Rubber. Glue. And… Sugar.

Banana Peel Cake 1

One might imagine that with Himself out on medical leave, all kinds of cooking and travel would be taking place. Well, no… medical leave, in this case, means you feel cruddy enough not to go to work and don’t know what the cause is, unfortunately. We’re working through it – and we’re mostly doing well, but sometimes it’s a slog, without a doubt. Still, there has been some experimental foodie-ing going on, because we wouldn’t be us without this aspect of our lives.

People talk about “adulting” in the sense of eating all of the foods in one’s farm box before it goes bad or eating all the produce in one’s fruit bowl before same. These are huge and worthy goals, dear people. We’ve extended our personal goals to really looking critically not just at our consumption, but at our waste, which the U.S. does a lot of – wasting food, that is. People on a budget considering seriously the impact of really using every single bit of a fruit or veg find that they can save a lot of money while expanding their creativity. It’s definitely a challenge. We discovered an entire cookbook for that purpose. It’s gorgeous and full of interesting recipes, but the one which caught our attention the most was… a banana peel cake recipe. Oh, yes – Banana Peel Cake With Brown Sugar Frosting.

NB: If you have a latex allergy, like T’s youngest sister, remember that banana peels contain latex – please, DO NOT EAT THIS CAKE or even try to make it, as boiled or processed banana peels release more latex than fresh.

Banana Peel Cake 3

Normally, the idea of cooking with something that is limp, brownish, and usually crumpled up and put in the trash would seem problematic, but the cookbook author swears by this recipe, and said it tasted like the best banana bread, ever. Like the majority of West Coast folk, we’re big fans of banana bread, and the idea of a recipe with a controllable amount of sugar and carbohydrate, yet with still a rich banana flavor seemed remarkable – too good to be true.

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Not even going to lie – it kind of was.

This is not to say that it wasn’t a banana bread-shaped thing in the universe of banana breads, but for all of the accolades, etc., the cake itself was kind of …well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The directions state that you need to remove both blossom and stem ends of the peel, then pry out and discard the white strings from the interior of the peel. Next, one is meant to boil the peel, drain it, preserving some of the water aside, and then to puree the peels. All of that was kind of fun, because it was… just so weird to be messing around with peels, which are so very obviously trash. We started the cake on an impulse, after making a morning protein shake — and if you look, our peels are just of normally ripe bananas. Not nearly overripe bananas. The cookbook strongly suggests you use very brown or almost fully covered in speckles peels, as one does when making banana bread.

But – without the gift of hindsight, we went with what we had, impulsively trimmed our peels, and tossed them into a pot. The kitchen smelled of bananas, as it always does when one makes bread, but it was a slightly …different smell. More rich, but also more bitter, and slightly tinged with an almost vanilla edge.

And speaking of vanilla – or spices of any kind – the recipe is utterly lacking in those. And that was a point of contention with our Baker. There are far too many baked goods in the world which don’t include, at minimum, vanilla. It might be argued that bananas are a relative of vanilla, thus not in need of it, but to us a good banana bread typically includes allspice or ginger or cardamom or at the very least, a simple pinch of coriander, or a bit of cinnamon even — anything, just so the bread doesn’t just have the flat, slightly insipid flavor of banana alone. But, no, not this time. The Baker compensated by adding in ground vanilla powder, but since we were trying to actually follow the recipe, we didn’t take it further than that. We probably should have.

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Something – the peel? the latex? – really informed the texture of this cake in both its baked and unbaked form. Baked, it is slightly springy to the touch, but sticky – really sticky, like Scottish Sticky Toffee Pudding stickiness, as if it is made with dates and a sugary syrup. Unbaked, but the batter is thin and unprepossessing. It didn’t really raise much, despite all the leavening, and it sort of came away from the back of a spoon like …well, not even like pancake batter – like a crepe batter. Noting the batter texture, the Baker decided to bake it as a roll cake, which turned out to be the best call.

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Like Sticky Toffee Pudding, this cake might best be served in the British way, with a sticky sauce, and eaten less like a cake and more like a bread pudding. The whipped cream in the center lessened the effect of the general stickiness, and everyone who had some enjoyed it. We …tasted it, and then said… “Meh.”

Banana Peel Cake 12

Though this was our first exposure to Peel Cake, it’s apparently quite common in, of all places, the magical land of Oz. The Oz – or Aussie – version of Dateline had it on their show way back in 2009 when cookbook author Edna Toledo came on to the show and made it. Her recipe uses far, far more peels and she says you can use orange peels in it, too. (Hm!)

A more recent NZ version has both peels and… avocado frosting, so you can… be… super… green? Or something.

We may have to try this again, because we must have done something wrong. Everyone says this is fluffy and delicious, and it’s hard to compare our ambivalent response to the rapturous descriptions of what is clearly a beloved cake, but… nah. Sure, the cake is okay, but life’s short — too short for cake that isn’t absolutely amazing. Why waste the carbohydrates? We’ll try something else.

Until next cake…

Cheese Scones, Because…

One of the things we have left to us of our lives in Scotland is reading the Scottish papers. We still read the BBC News for Scotland, peruse The Herald, subscribe online to Bella Caladonia, and of course follow a number of Scots via social media. It’s always interesting to get a Scottish perspective on the world.

This week, however, the BBC reminded Scotland that it’s an English company, with a report most Scots saw as blatantly false. Scottish Twitter’s response to the various alarmist claims by English / Unionist media, about how the Scottish Nationalist Party is having a civil war, was swift. One would think the English would learn that the Scots will unite in the face of a common enemy…

So, of course D. had to go make cheese scones (properly pronounced with a short ŏ, as in BOND) in support of our dear friends currently suffering beneath the staggering peril of so much sarcasm in one place.

Cheese Scones 11

-D & T

Olive Tomato Garlic Bread

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Olive Tomato Garlic Bread 3
Olive Tomato Garlic Bread 5
Olive Tomato Garlic Bread 6
Olive Tomato Garlic Bread 4


OK, we’ve found something wonderful in including sundried tomatoes in our olive bread. And, no, there’s not a recipe – go play with bread, that’s what it’s for.

This bread includes garlic-stuffed green olives, olive oil, Kalamata olives, minced garlic, a bit of crushed red pepper (what else do you do with leftover pizza toppings?), and a couple of handfulls of sundried tomatoes chopped coarsely. It’s primarily white whole wheat (in case you didn’t know: there’s a mutant strain of wheat which has a white hull, so you can have whole wheat that looks like white flour) but also includes about a cup of actual all-purpose flour (the end of the bag, from making carrot cake).

The fantastic rise on this isn’t from anything special – I think it’s because I didn’t weigh this down with flaxseeds and rye berries. It’s also because I decided that 4 cups of water gives 4 rather meager loaves, so I went with 3 loaves instead. It also might be because I left them sitting on top of the oven while the carrot cake was baking, so they were kept nicely warm throughout the rise.

The tomatoes add a wee pop of sweetness, offsetting the saltiness of the olives. This is awesomely tender (due to the olive oil) and makes fabulous toast. Next time I’ll opt to add the olives and tomatoes by hand, rather than throwing them into the stand mixer, because they’re a bit broken up from having been kneaded in with the dough hook. On the other hand, this is just so tasty that maybe it doesn’t matter that the olives are broken.

It may be time for lunch, now, and some sandwiches made on this bread. Or maybe just some cheese, so as not to obscure the flavor of the bread itself.


Carrot Cake

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Of all the cakes I bake to take to my coworkers, the King Arthur Flour, Everything But the Kitchen Sink Carrot Cake has to be the one that disappears the fastest. I used dried pineapple this time, instead of using canned and crushed … and I think I prefer the canned, believe it or not. Yes, the bursts of sweetness from the dried fruit are nice, but I think that I prefer the slightly tart bursts of raisin (or currant, in this case) with the pineapple more evenly distributed throughout.

Since this one started out to be a double recipe but ended up being a quadruple recipe (I doubled the flour in my head … and then doubled it again), I decided to play a bit with the sugar and only include 3/4 the amount of sugar. I find that this actually worked out quite well – that the cake is not so over-the-top sweet this way. I adjusted the spices a wee bit, as well, with more nutmeg than called for, and less allspice.

I pre-sliced it before frosting it (it’s a 14″ x 14″ cake pan, so I went with a 6 x 6 slice). This is the first time I’ve tried this, and I think it’s something I’ll do again, particularly with such a large cake. This cake isn’t going anywhere, it’s so dense, and this will definitely make life easier when trying to serve pieces at work. I had initially thought to leave it in the cake pan, but that’s been problematic in getting pieces out, and this way I could put chopped nuts around the edges (to let people know, very clearly, that there are nuts in this cake).

We’ll see how long this lasts, tomorrow. With 36 pieces, I’m guessing it’s going to last until lunch … but I’ll make a point of emailing around to let people know that they can can come visit for cake.

Carrot Cake 9

As always, when using this pan: this is a huge cake. It’s always rather surprising (although it shouldn’t be, when considering that the pan won’t even fit in any of our cabinets).


Planning Ahead

When you have a deep-freeze, you can plan ahead. For us, that means we can make up four casseroles and about four loaves of bread (one pan is double-length and is really for making angel-food-cake, but who does that?).

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Three of the casseroles went into the deep freeze, where they’ll stay until we’re not feeling like cooking dinner. The fourth was baked immediately after the bread came out of the oven. The bread will, likewise, mostly be put into the deep freeze, where it will stay until we’re in dire need of raisin bread

We’re really enjoying that there’s a tortilla factory about a mile down the road from us, and have been experimenting with making “enchilada casseroles.” This batch contains several layers of crookneck squash, as well as beans, cheese, TVP, corn tortillas, and green or red enchilada sauce.

The raisin bread contains a heap of raisins and currants, plus our spice blend, some whole rye-berries (steamed), and a few whole fennel seeds to add that random element of surprise to things.

Now that we’ve figured out that the oven needs to be preheated for about 30 minutes, we’re happy to be able to plan ahead for the week (and beyond).

-D & T

Nearly Settled

Another week! Another pile of collapsed boxes! As of today, all we have left to unpack are the art supplies and to hang what mirrors and paintings are going to go up. Everything else is unpacked and has a permanent home and/or is sorted into donation boxes, awaiting pickup on Wednesday. Less clutter = more peace, and that’s really helpful to T getting creative work done. This is a very quiet neighborhood (except when someone gets the odd urge to mow something, or the train blows its whistle), even on the weekends, and the wind whistling through the house works as natural white noise. It makes for good napping conditions – and we are still exhausted enough to take advantage of them. Well, we think about it, anyway…

On D’s work front, his first week at the new job was immensely enjoyable – so much so that he neglected to come home until after seven, occasionally. There’s much to be done, and much chaos to organize, and he’s enjoying the challenge (or the chaos, one or the other. Not clear which just yet).

To those who’ve complained we’ve gone radio silent and feel as far away as we did when we lived in Scotland: apologies! You’ve asked what the house looks like. Here’s part of downstairs. A glimpse of upstairs to come next time.

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Above is what we’ll call “the den,” simply because the living room / dining room is the next space over. As you can see, we’re still sorting a few things, organizing the kitchen space, using a folding table. That table will get tucked away until holidays or some other need, soon.

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If you’re in the den, you’re looking into the kitchen. Yes, those are sticky notes on the cupboards – we had to decide what went where, and haven’t quite gotten it down to memory yet. Things are still shifting around (the flour moved all the way across the kitchen, just last night, to find a home in a cabinet next to the sink, rather than next to the fridge). We’re still trying to get the cupboard space to work well, which is odd, since they’re so narrow and some of them are so deep. As large as the ones next to the fridge are, they’re still too narrow for our largest mixing bowls, so those have had to relocate to the closet next to the garage door.

Whole Wheat Flax Bread 8

We have done our first proper baking here, though, 10 days after moving in (the quiche last weekend doesn’t count, really). A gas oven is miles off from an electric, and there’s an adjustment of all the senses, especially sound (that whoomp as the pilot lights), and smell (that little whiff of gas). Touch is the one sense that doesn’t fare quite as well here… because the oven thermostat is so far off, we had to order an external thermometer. It takes about 45 minutes to get up to close to full heat (set it at 390°F and it’ll get to 350°F in that time), and then gradually slides even hotter, so you have to adjust the temperature down when you put your baking in. We notified the invisible property management people, who report that the owner insists that this is what an oven is supposed to do, and we’re just going to live with it until it falls over.

We are not amused.

At least the bread turned out superbly.

Onward into the new week, with its goals of placing the last mirrors, rugs, and artwork, figuring out the irrigation system and finding a home for the last odds & ends. Until next time,

-D & T

Sweet Potato Snaps

You know what’s problematic? Vegan cookie dough.

Sweet Potato Cookies 11

In the fourth grade, T went to play at a friend’s house, and while the mother was diligently ironing, she was watching Days of our Lives, and eating, with a small spoon, from a bowl. Curious (nosy) T was offered some. And she was horrified. It was chocolate chip cookie dough – with raw eggs in it.

Being that awful know-it-all child, T gasped that raw eggs were BAD for you, and didn’t indulge. But, vegan cookie dough on a rainy afternoon… is another problem altogether. What’s worse? Is sweet potato cookie dough. If you already like sweet potatoes, baker, you may be doomed…


Sweet Potato Cookies 12

We have used surplus root veg to make cookies and muffins before, and it can be a great idea. Lots of vitamins and high fiber, and with minimal sweetener – honey or molasses – it’s a good way to use farm box veggies. This recipe uses sweet potato puree, so if you have a couple of baked yams sitting around, it’s a great way to use leftovers.

We revised a traditional Southern cooking show recipe and doubled everything but the sugar, and we still think it could maybe be cut a little, but your mileage may vary. Your baking time may also vary; we had to shorter ours quite a bit, or have black-bottomed cookies, which aren’t that tasty.

Sweet Potato Snaps

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar 2 Tbsp. molasses
  • 1 egg, room temperature 1 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sweet potato puree
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F 350°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and salt.
  3. Cream butter and sugar.
  4. Add sweet potato and mix until incorporated.
  5. Mix in dry ingredients and vanilla.
  6. Drop by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each cookie.
  7. Bake 18 minutes.Bake 10-12 minutes unless you’d like to eat cinders.

These actually taste – in dough form – like a cross between pumpkin pie and gingerbread – but once baked up, the spices create a subtler seasoning, and the sweet potato flavor really shines out. Be sure to let the cookies sit a bit after baking – not only are these little nuclear furnaces to bite into, the starches need to settle in order to give them that chewy gingersnap texture. Five-to-seven minutes should do the trick, and yes, you can wait that long.

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As you can see, we used a scoop to make these cookies the same uniform size (until some of us got bored with that *ahem*) but if you have a cookie press, the cookie dough is a great consistency for that.

Originally, the cookies were meant to be finished with an orange glaze, but we really feel like a.) there’s already quite enough sugar going on there, and b.) the orange might be better added as extract, just before baking. If you were making these for a party, and not just for at-home snacking, by all means, use a powdered sugar and orange juice glaze and a zest an orange to give it a bit of color, but the sweet potato flavor really doesn’t need the extra help, and if you use too much sugar, you really run the risk of losing the subtle play of flavor. Definitely use more orange than sugar here!

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Enjoy – and enjoy these rainy, hazy, crazy days of winter.

FauxOreos, Redux

Back in 2010 we made fauxoreos, and don’t know why we haven’t made them since. Possibly because they’re so fabulously addictive?

Well, we decided that, rather than baking a carrot cake (which seems to be the most favorite thing of all things, at D’s work), we’d try the oreos again. We have decided that they are so awesome that they need to leave the house first thing tomorrow, if they survive that long (they will – there’s no way we can eat more than a few bites and stay sensible about sugar intake).

Homemade Oreos 2.06

We had set out to roll these out as we did last time, but D wasn’t happy with them being oval for some reason (he’d forgotten that last time we didn’t roll them out, but smooshed them with the bench scraper – the bench scraper that’s gotten lost somewhere along the way, and was perfect for smooshing things). So, instead, we made the best use of our sushi press/mold ever, and used it as the thickness guide for rolling these out to a perfect 1/4 inch thickness.

Homemade Oreos 2.14

Of course, in addition to the more reasonably-sized oreos, D had to make one that’s about 6 inches in diameter. Just because. And then we got down to the icing things portion of the exercise, and realized that we didn’t have any icing sugar in the house … so we used granulated instead, sent for a spin through the cuisinart for long enough to at least be finely ground.

Homemade Oreos 2.17

Tomorrow morning, some of these will be going to the Honda dealer in Vacaville, because they’ve been so good to us. Some others will be going to D’s work, possibly to be handed out to a few special people, ’cause there really aren’t all that many in this batch. As to the huge one … we’re not sure. That may just have to stay home.

-D & T

‘I’ll to thee a Simnell bring,’ Part i

A great deal can change in a short time. Contracts can be changed, lives or health can be lost, and vacation plans altered mid-stride. We’ve all lived it.

What’s weird is how rarely that impacts our daily world. Most of the time, things change realllllly slowly. At the speed of glacial snails. We’re dying for Something To Happen, and …nothing much does. That, too, is life.

Culinarily, change is never swift. A recipe from the 15th century still today can bear the echo of its roots. Take, for example, the Simnel cake. This is an old, old English Easter cake, mentioned in a 17th century Herrick (1591-1674) poem from 1648. ‘I’ll to thee a Simnell bring ‘Gainst thou go’st a mothering, So that, when she blesseth thee, Half thou’lt give to me.’ The narrator (we assume Robert Herrick) confides that he’ll bring his friend a Simnel cake, so that, on the festival day of Mothering Sunday, which is the fourth Sunday of Lent, he’ll receive half of her blessing. Interestingly, Mothering Sunday can allegedly be traced back to the Greeks celebrating a three-day festival of the goddess Cybele, mother of all gods. Rather than celebrating motherhood, the festival apparently celebrates the Mother Church. Used as part of Mothering Sunday celebrations through Britain and beyond, it’s a specialty because Mothering Sunday, or “Refreshment Sunday” as it’s also called, relaxes the strict fasting rules for Lent. Thus: cake!

Simnel Cake 1

Sounds good to us.

More information we ferreted out: the word simnel is from Old French simenel, or spelled seminel, based on Latin simila, meaning fine flour. In Greek semidalis means finest wheaten flour, and an old Assyrian word, samīdu and the Syriac word sĕmīdā, mean fine meal. (Semolina, anyone? It’s the same root. Also semmel in German means a bread roll.) Thus, we know that this Simnel cake is made with finely milled flour, probably white, or as close to white as a household could get. It was studded with dried fruits – what was available at the beginning of Spring, leftover from winter – and heavily seasoned. Some recipes call for it being both boiled AND baked. Of course, boiling is traditional for many Scottish cakes, as boiling was all some households had. Few working people had ovens in the 18th-19th century, and cooked in a kettle over a fire, or on a hearth. However, there’s a goofy legend attached to this — a man called Simon and his wife Nell argued over whether the cake for Mothering Sunday should be baked or boiled. Too keep peace, they did both, so the cake was named after both of them: Sim-Nell. Aaand, we don’t believe that at all, but it’s convenient fiction to explain why some recipes call for both methods of cookery.

Our first shot at this cake comes from England. We used the hand-written recipe recorded between 1705 and 1726 blogged at Cooking in the Archives. The recipe is held at the University of Pennsylvania library, and calls for ingredients like “a peck of flour” “a race of Ginger” “Balme,” which was the wild yeast found floating atop fermenting beer, and “sack,” which is kind of like sherry. We didn’t have spirits or fermenting anything in the house, so skipped that step. We noticed that this old recipe did not call for marzipan or peel or anything like more modern Simnel recipes call for, but we made sure to honor the “fine flour” aspect of it by using a strong white bread flour. We substituted the “boyl” – er, boiling for a long, slow rise in a slightly warmed oven. This was a necessity, as it’s still pretty cool here of an afternoon and evening, and the nights are crisp, and this bread just didn’t otherwise want to raise. This could also be blamed on the absolute stuffing of raisins and currants. This stuff is LOADED.

Simnel Cake 3

The Unprepared Chef, or, How To Make An Imperfect Cheesecake

Blueberry Chevre Pie 4

Can you bake a cheesecake without cream cheese? T. asked the internets at large on a Wednesday afternoon. She was treated to dubious silences and a chorus of “NO” by well-meaning strangers when she perused the goods in her fridge and found a log of Laura Chenel chèvre – a mild and fresh Sonoma goat cheese. “It’s too bossy,” she was warned. “Too much flavor.” That’s as may be, but when you’re stuck on a writing project and have been cooking just because a.) you’re cold and cross, and b.) you’re craving an excuse to eat blueberries, and c.) did we mention cross? you just… go ahead and make that thing. Because, cheesecake. Sometimes life is less about if you could do a thing, than if you should

Normal people have… food on hand, in the house, and don’t need to make lightning raids on the pantry to create things out of odds and ends, but somehow, the end of the week always brings us to this weird pass. Maybe it’s just that we haven’t yet gotten into the habit of doing “big shops” for more than a few days at a time, a relic of our time in the UK when we went to the tiny market up the road daily. Maybe it’s just that we rarely have desserts that we make for ourselves (though D. frequently makes ginormous cakes and …carries them off to work) and we don’t think to have ingredients on hand. Maybe it’s just that SOMEONE is altogether too fond of cream cheese frosting for their ginormous work cakes. At any rate, T was determined to thaw some blueberries, and needed something to go with them. Enter the chèvre.

Possibly a traditional West Coast American cheesecake (sans eggs, unbaked) might not have worked out as well, but this was T’s usual kitchen sink veggie hybrid, which uses a box of Mori-Nu silken tofu to replace the additional protein and creaminess that eggs would have provided. A tablespoon of vanilla, together with half (4 oz. from an 8 oz. log) of a Laura Chenel chèvre cheese – no salt added, because chèvre is already salted – three tablespoons of castor sugar, and we were good to go. The ingredients she simply creamed together with a stick blender, and set aside.

Blueberry Chevre Pie 3

The unprepared chef traditionally never has digestive biscuits, gingersnaps, or anything else helpful — or homemade — but there’s always that stale packet of graham crackers she got for the nephews ages ago — they’ll do in a pinch for the crust. They won’t add much flavor, so freshly ground dried ginger and/or cinnamon to the dry crushed crackers is essential. One and a half cups of blueberry mixed with a half tablespoon of King Arthur Flour dried lemon juice, two tablespoons of sugar and 3/4 tablespoon of cornstarch was stirred to a thickening boil, and set aside for later… and then T put it together, baked it – sans water bath, just in a plain oven at 170°C/350°F for thirty-five minutes until the middle still jiggled but there were signs of tightening all around the edges.

T could hardly wait for the stuff to cool. Enquiring minds now wanted to know if it was any good… and it was! The slight tangyness provided by sour cream in many cheesecake recipes for more prepared chefs is provided by the chèvre. We actually wish we had used more than half the container; the Chenel is such a mild cheese and not so assertive that we couldn’t have used more of that piquancy (conversely, we could maybe have gotten the same effect with a tablespoon less of sugar – we’ll have to fiddle with it). Maybe we’re just on a late autumn citrus kick, but T. really wished she’d added more lemon in the form of zest to the berry topping, which she added to the room-temperature cooled pie. Next time. Next time.

Blueberry Chevre Pie 1

Until then, here’s to finding random things in the cupboards and the fridge and beating them into culinary submission.