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Posts from the ‘sweets’ Category

sweet and spicy vanilla chai

Aphids. Job searching. Plant morphology exams. Rain. For all life’s minor trials and tribulations, there is but one foodie equivalent to the bubble bath: Chai.

Chai latte, to be precise. My chronology of chai began with Starbucks (ubiquitous purveyor of fancy drinks), and it was a “tall soy chai, no water, in a personal cup” that my mother asked for every Saturday morning as we began our weekly round of shopping. I joined her (with my own personal travel mug) all through high school, but like all who begin their specialty journey with Starbucks it wasn’t long before I was going more gourmet. Soon my sister and I had discovered the Garden Market, which featured a steaming mug of sugary chai with creamy, frothy foam. That chai (and several others along the way) led me to an important discovery: my favorite drink did not begin, as you might imagine, with tea. Sad to say, I was a die-hard fan of chai powder.

One of the benefits of chai powder (other than an insane sugar rush) is that it makes the chai latte as easy as boiling a pot of water. As a college freshman I drank chai lattes in bed, in class, as late-night snacks and morning pick-me-ups. I drank them so often, in fact, that my desire for chai began to wane. Years passed with only the occasional Starbucks visit when I went home, and then, when powdered chai was all but forgotten, I passed a display of chai latte powder in Trader Joe’s last week.

It was a spur of the moment purchase with consequences that shook our small apprentice world. The initial can of powder was gone in two days, and the following two we bought followed shortly after. When Pim gave me a box of Chai spices after a macaron class I began doctoring my insta-latte, and soon I was adding milk, vanilla extract, honey… and somewhere along the way I made it back to tea. Now I sprinkle just a light dusting of powder in my chai, and if nothing else it offsets the 5 tablespoons Phillip and Sara Lieber put in theirs.

Sweet and Spicy Vanilla Chai

black tea (loose or bagged)


1 tsp chai spice blend (star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves)


vanilla extract

1 tsp chai latte powder

Brew your black tea in a teapot or mug until strong. Remove teabag or leaves and add milk, chai spice blend, vanilla extract and honey for desired sweetness. Sprinkle chai latte powder on top, stir or froth, and enjoy!

vanilla ice cream with cinnamon

If you’d told me last year that I’d be lugging a Cuisinart ice cream maker through San Jose International Airport on a Wednesday night, I would have raised an eyebrow. The man behind me at security certainly did, flinching as he watched me hoist the thing onto the x-ray belt next to my significantly smaller bag of clothes. “Is that a Cuisinart?” he asked, and I nodded with the irritation that lingers after being asked to take off your shoes. “Well,” he sighed, “That’s not something you see every day.”

The backstory to squeezing a gigantic Cuisinart box under the plane seat in front of me goes like this: for my mother’s 50th birthday, I thought it would be a lovely idea to buy her an ice cream maker. Yes, she had requested it several months earlier while flipping through a Williams-Sonoma catalog, but it was also partly a selfish purchase—ice cream is quite possibly my favorite food. Field trip to Santa Cruz for cheap sushi? Three scoops of green tea. Burrito lunch after harvest? A hefty arroz con leche ice cream bar. I marked the end of every college finals season with a pint, asking the cashier for a plastic spoon so I could start eating on the 5-block walk back to my dorm. I may forgo the last slice of cake or the final cookie in the jar, but with ice cream I always go in for the last bite.

I’ve done homemade ice cream before, usually following the traditional custard recipe of eggs, sugar, cream and milk. It was good (what homemade ice cream isn’t?) but recently I came across a book in Bookstore Santa Cruz that made me reconsider my relationship to Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home features recipes for Goat Cheese Sour Cherry and Salty Caramel, but most interesting were her basic ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, corn starch and cream cheese. Add a mahogany vanilla bean from Madagascar (courtesy of our good friend Sandy) and an enormous stick of cinnamon, and you have perfection worthy of making 20 pounds of brushed steel airborne.

Vanilla Ice Cream with Cinnamon

Adapted from Jeni’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

2 cups milk

1 generous Tbs cornstarch

3 Tbs cream cheese, softened

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

2/3 cup sugar

1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped

1 cinnamon stick

pinch salt

Combine the cornstarch with two tablespoons of milk in a small bowl. In another bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth.

In a saucepan, mix the remaining milk with the cream and add the sugar, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean with seeds. Bring the mixture to a boil over moderate heat, then turn off the heat and add the cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook for a minute or so until slightly thickened.

Whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until combined. Add the salt and let the ice cream base cool until the bowl is cold to the touch. When cool, remove the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick and freeze in your ice cream maker (a worthy investment, let me tell you!).

almond crumb cobbler with nectarines and plums

The first time I walked into the kitchen in our apprentices’ cottage, I was more than a little apprehensive. With my cast iron skillet under one arm and a bag of groceries under the other, I surveyed my new home: the condiments and margarita mix piled on a ledge overhanging the oven, the leaning tower of drying rack, the linoleum muddied from countless dirty tennis shoes. There was even a piece of shriveled cactus suspended between two curtain-less curtain rods. I took the seat offered by Lisette and the beer offered by Phillip, then I looked around the room one more time and decided I liked it.

To be sure, the odds were stacked in our little kitchen’s favor. In every place I’ve lived the kitchen has felt most like home, and I take up residence there before I unpack my clothes or make up my bed. The size or lighting of a bedroom doesn’t mean all that much when you’re sleeping, but the kitchen is where you live—cooking, eating, sitting at the table on a Saturday morning with David Sedaris and a lukewarm cup of tea. It may be a bit cramped (when we’re all seated for dinner you can barely open the oven), but our kitchen never fails to charm me with its tile-topped table and pair of large windows with a view of the wild turkeys roosting in the adjacent grove of redwoods.

When I’m alone in the kitchen I’ll sit in the same spot for hours, but once other people start cooking it’s like a sneeze—I have to do it as well. If Ross or Phillip has already started dinner my backup plan is dessert, which means that though I’m really more of a cook my baking skills have taken a marked turn for the better here. The size of our kitchen does make it difficult—I found myself making bread pudding on the dryer one night—but it gives me the satisfaction of something to do with myself and the Costco-sized bags of flour and sugar in our pantry.

This was the backstory of the crumble I was making the other night, and while Phillip fried tempura-battered pieces of green tomato and broccoli I sliced away at nectarines and plums and cut my finger (again) on the blade of our food-processor grinding butter, oats, and almonds. I slid the pie dish into the oven as we started in on our fried chicken, but when dessert time rolled around the top still didn’t have that golden crispness every crumble needs. Ross suggested putting it under the broiler for a minute or two, and with the oven door closed we all went back to laughing like fourth graders at a particularly unfortunately shaped tomato.

Ten minutes later, the smoke began. Pouring from under the stovetop it gushed out as I flung open the oven door to see a crumble lost beneath a foot of flames. In a moment everyone was in emergency mode: Christine and Adam pulled back the chairs, Phillip commandeered the dish-washing hose at the sink, Ross grabbed hand towels to smother the flames. Me? I don’t remember much, but apparently I stood in the middle of it all lamely flapping an oven-mitt and crying out “Oh no! Oh no!” at regular intervals. And as we sat on the stoop minutes later replacing the blackened oat topping with giant spoonfuls of ice cream, I said a little prayer of thanks that I have friends whose cool heads meant our kitchen would live to see another day.

Almond Crumb Cobbler with Nectarines and Plums

3 ripe white nectarines

2 ripe plums

6 Tbsp butter

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup oats

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup almonds plus a few more for sprinkling on top



vanilla extract


Slice the nectarines and plums and arrange on the bottom of a 9″ glass pie dish. In a food processor mix butter, flour, oats, sugar, almonds and spices, grinding until the mixture becomes a moist crumb. Sprinkle crumble on top of fruit and give the dish a shake, then sprinkle with a few almonds and a pinch or two of salt before baking in a 350 degree oven until the top is a perfect golden brown. (Resist the urge to use the broiler. Trust me.)

carrot zucchini cake with walnuts

Sitting here by the pool with the afternoon sun on my legs and a cascade of trumpet flowers draping off the pergola above my head, I have but one recurring thought: life is good on Love Apple Farms. Alright, I may not have been thinking that yesterday when I lugged an enormous bucket of biodynamic worm tea back and forth for several hours to hand fertilize 15 beds of produce. But as hard as the eight-hour workdays can be, there are a disproportionately large number of beautiful moments here on the farm compared to anywhere else I’ve lived.

I suppose my “beautiful moments” philosophy needs a bit of an explanation. At the risk of sounding like a complete hippie (a charge easy to make considering I now wear tie-dyed Love Apple shirts every other day), I have a thing for beautiful moments that started around the time that I began keeping journals. It began as a New Year’s resolution—think of a memorable moment from the day before falling asleep, and at the end of every month record the 10 best moments in a list. Unfortunately I’ve long since abandoned the practice of listing them, but I still think of moments before bed sometimes and wonder if there’s any way I could ever truly capture them in writing.

And here, every day an ordinary moment will strike me as strange or lovely or funny. Like sitting by the redwood trees at dusk, passing around the airsoft rifle and shooting soda cans off a pile of bricks. Stealing the single strawberry from the garden pots, warm and a little tart because I couldn’t wait for it to ripen. Smelling the aroma of simmering malted barley in a beer making class, or eating a crispy fried farm egg on toast with avocado. Lying on the roof of the garden classroom on a Monday night and watching the stars.

For me it’s always been the small things, small moments that add up to something like contentment. Which is why when, the other night, I found myself suddenly craving carrot cake at 5:30 in the afternoon, I just went into the kitchen and made it. No one else was around. I probably should have been making dinner, something savory and practical. But I felt like carrot cake—more than that, I felt like making carrot cake alone in the afternoon, humming to myself in my own little beautiful moment.

Carrot Zucchini Cake with Walnuts

2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

2 tsp baking soda





4 eggs

1 cup oil

2 cups grated carrot

1 cup grated zucchini

1 cup walnut halves

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and baking soda. Add in the spices to taste (I like a few good shakes of each) and finish with a pinch of salt. Add the eggs and combine, then pour in the oil and mix well. Lastly put in the grated carrot, zucchini, and walnuts and bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.

coconut rice pudding with cinnamon

Flipping through a food magazine in the kitchen last night I had a moment of self-discovery, handily delivered by a nifty magazine sidebar fact: “A new study shows there’s a genetic enzyme in saliva that makes some people more prone to craving soft-serve ice cream, pudding and other foods with similar textures.” Frozen yogurt? Definitely a fan. But what leads me to believe my textural cravings might be genetic is my unfailing love of rice pudding.

My family has always been skewed firmly towards the rice end of the rice/potatoes continuum. My grandparents’ table is never without a lidded glass dish of brown basmati, and after my parents received a Persian rice cooker 10 years ago a giant rice dome tinted yellow with saffron has graced the table at almost all our dinner parties. I personally encountered rice nirvana rather late in life, when I discovered sticky coconut rice at a Thai food joint on Amsterdam Avenue my sophomore year. The fact that I got serious food poisoning from the place and went on to make my version of coconut rice pudding every night for months is a testament to my love (and obsessive food tendencies).

Maybe it was the lone can of coconut milk on the dusty top shelf of our communal kitchen. Maybe it was the nine jars of goats’ milk filling the upper level of our fridge. Either way the end result was that a few nights ago I fired up the electric stove for a hybrid goats’ milk/coconut rice pudding, stirred lovingly for almost an hour and plied liberally with honey, cinnamon, and salt. We enjoyed it warm after a hearty dinner of chard and eggs (two other farm staples hogging the fridge), but I liked it even better the next day when, starving from a four-hour battle with waist-high foxtail weeds, I ate it straight from the refrigerated pan with the certainty that my DNA fully justified my behavior.

Coconut Rice Pudding with Cinnamon

The key to good coconut rice? Salt. A good rice pudding? Cinnamon. Use lots of both and the effect is magical. Also I tend to go with brown rice for a slightly healthier version, but whether you use brown or white keep in mind that shorter grains make for a stickier end result.

1 1/2 cups rice

1 oz can coconut milk

1 cup milk

1 Tbsp honey



In a medium-sized saucepan, heat 2 1/2 cups of water with a 1/2 cup coconut milk. Cook your rice as directed, and when it’s barely done add the rest of the coconut milk and stir until thick and creamy. Add the milk in two or three doses, waiting each time until the liquid is fully absorbed and stirring regularly to prevent the bottom from sticking. Add the honey and taste for sweetness. Lastly season generously with cinnamon and salt before removing the saucepan from heat to cool and settle before serving (or diving in with a spoon).

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