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Corinne Trang's Rice Porridge with Chicken and Lemon Grass (Chao xa ga)


I have been doing a lot of stock-cooking lately. Beef bones, chicken wings, bay leaves, peppercorns - these all have moved to the front of the burner lately as I adjust to a life without ready-made chicken or beef stock base in my fridge. Who would have thought that of all the goods stocked in an American grocery store, I'd come to miss Better Than Bouillon most of all? Not I.

First of all, I underestimated my reliance on it. Second of all, I had no idea that it would be so hard to come by anything other than granulated bouillon (ick) or very, very expensive jars of chicken stock (we're talking 2-cup servings for, oh, 5, 6, 7 euros a pop) in Germany. So I make a lot of stock these days. Combine that with the fact that I have the most adorably tiny freezer (if by adorable you understand that I mean infuriating) and my new normal is coming up with weekly reasons to eat soup.

Of course, as I'm sure many of you would love to yell at the screen right now, Better Than Bouillon, even if miles - many of them - better than granulated, does not hold a candle to homemade stock or broth. Still! I loved it so. It really was a cornerstone of my kitchen. Anyway.

S. Irene Virbila wrote the loveliest article the other day about congee, Chinese rice porridge, a simple meal of rice cooked in water that you then get to gussy up with all kinds of delectable things: chile paste, roasted peanuts, drizzles of soy sauce, fried ground pork. In all my years in New York and during my long love affair with Chinese food, I'd actually never eaten congee before. I tried to go for dinner at Congee Village once and was thwarted by the masses waiting ahead of me for a table. And let's be honest, rice gruel or rice porridge always sounded a little disappointing. A little too medicinal for dinnertime. Like something you had to grow up eating to love.

Silly, silly girl.

Because I'd had a big pot of chicken stock hanging out in my fridge for a few days, I decided to make the Vietnamese version of congee, chao xa ga, which has a slightly more flavorful base (chicken broth boiled together with lemongrass and chili) than regular congee. You cook rice in that fragrant broth until it's soft and (almost) falling apart - the recipe said to cook the rice for more than an hour, while I stopped after 45 minutes. Cooked, shredded chicken meat bolsters the porridge a bit, turning it into a proper meal, while fresh lemon juice and chopped cilantro or saw leaves brighten up the final plate. A plate gobbled up so fast I'd almost rather not admit it.

I initially meant to make this for dinner last night, for three men at our table. But I got a little spooked by the idea that rice porridge might be more of a lady's meal - after all, would I be able to sufficiently feed hungry dudes on something as delicate-sounding as lemon grass-scented rice gruel? After eating it for lunch, by myself, I decided I need to have those friends over again to make up for the error of my ways. Flavorful, filling, slightly spicy and - of course - delicious, I almost felt guilty enjoying chao xa ga all on my own.

Best of all, while I sat here in my Berlin kitchen, waiting for my Vietnamese soup to cook, planning to make Hunanese chopped salted chiles (did the water just spontaneously burst forth in your mouth?) for when I make a proper Chinese congee, I was struck yet again by how much fun cooking can be, how deeply satisfying a venture it is - you have directions in front of you from someone you must trust, who got those directions from someone else herself and so on, you follow those directions, you stand back and suddenly you're in the middle of eating a meal that people on the very opposite side of the universe might be having for lunch right now. Pardon me if that sounds rather obvious or silly, but it made me very happy indeed.

So next up, congee. And then my chicken broth/stock stockpile will be depleted once more, and it'll be back to the stove with chicken parts again. So, tell me, readers, what's your very favorite broth or stock recipe? What do you come back to again and again to stock your freezer with?

Chao xa ga (Rice Porridge with Chicken and Lemon Grass)
Servings: 4 to 6

9 cups chicken broth
2 stalks lemon grass, trimmed (outer leaves, tough green tops and root ends removed), cut into 1-inch pieces and lightly crushed
2 to 3 red bird's eye or Thai chiles, stemmed
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 cup jasmine rice (or similar rice)
2 cooked chicken legs, boned, skinned and shredded
Coarse sea salt
1/2 cup julienned saw (ngo gai) or cilantro leaves
Lemon wedges for serving

1. Pour the chicken broth into a pot and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the lemon grass, chiles and fish sauce and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the rice and cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes to an 1 hour.

2. Stir in the shredded chicken and season to taste with salt. Continue to cook until the chicken is heated through, about 15 minutes, or if the chicken is freshly cooked and still warm, just until combined. Divide the congee among 4 to 6 large soup bowls, garnish with the herb leaves and 1 wedge of lemon for each serving.

A Few Things of Importance


1. Have you made this salad yet? You must, you must, you must. It, quite literally, might be the best thing since sliced bread. I made it for a dinner party on Friday night, along with a plethora of other delicious things, and this salad was the one thing at the meal that made everyone stop speaking and start pointing at their plates, mouths full, in wonder and greed. It is delicious. Hot and spicy, crunchy and cool, complex in texture and flavor. Wondrous. Deb got the recipe from Sasa who got the recipe from her mother who got it from a cooking magazine in New Zealand - all of which simply serves to reinforce the fact that the internet is the best thing to happen to cooking since the gods gave us fire.


2. I didn't realize until a few months after moving in that I, once again, had chosen an apartment with an unencumbered view of the sky, which means that we've been hard at work documenting all the glorious sunsets that come our way. And lately, the sky has been so generous.


3. The good people of Berlin are getting happier, whenever the sunshine intermittently cracks through the ever-present clouds, sometimes thin and menacing, sometimes plump and cottony, flitting across the sky. In general, Berlin is coming alive, as it always does once spring descends. The parks and meridians and sidewalks are bursting with overgrown grasses, blossoming trees, blowsy dandelions. The air is sweet and fragrant - just last night, I walked up Schlossstrasse taking great, deep gulps of air, scented with lilacs and chestnut blossoms and earth still damp from an earlier, brief hail storm. It feels like magic, it really does, when you're in the gloaming in Berlin and the greenery around you moves and beckons in the wind and you feel like there could be fairy sprites hiding in the bushes, peering out with glittering eyes as you pass by.


4. Finally, you've all been very patient with my coy attempts at, uh, implying the presence of, er, romance in this space. I guess I've been a little shy. Remember back in the fall when I said that sometimes, when you're given the chance to do something that might change your life totally and completely, you have to take that step, make that leap, take that chance? I wasn't only talking about leaving my job, writing a book and moving to Berlin. I was also talking about a love story, the defining one of my life. One that helped me move mountains, or continents, if you will. Our story is a big one, one I'll tell you about some day, but in the meantime I figured it's time to make it official, time to bring him into the fold here, the man at my table, my heart.

Nancy Gaifyllia's Paximathakia Portokaliou


Paximathakia Portokaliou! Paximathakia Portokaliou! I've been shrieking that in my head for the past week or so, imagining myself as a Greek maiden hawking cookies by the seashore, sun beating down on my brow, cookies crumbling in their little basket. Paximathakia Portokaliou! I mean, did you ever hear a sweeter cookie name? Biscotti, snooze. Cookies, yawn. Paximathakia Portokaliou! Cookies with a name like that must have character.

And character they have, especially when you consider that the dough for them is kneaded by hand on a counter, like for bread dough. The process of making these cookies was such a delight. I might have mentioned I no longer have any electrical appliances in my kitchen anymore (well, besides a toaster but that joined my household once I got to Berlin). My food processor and my hand beaters and my immersion blender - I left them all behind in New York. So making cookies by the creaming method or the food processor is a thing of the past, at least until I buckle and buy a set of German beaters.


The other day, I had friends coming over for tea and discovered I had only three crumbling cookies in a limp little plastic wrapper to offer. Paximathakia Portokaliou! (is it okay if I just make the exclamation mark part of the cookie name? I think it fits) would require everything I had in the house already and seemed like the perfect tea sweet.

You dissolve baking soda in orange juice, then mix into that froth some cinnamon (just barely a hint of it), olive oil, lemon peel and juice and some toasted sesame seeds. I'd actually just been given a sack of lemons from a friend's backyard - in Greece - and the olive oil I used was from my mother's olive harvest last year and that, I would say, already made me feel like I was living some kind of agricultural utopian dream. If only I'd ground the flour myself!


Into the wet mixture went flour, sugar and baking powder. The dough was turned out onto the counter and within minutes, not the ten required by the original recipe, had come together into a smooth, elastic ball of dough, fragrant with citrus and spice and faintly nubby to the touch from the sesame seeds.

The rest of the process is pretty simple, too. Logs are formed and sliced. Logs are par-baked then cooled. Cookies are sliced and dried out in a warm oven until crispy. Their fragrance is wonderful, as you can imagine, and eating them is lovely, too. They crunch in just the right places and are barely sweet at all. In fact, even better than at tea time, says my mother, the cookies go just right with coffee for breakfast. Did you know Italians eat cookies for breakfast? They really know how to live, huh.


You'll have to take her word for it, dear readers, because after I made that batch of Paximathakia Portokaliou, I ate half of one to tell you about them, and then - uh - watched them all disappear. Quite literally. Poof! Paximathakia Portokaliou!, despite your imposing name, you were gone before I knew you.

Paximathakia Portokaliou
Makes about 4 to 5 dozen

1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons pulp-free orange juice
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
3 1/2 cups (14.88 ounces) flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the orange juice.

3. To the orange juice, add the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon peel, water, cinnamon and sesame seeds. Beat with the whisk attachment or using a hand mixer at medium speed until thoroughly combined, 3 to 5 minutes.

4. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and baking powder.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the liquid in the mixing bowl slowly, using a dough hook or a wooden spoon. Then knead with your hands in the bowl until the dough holds together. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and soft, about 5 minutes, adding more flour as needed.

6. Divide the dough in half and knead again until it is dense and holds together lightly. Form each half into a loaf about 14 inches in length and one-half to three-fourths inch high and place on the cookie sheet. Using a floured knife, partially cut the dough into one-half inch slices (slice almost to the bottom but not all the way through each slice). Repeat with the remaining half of dough, forming a second log and leaving a few inches between each as the loaves will expand as they bake.

7. Bake the loaves until the bottom of each loaf is golden and the tops are just starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 200 degrees. When the dough is cool enough to handle, cut the slices all the way through. Place them upright on the cookie sheet, leaving a little space between each cookie. Return to the oven and bake until very dry, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

8. Cool completely before storing in airtight containers or in the freezer.

Julie Sahni's Bihari Green Beans Masala


Things improbably gone missing in the move:

1. One tiny All-Clad skillet bought in a super-deal at Broadway Panhandler when it was still over in Soho and that was my trusty seed-toasting, meal-for-one-making, butter-melting companion for many years. This feels only barely replaceable. I'm pretty bereft. How on earth did my little soufflé dishes, my tea cups and espresso spoons, my ceramic trivets and my antique canisters all make it over, but this little darling didn't?

2. An entire set of ivory-handled flatware. Well, forks and knives. To be fair, not as essential as it sounds since I'd had the good fortune of being given my grandmother's silver a few years ago. But still, where could it be? An entire set? When I can't sleep at night, I think about it. Is it still in some old apartment that I didn't comb over obsessively enough? Is it in a shipping container on the high seas? Is it off living the life of Riley in grass skirts on a tropical island with an endless supply of fresh coconuts?

3. A jar of ground coriander. Huh? A half-roll of Saran-Wrap made it over (don't ask). A nearly empty jar of dried summer savory from Penzey's made it over, too. (Seriously, don't ask). But this, a brand-new jar, fragrant and much, much needed, didn't?

A skillet, flatware, ground coriander. Is this some kind of message from the other side? Am I supposed to be understanding something about what's gone missing? 

I know. That's a lot of questions for a Wednesday morning.


I discovered the loss of the ground coriander and the baby skillet in the midst of making dinner the other night, which, as you probably know, is not the best time to realize you don't have something that you were pretty darn sure you had. So sure you didn't even check. Still, Julie Sahni's recipe for green beans in a simply spiced coconut sauce had needled its way into my head and was sitting there, setting off fireworks, until I got to cooking and it didn't really matter, until dinner was done - whole coriander subbed in for ground, a little pot used for toasting almonds instead of my skillet - and gone.

Yes, done and gone. That's about how fast it was to both cook the meal and eat it. For those of you still afraid to cook Indian food because of the time you think it takes, and the complicated list of ingredients, I've found your recipe. This dish took less than 15 minutes to cook, and only a few minutes more to prep. And the ingredients are all easy to source, especially if you live in a country that sells more than just basil in the herb section of the grocery store (ahem, Germany).

We gobbled up the whole dish in an unseemly amount of time, white rice soaking up the delicious sauce. "Delicious!" was exclaimed. "So good!" was declared. Plates, dear readers, might even have been licked. The only Indian food I've had since coming to Berlin in December were takeout meals in London and New York, go figure. So I suppose eating politely and demurely was going to be off the table anyhow.

And even better than the speed and ease with which this was cooked, was the fact that the green beans can be replaced with cauliflower or eggplant, among other vegetables, and the idea of soft, yielding eggplant stewed away in this creamy, velvety sauce is enough to make me forget about any skillet, ground spice or flatware I ever possessed and dream only about the future.

Bihari Green Beans Masala
Serves 2 as a main course with rice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or light olive oil
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup coconut milk
3/4 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1. Heat the oil in a 3-quart sauté pan over medium heat. Add almonds and cook, stirring, until light golden. Remove from heat and transfer almonds to a plate or bowl; set aside for garnish.

2. Add onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, chili pepper flakes and salt to the unwashed sauté pan, and return to medium heat. Sauté until the onion is tender and begins to fry, about 4 minutes.

3. Add coconut milk and green beans. Mix well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until the beans are tender, about 6 minutes.

4. Sprinkle beans with lime juice, and toss lightly. Transfer to a warmed serving dish and garnish with almonds and cilantro. Serve with plain cooked rice or roti flatbread.

Kim Boyce's Olive Oil Cake


Here's a little story for you. One day, years ago, I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about a pastry chef named Kim Boyce who was learning how to bake muffins with whole-grain flours so she could feed her two little girls snacks that were delicious and healthy at once. Sounds sort of familiar, doesn't it? Except the recipes included were anything but familiar. Kamut muffins made with Cotswold cheese, or oat flour muffins studded with apples, these muffins sounded...spectacular. I made a batch of whole-wheat muffins with yielding pockets of roasted sweet potatoes and mooned over the whole batch.

A few years later, sitting at my desk at the company where I edited cookbooks, an agent sent me a proposal for a book. Written by Kim Boyce. But instead of a book of muffins, I found a proposal for a book stuffed with dozens and dozens and dozens of recipes, for cakes, breads, pie doughs, and more, all made with different kinds of whole-grain flours, all bound together by Kim's brilliant philosophy: that whole-grain flours shouldn't just be eaten for their nutritional value, but rather for the subtle and delicious flavors each one had, especially when combined intelligently with flavorings like ripe apricots, dark chocolate, damp Muscovado sugar, rhubarb-hibiscus compote or fresh herbs.

Like I said. Brilliant. It took me one read through Kim's proposal to know that I had to publish her book. And also bake every single thing she mentioned.

So yes, this isn't an impartial post. This post is about as biased as you're going to get. But trust me when I tell you this book is a marvel. I don't know how to pick which recipe is worth the price of the book, because each one is.

Chewy, pliant flatbreads made with amaranth flour, sprinkled with herbs and griddled on a cast-iron pan? We ate them coming off the stove, fingers hot and oily. They were gone in minutes.


Oatmeal cookies, palm-sized and iced with Jackson Pollockian drizzles, made with a mix of flours like barley, oat, millet and rye. Just as chewy and perfect as the ones you get at the convenience store. Except, you know, better.

From graham crackers made with teff flour to chocolate babka made with Kamut flour to flaky rye pie dough to homemade cereal uncannily resembling Grape-Nuts, made with graham flour and buttermilk, everything in this book is wonderful. Delicious. Interesting. A classic. Things I'll be making and baking until I'm old and gray, I know it.

The point is not that you're remaking classic recipes as healthy alternatives, but rather that Kim's desserts are stand-alone gems in their own right. You'll find yourself craving her whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies because they taste better, full-flavored and rich, than others you've made before, not because they're made with whole-wheat flour. You're also learning that whole-grain flours have subtle flavors to be teased out.

Did you know that corn flour shines when paired with bright, fruity notes? Or that oat flour has a milky flavor best paired with chocolate or butter? Amaranth is grassy and meant to be mixed with musky sugars like Muscovado. Buckwheat is faintly bitter and needs fall fruits to show off its complex character. Kim put an enormous amount of work into this book - every page is filled with information. I learned so much working on this book and cooking from it.

My most recent discovery from its pages is this humble-sounding Olive Oil Cake. Ho-hum, you might say. Haven't we been here before? It's probably citrus-flavored, you think, and a little boring. Okay, so listen to this. First of all, it uses a combination of spelt flour and all-purpose flour. Just so that the cake has a little character, a sturdy little crumb, appealingly speckled. Then, you add chopped dark chocolate and minced fresh rosemary.

I know. I did not think I would ever be a fan of rosemary in cake. I like it on my potatoes just fine, but in my desserts? Nah, no thanks.

Silly me. If anyone was going to make the combination not only seem right, but essential, it'd be Kim. I don't know how she figured this out, but the fruity olive oil, the dark funk of the chocolate and the herbal, aggressive rosemary combine in the heat of the oven to produce the most astonishing thing: a simple tea cake that tastes complex and deep and delicious, with a flavor that is very, very difficult to put your figure on. It tastes so bewitchingly good, you will find yourself thinking about the cake the day after you make it, and the day after that as well, trying to find excuses to bake another round of it. Pretty wonderful.

Do you ever pick up a book and just sort of feel like you were meant to be holding it, that if you could be kindred spirits with an object, that book would be it? That's how I feel about Good to the Grain. I clutch it to my chest periodically, find myself poring over the pages, the rich colors and photos, getting hungry with each passing page. Yes, if books could be kindred spirits, this one would be mine. Its author already is.

Olive Oil Cake
Serves 8

Kim's note: You don't need to use a specialty olive oil for this cake. But if you have one with a lot of flavor, the cake will be that much better.

Olive oil for the pan
3/4 cup spelt flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 eggs
1 cup olive oil
3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (175 degrees C.). Rub a 9 1/2-inch fluted tart pan with olive oil.

2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring any bits of grain or other ingredients left in the sifter back into the bowl. Set aside.

3. In another large bowl, whisk the eggs thoroughly. Add the olive oil, milk and rosemary and whisk again. Using a spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry, gently mixing just until combined. Stir in the chocolate. Pour the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly and smoothing the top.

4. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is domed, golden brown, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. The cake can be eaten warm or cool from the pan, or cooled, wrapped tightly in plastic, and kept for 2 days.

Rhubarb Raspberry Betty


I came back from New York with a burning urge to read. I haven't read much past my weekly New Yorker since moving to Berlin and without realizing it, had started to feel a little bereft. This bookworm needs her friends! Her crisp hardcovers and soft-edged paperbacks with dogeared pages. Right now I'm elbow-deep in Kim Severson's Spoon Fed and enjoying it immensely. It's the kind of book I'd like to plow through in one fell swoop and the only reason I haven't done that yet is I'm trying to make it last.

Like many recent books about food culture in America, there is a bit in the book about Marion Cunningham, she of the yeasted waffles, James Beard's bosom buddy, reviser extraordinaire of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Reading about Marion always makes me want to hustle into the kitchen in two seconds flat and get busy making spoon bread and one-bowl chocolate cakes.

You know what is so cozy? Lying in bed (in my bedroom under the eaves of the roof), listening to a gentle rain, reading about Marion Cunningham, then getting up, padding down the hallway to the living room where I can pull out Fannie Farmer from the bookcase, get back into bed, and curl up with two good books at once. Really, it's the only way to spend a rainy morning.


Anyway, along with the big, fat, white spears of asparagus from the regions near Berlin currently flooding the farmer's markets and bewitching me in all their odd, white, mandrake-root-like beauty, rosy rhubarb is the other thing I can't seem to get enough of. Every time I pass a pile of those red stalks, my body is sort of propelled over to them and I find myself buying a kilo or two, even if I've already got plenty at home as it is. I can't resist the rhubarb. Can you?

My latest clutch of stalks had been hanging out on my kitchen counter for the past day or two while I dithered back and forth on how to cook them. Roasted with white wine and vanilla bean? Chunked and marmaladed with grapefruit peel or ginger? Turned into a sort of crisp-crumble with spelt flour streusel? (More on that spelt flour business soon.) But then I found myself in bed with Marion Cunningham and Fannie Farmer, reading about rhubarb Betty, and that's when all other plans shot straight out the window.

In the pantheon of homey American desserts, I've known crumbles, grunt, slumps and pandowdies. I've done crisps and buckles, too. But the Betty always remained just out of sight. I never knew quite what to expect from a Betty. It was too abstract, the name made even less sense than the other ones, and besides, I was too busy mastering baked dumplings and crumble toppings to really pay attention.

But. Oh, but.

I should have known that something as humble-sounding as a fruit Betty would win my heart.


Betties are, to be precise, the most austere of those homey desserts. The plainest, the strictest, if you will. Simply fruit and sugar topped with butter-soaked bread cubes. That's it. No batter, no streusel, no dumplings. Like deconstructed summer puddings. But more Puritan and with a bit more crunch.

Now, a Betty won't appeal to everyone. What I find so wonderful about its stripped-down, bare-naked self won't necessarily be your cup of tea. Perhaps you need a yielding cake or a spice-scented topping to make you happy. But if you, like me, are always on the hunt for fruit desserts that can be whipped up in the flash of an eye, don't sit like a lead brick in your belly and can do double-time as breakfast the next day, provided you have some plain yogurt lying around just waiting to be dolloped, then consider yourself in business.

Marion's original recipe has you stew a couple pounds of rhubarb with sugar and water on the stove before baking it with homemade breadcrumbs. When it's done, you serve it alongside sliced strawberries and whipped cream. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Indeed. The thing is, I'm a little tired of the strawberry-rhubarb combination. In fact, I think we should give it a rest for a bit, along with goat cheese and beet salads. Yes? Doesn't that sound like a good idea?


So I bought a box of frozen raspberries instead. And while I was at it, decided not to stew the rhubarb since that would make it fall apart and go a little pallid. I tossed the rhubarb with the raspberries and sugar (not as much as Marion first called for), then baked it in the oven for a few minutes while I prepared the bread.

Oh right, and instead of making breadcrumbs, I cubed several slices of plain white bread, then tossed those cubes with melted butter. Less butter than originally called for! I'm such a rebel, on all fronts. Look at me, having my way with this recipe! (I miss my food processor.)

I pulled the fruit from the oven after five minutes or so, topped the fruit with the cubed bread and put it back in the oven to brown and crisp and bubble.

Baking the fruit instead of stewing it allows it to keep its shape and its lustrous color. The raspberries looked like fat jewels among the chunks of rhubarb. The bread cubes, toasted and crunchy and rich, were textural marvels against the silky fruit. There was a good amount of syrupy juice at the bottom of the pan, which you'll want to spoon over each serving, soaking the bread crumbs a little, mixing in with whatever cream or yogurt you decide to dollop on top.

It's rather crucial, that final dairy dollop. Without it to smooth out the rough edges of the fruit, a Betty could be a little harsh, a little unrefined. But with the sweetness of cream or the sour slap of yogurt, the Betty turns into a delightful little dish, bound to cause polite giggles over the name to turn into rather greedy demands for second helpings and more.


This week, I keep thinking about inspiration and how crucial it is for our well-being. Inspiration keeps us moving forward and energized, connected with the world around us. I'd been feeling a little lonely and lost before I went to New York. I'd look at my recipes and my books each day and couldn't seem to wrap my head around them. Then I'd stare at the blank page in my computer, trying to write a blog post or a chapter, and it was like my head was filled with cotton wool, or worse, nothing.

Today, as I eat my leftover Betty for breakfast, and feel like I'm bubbling over with ideas and plans for the next few months, I have to thank Marion Cunningham for the inspiration for the recipe, Kim Severson for reminding me to look at that Fannie Farmer cookbook again, and my friend and agent Brettne for nudging me to read a little more. One thing leads to another and another and before you know it, you're writing an ode to Betties and feeling like everything is possible again. Life is pretty wonderful that way.

Rhubarb-Raspberry Betty
Serves 6

1.5 pounds trimmed rhubarb stalks, in 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound frozen or fresh raspberries
1/8 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 cups cubed white bread (5 to 6 slices)
5 tablespoons butter, melted
For serving, plain yogurt, sour cream, or cream, whipped or to pour

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (175 degrees C.). Toss the rhubarb and raspberries with the sugar. Pile into an 8-inch square baking dish. Bake in the hot oven for 5 minutes.

2. While the fruit is baking, toss the cubed bread with the melted butter. Remove the dish from the oven, evenly scatter the buttered bread cubes over the fruit and place back in the oven for 30 minutes.

3. Let the betty cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream or a jug of pouring cream or even whipped cream.

A Helluva Town


I got off the airplane at JFK last week and the first thing I noticed was that warm, breezy air wafting around me, tinged slightly with the scent of jet fuel, but warm and welcoming all the same. Hello, New York.


This old view, from a highway in Queens, used to make me gape every time I came around the bend. Well, it still does. Doesn't matter that I don't live there anymore. New York rising up from the ground like a mirage, steel and glass shimmering in the afternoon sun, it's enough to make you cry. Or laugh. In all of its improbable, breathtaking beauty.


From the cold, hard edges of buildings.


To the soft, pink petals of the blossoming trees.


New York is for cheese-makers.


New York is for dreamers.


New York is for patriots and for visitors.


New York has lots of hidden messages in its nooks and crannies and crevices, waiting to make you smile.


The breadth of its sky is unparalleled. It feels different than anywhere else: huge and unlimited.


I didn't pay much attention to food this week; I was distracted by all the people, the streets, the smells, and, of course, my friends. Still, this lobster roll stood out: pure, unadulterated deliciousness. Better than anything I'd ever eaten in Maine. Isn't that just like New York? Always doing it a little bit better?


The first few days back in New York were hard. I had tears in my eyes on every street corner. Felt like I was in a glass box watching my old city, my old life, pass me by. I saw everything I'd given up right in front me, literally close enough to touch. The energy and exhilaration of just being in New York; well, I'd missed both. So much.


Yet, as the days passed, and the rawness subsided, I started to feel more peaceful. Look at this city! I thought. I was so lucky. I am so lucky. I got to live here. This was my home. And in a way, it still is.


I think, later, when this year has passed and I can look back with some measure of perspective and distance, this trip will stand out as something important. Not just a quick vacation to see friends, but some kind of turning point, a moment in time in which everything started to fall into place.


It was also immeasurably inspiring. I don't know yet how to write about this without dissolving into a puddle, but my friends in New York, well, they really inspire me. They make me proud to know them. Kind, funny, interesting, smart: they made me want to do better, write more, laugh louder. I wish I could have told them all in person just how much they mean to me, but this blog will have to do.

The world. Is what they mean to me.


So, taking leave was hard. Of course it was. I buried my head into my book on the way to the airport and refused to look out the window. I didn't want to see those train tracks passing by, the gleam of yellow cabs, the sheen and shine of the city as my train pulled away, pulled me away.

But, the thing is, I got to come back to this. A pink sky, an apartment to fill with memories, the smell of lilacs and earth in the street, rain drops on the roof last night. Leaving New York is never easy, as REM once sang. But coming home to Berlin just is.