Oh My Darling

People prepare for babies in different ways. Some set up their nurseries and make sure their cribs are positioned for optimal natural light. Others spend the weeks leading up to the big day by pre-washing the little one’s wardrobe. Most everyone has their car seat installed at the local police or fire station.

Unrelated gratuitous baby photo

Unrelated gratuitous baby photo

I faced a dilemma: on the one hand, Jewish tradition frowns on bringing baby things into the house before there is an actual baby; on the other, hand I am an inveterate planner. Perhaps not surprisingly, I found my solution in the kitchen. I spent the weeks leading up to Lilli’s arrival cooking, baking and freezing foods to make the first few months less stressful.

Give the people what they want...

Give the people what they want…

“I need to serve something to our guests that come by for a visit,” I explained to Rich about the added hours I spent in our kitchen. “I’m pretty sure people are supposed to bring you the food, honey,” he replied. And it’s true, a nice meal train has been set up through our synagogue, although it has been somewhat derailed by snowstorms and flu season.

I was vindicated this weekend. We had Lilli’s baby naming on Presidents’ Day (no pressure, Lil). She already had her name, but this was a Jewish ceremony to announce her Hebrew name and explain the origins of her other names. It’s a rough analog of a bris, minus the delicate surgery. If you’re interested, you can watch the video of the service on YouTube:

It was really touching to see all the people who came to celebrate the occasion with us. My guess is around 80 people showed up on Monday morning.

One more, but that's it for now...

One more, but that’s it for now…

On the day before we hosted some of our out-of-town guests at our house: my Cousin David, his girlfriend Wendy and Brian Levinson, who made the drive up from Queens (commiserating about the Mets the entire way, no doubt), and Sylvie and Miriam who had flown up from DC. Suffice it to say, I was quite pleased with myself because I had defrosted this clementine cardamom pound cake I had baked, weeks in advance, for just such an occasion.

Boxes of clementines are pretty ubiquitous on kitchen counters this time of year. In the late stages of my pregnancy, I’d taken to eaten them to spur Lilli, who was an exceptionally quiet fetus, to give me a reassuring kick or two. It became such a thing that for about a week Clementine was a serious baby name candidate.

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Before I ate all of them, I thought it best to bake a cake with some of them. I hunted around the Internet and came up with a Nigella Lawson recipe that called for boiling, grinding and then adding nuts — not unlike this blood orange and pistachio cake Sara and I made last year (although I have a feeling ours was better). Too much work for the ninth month of pregnancy, even for me.

I finally found what I was looking for on Food52. All this recipe called for was zesting and juicing the fruit, and I loved the idea of the cardamom adding a spicy warmth to the cake. Although spices can get expensive, I’ve found bags for very cheap at the Armenian stores in Watertown. Also, one cardamom pod goes a long way, so even if you end up at Whole Foods, in the long run, the price isn’t bad at all.

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After I removed this cake out of the oven and it cooled down, I wrapped it in a few sheets of tin foil, labeled it and stuck it in the freezer. It defrosted beautifully in less than an hour just by unwrapping it and setting it out on the counter.

Clementine Cardamom Pound Cake by SavvyJulie on Food52

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened, plus more for the pan

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 Tablespoon clementine zest, from about 2 clementines

4 Tablespoons clementine juice, from about 2 clementines

1/4 cup milk

Directions

Heat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9x5x3″ loaf pan.

Cream the butter, olive oil and sugars together until smooth.

Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until completely blended.

Stir in 1 cup of the flour, followed by the salt, vanilla, cardamom, clementine zest and juice.

Add the milk and the rest of the flour. Beat until the batter is smooth and consistent, but do not over-beat!

Scrape the cake batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the edges are browned and just pulling away from the sides of the pan, and a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Run a knife or spatula around the edges of the cake to release it from the pan, and flip onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Scone Cold Morning

I’ve always thought of herbs as seasonal. Basil and mint are summer herbs, while rosemary and sage are more wintery. Of course, the sage bush in front of my house, which flourishes in the summer sun, upends my theory. Many summer nights I would run from my kitchen, apron still tied around my waist, to pluck a few leaves off for dishes like sautéed cabbage and white bean dip.

Nonetheless, the sage bush was still hanging on well into January. There were still some thin, curled leaves clinging to life until last week. But with snow forecast, I knew that would be the last of my sage until late spring. I grabbed the last remaining leaves on Thursday night and stowed them away in the fridge.

I wanted those last leaves to have a fitting, wintery use, and this morning we made scones with them: walnut and sage scones with a brown butter maple glaze, to be exact. This recipe was the runner up in a Food52 contest for best use of sage and walnuts. To be honest, this recipe appealed to me more than the winner, a pumpkin rugelach with sage and walnut. (Pumpkin-flavored rugelach? If you’ve ever had Gus and Paul’s version of the cookie you’d most likely agree that squash is not necessary.)

I must confess that Rich helped me a great deal with the baking this morning: My herniated disc has been slowing my kitchen production to an almost stand-still. Rich had the wise idea to make eight scones instead of the four the recipe suggested. A mini version of the cookie proved much less of an irritant to my reflux. Although the original recipe calls for full fat Greek yogurt, we used a low-fat version, something that I now keep in the house as a mild snack for me. And we loved the grated frozen butter tip; we will definitely be utilizing that trick in other baked goods.

The scones were glorious, rich and extraordinarily delicious. A wonderful way to begin a Sunday morning.

And one last thing: If you could ask four questions of the Boston Globe‘s advice columnist, Meredith Goldstein, what would they be? Here are my four questions.

Walnut and Sage Scones with Brown Butter Maple Glaze, from Food52.com

Makes 4 normal-sized scones, or 8 mini-scones

Scone Ingredients
1 stick frozen butter, of which you will use 4 Tbs.
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

scant 1/8 cup sugar (2 Tbs.)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 teaspoon sage, minced or more to your taste

Brown Butter Maple Glaze Ingredients
1 Tbs. butter
1/8 cup maple syrup (which I find at a deep discount at Ocean State Job Lot)
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 Tbs. milk or cream, use enough to slightly thin the glaze

Directions
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees
2. Grate 4 Tbs. of butter and place in freezer until ready to use
3. Whisk milk and yogurt together, set aside. (If your kitchen is warm, place in fridge until needed.)
4. Mix together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sage. Add frozen grated butter and toss until butter is well-coated. Gently stir in milk mixture with a spatula just to combine.
5. Place onto floured bench and knead a few times until it comes together. Gently press into a 1/4″ thick square, then fold up long sides in thirds (like folding a letter) then fold up short sides until you have a small tall square. Place in freezer for five minutes on a floured plate.
6. Place on floured bench and gently fold or roll into 1/4″ thick square. Place enough walnuts to generously cover the surface, then press walnuts into the dough so they stick. Gently roll dough into a log. With seam facing down, press into rectangle — it will be about 6×4 and an inch thick. Using floured knife, cut in half then cut each half into triangles.
7. Place on silicone lined (or parchment paper) baking sheet. Bake 18 — 20 minutes until browned. Let cool.

8. Make the glaze: Melt butter in small saucepan and lightly brown, add maple syrup. It will bubble vigorously. Once bubbles have subsided, whisk in confectioner’s sugar, add enough milk or cream to thin glaze slight (until it looks ‘spreadable’). Drizzle or brush over scones. *Note: If you end up with a thick glaze, just spread on with a spatula and call it icing, no one will be the wiser.