one feels like they landed in the set for an old western, and indeed the film GIANT was filmed here and it hasn’t changed much in all of the following years. The roosters and chickens announced the day and then driving through the small town with no stop light save for one blinking red light at the center of town one feels transported back in time. The train rolls through almost once an hour; the buildings still look like film sets from the Wild West. But Marfa is also ultra modern in places (albeit quirky); in this sleepy town there is great coffee attached to a laundromat, and in a lumberyard. You drive past cowboys on the road but then at night can eat in restaurants sitting next to people you would expect to see in the hippest neighborhoods of the hippest cities. 

We started our first full day in Marfa at the Chinati Foundation among Donald Judd’s 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, and Dan Flavin’s Marfa Project in neon, what is considered one of the last great contemporary art pieces in the past century. We walked in the shadows of the theatrical piece From Dawn to Dusk by Robert Irwin and moved from dark through to the light as if we were a character in the chiaroscuro of a Vermeer painting. 

We walked among Donald Judd’s 15 untitled works in concrete and watched how the light of the day changed the scenery and the artwork. The Chinati Foundation was created to permanently show the work of a few contemporary artists in a site-specific home, and to emphasis art as part of its surrounding landscape and how art and nature are inextricably linked. The art becomes part of the location and nature around it and in return nature and the west Texas desert location become part of the art. 

We shopped the couple of stores dotted along the main streets in town and saw art everywhere among the town from non-operational gas stations to the sides of buildings. 

At this point I should say that Marfa is a unique town and stores and restaurants hold unique hours, think only being open a few hours a few days a week, and even then not reliably. It had been recommended to us to plan our meals as restaurants are closed many of the days of the week, and we happened to be there on Monday and the majority of the town closes on Monday. We did see a number of stores say by appointment and would certainly recommend trying to call and make appointments if so inclined as it seems that is how things worked. 

With much of Marfa closed on Monday we chose to spend the morning in town at a few stores that were opened and then driving up to another town of Fort Davis and a Botanic Garden. The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanic Garden is a non-profit to promote awareness and appreciation for nature and the diversity of the Chihuahuan Dessert. Hiking trails stretch through canyons and up along rock outcroppings that provide endless spectacular views of mountains, rocks, Madrone trees, agave, and cactuses. 

We walked along Fort Davis’s main street and had dinner in town, a far different experience then just 21 miles away in Marfa. Fort Davis settled into the bottom of the Davis Mountains reminded me of small mining towns I visited as a child in the Sierra Nevadas. We had dinner at a Pharmacy and Soda Shop that has been opened since 1913. With the regular ding and rumble of the train and the drug store with our server also helping us in the store it all reminded me of one of my favorite childhood plays OUR TOWN, and it felt hard for me to sit here with these real people and wonder how we have come to this place where our country currently is today. 

At some level there seems so much that should and does connect us but somewhere along the way it feels like what separates and differentiates us has become the most noticeable aspect of who we are and how we identify ourselves. We all want the best for our children but can we extend that to children who are not our own – isn’t that what parents from Guatemala and Honduras and Yemen want? How was I so fortunate to be born to the place and circumstances that another wasn’t? And how has where I grew up in San Francisco also made me who I am and the beliefs I have. And what is so different from me and a rancher in Texas? 

On our final day as we drove west along Interstate 90 to 10 back to El Paso we drove past more small towns and stopped at the art installation Prada Marfa. A juxtaposition of a high-end storefront that never opens in the middle of empty land, Prada Marfa felt like the perfect metaphor for the experience in Marfa – beautiful, odd, both out of place and completely of only the one place that it exists in. If the hope is to say art is about the place it is seen Prada Marfa is the perfect example.

We continued to drive west along empty roads with expansive skies and as if truly out of a clichéd movie moment had tumbleweeds blow right across the road around us. West Texas was nothing like I expected but that was because I had notions based on what I heard and not on what I had ever experienced. The way the light changes had never been talked about in the news, and maybe that is not the only thing that is missing from the headlines that are meant to rile us up on one side or the other. Perhaps the nuance of visiting a place and seeing the real people who live there is also lost in our currant world, the ability to be curious and a little open minded. All of the things I take with me overseas to the many countries I have visited are also what I need in my own backyard. 

On a practical note we ate at Stellina, Cochineal, Pizza Foundation, Marfa Burrito, and Fort Davis Pharmacy & Soda Fountain.

Exceptional Coffees at Frama and Do Your Thing.

We shopped at Mirth, Marfa Book Company, Get Go Market, and Marfa Brands.

Happy travels either far or near, 

Ramona

06

01 2019

Sprouted Kitchen’s Everyday Lentil Soup

As the seasons continue to change in what seems faster and faster time; as we set the clocks back just as the days and weeks move forward in another year, I think about the rhythms and traditions that slowly take root in life. The way I fast on Yom Kippur, meet my friend and her kids to go trick or treating, and the way my life is split between salad season and soup season.

As the cool days start and the leaves change color there is nothing I want more then to turn to soup and indeed I turn to soup for months on end. Perhaps it was growing up eating daily home made soups from Matins or the fact that soup feels like the perfect thing to both cook and eat for the next few months. The other day as Brooklyn’s weather took a chilly turn I wanted soup and I knew exactly which soup I wanted, a staple to me – Sprouted Kitchen’s Everyday Lentil Soup, then I noticed although I made this soup on repeat last year I never shared the recipe (I am sorry, my bad).

 

This is an easy lentil soup and the reason I like it so much is it hits every note I crave – simple, wholesome, hearty from lentils, sweet from sweet potato and carrot, tangy from spices and lemon juice, with a hint of heat from the red pepper flakes. It is so good! I love this soup with a little  parmesan cheese and chunk of crusty bread.

 

Here are a few other things from the last few weeks that I have really loved – the Netflix series SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT. And these two books moved me beyond words, I am so grateful to see more voices and perspectives being shared and the way to connect to different experiences through the shared love, family, hardship, and pain we all experience in life – AMERICAN LIKE ME and A PLACE FOR US.

 

Stay warm and welcome to soup season!

 

 

Sprouted Kitchen’s Everyday Lentil Soup
Ingredients:
2 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion diced
1 large carrot diced
1 medium sweet potato peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Italian herbs (alternately equal parts dried oregano and dried basil)
1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, to taste
1/2 cup green or duPuy Lentils
1/2 cup split red Lentils (alternately I eliminate this and use 1 full cup of green Lentils)
5 cups vegetable broth
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 Tbsp olive oil or butter to finish soup
3 cups roughly  chopped baby greens (kale, chard, or spinach are all delicious)
Juice of lemon
Parmesan cheese for serving 
    • In a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat warm olive oil. Sauté onion, carrot, sweet potato, and garlic with salt until softened approx. 5-6 minutes. 
    • Stir in Italian herbs, red pepper flakes, and lentils. 
    • Add broth and stir.
    • Bring to a simmer and lower heat to low and cover. Cook for 30 min or until everything is tender but not mushy. 
    • At this stage the original recipe calls for you to blend half of the soup but I always skip this step. 
    • Stir in the turmeric, olive oil, and greens. Stir a min or so for the greens to wilt and then turn off heat. 
    • Add lemon juice to taste along with salt and pepper to taste. 
    • Serve each bowl with parmesan cheese and enjoy!

 

04

11 2018

Chicken Tinga Tacos and Deep Feelings After Nine Years

Every September the feelings return, the deep missing and longing, the hollow aching hurt of sorrow. In less then two weeks it will be nine years since I lost my mother. She always marked anniversaries and the next year by jumping ahead so she would be saying that in a few weeks we will be working on a decade without her. And this year as the feelings took me by surprise I remembered the calendar and how easily I could be brought back to that night almost nine years ago. To the night that stands like a dividing line between one life and next, like the continental divide imperceptible to the naked eye but where to one side the waters run in one direction and on the other side they run the exact opposite course. It is hard to explain how much can be lost so fast, because certainly to anyone who has yet to lose an integral figure the feeling cannot be conveyed, its a deep vacuum that consumes the certainty from the world, a certainty you never knew you existed with until the existence is gone and can never be replaced. You learn to live without that certainty without the comfort you once took for granted but sometimes you remember what was lost and the bone deep ache for that person and the life they lived with you returns. As the years go by I am stronger when these feelings arise but I am always humbled by how much the deep longing can still exist.

Later this month my sister, Anne, and I will be taking a writing retreat in the mountains of Santa Cruz with two of our favorite authors. And so this September as the feelings are there they are mixed with anticipation and also a deep sense of memory of what that lost life once was like. A few years ago I joked to my sister that I thought we were raised Jewish-Mexican. We were culturally Jewish lighting the Chanukah candles while frying latkes and dipping the bitter herbs in salt water each Passover, and living in the Mission then a predominately Mexican neighborhood with burritos and tacos from 24th Street being our most common meal. When we were sick our mother would either make us matzo ball soup, bring home whatever left over soup was at Martins, or more often run to the taqueria across the street for a pint of Tortilla soup. I can remember the comfort of countless Friday’s eating burritos while watching a movie sitting at my mothers side on our well worn blue couch while the 27 Bryant passed the window outside.

Food can transport us, can comfort us, can express who we are or would like to be. Mexican food is by far the thing I miss the most not living in California (ok my family, but the tacos are a very close second and far less complicated). When I found this recipe for Chicken Tinga Tacos I jumped at the chance to make them. They are not the most traditional but something about them felt like home to me, they tasted like those Friday nights with my mother on a blue couch. They felt like a comforting whisper of a life that has passed but never left me.

These tacos are so easy to make (even easier when you use a store bought rotisserie chicken) and I like mine slathered in a Mexican style coleslaw, something about the hot cold drippy mess makes them feel even more like home to me. These tacos are the thing food should be transportive to another place, another time, deeply imbued with a feeling. A feeling that lasts well past 9 years and I am pretty sure will last the rest of my life.

CHICKEN TINGA TACOS from Pinch Of Yum
Ingredients:
 
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup roughly chopped onion
2 cloves garlic minced
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 cup canned crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups shredded cooked chicken (rotisserie chicken works great!)
 
12 corn tortillas for serving 
1 avocado for serving
 
My Mexican Coleslaw:
1 small head of cabbage shredded or narrowly sliced
1 shallot minced
1/2 cup of cilantro chopped
1-2 pickled jalapeños finely chopped (more or less to taste)
1/2 cup vegenaise (or mayonnaise or sour cream)
Juice of lime
 
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent. 
  • Add in the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Stir in the chipotles, oregano, and cumin, and toast for a minute. 
  • Add in the tomatoes, stock and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 7 minutes. 
  • Place the tomato mixture in a blender and blend until smooth. 
  • Return the sauce to the pan over low heat. Add the chicken and cook for 5 minutes together. Taste and add more salt if necessary. 
  • For the coleslaw, combine the vegenaise and lime to make the dressing. 
  • Add the cabbage, shallot, cilantro, and jalapeño to dressing. Taste for salt and pepper and add as necessary. 
  • To assemble the tacos warm the tortillas (either in a microwave or wrapped in a low oven). Take a slice of avocado and mash onto the bottom of each tortilla, add chicken on top of avocado, add coleslaw on top of chicken. 
  • Wrap and eat and be messy and happy with each bite. 

04

09 2018

Peruvian Green Sauce from Skinnytaste

It has been a summer filled with days at the beach jumping waves, playing in pools with dear friends and their kids, road trips, lake side walks at sunset, and two dear friends weddings. For me its been a real New England summer with visits to Pennsylvania, the Farm in up State New York, New Jersey, Long Island, and a day trip to the Berkshires. But it hasn’t all been lazy nature filled days there has also been a whole lot of work. There was a work trip to California and more visits with family and friends. Its been fueled with fresh road side peaches, blueberries picked and devoured directly from the bush still warm from the sun, and so many vegetables.

While in San Francisco I saw this bus and laughed and sent the picture to my sister because it both felt like it summed up life but also because it reminded me of what I consider to be the San Francisco of my childhood home, and on every visit it feels increasingly disappearing like the receding fog . While talking about San Francisco there is a Peruvian Chicken restaurant called Limón, it serves delicious roast chicken with a side of the most amazing dipping sauces. Earlier this summer I found a recipe for one of these sauces (the green version, Aji Verde) and have not been able to make enough of it this summer. Its bright and fresh, has zip from mustard and vinegar, an elegant undertone from the sautéed onions, and heat from the jalapeños. Can I just repeat how amazing it is!

 

Just like that sign in San Francisco I have loved this sauce all summer with vegetables. Raw and dipped  into a bowl of the sauce, or my favorite was sautéing whatever I had fresh from the farmers market served over quinoa and then slathered in this sauce. Yep my life is powered by vegetables!

 

I hope your summer has been vibrant with delicious bites, sunshine, plenty of water, and an abundance of vegetables. And I hope you like this sauce as much I do.

 

 

Peruvian Green Sauce from Skinnytaste
INGREDIENTS:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 of a red onion chopped 
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (or I use vegenaise)
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar (original recipe calls for white but I have used red wine)
  • 4 teaspoons grainy mustard 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-3 jalapeños, roughly chopped seeded but keeping the ribs (more or less to your level of heat)
  • 2 cups chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems rinsed well
  • 3 medium cloves garlic minced

DIRECTIONS:

  • Sauté the onion in a small skillet with 1 teaspoon of the oil until soft, approx 3-4 minutes. 
  • Transfer to the blender 
  • Add the remaining ingredients to the blender
  • Blend on high speed until the sauce is smooth and creamy. 
  • Enjoy. This will make a lot of sauce and it will keep nicely for a week in the refrigerator.

 

26

08 2018

Bon Appétit Simple Quiche with Sweet Potato Crust

The other week I received the most wonderful and unexpected gifts from Anne in the mail. She had seen some cake pans and thought of me and sent them along with a delicious loaf of Lopez Island bread. I savored the loaf of bread for the entire next week, each day a slice with butter and jam and an image of the Pacific Northwest island and its evergreen trees from my little apartment in Brooklyn. And I set out thinking what should be the first thing to bake in my cake pans…after some thought it came to me, I could make not a cake but a crustless quiche that I had once made in a pie plate but called for a springform cake pan.

The recipe comes from Bon Appétit and Healthyish and a trip they took to The Topanga Living Cafe. It is a simple but delicious quiche filled with sautéd kale and onions, cheddar cheese, and a crust made from sweet potatoes!! Layered in a springform cake pan and then released it is a perfect marvel of scrumptiousness and seasonality. As I purchased my ingredients from my Brooklyn Farmers Market it made me recall some of the farms I visit on Lopez Island and realized how perfect this would be on their little magical island! In fact this recipe would be good just about anywhere.

 

You do not need the springform pan (although you do lose the impressive presentation of seeing the quiche stand alone when it is made in a pie plate). Regardless of how you make this quiche I encourage you to make this quiche and I will happily be making it for years to come in my new cake pans – Thank You Anne!
Love,
Ra
Ingredients:
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for pan
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch or smaller pieces
1 onion thinly sliced
1 small bunch of curly kale, stems removed, torn into bite-size pieces
12 large eggs
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (approx 1 cup)
1 cup Greek yogurt
Salt & Pepper to taste

 

  • Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium. Add potatoes, season with salt, and cook, tossing occasionally, until well browned around the edges and slightly undercooked, 10–12 minutes. 
  • Transfer potatoes to springform pan and let cool; reserve skillet
  • Lightly coat sides of spring form pan with oil. Flatten potatoes slightly with the back of a spoon, packing into the seam where 2 parts of springform pan meet.
  • Preheat oven to 300°. 
  • Heat remaining 3 Tbsp. oil in reserved skillet over medium. Cook onion, tossing occasionally, until softened but not browned, 8–10 minutes. 
  • Add kale a handful at a time and cook, stirring, until softened but not limp, 5–6 minutes. Season with salt & pepper. Let cool slightly.
  • Whisk eggs, cheese, and yogurt in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. 
  • Set springform pan on a parchment- or foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. (This is important, I ignored this step and had a mess in my oven).
  • Top potatoes with kale and onions, then pour in egg mixture. 
  • Bake quiche until edges have puffed up slightly and top is just set with no liquid egg remaining, 55–75 minutes. Let cool before removing from springform pan and slicing. Enjoy!

06

07 2018

Intentions and Cauliflower Walnut Tacos

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I always have the best intentions, I will eat healthier, I will stop postponing any number of things I want to do, I will speak my mind more often, I will show up for myself more, I will blog/write more. And then between my work, between fun (in the case of the last months different friends weddings), between my second guessing myself (sure lets call it fear which it probably is), and between the horrifying news of late I simply can’t find my way to follow through on those intentions I held.

Intentions are a strange thing – held properly they can be transformative but more often they are acted on in ways that unintentionally hurt. We use our intentions as a scapegoat sometimes for the harm our actions cause. Years ago when I was in Kenya and had been temporally removed from the orphanage I called my dad crying from outside of my Kenyan family’s house. I told him what had happened as children and neighbors peered over the stone fence at the crying muzungu. I told my father I had come with the purest of intentions and in his good Catholic way my father repeated a phrase he says often “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I sniffled and in that moment I think I shed a layer of naïveté that I had carried the 34 years of my life up to that point. I could mean well, I could care passionately, I could try to understand but I might not be able to do more then show up in those moments humbly and accept that I might be able to change things or more often I might only be able to bear witness.

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Perhaps our intentions are something to hold lightly like our hopes – they can steer us but we must admit when they have failed us, when we have failed ourselves, or when despite our intentions the world feels too daunting to act on our intentions. Perhaps we can only bear witness in those moments and let them steer us later. When I returned to the orphanage a few days later I had a different perspective for my last 10 days – I had been changed forever by those children and perhaps I would not change those children in return, perhaps I could never deliver enough food, or stickers, or help. Perhaps I had to accept that my intention to make a difference was wrong and I had let the experience make me different.

With intentions in mind – I have intended to share a recipe but have felt I could never exactly sit down with what was happening in our country the last few weeks. I have been heart broken and sickened to watch and hear of family’s being separated and children detained in cages and tents along our border. I have not been able to understand who as a country we are or how we got here. I called and emailed my representatives and donated to charities helping in this battle. But how could I possibly do more or continue in life as this continued.

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As I think of intentions I think of the recipe I have been intending to share for cauliflower walnut taco meat, its really good, and every time I would stop to share this past week I would stop myself – world news seemed more important, that procrastination or fear – who cares about this recipe right now with what is going on in the world. My intentions dwarfed but they were still intentions – to feed myself good food, to share with others, to make the world in the smallest way kinder and better. I held onto my intentions and tried to remember Kenya and how complicated things were for me there and how the experience changed me. I held my intentions and understood it was all they were intentions that could either help but didn’t guarantee anything, but I showed up to bear witness with my intentions and perhaps that is all we can do.
Oh and here is that delicious cauliflower walnut taco recipe, trust me its good! I made this a few time last summer and couldn’t wait to make it again this summer. The best part of the recipe is the adornments – bean and corn salsa and pico de gallo made with everything super fresh and delicious.
With all of the best of intentions and a lot heart,
Ra
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CAULIFLOWER WALNUT TACOS from Pinch of Yum
INGREDIENTS
Cauliflower Walnut Taco Meat:
3 cups cauliflower florets
2 cups whole shelled walnuts 
2 individual chipotles in adobo sauce (more to taste if you like spicy)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
Corn Black Bean Salsa:
1 can corn (or fresh off the cob if you have it)
1 can black beans 
1/2 of a pickled jalapeño (more or less to taste)
1/2 shallot 
Juice from half of lime
Cilantro to taste
Salt & Pepper to taste

 

Picco De Gallo:
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes halved or quartered
1 shallot
1/2 of a pickled jalapeño (more or less to taste)
Juice from half of lime
Cilantro to taste
  • Preheat over to 375° F and lightly grease a baking sheet
  • Pulse all of the ingredients for cauliflower walnut taco meat in food processor until the mixture is evenly ground, you might have to do this in stages.
  • Transfer to greased baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until tender and starting to brown. You will have to stir around halfway through.
  • While the cauliflower walnut mixture is in the oven make the corn & black bean salsa, and pico de gallo.
  • Corn/Black Bean Salsa – sauté ingredients in pan until heated through and well combined.
  • Pico de Gallo – toss all of the ingredients together in a bowl.
  • Assemble tacos or eat over rice or as part of a burrito. I like mine layered in a tortilla with a slice of avocado. But you do as you wish and I promise you will love these!

 

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25

06 2018

Karen Demasco’s Carrot Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting

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We could call this post willfully baking spring into existence…or the mantra that went through my head as I grated carrots, measured flour and sugar, and mixed this all together, was similar to the movie FIELD OF DREAMS, “if I bake it spring will come

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Boy do I want spring this year and boy couldn’t we all use a little more warmth, vibrant color, and hopeful days in our lives. I am finally home again after a marathon of work travel and although it is only 38 degrees outside the persistent nature of spring is starting ever so slightly to bud along the streets in Brooklyn. And with this season change and hoping that the spring will come even faster in the next few weeks I could think of nothing I wanted to bake and eat more then these delicate carrot cupcakes with mascarpone frosting.

After a long break away from my oven I baked and listened to Vivaldi’s Spring  and imagined myself in an episode of Chef’s Table, which by the way how excited am I for the new season that will spotlight bakers and dessert!

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I have made these sweet and ever slightly spiced carrot cupcakes for years every spring and each time I remind myself that I should share this recipe, and every year I never get around to it. I have always loved a good carrot cake but have felt picky about what I want in a carrot cake. As a child I loved the thick slab slices from Just Desserts drowned in cream cheese frosting but it always felt heavy handed (no as a child I didn’t think this I just thought I could never finish a piece of the overly rich, dense, thick cake as much as I loved it.) I also was never a fan of carrot cakes loaded with things like raisins and nuts, why take a way from the light moist cake and a simple slather of sweet cream cheese hinted with lemon. But then I found this recipe and it was everything I had always wanted – light, beautifully flavored of spring’s sweet carrots, hinted at spice, with a beautiful sweet tangy light as a feather frosting with sour cream and mascarpone.

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It may not feel like spring outside just yet but as I floated through the simple notes of Vivaldi and licked the frosting from the spoon and ate my cupcake I rather felt like a small piece of spring had landed with me.

Happy Spring and Spring Baking,

Ra

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Karen Demasco’s Carrot Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting

Makes 12 cupcakes

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:
1 pound carrots (about 4-5), peeled (I did not peel mine)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk

Frosting:
1 cup mascarpone
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or I used ground vanilla
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F and line muffin tin with paper liners.
  • Grate the carrots, you will need a total of 2 1/2 cups.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, sour cream, and vanilla. Add the egg and egg yolk and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Fold the carrots into the batter. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them about three-quarters full.
  • Bake 20 – 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.
  • To make the frosting, combine the mascarpone, cream, sour cream, sugar, salt, vanilla and lemon zest and beat on medium speed with an electric whisk or mixer until the mixture becomes thick, about 5 minutes.
  • Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the frosting over the top of each cupcake.
  • The cupcakes can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. 

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09

04 2018

Palm Springs

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Hold things lightly; plans fall apart and other unexpected plans arise and take me by surprise, but I try to remember to hold things lightly as they will likely change. So was my thought a year ago when I was asked to do a job in Palm Springs, a place I have always wanted to visit. Hold the hope lightly but I remembered jobs fall through (this happens all too often) and sometimes jobs and opportunities happen with no time for hope to even take place (ah Seoul still a shining memory). But I held the hope that this job might happen when people told me it might be canceled, I held it lightly as I talked to friends about possibly meeting me, I held lightly but was ready for the trip to not necessary take place. Pleasantly I was surprised the job worked out and I planned for the start of 2018 to be in Palm Springs.

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I have always loved old Hollywood and the glamour and stories from a time past but held immortal in film and photos. I imagined Marilyn Monroe and the Rat Pack sitting beneath palm trees, next to ultra blue pools, amidst the mid-century modern houses of Palm Springs and wanted to visit. I extended my trip by two extra days and decided to spend one strolling the streets of Palm Springs and lazying by a pool with the beautiful book, THE BRIGHT HOUR. The other day I ventured out into the desert and to the awesome landscape of Joshua Tree.

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It was amazing driving to Joshua Tree National Park and as I started to see a few of the Joshua Tree’s along the highway the other-worldly appearance by the side of the road felt unreal. The town of Joshua Tree with its bizarre and fabulous art including the Crochet Museum, and then I turned into the park and the views as I drove just continued to surprise and delight me. The occasional tree growing into fields filled with trees, the giant prehistoric rocks, and the vast vistas of dessert, rocks, and Joshua Tree’s with outstretched arms up to the blue sky.

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My mom, sister, and stepfather used to come to the desert every spring, and I knew my mom felt the desert was a sacred place to her. As I drove I could imagine her sitting across from me, hand out the opened window with a slim cigarette dangling between her fingers. Walking among the giant boulders and down paths between cactuses I could imagine her smiling from ear to ear and looking skyward and saying how much she lovvvved the sun! Sitting amid the landscape she drew and spoke of so fondly I could hear her whisper how happy she was I was finally seeing this place. I felt honored to spend a day in a landscape that was humbling and inspiring in its natural wonder.

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As I held this trip lightly things changed and as it turned out the two days were just me and the desert and a town I had always wanted to see. It was lovely and delivered what I had hoped for, I loved the small town feel of Palm Springs with the mountains in the backdrop. I loved the combination of being a part of nature and being able to end the day by a blue pool because that might just be who I am. I am grateful for the opportunity to have visited this place, and for the realization of the little hope held lightly for a year coming to fruition.

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It was a brief visit but below are a few of the details I loved from my stay. I stayed at the Del Marcos Hotel and loved it, easy downtown location and friendly staff. I had some great meals at Cheekys, Jake’s, El Mirasol, and Natural Sisters Cafe in Joshua Tree.

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04

02 2018

Crusty Baked Cauliflower with Farro from The Smitten Kitchen

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As another year draws to an end and we look forward to a new one it is hard to also not look back on 2017. What a brutal year this past one has been for so very many people – with floods, fires, hurricanes, and these are only the natural pains not to count the current mood, one of collective sorrow and pain is at the forefront when I think of this past year. But there have also been glimmers of light between the dark days – the women’s march and the outcry of more people then has ever been witnessed in modern history; there have been friends and sighs of relief from individuals who overcame obstacles and healed; for me there were trips which is always a bright spot. As we approach the winter solstice and the darkest day of each year I always find it hard to also not find the hope and possibility that lingers in the vast dark that light has to reappear and that at this moment we can only transcend toward more light.

And on a lighter note (and slightly hungrier note) the other night I cooked what I realized was likely my favorite thing I cooked (and I did cook this on repeat) this past year. This is a recipe from Smitten Kitchen website and one she adapted from Ina Garten cookbook, and really in my mind that is the start of some really good kitchen pedigree. It starts with roasted cauliflower and mixes it with Farro, three kinds of cheese, capers, crushed red pepper flakes, sage, and lemon and bakes it to a crusty cheesy masterpiece. It is the perfect match of comfort and a unique zip from the things you mix in. It was perhaps the thing I made the most in 2017 and will be reappearing in the year to come.

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Every hope that we can learn from the bruising pains this past year has brought so many of us (if not personally) then universally. May this moment be the one that brings the return of light. And may we have more moments filled with delicious cheese and baked goodness in 2018.

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Crusty Baked Cauliflower with Farro from The Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:

1 cup dried Farro

3 cups water or broth

Salt

Pepper

Olive Oil

2 ¼ – 2 ½ pound cauliflower cut into small florets

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage

2 tablespoons capers drained

2 large cloves of garlic minced

½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Crushed red pepper flakes to taste

2 cups Fontina cheese shredded

½ cup ricotta

½ cup panko breadcrumbs

1/3 cup grated pecorino romano cheese or parmigiano (I use whatever I have at the time)

  • Cook farro. If you think ahead and plan you can presoak the farro overnight in 3 cups of liquid and then only cook for 10 minutes of simmering until tender and then drain. With less planning simply simmer in liquid for about 30 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed and the grains are tender. Drain any excess liquid.
  • While farro is cooking heat the oven to 425°F. Drizzle the olive oil over cauliflower and toss with salt and pepper and spread florets in one even layer on a cookie sheet. Roast for 20 min until lightly browned and tender, checking it half way through the baking time and turning pieces over.
  • Reduce the heat to 400°
  • Assemble the casserole. In a large bowl add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper to cauliflower and farro and stir to combine. Stir in the fontina cheese. Taste at this stage to see if you need more salt or pepper or capers etc.
  • Transfer half of the mixture to a greased 10 inch ovenproof baking dish. Dollop rounded tablespoons of ricotta all over casserole. Sprinkle the remaining cauliflower farro mixture over the ricotta leaving pockets of it undisturbed.
  • In a small bowl mix the breadcrumbs with the pecorino cheese and 1 tablespoon olive oil until evenly mixed. Sprinkle over the entire casserole.
  • Bake for 20 min until browned and crusty on top. Serve with a green salad and enjoy.

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20

12 2017

Morning Glory Oats

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Today was the first day of snow this year here in Brooklyn; and earlier this week I returned from a long work trip followed by a lovely weekend visit with my sister. I am also at the tail end of a fierce cold, and today felt like the first day in months with no plans or necessary immediate errands. I always feel like with snow falling outside my windows I have every excuse to stay in bed a little longer, to curl up with books and TV…and well hibernate for a while. I went for a short walk through the gentle white flakes and breathed in the crisp clean snowy air. Then I came home and made the most delicious morning glory oats, because to me snow also feels like an excuse to keep my kitchen and stomach warm.

I have always been a fan of morning glory muffins – the earthy carrot, the spicy notes of cinnamon and ginger, the burst from currants or raisins, all tucked into a slightly sweet bite. Also I have always been a big fan of steel cut oats – the chewy bite of the oats and the warm comfort holding the bowl in my hands in the morning. When I came across this recipe that combined these two into one breakfast that might actually be more delicious then the two individual things I loved I knew immediately that I would return to this recipe over and over again on snowy, or rainy ,or well any kind of morning.

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Morning Glory Oats adapted from Whole Grain Mornings and Joy The Baker

Ingredients:

3 cups water

1 cup any milk of choice, plus extra for serving

1 cup steel-cut oats

1 cup grated carrots (about 2 medium carrots)

1/2 cup currants or raisins

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 tablespoons light brown sugar (I like to use turbinado or raw sugar in this recipe)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

  • In a saucepan, bring the water and milk to a gentle boil. Stir in the oats, carrots, currants, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt and return to a boil.
  • Decrease the heat to low and partially cover.
  • Cook the oats stirring just once or twice until it begins to thicken and the oats are soft yet chewy, 25 to 30 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut flakes and orange zest. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
  • Serve warm with toasted almonds and extra milk as desired.
  • Makes 4 servings. I like to make this and then keep leftovers and reheat each morning with some additional milk. 

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12 2017