I spent ten Christmas Eves in a row working various retail jobs, everything from barista to Barnes and Noble. The holiday season started the day after Thanksgiving, with mile long lines continuing to Christmas Eve at 4pm, when the store gates finally clanged shut and stayed that way for one whole day. Work shifts in December were spent answering the constantly ringing phone, running around the store trying to find would-be presents, standing at the cash register hour upon hour swiping credit cards, dreading every 30 minutes when Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime would come on again, and cleaning up gigantic messes left by frantic customers. Then, at last, the night before Christmas, when the store gate was shut (although often people were begging outside it: please, can I buy just 1 pound of coffee? I just need one more book for my sister-in-law, will you let me in?) all the employees would feel that smack of exhaustion, the same one that comes at the end of finals week, when you are finally driving home for spring break. It would take hours to clean the store, and almost everyone could feel a serious cold coming on. Someone would order a pizza, and we’d munch in silence before taking off to our various celebrations, usually arriving sneezing and crazy-eyed, just wanting to crash into a bed.

I’ve now had ten years off on Christmas Eve. It is spent at home, quietly listening to holiday music, baking a batch of cookies, snuggling with my little ones watching White Christmas, and heading to my parent’s house early for festivities. I have a no-shopping on Christmas Eve rule for myself, but I must admit I feel something lacking each year without the craziness. The month of December doesn’t feel as sparkly and exciting to me without all the noise, the crowds of people, Mariah Carey singing Christmas songs through loud speakers all day long, racing up and down stairs trying to find books for exasperated customers. The thing I didn’t want to make the holiday about has now ended up defining the holiday to me. Those formative years of my teens and twenties, working hard all December long now shape how I need Christmas to feel to me as an adult. I can’t escape that, somehow.


I remind myself each year that just because something feels a certain way, it doesn’t mean that’s how it actually is. This is usually easier said than done. As a parent, I now determine how the holiday will look for my children. I start traditions and routine both for enjoyment and for recognition. I see my kids feeling so many things, and getting swept up in what makes Christmas so exciting. But my mission as a caretaker is more than that. It’s to teach what the reason behind this month long, money-spending, jingle-belling really is. At the very core, it’s to look to others, to give with no expectation of getting anything in return, and to remember that we all belong to each other, all of us, across this spinning round snow globe that’s so easily shaken. No matter how the actual days of December end up shaping my two little ones, I want them to still always be able reach past how they feel, and know, deep down, the joy and hope of Christmas, and their capacity to bring it everywhere they go. “If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” —Lucy Larcom

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pumpkin scones

My littles are on Brightly today, making Pumpkin scones from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. If you haven’t been to the Brightly site yet please check it out! The space is a resource for parents to help create lifelong readers, something I’m passionate about. Launched in partnership with Penguin Random House, Brightly features book recommendations from all publishers for every age and stage, reading tips and insights, seasonal inspirations, author essays, contests, gift guides, and more. There are so many great book lists and ideas here.

pumpkin scones

pumpkin scones

pumpkin scones

pumpkin scones


You can get the recipe for the Pumpkin Scones here. These scones are a family favorite, and might be what we wake up to this Christmas morning. “If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” —Lucy Larcom



‘The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended…

and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found —
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.’
-Mary Oliver, excerpted from American Primitive

Many of you know that I contribute over at Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day – I’ve been working  for Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François about four years. While I write some blog posts for them and spend a good deal of time pinning to their Pinterest boards, one of the highlights of my job is helping them work on cookbooks. A little over a year ago we spent another week together, along with photographer Stephen Scott Gross, mixing buckets of dough and baking piles of bread for their book.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I was a fan of the Bread in Five series before I met Jeff and Zoë, and now after spending time with the two of them, I can’t rave about them, and their books, enough. I’ve made boules, baguettes, bagels, doughnuts, beignets, coffee cake, sandwich bread, dinner rolls, bostok, and cinnamon rolls with their dough. They recently put out a new edition of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which is revised and updated with new recipes. I’m a huge fan of the whole wheat brioche dough, and use it often in my baking. It works great made into whole grain doughnuts, Christmas Stollen, Caramel or Cinnamon Rolls, and this Pistachio Chocolate Twist, which is a new family favorite.
pistachio wreath



Processed with VSCO with 4 preset
If you haven’t tried out any Bread in 5 recipes yet, I highly encourage you to! If you’re new to bread baking, their recipes are a great place to start, and if you’ve been baking bread for awhile, there is so much room for experimentation. It’s an easy and delicious way to make bread a part of your daily life.

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holiday drinks
A few weeks ago the kind folks at Martha Stewart Living sent me their new copper bar set. I’m not much of a mixed drink kind of person, more like the ‘1/2 beer with dinner’ type, even though I do have a cabinet stuffed full of liqueur bottles. These, however, are used almost exclusively for baking. I decided to live it up just a little this December; trade the beer in for something more sassy, and put the new set to good use.

I met Ben from BET Vodka at Molly’s fabulous brunch a few weeks back, and he donated a bottle to make some drinks with. I took a fancy to his beautiful vodka bottles at the brunch (I also had a delicious drink made from it), and thought it would go well with pomegranate juice and ginger ale. Turns out it does. Then I received a few bottles of wine from Seven Daughters – I have had a good number of glasses of it over at the Faux Martha’s house, and knew it would pair wonderfully with something simple. Orange juice and Moscato happened at a recent family gathering, and everyone loved it.

These two drinks are so simple they probably don’t need recipes, but I figured there might be someone like me out there who needs a little help with making party beverages appear fancy, so I thought this might come in handy.

holiday drinks

holiday drinks

holiday drink

The copper bar set was sent to me by Martha Stewart Living, and can be found exclusively at Macys.
BET Vodka can be found online here.
Seven Daughters wine can be found online here.

As always, all opinions are my own.

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Hello! I have another exciting giveaway for you. Three more pieces of kitchen equipment that I absolutely love: Emile Henry mixing bowls, Mauviel Copper Sugar Saucepan, and a Lékué springform mold. The mixing bowls are pretty much a necessity in any kitchen, and this set is lovely, with three different sized nesting bowls. I use them all the time – for mixing, of course, but also for holding fruit and filling with chips at parties, among other things. The sugar saucepan is beautiful (I included it on my gift guide as well), and I find it to be a fantastic tool for making Italian buttercream. And the springform mold has been a game changer for me. I will admit I was skeptical about silicone molds when I was first introduced to them, but I have fallen in love with them after never having to worry about messy cheesecake sides. The mold peels away from the cheesecake every time, leaving perfect sides. Extra bonus: the cheesecake bakes on a white ceramic plate that is perfect for serving on as well, and I never have to have the stress of sliding a cheesecake on to a serving plate ever again.

1 winner will receive 1 Emile Henry Mixing Bowl Set + 1 Mauviel Copper Sugar Saucepan + 1 Lékué Springform Mold + a copy of The Vanilla Bean Baking Book by Sarah Kieffer. Participants who complete*** this form*** will be entered for a chance to win. Contest is open through 12/13 to residents of the U.S. and Canada only.  The winner will be randomly selected through random.org and notified via e-mail no later than 12/16. The winner’s name and address will be shared with Emile Henry, Mauviel, and Lékué for the sole purpose of mailing out the prize. Thank you! (Also: don’t forget to enter my Minted giveaway as well!)


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saint lucia buns

Each December, I find myself searching for the perfect holiday traditions. Not that there are any perfect ones, of course, but with two little ones in our family, I crave some routine and consistency each year. Dream scenarios would be opening presents every Christmas morning as a family in our home, snuggling up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate Christmas Eve to watch Rudolph (and then later White Christmas), searching through holiday magazines and cookbooks for the best cookie recipes and then making them together over Christmas break, and sweet yeasted bread every day. Cinnamon rolls, fruit-filled Danish, braided pumpkin-spice knots, just anything along those lines, all Christmas-time long.

st. lucia buns

King Arthur Flour asked me to bring a Christmas classic to their Holiday Table, and I immediately thought of St. Lucia Buns. St. Lucia Day is before Christmas Day, taking place on the longest night of the year (according to the ancient Julian calendar), December 13th. While these buns are not dripping in icing and swirled with cinnamon, they are sweet and delicious nonetheless. They could be made in the middle of December, and then again on the 25th, served for breakfast, or an afternoon coffee break after opening piles of presents and shaking every last piece of candy out of stockings by the fire. Whenever you decide to make them is just fine; just make sure to add them to your baking list.

Browse some of my other picks for Classic Christmas recipes and favorite tips for the season at King Arthur Flour’s Holiday Table.

st. lucia buns

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Part two of my gift guide! But first, a ***fabulous giveaway from Minted!*** Enter to win one of three $100 credits to the Minted store. Just follow this link and fill out the form. Winners will be picked on 12/8.  Minted sells all kinds of beautiful things – from photo cards and personalized wrapping paper to fine art prints and home decor. Open to US residents only.

There are a lot of kitchen items that are my favorites. Too many items, probably. But here’s a little list of some things I love – some practical, some just because.

Goldtouch Pans – Williams-Sonoma’s goldtouch line is my favorite for baking. Falling somewhere between light and dark metal, they keep baked good from over baking, while still giving them some browning.  I love them especially for layer cakes (8-inch pans) and brownies (9×13).

Copper Sugar Saucepan – Maybe not a necessity, but this gorgeous pan by Mauviel is sure nice to have on hand. I use it for making Italian buttercream, mostly.

Walnut Wood Bowl – I’ve known Araya, owner of Willful, for awhile now, and have always been obsessed with her beautiful wood bowls. This one is a particular favorite. I use them as serving dishes, and in the kitchen baking. She also has lovely smaller ones here.

‘This Is Just To Say’ Tea Towel – William Carlos Willams on a tea towel? Yes, I want that hanging in my kitchen always.

Le Creuset Cast-Iron Braiser – I have expressed my love for this braiser pan many times, but it really is my most loved, most used pan. I highly recommend it. I have one in white, but I think this grey is beautiful, too.

White Marble Slab – If you don’t have a good surface for rolling out dough, I highly recommend getting a marble slab. I use mine all the time. It keeps the dough chilled longer, and cleans up easily. Also, it’s much, much cheaper than installing marble counter tops.

Silo Canisters – I really love these canisters. They look great, they are stackable, and they keep food fresh. I have flour, sugar, oats, chocolate chips, and all kinds of other goodness in mine.

Aheirloom Cake Stand – I have two of these cake stands, and use them all the time. They come in all different sizes and base shapes, and make a decorated cake look even more gorgeous.

Cakebox – I love all the wooden carrying boxes from this company. And who doesn’t want to be gifted a big, beautiful box filled with chocolate cake?


Lists of Note by Shaun Usher – A fun and interesting collection of… lists. But not just any lists, lists by Albert Einstein and F. Scott Fitzgerald and JFK’s secretary. Usher also wrote Letters of Note, which is another great book, and both make perfect gifts for just about anyone.

Complete Poems by e.e. cummings – I fell in love with poetry in 9th grade, after reading a section on Mr. cummings in my English text book. His poems are thoughtful, playful, and fun, but also serious and unafraid at times, too. Here are all his poems, in one volume.

The Chef’s Library by Jenny Linford – Ever wonder what cookbooks line the shelves of your favorite chef’s kitchen? Now you can get a glimpse. A great coffee table book, and after paging through it, I’ve added too many cookbooks to my wish list.

In Winter’s Kitchen by Beth Dooley – A thoughtful look at the food movement in the Heartland. ‘Using the story of one thanksgiving meal, Dooley discovers that a locally-sourced winter diet is more than a possibility: it can be delicious.’ This book inspires one to not only think, but to also get in the kitchen and cook.

The Lord of the Rings Reader Companion by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull – This book is amazing – a detailed look at the ‘literary and historical influences on the development of The Lord of the Rings, connections between that work and other writings by Tolkien, errors and inconsistencies, significant changes to the text during its fifty years of publication, archaic and unusual words used by Tolkien, and words and passages in his invented languages of Middle-earth.’ Complete nerdery. And I mean that as a compliment.

Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits – I love Vivian Maier’s photography – her street photography and self-portraits are incredible. This book is a beautiful collection, and paging through it always inspires me to pick up my camera. If you don’t know of her work, I highly recommend checking out the documentary about her work.

A Cozy Coloring Book by Adrianna Adarme – Have you ever wanted to color in your food photography? Well, now you can. Adrianna’s lovely coloring book is the perfect way to spend snowy winter afternoons by the fire. Both my daughter and I are smitten with it.

All The Odes by Pablo Neruda – Another lovely poetry collection. Neruda’s Odes are my favorite – everything has an ode,  from lemons and cats and socks to aging and common things and the present. The table is already set, | and we know the truth | as soon as we are called: | whether we’re called to war or to dinner | we will have to choose sides, | have to know | how we’ll dress | to sit | at the long table, | whether we’ll wear the pants of hate | or the shirt of love, freshly laundered. – Ode to the Table

The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets by Darra Goldstein – A must-have for any food lover, and especially one partial to sweets. ‘The Companion takes readers around the globe and throughout time, affording glimpses deep into the brain as well as stratospheric flights into the world of sugar-crafted fantasies. More than just a compendium of pastries, candies, ices, preserves, and confections, this reference work reveals how the human proclivity for sweet has brought richness to our language, our art, and, of course, our gastronomy.’ I’m always reading it.


Portable Record Player – I acquired this portable record player recently, and my kids have loved listening to music and stories on it. I pick up old vintage records at the thrift store here and there, and they have a little collection of favorites. We move it around a lot – in the summer, it stays on the porch and in the winter, we have it tucked away by the Christmas tree. This model is pretty but pricey; there are plenty of cheaper ones out there, too.

Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear – One of my favorite kids books. The illustrations are done by Julie Morstad, and, like everything else she illustrates, they are gorgeous. The book imagines Julia Child and her dear friend, Simca, as children in the kitchen.

The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. Campbell – Another beautiful book. about Minnow the mermaid, who is trying to figure out what sets her apart from all her super-talented sisters.

The Black Apple’s Paper Doll Primer by Emily Martin – The loveliest paper dolls you ever saw, all tucked away in this little book. You might want to buy two copies – one for cutting, and one for looking through on quiet afternoons with your littles.

Kids Tent from Minted – Imagine the loveliest spot to curl up in? Piled high with blankets and pillows and all your favorite books? As a child I would have gone crazy over a space like this, and I’m planning on surprising my kids with one this holiday season. We’ll snuggle in and and read our favorite books from above, as well as to take time to read about Native Americans and what it was like to live in our own state of Minnesota before white settlers appeared. This book looks like a good starting point. (Please note: the cut off for ordering a pre-styled tent is December 21st.)

Usbourne Book of Famous Paintings – Usbourne has some fantastic educational books, and this is one of my daughter’s favorite past times. She loves to paint and draw, and often pages through this book for inspiration. The paintings are shown in full, along with information on the artist, the paint/mediums/techniques used, and any historical context that is important. I love reading it with her because I learn something new every time.

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson – My husband recently bought this collection for my kids – he was an avid Calvin and Hobbes fan as a child, and wanted the comics to be a part of their world. They spend hours pouring over the books – a lot of it still goes over their heads, but the drawings are engaging, and it’s sparked a lot of interesting conversation about what people believe and how the world works. I’ve enjoyed rereading them again, too.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – I couldn’t not include a Tolkien book. Plus, I am reading this for the first time to my children, and they are enjoying it so much, I had to encourage all of you to do the same if you haven’t yet. A classic.

Classic Legos – My son is obsessed with legos, and spends much of his free time building anything and everything. For a few years it’s been impossible to find anything but sets for a specific line (star wars, ninjago, etc)- and while those are fun, often my kids just want to free build. My daughter pointed this huge box out to me recently – it even contains pink and purple legos, and it might just end up under the tree.

Also, don’t forget about my Holiday playlist over on Spotify!

Every year, I have good intentions of putting together a gift guide here of all my favorite cookbooks and kitchen items and whatnot, and every year, I never get around to it. So this holiday season to make up for lost time! I have quite the list for you.

Today’s gift guides are all books, so if you are not into that I apologize. However, I think books are the best gift to give and get, and so I can’t not make a big long list of all my favorites. But stay tuned: I will have kitchen items, non-cookbooks, and a kids’ guide for you soon. And! I’ve been working on a Holiday playlist over on Spotify, which you can find here. I’ll be adding to it a little more here and there.

First up, my favorite category: NEW BAKING BOOKS! Here we go…

Sweeter Off The Vine by Yossy Arafi – Here are beautiful photographs, recipes that always work, and a unique perspective on baking. I absolutely love Yossy’s book, and turn to it often. Favorite recipes: Yossy is known for her pies, so anything involving pie crust is a winner (see Cherry and Rhubarb Slab Pie, Pear Pie With Creme Fraiche and Caramel, and Tangerine Cream Pie),  I also love her Old-Fashioned Blood Orange Donuts and Apricot and Berry Galette With Saffron Sugar.

Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft – The first time I paged through this book I couldn’t stop whispering gorgeous at each and every photograph. The book succeeds at revitalizing ‘traditional recipes to suit modern tastes’. It is beautifully photographed, and includes helpful process shots for complicated recipes. On my to-do list: Marzipan Challah, Ricotta Streusel Babka, Sufganiyot (similar to a Boston cream doughnut), and Sticky Cinnamon Challah Snails (there are plenty of savory bread recipes, too, but I always gravitate towards the sweet).

Marbled, Swirled, and Layered by Irvin Lin – Irvin’s book came out one week before mine, and it’s packed full of really great recipes with some serious twists on classics. Everything from cookies and bars, cakes and cobblers are covered in this book. I honestly can’t stop thinking about the Pumpkin S’mores with Maple Brown Sugar Marshmallows and Dark Chocolate (dang!), and can’t wait to try the Seville Orange Bars With Salted Shortbread and Gin Meringue.

Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss – I haven’t had a chance to start baking from this book yet, but have started reading it cover to cover, inspired by both Luisa’s writing and recipes. I’m starting with the Franzbrotchen (cinnamon-sugar buns) because they are the prettiest little buns I’ve ever seen, and I think they will become best friends with my tummy. Also the Brezeln (soft pretzels) are gorgeous, and I’ve always wanted to make Apfelstrudel but never have attempted, so this winter it’s on.

Golden by Itamar Srulovich & Sarit Packer – Golden comes from the ovens of London’s Honey & Co, which I have sadly never been to (one day, London, one day), and it is another book that I have a major to-do list for. Again, I’m drawn to the sweet (although there is savory here, too): Pistachio, Rose, & Strawberry Buns, Sweet Cheese Buns, Lemon Drizzle Cake with Elderflower and Marcarpone Icing, and Baked Apricots with Marzipan Filling and Almond Crumble are good starting points.

Panetteria by Gennaro Contaldo – Another gorgeous book, featuring Italian baking. I am smitten with the process shots featuring Gennaro Contaldo himself; they capture so beautifully the artist giving his life over his work: knowledge and pleasure and grace are in all the movements of his hands. I’m starting with the Focaccia Al Sale (Basic Focaccia with Sea Salt), then moving to mini pizzas with mushrooms and the Plum Cake Di Anna (chocolate chip and ricotta loaf cake).

The New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois – If you’ve been following along here for awhile, you probably already know that I contribute to Jeff and Zoe’s Bread in Five site quite frequently (in fact, they have a giveaway going on right now for my book). I worked on this latest book with them as well – a week long photo shoot with lots of baking and food styling and washing dishes and fighting over music. It was a blast. This edition is revised and updated with new recipes. I love the Whole Wheat Brioche, Whole Grain Doughnuts (covered in cardamom-ginger-cinnamon sugar, of course), and the Whole Wheat Christmas Stollen is a must this year.

Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish – I was lucky enough to visit Ken Forkish’s bakery this summer, but I sadly didn’t make it into his pizza shop. Luckily, there is this book. The beginning chapter of this book ‘The Soul of Pizza’, is moving, highlighting famous pizza bakers and shops all over the world. I wanted to fly to each one, eat pizza forever, and then come home and try to recreate it. As that is not an option, luckily Mr. Forkish got to do that for me. I’ve made Grandma’s Pie (a sheet pan pizza) more times than I can count, and it is a family favorite every Friday night.

The Art of Pie by Kate McDermott – A wonderful book about making and baking pies. Ms. McDermott has been baking pies for years and years, and even has a pie camp (which sounds totally dreamy). The book is filled with practical tips and helpful information on making great pies, and whole chapters on making the crust, thickeners, and the Quintessential Apple Pie. Sounds like the perfect way to spend Christmas break to me.

Other baking books to check out: Bread Illustrated by Test Kitchen has some great recipes (like kolaches!), The Alternative Baker by Alana Taylor-Tobin for the gluten-free bakers in your life, Layered by Tessa Huff for baking, building and styling cakes, and The Everyday Baker by Abby Dodge won both an IACP award and a James Beard award, making it a total winner.



Molly On The Range by Molly Yeh – Molly’s new book is just as lovely and funny and fabulous as Molly herself. The photos are gorgeous, the illustrations lovely (there is even a page to color!) and the writing engaging. I’ve made the Dark Chocolate Scone Loaf, my kids are obsessed with the Chicken Pot Tot Hotdish, and there are so many things on my must-make list: Honey Ricotta Blintzes with Caramelized Onions, Scallion Pancake Challah, Rosewater Marshmallows, and Ginger Snow Cones.

Martha Stewart’s Vegetables by the Editors of Martha Stewart Living – This might be my favorite Martha cookbook (although, the Baking Handbook is pretty great). It is a beautiful collection of recipes, with simple yet lovely photographs for almost every recipe. Most recipes are savory, with a few sweet mixed in. I’ve made the Parsnip Cupcakes With Cream Cheese Frosting, and will soon try the Cornmeal Shortcakes with Corn Ice Cream and Blueberry Compote, Braised Chicken and Brussels Sprouts, Beet Risotto with Beet Greens, and Skillet Pizza with Greens and Eggplant.

Modern Potluck by Kristin Donnelly – I grew up in potluck culture, so I was excited to see a modern take on something that scared me as a child (there are some pretty funky hotdishes that get brought to a church picnic, let me tell you). Kristin’s book does not disappoint, with plenty of delicious and un-scary meals to share with friends and family: Late-Summer Enchilada Pie, Smoky Squash Mac & Cheese, Grilled Corn Salad with Lime Mayo, and Greek Expat Potato Salad. And, since we were the family that only brought dessert to potlucks (bars, of course), I was happy to see plenty in the ‘Sweets’ chapter – Potato Chip-Crusted Magic Bars, Lemon-Olive Oil Zucchini Bread, Peach-Blueberry-Slab Pie, and Cranberry Jam Streusel Bars with Walnuts all sound good to me.

Simple by Diana Henry – I only discovered Diana Henry a year ago, although she’s been writing books for quite awhile. Sometimes I’m not hip to the scene. I was instantly smitten with her prose; her books are the kind to curl up by a fire with, with hot coffee and something sweet for nibbling within arms length.’ You know the scenario. You’re home late. You’re tired and worn out. You could murder a bag of potato chips and a gin and tonic (and consider  pouring yourself a glass, even though the tonic has gone flat.) This is the kind of night when you need a treat. Self-control has no place here. The key thing, though, is to give yourself a treat worth having: a slightly luxurious meal, but one you can make quickly’ (my favorite lines, from her book, A Bird in the Hand). Coffee-Brined Pork Chops with Hot Sweet Potatoes sound right up my alley, as well as Roast Citrus, Ginger, and Honey Chicken. The Lemon and Lavender Cake looks perfectly lovely, but Bitter Flourless Chocolate Cake with Coffee Cream might be where I start things off. Also, when Yotam Ottolenghi writes on the back of your book that ‘Everything Diana Henry cooks I want to eat’, you know it’s going to be amazing.

Love & Lemons Cookbook by Jeanine Donofrio – This cookbook is what I aspire to in my everyday eating life: simple, clean recipes that bring healthy to my mind and body. In reality, there is too much butter and sugar in my way to make this a reality, but I do try. The photography throughout the book is gorgeous, and you will want to make everything: Strawberry Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts, Roasted Cauliflower and Red Pepper Soup, Spring Onion Pizzas, and Swiss Chard and White Bean Tacos are on my current list. A great cookbook to give on Christmas to help someone jump-start the New Year with good eating.

The Farmette Cookbook by Imen McDonnell – I had the pleasure of meeting Imen this summer, and have so enjoyed her beautiful book. ‘Recipes and Adventures From My Life on an Irish Farm’ is the subtitle, and as you can imagine, the book is filled with gorgeous photos and unique recipes from her life in Ireland. I swooned over the Hazelnut and Vanilla Slice, and have so many items up next to make: Queen of Puddings (jammy cake covered in piles of meringue), Smoky Dark Chocolate Porter Cake, Irish Pancakes, and Sweet Farmer Cheese Danish with Elderflower Glaze. There are plenty of savory recipes, too.

Mad Hungry Family by Lucinda Scala Quinn – 120 Essential Recipes to Feed The Whole Crew is the tagline here, and the book follows through. There are Double-Decker Pork Tacos, HamJam Cheddar Puffs, Chicken and Black Been Nachos, Nesting Noodle Rice Pilaf, Open-Faced Vegetable Omelet as perfect mains, plus chapters on potatoes, salads, breakfast, and sweets (Chocolate Hazelnut Orange Potstickers? Yes please.)

The Vegetable Butcher by Cara Mangini – I really like this book. As someone who grew up all meat and potatoes, cooking with a huge variety of vegetables is not my forte. Not because I don’t like how they taste, but often because I don’t exactly know how to cook them best (ask my husband about disasters with eggplants part 1 and 2). This book is incredibly helpful – it shows how to cut vegetables properly, gives the author’s favorite cooking methods for simple, straight-up cooking, and then highlights favorite recipes for each vegetable. There are also plenty of butcher’s tips and butchery essentials. So simple, yet so genius. It’s a great gift for a new cook, or someone (like me) who isn’t always quite sure the best way to roast an eggplant.

Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees by Kian Lam Kho – I am determined to learn how to cook Chinese food well this year. Both my kids go to a Chinese Immersion school, and as they are constantly surrounded by Chinese culture, they often want to eat Chinese food (although, I don’t speak Chinese, and always want to eat Chinese food, too). But, in all honesty, I’m not great at making it in my own kitchen. Enter this beautiful, beautiful book by Kian Lam Kho. I’m completely smitten with it, and have been reading it like a novel, unwilling to put it down. Chapters include ‘Harnessing the Breath of a Wok,’ ‘The Virtues of Slow Cooking’, and ‘Enriching With Smoke’; all focusing on mastering techniques while providing references to history and culture. If you are even the teeniest bit interested in cooking Chinese cuisine, this book should be in your cookbook library.

Other cooking books to check out: Small Victories by Julia Turshen is beautiful and so well-written, The Gourmet Kitchen by Jennifer Farley: a great collection of recipes ranging from breakfast to dinner, and of course, dessert, Adventures in Chicken by Eva Kosmas Flores, a book of chicken recipes sure to please everyone.



SaraBeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours by SaraBeth Levine – This might just be my favorite baking book. It’s definitely the one that made me fall in love with laminated doughs. The photographs are quiet and beautiful, there are process shots to help with complicated recipes, and everything I’ve made has turned out perfectly. I’m especially smitten with the puff pastry dough as well as the danish dough. It’s a gorgeous book, and a good addition to any baker’s library.

Handmade Baking by Kamran Siddiqi – Another really great baking book. Kamran’s Quick Puff Pastry recipe is fantastic, and his Everyday Chocolate Cake is A++. The photographs in this one are stunning, and the recipes are classy but approachable, which sort of reminds me of Kamran. (We’ve never met, but he comes across online as kind and classy and thoughtful.) Another book I use all the time.

Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich – Alice Medrich is the baking cookbook queen. I appreciate all her books, they are so well done: flawless recipes, and solid writing and research. Pure Dessert is the first Medrich cookbook I ever owned – all the rest had been checked out time and time again at the library, when I couldn’t afford my cookbook habit. This one is special, and helped pave the way for baking with alternative flours as flavor flours. The Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies are holiday favorites.

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson – Want to make the best sourdough bread ever? Chad Robertson will teach you how. I have made the Basic Country Bread, starting from the beginning and making my own starter, feeding it every day for two weeks, and then then making the leaven and mixing the dough. It was work, but worth all the time. The loaves turned out lovely and delicious, and when I have the time, they are a favorite to make. This is a great gift for anyone interested in making bread.

Seven Spoons by Tara O’Brady – I’ve had a crush on the Seven Spoons blog for a long time – Tara’s writing and photographs are captivating – evoking both thoughtfulness and stillness to one’s soul. Her recipes have always been winners, so when she put out her own book, I knew it would be well-loved in my kitchen. This book is worth every cent for her biscuit recipe alone, and also for the Vietnamese-Inspired Sausage rolls (which I made once at a party and they disappeared in 4 minutes flat), but there are so many other good ones as well: Bostocks, Caramel Apple Pie, Twangy Blueberry Sauce, Bee-Stung Fried Chicken, and Chicken and Couscous with A Punch Relish just to name a few.

How To Eat by Nigella Lawson – The recipes are great, but I love this book for the head notes alone. Witty, honest, thoughtful, and evocative, Ms. Lawson appears to effortlessly express how she feels about food. There are no photographs, just endless word pictures.

Good To The Grain by Kim Boyce – Another cookbook celebrating flavor flours, and another book with A+ recipes. I’ve made a lot of sweets from this book, and they all have been stellar. Chocolate chip cookies made with only whole wheat flour, Pumpkin Pancakes, Pear and Buckwheat Pancakes, Iced Oatmeal Cookies, Banana Walnut Cake, Spelt Pie Dough, Olive Oil Cake, Grahams, Ginger-Peach Muffins, and Onion Jam have all been wonderful.

Ripe by Nigel Slater – Another beautiful book, and one I read over and over. Mr. Slater’s prose is almost poetry. Like a snowflake, the perfectly ripe pear is a fleeting thing. Something to be caught, held tenderly, briefly marveled at, before it is gone forever…An apple is about a loud crunch, a quick hit, a fruit to be enjoyed on the run. The pear is of a more gentle nature, something to take our time over. At its point of perfections, an apple shouts, a pear whispers (from Ripe). I mean, couldn’t it be:

Like a snowflake,
the perfectly ripe pear is a

Something to be caught,
(held tenderly)
briefly marveled at
before it is gone

An apple is about a loud crunch,
a quick hit

the pear is more of a gentle nature,
something to take our time over.
an apple shouts!
a pear


*(And the photographs! Absolutely dreamy. It’s basically a perfect book.)

The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg – I use The Flavor Bible constantly. It’s a guide to modern flavor pairings, and an invaluable resource. Making something with peaches but not sure what flavors to use? Just open your Flavor Bible, and in alphabetical order, you’ll have a list of everything: allspice, almonds, basil, brandy, creme fraiche, ginger, hazelnuts, lavender… the list goes on and on. There are also notes from well-know chefs giving their favorite flavor recommendations as well. It’s a great book for anyone who loves to cook and bake.

So there is part one! If you are hesitant to buy books, don’t forget Mr. Darcy’s words: ‘I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.’

sugar cookies
Happy Tuesday! I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday, and survived the shopping madness that followed. After working retail for 10 holiday seasons in a row (with Black Friday and Christmas Eve always days I had to work), I can’t bring myself to venture out anywhere over the after-Thanksgiving weekend, so I enjoyed time inside my house, baking and reading. I have five books going right now; I am currently rereading two books: The Hobbit, which I am reading outloud to my kids for the first time (and they are loving it!), and Pride and Prejudice, which seemed like the perfect snowy weekend read. I’m also still working through this collection of letters. What are you currently reading? I’m always adding to my book list; I’d love suggestions.

“What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!”
“It ought to be good,” he replied, “it has been the work of many generations.”
“And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books.”
“I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.”
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
sugar cookies

sugar cookies
These cookies are another baking recipe I’ve created as a Pulses Ambassador this year. The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulse, and I’ve taken the Pulse Pledge, committing to eat pulses once a week for the next year. Pulses are beans, chickpeas, lentils and dry peas; leguminous crops that are good for your health and good for the environment. I’ll be posting recipes involving them periodically this year, incorporating pulses not only in my savory cooking, but baking recipes as well. I’d love for you to join me! If the Pulse Pledge sounds interesting to you, you can read more about it here. It’s a 10 week commitment, and it doesn’t require elaborate baking: a serving of hummus and a bowl of soup are good ways to take them in, too. Also check out my Vanilla Lavender Cupcakes

This post was sponsored by USA Pulses & Pulse Canada. All opinions are my own.

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sarah kieffer

sarah kieffer

sarah kieffer

sarah kieffer

sarah kieffer

sarah kieffer

sarah kieffer

My little brother Daniel, who is exactly 9 years younger than me (to the day), just got hitched. We are so happy to welcome his wife, Cassie, to our family. I didn’t photograph their wedding, but I did sneak around and got a few shots, anyway.

I have a couple more links to posts from my book, as well.
*Melissa from The FauxMartha made my Honey Bundt Cake.
*Billy from Wit & Vinegar made my Orange Pie.

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