Simple in the morning

I still have the same dream as when I was fourteen.  I'm flying in a plane and it is raining outside, I stare lazily like a cat.  We're heading to Nova Scotia and it sounds magical and foreign and we never land.  Always in the air, always anticipating something you've heard before, but can't pinpoint exactly where.  It's a silly dream, pointless.  I am not sure what to make of it other than those two words.  I think the same thing when my mother tells me what she got at the grocery store.  I think the same thing when I tell Nolan what I did the day before, rehearsing the call before I make it in my head.  Always mundane, always ordinary, just to hear myself.  And maybe my subconscious is doing the same--just wanted to think, to be remembered its there, waiting, powerless during the day.  And when I think like that, about what my mind wants me to know, how I may have forgotten a part of who I am, I'll wake up, a little damp with sweat, and check the time on my phone.  Sometimes it's witching hour, sometimes it's ten in the morning.  Sometimes it doesn't matter, because before I can even set my phone down, I'm asleep again, dreaming of that first bite of cold mug on cold lips, and how the warm coffee cuts into that bitter cold with its own brand of percolated bitterness.  And then I wake up, ready for breakfast.  I've forgotten anything I dreamt about.  And my subconscious remains in that liminal space of wandering and wondering, of ghost of myself, cutting itself, pleading to Heathcliff to let it in, let it in. And I wake up hungry, so hungry.  This week you can see indents below my cheekbones; I haven't done a lot of eating lately.  Too tired at night, to busy during the day.  Too lazy to make myself even a bowl of cereal.  Not concerned enough of my own well-being when I don't have anyone to live with to remind me to do the menial tasks of eating, sleeping, calming down before the blow-up and the breakdown.  And I've been sick with a cough that won't go away, my throat a little raw, my voice a little rough on the vowels.  I've drank more tea this week than I have in years.

And one morning when I was feeling particularly hungry, particularly awake, I made bread.  A simple bread, a quick bread.  An Irish soda bread.  Simple, almost more cake than bread, it chewed easily and satisfied my empty stomach, my thoughts of an empty bed and an empty life.   I've written before about the transformative power of bread, and when I pulled the loaves out of the oven, nothing mattered but that first bite.  Not my mind, my cold, my job, or my relationship--just the warm and delicate crumb that fell over my flannel shirt as I stood hunched over the stove, eating it tenderly with my bare hands.

Enjoy this soda bread with some caramelized onion compound butter.  Enjoy your week.

Irish Soda Bread with Caramelized Onion Soda Bread (yields two loaves)

Irish Soda Bread and Caramelized Onion Compound Butter

Irish Soda Bread and Caramelized Onion Compound Butter

Ingredients for the bread:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt (i, again, used smoked salt--not necessary)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted


  1. Preheat oven to 325 and prepare two 9"x5" loaf pans with parchment paper and butter or oil.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, sugar, and salt together a few times.  I like to do this to ensure they are all mixed, but also to give it a lighter texture for a quick bread like this, that can sometimes be dense with moisture
  3. In a small saucepan, melt butter and set aside to cool briefly
  4. In a measuring cup, measure out buttermilk.  Add egg and cooled melted butter.  Whisk together until all a pale yellow.
  5. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, create a well in the dry ingredients.  Slowly begin pouring in wet ingredients, making sure all dry is moistened and a dough/batter begins to form
  6. Distribute evenly into prepared loaf pans and bake for 70 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Allow to cool a little, and enjoy with caramelized onion butter!

Ingredients for the Onion Butter

  • 1/2 a stick of butter, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter, for onions
  • 1/2 one yellow onion, chopped
  • Pinch of sea salt


  1. In a small skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter or heat olive oil on medium-low heat
  2.  Add onion and let cook down for 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly
  3. Set aside and allow to cool
  4. In a food processor, mix room temperature butter and onions, occasionally scraping sides and bottom with a rubber spatula to ensure homogeneously mixed.
  5. Lay out plastic wrap on a flat surface, and use spatula to scoop mixture into center.  Shape roughly into a log and then roll plastic wrap around butter, twisting the edges like candy to create a firm log shape.  Allow to firm up in fridge before serving.

Irish Soda Bread and Caramelized Onion Compound Butter

We have brioche at dawn.

This all happened before I left for Pennsylvania, before I was reminded of the as it was.  Of the constant state of charm and chaos that exists when you visit a family home.  The kind that you can recognize the tired floorboards, the kind that are imprinted with your dad's shape on the couch.  All the good memories flood back and haunt you like a contorted zoetrope, and you're never really sure if you're dreaming or awake. I made these rolls with no intention of making these rolls, with no intention of being up until one in the morning, making sure I had turned the oven light off.  Intention wasn't the cause, but the end goal of having these with ham and jelly kept me going.  The soft pillows were enveloped in a hard crunch and I could taste them before I could smell them.  I knew they were special and simple and delicious.  I knew I wanted them to be impressive, I knew it before I ever intended on making them.

I have always felt that the grey morning light is terrifying.  One of the first poems I wrote, read out loud in the back of my parents' '98 Nissan Pathfinder, was about how I wanted to die when that grey light extended to my southward-facing bedroom window.  That was in Pennsylvania, when the whole month of December is one grey streak on virgin snow.  Out here in California, it can taunt you for two hours and be gone by the time you pull into work.  It's different here, but still frightening.

I've never been one for armor, but you can't hide from the ambient greyness.  Instead, you have to confront it.  Distract yourself from it.  Make it feel invited in a way that it can't smell the sick in you.  I distract myself from it, too.  I serve myself a beautiful breakfast when I realize how much I hate this kind of season, this kind of light.  The mild distortion of ephemera that only comes between the hours of five and seven in the morning.  And that can all be abated for a moment or two.  At the calm of the table, with the coffee pot scorching on the burner.  The small hiss of everyday life while the man you once loved and will love again sleeps in the next room, never aware that you only made the breakfast so you didn't think about your own mortality.  How you, too, could be gone by the time you pull into work.  And after that you would do the dishes, and after that you would take a shower, and after that you would get a towel and sit on the bathroom floor trying to stay warm.  The ritual of these brioche buns meant I was distracted, meant I didn't have to, for one moment, think about how suffocating mornings can be, when all you have is yourself.

Morning Brioche Buns


Ingredients: (this is for six buns, but I had doubled the recipe to share at work, as seen in photos below)

  • 8 TB milk, slightly warmed on stovetop or in microwave
  • 1/2 sachet of active dry yeast
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in pieces, room temperature
  • 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar or honey
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked (1 tablespoon of eggs for washing), room temperature
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt 
  • 2 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt (such as La Jolla Salt Co.)


  1. In a bowl, activate the yeast in the warmed milk until beginning to bloom and bubbles appear
  2. Cream butter and sugar (or honey) until light and fluffy with mixer
  3. Add eggs and continue to blend gently until combined
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together flour and salt for lighter, airier dry ingredients
  5. Gradually add these to the wet mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until crumbly
  6. Pour in yeast mixture and stir until all ingredients are wet
  7. Oil or flour hands gently and turn onto a lightly-floured board.  Knead by hand until gluten and yeast begin to activate.  The dough will become springy and malleable in about 5-7 minutes
  8. Put in an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel for about two hours, or until doubled in size
  9. Put back onto floured board and cut into six equal buns.  Roll and shape into rounds, place on parchment-lined baking sheet for another hour and a half to inflate again and become puffy.  During this proofing period, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  10. When the oven is preheated and rolls are puffy, you can either keep them on the baking sheets or place them in a skillet or other oven-proof bakeware for a visually-stunning breakfast.  Either way, they taste great.
  11. Gently brush all balls of dough with reserved tablespoon of egg and lightly salt with flaked seasalt.
  12. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden
  13. Allow to cool and serve as immediate as possible.  Put in airtight container for morning.
  14. Note:  I found that, with all brioche, these dry out really quickly.  To reconstitute them a little, place in a microwave with a damp paper towel for about 10-15 seconds.  The steam should help to soften them up a bit.
  15. Serve with jam, butter, or some honey-baked ham I'm sure we all have received in a Pepperidge Farms box from a relative or two this time of year.

brioche1 brioche3

And one more thing...

I want to give a special shout out to La Jolla Salt Co. for their great deal on this denim apron I purchased in support of small businesses in my area.  I was lucky enough to have a little bit of their salt for this recipe and I can say it gave it the perfect amount of balance and crunch the brioche needed.  Baking gets pretty messy and I've finally graduated from using old flannel shirts to a full-blown profesh apron now!


Thin in the Morning.

It's getting colder here.  To the point of buying fleece blankets, to the point of wearing socks to bed.  It gets dark earlier, I sleep in later.  I am preparing myself for hibernation, and I live ten minutes from the beach.  I have been frail for a week, maybe two.  Before kids knocked on our door, asking for candy we never had.  Before I got drunk enough to black out.  Before I ate sea urchin from its skeleton, cracked open before our eyes.  I was fragile in the morning, and dreamt of dreamless sleep. Instead, I remembered every punctuation of growing up in these 23 years of mine.  It happens before I fall asleep, when I'm trying to recollect my day.  It's been coming in waves, more frequently--more technicolor.  Saturated in all those moments of awkward growth and "coming into my own", as my mother used to put it.

It's July in Washington, DC and I'm 15.  I have my first kiss and lose my virginity all in one night.

It's a week later and I'm stoned at a concert in Baltimore.

It's six months after that and I'm reading Wuthering Heights in a makeshift bed, cold and reading in a spare room of my parent's house.

The next day my mom drives two hours north and she's not answering her phone.  She left a note reading, "I just need some space."

A year later I'm in college.

A year later I'm in Italy, hating everything but my freedom.

Three months, I'm dating Nolan.

We create dreams from dust motes in his two-story Victorian.  We take out some loans and move to California.

Get a dog.

Quit law school.

I learn from my mistakes, like how to cook and how to hold my tongue.  Nolan one time said I went 14 days without anything nice to say.  I threatened to make it 15 if he didn't shut the fuck up.  And I think about all of the times I should have been quiet, told my parents I loved them more, walked Charlie before he died, and how I should have taught myself to not find cooking to be a trade, but an art.  I would be happier with myself, calmer with myself, and in love with life the way I now understand I could still be.

I reflect on this before bed, so I can pray for it.  When the clock is at 11:10 and you're waiting until it switches.  When I let the dogs out and look up into the Milky Way.  Stars have always been opportunity, so I whisper the lilting pseudo-prayer of a light Star, a bright Star.

The lost time won't ever come, but I will come to terms with its ephemerality.  I will understand every atom in me shifts with a resounding confidence, where I can still greet days and whisper, "Yes."  I'll do it over coffee, in the shower, anywhere that the steam of dewey newness can open my pores and help me remember, every once in a while, that I'm still alive.  I didn't die when I had sex or smoked week in a penthouse loft overlooking the Harbor.  I didn't die when my mom left for a day or when I went to Italy.  I didn't die when I moved to California with Nolan, got a dog, or started to be who I am becoming.  Instead, each piece put me together more.  I'm everything I'm supposed to be, and I'm happy to sit at the kitchen table and take five minutes for myself to reflect on that.

It's cold in San Diego, and I hate waking up to let the dogs out. But if I ever see my breath when I step outside with them, it'll just mean I'm still alive.  And thank God for that.

It was one morning like that, when i was overwhelmed with this realization, that I made these biscuits.  Sweetness and heaviness are two of my least favorite ways to have breakfast, so I decided to tone down those elements with some goat cheese and pumpkin.  Paired with a super-simple fig preserve, and you have a perfect pair to your otherwise contemplative solitude before you're ready for a second cup.  Enjoy.

Pumpkin and Chèvre Biscuits with Fig Preserve

Pumpkin and Chèvre Biscuits with Fig Preserve


For the biscuits:

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon quality salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed and COLD
  • 2 oz goat cheese
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

For the fig preserve:

  • 16 oz fresh figs (a great way to use some bruised ones)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (or half with brown sugar for a more earthy taste)
  • 3 TB clover honey
  • 1 TB orange juice
  • 1/3 cup water


For biscuits:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt
  3. Using two knives, a food processor, or a pastry cutter, blend butter and goat cheese into the dry mixture.  Ensure ingredients stay cold and do not melt.  Reconstitute into fridge while preparing step 4.
  4. Whisk together buttermilk and pumpkin in measuring cup or small bowl
  5. With a wooden spoon, create a well in the dry ingredients, begin pouring in wet ingredients slowly and with big sweeping movements to ensure everything is moistened.  Do not over-mix.  Add a small amount of pumpkin puree or buttermilk if you notice your flour is not incorporating with the amount of liquid you have used.
  6. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead 8-12 times
  7. Cut into rounds and place on baking sheet. (Feel free to glaze with butter, add some salt or allspice.  This is very customizable--just nothing that will melt or ruin the integrity of the dish itself at this stage)
  8. Bake for 18-22 minutes
  9. Let cool briefly, serve warm with pat of butter, salt, and some fig preserve

For preserve

  1. Put all ingredients in a saucepan
  2. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and juices are simmering for about 25-30 minutes
  3. Transfer to a blender or food processor, pulse to desired texture
  4. Transfer back to saucepan and heat gently
  5. Serve with biscuits or refrigerate*

Pumpkin and Chèvre Biscuits with Fig Preserve

*I did not include instructions on canning, but can be refrigerated, covered, for up to one week