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 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.

Butter Maple Cookies

A few weeks ago I was in the Philadelphia airport shuttle, pressed up against a man my age who was wearing a striped scarf and a newsboy hat. Sprinting through the terminal and the cold turned his perfectly round cheeks the color of a Red Hot melting in a cup of cocoa. He made lap after lap around his lips with cherry Chapstick and we shared abbreviated life stories as the shuttle crunched slowly through too much snow. When the doors opened and we peeled ourselves off each other, he said sincerely, "I'm happy for you!" I replied, beaming,"I'm happy for me too!" and resumed the foot-race to the next gate.
Now back home, I'm still thinking about those words. Things are still, for once. Perhaps the quiet before the storm. Or the pause of passing through Neutral between Reverse and Drive. I thought I'd be distraught by the uncertainty of the next few months, but instead, being in limbo has frozen time and made me content with very simple things. I've been walking to work in the sunshine, stopping under the ornamental plum trees that have exploded in blossom to share the bees' excitement. I've been jumping rope with the 2nd graders and congratulating myself for jumping enough of the rhyme to earn a boyfriend named Franklin (while the children make it to Xavier, Yves, and Zach). I've been reading novels with no trace of guilt. Things will unfold as they will.
These cookies are simple. I was thinking I should post something complex and fanciful to make up for my time off, but at the request of Siobhan, here is a recipe for subtly maple-y butter cookies. Sometimes I have to remind myself to stop searching for novelty and not overlook plain old butter cookies.

Butter Maple Cookies

  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature (1 cup)
  • 3/4 C white sugar
  • 1/4 C brown sugar
  • 1/2 C B maple syrup (or A, but it will be milder)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 C flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

  • 1 T maple syrup
  • 1-2 T milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp meringue powder (optional)
  • confectioner's sugar
  • shake of cinnamon
  • crushed pecans

Cream butter and sugars with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Mix in maple syrup, egg yolk, and vanilla. With a wooden spoon, mix in flour, salt and cinnamon until combined. Refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line baking sheet with parchment and lightly butter or spray. On a floured surface or between parchment layers, roll out dough to 1/8" thickness. Cut into shapes with floured cookie cutters. What is it with heart-shaped baking implements? I apparently attract them. Alternately, you can roll the dough into a log before refrigerating, and then cut into 1/8" slices. But a round is just not as interesting to eat as a shape. Bake for about 12 minutes, until edges are golden. Cool on a rack.

For the icing, combine the liquids and beat in powdered sugar until the desired consistency is reached. Working on parchment or wax paper, pour or spread on the cooled cookies. Sprinkle with pecans.