Harvest and Honey

An open-ended love letter, culinarily inspired.


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milk & cookies

While I fear it may give the impression that I am somewhat of a scrooge, in the name of transparency I will admit something to you … {takes deep breath … hovers fingers above keyboard}. Okay, here goes …

My name is Lauren, I am 33 years old, and I have never put up a Christmas tree. There! I said it. I feel better – the weight has been lifted.

Sure I’ve put up decorations here and there over the years, to celebrate the holiday season (and admittedly, because I feel obligated to do it for a number of reasons). But no tree. We’ve just never done it. I’m not really sure why, although I suspect it has more to do with utter, shameful laziness than anything else, really. We’ve moved a lot too, and I’ve adopted somewhat of an anti-hoarding philosophy when it comes to how I approach my belongings (i.e. I try to minimize my earthly possessions as much as possible). So, holiday decor has just never made the cut. Also, there have been small children added into the mix. And cats (alright fine, that’s not a real excuse). And so alas, no tree.

That is, until this year. I am happy to announce that I actually set up my first (grown-up) Christmas tree and have been enjoying every bit of its twinkling, shimmering, holly, jolly glow for the better part of the past two weeks. And surprisingly, nary a cat nor kid has wreaked any sort of havoc on it. The Christmas miracle is alive and well, I can tell you firsthand. Last night after I tucked my kids into their respective beds and made my merry way to the couch, where I planned on doing a whole lot of nothing for the next couple of hours, I found myself mesmerized by this tree … looking completely lovely in its little nook of the room … “brighten the corner where you are,” and all. It was my parent’s tree, and they so kindly passed it along to us this year, since they have another one to enjoy. I suppose they figured that their 2 trees to my 0 trees made for a very uneven score, so they generously helped to even out the playing field by gifting one to us (Thanks guys!). It is filled to the brim (to the branch?) with ornaments that were handmade by my Grandmother, Nora, and that have been the objects of my greatest affection since I was very small. In fact, after my living loves and maybe my cast iron pan, they are the things that I would save in the event of a fire. What’s more, the soft glow of the Christmas tree provides my house with the exact right amount of light to allow for ample vision (important, I suppose) while also somehow blurring the scars and mess and less than ideal marks and smudges on the floor that somehow always seem to escape my cleaning. The light from the Christmas tree somehow magically washes all of those things away, and the room just looks perfect, peaceful. Again, with the Christmas miracles … Continue reading


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the biggest apple

I’ll begin at the very end.

“Where you headed, ma’am?” He asks as he effortlessly weaves the cab up and down the busy streets of Brooklyn. “Indianapolis,” I reply, staring out the window. They call it “the concrete jungle,” and on this particularly gray, windy Wednesday morning in late September, it was living up to its name quite well. I watch the city fade into the background as we work our way toward Jersey.  A perfect view – a favorite view. Although I much preferred the view just two days prior, as I made my way into the city, not out of it  …  the one where the city gets closer with every passing second and you can feel its energy without even trying. I love that about New York. It is one powerful, beautiful, crazy, overwhelming, treasure of a city and it’s always captivated me, ever since my parents first took me to visit when I was 18 years old.

We’re on the bridge now and it’s like watching an old movie reel scrolling by in split-second glimpses, perfectly framed by the bridge’s rails and beams. The ubiquitous sounds of the horns and traffic and roaring world outside the cab’s windows contribute the soundtrack to our ride.

The latest edition of Saveur magazine is peeking out of my carry-on bag and I feel a mixture of both happiness and sadness; happy that I was able to be a part of such a wonderfully memorable two days at the Saveur Blog Awards and sadness that it all came and went too quickly, as all good things tend to do. Now that it’s over, I can see it more clearly – really appreciate the time I spent in the city – the who, what, when, where, and whys of it all …

 

Who. Saveur Magazine, as I’ve waxed pathetically about in previous posts, is an all-time favorite food read for me and has provided me with the ultimate fodder for fueling a lifelong love of all things culinary. What can I say? I’m a true fan. Oh, and it’s pronounced Sah-v-oor if you’re wondering (I was).

What. The annual blog awards. I have to remind myself that this isn’t necessarily a huge to deal to everyone on the planet, but when you’re totally wrapped up in what it is that you do, and you throw so much of yourself at it for so long, it’s a big deal to you. To me. Yes, it was a big deal to me.

When. I think these awards came at a particularly poignant time for me. As a full-time mom with a husband who has an incredibly demanding, time-consuming career, parenthood is so very much at the forefront of my life right now – my every waking moment is calibrated toward it in one way or another. So, a getaway that was truly about me and something that I love was just amazing – surreal almost. I’ve learned that by maintaining this world of food and stories and photos, I am able to be a better mother to my kids because I’ve tended to myself in an important way; a way that I’m not sure I even knew I needed before I set out on this blogging journey of mine, to use a cliched expression. It definitely feels like a journey though, I can tell you that much. Getting to hang out with a bunch of other people who do what I do and like what I like felt really good. The timing was so, so right.

Where. My favorite place. The city that never gets old, never disappoints, never fails to excite and inspire. The city that never sleeps. I still love you, New York.

Why. I was there because I’d worked hard at something that I really loved and some people happened to have liked it. And that felt pretty good.

How. The funny thing was, by the time the awards rolled around on the last night, it seemed like most people had almost forgotten that they were even a thing – that they were even going to take place at all. I found myself standing in awe on the rooftop deck of the William Vale Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on the night of the awards, staring out at what has to be one of the most incredible views anywhere in New York. I will never forget that. It’s the kind of view that makes you feel simultaneously on top of the world and painfully, insignificantly small all at the same time. They passed tray after tray of delicious small bites and I mingled with the wonderful new friends I’d made over the course of the past two days and tried my best to soak it up and appreciate it, every little bit of it.

 

I’m almost positive my cabbie just caught me smiling. Our eyes meet in the rear-view and he’s caught me red-handed, basking in my reverie. He smiles. I smile. He turns on the radio. We both laugh. It is, and I kid you not, Alicia Keys belting out, ”  … this place will inspire you … make you feel brand new …  there’s nothing you can’t do. Now you’re in New York … New York … New York.” Continue reading


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chocolate chai snack cakes with pumpkin & brown sugar buttercream

My brother used to come home from school when we were kids and immediately make his way to the kitchen pantry. There, waiting ever so patiently on the dark, crowded shelves were boxes of his beloved snack cakes. He liked all the shapes and brands I think, but I’m almost positive – if memory serves – that his affection was greatest for the ones shaped like zebras. Why, I’m not sure. But he loved them, those little cellophane-wrapped black and white striped cakes. He’d eat a two-pack every day without fail … you could almost set your watch to it. I loved those after school snack hours because it was a way to decompress from the busyness of the day and we always ended up laughing a lot, my Mom, brother and I.

I’d sample those snack cakes from time to time, but I always found them odd; almost good, but mostly dry and lacking in flavor. They were factory perfect though, and always seasonal in their appearance, shape and color. They were not, however, seasonal when it came to the actual ingredients listed on the back of the box. No, those stayed the same day after day, month after month, decade after decade. The cakes I’ve got for you in this post are nothing like those plasticine, mass-produced things my brother used to inhale all the time. Far from them, actually. Showcasing the season’s iconic and ever worshipped star, these pumpkin-laced cakes are one of my favorite things I’ve made in a while. The chocolate cake itself is fantastic – moist and incredibly flavorful and fuss-free, just like I like it. The frosting is what gets me most excited though, if I’m honest here, because it’s smart … there’s an extra step in the assembly process for the buttercream that requires you to cook the pumpkin puree with the brown sugar and spices which might seem unnecessary but I assure you it’s the key to a great pumpkin frosting. By cooking it, you remove excess moisture from the pumpkin and avoid creating a frosting that will eventually get runny and soggy and well, gross. Continue reading


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true north

They say love works in mysterious ways, and I know this to be true.

The love of my life woke me from my sleep last night. The alarm clock I usually keep next to my bed hasn’t been unpacked from our recent move, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it never will. So, I reached for my phone and squinted a little as its screen came to life. My husband stirred and rolled over in his sleep. The large glowing numbers read 3:25 AM and I sighed, quickly shutting it off. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and fumbled for the little brown notebook that I’ve taken to stashing under the mattress so my children’s little hands can’t find it. They find EVERYTHING. The moon last night was particularly bright, almost as if it was throwing me a bone in that otherwise tired and bumbling moment in which I’d found myself. Rubbing my eyes, I scribbled a few words inside the notebook, working with what little moonlight I could and hoping that I’d be able to make sense of it in the morning.

 

Compass directions. Exploration and discovery.

True north.

 

Satisfied, I got back in bed. I’d been laboring over the most deceptively simple question for the better part of a week and had begun to lose hope that I’d actually be able to find the right answer. A food blogger friend of mine, Valentina Solfrini (by way of equally friendly blogger Renee Byrd), challenged me recently to explain or at the very least, simply think about why I love food. Easy! I thought. This post will practically write itself. Right?

Wrong. In fact I’ll admit to never having had a tougher time composing a post here and I think that alone gives evidence to the significance of the question, at least for me. It’s a murky one, this question; its answer wholly unclear and far deeper than meets the eye. But I will try my best to answer it, as there is one thing I know for certain: I do love food. So far as non-human loves go, food is the greatest of them all – it is the love of my life.

I love it in the pure, unabashed, time-tested, born like this, wake-you-from-your-sleep (apparently) kind of way that definitely comprises a big part of who I am, and it always has … in one way or another. Professing that love is easy. I could do it Julie Andrews style from the top of the highest peak with a chorus of music playing all around me, the hills alive with the sound of it all. But trying to explain it – trying to sort out and define it – that’s another story entirely. How do you catch a cloud and pin it down, after all? So yes, the ways may be many – mysterious, strange, some obvious, some not – but there are plenty of them to go around, the ways in which my love for food works. Let me (see if I can) count them for you … Continue reading


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london fog

Chocolate London Fog Cupcakes with Honeyed ButtercreamChocolate London Fog Cupcakes with Honeyed ButtercreamChocolate London Fog Cupcakes with Honeyed ButtercreamChocolate London Fog Cupcakes with Honeyed Buttercream

It was foggy the day I left for London. A thick blanket of low-hanging clouds swallowed the Blue Ridge mountains that surround my small Appalachian hometown that day and I couldn’t decide if it was a good omen for my travels ahead, or a foreboding sign of impending doom. I went with the former, seeing as how I’ve always fallen more on the optimistic end of the attitude spectrum. Tired from a long red-eye flight, I wiped the sleep from my eyes and stepped outside Heathrow airport, my bags heavy with an overabundance of unnecessary belongings … my heart heavy with the first inklings of homesickness. The fog, I’d noticed, had followed me all the way to London, and I was having trouble seeing anything thanks to the dark, cool mist that had settled in all around me in the early hours of that first morning in England. Continue reading


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strawberry & rose meringues

Strawberry and Rose MeringuesIMG_1595Strawberry and Rose Meringues Strawberry and Rose MeringuesIMG_1624

I didn’t even really like strawberries before that day. But, there they were on the table right in front of me, sitting ever so fetchingly in a small plastic Tupperware container practically begging to be eaten. Alright fine, I thought. I’ll try you. Before I knew it, I’d eaten the entire container and was busy checking its corners for any remaining juice and/or bits that may have escaped me. I’m not sure, as I sit here now, whose container that actually was. But they were so good, those strawberries. Too good, really. Why were they so delicious? Have I been missing out all this time? I sat there in my chair, fidgeting, with my folded arms resting under me on the table as I perched over the now empty and bone-dry container, pondering the mysteries of these especially sweet strawberries. Mixed with the ever-present smell of chlorine and SPF 30 sunscreen, these berries solidified the season for me that day – it was officially summer.

I sat back in the chair and checked my reflection in the window across from me, making sure my hair looked okay. My legs were now tucked underneath the oversized t-shirt that I used as a cover-up, stretching out the neckline and giving my Mom good cause to scold me for it. Lauren! Your shirt! You’ll ruin it! Oops. Forgot. Sorry! I stared down at the sparkling blue swimming pool that I knew so well and shaded my eyes from the nearly blinding sun that danced over its surface that day – that perfectly bright blue summer day. I remember feeling nervous excitement as I removed the giant, slightly stretched-out shirt and made my way down to the pool in my navy blue swim suit, ready for my close-up. I was going to be on the news – on TV! For my swimming! The awesomeness of that notion didn’t escape me, and I wondered how many of my friends would see it, how many people in my town … in the world even!

You’re special. They said.

You’re amazing. They told me.

One of a kind. 

“Richmond, KY native Lauren Angelucci was born without her left hand and doesn’t let that slow her down! Something about making my own waves … something about winning blue medals despite this and that …”

I don’t really remember the newscast at all; don’t remember much of what they said (the interviewers) or what I said (the interviewee). I’ve mostly just held onto a few scattered soundbites. I really didn’t see what all of the fuss was about or why I was getting any attention. I didn’t feel like I was any different from anyone else. I was just me. I did really like to swim though, and I was pretty good at it … even compared to “all of the other kids.” I thought getting to do it on TV would be pretty amazing – wasn’t going to pass that up, no way. This could be my big break! I daydreamed. Maybe I’ll get to be a movie star after all! Never know who might be watching.

And I also liked strawberries – I learned this truth about myself that day and it’s the one aspect of the whole experience that I can recall very clearly. Just before the little red light on the camera came on and the man started asking me questions, I remember wiping my chin to make sure there wasn’t any juice leftover. That would be the last thing I needed on this most special of days.

No, I’d never seen a movie star with strawberry juice on their chin.  Continue reading


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the economics of home

Dark Chocolate Cherry Chunk Breakfast Cookies with Toasted Walnut and Maple N'ice CreamIMG_2829 IMG_2858IMG_2409 Dark Chocolate Cherry Chunk Breakfast Cookies with Toasted Walnut and Maple N'ice CreamIMG_2862

He made fun of me for double-knotting my shoelaces. I was unaware, prior to that day, that adding a second, more protective knot to one’s tied laces was deemed wholly uncool and I suppose I have that boy to thank for educating me on the matter. He was seated at the table just across from me in our third period home economics class and he was a whole head shorter than me, as were many boys during the awkward, smelly middle school years. He had a cluster of acne on his chin and a haircut that looked as if someone had placed a metal mixing bowl on his head and cut clean around its edge, hacking off any hairs that may be in the line of fire. His braces were green and blue, alternating from tooth to tooth. Was THIS cool? I wondered, as I sat at my desk, discretely untying the second knots in my shoes. I took note of all these things as I scanned the unfamiliar faces in the classroom that day, my first day at a new school in a new town in a new state. I know those faces now; know that some of them would grow up to be doctors, lawyers, nurses and engineers … moms, dads, wifes, husbands, and everything in between. I know that one of them would not make it to the age of 30. But on that day, I knew none of this. I was nervous and anxious and jittery and hungry for acceptance in this new sea of faces into which I’d been dropped.

There were mixing bowls and wooden spoons and measuring cups at every desk. Recipes printed in large black lettering were taped to each table and a handful of ovens were preheating, coils slowly showing signs of life. 350 degrees Farenheit: the universal baking temperature. I knew this number. It had been emblazoned across my family’s oven for much of the previous Saturday, as I’d baked pie after pie with my Grandma – cherry and chocolate meringue. The memory made me happy as I sat there in class – in the middle school home economics room – and for the first time that day I felt a little more comfortable … a little more relaxed and familiar with the scenery. We would be baking cookies, my 6th grade comrades and I, and this was something I was good at; something I loved. Continue reading