Friday, April 22

Happy Easter (Bread)!

This week has me feeling the warmth of family traditions, all 2000 miles away from home.  I can pretty much bet my left arm that my favorite little women on the left coast are busily preparing their treasured loaves of Easter Bread - the holy grail of recipes passed down from the family monarchy.  In my lifetime, not a single Easter in Ruffo history has gone by without it.  Even though this week marks a time of revival, I relish in it's familiarity and tradition.  It's the kind of steadfast change I love; the season is new, but predictable.

You must know, I'm a huge wimp when it comes to big changes in my life.  Unlike otherwise grounded people, it takes me a while to get used to an idea before I can fully commit.  I liken it to hearing a new song for the first time.  I usually hate it the first three times I listen to it, but after that it's pure unwavering love.

 I'm not sure why buying a house scares the bejesus out of me -it's not like I'm the first person to buy one.  Then I think back to risks I've taken in my life that paid off in a huge way.  Like my move to San Diego when I was eighteen, bushy-tailed and had $5 to my name.  Then came Nashville and I never imagined things could be this good.  I think that's probably how life goes most of the time.  You never really know how things will turn out, but you have to take the risk to see the magic in it all.

I think I've listened to this song long enough to know that buying this house (did I mention we're in escrow?!) will only open my world up to more good things.  Instead of running the opposite direction like I sometimes prefer to do, I'm ready to get my hands dirty (hello, garden!) and fully commit.  So this weekend, as I enjoy my nonpareil Easter bread while relishing in the festivities, I'll be envisioning all the memories we'll be making in our new home.  Our home (and do my best not to have a debilitating attack of anxiety).  Good thing there'll be mimosas.         

This recipe was perfected by my mom and sister one Easter, when they left the eggs in the mixer for ten minutes by accident.  It made this normally dense bread light and airy.  You can substitute the anise for almond extract if you shy away from it's distinctive flavor.  We typically cover it in sprinkles, but I love the addition of lavender buds and lemon zest instead.  It's best enjoyed warm, slathered with butter and leftover (and slightly melted) frosting.  Happy Easter (Bread)!  

Easter Bread 
Makes 2 large loaves and 1 small (perfect amount for an addict; maybe halve for your first time)

8 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 cube butter, melted 
8 large room temperature eggs, warmed in bowl of water 
3 packages quick acting yeast 
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract 
2 cups warm water (stick your finger under your tongue and use this as your temperature gauge -you want the water to be the same temperature)
2 tablespoons anise extract 
Zest of 1 large lemon 

Preheat oven to warm; place two empty bread pans in warmed oven.

Crack eggs into large measuring cup.  Add warm water to measuring cup to equal 2 cups total liquid between eggs and water (this will be a minimal amount). 
Beat egg and water mixture about 10 minutes until super fluffy.
Mix in sugar; add butter. 
Add what's remaining of 2 cups warm water; slowly mix in 4 cups of flour.  
Add salt, yeast, lemon rind, vanilla and anise. 
Slowly add the rest of flour and mix. 

Turn off warmed oven.  Remove warm pans and fill about ½ way full. Place pans back in oven and let rise until just reaching the top of pans, but not overflowing -about an hour and a half.

Remove and preheat oven to 350.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. 

Cool on racks and remove from pans. 

1 pound powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla 
1 stick butter, softened 

Mix all ingredients until a creamy consistency has formed, about 5 minutes. 
Spread evenly over bread.  Cover with sprinkles, or lavender buds and lemon zest.

Monday, April 11

Croissant French Toast

There's nothing quite like a weekend well spent to allow for a proper start to the week.  And while the virtually never-ending to-do list is always in the back of my mind, I've been getting better about having an entire day of rest to enjoy some of the sweet and simple moments of life.

Speaking of sweet, I had to share one of the better things I've ever had the pleasure of eating:  Croissant French Toast at my favorite restaurant in Nashville- Marche Artisan Foods.  It was crispy and flaky on the outside, and all soft and french-toasty on the inside.  I had to refrain from licking the flakes drowning in a heap of syrup and powdered sugar off the plate.  And I had the full order.    

Sometimes I think some of the best ideas are had during such moments of simplicity.  While on the Amalfi coast several years ago, I sat for some unknown length of time and had what some might call a vision.  Maybe I was dreaming, but either way I envisioned owning a quaint cafe and marketplace of my own with baked goods and aritsan olive oil.  I think that's why Marche holds such a special place in my heart - it is straight out of my dreams -farm style tables and all.  Not to say I could ever do it quite so well.  But who's to say?

I hope you have a beautiful week and if there's Croissant French Toast involved,  I'd say you're off to a pretty good start.    

Thursday, April 7

April, Arugula Blossoms and a Cottage

To say the first few days of April were eventful would be an understatement.  I don't think my rump will get any lounging again until next winter by the looks of it.  But I'm happy to be occupied with the renewal of Spring.  The grey that had settled over us for those long months has lifted away and unearthed a slew of new and all-too familiar experiences to uncover.  And never mind that it's tornado season here in the Southeast.  That's a story for another day.
Last Saturday, as I ran some early morning errands, I stumbled upon the unmistakable cluster of white canopies attracting (blindingly pale) folks clad in shorts - carrying away sprouting herbs, Kenny's Farmhouse Cheeses, and armfuls of luscious spring veggies.  I wasn't expecting the West Nashville Farmer's market for at least a few more weeks, so you can imagine my excitement.  Delvin Farms lured me to their corner with their fast-dwindling bunches of arugula blossoms -something that struck my curiosity.  

The always informative Amy Delvin pulled a few of the maroon-veined blossoms off their weedy tendrils and insisted I try a taste for myself.  Piquant like arugula leaves, but milder with a sweet aftertaste.  I grabbed a bunch along with a few other things and headed home, but not without treating myself to a fresh bouquet of flowers.

Ava loves the farmer's market.

This is usually the time when windows are flung open and a vinyl copy of the likes of Paul Simon blasts throughout the house as I unload groceries and scatter my flowers in my favorite antique vases.  But today was a little different.  We rushed to meet with our real estate agent to start our first house-hunting experience.  An arugula blossom and strawberry salad I had been craving had to wait.    

If you've ever embarked upon this adventure, you know how draining the process of weeding through houses can be.  We saw cute, not-so-cute and "I'm good from the street view".  But on Sunday, we pulled up alongside a quintessential Cape Cod cottage with a blue door and a blossoming dogwood in the front yard.  Someone had been lovingly tending to our home over the last fifty years.  How kind of them.  It was everything you would imagine a first home should be.  We sat in the backyard prematurely enjoying the bushes of lavender as we envisioned the next 20 years of our lives.

With just three days on the market, we knew we'd have to jump to make an offer.   It never occurred to me that someone else had set their sights on it first.  There were in fact, two other couples who thought this should be their home too.  Such sadness we felt.  We knew it wasn't meant to be, but we sat quietly that night and pondered the loss of a loved one.  

Luckily for us,  the weather has been gorgeous and with it brings high hopes of good things to come. We're still looking diligently for a place to call home, but like a couple of seasoned vets, we have our wits about us.  In the meantime, we'll be joining friends at Imogene and Willie's first Supper and Song of the season tonight and for that we're grateful.  Saturday brings a whole new round of lovelies to try at the farmer's market and maybe then I'll have a chance to Spring-ify our current home and enjoy a just-harvested salad with all the Spring fixin's.     

This is very much a kitchen-sink kind of salad so you won't find measurements here, except for the vinaigrette.

Arugula Blossom Salad with Strawberries and Fennel

 mixture of Spring greens (spinach, dandelions, radicchio, arugula) 
sliced avocado
a couple tablespoons fennel fronds
crumbled Gorgonzola
sliced strawberries
a handful of arugula blossoms

Place all ingredients in large bowl and toss.  Drizzle with strawberry mint vinaigrette (below).

Strawberry Mint Vinaigrette
makes 1/2 cup -enough for four servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon honey
About 13 small-medium strawberries, hulled
pinch of salt, to taste

Place ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  Refrigerate unused portion covered for several days.