The holiday season sure keeps us busy: I can’t believe December is already half over! Time sure flies, especially when you are with friends and family. I was able to spend a relaxing week at home for Thanksgiving and enjoyed some time with my parents and quite the holiday feast. My sister not only picked out an incredible 14-pound free-range turkey (which I dry brined with orange, fennel seed, and chile and then roasted), but she also baked some beautiful and moist challah for the table.
Back in New York, I was inspired last weekend to try out the bread for myself, and thanks to a squash I had sitting around, decided to play with the original recipe a little bit. Along with a cup of squash puree, I added in some cranberries, raisins, and gingerbread-type spices to turn the bread into a delicious snack. (We all need those every once in awhile, right?) This variation would be great for french toast, bread pudding, or stuffing, and it’s also wonderful on its own, a bit like the Italian holiday bread pannettone. And even though Turkey day is over, the festive color and spice would likely be welcome on any holiday table.
When our friends Aaron and Maeve invited us to meet them in Ireland this summer, we jumped at the chance. Maeve’s family is from the area outside of Dublin, and we were excited for the insider’s perspective and eager to spend time with friends. We’ve also always wanted to see the Irish countryside—having only been to Dublin for a few days back in 2009 when TH and I backpacked through Europe—and the sweeping hills and lush, green landscapes were as pretty as we imagined.
I fully recommend visiting the Glendalough valley and the Wicklow Mountains National Park, just an hour outside of Dublin, which features an incredible 9-kilometer hike that follows a wooden boardwalk up the mountainside, climbing up more than 600 wooden steps to offer sweeping views of the whole area. We caught a glimpse of a herd of deer before climbing down the rocky, waterfall-like hillside. We stayed in the nearby town of Laragh, and had a great Irish meal at The Wicklow Heather, where we also enjoyed a whiskey tasting, especially timely considering I had just participated in a tasting with Singleton in Berlin, so I knew my stuff! We also walked around the gorgeous Powerscourt gardens, named the third best garden in the world, and saw Ireland’s largest waterfall.
Although it was a short trip, there was plenty of time for Guinness, beef stew and visiting with our friends. I can also recommend Lynham’s, also in Laragh, as well as the fish restaurant A Caviston in Greystones, a cute little town with a nice street of cafes and shops that is also nice for a walk through. At almost every meal—as toast for breakfast and a side during lunch and dinner—we were served the deliciously dense and hearty Irish brown bread. Similar to soda bread, this quick dough is easy to make and includes whole grain flour for flavor and buttermilk for that moist crumb. I’ve added ground flax seed into my recipe, but you can also use wheat germ to get a similarly nutty/grainy taste. I was excited to come home and make a batch myself, but immediately after leaving Ireland, we took off for two weeks in Montenegro and Croatia—more on that to come! Back at home in Berlin and here’s the Irish brown bread, wonderful slightly toasted with a smear of good butter.
When our friends Giulia and Johannes invited us to their house in Parstein for the weekend, we jumped at the chance to get to know the area outside of Berlin a little better. We’ve been spending a lot of time in the Brandenburg region doing some long hikes, and have been eager to get out of the woods and see more of the area. The weekend was really lovely; Johannes put together a great jazz festival, we watched Germany play in the World Cup with a group of energetic locals, and we visited the organic dairy farm of Brodowin. And almost at the last moment we had a very spur-of-the-moment blueberry picking stop. Johannes just pulled the car over and said “I want some blueberries,” and into the woods we all went to pick some. As TH reminded me later, an experience like this is usually much-more planned for me: I find a fruit picking farm, invite friends to come along, and make a day of it. It was nice to be reminded that we could just do it, totally randomly.
Although we didn’t pick too many berries, I was so smitten with the wild picking experience that I asked to take them home for a baking project. I knew at once that it would be financier cake, because we had some hazelnut meal I wanted to use up, and because blueberries to me must be used in financier. This recipe is a version of the one I learned while cooking at Spago, where we baked the batter off nightly in little triangle-like gem molds, each dotted with their own juicy blueberry. The combination of nutty brown butter and tart fruit is intoxicating. For super rich financier, use all butter; I’ve added half coconut oil here for a variation on the flavor. I also added in some dark buckwheat honey that we found on a trip to the Harz Mountains, but the recipe can also be prepared with just sugar if you prefer. This cake is delicious slightly warm, but can also be enjoyed cool, and would make a nice picnic addition.