Thursday, June 19, 2014

You know it's summer when...'s 95 degrees with 95% humidity.

...another mid-afternoon thunderstorm is brewing.

...the first ripe tomato appears in your garden!

Monday, June 9, 2014

At your service

Up until about a month ago, I'd never heard of a serviceberry. Thanks to a passing comment from the nature-loving, Michigander vice principal I work with, now it's one of my favorite plants ever. If I could resist devouring the berries the instant they're picked I might be able to come up with a recipe for them beyond "eat out of hand." They look kind of like blueberries, but I think taste closer to black currants. In short: they're delicious. And abundant right now.

According to Better Homes and Gardens -- which is not my usual go-to garden resource guide, mind you, but their snapshot in this particular instance makes a good case for why you should run out and get one to plant at home -- "Serviceberry is rare in that it offers interest in every season. It kicks off in spring with beautiful white flowers, which develop into tasty purple berries that attract birds in early summer. Or harvest the berries and use them to make delicious jams, jellies, and pies. The plant's bright green or bluish green leaves turn stunning shades of red and orange in fall, and its silvery bark offers winter appeal. You can grow serviceberry as a large shrub or small tree."

Wouldn't you know it, there are 4 of these berry-laden small trees at the school garden I maintain a few days each week. And I am clearly not the only one who loves them....

How can we get kids to eat more fruit? Plant serviceberry trees in their schoolyard. Nice work, Tyler Elementary outdoor classroom team!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Good morning kisses

It's not often that I come skipping into the kitchen on a Friday morning at 7am. (Usually, I am either still asleep then, or grumpy that I'm not still asleep then and rummaging around the fridge for a snack because of course if I'm up at that hour I'm starving.) But THIS Friday, when I woke up to get ready for a morning teaching stint, I had chocolate meringues to wake up to. Ahhh....

Before I proceed any further, let me just thank two amazing mothers: my own (who gave me the standing mixer) and my boyfriend's (who gave me the idea to make these most delicious of confections that, until last weekend, I had never heard of before). FINALLY, a good use for all of the dang egg whites I keep generating with all of these custard desserts I keep making.

I know, it's a tough life.

Speaking of tough, consider the half year of unemployment of my poor standing mixer. Since I've more or less given up gluten, and thus bread-making, he's been sitting there sulking, stashed in a large tote bag under a table in my kitchen for the better part of the past six months. But now look at him: beating egg whites and sugar and cream of tartar like a champ:

Though I was nervous, after my only other attempt at meringues a handful of years ago failed miserably, I opened up my oven last Friday morning to two trays of delicate, perfectly set cookies with melty chocolate centers. At first, I was actually a little worried they hadn't cooked all the way through -- they seemed a bit sticky on the outside, where I recalled meringues of my childhood being quite dry -- so after taste-testing one (purely to be sure that I would be the only one suffering from food poisoning, should it happen from undercooked cookies) I turned the oven on the lowest setting for about a half hour while I got ready for work. I taste-tested another one, which was a bit more firm, turned off the oven once more, and headed out the door.

The rest of the two dozen cookies disappeared over the next two days during a series of picnics, brunches, and raidings of my kitchen by a meringue-crazed boyfriend.

They were perfect. So I'm sure you'd rather I just stop yammering here and get to the recipe. Here you have it: an adaptation of the (in)famous "Forgotten Kisses."(There are some really great tips and visuals here, for those of us new to the meringue-making racket.)

Chocolate Meringues
(almost foolproof)
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

  • 3-4 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar (er, so, like half of your 1/4 tsp spoon)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar, finely ground in your coffee grinder (and if it comes out a little coffee-flavored, well then, enjoy the mocha meringues!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (or peppermint extract, which I am to try next)
  • ½-1 bag Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips


Set racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy and frothy, about 20 seconds.

Add the cream of tartar and salt; beat on medium-high speed until fluffy and soft peaks form, 45-60 seconds.

Add the sugar, a little at a time, and continue beating until glossy and stiff, 4-6 minutes.

Beat in the vanilla extract, then fold in the chocolate chips with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.

Use two spoons to drop heaping tablespoons on the prepared baking sheets about an inch apart. (They don't really spread, so you can put 'em quite close together if you're short on space.)

Place the cookies in the oven, shut the door and turn the oven off. Leave the cookies in the oven for at least 8 hours or overnight to cook.

When completely cool, store in an airtight container…in you can resist eating them all on the spot, that is.