Baked Apples with Mascarpone & Creme Fraiche Topping

Apple season is here.  We are already on our second box of apples.  With each new season, I morn the end of another.  I feel as if I never get my fill of fruit, especially peaches.  This morning I realized I never made Raw Peach Crisp.  Then I got to thinking about the huge box of apples sitting in our kitchen.

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But raw apple crisp just did not hold the same appeal.  Peaches are soft and juicy; apples are crunchy.  Solution…baked apples and just adapt the raw crisp topping.

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Baked Apples with Mascarpone & Crème Fraiche Topping:

Serves 4

Prep:  10 minutes

Total: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2c hazelnuts or pecans
  • 1 Tbs honey
  • 1 Tbs millet
  • 1 Tbs cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs flax seed
  • 5 apples, washed
  • 1/2c mascarpone
  • 1/2c crème fraiche
  • honey to taste
  • coconut oil (substitute butter if you like)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Begin by juicing one of the apples.  If you don’t have a juicer, substitute 1/3 cup apple juice.  Set aside.

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a blender and pulse until almost ground – a crumb like consistency.

Using an apple corer, or similar tool, remove the core and all the seeds to within 1/2 inch of the bottom of the apple.  If you don’t have a tool to core the apple, simply use a melon baller or small scoop.  Just make sure that you preserve as much of the apple as possible.  Remove only what is needed.

Place apples upright in a square baking dish.  Spoon filling into the hollow of each apple, mounding remaining filling on top of the apples.  It’s okay if some falls out of the apples.  Pour the apple juice into the baking dish around the apples.

Use the coconut oil to spread on a sheet of foil.  Cover the apples with the foil, coconut side down, and place in oven.  Bake apples for 45 minutes, or until they are slightly tender.  Remove foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes until tender.

While the apples are baking, whip mascarpone in a bowl until it begins to lighten.  Add crème fraiche and honey to taste and whip until combined.

Once the apples are tender, remove from the oven.  Place a generous spoonful of the mascarpone mixture in four bowls.  Transfer an apple on top of the mascarpone, adding another spoonful of the mascarpone on top of the apples as well. Spoon the remaining sauce from the baking dish into the bowls, drizzling over the apples.

Enjoy!

 

French Bread…

The other day I was sitting in a circle with a group of 3 year olds asking them their favorite food.  When they asked me mine, the first thing that popped into my head was French bread.

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Good, fresh French bread.  The kind that is soft and airy in the center, but crisp on the outside, so that it flakes apart into chunky crumbs when you try to tear it or take a bite.   Croissants and French bread both should be that way.  If it does not impart a mess while eating, it probably is not very good (or too old).

I have always loved it.  Since I was a little girl.  It doesn’t seem very elegant or sophisticated or gourmet.  I hate that it seems so basic (I have a reputation in my family for liking the most basic food).  But, I love it all the same.

And it is not just for the taste, it is also for the memories.  It reminds me of Ireland.  When I was so broke and could barely afford food.  I was living off one meal a day and the granola bars and prunes I had packed in my bag before the trip. But splurged on French bread and a little thing of butter.  It reminds me of France.  And the mystery of the missing ends.  (I finally asked someone why none of the baguettes had ends. It turned out that people would tear them off and eat them while walking home.)  It reminds me of Italy.  The mornings waking up to a fresh baguette my grandfather had gotten from the nearby bakery, eaten simply with butter and the best black currant jam I had ever tasted in my life.

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So, what is your favorite food?

 

 

Passing through Thailand Part 2

It feels like Thailand is a faint dream.  The passing of time has loosened the hold that it had on my mind, my spirit.  I knew it would.  That it would fade.

Thailand changed me; it affected me.  More than I imagined it would.  I went to Thailand for adventure, for something new, for the experience, to be with my sisters.  I came back feeling distant, as if I did not recognize what I had left behind.  My friends, my work, the regular jaunts.  Nothing felt right.  But now, months later, I can look back and barely remember those feelings.  I have settled back into life, this life.  Yet, I don’t feel the same. There still is a stirring in my spirit that was not there before.  I feel that the life I was leading will never be the same.  I feel like I need it to change.  I want it to change.

I don’t think Thailand itself is what made me feel distant from my own life.  I think it was the passage of time.  It was disconnecting completely from the life I was leading.  It was stopping admist the ciaos…stopping after spinning around and around, dizzy, disorientated, unable to get my barrings.  Maybe that is just age.  I don’t transition as easily as when I was young.  But I don’t think that is what it was.  I think leaving everything behind enabled me to let go more than I have in years, since I began my business. I had hit a breaking point before I left.  I realized there was too much in my life.  I was not able to do what I loved admist the necessities of the day.  I had taken on too much and was not doing anything well or enjoying any of it.  My dreams had begun to fade.  I was surviving.  I am still surviving, if it can be called that….But that is a story for another day.  Soon.  Not yet.  This is about Thailand and the wonderful time there.  So, without further ado, part two…

Koh Lanta 

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Before leaving for Thailand, my sisters and I did do enough research to select the two places we would spend our trip, Chiang Mai and Koh Lanta (you can read about part one here).  We would have loved to have seen more, explored more, but we just had two weeks.  If there is anything I have learned over the years, don’t try to do too much.  Otherwise, it won’t feel like you did anything.  Or maybe that is just what it will feel like.  That you did things rather than experienced them.

So, we skimmed over blogs and guide books to know what island or beach to go to.  Pretty much we wanted confirmation that the place would be one, not touristy, two, not a party scene, and three, beautiful.  Koh Lanta was just those things.  It was perfect for us.  Underdeveloped and beautiful.  It had secluded beaches, awesome food, motorbikes for rent, gorgeous vegetation and topography…everything we could ask for.  We booked the flight like a day before we flew (not the cheapest way to do it) and ended up getting in pretty late into Krabi.  The guide books made it sound as if it would be too late for a ferry so that we should stay the night.  However, there were not too many options listed for places to stay in Krabi and we did not know how big a place it was.  What to do?  Instead of showing up at 10 or 11 at night with no place to crash and having to figure it out, we decided to book one night at any place we could find with private transfer to their hotel on Koh Lanta.  There were only two.  Baan Laanta for around $100 a night plus an extra charge $30 for the hotel transfer or the Pimalai, which was around $300 a night and free airport transfer.  We were definitely tempted but figured we would be just crashing and then checking out in the morning to find someplace cheaper to stay.  So, the Baan Laanta it was.

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Where to Stay:

Baan Laanta:  Small.   Quiet.  Quaint.  Perfectly situated.  We arrived ridiculously late (it was about a two hour transfer from the airport by van, driving and on ferries).  But when we got there, we were kindly greeted and shown to our room.  And what a room.  We weren’t able to appreciate it in the night, as it was late and we were exhausted.  All we cared about was it had a beach view, a gorgeous bed, and lots of character.  We quickly got into bed and crashed (we ordered an extra cot, but the three of us could quite comfortably fit on the bed).  Upon waking in the morning I was able to fully appreciate where we were staying…

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an excerpt from my journal on that first morning …

“We woke this morning to one of the most breathtaking views – truly stunning.  The bay surrounded by the jungle.  Unbelievable how vast the jungle is – how wild it is.”

Koh Lanta is a very mountainous island and everything was built into the hills.  The hotels all were terraced along the bay.  Ours tucked into the trees but with direct beach access. 

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There are only about 15 rooms at the Baan Laanta, so if you are wanting an intimate, private, relaxing stay, this is definitely the place for you.  We only saw 2 or 3 couples the whole time we were there (but it that was because we were traveling during the shoulder season – which meant reduced rates and less people, but risking bad weather).  The setting was perfect.  The view from the pool was fabulous, not that we used it much at all.  With the beach and the ocean literally right down some steps, it was hard not to pick the beach.

Next time:  Honestly, after exploring the island, I loved our little bay and thought it the perfect place.  The only other recommendation I would give would be the Pimalai.  However, there were a lot of great looking places on other parts of the island.  But I liked our location so much that I wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else.

Pimalai:  We were really tempted to stay here for one night.  It was just up the beach from our hotel and it looked amazing.  We did go check out the grounds and thought they were gorgeous.  Seriously.  However, upon viewing the rooms, they lacked the character that the Baan Laanta had.  It might have been worth the splurge, but we were content staying where we were so we opted not to upgrade.  But if you want to be spoiled and stay some place grand (for Thailand), this would probably be a good pick.

Where to Eat: 

Gosh.  You just had to walk up the street for fabulous food.  And I mean fabulous.

Kampung Restaurant:  We ate here almost every night.  It was fabulous, and when you get awesome food and an awesome experience, it is hard to want anything else.  Such sweet sweet owners.  It is owned by a young couple.  She is from the UK (we assume) and he from Thailand.  Both were so kind and sweet and just made you want to come back both for the food and to support them.  It was mango season and she talked of getting mangos from his uncle’s tree up the street.  Awesome.  And the food had just the right amount of heat.  Enough to intimidate but not kill your taste (but they were willing to accommodate anyone’s palate).

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The neighbor’s cat.  He totally knew who had food and he was not shy about trying to get some.  Love how relaxed Thailand was about sitting on the floor, eating dinner, and having a neighbor’s cat hanging out in your lap.  Definite recommendation:  everything!  The banana in warm coconut milk – yum.  All the curries we tried – so good.  We really loved everything we had here.

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Okay.  So I forget the name of this place.  But if you head from the Baan Laanta up toward the park, you will pass it on the right.  It is Sunset something.  We were riding our motorbikes passed this spot, which claimed awesome views, and the sun was just setting so we figured we would stop for some cocktails.  The view did not disappoint.  It was perfect timing.  I mean, drinks while watching the sunset on the ocean.  How much better can it get?

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Same Same but Different:  Another pick just because of the location.  We could walk here from our hotel for dinner and drinks on the beach.

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Loved the sculptures at night.  Even if we did not get a view of anything else, it was pretty phenomenal with the sound of the waves on the beach.  Just wish we had had a flash light for the walk back.  We came back during the day for drinks on the beach and thoroughly enjoyed the view.  The food was good enough but we had much better, and it was a bit pricier here.  You are paying for the location.  Definite recommendation:  coconut lassi or smoothie

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Another place I cannot name…located up the road from the Baan Laanta on the left, was a developers office with a coffee bar.  I don’t quite know if they were open or not when we stopped by but they were so hospitable and gracious.  We ordered lattes and ice cream.  The best coffee we had in Thailand.  And such a gorgeous setting.  The office itself was dream home worthy (there was even a moat with fish around it with a little concrete bridge).  We wandered up to look at their development and again, gorgeous.  Very modern; totally stunning.  (It was still being built though.)  It was all so delightful we had to come back again.  The kind of place that makes your heart happy because of your interactions and the genuine kindness of the people.  I feel as though words cannot express them.

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On the other part of the island, in the old city, there were a slew of places right on the water.  I don’t know how we lucked out, but we did.  All I wanted was a whole fish, but how to choose.  We picked one that was not busy.  Usually not the best sign.  And the owners kept calling us to come in.  Doesn’t typically woo me, but we entered.  I think we were all just so amazingly hot and hungry that we weren’t thinking straight and just needed someplace to sit.  We ordered the whole fish and were so delighted.  It was delicious and totally what I had been dreaming of before coming to Thailand.  Seriously, the best whole fish I have ever had.  It had just the right heat, a perfect balance of flavor, and melt in your mouth fish.

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Next time:

Drunken Sailors:  Closed for the month.  Literally the day before we got there was their last day.  It had a hammock on the porch and looked like the most perfect lounge hangout.  Sad to have missed it because it was given rave reviews by other travelers we met.  But, it did seem more geared to tourists.  I don’t know if we would have really felt like we were in Thailand.

What to Do:

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…other than swimming and walking along the beach and relaxing under the hot Thai sun…

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Rent motorbikes:  A definite recommendation.  We only rented them one day and wish we had been able to ride more.  It is the only way to see the whole island and without having seen the whole island, I feel my view of Koh Lanta would not have been accurate.  To see where the locals lived and how they lived (and to interact ever so briefly).  To view the treatment of the elephants.  To see the roads less taken.

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Snorkeling:  We booked a trip to Koh Phi Phi through our hotel.  Since we were going on the off season, our choices were limited and honestly we had to just take what they would give us.  We were at the mercy of the hotel to book us a trip.  And again, felt so blessed. We wanted the speed boat trip but had to opt for the ferry.  In the end, we were totally happy.  They transferred us to a long boat once we got to Koh Phi Phi and that is when we got to experience Thailand truly.  Not with a fancy fast boat.  But with a rough, loud, long boat.

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We were with a small group of other internationals and one Thai family.  We were the only Americans.  Loved that.  We took the ferry to Phi Phi Don where we then transferred to the long boat, which took us to two different locations to snorkel.  The first was an intimate cove.  Just us and the water.  It was shocking at first.  I had never been snorkeling and was not used to the constant prick and sting.  After exploring for a bit, they took us over to the main attraction…Maya Bay.  They brought us into a little cove and told us to jump out, swim across to the rope ladder and climb up.  Once at the top follow the path to the beach.  Let me just say…awesome.  So much fun swimming up to the ropes and climbing up them.  Loved how relaxed and casual they were.  No questions or instructions.  No warnings.  When we got to Maya Bay we almost immediately wanted to turn around.  People were everywhere.  It was crazy.  Did not expect that.  We got in the water and then headed back to the boat for lunch.  And did they serve lunch.  Two different curries with rice and pineapple.  And it was delicious.   So delicious.

Next time:

the national park on Koh Lanta.  We got there right when it was closing.  But after talking to a guy who lived in America but was visiting his family in Koh Lanta, we realized we weren’t up to trekking.  He thought we were crazy when we said we wanted to.  He said you really need to go with a local who knows.  And I think he was probably right.

Cooking class.  We didn’t give this much consideration but after the fact figured it might have been nice to have taken one.

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Things of Note:

Going on the off season felt a bit unnerving at first.  I mean it was deserted on our end of the island.  The first morning, literally the only humans we saw were the people working at our hotel.  It felt like we had woken up on the set of Lost.  But we soon adjusted to the lack of human beings and deserted surroundings, the emptiness.  And maybe it was just too early in the morning.

In the middle of the night the first night I was awakened by the most deafening noise.  I had no idea what it was.  All I knew was I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep.  And wondered if I could live in that noise.  Just as quickly as it started, it stopped.  Turned out to be insects.  They would start up periodically throughout the day.  But like everything else, I began not to notice as much.

Traveling on Koh Lanta: the taxis were charging ridiculous prices.  We hired rides through our hotel, which ended up being more affordable than if you sought out transportation independently (unless you are really good at bargaining).  Once booked into a place, motorbikes are the way to go, but the cost of gas can add up quickly if you are not careful.

Phone service:  I added an international plane before leaving for while I was there.  Just in case.  And so I could do business.  Pretty seamless.

Weather:  I have never been in such crazy powerful storms.  Or maybe it is just that I felt more vulnerable.  Thankfully they were at night when we were tucked safety into bed.  But even that did not feel totally safe.

Walking:  We were the only ones who seemed to walk.  And understandably so.  We didn’t realize how spread out the island was.

Cost:  I still have not figured out how much I spent all together but it was between $1500-2000.  The plan ride to Thailand cost $1050 and in Thailand $250.  I budgeted around $300 for expenses in Thailand and could have stuck to that but we started splurging toward the end of the trip.  $1500 is totally doable during the shoulder season when places are cheaper.  We just decided to say someplace a bit nicer and spend the extra money.

Overall, Thailand is a place that is wonderful and was beyond my expectations.  It is the kind of place you have to go to experience for yourself.  It is a definite recommendation!

 

D.C. in the Summer…Top 10 Things to Do

I love Washington D.C.  Partly because it is one of those cities that feels like home, partly because my sisters and grandmother still live in the surrounding area, partly because it is a gorgeous city.  So many summers have been made memorable because of D.C.  I always end up spending some time there, even if just a weekend.  This year was almost the exception.  With all the busyness of life and work, I honestly did not have any intention of heading up that way.  Yet the draw of the city and the gentle pleading of my sisters won out and to D.C. I went.  Just for a week, but a wonderful week it was.  So, here is my top 10 things to do in the D.C. area in the summer (no certain order).

1.  Screen on the Green for a picnic and an outdoor movie – everything I have read online says to get there early to claim a spot.  With my sisters and me, there really is no getting any where early.  We arrived right when we thought it would be starting and there was plenty of grassy space still unclaimed.  The movie did not actually start until it began to get dark.

2.  Citi Open  – Citi Open was the whole reason I picked this week to visit DC.  I am not really into watching sports on TV, but there is something so fun about watching a match in person.

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3.  Hiking the Billy Goat trail – any trail that has rock scrambling is my kind of trail

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4.  Biking the Capital Crescent trail from Bethesda to Georgetown always with a latte stop in Georgetown at Baked & Wired

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5.  Wolf Trap for an outdoor concert with a picnic – but the VA, MD, and DC area has a ton of free outdoor concerts throughout the summer

6.  D.C. United game

7.  Dumbarton Oaks for an afternoon stroll through the gardens and relaxing with a book.  Make sure to check their schedule to see if they have any upcoming art installments in the gardens.

8.  Polo match in Upperville or Middleburg with a picnic.  And while you are there, wander along the streets of Middleburg.  Seriously one of my favorite small towns ever.  And if you want to linger, there is the cutest little bed and breakfast, The Ashby Inn, in Paris, Virginia with Sky Meadows State Park close by for hiking. Definite recommendation:  staying in the school house

9.  the Mall at night for a walk among the Memorials (and visiting during the day)

10.  the National Portrait Gallery and if you visit on a Thursday afternoon, there are a slew of food trucks lined up – I love their collection, especially the pieces by Abbott Handerson Thayer.

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But how can you just stop at ten.  There is so much to do in the D.C. area that I absolutely love.  Roosevelt Island for a run or walk.  Biking all the way out to Mt. Vernon and then touring the grounds.  The Air + Space museum is another favorite if you want to tour museums.  The grounds of the National Cathedral and the cathedral itself are gorgeous and worth a visit.

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Walking the streets of Georgetown; exploring the gardens of Georgetown.  The grounds and museum of the Old Stone House  are worth a stop, as it is the oldest standing building in DC and the only pre-revolutionary colonial home in Georgetown.

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The waterfront in Georgetown for a run through the fountains.

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Book Hill Park in Georgetown for a race up the steps and then reading at the top.

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The shops along Wisconsin Avenue are some of the best in Georgetown in my opinion. Plus, Patisserie Poupon is one of our favorites for getting a drink and an almond croissant or crudité salad.  But make sure to stop by Stachowski’s Market and Deli on 28th St NW too.  And Cornucopia Specialty Food in Bethesda, MD.

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Even though Le Pain Quotidien is a chain, it is a definite recommendation, and they have numerous locations in the area.

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Shopping and eating along 14th Street & T Street NW in DC.  Stopping by BakeHouse for a latte and a scone and tacos next door from Taqueria Nacional.

A drive out into the Maryland countryside, definite recommendation.  Especially to Rocklands Farm.

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We didn’t do all of these things during the week I was there.  D.C. United was sold out. Manchester United was in town for a game but we didn’t end up going to that either.  Wolf Trap did not have anything that made us want to go.  The Polo matches were under way, but the bigger matches are more fun to go to later in the year.  We talked about Dumbarton but there wasn’t time.  Cornucopia was closed as the proprietor was on a trip to Italy…. But we fit in a surprising amount of things for a relaxing week.  Now that I am home, all I can think is I am ready for my next trip up.

Recipe: What I Am Eating Right Now

So, last year I said I wouldn’t plant so many tomatoes.  And I didn’t.  But I still planted a ton.  Everyday new ones have ripened and are just begging to be picked.  And pick I must.

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Oh, how I am loving them.  They are the basis for most of what I am making and eating right now…galettes, salad, pasta….Nights when I am exhausted, starving, and just want something quick, I end up making pasta (well, not the actual pasta…that is for when I have time and am not exhausted).  So, here it is.  Honestly, it is not even a recipe.  It is just a guide.

Fresh Tomatoes + Pasta:

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Serves 1 (but just multiply according to how many people you want to feed)

  • 1/2 Tbs butter
  • 1-2 garlic cloves minced (I like garlic so I say the more the merrier, but adjust as to preference)
  • 3 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • small handful of basil, julienned
  • appropriate serving of pasta (whatever you prefer…I like this on everything, but think ravioli is especially nice, particularly a sweet potato ravioli)
  • salt + pepper to taste
  • optional: parmesan, walnuts, freshly grated nutmeg

Start by cooking the pasta according to given directions.  While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter on medium low in a sauté pan and add the garlic.  Sauté until the garlic is golden and the butter begins to color.  If you want a brown butter sauce, by all means, go for it.  Just don’t add the garlic as the butter browns, otherwise it will become bitter.  Remove from heat.  Once the pasta has finished cooking, drain, reserving a slight amount of the pasta water.  Add the pasta and water to the pan with the butter and garlic and toss.  Plate the pasta and top with the fresh tomatoes and basil.  Season according to taste.

Note:  If adding walnuts, I think it is nice to lightly toast them in a separate pan until aromatic.