all-natural oven cleaning tip + a recipe for strawberry pie

I need to apologize for being a pie tease, for those of you following along on Instagram. It’s downright awful to post this many photos of strawberry pie without sharing the recipe. The thing is, when I’m not in work mode, I just eyeball much of what I cook. When I’m stressed, the need to feel untethered is especially necessary. Needless to say, anxiety is my middle name these days as moving boxes pile higher, and higher…and higher.

My apartment in Brooklyn feels like a war zone. My hope is that things will get better after the apartment sale in a few days. Once the stuff I’m not taking with me is gone, perhaps I won’t feel so utterly overwhelmed at the amount of boxes to be loaded onto the truck in two weeks. Continue reading »

some things i’m loving…{strawberry rhubarb crumble}

Oh dear May, your exit feels as abrupt as your entry. Time feels like a treadmill full speed ahead. Much as I try to keep up, I always seems to fall behind. In some ways it’s a good salve. One day you pluck your head from the fog and realize in just two months, it’ll be two years since a jagged gap was suddenly inserted into your life.

How did that happen? How is it I’ve managed to live almost two years since that moment? I suppose it’s resilience and determination. But mostly, it’s the fact that I learned very early that bad things happen to good people. Life is fickle, and the same day that brings immense joy and happiness can also wield deep heartache.

But still I keep going because deep down I do want to be happy. I’m an incredibly independent, headstrong woman, but oh did I love being part of a couple. Michael and I were about as opposite as two people could be. The fact that we spent almost 17 years together is often perplexing. As I read his journals, though, what I’m beginning to understand is we weathered all of our differences because we were both hopeless romantics deep down. We believed in love, longed for it, and intrinsically understood that love is a living, breathing thing that requires respect and care. Love is susceptible to the elements, and left unattended it will simply wither and die.

Having said this, what I’m about to admit next may seem contrary. Yesterday I resumed my weekly date nights with myself. My recent Paris trip reminded me that I need that weekly outlet to nourish my mind and soul. I’m not good when I’m forced into any one role 24/7. I never just identified as being a wife, mother, or even writer. Before I can be any of those, I need to first be Jennifer. She is the foundation upon which all those characters are built.

I’ve wandered far from my goal of sharing a few things that I’ve really been enjoying lately, so before I lose you all together, here it goes…

— I saw this on my recent date night…Before Midnight. I hate movie spoilers, so I won’t say anything more than if you loved the first two movies, you will not be disappointed in this last installment.

— I read Let’s Talk About Owls with Diabetes during my trip to Paris, and like every David Sedaris novel it was the perfect cure when laughter is on short supply.

—I started reading The Forgotten Gift: An Interrupted Novel a couple of moths ago, and only turned my attention away because it’s on my kindle. Sometimes, most times actually, I just want a real book to hold and read, to feel the pages turn between my fingers. Well, that’s a silly excuse once you start reading this compelling novel. The back story is it was written by a friend’s sister-in-law while she was dying of cancer. It’s a captivating story, and the proceeds go towards helping her son come to terms with the loss of his mother. Good news is it’s now available in paperback too. Definitely add this to your summer reading list.

—This video I captured while strolling through Paris.

—Of all the interviews I did for the book, this one is perhaps my favorite. After a month of being on the road, and doing dozens of radio, print and TV interviews, I finally felt like I hit my stride.

—These muffins Luisa wrote about recently. Once this heatwave breaks next week, I’m so making them.

—Spring and summer means the farmers’ market brings back some old friends…strawberries, asparagus, and peas, oh my! I’ve linked to a few of my favorite recipes, and here’s an oldie but goodie below to nudge you into the kitchen.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

serves 8 to 10

For the Topping:

1 cup (125 grams) old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup (45 grams) toasted hazelnuts

1/4 cup (49 grams) coarse natural cane sugar (like Sugar in the Raw)

1/4 teaspoon (1 gram)  fine sea salt

Leaves only from 3 sprigs of lemon thyme

Dash of ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) butter, melted

For the filling:

1 pint (10 ounces) strawberries, stems removed

4 stalks (12 ounces) rhubarb, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1 tablespoon (10 grams) cornstarch

3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated natural cane sugar

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

To make the topping, add the oats, hazelnuts, coarse sugar, salt, lemon thyme and cinnamon to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until it forms a coarse, sandy mixture. Pour in the butter and pulse 3 to 4 more times until the mixture comes together into little clumps. Set bowl in the refrigerator to chill while you prepare the filling.

Cut the strawberries into quarters and place in a deep bowl. Add the rhubarb, sugar and cornstarch to the bowl. Using a spoon to stir together until well coated. Scrape fruit mixture into a 10-inch deep ceramic pie plate or 8-inch square glass baking dish.

Sprinkle the oat topping evenly over the fruit and bake for 35 minutes, until the juices bubble and the topping is a deep golden color. Remove from oven and let sit on a wire rack until cooled, about 2 hours. May be prepared and baked the night before—just cover the top with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter until ready to serve the next day.


Dairy-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

Omit the butter in the crumble topping. In its place, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons (30 ml) pure maple syrup.


Serving Suggestion:

I love a few generous spoons of this over thick, creamy yogurt, especially for breakfast when I’m feeling a little decadent.

Storing Leftovers:

The crumble is fine covered with plastic wrap overnight at room temperature. Anything longer than that, I suggest popping it into the fridge.

italian easter bread

It’s hard to believe that just a year ago we felt complete and normal. I’ve tried to find the words to start this post for a week now. Nothing flows freely from my fingertips, but I wanted to share this recipe for Easter Bread with you. I hadn’t realized how close we were to Easter until I went to the local pastry shop with Virginia last week. Lamb-shaped cakes and rounds of sweet bread filled with colored eggs adorned the counter tops.

Last year our house was overflowing with homemade Easter Bread, as I was testing it to be featured in the Washington Post. I read the old post I wrote back then, with tears dripping from the corners of my eyes. How was that my life just one year ago?

Then there’s this picture I have of Virginia kneading the dough with Mikey. People constantly tell me she’s too young to be as deeply affected by his death as Isabella, and it’s infuriating. She may be barely four years old, but she’s not stupid. One day she had the most loving, caring, involved daddy, and then he disappeared as quickly as flipping a light switch.

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chocolate pistachio madeleines {day 182}

My first attempt at making madeleines was only recently, just before Mikey passed away actually. I relied on a trusted source to guide me, and while the batter tasted amazing, and the finished product was quite good too, my madeleines looked like they’d been through a war. I broke a sweat trying to pry them from the pans with my offset spatula. Figuring I didn’t use enough butter or flour to coat the pans, I immediately started a second batch. Mikey looked at me like I was nuts, but he knew my drive for perfection was ceaseless and I wouldn’t give up that easily.

Then my second batch came out of the oven.

They seemed to stick to the pan, again.

So I did what anyone insane baker would do, and moved onto batch three immediately. This is where you’d add the explicatives because, yes, those little bastards still stuck to the pan. I went to bed tired, annoyed and feeling defeated.

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whole wheat chocolate chip cookies {day 169}

My mind feels about as soft as the cookie dough I’ve been obsessed with the last two days. It is a swirl of activity, and some days focusing feels so out of reach.

January 25th, this Wednesday, marks 14 years since my father died. 1998—what an intense year it turned out to be. I hadn’t even thought of my real dreams until that fateful year. Nothing like your dad dying rather suddenly at the age of 49 to rock your core.

He was a Michael too, and all these years later the image of him taking his very last breath is still engraved in my memory.

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chocolate gingerbread doughnuts {day 130}

Mikey never guessed fatherhood was one of his destinies to be fulfilled. He was diagnosed with a medical condition in his early twenties, which required a form of chemotherapy treatment to help him heal. This was a decade before we met.

At the time, his doctor told him to put some of his "boys" on ice just in case he wanted to have kids one day. When I became pregnant, saying we were shocked is putting it mildly—I was on the pill too. You know that little disclaimer about using backup contraception if you're on antibiotics? Well, it wasn't there back in 2002.

And thank heavens it wasn't.

To think one simple sentence could've changed the course of our lives would've surprised me 130 days. Now, I know how one split-second can change a life forever.

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The First Thanksgiving {chocolate chess pie}

It's funny how I can feel so alone in a crowded room these days. This little place here in cyberspace, though—I never feel alone here. The sincere comments, emails and well-wishes over the last week have only reaffirmed what I've always believed—there are more good people in this world than we sometimes realize.

When I wrote a post asking friends to make a peanut butter pie to celebrate Mikey's life and the love for everyone in their own lives, I never expected the amazing domino effect that would follow. One woman wrote to tell me she has a peanut butter chocolate cupcake on the menu at her cafe in Buenos Aires in honor of Mikey, with the proceedings going to a charity that helps kids in need.

It reminded me of Eric Carle's story the The Tiny Seed, the way the love Mikey and I shared made it's way through the borders of Argentina into the heart of a woman neither of us knew. There are many more stories like this, and they make my heart swell with hope.

Continue reading »

strawberry ricotta bruschetta

I loved my mother's Tupperware containers growing up. I can still remember the tiny blue one she used to serve us ice cream in, and the tops that fit just perfectly always intrigued me. I don't know why, but I still love holding a sealed container upside down and marvel at how a simple lid stops gravity from doing its job.

The blue container had a pink companion piece, and the sight of those only meant good things, like ice cream, jello or a homemade cinnamon sugar butter mixture. In fancy culinary terms, we'd call it a compound butter. I doubt my mother knew that's what she was making, as she swirled the softened butter together with the fragrant spice and sweet sugar. The house smelled sinfully good, as a pat melted across a crisp slice of bread just after it popped from the toaster.

It's quite an easy concoction to make on your own, so I was curious when I heard Land O'Lakes had a new cinnamon sugar buttery spread on the market. Since it has been my butter of choice for baking for a long time, I raised my virtual hand a few weeks ago to take on a project to develop a recipe using the spread, along with a few other bloggers—we're all posting a recipe this week which will be featured on the Betty Crocker website, for which we're also being paid.

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strawberry rhubarb crumble

By time you read this, Isabella will officially be a third grader. Right now though, as these words flow from my fingertips, she has 141 minutes left as a second grader.

The end of every school year feels like a wow moment. Lately, every moment feels like a "how the hell did my life land here" moment. Sometimes those moments are good, in fact most times they're amazing. The reality though is life is never as perfect as it seems on the outside.

There are cracks, and some days feel like they're all about shoring up the dam, so the river of memories don't come crashing in, sweeping me away with them.

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classic vanilla buttercream

Eight years ago, around this time, I was in my 24th hour of labor. Nine hours later, I’d find myself screaming at the Mr., my mom and best friend “this kid is never going to come out”. Three hours later, Isabella Rose Perillo came into my life, and it was forever changed.

Five years ago, around this time I was already holding her sister, Virginia Rae. She was barely three hours old. The circumstances leading up to her birth were worlds apart. I felt more confident. More sure of myself.

I also had a birthday cake to finish frosting just before Virginia came along. My due date was May 7th, the same exact one I had with Isabella. Like her sister, Virginia decided to be fashionably late.

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