When we moved into our apartment in San Francisco, we bought a giant bookshelf and filled it to the brim with books. Over time, the overflow started lying in stacks in front, and by the time we moved out, we had so many books that Chris ended up having to donate most of the collection. The rest we stored at my parents’ house, boxes and boxes full. It wasn’t so much that I had a book-buying problem. Chris is just helpless at the sight of used bookstores. They are treasure troves to him, much in the same way good grocery stores—the kinds with bulk bins and small-batch anythings—are to me.
Moving to New York seemed like a good chance to wipe the slate clean. Chris curated a small collection of his most beloved books and shipped them to our new apartment in Brooklyn. Except, over time, as he discovered his favorite bookstores in New York, his modest collection grew and grew. We expanded to THREE bookshelves, started double-layering books on each shelf, and then the stacks started up again. The book area even started its own collection: of dust bunnies. It was a mess.
The thing about collections is, the collector starts to lose sight of the point of the collection. Presumably you start one because you love whatever it is you’re collecting, but the more you own of something, the less attention each individual item gets. We’re so inoculated with the idea that more is better, but perhaps real merit lies in realizing when enough is enough.
And so, when furnishing our new, smaller apartment, we decided to limit ourselves to one regular-sized bookshelf which demanded that we downsize our collection yet again. Chris committed himself to maintaining an equilibrium of books which he’s kept up to this day, and since then, has discovered clarity, focus, and a lightening of the spirit. Which sounds kind of hippie dippie bordering on hokey, but is not, I promise.
On my part, I decided to part with quite a few cookbooks. Back to the basics, if you will. Or just the favorites. And I too find such pleasure in lingering over what’s left of my collection. Each and every book is an absolute gem. The recipe for the crust of these mixed berry galettes are from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain, a classic to me and one that will always have a place on my shelf.
Happy 4th, y’all. Also, Chris and I went to Iceland! If you’re interested, I created an album on Flickr.
The same laws of nature that cause the half and half to swish through my iced coffee preside over the universe, and hence the universe resides in a cup. The swishes and swirls, on a macro level, remind me of photos I’ve seen of nebulae, frozen moments of a frenetic, cosmic dance. They’re gossamer and ghostly and seem to encompass all that is mysterious, ephemeral, and otherworldly. I like the juxtaposition of the two ideas as I prepare my morning cup.
I’ve been enamored with culinary swirls lately, the ones that happen effortlessly through the process of mixing and folding and pouring. I’m not sure anything manmade can emulate the unintended complexity that such acts bloom into being, though I’m sure the masters at Pixar are certainly trying.
I especially love the streaks that occur when chocolate is folded into meringues.
And when peanut butter is folded into a chocolate tart.
Onto other topics. I’ve been nominated for a Saveur Best Food Blogs award in the Best Photography category! What an honor! And I’m really kind of flabbergasted. I mean, I’m sure that among the minimum requirements that must be met in order to be considered a food blog, consistency is one of them? Did I mention this news is weeks-old? But, cool beans anyway! Thank you to whoever nominated me! If you’d like to vote—for me or any of the talented people nominated in any the categories—here’s the link.
Finally, because this IS a food blog, I’m going to leave you with the recipe for the chocolate peanut butter tarts shown above. I’ve made them four times in the last couple weeks—for two birthdays and twice just because—and think I’ve got the recipe down. While the original recipe is intended for a 9″ tart pan, individual tarts trump giant tarts, period. The crust to filling ratio is just about perfect, and they look damn cute too. The swirls are formed simply by dropping warmed-up peanut butter in teaspoonfuls onto the chocolate, then swirling them around with a skewer. There’s no way to mess up—nature will take care of all the intricacies.
A quick appearance to say: these are the best brownies I’ve ever had.
We all have different opinions on the topic, I know, but such are the power of these specimens that they shattered all my notions of what a brownie should be—and I’d been firmly in the cake-y camp, you know?—and replaced them with these burnished beauties.
In Nigel’s words, they’re as “dense and fudgy as Glastonbury Festival mud.” I like that. Why can’t we all try to be that way?
NIGEL SLATER’S BROWNIES
Makes one 9″ square pan
From The Kitchen Diaries
I’m a firm believer in weight measurements these days, and as a consequence, all the volume measurements below are approximate. In other words, I recommend getting a digital scale! It’s tremendously helpful. Also, this recipe is from the UK version of The Kitchen Diaries, hence the metric measurements. But don’t you prefer metric measurements anyway? They’re so reliable.
60 grams (a scant 1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
60 grams (1/2 cup) cocoa powder
1/2 t baking powder
200 grams (1-2/3 cups, roughly chopped) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
300 grams (1-1/2 cups) granulated sugar
250 grams (2 4-oz. sticks plus 2 T) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
Line a 9″ square pan with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder in a small bowl. Melt the chocolate and set it aside.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until soft, creamy, and a bit airy. Add the lightly beaten eggs a little at a time, incorporating them fully between each pour. Mix in the melted chocolate. Finally, fold in the flour mixture gently but firmly.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, smooth out the top, and bake for about 30-35 minutes. The brownie will be a bit jiggly when it comes out of the oven, but the top should have puffed slightly, and a toothpick stuck through the middle should come out sticky but without raw batter attached.
Cool for an hour, during which the brownie will solidify more fully. Cut into squares and enjoy!