• burnt cheesecake

    A couple weeks ago — back when I was in the middle of hosting the cousins, to be precise — one of my blog readers (hey, Candi Ray!) sent me an email with a link about, of all things, a burnt cheesecake.

    “I hope this piques your interest,” she wrote.

    It did (of course!) and, ignoring my sniffly nose and the hoards of children and the fact that I was already up to my eyeballs in cooking, I immediately trotted out to the kitchen to make it.

    Because see, when someone sends you a recipe for a cheesecake that 1) doesn’t call for a crust, 2) has only five ingredients (and salt is one of them), 3) skips the water bath, and 4) takes mere minutes to bake (er, burn), you move.

    At first, I couldn’t tell if I liked the cheesecake or not. It was entirely different from any cheesecake I’d ever had; plus, I’d overeaten that day, and my cold had compromised my tastebuds. So when I gave my husband a small sliver, I watched him closely. He ate it, silently, as is his custom, but a little later when I asked him what he’d thought, his face lit up. “That cake was divine.”

    Divine, dear ones, is not a word my husband uses — ever.

    The next morning, freshly hungry and semi-clear-eyed, I ate another slice.

    My thoughts: Much less sweet (though it has about the same amount, if not more, sugar) and with no crust, sour cream garnish, or fruit sauce — no vanilla, even! — to muck up the flavors and texture, this cake is strictly about the cheese. The bitterness from the burnt top (which isn’t entirely burned) pairs well with the cake’s rich creaminess, and the creaminess, oh my! Intentionally underbaked, the cake’s middle is soft (like mine!), not unlike a wheel of slightly-warmed Brie.

    In other words, it is divine.

    All the kids went nuts for it, pleading and begging for seconds and thirds.

    My mother, though, turned up her nose. “I don’t like the burned top,” she announced, stabbing it with her fork. “It gives it a weird flavor.”

    “It’s the same idea as crème brûlée—”

    “It’s nothing like crème brûlée,” she said, cutting me off. (It is.) “And actually,” she paused to shovel in another mouthful, “the whole thing has a weird flavor.”

    But then, wouldn’t you know: her piece eaten, she pushed her plate across the table to me. “Can I have another piece?”

    Which clearly means you have no choice but to make the cake for yourself so you can decide what you think.

    So trot along, now. Go burn a cheesecake.

    You know you want to.

    Burnt Cheesecake 
    Adapted from Taste, an online magazine, via blog reader Candi Ray.

    To get my cake to puff and darken according to the recipe photos, I baked it a good ten minutes longer than what was recommended; as a result, the edges seemed a little dry. Maybe, if I crank up the oven even more, I can shorten the bake time, keep the edges from drying out, and have an even creamier middle?

    1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) cream cheese, room temperature
    400 grams (approx 2 cups maybe?) sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    7 eggs
    200 milliliters (a generous ¾ cup) heavy whipping cream

    Cream together the cream cheese, sugar, and salt until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the cream and mix well.

    Pour the mixture into a parchment paper-lined 10-inch springform pan (it’s okay that the paper doesn’t sit smooth in the pan) and bake at 500 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until the cake has puffed, the top is darkdark brown, and the center jiggles dangerously.

    Cool at room temperature and then refrigerate.

    This same time, years previous: teen club takes Puerto Rico, the quotidian (6.26.17), seven nothings, better iced coffee, weigh in, please, dark chocolate zucchini cake.

  • the quotidian (6.24.19)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    Breakfast of champions.
    With mint and lemon: how I take my water.

    Bruschetta: it disappears fast

    Improving balance while washing dishes: how a martial arts student multitasks.

    Standing wishlist.
    Summer ready.
    Karate kids.
    The guest on the left was expected; the one on the right was not  SURPRISE!

    Daytripping with my mom to visit my auntie.
    Converse trio.

    Dirty feet and a new dress.

    Slow down, chica!

    This same time, years previous: all before lunch, cherry picking, buttermilk brownies, Korean beef, fruit-filled coffee cake, in recovery, magic custard cake, cilantro beet salad.

  • one morning

    One morning when the cousins were here, my younger daughter suggested they do makeovers. At first the little ones were apprehensive, but eventually they got into it, sitting still while brushes were waved over their faces and then scrambling to change into their Sunday best. When my older daughter got home from work, she jumped right in, scurrying to catch up.

    They decided to go up to the neighboring farm for the photo shoot, and I went along as their photographer. But then, right before we headed out the door (directly before lunch, so not the greatest time to go on an outing with a tot), the youngest one’s flip-flop broke, triggering a rapid disintegration.

    So much for mascara.

    From then on, the poor child fluctuated between peevish calm and full-blown wails, her eyes growing progressively puffier and redder.

    The slightest thing — a few drops of water on her sandals, an accidental elbow to the head — and she’d break.

    Basically, my photostream should be titled “A Study in a Four-Year-Old’s Mood Swings.”

    The rest of us had a jolly time, though!

    The spot was idyllic; the girls hammy….

    And by the end, the littlest had mostly recuperated.

    Then we went home and had lunch.
    The end.

    This same time, years previous: family week, the quotidian (6.18.18), a new pie basket, Puff!, the quotidian (6.20.16), dobby and luna, language study, the quotidian (6.19.12), refried beans.

  • cousin week

    Cousin week started off rainy, so we hit up the library first thing.

    After they’d been at our house for about twenty-four hours, the one boy said sadly, “It feels like we did more stuff last year.”

    “My dear child,” I said in my best Willy Wonka voice, “you haven’t had time to do as much stuff because you’ve only been here for a day.”

    But I got the point: time to up my game! We spread an old sheet on my bedroom floor and dumped the Legos. We had the cousins over. My older son made sparks.

    I took them to Costco to eat samples.

    I could feel people staring at us. Probably they thought we were a weird homeschooling family or something.

    I surprised them with a stop at Puppy City.

    Even though the place was empty, with staff literally lining the walls doing nothing, we were kept to the strict, two-puppy-per-group rule. And, since only three people are allowed in a room at a time, this meant the rest of us had to stand there, twiddling our thumbs and quietly fuming. Note to self: next time divide up and enter at five-minute intervals for maximum puppy pettage.

    It’s funny what they remembered from last year. Top priority for the youngest was bedtime snacks — apparently they don’t get them at home — so every night we had something: toast and jelly, graham crackers and milk (the favorite), pudding and nectarines.

    They went to my parents’ house for a day, and to my brother’s house for a morning. For our bedtime book, I read Harris and Me (minus the swear words); at the funny parts, they laughed so hard they almost fell off the sofa.

    One night we had cereal for supper (since they only get cereal on Sundays at their house) and had a movie night — Sing — with popcorn and apples.

    The kids went with me to vote, and the boys observed a kickboxing lesson. We went to my brother’s band concert.

    We skipped church on Sunday in favor of sleeping in, a tea party, finishing Harris and Me, and swimming in our neighbors’ pool.

    A number of times, our group swelled to ridiculous numbers: my brother’s kids, my younger daughter’s babysitting charges, my younger son’s friend, the neighbor kid, a friend and her children. The yard swarmed, kids on the (replacement!) trampoline, on the swings, in the tree. The neighbors probably thought we’d opened a daycare.

    Mostly, though, I cooked.

    Compared to my normal daily grind of writing, it sort of felt like a vacation. For hours on end, I hung out in the kitchen cookcookcooking: eggs and toast, sourdough bread, potato salad, spaghetti and meatballs, taco salad, chocolate peanut butter cake, baked oatmeal, chef salads, pancakes, mac and cheese, zucchini-sausage soup, pizza, deviled eggs, coffee cake.

    Part way through the week, I developed a sore throat that morphed into a cold. It wasn’t bad, but it was enough to make me semi-exhausted.

    Or, oh hey here’s an idea: maybe I was tired, not from the cold, but from, oh, I don’t know, TAKING CARE OF A MILLION KIDS?

    This same time, years previous: up, up, up to Utuado, taking flight, street food, this, too, shall pass, Kate’s enchiladas, cold-brewed iced coffee.

  • barbecue sauce

    A little over a year ago, I discovered a most wonderful homemade barbecue sauce. I made it and used it for grilled chicken and whoknowswhatall, and then I made it again (I think?).

    I kept planning to blog about it, but then we went to Puerto Rico — and I typed the recipe up as an email draft so I wouldn’t have to Google search it every time I needed the perfect barbecue sauce — and then it was fall, and then winter, and I kept wanting to write about it but I didn’t.

    The reason I like this barbecue sauce is because (oh goodness, for a split second I was back in Miss Wolgemuth’s second grade class doing a book report!) there’s no chopping of onions or blending up of anything. Simply measure, whisk, simmer, refrigerate, and then, whenever you need some barbecue sauce, grab it from where it’s hanging out in the back of the fridge, waiting … to make your wildest dreams come true!

    Or something like that.

    Barbecue Sauce 
    Adapted from Half Baked Harvest

    I usually double the recipe.

    1¼ cups ketchup
    1 cup brown sugar
    ¼ cup each molasses, pineapple juice (or apple cider vinegar), and water
    1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
    2½ teaspoons dry mustard
    2 teaspoons smoked paprika
    ½ teaspoon garlic powder
    ¼ – ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
    1½ teaspoons salt
    1 teaspoon black pepper

    Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat. Simmer for five minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved. Cool and store in the refrigerator.

    This same time, years previous: plan our vacation for me please, the quotidian (6.12.17), the business of belonging, Greek cucumber and tomato salad, when I sat down.

  • the quotidian (6.10.19)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    One of my favorite Nicaraguan meals: soupy, salty beans with a boiled egg plopped in. 


    A packed supper for the returning travelers (and the people who picked them up).

    Summer: when bowls of produce litter your kitchen. 

    You never realize how much skill goes into emptying a drainer until  CRASH

    Travel costs: assessing the damage.

    Prettifying: the process in which one looks moderately terrifying before becoming pretty.

    Because he asked if he could have it: his.  

    The cousins have landed!
    Between our house and the road: a wall of green.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (6.11.18), spinach dip, the smartest thing I did, the quotidian (6.11.12), sourdough waffles, fresh tomatillo salsa.

  • margarita mix

    The other weekend when my cousin’s family came to visit, she brought along a bottle of margarita mix. We didn’t get around to drinking any — they fixed us fresh mojitos instead, oh-la-la — so, curious as to how margaritas from a mix tasted, I asked if I could pour a bit into a jar for a drink later, after they left.

    The margarita was delicious (of course — aren’t all margaritas delicious?), and then I started thinking: couldn’t I just make my own margarita mix? Really, how hard could it be?

    From my preliminary research, I learned that mixes — ingredients and proportions — are all over the place. Some have only a spoonful of lime, and others call for a variety of citrus: lime, lemon, and orange. Some mixes have boatloads of simple syrup and others zero. After reading recipe after recipe, the whole thing started to sound like gobbedly-gook, so I quick scribbled down some quantities and shut the computer. Clearly, I’d have to learn by doing (and tasting, ha!).

    But lo and behold, my first attempt, despite my decidedly inferior mixology skills, yielded margaritas that were exactly — I repeat, exactly — what I was after: not too sweet, punchy with alcohol, and with plenty of sour from the lime. I was thrilled.

    Since then, I’ve made the mix several times. I enjoy the drinks both straight up (salted rims, optional) and whirled with ice for a slushy. On hot summer afternoons, however, I’m particularly partial to the slushy version, especially when it’s served up alongside a heaping plate of cheesy (pepper jack is best!) tortilla chips.

    Margarita Mix

    One recipe makes about four margaritas and can be either served straight or blended with ice.

    For the simple syrup: measure ½ cup each of white sugar and water into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium high heat, removing from the heat when the sugar is dissolved. Store any leftover syrup in a jar in the fridge.

    6 ounces tequila
    2 ounces triple sec
    2 ounces simple syrup (see head note)
    2-4 ounces fresh citrus juice, approx (1 lemon and 2 limes)

    Combine and store in a pint jar in the fridge.

    For an icy margarita for one: blend ½ cup of the mix with ice (keep adding ice until it’s a thick slurry) and pour into a tall glass. If you’re feeling fancy, add a slice of lime and stick a straw in it.

    They (the margarita gods) say that the mix will stay good in the fridge for a week, but I think it’d last lots longer. I mean, it’s alcohol and sugar, after all — how can it go bad?

    This same time, years previous: ba-BAM, pulling the pin, reverberations, a photo book, mud cake, last Sunday morning, Jeni’s chocolate ice cream, how we beat the heat.

  • how do you want to be when you grow up?

    This afternoon, a cool breeze, rain. Birds.

    Downstairs, me and my 13-year-old — my younger daughter is in her room, sleeping maybe? 
    and a 90-minute podcast on success.

    “How do you define success?” I ask, hitting pause.
    “Doing something correctly?” he asks back.

    He grips a pencil and my chest puffs. My little notetaker!
    But when I look closely I see
    he’s only tallying
    the number of times the presenters say

    I make margarita mix.

    Also, brown rice, with bacon grease, in the rice cooker.
    Beef browning, with onions, garlic, and pepper,
    and taco seasoning added at the end.

    My older daughter texts that she and her brother, at Culebra, are heading out to snorkel.
    Text when you get back, I tell her.
    They had fun, she reports later,
    but there wasn’t much to see.

    “Books are the great lie that tell the truth about the way the world lives,” Verghese quotes.
    “Don’t prepare the path for myself,” someone else quips. “Prepare myself for the path.”

    I plan the menu for the next few days and add to my grocery list
    scallions, salmon, evaporated milk.
    When the kids come home (tomorrow!), we might have strawberry shortcake.
    If there are still berries in the garden.
    My younger son washes the dishes.

    Distracted, he picks up my camera and
    wanders, snapping aimlessly, until I tell him to

    The podcast ends and he disappears,
    probably to his room to read.

    Outside it’s still raining (but barely) and
    in the kitchen it’s quiet. Just me,
    a grown-up.

    This same time, years previous: energy boost, the family reunion of 2017, the quotidian (6.6.16), delivery, meat market: life in the raw, of a sun-filled evening, for hot summer days, three reds fruit crumble.

  • berries for supper

    Strawberries were bonkers this year. We harvested so many that they could probably be counted in bushels, I kid you not (and then my parents off-loaded a few bowls of berries from their patch, too). I’ve spent hours at the kitchen sink, topping and slicing berries until my fingers shriveled. A couple different times, guests showed up on a berry day and we put them all to work — which made my job infinitely easier (and makes me think I should always have company over on berry days).

    Now I have over fifty quarts of sliced, sugared berries in the freezer, plus another ten or so quarts of frozen whole berries for smoothies and several batches of jam. In fact, we have so many berries in the freezer that we plugged in our smallest little freezer and then filled it to the brim. In other words, we have an entire freezer dedicated to strawberries, o the wealth!

    And that’s not counting all the berries we ate fresh, in strawberry cream pies, strawberry rhubarb pies, fruit smoothies, berries on ice cream, berries on granola, strawberry shortcake.

    I made a double batch of the shortcake for our supper on Memorial Day when my husband’s sister’s family came for the night. Along with the enormous bowl of berries (that they all helped to top and slice, of course), there was whipped cream. I had some of shortcake with whipped cream, but then I tried some with milk, which I actually preferred. With milk, the cake and berries felt more substantial, more slurpily delicious.

    I made another shortcake a few nights ago. We devoured it, again — there’s something deliciously quaint and wholesome about an entire dinner consisting of berries, cake, and milk — and it got me wondering: why do I ever bother with biscuit shortcake? A sheetcake is so much easier than individually dolloped biscuits, and the leftovers hold up better, too.

    Now, off to the kitchen where a big bowl of — you guessed it! — strawberries is waiting to be turned into something or other.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (6.4.18), a better grilled cheese sandwich, on pins and needles, the quotidian (6.3.13), the best chocolate ice cream ever.

  • the quotidian (6.3.19)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace
    With his typical flair, the boy breaks fast.

    Now the lettuce won’t fall out.
    Unless you plan to eat them all right away, do not top cupcakes with fresh strawberries: they rot.
    Swing supper, with a book.

    Joining forces: Tiger Girl and Cool Kid.

    Rule breaker.

    Surveying the territory.

    Work-out partner.

    After a variety of attempts with homemade dyes, the real thing.

    Strawberry curls.
    Rivers are scary.

    Taking Puerto Rico by storm.
    (And surprise, since almost no one knew they were coming.)

    Keeping him company.

    This same time, years previous: mama said, this is us, brown sugar rhubarb muffins, the quotidian (6.1.15), the quotidian (6.2.14), small pasta with spinach and bacon.