I'm not going to try to explain the "why" of this... The idea has been bumping around in the old rock tumbler for ages now.  They sell dolphin cookie cutters at Sur La Table for $1 and I took some pliers to one to make it m'orca.

Melt some dark chocolate chips or candy melts in the microwave at 50% for 30 seconds, stir and continue to microwave at 50%, stirring at 15 second intervals.  Spread some on each graham cracker as glue, then adhere a marshmallow.

Spread chocolate over the top of the whale, leaving the appropriate eye and belly markings uncovered.  Let rest on wax paper at room temperature to harden or eat immediately if you want to get messy.

Marshmallow Cut-Outs

It amazes me that clear sugar syrup can turn into chewy white marshmallows in a matter of a half hour.  Watching a gooey cloud grow in the mixer bowl feels like magic.  Homemade marshmallows are just really really fun to make.  If I had kids around I'd make them do this (If you do have kids around, be warned--240° sugar is too hot for little ones to handle). You could flavor or color them all different sorts of ways or coat them in decorating sugar or coconut or cocoa.  Here they are plain old vanilla, spread thin, and cut into shapes with a cookie cutter.

Marshmallow Cut-Outs

  • 2 packages unflavored gelatin
  • 1 C granulated sugar
  • 2/3 C cold water
  • 2/3 C light corn syrup
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 powdered sugar
  • 1/4 C cornstarch

Sift together the powdered sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.  Lightly coat a jellyroll pan with nonstick spray. Sprinkle some of the cornstarch mixture to cover the pan, shaking off and reserving the excess.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, sprinkle gelatin over 1/3 C of water and let sit while you cook the syrup.   In a heavy saucepan, cook the sugar, corn syrup, 1/3 C water, and salt covered for 4 minutes.  Uncover and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240° F on a candy thermometer.  Remove from heat.  Using the whisk attachment on the mixer at low-speed, slowly pour the hot syrup into the gelatin mixture.  Once all the syrup is in, up the speed to high and beat for about 15 minutes until thick, white and fluffy.  Mix in vanilla.  Spread the mixture into the prepared jellyroll pan, smoothing out with a spatula.  Do your best with that part--it's not so easy.  Sprinkle more of the cornstarch mix over the top, reserving the excess.  Let sit uncovered for 4 hours or overnight.  Dip a knife or cookie cutter into the cornstarch mix and cut into shapes, coating the sticky edges with the cornstarch mix.  Keep in an airtight container.

Graham Crackers

Summer is winding down. Kids in brand new backpacks are biking to school on wobbly bikes.  But here we are about to see the warmest part of the year.  I wanted to make one more summer-y snack on here in this last little spurt of freedom. It will happen in three parts.

I. Before this year I only really ate graham crackers if I was at camp and it was snack time or if there was a square left over when I was making a pie crust.  Embarrassingly, now I keep little packets of them in my pockets to stave off low blood sugar emergencies on long days.  While it's usually too late by the time I make it to a quiet corner to pop one in my mouth, I've learned how wonderful they are to scoop up cheap peanut butter, drizzled with honey from a packet, or dipped in instant coffee, tea, milk, or even orange juice.

Homemade ones are of course infinitely better than the ones I carry (which could be confused with the Saltines packs that come with your soup).  I combined a bunch of recipes to get this.  I wanted to make some with the "wholesome taste" of whole grains and molasses. The whole-wheat, bran, and germ combination should resemble the taste of graham flour.  If you like, you could substitute graham flour for the combo. You can find graham flour at some specialty stores or online and if you live in SF, you can buy graham flour in bulk at Rainbow.

Graham Crackers

  • 1 C whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 C wheat bran
  • 2 T wheat germ
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 7 T butter, cut into small pieces and very cold
  • 4-5 T whole milk
  • 3 T honey
  • 2 T molasses
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Mix the flours, bran, germ, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a food processor. Add the cold chunks of butter and pulse until the mixture looks like crumbs.  Then mix in the rest of the ingredients.  Gather the dough into a ball and divide into 3 or 4 pieces.  Roll each piece to 1/8" between two sheets of lightly floured parchment paper. Stack and chill the sheets for an hour or so.  Then either use a floured pizza wheel or knife to cut the dough into squares.  Or you can cut into shapes using a floured cookie cutter.  Poke gently with a fork. If you want, you can sprinkle the tops with cinnamon-sugar. Leave the cookies on the parchment and freeze for 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 °F.  Then bake on the parchment lined cookie sheet for 15-25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

Nanaimo Bar Pops

My mom just had a big birthday (45!!).  I usually make ice-cream cake, but thought I'd change it up this year.  I know if said it here a million times, but I really don't care for cake.  Especially birthday cake. I have some theories about which desserts get eaten and I see cake only go when it is served on plates and force-handed to people.  I also really don't care for the cake-pop fad (mostly because of how I dislike cake no matter how it's disguised. And because I hate to be part of fads), but cute, tidy desserts do get eaten.  Also, July 20th is National Lollipop Day, though a minor holiday compared to the birthday of my mother.  

Nanaimo bars are a Canadian treat that my mom misses from her time up north and laments not being able to find in the states. It is a layered bar cookie made up of a chocolate crumb crust, custard buttercream filling and topped with a ganache.  I thought I'd ride the pop train and make them festive for the special occasion.  Of course, my klutziness turned my effort to make an elegant white chocolate drizzle on the pops into a white chocolate embellishment on my entirely black outfit.  Feel free to go wild with decorating, if you are talented that way.

Nanaimo Bar Pops

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • egg, beaten
  • 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup toasted and finely chopped almonds 

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons custard powder (Bird's is traditional and can be bought on Amazon or in import stores.  Jell-O vanilla pudding powder works fine)
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar

  • 3-4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or candy melts
    white chocolate, extra coconut, almonds, or sprinkles for decorating
  • lollipop sticks

In a heavy saucepan over very low heat, combine 1/2 cup butter, white sugar and cocoa powder. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. Beat in the egg, stirring until thick, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and mix in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and almonds.  Press into rounds and place on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet.  Chill while making second layer.

For the middle layer, cream together 1/2 cup butter, heavy cream and custard powder until light and fluffy. Mix in the confectioners' sugar until smooth. Spread over the rounds. Push lollipop sticks firmly in the center. Chill in the freezer until firm.

Melt the chocolate chips or candy melts either in the microwave at 50% power, stirring at 30 second intervals, or in a double boiler.  Quickly dip/spread the pops in the chocolate, decorate as desired, and return to wax paper to set.  Keep in the fridge if you aren't going to eat them soon.

Jell-O Shot Cupcakes

Did I ever tell you I won a bellyflop contest? My skin matched my watermelon-pattern swimsuit for hours afterwards, but I got a ribbon.  Even as I collect the alphabet behind my name, it remains one of my proudest achievements.  For a kid who was a lousy athlete and a clumsy dancer (though I did win 6th place in a horse show.  Out of 7 riders), it was wonderful to finally be the best at something.  Who cares if it was just a ridiculous 4th of July game.  4th of July always feels like an opportunity to do things completely differently than usual---with a slight sense that's how "real" Americans are supposed to do things.  Put up a flag, wear the tackiest stars-and-stripes jewelry, pretend that I'd been practicing baton twirling all year, chase around a watermelon coated in Crisco, picnic in the middle of the week with real picnic food (fried chicken and potato salad instead of brie and baguettes).  I love 4th of July because it feels like a big redwhiteandblue game of dress-up and it is my only chance to make trashy food from boxes and feel OK about it.

So I clipped this recipe from a junky housewife magazine.  I do not think it was targeted to us blue state womyn. (Alas, you can never get a farmer's tan if you have to wear a polar fleece all summer.)  I have been saving it for the moment I had enough energy to add eggs to a mix.  Both cupcakes and Jell-O shots are childish shortcuts to getting things done (no offense to cupcake enthusiasts).  Seemed like a fitting treat for the celebration of the U.S. of A.   I adapted the recipe to make it patriotic and better.

Red White and Blue Jell-O Shot Cupcakes

  • 1 box Pillsbury Stars and Stripes Funfetti® Cake Mix (you could also red and blue jimmies to white cake mix)
  • 1 C milk
  • 1/3 C melted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Jell-O Filling
  • 1 pkg red Jell-O (cherry or strawberry.  I did cherry)
  • 1 C boiling water
  • 3/4 C rum, tequila, or vodka (OK grain alcohol would seem more American, but I went rum and here's why)

Buttercream Frosting
  • 1 C butter, softened
  • 3 1/2 C powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • blue food coloring
  • sprinkles

Bake the cupcakes as directed on the box, subbing in the butter for the oil, and the milk for the water, and adding in the lemon juice.  Bake in lined cupcake tins 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool completely.

 Mix the boiling water and the Jell-O in a bowl until completely dissolved, about 2 minutes.  Add the alcohol.  Let chill in the fridge until partially firm, about 35-45 minutes.

Using a knife, cut out a chunk (1 1/4" in diameter and 3/4" thick) from the top of each cupcake. Reserve pieces.  Spoon about 2 tsp of Jell-O into the indentation. Cover with reserved cake pieces. If you like, you can drizzle extra liquor over the cupcakes. Top with frosting and sprinkles. Chill in the fridge until set.


Beat butter, sugar and salt in a bowl until well blended.  Add vanilla, milk, and coloring and beat 3-5 more minutes until creamy.

Campari Citrus Sorbet (Grapefruit-Blood Orange-Tangelo)

One of my students has taken to hugging me every half hour. It surprises me each time since I'm certainly not warm and fuzzy. She apparently figured out that the tough love is love nonetheless. As awkward as it is for me, I try to remember how tender children are-- so if smashing her cheek against my waist gives her a moment of safety, I roll with it. It terrifies me that I don't know what her life is like when she's not under my watch (and terrifies me to imagine what a ferocious mama I would be--she's not even my cub!)

For better or for worse I can bring myself back to her age perfectly. The slightest thing can be tremendously scary when you only have 7 years of life experience to cull from. And children are so perceptive of adult conflicts...like TVs tuned to a foreign soap opera--the emotions come right through but words and context are lost, amplifying the drama. As we get older, the good and the bad seem to average out and I know that if a scary feeling hasn't destroyed me this far, chances are, it won't. (Unless the closet monster has been planning an elaborate attack for decades and is just waiting for the right moment to strike). Yet, sometimes I still get that apocalyptic childhood fear again--usually in the form of tunnel vision, crippling nausea, or my heart crawling into my mouth. These days, though, I can talk myself out of it. What's a bad 10 minutes, 2 hours, couple of weeks, or even a whole year in proportion to nearly 30 ?
The past year has been so high--a reaping of a hard-earned harvest--that I've been wishing that I'd never have a bad moment again...but when the floodgate burst on an airplane recently (probably because high altitude = inexplicably weepy), I was reminded that without some low points, the good ones wouldn't seem nearly so good.

By the way, I'm writing this as my Passover entry. There is a part in the seder about eating something bitter mixed with something sweet to remember the bitterness of slavery (or the past) and celebrate the sweetness of freedom (or the present/future.) The sweetness doesn't eclipse the bitterness, but is augmented by it (don't dates and apples sound like a relief after a mouthful of horseradish?)

Campari is one of my favorite bitter things. I just love love love the color. Personally, I'm fine tempering it with nothing more than an ice cube, but here it is paired with sweet citrus fruits. I mixed a few types of fruits, but it's not precise--just make sure the sweetness is balanced with the acidity, i.e. add some lemon juice if you are using more oranges. The color of blood oranges is great if you can still find them. This sorbet makes a nice starter or palate cleanser between courses.

Campari Citrus Sorbet

  • 2 C grapefruit juice (from 2-3 large grapefruits)
  • 1 C orange juice (I used 2 blood oranges and 2 tangelos)
  • 1-2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp grapefruit zest
  • 2/3 C sugar
  • 1/3 C Campari
  • 1 egg white

  • mint leaves

Zest one of the grapefruits. Juice the fruits, leaving the half-rinds intact. Reserve the rinds for later. Heat one cup of the juice with the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and allow it to cool. Add in the rest of the juice, lemon juice, Campari, and zest. Beat the egg white until foamy peaks. Freeze the juice mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions, adding in the egg white when it starts to look slightly slushy. If you like, quickly scoop the sorbet into the reserved shells, cover with Saran wrap and freeze. When ready to serve, cut the rinds into wedges and garnish with mint leaves.

Heart-Leaving? Coeur à la Crème with Strawberry, Balsamic & Black Pepper Sauce

I was trying to listen to my heart, figuratively speaking. I assumed that I'd know the right door to choose when the time came---but I was starting to doubt it would be so simple.
However, I was distracted by my actual heart which was wriggling and sloshing under my ribs, restless from the two glasses of Chardonnay and the two packs of Smarties I'd gulped earlier that evening in an attempt to recover from the day. Lying awake in a vast hotel bed, my mind wandered from heart to heart.
First, I had the memory of sticking my finger down into a sheep's heart in 7th grade science ...the stiffness and the smell eclipsed by the frustration of not being able to sense the interior landscape no matter how deep I shoved my finger.
Next, I had the image of the poppy illustrations in my ex-uncle's 1956 Atlas of Anatomy...a simple, palatable map with a color-scheme taken from Superman's closet.
And then my mind turned to my cupboards full of heart-shaped bakeware: muffin tins, ice cube trays, pancake shapers, fried egg corrals, poached egg cradles, sugar stencils, cookie cutters (in 14 different sizes)...
Finally I thought of the artist commissioned hearts that dot San Francisco. Before I drifted off to sleep, I had one of those surprise--->clarity--->relief moments, like when you are scouring the house for your keys, totally sure they must be tucked in the couch, and then finding them in your pocket. Like traveling all over just to find yourself at your front door.

I spotted a Strawberry Shortcake Good Humor bar at a gas station in Napa and felt inspired to make something creamy and red. Coeur a la Creme sounds awfully fancy, but it's pretty much a no-bake cheesecake without a crust. I've seen recipes using different cheeses, sweet or savory. I went with mascarpone and riffed off a Gourmet recipe. The topping is sweet, despite the vinegar and pepper. It would also go well with a more savory dish, if you have extra (which you won't). You do need a special hole-y mold, however, that allows the whey to drain away, condensing the cheese into a heart. A coeur a la creme mold may be one of the few frivolous heart-shaped things I don't have--read my note in the recipe if you don't have one either.

Coeur A La Creme with Strawberry, Balsamic, & Black Pepper Sauce

  • 8 oz mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 1 1/4 C whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1/2 C powdered sugar, sifted

For strawberry sauce:
  • 2 C strawberries
  • 1 3/4 C sugar
  • 3 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • scant 1 tsp fresh cracked black pepperdot of butter to ease the foaming

Cheesecloth, 1 large or 4 small coeur a la creme molds
* * You can buy these perforated ceramic molds at Sur La Table and the like... but I made my own by reshaping a disposable mini-loaf pan using a cookie cutter as a guide. Then I poked some holes in the bottom. I've heard of people using a plastic heart-shaped candy container. You could also forgo the heart-shape and make Lump A La Creme by lining a colander with cheesecloth.**

Slightly dampen a piece of cheesecloth and line the mold or molds.

Beat the mascarpone, 1/4 C of the cream, vanilla, and lemon juice with an electric mixer. Chill.

In a separate bowl, whip the other cup of cream and powdered sugar until it forms peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream into the chilled cheese, one third at a time. Gently spoon into the cheesecloth lined molds, tap gently to release bubbles, and fold the hanging cheesecloth over the top. Place on a dish or tray and refrigerate for at least 3 hrs.

Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Trim the berries and quarter them if they're large. I left some small ones whole. Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan (I find a wide enough one speeds things along), stirring often. Simmer until thickened, about 20 to 30 minutes. Cool completely then chill.

When ready to serve, unfold the cheesecloth from the top of the mold. Invert mold onto a platter. Hang on to the cheesecloth while pulling up the mold. Smooth the top and carefully peel away the cheesecloth. Spoon topping around plate.