Blueberry Pistachio Bars – humble pie

Blueberries…there you sit all round, intensely blue, full of your juicy selves.

blueberries in orange plate from Portugal

Let’s heat you up with freshly squeezed orange juice, sugar and vanilla beans scraped straight outta the pod. Kiss your composure goodbye, blueberries.

blueberry vanilla bean filling

You’ll fall apart, for sure. And wake up poured over one quietly crunchy, pistachio-green crust.

pistachio crust

Topped by another.

Blueberry Pistachio Bar before baking

You’ll get baked for nearly an hour. Then I’ll let you cool in the garden on a table with a good view and a fringed, linen cloth.

Blueberry Pistachio Bars cooling

Before I cut you up and serve you, blueberries.

Blueberry Pistachio Bar  served

You’ve been humbled into pie, cut in bars.

Blueberry Pistachio Bars with silhouette

This is my midsummer, finger food dessert: perfect for a picnic or a potluck party.

It’s summertime. I say…beat up some blueberries. Turn them into a humble-looking bar with a softly crunchy, pistachio crust. Serve ‘em warm and oozy. Seduce summer.

Whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream: encouraged. Welcomed.

Here’s the recipe followed by some photos to help illustrate some prep and assembly. Oink on!

The following photo collection is subtitled: Cameo Appearances by Apron Strings. Persistence pays off when you’re trying to get on camera.

The assembly line. Pan Prep:

pan prep blueberry pistachio bars

Bottom crust:

pistachio crust


pistachio crust

Top Crust:

blueberry pictachio bar assembly


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Every July when the ninth crept close my mother would  say, “I was born in July that’s why I’m a firecracker.”

She was.


Maybe she still is. I don’t know. I haven’t seen my mother for over two decades though she is alive.

Sometimes in the early days of July, the days leading up to her birthday, I am wordless.

How do you define what is lost to you when you never really had it to begin with? I have absence, ache, an idea of what we should have had. But really…it’s just an idea that never happened, untenable as a shadow traveling along a cracked plaster wall.

I think of simple things. I remember my mother teaching me how to measure dry ingredients; how to understand and interpret a recipe.

scoop flour sweep flour

We can’t find each other and likely never will. But I think of her on Mother’s Day. I think of her in July when firecrackers are about to get set off.

I think of my mother in summer when the sun heats my thin skin. I get red at first but never burn. I imagine that’s because we’re partly red (mom said we’re half Cherokee) though my actual blood mix is a recipe I don’t know. Like the measurements in many of mom’s sacred recipes…fiction and truth got mixed.

Mom, I wish so many wishes when I think of you: candles stuck sloppily into cake. They burn, drip, cast shadows on uneven walls. Your silhouette flickers quickly. Then you’re out.

Mom. Bees visit the pink cosmos in my urban, container garden. I don’t have your magical green thumb but I do allright.

cosmos and bee

I cook. I write about it. I take photos that are occasionally decent. And I think of you when I cook something awesome. I give recipes freely but I think it’s charming and hilarious that you gave out slightly effed-up recipes. You never wanted anyone to do it as well as you did.

Meet me here in flour, butter, salt.

I am always, in some odd way, yours. No-one can take that from us. Not even you.

Firecracker…happy birthday. I send you my heart with no return address. I hope you feel it. I hope you feel love.

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Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla bean meet sugar. In two weeks these sweet crystals will be smoldering with fragrant, rich vanilla.

vanilla sugar ingredients

This is an uncomplicated and happy union.

vanilla sugar smiley face

I’m a fan of fresh vanilla beans. I’ve said this here before: if you haven’t split open a fresh vanilla bean pod and inhaled that first heady waft of rich vanilla…then maybe put it on your bucket list. This is a simple, rewarding pleasure.

Vanilla Sugar takes about 6 minutes to make. Plus two weeks. You’re supposed to wait till the sugar and the vanilla beans and pods get super into each other and go steady. I can’t say I’ve always waited that long to start adding a little Vanilla Sugar to my morning cortados. That just wouldn’t be true.

vanilla sugar with pods

Sprinkle it on fresh berries.  Festoon some cookie dough with Vanilla Sugar just before baking. Use it to sweeten and vanilla-fy your coffee, tea, whatnot. Add a spoonful to a savory sauce to add sweet balance.

Vanilla Sugar can be stored in an airtight container. I like to give it a shake or open the container up and stir the sugar a bit every once in a while during the two weeks of steeping.

This also gives you an opportunity to snitch a bit for your coffee or berries or something if you’re that sort of person. In which case…you’re the right kind of sinner, sugar taker. And if you need a musical interlude those highlighted words will take you there. Invincible winner.

vanilla sugar in heavenly jam jar

I’m storing my nyc stash of Vanilla Sugar in a small jar that once held jam homemade by my friend, John.  I decided that this, too, is a heavenly jam. And I like seeing his handwriting. I’m sentimental like that sometimes.

Here’s the recipe:

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where to siesta and chillax – Eric Vokel BCN Suites

I researched the oink out of hotels in Barcelona. I wanted to stay somewhere off the tourist-beaten paths and within walking distance to neighborhoods I planned to wander.

flowering branches Barcelona Spain

I wanted a nice place but I didn’t want to spend more than $200/night…unless it was so fabulous that somehow it was worth it. And then I’d probably be a lotto winner. I already feel like I won the lottery. I’ve wanted to visit this city, Barcelona, since I was a kid. And I haven’t been a kid for many moons.

I dreamed of having desayuno (that’s breakfast in español…yo) at a local neighborhood cafe, sipping perfect cortados and eating flakey, buttery cruasans (croissants).

dos cortados at La Parra Barcelona

I seriously wanted a balcony or, in dreamy optimistic moments, a terrace. Or at least a rocking view. And free Wi-Fi internet connection because Wi-Fi should be free. Unfetter the Wi-Fi, world.

Eric Vokel BCN terrace view

The idea of having a little kitchen to make snacks in and a living area to chill in during siesta hours appealed in that what’s-it-like-to-live-here way. Laundry would be a big bonus because we wouldn’t have to bring so many socks and such. I like to travel light because I like to enjoy getting there. You know?

Also I’m an outfit repeater. If I like an ensemble I’m gonna wearing the samhell out of it. More on that another time along with my amazing how-to-pack-light method which involves lists and charts.

We ended up with all of those details and more at Eric Vökel BCN Suites. Steady yourself. for my unsolicited review. We scored a sleek kitchenette stocked with pots, pans, utensils, glasses, plates and such. Plus there was a dishwasher and basic cleaning supplies.

Eric Vokel BCN kitchenette

Laundry! Kinda noisy and sorta slow combo washer/dryer that did a good job. Laundry!

Eric Vokel BCN laundry

Dining, living, chillaxing area with television and a cool airplane mural on one wall. Free Wi-Fi. Unfettered.

Eric Vokel BCN living

Front terrace. Boom.

Eric Vokel BCN front terrace

Charming view. Boom shakalaka.

Eric Vokel BCN terrace blue house

And these bricks that I got kinda obsessed with.

Brick wall Eric Vokel BCN Suites

I’m still swooning over the pattern they created and peekaboo city views framed in their cut-out circles. I love that these geometric brick beauties made a cool privacy wall on the back terrace.

Eric Vokel BCN back terrace and bedroom

You can glimpse the mosaic headboard in the simple but ample bedroom through the sliding door. By the way…that’s outdoor space number two: the lounging terrace. And it has four lounge chairs for your best siesta impressions. Boom. Cymbal crash.  Jazz hands. And a flirty breeze up your floaty stripey, savvy-traveler dress.

jazzhands Eric Vokel BCN

I loved this penthouse one bedroom suite at Eric Vökel BCN Suites. It’s on a quiet side street. The neighborhood has pretty little places to eat, convenient markets, local restaurants and Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia. It’s walking distance to the Eixample, Gràcia and Las Ramblas neighborhoods.

Here are the only things I would change: fluffy towels would be nice. The ones they have are fine but they definitely ain’t fluffy. Comfier bed would rock. The bed was okay. Great headboard. But I was amped when I reentered the dreamworld atop a pillow-topped mattress on my stop through London.

Eric Vökel BCN Suites has a clean, modern decor and sweet city views, laundry (!) and two terraces. Two terraces. Do I need to do more jazz hands to convince you? Because I will.

Oh…and desayuno was covered by these vouchers because of a deal the hotel was offering when I booked. I adored this cafe, La Parra. And it was right around the corner from the hotel.

La Parra Eric Vokel voucher

I want to be sitting at La Parra savoring a cortado or sipping a glass of house-made wine now. Beam me up, Barcelona!

La Parra wine barrels Barcelona

Cleaning service, once every 5 days, is included at the BCN Suites and you can schedule additional cleaning days if desired. I liked that aspect of this hotel because it’s less wasteful. And I don’t mind making my own bed.

Friendly, helpful clerks man the lobby during daytime hours at Eric Vökel BCN Suites so we also had some hotel-esque help if we needed it. They even stopped us one morning to greet us and let us know they were happy to offer directions or make reservations for us. Very cool.

Oink Eric Vokel BCN terrace

Oink, Eric Vökel. I dig what you do.

*Photos in this post link to the locations where I shot them and to the store where I got my savvy traveler dress. Click on them. Have a cyber-travel moment. Here are the main links one more time in word form:

Eric Vökel BCN Suites

Anthropologie (for the savvy traveler dress by Puella)

La Parra, my cortado cafe, doesn’t have a website so here’s a map link: Roger de Flor, 252 Barcelona Spain

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dos cortados – espresso milk sugar

One thing I dig about traveling is being surrounded by a different language. I like to wonder about how the different sounds and rhythms of the words we speak (and read) define our sensibilities, personalities and ideas about who we are and how we want to be.

Tres Tintas Vincon Barcelona

Catalan and Castilian Spanish are the official languages in Catalonia where Barcelona is the capital city. Newspapers, books, television channels, road signs and other public signs are in Catalan and Spanish. Many Barcelonins switch easily between the two. And both are on most menus, often hanging out alongside a third language: English…language of tourism.

Catalan and Castilian Spanish have struggled for dominance and the right to define Catalonia’s identity for a long, long time. Politics, religion and snobbery have provoked power struggles that resulted in Catalan being banned completely twice.

view Eric Vokel BCN church buildings flag

In Barcelona, a young barista said he’d prefer that we speak English rather than Spanish with him since he was Catalan. And then he said something kinda feisty about Spain and Spanish. Then he and my husband talked about video games while I perused the pastry case. Video Game: the fourth language.

Pointing at pastries with excitement and appreciation: fifth language.

cortados y postres Barcelona

I respect Catalonia’s tumultuous and tongue-tied past. But I had to go with the language I was most likely to speak half decently and the one that is predominantly spoken here. Thankfully, most Barcelonins I met were patient while I valiantly attempted to resuscitate some mummified high school Spanish.

Barcelona travel books maps FCB Barca

But let’s get back to where we started. Listening to cafe chatter in a foreign language is kinda musical and interesting. The people at the next table might be having an incredibly boring conversation. But I hear only the stray words friendly enough to stick their heads out the window and bark at me.

Actually having to speak that new language is humbling and hilarious. So I was amped when,  jet-lagged and craving coffee,  I ordered our first breakfast in Barcelona without resorting to gestures, grunts, blank stares and ¿Habla inglés…por favor?

Hola…queremos dos cortados, por favor.

cortados and cruasan La Parra Barcelona

A cortado is a shot of strong espresso cut with steamed milk often taken with a little sinful splash of sugar. Cortar, the root word of cortado, means to cut so there you are. Easy to remember.

cortado Aramis cup saucer Vincon on linen brighter

In the afternoon it’s common to stop at a cafe for a quick cortado accompanied by a small cookie or pastry and a few minutes in the Mediterranean sun. It’s a brief break in the day. And now that I’ve experienced the afternoon cortado I prefer the sensibility that goes along with it.

I’ve converted to cortados!

I brought back a pair of perfectly cortado-worthy, blue and white trimmed cups and saucers from VinÇon Barcelona (pictured above)  which I now serve cortados in every morning. And then I hand wash them and remind myself to be chill if I ever break one.

I also collected sugar packets from cafes all over Barcelona. I’ll use them and think about my time there and language and how food is a language too.

sugar for cortados Barcelona brighter

My coffee ritual is altered since I’ve been to Barcelona. There’s a whole new series of little actions I do every morning.

Cortados and the idea of taking a few minutes to enjoy coffee from a tiny, pretty, proper, non-disposable cup took hold in me and is now part of my life. And that reflects an attitude about how I choose to enjoy my time and coffee. I think that’s interesting.

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Hola Barcelona

Barcelona. I started missing this city while I still wandered its meandering, cobbled brick streets; while I sipped Mediterranean sun and mercurial skies.

Eric Vokel BCN Suites penthouse view and pigs

Barcelona has vibe. Look at these Barcelonins moving a mattress along a slim, city sidewalk…no hands, son.

Gracia Barcelona Spain mattress move

This city has soul, swagger, secrets.

Gracia Barcelona Spain graffiti

Buildings, ecstatic with structure, lure daylight to their cores.

Sagrada Familia ceiling

Perceptions shimmer and shift.

Casa Batllo Barcelona Spain Gaudi

Barcelona bustles, roars and honks then becomes incredibly quiet during siesta hours. You gotta rest up for that late night dinner and many, many plates of tapas and glasses of cava.

Textures, cultures, histories and languages meet and mix here.

La Pedrera Casa Mila Barcelona Spain tiles

I’ll be oinking about Barcelona this week…maybe next week too. And I’ll be back to posting here more often. I’ve got a lot to say about Barcelona and traveling and life which is good because this slice of cyberspace has been kinda quiet lately.

La Pedrera Casa Mila Barcelona view through curtain

Sometimes I think being quiet helps me hear through the clatter of clutter and a muttering mind. Or maybe quiet lets me hear the beauty of that clinking symphony; music in murmurs.

Eric Vokel dining reflection

Travel does that for me too. I see another little slice of the world persistently happening.

Eric Vokel BCN view front terrace

Life keeps on. Life there, here and all over this planet has been happening and will keep on happening well beyond my momentary visits to cities and treks to different countries.

I am a visitor in this world.

casa batllo Barcelona looking up

I am a visitor in this body.

Barcelona Vincon pigs and moi

I say…let’s put some miles on our vehicles while we still fire to life.

Oink. Jazz hands. And pass it on!

p.s. the photos in this post link to the locations where I took them. Click away.

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Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Spring has officially sprung in both places where I roam on the regular. Spring! We should wallow in chunky peanut butter, revel in melted milk chocolate and roll in vanilla sugar.

peanut butter milk chocolate chunk cookies in stack

We should bake Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Chunk Cookies and eat them while they’re still warm from the oven; while the chocolate chunks are still melty.

peanut butter milk chocolate chunk cookies with milk and straws

Frosty milk and an oven-warm cookie = happy person. This is a tried and true equation.

peanut butter milk chocolate chunk cookies overhead shot

Oink, son and Bon Appetit!

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Spiced Roasted Chickpeas – Garbanzo Snacks

Making Spiced Roasted Chickpeas is super easy…which seems fair considering all the time we spent soaking, cooking and peeling garbanzo beans.

Spiced Roasted Chickpeas llamas love em

Little glass llamas covet their salty crunch.

Spiced Roasted Chickpeas may be the best snack I’ve made to date. They’re surprisingly hearty, slightly crunchy, salty, garlicky and altogether addictive. This snack is consumable by the pawful.

Spiced Roasted Chickpeas orange and llama

Plus you can customize the spice mix and roast your goregeous, pale gold love notes in whatever spicey concoction woos you.  Be altruistic and go for the simple poem of salt, white pepper, grapeseed oil. Or get all garlic powder and garam masala like I did.

Spiced Roasted Chickpeas bamboo bowls

Any way you spice them these perfectly peeled, oven roasted chickpeas are good snacking material. And Spiced Roasted Chickpeas can be that little something extra for the right dish. This weekend I’m pairing them with a simple carrot soup. They would totally work alongside some hummus, of course.

I’ll see you soon with additional chickpea peeling tips and some supremely sumptuous hummus. Until then…snack on, oinking party people!

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Peeling Chickpeas – Going Garbanzos

I’ve been seeing recipes and write ups about the superior smoothness of hummus made with peeled chickpeas. I’m down with some somewhat laborious food prep. I’ve happily spent an afternoon getting poetic about peeling lemons for limoncello. And I don’t mind segmenting grapefruits into hot little cinnamon love notes.

peeling chickpeas reflections

I’m a city chick now and have been for decades. But I am still, in some small corner of my heart, a little kid with long braids who grew up wild on country land. We sowed, watered, weeded and picked the vegetables we ate in a hand-raked, half acre garden.

I shelled peas, shucked corn and looked at land, land, land with the heat of summer sun sunk deep into my shoulders. There were no buildings, no roads, no other people in view.

peeling chickpeas profile

I think that’s part of why I like time-consuming food prep: it brings the phantom heat of a simple summer sun to my skin again. I see a lost view.

cloudstreaked sky Seattle

Turns out that peeling chickpeas is not as garbanzos as you might expect though it definitely takes some time. I started with dried chickpeas, soaked them overnight then let them simmer until tender.

husks peeling chickpeas

One sixteen ounce bag of dried chickpeas (soaked, drained, simmered and peeled) yielded 5 cups of little, pale gold, love notes. Those five cups of peeled chickpeas yielded a party-size portion of super silky hummus and several batches of spiced, roasted chickpea experiments.

It took me one hour to peel them and I was not trying to be all zippy about it. Most of the chickpeas popped from their husks easily when pinched lightly. A few were slightly stubborn. I watched The Colbert Report and peeled away. Maybe I’ll name a sumptuous hummus after Steven. I’m gonna have to work on a witty name for that.

I’d definitely invest the time to peel chickpeas by hand again. If you’re daunted by that idea…please note that 5 cups of peeled chickpeas is a whole lotta chickpeas. You’ll only need about 1 1/2 to 2 cups to make a sizable amount of hummus.

peeling chickpeas overhead

I’ve found some alternate methods that sound much speedier. I’ll try them and then tell you about it.

Canned chickpeas are already cooked and still have their husks. They too can be peeled if you don’t mind a little extra work. Chickpeas husks are edible and don’t affect the flavor so much as they do the texture of your finished garbanzo bean project. Peeled chickpeas are buttery and smooth. Even their pale gold color becomes more vibrant when the peas are freed from the milky haze of husks.

I think this sort of food prep is my Zen activity. If some extra food prep sounds good to you then I hope you enjoy a little musing moment and love the silken results. Happy unhusking to you, my fellow food prepping fiend/friend!

p.s. Chickpea recipes (including Supremely Sumptuous Hummus) are forthcoming. See you back here soon! – fat pig

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Apple Crumble Muffins

Me: You know what’s cool about taking photos?

“Do tell,” mumbles Wilhelmina, my invisible, photo assistant. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if Wilhelmina just shows up for the coffee breaks and edible props. Like right now…she’s eyeballing the Apple Crumble Muffins on the counter. I think she’s breaking off morsels of muffin from the sides that she thinks are gonna face away from camera. I’d totally consider canning her but I kinda dig her surly nature.

Me: Taking photos makes me really look at the world. I get struck by the simple awesomeness of objects and light; how they define each other. They sing and dance, murmur and shout.

cameo appple in moody light

“Deep,” says Wilhelmina. I totally hear the eyeroll.

Anyway…Wilhelmina is going to tidbit these comforting Apple Crumble Muffins into nonexistence if we don’t get to them quickly.

cameo apple and apple crumble muffin

This recipe will yield a dozen subtly sweet, supremely light Apple Crumble Muffins. Vietnamese cinnamon and golden brown sugar bring spark and smolder into the topping. I’m a big fan of Vietnamese cinnamon because it has a strong, unmuddled flavor. Substitute regular cinnamon if you don’t have the Vietnamese variety and amp up the amount a bit to compensate.

Whatever you do…claim your Apple Crumble Muffins before they disappear like Wilhelmina does when it’s time to do the dishes.

cameo apple and two apple crumble muffins

Have two and call it a double-good morning…or afternoon or late night snack. Enjoy!

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