A Sweet Spot Between Laura Calder and Martha Stewart

A beautiful book, in every way.

A beautiful book, in every way.

If you’ve been on this blog before, you’ll know that I’m all over exploring the unknown, from exotic ingredients like lutenitza and sriracha salt, to crazy science stuff, from sous vide to avoiding botulism. But today, let’s take some advice from The Far Side creator Gary Larson’s cow: “Don’t forget to stop and eat the roses.”

First time cookbook author Gwen Rogers is neither a trained chef (like Laura Calder) nor a multi-gazillion-dollar-crafts-and-style marketing juggernaut (like Martha Stewart), but in her new book Welcome to Honeysuckle Hill, she deftly threads the needle between the two, creating simple dishes that are simply gorgeous.

Take, as a for instance, her Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel recipe.

Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

This is so simple, an eighth-grader could make it. But it looks, and tastes, delightfully sophisticated (in its rustic way).

Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel (adapted from Gwen Rogers’ journal)

¾ cup/150 g granulated sugar, unleveled
12 tbsp/170 g unsalted butter (for the vegan variant, substitute Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks)
2 cups/256 g all-purpose flour, scant
¾ cup/115 g finely ground almond meal flour, heaping

4 cups/400 g fresh blueberries, washed and dried
½ cup/100 g granulated sugar
1 tbsp/15 ml lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp/5 ml lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.

FOR THE STREUSEL: In a medium bowl, combine sugar, all-purpose flour, and almond flour and mix thoroughly. Cut in butter until mixture becomes a coarse crumb. Set aside.

FOR THE FILLING: In a medium bowl, use a spatula to gently toss together the blueberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Let mixture sit for about 15 minutes. Place blueberry mixture into a 1.5-quart baking dish (9″ x 9″ x 5″ or 11″ x 11″ x 4″) and cover completely with Almond Streusel. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until top is browned and berry filling is bubbling.

NOTE: This streusel makes enough for 2 (9-inch) pies or 2 blueberry crisps. If you only plan to make one, freeze the remainder for later use on your morning yogurt or evening ice cream. Serves 8.

Simple, elegant, tasty; the host's (or hostess') trifecta. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

Simple, elegant, tasty; the host’s (or hostess’) trifecta. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

Her Watermelon, Feta, & Mint Kabobs (pictured above) can be assembled in just slightly more time than it took to type this sentence, and yet they are a welcome and refreshing change from more traditional hors d’oeuvres, especially in the summer.

What Rogers brings to the table — quite literally — is a sense of casual elegance that’s all about making life easy on the chef/host/hostess and making life comfortable and welcoming for the guest. Her recipes will remind you that you don’t have to be a CIA grad to put together a menu that will leave your guests feeling happy and impressed, and you don’t need to deploy a squadron of minions to put together a table that looks thought through and stylish.

Ho do you like them yapples (apples stuffed with sweet potato)? (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

How do you like them yapples (Granny Smith apples stuffed with sweet potato)? (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

And when it comes to the book itself, the photography is a visual feast comparable to the actual foodstuffs being described. The printing is voluptuous, replete with pictures of the author and her family that would give Giada De Laurentiis and clan a run for their money. It’s beautiful, inspiring, and empowering, and worth every centime of its $35(USD) price tag.

Welcome to Honeysuckle Hill can be purchased at Gratus, should you find yourself in Beverly Hills, or through the author’s website, http://honeysucklehillbook.com.

Shamelessly repurposing

Baguettes I baked in Paris, January 2013

Baguettes I baked in Paris, January 2013

Because I just turned in a 1350-word piece today on Chef Herb Wilson of SushiSamba restaurant in Las Vegas for Style magazine, I’m not feeling especially loquacious this evening, but from what I understand, blogging is like exercise, and once you make some lame excuse to avoid it, it’s all downhill. Accordingly, I’ll point you instead to a fairly long piece I wrote a while ago for the LA Review of Books called “Around the Table,” in which I manifestly did not review a trio of praiseworthy books: The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, by Adam Gopnik; Dinner Chez Moi: The Fine Art of Feeding Friends, by Laura Calder; and In The Small Kitchen: 100 Recipes from Our Year of Cooking in the Real World, by Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine.

Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik and I grew up in Philly around the same time, and for some reason that I can’t fathom (unless it’s some combination of talent, luck, drive, and the fact that I spent much of my adult life in what used to be known as the record industry), he has become a fairly famous regular contributor to the New Yorker, while I am writing a after-dinner blog post in my breakfast nook. Like me, he has an abiding love of France — you almost can’t dislike it if you ever visit, and all the advance PR about Parisians being snotty has been, in my experience, just plain untrue.

Laura Calder

Laura Calder

I’d probably be smitten with Laura Calder even if she weren’t such an engaging TV host, cook, and native of New Brunswick, Canada, where I also was born. Her program, irregularly scheduled on the Cooking Channel, is called French Food at Home, and it’s a breezy, fun, entertaining, and informative half hour, fifty of which have made a more or less permanent home on my DVR. This most recent book (Dinner Chez Moi) had been scheduled for an American release last year, and while that somehow that never seemed to happen, it’s readily available on the Amazon.ca site. Her casual style belies the rigorous training she received, not only in a variety of kitchens in France, but also in the Canadian Army (though her food is anything but institutional).

Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine

Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine

And finally, Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine are a pair of “quarter-life” bloggers who turned their website into an Internet sensation and a book. They have an uncommon common touch when it comes to cooking with limited resources (both in terms of space and capital), and their book contains just possibly the Best. Lentil. Recipe. Ever. I wish I’d had their insight — and focus — at their age. Actually, I’d be pretty pleased to have it even now. This is a must-have book for anyone graduating to their first apartment, and who aspire (or ought to aspire) to something more than a life of take-out. It’s practical and fun and full of great ideas for the kitchen and the informal salon that so many of us home cooks wind up hosting.

Howard Johnson's Plate

Howard Johnson’s Plate

Full disclosure: Not long after my piece appeared in the LA Review of Books, I had the opportunity to meet Adam Gopnik, and because both he and I waxed rhapsodically about the joys of Howard Johnson’s in our respective works, I picked up a pair of vintage plates from HoJo’s on eBay and gave him one. The other is in my kitchen, a reminder of two ten-year-olds who grew, each quite happily, in very different directions, but for whom the phrase “28 Flavors” will always evoke a potent memory.