Fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frosting

My dad’s 50th birthday was on Friday. I emailed him to ask what his favorite cake was.

His helpful response: “I never met a cake I didn’t like.”

Given free reign like that, I decided to do something a little different. Something he’d never order in a restaurant or ask for someone to make him, but that would still knock his socks off.

I also wanted to make something summery because of his late August, dog days of summer birthday. S’mores cake? Eh, I’ve made it in cupcake form before and wanted to try something new. Chocolate-orange? Nah, that seems like more of a cold weather one to me. I thumbed through All Cakes Considered for ideas. I hemmed. I hawed. I pondered.

Eventually I got stuck on my favorite thing about summer: figs. The rest came together pretty quickly after that. A fluffy white cake with a fig jam in the middle. A light, whipped honey meringue buttercream on top. Not too heavy, but certainly tooth-achingly sweet. Good for the kids.

But I wanted to slightly temper the sugar rush for the adults. Something herby. Which of course led to my favorite fig accompaniment, thyme. It’s piney, but not too piney like rosemary sometimes is. It doesn’t overpower the delicate honey flavor in the frosting, but it does effectively counter the sweetness while adding a little flair of its own.

Of course, the best part of this flavor combo is that I can say that I made my dad a fig-tieth birthday cake, on account of him being alive for a long thyme.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry!

I cut plain slices for my niece and nephew, then said to my dad, sister, and brother: “I didn’t think the kids would like this, but if you’d like I can put some fresh thyme over your piece of cake.”

Sister: “What’s thyme?”
Brother: “That sounds really weird. But usually when you try to get me to eat something weird, it’s good, so okay.”
Father: “If you say so.”

I sprinkled a few leaves over each piece of cake. I could tell they didn’t trust me one bit.

fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frostingThen they tasted it. “I can’t believe that’s… actually really good.” Well gee, thanks for trusting my judgement, folks. But I knew I had a winner when my sister and dad both took tiny slivers for seconds, and chose to add thyme to them completely of their own volition.

My dad knows I post my recipes on the internet. He saw me taking my photos and figured (correctly) that they were for a post. He said, “People aren’t going to think that’s good when they read the recipe. It’s too weird. They’re not going to realize how good it tastes and they won’t make it.”

It’s not that weird. Prove him wrong.

fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frostingFig and Thyme White Cake with Whipped Honey Frosting
Adapted from Whipped Cream Cake by Melissa Gray in All Cakes Considered and Brown Sugar Meringue Buttercream from Sky High Cakes as posted on Completely Delicious

Serves 10 to 12

Cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup whipping cream
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Frosting:
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons water
9.6 ounces (about 19 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into chunks

Garnish:
scant 1/2 cup fig jam, at room temperature
fresh thyme leaves, stripped from woody stalks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray two 8-inch pans, then line with a parchment paper circle. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, salt, and baking powder. In a small bowl, beat eggs until thick and pale yellow. Set both aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip cream on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Add beaten eggs and beat again until fully integrated and foamy. Add sugar and extracts and beat again for about 1 minute. Add dry ingredients and beat on low speed until barely combined — there should still be some visible flour. Use a spatula to fold the ingredients the rest of the way to avoid over mixing.

Divide batter evenly among prepared pans, then put in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, removing when a toothpick comes out clean. If your oven heats unevenly, swap positions of the two layers about 10 minutes into the baking time.

Place on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Use a knife to loosen the edges of the cake from the pan, then flip out onto the rack. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom and let cool completely.

For the frosting, there’s a little bit of timing involved in making this all work. Start by combining the water, sugar, and honey in a small saucepan. Do not yet put it over the heat.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form.

Put sugar solution over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it comes to a boil. Once it is boiling, stop stirring and insert a candy thermometer. Book without stirring until it reaches 238 degrees F (soft ball stage).

Turn the mixer with the egg whites back on medium speed. Carefully pour the hot (seriously, really really hot, be careful) sugar mixture in a thin stream into the egg whites. Try not to hit the beater or the side of the bowl.

Once the sugar syrup has been added, raise the speed to medium high and beat until the mixture is down to room temperature (touch the side of the bowl to check). This will take several minutes.

With the mixture still running, add the butter cubes a few tablespoons full at a time. Once all the butter has been added, continue to beat until smooth. The mixture may start to look curdled at one point, especially if your butter was a little too cold or too warm. Just let the mixer keep running and it will work itself out. Once the frosting is smooth, creamy, and light you’re good to go.

Put one cake layer on a serving plate or pedestal. I’m no expert cake decorator by a long-shot, but the best tip I can give for tidier looking cakes is to line the plate with strips of parchment paper tucked under the cake before you frost it. Try this! It really helps your cake look better to not have frosting smeared all over the plate.

Spread the fig jam evenly over the first layer. Then using an offset spatula, spread a small layer of frosting on top of the fig jam. Go almost all the way to the edge. Top with the second cake layer, then frost the top and sides to coat.

Sprinkle fresh thyme over the top of the cake, then serve.

Fig and honeyed mascarpone galette

Fig season! Who can complain? Well obviously I can, because you know what sucks about figs? Because of their delicate nature, they’re so often in those horrible plastic clamshell packages to protect them during shipping. If you buy prepackaged figs, you’re going to end up with at least a couple that were picked too early. It’s my understanding that when you pick a fig too early, it will “ripen” on the counter in the sense that it will get softer. But that complex, oozy, honey-sweet taste? Not gonna happen.

So when my friend Laura told me that there’s a fruit bearing fig-tree in a park near my house? Shut the front door!

At the earliest opportunity, I rode my bike over there with a grocery-bag lined backpack, a vision of fig-filled galette running through my head. And then? I couldn’t find the damn tree if my life had depended on it. I texted Laura for further clarification of the location (what I actually asked was “uhhh, can you send me the Google Maps coordinates?”). I rode around for a bit waiting for a reply, and then remembered, oh yeah. She’s in Tanzania.

She hopped on the internet that weekend to email me a screenshot of the Google Map (and presumably do other things). But for this galette I had already filled my cart at the grocery store. It was still delicious, and, I must warn you, almost tooth-achingly sweet. It’s perfect for a brunch spread, especially since it can be made ahead of time and will hold in the fridge for several days. If you wanted it to, it could function as a dessert — seriously, all those figs make it fit for the most hardcore sweet tooth.

fig and honeyed mascarpone galette

Fig and Honeyed Mascarpone Galette
Crust from Sweet Galette Dough by David Lebovitz for Fine Cooking

Serves 6-8

Crust
11 1/4 ounces (2-1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
5 ounces very cold water

Galette
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds fresh, ripe figs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
super flaky sea salt, to garnish

Stir flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add chilled butter and pulse until crumbly, but distinct chunks of butter remain — really, big chunks are good!Add ice water, then process just until dough comes together, no more than 30 seconds. Turn dough onto work surface and gather and knead together just slightly. If is fine if you see streaks of butter on the surface, as this is what will give you delightful flakiness. Divide into two equal pieces and shape into discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. (This galette only requires one disc of dough. Wrap the other very well and freeze for later use, thawing in the fridge for one day before using.)

While dough is chilling, stir honey and orange blossom water into mascarpone until fully combined. Then slice figs into quarters.

Preheat oven with baking sheet or pizza pan in it to 400 degrees.

On a floured surface, roll one disc of chilled dough out into an approximate circle about 13 inches in diameter. Transfer to a piece of parchment paper.

Spread mascarpone mixture on the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Layer fig quarters in concentric circles on top of the mascarpone. Don’t worry about being perfect — it’s rustic! Fold the excess dough over the edge of the filling, pleating as you go. Brush the melted butter along the exposed crust with a pastry brush.

Slide the galette, parchment paper and all, onto preheated baking sheet. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. When edges are browned, remove pan from oven. Slide the parchment paper and galette onto a wire cooling rack to prevent it from getting soggy while it cools.

Enjoy while slightly warm or at room temperature. Or, store covered in the fridge for up to 4 days and let come to room temperature before serving. Sprinkle with a bit of super flaky sea salt just before eating for added flavor and crunch.

Guest post: strawberry honey ricotta muffins

The other week I wrote a guest post for my friend Ann Marie at her blog Let’s Give Peas a Chance. As a fellow Baltimorean vegetarian I was happy to share a recipe with her. She was kind enough to return the gesture and use her CSA bounty to whip up a little somethin’ for me. Someone is jealous that she’s not getting any.


I want to preface this guest post by letting you know two things about me: I love low-energy, high-taste cooking and I am terribly good at procrastinating. As you may know, Martine was so kind to do an amazing guest post for me over at my blog. I told her, “yeah, I will totally write one for you too and I’ll get it to you right away.” So, naturally, here we are, two weeks later and I am only now sitting down to write this. Luckily, I will be sharing these strawberry honey ricotta muffins with Martine, so she can’t be too mad. [Ed. note: Aww yee, muffins!]

strawberry honey ricotta muffins by Ann Marie

The whole thing about the low-energy, high-taste is totally relevant to this recipe, by the way. First off, I made a variation of this recipe about a year ago (you can see my ricotta basil muffins here), so I didn’t have to search too hard for a base recipe. I am part of a CSA with Baltimore’s own One Straw Farm, and we’ve been receiving strawberries because it’s that magical time of year. (Side note: if you didn’t know that you can only get fresh strawberries for a short period of time throughout the year, step away from the grocery store and head down to your lovely local farmers’ market. Trust me.)

strawberry honey ricotta muffins by Ann Marie

Strawberry Honey Ricotta Muffins

Makes about 12 fluffy muffins

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 small handfuls fresh strawberries, halved
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1 large egg
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 275F degrees. Toss the strawberries in there for about 45 minutes to dehydrate them. If you decide to skip this step, add less liquid to the overall mix because the strawberries will leak. Once the strawberries are mostly dried, remove them and preheat your oven to 375F degrees for the muffins.

In a large mixing bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, dried strawberries). Use a whisk to sift and mix everything.

In a smaller mixing bowl, mix all of your wet ingredients (ricotta, milk, egg, oil, and honey). Once they are blended, slowly stir the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients.

Once everything is blended, pour the batter into a lined muffin pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until done.

If you want, top with cinnamon sugar or butter when they come out of the oven. Let cool and enjoy!


annmariebrok
Ann Marie is a Baltimore-based blogger, freelance writer, and social media addict. She regularly blogs meatless recipes at Let’s Give Peas a Chance and tweets at @annmariebrok. When she’s not online, you can find her with a book in one hand and a beer in the other.

Summertime drinkin’ with the Leland Palmer

If there’s one thing I like to do in the summer, it’s going to the park to drink outside and play cornhole. Of course everybody brings loads of beer. But I like to make a big jug of something liquory, but not too liquory; because let’s be real, you’re going to be drinking all day.

My friend Laura posted this recipe on my Facebook wall recently. An adult version of an Arnold Palmer with jasmine tea and gin, with a Twin Peaks-inspired name to boot? Sign me up. She said that she had made it, and that it was delicious! Oh but by the way she substituted Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong for the jasmine, agave for the honey, and homemade kaffir lime liqueur for the limoncello.

So yeah, she totally made a different drink. Which also sounds amazing! But as a fan of jasmine tea and honey, I wanted to make this drink.

However, like Laura, I am a little incapable of trying a recipe without futzing with it in some way. One of my favorite gin cocktails involves lemon juice, honey, and peppercorns; I found myself drifting to peppercorns again when thinking of this drink. That said, I don’t want to rehash the same thing over and over. And pickled peppercorns or black pepper both seem not quite right. Black peppercorns are too bold, pickled green peppercorns are too… pickled. But what about pink peppercorns? Fruity, citrusy, with just a hint of spice?

the Leland Palmer

Aww yeah.

The Leland Palmer
Adapted from The Leland Palmer by Damon Boelte for Bon Appétit

Serves 6

3 cups freshly brewed jasmine green tea (I used 4 teaspoons of DAVID’sTEA Dragon Pearls in 3 cups water) *
1/3 cup honey (or agave nectar for a vegan drink)
3/4 cup gin
1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns
3/4 cup limoncello
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1 12-oz can seltzer, chilled
ice cubes, for serving
lemon slices, for garnish
pink peppercorns, for garnish

Stir pink peppercorns into gin and set aside to infuse for at least an hour.

Brew jasmine tea, then stir in honey until fully dissolved. Set aside to cool completely.

In a large pitcher combine cooled sweetened tea, infused gin (including peppercorns), limoncello, lemon juice, and grapefruit juice. Chill until ready to drink.

Just before serving, stir in seltzer. Pour over ice, then garnish with lemon slice and/or a few additional pink peppercorns sprinkled on top if desired (they’ll float).

* If you are using high quality tea, consider making two half-batches of tea with the same leaves (or making a double batch of the cocktail and making two 3-cup batches of tea with the same leaves, which is what I did).

Fun with coconut bacon: warm and smoky spinach salad

So, coconut bacon. Have you tried it? It’s one of those vegan foods you can buy pre-packaged or make from scratch, and I went the former route mostly because… well, because I saw an IndieGoGo campaign for Phoney Baloney’s Coconut Bacon, thought, “hm, sounds interesting,” and pledged a few bucks. I then promptly forgot about it until three bags of the stuff ended up on my doorstep.

I didn’t really know what to expect. How much could coconut taste like bacon, after all? Well, if you ignore the fact that I am probably the worst person to ask about what bacon tastes like, the answer is that it varies. It’s crispy baked coconut, which works really well as a bacon bit sort of deal as long as it is in a situation that allows it to remain crispy. It also is, you know, coconut, so there is a light coconut flavor lurking behind the intense salty/smoky coating. It strikes me as the kind of thing that would work in certain sandwiches, salads, and definitely breakfast or baked goods.

The mister, on the other hand, used it in a stir fry. And he added it kind of early on. While I don’t remember the specifics, I do remember that it tasted like an overall pretty decent dish except for the inexplicable pockets of soggy smoked coconut pieces. :| When I was cleaning up after dinner that night, I said, “If I save this will you eat it?” He laughed and replied, “I guess that means you won’t?” (We did not save it.)

On the other hand, sprinkled on this salad at the very last minute and enjoyed immediately, the bacon stays crisp. The light coconut flavor that shines through under the smokiness complements the salad rather than competing. It is good, and you should eat it. The end.

warm and smoky spinach salad

Warm and Smoky Spinach Salad
Adapted from Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

5 ounces baby spinach
2 large white button mushrooms
1 large egg, hard cooked
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 small shallots
1/2 cup coconut bacon (I used Phoney Baloney’s)
freshly ground black pepper to taste

First, prep your stuff. Slice your mushrooms very thinly. Slice the hard cooked eggs into slightly thicker medallions. Cut the shallot into thin slices. Then put the spinach in a large bowl, and top evenly with mushrooms and egg. Reserve shallots.

In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Whisk in vinegar, honey, dijon, and smoked paprika. Add shallots and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and immediately pour over the salad. Toss to combine, then evenly sprinkle coconut bacon over the top and toss again. Serve immediately.

Spicy pineapple seitan, for the mystery pineapple in your cupboards

Last year for my birthday, I had a hot dog party.

It was awesome.

Basically, we grilled up a bunch of Field Roast Frankfurters for me and the other veg*ns, Hebrew Nationals for the omnis, and provided a mountain of buns.

Then all the guests brought a different topping, potluck style. Toppings ranged from fancy-pants mustard to grilled onions to baked macaroni and cheese to guacamole. There were so many delicious toppings that I cut my hot dogs into pieces so I could do different toppings on each bite, and even then still ate way too many hot dogs.

So like I said, a lot of creative toppings, and surprisingly few repeats. But the one thing that showed up over and over was pineapple. People just brought can upon can of the stuff, crushed and tidbits alike. I’m assuming it was to make Hawaiiany hot dogs. But for some reason, none of the cans were actually opened at the party. And they, of course, all got left behind.

I rarely use canned pineapple, so I kind of forgot about it until recently when I was reorganizing the cupboard. My birthday is in April, so uh, they’d been sitting there for a while. Something needed to be done.

I used my favorite tender seitan, Companion Cha’i-Pow-Yu, which you can usually find at Asian markets. It doesn’t look very appetizing right out of the can, but trust me when I say it cooks up nice — just make sure you drain and rinse it. If you can’t get your hands on it, just use your favorite seitan.

Anyway, if you find some cans of mystery pineapple in your cupboard, this is what you’ve gotta do with it. If you don’t have any, this is worth buying some. Trust me.

spicy pineapple seitan

Spicy Pineapple Seitan
Adapted from Pineapple Marinade by Derrick Riches at About.com

Serves 3 to 4

1/2 cup crushed pineapple with juice
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons honey *
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch ground cloves
1 can Companion Cha’i-Pow-Yu (or 10 ounces of your favorite seitan)
1 small green bell pepper, cut into bite size chunks
1 small onion, cut into wedges
heaping 1/2 cup pineapple pieces (canned is fine)
1 serrano pepper, thinly sliced into rounds (remove some seeds/ribs as desired to dial down the heat)
1 teaspoon unrefined coconut oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Mix crushed pineapple, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and cloves in a freezer bag or storage container and stir until combined.

Drain and rinse Cha’i-Pow-Yu, then add to marinade and stir to coat. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix seitan and marinade with bell pepper, onion, pineapple, and serrano pepper. Set aside.

Grease a small baking pan with the coconut oil, then pour mixture into it. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and take a small amount of liquid from the pan. Stir it into a small bowl with the cornstarch until there are no lumps. Pour the slurry back into the pan, stir to combine, then bake for an additional 5 minutes, until slightly thickened. Let cool for a few minutes.

Serve with rice that has been lightly coated with melted coconut oil.

* Vegan substitution: Use an equal amount of agave nectar for a vegan dish.

I’ve been too busy to make anything but this goat brie sandwich

Well, maybe not anything. But for some reason I have been incredibly busy the past week and some change. Shows! (The Mountain Goats, Jens Lekman.) Talks by Important People! (Ira Glass, Bill Clinton.) A Halloween party! (I know, already??) Debate-watching parties! (brb, laughing forever at Joe Biden.)

I just haven’t cooked anything interesting. We’ve gone out or ordered in or my mister has cooked. Even if I had, getting the recipe written up and taking the photos wouldn’t have happened.

However, I did find the time make this sandwich. It’s so easy that it isn’t really a recipe, but I’ll share it with you anyway.

goat brie, honey, and walnut sandwich

Goat Brie, Honey, and Walnut Sandwich

sandwich bread, bagel or baguette
goat brie
walnuts, chopped
honey
butter lettuce, torn

Make a sandwich with the above things. I’m pretty sure you know how to make a sandwich.

Cheating on our no ice cream pact with honey vanilla frozen yogurt

So, I’ve mentioned that we’re trying to eat healthier as a result of my mister’s accident, and thus his botched training schedule for his ten mile race coming up in October. This led him to decide to temporarily cut out one of his favorite food groups: ice cream.

Less than twenty-four hours after he told me he was quitting ice cream, he sent me a message on gchat: “Do you think if I put a container of yogurt in the freezer, it would turn into frozen yogurt?”

I explained the whole ice crystal thing, suggesting that he could try making it with a method similar to a granita if he wanted — put it in a shallow pan, freeze for an hour, stir with a fork, repeat. He seemed disinterested in such an undertaking.

This discussion reminded me that I’d been mulling over an ice cream maker purchase for a while — I just couldn’t justify the space it would take up. Then suddenly, everything changed. Last week, I had dinner with an old friend. She mentioned that she’d been making a lot of ice cream lately, and said that I should get an ice cream maker. I explained my hesitance to get yet another appliance, and she said, “Oh, just get the KitchenAid attachment! That’s what I have.”

*record scratch*

There’s a KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment? Of course there is. Of course.

Never mind the fact that it’s not that much cheaper or smaller than a standalone ice cream maker. I was able to rationalize to myself that it would make my KitchenAid more useful, so I needed to purchase it.

So now I’ve got my ice cream maker. But I can’t make any actual ice cream until after October 21st.

But he had said he’d eat frozen yogurt, didn’t he? Slightly sweet, delightfully tart and tangy frozen yogurt. Yeah, I can get into that.

This frozen yogurt isn’t exactly what you’d call “healthy,” but it’s a significant cut in calories, fat, and saturated fat, as well as having more protein. Also, if you use a yogurt with live and active cultures you still get those benefits — freezing only makes them go dormant rather than killing them, so they’ll heat back up and do their thing once they get into your gut.

Hopefully this will hold us over until October 22nd.

honey vanilla frozen yogurt

Honey Vanilla Frozen Yogurt
Adapted from Vanilla Frozen Yogurt by David Lebovitz in The Perfect Scoop

Makes about 1 quart

3 cups plain full-fat Greek yogurt (I used one 24 ounce container of Greek Gods Artemis yogurt)
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a storage container, stir together yogurt, honey, and vanilla extract until smooth and integrated. Make sure there are no sneaky pockets of honey hiding on the bottom of the container.

Chill for at least one hour in the refrigerator.

Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. It will be soft serve consistency when you are done with the ice cream maker. If you’d like a scoopable frozen yogurt, transfer to a storage container, smooth out the top, put a square of parchment paper directly on the surface, and put the lid on. Then pop it in the freezer for at least two hours.

A tip I picked up from the Amazon reviews of the KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment, if that’s what you’re using: Along with freezing the double-walled bowl as instructed, freeze your dasher to ensure that everything is as cold as it can be when you start churning.

Ginger-almond breakfast cookies for hurried mornings (i.e. every morning)

Honestly, I’m usually pretty boring about weekday breakfasts. I just keep a jar of peanut butter and a sleeve of rice cakes in my desk at work. I used to supplement by picking up fresh fruit when I passed Whole Foods on my way in.

But it finally happened. My office moved to the suburbs. Yeah, there’s still a lot of businesses close by. But “close by” used to mean across the street. Now it’s a ten minute drive.

Gone are the days of popping over to pick up fresh fruit. Ditto on the days when I want to treat myself to a croissant or muffin.

So I decided to look for something else I can treat myself with. Something that is tasty, but still packed with fiber and protein. Something that will store well in the freezer. Something that will allow me to at least make an attempt to face my mornings with alacrity.

I must say that these zippy little breakfast cookies fit the bill.

ginger-almond breakfast cookie

Added bonus: these are accidentally almost vegan. The only non-vegan ingredient is honey. I’m not vegan and a big fan of the taste of honey, and the vegan friend that I see most often is willing to let it slide on honey, so that’s what I use. If you’re strict, you can easily use agave nectar.

Ginger-Almond Breakfast Cookies
Adapted from Oatmeal Breakfast Cookie by Laura

Makes 16 cookies

1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 cup honey or agave nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 heaping cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (omit if your almond butter is salted)
1/3 cup roughly chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, flax, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, salt and baking soda.

In your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat applesauce, almond butter, and honey or agave on medium speed until fully combined. Add extracts and beat again briefly.

Add dry mixture to wet mixture and stir on low. Once batter is fully integrated, fold in chopped crystallized ginger.

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets (use a big spoon from your cutlery set). I put 8 cookies per sheet — two rows of four, evenly spaced, which makes a medium-sized cookie.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, until browned. Rotate your pans halfway through baking time to ensure even browning. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Once cool, wrap individually in plastic wrap. Put wrapped cookies in a gallon size freezer bag, suck out the air with a straw, then store for up to three months in the freezer.

Let thaw for about a half hour before eating (or overnight in the fridge). Alternatively, zap a frozen cookie for about 15 seconds in the microwave to thaw and slightly warm it.

These are smaller than the average breakfast cookie you might get from the store or from most other recipes — I have a small appetite in the morning. Feel free to either make them bigger (and cook for a bit longer), or smear on a bit of Greek yogurt as “frosting” to add a bit more heft.

Pickled Bee Sting, aka the perfect summer drink

pickled bee sting

In my opinion, a hearty amount of pepper makes everything better. And honey, the sweetness countered with a delicate floral taste, not to mention the fun of trying all the different varieties. And lemon juice, the perfect accompaniment to make anything taste a bit brighter.

Then there’s the gin, which I somehow manage to enjoy despite my history with it. I must have been about ten years old, and my dad was sitting on the sofa watching television, holding one of the mason jars we used as drinking glasses. I climbed over and sat next to him.

“What’s that?”
“Sprite.”
“Can I have some?”
“Sure.”

Yep, my dad was and still is a major trolldad. So, I took a hearty gulp. Of straight gin. Thinking it was Sprite.

In his defense, he expected me to smell it and maybe take a tiny sip and realize my mistake. But he told me it was Sprite! And I was a very trusting child.

Anyway, this drink is very ginny. If your dad pranked you when you were a kid and you haven’t yet recovered, I would recommend against it. If you want to make this drink, you should enjoy gin.

The original recipe called to muddle black peppercorns. I tried this a few times, but it never quite worked — muddling a dried spice, especially when it’s spherical, is difficult. Peppercorns are pretty hard. I graduated to coarsely grinding black pepper into the drink, which tasted good but gave it an unpleasant grittiness. I still drank them from time to time, but wondered if something could be done to improve the situation.

Enter pickled green peppercorns.

pickled green peppercorns

I’d been intrigued by them on my past five or so trips to the Asian market, but couldn’t think of a reason why I needed them. Finally, I said screw it and bought them… and immediately came up with plenty of ways to use them. Revisiting this drink was one of them.

Pickled Bee Sting
Adapted from the Bee Sting by John Gertsen

Honey Syrup:
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water

Cocktail:
12-15 pickled green peppercorns
1/2 shot honey syrup
1/2 shot lemon juice
2 shots gin (I like Hendrick’s)

So, first you’ve got to make your honey syrup. I’ve had some in my fridge since our annual Christmas cocktail party and it’s still fine, so you might as well make a good bit. Combine honey and water in a small saucepan. Heat, stirring frequently, until honey dissolves into water and you’re left with a homogenous syrup. Put it in a little jar, and label it so you remember what the hell it is six months down the line.

Pluck your peppercorns off the stalk, and rinse the brine off of them with cold water. Go ahead and pop one in your mouth if you want to get an idea of how spicy they are — they taste basically like black pepper, but a bit more mild and with a juicy pop.

Muddle the peppercorns in the bottom of your cocktail shaker, then top with honey syrup, lemon juice, and gin. Fill with ice, then shake shake shake. Strain into a cocktail glass, or if you’re me, a rocks glass, because you don’t have cocktail glasses. If you’d like, throw another couple rinsed peppercorns in there so you have something to chomp on at the end.

Sip and savor the floral, citrus, and spicy notes, preferably while sitting on a porch.