Baked Strawberry French Toast with Oat Crumble Topping + 5 Can’t Miss French Toast links!

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“I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us…” Mary Oliver

I sat on the cold hardwood floor in my office furiously sifting through a box of photos as if my life depended on finding this one particular image taken so many years ago.

Photographs.

My husband’s  worry-free face 14 years ago [oh how I miss you!], my girl, maybe three? curled up so small sifting through wet sand, weddings, sunsets, Fenway, misty beach mornings, graduations, forced smiles and genuine ones, baby boy 1, big chocolate-brown eyes [ you haven’t changed yet…] baby boy 2 smooth cheeks, a big under-bite, almond blue eyes [ a compilation of many generations all present in your sweet, chubby face], drunken fun with best friends, worry, innocence, love, in love and love past, Christmas, Mama [happy?] surrounded by her 3 ducklings circa 1989, Dad in the old orange rocking chair, beer in hand, absent yet physically present, school pictures of my littles…I sink momentarily into these memories, my heart full, blessed, nostalgic and then I let them go and take a giant, slow breath.  I had stopped breathing.

I didn’t find the picture I was looking for, nor is it relevant I tell you about the photograph, or the people captured in it.  It is gone just like the moments captured thousands of hours ago, the photos now scattered on the creaky wooden floor in our tiny home office.  I sat and stared at the mess of memories, grateful for almost all of them. And yet.  I carelessly tossed them back into a nondescript, beige box because that is where they belong.

Hours later I wash the kitchen floor, scrubbing away at the faint paw prints, yogurt droplets and strawberry stains left marking the events of another day.  One pound of fresh strawberries gone, consumed by my hungry little monsters before dinner.  Another pound still in the refrigerator.  I’ll need to hide them.

I empty the bucket of dirty water into the sink.  A small spider, no bigger than my pinkie nail scurries to the lip of the sink and willingly crawls in, brave yet unaware of the possibilities.  The spider explores for a bit, his movements becoming more cautious each second.  I turn on the faucet, pull out the hose and aim it right at him.  The current sweeps him off his minuscule legs, pushing him towards the drain.  I turn off the faucet. He fights, finds his sea legs, tries to avoid the impossible.  With a half jealous smile, I turn on the water.  One final flush and he is gone.

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Baked Strawberry French Toast with Oat Crumble

Recipe adapted from NYT Cooking

Serves 12

Ingredients:

9 cups good quality French bread cut into 1 inch cubes (challah or brioche will also work)

Cooking spray or butter for baking dish

8 large eggs

2 cups whole milk

1/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon cloves

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound strawberries, cored and halved

Ingredients for topping:

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup old fashion rolled oats

1/3 cup light brown sugar

2 teaspoons ginger

1 teaspoon cloves

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup or 1 stick cold unsalted butter cut into cubes

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450F.  Cut bread into 1 inch cubes and spread out on a baking sheet.  Toast the bread for about 12 minutes.  Cool and set aside.

Spray or generously butter a 9×13 baking dish.  Add bread cubes to baking dish.

Next make the custard.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, honey, vanilla, ginger, cloves and salt until smooth and well combined.  Pour custard over bread.  Toss with your hands until all the bread is wet.  Press down gently on the bread so it forms an even layer.  Spread strawberries over the top.  Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours and up to 48 hours.  Overnight is best!

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Prepare oat crumble.  Grab a large bowl.  Add the flour, oats, brown sugar, ginger, cloves and salt and stir together.  Add the butter.  Work the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers until the mixture resembles wet sand and is crumbly.  (Topping can be made 48 hours in advance.  Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.)

Sprinkle topping over the strawberries/bread.  Bake until golden brown about 40-45 minutes.  Turn on the broiler for the last two minutes for crunchier crust.  Serve warm with real maple syrup.  Enjoy!

5 Can’t Miss French Toast Links!

Traditional French toast dipped a subtly sweet Panko breadcrumb mixture, fried to perfection and topped with lots of butter and syrup sounds like a bit of heaven to me. Head to Pioneer Woman for her crunchy French Toast recipe.

French toast in sandwich form? Yes it exists.  Head to Handmade Charlotte for Sarah Kieffer’s French toast sandwiches with peaches and mozzarella.

Lemon French toast topped with in season strawberries screams spring.  Head to Simply Delicious for the recipe.  Yum!

Want to wow your brunch guests?  Make Smitten Kitchen’s morning bread pudding with salted caramel.  This is on my must make immediately list.

If you a more of a savory than sweet person, head to Food 52 and check out their recipe for crispy salt and pepper French toast.

Rhubarb Strawberry Cherry Crisp + 5 Delicious Fruit Crisp Links!

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The last thing Eloise ate the day she died? A piece of rhubarb pie.  It was an ordinary day, really, nothing extraordinary to note.  She sat at the kitchen at table alone, the sound of the grandfather clock ticking away, taunting her, so many minutes in the day ahead.  Or so she thought.  The Russian Blue cat she inherited from her granddaughter many years ago sat on the kitchen table, within a short leap of her slice of rhubarb pie.  The cat gazed at her with what seemed like concern, but likely hunger. [Though she fed the cat plenty, he seemed to crave food more since Russell died.  Fancy Feast soothed his broken heart. Nothing soothed her heart.]

“Shoo!”

He remained, as he sensed he should.  He wouldn’t budge, so she took a big bite of her slice of rhubarb pie.  Delicious, as always, Russell’s favorite.  A flaky, buttery crust filled with slightly tart and perfectly sweet rhubarb from their garden.  A recipe passed down from her mother.  [A difficult woman to love.  And yet.  She was loved.]

“Damn cat!  Bringing me a dead mouse at 5 in the morning.  Some companion you are!  Russell, you should be here!” she hollered into muggy morning air.

[She called to him often.  Talked to  him in her head.  Dreamt of him at night. Occasionally, he did appear to her in the quiet blue-black stillness of night;  sleeping, his chest heaving up and down, the sound of his breath lulling her to sleep.  Russell had always been enough for her.  In sixty-two years of marriage she never entertained the idea of another man.  He thought of other women, as men do, yet never sought a thrill.  She was enough.]

Eloise stood from the table, opened the front door and stepped into the damp morning air, barefoot.  [Unlike her to be barefoot, wet grass between her toes.  She loved her slippers, but she was not herself today.]

As she made her way across the yard to her jungly garden, she marveled at how good the dewy grass felt underneath her feet, the warm sun on her back, penetrating her bones. She stared at her garden, the tomatoes heavy on the vines, raspberry bushes growing wildly, engulfing the zucchini and Blackeyed Susans.  A few stalks of rhubarb remained, enough for another pie.

And with a moan, she howled  “Russell, you should be here!”

[Neighbors thought for sure the old woman was loosing her mind, calling out for a dead man.  And when they saw her skitter across the lawn faster than she had moved in years, arms held out, smiling, well they made a quick call to her son.  An hour later he would find her, curled up on the summer grass as if asleep, her body turning cold.]

It was the sound of a lawn mower that made Eloise turn.  He stood a few yards away: khakis, white t-shirt wet with perspiration, smiling, the lawnmower now at rest. “Russell?”  She walked towards him, her pale blue nightgown skimming the damp grass, her ninety-year old body outlined by the sun, visible through the thin cotton.  Eloise reached for Russell and he smiled. His damp face, his slight stubble, his dry lips all in her hands once again, the blue eyes she looked into for sixty-two years, again, looking at her.

She felt light-headed, her breath slowed and she fell to her knees.

Eloise lay on her back in the emerald grass, Russell lay on his side right next to her.  She stared at the hazy sky, the large elm beginning to sway, the wind mercifully picking up on this oppressive summer day.  She understood what was happening and a single tear fell down her cheek.  What relief!  No more marking of days, minutes too long to bare without him.  She would miss a few souls and that damn cat.  She thought of the half-eaten pie sitting on the kitchen table and wondered if the cat would eat it.  She didn’t care.  Ready now, Eloise turned her body to Russell, curled up into space between them and let go.

 

Rhubarb Strawberry Cherry Crisp

Serves 6

Recipe Adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen

Ingredients:

2 stalks rhubarb, 1/2 inch slice

2 cups of cherries, pits removed and halved

2 cups strawberries, quartered

1/3 cup raw sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

For the Crisp Topping:

1 cup white whole wheat flour

1 cup quick cooking oats

3/4 raw sugar

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 stick + 4 tablespoons, chilled, unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces

generous pinch of kosher salt

vanilla ice cream for serving

Directions:

Pre-heat your oven to 375F.  Butter a 2 quart baking dish and set aside.

Grab a medium bowl and toss sliced rhubarb with cut cherries and strawberries.  Add sugar and cornstarch and mix gently to coat.  Next, add the orange juice and stir again.  Pour the berries into the prepared baking dish.

Grab another mixing bowl and stir together the flour, oats, sugar and salt.  Add the almond extract and butter.  Using your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture until the ingredients are clumpy and resemble wet sand, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the topping over the fruit.  Place on the middle rack of your oven and bake until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is a deep golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.  Allow the crisp to cool for 15 minutes or so before serving.  Serve with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Enjoy!

**The crisp topping can be made a few days ahead.  Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  The fruit should be prepared just before baking.  The baked crisp is best the day it is made.  If you have leftovers, re-heat in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes or the microwave for a few minutes.**

5 Delicious Fruit Crisp Links

Memorial Day and 4th of July are just around the corner so why not make Joan Nathan’s Red, White and Blue Fruit Crisp?

I can’t wait for peach season!  Dolly + Oatmeal’s peach, hazelnut, shiso crisp with ginger ice cream and Minimalist Baker’s easy peach crisp are on my must make list this summer.  Oh and they are both gluten-free!

Can’t get enough of sour cherry desserts?  Check out my cherry oat crisp.  It is the perfect summertime treat.

Want to know how to many any fruit crisp in just 5 easy-peasy steps?  Head to Food 52 for some tips.

 

Grapefruit Crinkle Cookies + Strawberry Summer Cake

“I give you this to take with you: Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.” Judith Minty, Letters to My Daughters

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We spent the weekend packing. It is odd how quickly a home can change when everything that defined the house is placed in a box. Suddenly, something so familiar and comforting becomes stark and cold. You see the house with different eyes. You separate yourself from it because you know it is easier to let go of it and what it meant to you than to carry it with you. Once all the stuff is packed you realize it is just that: stuff, replaceable crap. It is not so much the walls you will miss but the life, the moments, that place in time you cannot get back. It is accepting that “nothing remains as it was.”

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Though not planned, it seems fitting that our best friends, the couple that introduced us to this house and this town 6 years ago came over for our last dinner with friends. I was newly pregnant with Charlotte when they mentioned the condo above them was for sale. Bubba and I took a look and 3 months later we left Boston for the burbs. We spent 5 years living in the same multi-family above two of our favorite people. It was like living with family who respected boundaries. It was built in social time for new parents who were a little shocked by how much a baby had changed everything.   Babies were born, jobs changed, friends and family married and divorced, a loved one passed, kids grew and we aged too. It sounds corny but the passage of time is so dam beautiful and heart-breaking all at the same time.

Surrounded by boxes and bubble wrap we spent our last Saturday night at the table chatting, laughing and drinking beer. It is what we do best when we are together.  I made 2 desserts; desserts that are perfect to share with friends.

Grapefruit Crinkle Cookies

Adapted from White on Rice Couple’s Meyer Lemon Crinkle Cookies

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup packed light brown  sugar

1/2 cup sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 Tablespoon of Grapefruit zest

2 Tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice

1/4 cup  confectioners sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda for a minute and set aside.

Zest the grapefruit so you have 1 Tablespoon of zest. In a small bowl add grapefruit zest to the 1/2 cup of sugar and blend together with your fingers.  This will make the sugar very fragrant and you will end up with a tastier cookie.

In a mixer, with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and grapefruit sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract, egg and grapefruit juice until well combined.  After two or three minutes scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again for several minutes to make sure everything is well incorporated.

Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to get all of the flour mixed into the dough.

Sift the confectioners sugar on a large plate. Make the dough into 1 inch sized balls. (A small cookie scoop works great here.) Roll the balls in the confectioners sugar then place a couple of inches apart on the lined cookie sheets.

Bake for 9-11 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies just begin to turn golden and the tops of the cookies no longer look wet. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool for about five minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Strawberry Summer Cake

Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for 9 or 10 spring-form pan

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup of oat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

7/8 cup of granulated sugar (1 cup of sugar minus two tablespoons)

1 large egg

1/2 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pound  strawberries, hulled and halved

2 Tablespoons Turbinado Sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 or 10 inch springform pan. ( A nine or ten inch deep dish pie pan will also work. A standard pie plate will not work here because the batter will overflow.)

Whisk  flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.  In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and 7/8 cup of sugar until pale and fluffy with about 3 minutes. Beat in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Slowly, add dry mixture mixing until just smooth.

Pour into prepared pan. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer. You may need to overlap them to get all of them on the batter. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of turbinado sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes at 350°F then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown or until a tester comes out clean, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. (Wet strawberries on the tester are ok.) Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into wedges and serve with whipped cream.

Cake can be stored, loosely covered, at room temperature for up to 2 days.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt Cake for Mother’s Day

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could.  Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day.  You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”  Emerson

Mother’s Day is tomorrow and I am looking forward to sleeping in even if it is only for an extra 15 minutes. Bubba will attempt to take both kids downstairs  without waking me up but this usually doesn’t work out. Our daughter, Charlotte, loves holidays because she loves a reason to celebrate anything. She will wake up earlier than usual with a level energy that I have never possessed in my 34 years. She won’t be quiet despite pleas from both me and John for just a few more minutes. Our son, Graham, will hear her and decide its time to start his day. Alice, our dog, will yawn and stretch as if to say “having kids was your idea, not mine.” We will all stumble downstairs, turn on the coffee, pour the milks and feed the dog. John will make pancakes and bacon while the kids watch morning cartoons and I will drink my coffee and wonder how to spend the day. I will feel torn. I will want time to myself, time to be alone but then I will feel selfish asking for it. I will want to spend time with my sweet babies and my husband because I know this time is fleeting. I will beat myself up about my indecision. We will eat breakfast which will taste especially delicious because I didn’t have to make it. Maybe will go for a walk in the woods. Maybe Bubba will take the kids to the playground so I can have a little time; a little time to reflect and breathe and be grateful for all of it, even the parts that are hard. I will reread this article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lea-grover/dear-less-than-perfect-mom and remind myself once again that I am not a perfect mom and nor is it necessary. Charlotte and Graham will be ok despite my imperfections.

After a day together, after another meal we will sit together and enjoy this cake that I made with love.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt Cake

adapted from Seasons and Suppers

Ingredients

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter softened

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed

1 egg at room temperature

3 tsp. vanilla

1 cup Greek yogurt ( I used 2%)

2 cups fresh rhubarb

2 cups fresh strawberries quartered or halved depending on size

Topping:

1/2 cup turbinado sugar

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. and grease a 10-inch cake or springform pan with butter. Line the bottom with  parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar until it is well combined and resembles wet sand. Add the egg and beat until the mixture is well combined and there are no lumps. Add Greek yogurt and vanilla and beat to combine.

With mixer on low, add the flour mixture and mix just until combined. Fold in rhubarb and strawberries gently. Spoon mixture into prepared pan.

Combine sugar (1/2 cup) and the 1/4 tsp. cinnamon. Sprinkle liberally over the top of the cake. You may not use all of it so save the leftovers for cinnamon toast!

Bake in the preheated 350° F. oven for about an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. ***Start checking cake at 50 minutes. If the top is browning quickly, place aluminum foil loosely over the top.***

Place pan on a wire cooling rack and, if using a springform pan, allow to cool for 10 or 15 minutes and then run a knife around the edge and remove the side or the pan. Allow to cool a bit longer before removing bottom. If using a regular cake pan, allow to cool to lukewarm before removing from pan.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream or enjoy plain.