New Home + Recipe for Roasted Pear Scones

New House!

Hello from the City of Oaks! For those of you just joining us, that would be Raleigh, NC, our new home as of two weeks ago. On November 2, we pulled into our driveway at last, and at the request of our parents, John carried me across the threshold of our new house. It was a little awkward, both of us being rather stiff from the eight hour drive and sort of weighed down by a late lunch at Panera, but we rose to the occasion.

In some of the pictures we took, I look like I’m crying, but this was actually because I had just been laughing so hard it brought me to tears. John had predicted, midway through the trip, the EXACT time (5:28 p.m.!) that we would arrive at the house. How he did this I have no idea, but these kinds of small miracles seem to induce delirium in me, although that might have been a result of the extremely long drive. What? I come from New York City, where being in the car this long is not a normal way of life, unless you’re trying to get across town on Canal Street.

Anjou and Bartlett

Pears.

It was a week before the truck with all of our belongings would arrive. Getting by during that period with no furniture or cookware was an interesting challenge—kind of like camping, but in a house. One thing you should know about us is that we hate eating out day after day after day. On our honeymoon in Italy, we rented apartments on Airbnb so we would have use of the kitchen and could alternate nights going out for dinner with nights eating in. Some people say that this defeats the point of a relaxing honeymoon, but these people haven’t had our homemade caprese salad with fresh Italian buffalo mozzarella and peaches!

So, realizing we had neglected to pack a few cooking implements in the car with us when we moved, we bought a cheap pan at the grocery store—a little bit painful given how much nice cookware we’d just recently been given for the wedding, cookware that was heading towards us at that very moment, probably on I-95 somewhere in Maryland. In any case, our first dinner in our new home was a pretty decent meal of vegetable quesadillas, which we ate on paper plates while sitting on the floor of the living room, using life vests for pillows. Why did the life vests make it into the car but not, say, a pot or two? By way of an answer, I can only say that I can be a tad scatterbrained, and my husband really loves water sports. Make of that what you will.

Our furniture and other possessions finally arrived last weekend, and since then we have been busy making this place a home. It’s working! It actually looks like real adult people live here. The neighborhood is beautiful—a historic area of little bungalows along tree-lined streets. Our neighbors, some of whom have come out and introduced themselves, seem happy to have us. The other day, in the crock pot aisle at Target, the guy who installed our DirectTV recognized me and came over to say hello, asking how our TV service was working out. These kinds of things help a person to acclimate that much faster.

Pear chunks.

Pear chunks ready for roastin'

While we continue to set up shop here, arranging and rearranging the kitchen pretty much daily until it all feels right, the recipe I am about to share with you is in fact one from my final days in New York. These were days spent packing, of course, but also cooking a wide variety of dishes mainly consisting of items I hoped to use up in my fridge and pantry. Thus, this recipe came about when I surveyed my kitchen and found a surplus of flour and butter, a pint of heavy cream, sugar and eggs, and one lonely pear. Roasted pear scones! It’s good to remember that there are some joys in the fact that it’s no longer bikini season.

Scone dough wedges

Fini.

Ready for their closeups

It was true that I had to trek to the store to buy two more pears, but I tell you it was worth it. The smell of pears roasting in your oven alone is worth it. But then—then! You pull apart that first cakey scone, and buttery, pear-perfumed steam billows out. You take a bite and the crusty exterior gives way to a softness inside, lightly sweet, filled with velvety warm pears. Close your eyes and it’s a small miracle: the recipe for instant home, wherever you happen to be.

Last shot before I eat them all.

Pear Scones
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 firm pears (I used a combination of Anjou and Bartlett but any will do as long as they’re firm!)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt plus additional for egg wash
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, 1 for dough, 1 for egg wash

Heat oven to 375°F. Cut pears into small chunks, about 1-inch square. Line a large baking sheet with waxed paper. Spread pear chunks out on baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, or until they are beginning to dry out and brown. Remove baking sheet from oven, and let pear chunks cool. Leave oven on.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, 1/4 cup sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add cooled pear chunks, butter, heavy cream, vanilla, and 1 egg. Beat the dough just until no dry ingredients are visible.

Line cooled baking tray (make sure it is entirely cooled) with waxed paper.

Flour your countertop. Dump dough onto counter and flatten to 1-inch thickness (the dough may be very sticky). Cut dough into about six wedges (a term applied loosely, as you’ll see in my photos) of equal width. Transfer to baking sheet, leaving at least 2 inches between each wedge.

Whisk remaining egg in a small bowl with a teaspoon of water and a pinch of salt. Brush scones with egg wash. Sprinkle with remaining sugar.

Bake scones until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before eating.

A Tale of Too Much Stuff and (Somewhere Near the End) a Recipe for Butternut Squash Hummus

BS Hummus

The first time I moved out of one apartment and into another, I learned the hard way about “stuff.” Of course, I’d always had stuff, I just hadn’t realized it yet—or, come to see it for the clutter that it was. That first move was nothing short of a revelation. My roommate, Liz, and I had lived in our apartment on St. Mark’s Avenue in Brooklyn for barely a year, but in that time, we acquired so many things you’d think we envisioned retiring there.

Squash and Lemons
Cubed Squash
Processor
Getting Hummusier

It all started harmlessly enough, with empty jelly jars saved here and there and repurposed for the storage of jewelry, a few books we picked up for free off a neighbor’s stoop, a cache of gently used Ziploc bags we’d wash and hang to dry for re-use. But soon we were cruising the thrift shops a little too frequently and with a little too much gusto and not enough discernment. And the kicker—we weren’t throwing anything out. Our parents, eager to purge their attics, pawned off on us the tables, chairs, sheets, plates, cups, and bowls of our childhoods, and to us it made sense to seed our new home with cuttings from the homes we’d grown up in. We happily accepted all of it.

But our stay in the building was not altogether positive, and when our lease was up after only a year, we decided to go. We found another apartment a few blocks away.

The night of our move is a night I’ll never forget. We ordered pizza and cheerfully began placing things in boxes. We cranked up the music. We finished the pizza, and as the hours ticked by, we began to observe that we hadn’t made a dent.

It was around midnight by the time the panic really set in. I looked around and realized, with a milder version of the sudden dread a person might feel upon realizing he’s trapped in a sealed tank that’s quickly filling with water, that things were not looking good for us. Why had we saved all of this crap? Some of it was useful and some of it was sentimental, but most was not much of either. In that moment I think we grew up a little.

And then we trashed everything.

Well, not everything. That jewelry box with the broken lid? It was still perfectly fine!

Just as the sun was coming up, we moved the last load of our belongings up the stairs to the new apartment, the entirety of which might have fit inside Liz’s former bedroom. It looked like an ad for Manhattan Mini Storage.

Six years and many New York apartments later, John and I have just bought a house in North Carolina and are preparing to move in less than a month. While we’re light years away from Liz and my old packrat sensibilities, it is nonetheless a chore to assign every item we own a take it or leave it designation.

In the September issue of Martha Stewart (I know I know but stay with me) there’s a great essay by Nell Casey, a founding member of the fantastic storytelling forum, The Moth. When her husband’s job takes her to Rome for a year, with two young daughters in tow, Casey finds herself in a state she calls “unforeseen psychic upheaval.” Leaving Brooklyn, she and her husband leave the first home that had allowed them the space to feel like true adults, a place she had worked to give a sense of personality and familiarity to. In decorating the place with inherited antiques, furniture, photos, and the artifacts of travel, the house had become a haven of familial stability.

But in moving to a new place—in a new country nonetheless, where the family stays in a borrowed apartment with almost none of their own belongings—Casey finds that the home she’d so fiercely labored to create was rather easily replaced—“a discovery that has proved both terrifying and exhilarating.” She realizes that her family offers its own transportable meaning and pleasure. They are more or less the same people they were in Brooklyn as they are in Rome, regardless of the décor that surrounds them.

I’ve found this to be a helpful thing to keep in mind as we begin to pack our lives into boxes and suitcases (or rather, as we prepare to have the moving company pack us—yes, I’ve come a long way in six years). We’ve begun to see that there’s virtue in simplicity, in paring things back to include only the most significant, the most useful, the most important. That the rest is clutter, that it’s us that will make this home our home.

Black Sesame Crack(ers)

In honor of simplicity, here is a simple recipe I made recently that I absolutely must share with you. It’s a marriage of two out of my three favorite things—hummus and roasted butternut squash. My third favorite thing? He’s already in North Carolina, setting up shop.

Voila.

 

Butternut Squash Hummus

1 medium butternut squash
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons tahini
1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, one of which is unpeeled
Pinch sea salt, plus more to taste
2 scallions, sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place unpeeled garlic clove in a ramekin or other small heatproof bowl. Set aside.

Cut top of squash off to remove the stem, then cut squash in half. With a spoon, remove seeds from center of each half. Discard seeds. Place squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil. Roast BOTH unpeeled garlic clove and squash—garlic for 10 to 15 minutes, and squash for 25 to 30 minutes, until tender and squash skin is beginning to brown and look papery.

Let squash and garlic cool. The skin of both should peel away easily.

Cube one half of squash and reserve other half for another use.

In a food processor combine squash, chickpeas, tahini, juice of half the lemon, olive oil, roasted garlic clove and fresh garlic clove, and sea salt. Process until smooth. Add sliced scallions and pulse once or twice to combine. Add more salt to taste.

Mix your cultural foods and serve with the black sesame rice crackers pictured above, or pita chips and crudités.

Grilled Cauliflower Salad

Cauli

When it comes to food, I like to think that families are little subcultures. To some degree, everyone’s subject to regional and sometimes religious influences, but families come up with their own distinct repertoire of dishes, each prepared a certain way.

Now let’s not kid ourselves that this would be evident on any given weeknight, at least in this corner of America, where you’re probably just as likely to find a carton of take-out Mr. Wonton on the dinner table as you are a dish that Grandma used to make. But when a holiday comes around, most of us rise to the occasion and take pride in being members of the tribe, adherents to a familial culinary tradition. As we sit down to dinner, we like knowing exactly what we can expect—the version of the food we recognize and can claim ownership of (even if we’re really only claiming a relation to the person who actually cooked it.)

Pine Nuts

So as I scoured the pages of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem: A Cookbook in search of a new dish to bring to Rosh Hashanah dinner, the pressure was on. Ever since the book had fortuitously fallen into my possession last weekend (long story, not that interesting), I hadn’t been able to put it down.

It was more than just the pictures, though, which, let’s be honest, are the real reason for so many cookbook fetishes. The pictures here are indeed drool-worthy, but I think it’s the premise of the book that’s drawn me in.

Pines and Poms

London restaurateurs Ottolenghi and Tamimi were born in the same year in Jerusalem—Tamimi in the Muslim east and Ottolenghi in the Jewish west—but didn’t meet until years later when both were living in London and discovered their common roots. Few people are better equipped to understand that foods in Jerusalem—with its communities of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, among others—have a complicated pedigree. And then, of course, each family has its own particular preferences, which, with time, take on the hue of tradition.

Thus, Jerusalem is a curated—but in no way exhaustive—selection of some of the best dishes in the city’s foodscape. Age-old recipes, modernized recipes, and recipes loosely inspired by the flavors of the region are all among the dishes included here. But, as the authors forthrightly admit, this was foremost an opportunity to “experience again those magnificent flavors of our childhood, to satisfy the need most grown-ups have to relive those first food experiences to which nothing holds a candle later in life.” In other words, the distinguishing factor that warranted the inclusion of these particular recipes in this cookbook was…well, there really wasn’t one. It was all personal preference. Most of these were just the recipes that the families of these two guys cooked and loved, or that they themselves cooked and loved. As good a reason as any.

Pom Seeds

Closeup.

So what did I finally decide to cook? An idiosyncrasy of my family is that they call cauliflower “Carlyflower” so I thought that a Carlyflower salad would be an appropriate thing for me to add to the table this year. (Really, I make decisions this way.) Ottolenghi and Tamimi include a recipe for Roasted Cauliflower & Hazelnut Salad, which I’ve adapted below.

As it’s technically still summer and my kitchen was still, by my estimation, about 95 degrees earlier this week, I decided to grill the cauliflower rather than risk my sanity by turning on the oven inside. The result was so outstanding that I am begging you, pleading with you, to try it. The smoky, slightly charred florets were a major asset to this salad and something that differentiated it from the roasted vegetable you’d make in the wintertime.

Go on now. Try it. Make it for the family–for Rosh Hashanah or for no reason at all. And it may just be back, year after year, by popular demand.

Let's eat.

Grilled Cauliflower Salad with Pine Nuts and Pomegranate Seeds
Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook

2 small heads of cauliflower, broken into small florets
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 large celery stalk, chopped
1 scallion, minced
1/3 cup Italian parsley (curly leaves), chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

Grill cauliflower: In a large bowl, mix the cauliflower with 3 tablespoons of the oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Line a grill tray with foil and spread cauliflower on it. Grill over a medium flame, checking every so often, for about 35 minutes, or until cauliflower are browned and some spots are lightly charred. Remove from grill and let cool. (Don’t have a grill? Roast the cauliflower in an oven preheated to 425 degrees for about 30 minutes.)

Make the dressing: Combine remaining 2 tablespoons oil, cinnamon, allspice, vinegar, syrup, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Put everything together: Combine celery, parsley, and scallions in a large bowl. Add cooled cauliflower. Toss with dressing. Sprinkle with pine nuts and pomegranate seeds, and toss again lightly

We’re moving!

Caprese

Do you ever read the Metropolitan Diary section of The New York Times? Even if you don’t live in New York, I think you could probably still appreciate the little anecdotal gems about city life that readers submit. I once came across one that so perfectly distilled the urban experience I’ve had here, I haven’t forgotten it, and in fact, I’m reminded of it frequently.

I thought I might paraphrase it, but it’s really best consumed in its original form:

Dear Diary:

On a bitterly cold morning in February, my car on the downtown Seventh Avenue Express was jam-packed: working people and students of all sizes, Michelin Man-size down coats, specimens representing all phyla of wheeled luggage, gargantuan matching knitted hats and scarves newly received from well-meaning elderly relatives, backpacks. Lifting a newspaper to a readable position was out of the question; there was barely room to yawn.

When the train muscled its way into the Times Square stop a number of people popped out of the opened doors, only to be replaced somehow by an even greater number of riders, now squeezing all of the air and space and any semblance of personal comfort out of the car, and forcing people literally on top of each other.

After the doors closed and the train lumbered on, the packed car was in perfect silence. That is, until a raspy baritone voice several bodies away began to sing:

“Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…”

Ah, New York. Without a sense of humor, we’d all go insane here. Or have we already crossed that threshold? How many mornings and evenings have I spent in that most intimate of places—the 6 train at rush hour—trying to keep my face out of someone’s hair weave? It’s probably accurate to say that sardines have more elbow room in cans.

Still, I do believe that this is a city that builds character; that makes us tougher; that helps us be more open-minded citizens because it forces us into contact with strangers that is so much closer than we might otherwise choose to be. Things that are unfamiliar become a little more familiar and we accept that here. The virtues of a place become apparent if you let them.

When I first moved here almost seven years ago, fresh out of college, I was so overwhelmed and exhausted by the city, I could barely walk straight. In the time since, it’s grown on me. When I travel, I’ve come to take pride in telling people I’m a New Yorker. I guess I think it gives me a certain amount of cred.

Heirlooms and Nectarines

Which is why I want you to know, New York, that it’s not you—it’s us. I hope we can part on good terms.

In November, we move to Raleigh, NC, where John will begin work at his company’s new office there. We’re excited. We’re terrified. Will Raleigh feel like a real city? Or just a pale imitation of the kind of megametropolis we left behind? Will I miss the subway, and all of the crazy people who ride it?

Nectarines

But all of that obscures the fact that it’s time. We’re ready to go off in search of great hush puppies, even if it means leaving the good bagels behind.

Rest assured, New York: yours will be hard shoes to fill.

Caprese 2

And in the meantime, you bet we plan to make the most of the time we have left here. It’s still late summer for a couple more days, after all, and this time of year, it’s basically a crime not to enjoy yourself 99% of the time.

To that end, let’s make some good grub, shall we? Ever since John and I came back from our honeymoon in northern Italy in July, we pretty much subsist on caprese salads alone. You think I’m kidding.

We learned from the Italians that the trick to knocking a caprese salad out of the park is buffalo mozzarella (sorry—mozzarella di bufala), an incredible delicacy made from the milk of water buffalo, which contains twice as much butterfat as cow’s milk. I am telling you, this cheese makes regular cow’s milk mozz put its tail between its little legs and hide its puffy white face, shamed by inadequacy. Buffalo mozzarella is full of wonderful contradictions—it somehow manages to be light and rich at the same time, creamy but with enough structure to hold its shape in a salad. How does it pull this off? I do not know.

Here is a recipe for a caprese that is so delicious and easy to prepare you’ll find yourself making it multiple nights of the week like we do. (Really not kidding.) And as an added bonus, you don’t even need to turn on the oven to make it. (Because if your New York apartment is anything like mine, cooking in there is like standing in Death Valley. Remind me to add this to the list of things I will not miss.)

Do yourself a favor and make this salad now, because the end of the season for tomatoes and peaches is zooming at us with lightning speed (yes, this caprese salad has PEACHES. You’re welcome.) Do it quick, because those early harbingers of summer’s end—butternut squash, root veggies—are already turning up at the farmer’s market. Even before the end of August! Now, I love fall just as much as the next guy, but NUH UH OH NO YOU DON’T.

What? I’m still a New Yorker for a little bit longer.

Caprese Salad with Stone Fruit

3 large ripe, but firm, heirloom tomatoes
4 fresh firm peaches or nectarines (or other stone fruit).
7 ounces fresh buffalo mozzarella (mozzarella di bufala)
Handful washed fresh basil, snipped with scissors into little shards
Olive oil
White balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Okay, get ready, because this is going to be like rocket science.

Slice the tomatoes into thick slices.

Slice the peaches or nectarines into slices that more or less match the shape of the tomatoes if you can swing it (the peach slices will be thinner, though).

Slice the cheese into thick slices that more or less match the shape of the tomatoes and peaches or nectarines (Note that buffalo mozzarella is a bit softer than regular mozzarella, so slice carefully.)

On a serving platter, alternate mozz, tomato, peach, mozz, tomato, peach, etc. until all the slices are used up. Sprinkle with basil. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and just a splash of white balsamic vinegar (careful not to drown it). Add salt and fresh pepper, and serve immediately to prevent sogginess.

We got married!

Pretty Dress

Well, it’s official: I’m a wife! Our wedding day has come and gone. That bright little star hovering on the horizon, growing bigger and bigger as it got closer and closer, warmer and warmer, finally engulfed us and is now receding quietly into the distance.

Waterproof to the max.

What’s with the terrifying metaphor, you ask? To which I can only answer: It was REALLY hot that day. So hot. The kind of hot that makes you laugh crazily in disbelief. And the kind of humid that makes it feel as if you’re swimming very slowly through a very warm kiddie pool.

And still, we had the greatest time of our lives.

Smiley.

I was given some great advice from someone early on in this process, and I can’t thank this person enough for it. Or rather, I would be unable to thank this person enough if I could only remember who this person was. Needless to say, you get a lot of advice from a lot of people when you plan a wedding. So, whoever you are that told me that on the big day, above all else, to make sure I had fun—because if we were having fun, everyone would have fun—I can only hope you are reading this blog so that you can at least privately know that this was great advice. Thank you.

Kissy.

These look easy to make but they took FOREVER.

Ask me to tell you the story about the vases sometime. It's a good one.

As most people who have gotten married will tell you, the wedding day is fast and blurry, although the blurriness could have been sweat in my eyes. I think I had blueberry pancakes for breakfast but someone would have to verify that. I do vividly recall that the handheld showerhead in the bridal suite was leaking. And that I found myself taking it apart mid-shower and standing naked with a handful of gaskets and shower parts before growing frustrated and hastily putting the whole thing back together and bandaging it with a washcloth. (Honey, home repairs will be all on you.)

Me!

Hora!

Hora!

Hora!

Soon it was time for the ceremony, and we walked down the aisle to the tune of a song from “Master & Commander,” a movie that one of us loves, about a British ship captain (Russell Crowe) and his crew, who pursue a mysterious French frigate around the coast of South America during the Napoleonic Wars. Clearly you must be able to see what this has to do with a wedding. By the way, I’ve fallen asleep while trying to watch this movie more times than I can recall. The song is, however, actually beautiful, and my two wonderful uncles, Lew and Marty, performed it flawlessly on their violins.

My honey.

Dance floor.

Gettin' down.

The rest of the day is a jumble of wonderful images in my mind. The bridesmaids posed with parasols and terrified family members were hoisted up on chairs above a manic Hora. Dinner—pine nut encrusted salmon and herb crusted filet of beef, with a side of roasted root vegetables— was so good that my pre-wedding diet ended right then and there with a gleeful buttery bang. I danced with my dad to “Rainy Night in Georgia,” my mother’s favorite song, and smeared cake frosting on my new husband’s face. The cake was probably delicious, too, but I had barely taken a bite before Ellie Goulding was playing and so I left it to melt while I trotted, hot and happy, back to the dance floor.

The beginning.

*All photos on this post are courtesy of Abdi of Three Photographers. He is an absolute dream to work with. Find him here.