alphabet chicken soup


I've been doing some very adult things recently - both thinking and doing. The opposite of all that is probably making alphabet soup - but I don't care. Life is about balance. And I'll be pretty well balanced for about 6 meals after this giant pot of child's soup.

This weekend was the first one in probably a month where nothing was happening. Not a thing. No games. No plans. Nothing on the calendar. It also happened to come after the longest week in awhile. Some of those events included: Eating this cake, Dinner at A4 in the South End and 6+ hrs driving to CT for the day. On Friday night, my brother and I were turned away from FOUR pizza places while attempting to order takeout.

So this weekend was about doing nothing. I putzed around with the family dog, made this again for Saturday dinner, played with my new camera at the beach, and made this soup. I feel pretty good about it. I didn't even have a BLT. This morning I feel like I saw sunrise for the first time in a week, the weather has just been so gray. All good signs for a good week.

A few things about this soup:
  • CARROTS // do you recognize them? Cause I grew them! Don't they look beautiful and wholesome?
  • ALPHABETS // I might have to put in too many letters - but I don't really care. Soup isn't exactly the place for measuring.
  • SPICY // Speaking of measuring, I definitely mixed up my spices. I meant to grab the paprika but accidentally grabbed the cayenne pepper. So my hearty dash of spice turned out to be slightly aggressive - but it actually worked out. I feel like it makes this soup a bit more adult. I took the edge off the spicy kick with a hefty dash of lemon juice.
  • RECIPE // I originally was following this recipe from Emeril Lagase ... and then after the cayenne pepper incident it all went out the window. So this recipe is pretty based on nothing except what I wanted to eat.
Here's how it goes.
  1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add in two chicken breasts. Cook a few minutes each side until lightly brown. The goal isn't to cook them completely since they'll end up cooking in the soup.
  2. Pull the chicken and set aside. Add the onion, celery, carrots, tarragon, and cayenne pepper to the pot. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. While the veggies are cooking, roughly chop up the semi-cooked chicken.
  3. Add the chicken, chicken stock, pepper, squeeze of a lemon and bay leaf. Bring the whole pot to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 35 minutes. 
  4. Add the alphabet pasta and stir well. Simmer until the pasta is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
Shopping List (based on this original recipe)
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 1/2 cups sliced carrots
1/2 T tarragon
1/2 t cayenne pepper
2 T lemon juice
2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 cup alphabet pasta

red velvet macaron cake


Birthdays are pretty important in our family - and by important I mean that we care about the cakes. We celebrated another birthday recently for the person who normally makes all the cakes - my sister. This cake responsibility is pretty serious. While I have a good track record in the kitchen, I do not have the best track record for birthday cakes. 

The thing that always works regardless of the baker is a good ole funfetti cake. But for some reason, I didn't feel like I could stop there. I had the potential to do something more interesting. We were also a week late celebrating this particular birthday which kind of elevated the effort and pizazz required. The stakes had officially been raised.

I did a little research on Food52 and my favorite baking blogs (A Cozy Kitchen and Molly Yeh) - and ended up with this red velvet macaron cake. The birthday girl likes (and maybe loves) red velvet and macarons - so it felt like a safe bet. I'm still not totally convinced that it played out but everyone else kept saying how good it was. Were they being polite? Was it really good? I'll have to make it again to find out I guess.

Here are a few notes about this recipe:
  • DENSE //  I mean. So dense. It's like the heaviest cake I've ever made / held / baked / eaten in all my life. While the recipe pictures showed it as a TRIPLE layer cake, I can't even imagine it being more than one. Or Maybe you only cut into one layer at a time? 
  • INGREDIENTS // Making this cake is dead simple. Despite my continual agony over whipped egg whites, this is fine. You can pull this cake together in quick 20 minutes and then just sit back watching Gilmore Girls on repeat.
  • FORM // See above for comments on density.... I think the density would actually great if it was contained in some smaller direct portions. It seems dramatic to go from a cake to a mini tart but that's kind of what I'm proposing.
  • FREEZER FROSTING // There was a recipe note about how it would be easier to frost the cake if it had been in the freezer. Since I am a terrible froster, I jumped on this opportunity. It was absolutely easier and I'll totally do that again. The recipe did lie that the cake would defrost in 30-60 minutes. It felt like I was trying to cut into a block of ice at 90 minutes... so give yourself some time. Btw, I froze it overnight and frosted the next day before guests arrived.
  • FROSTING // The recipe originally called for a traditional cream cheese frosting - but both of my trains coming home that day got delayed so I quickly grabbed some canned frosting. While I'm not a HUGE fan of cream cheese frosting, I actually think it was a good miss in this case. I think cream cheese frosting would have just been too much when combined with the density of this cake.
Here's how it goes.
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans or three 6-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. Then, line the bottom with parchment paper and grease the paper with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the coconut, condensed milk, vanilla, cocoa powder and food coloring. You really do need a large bowl. I used the biggest one I had. 
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the egg whites and salt. Beat the eggs using an electric mixer until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Yes, really salt. I also thought that was odd.
  4. Gently fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture, about 1/3 of them at a time, and then distribute the batter evenly among the pans, spreading it out with a spatula for a smooth top. 
  5. Bake for 35–45 minutes, until the tops begin to brown. This is hard to tell because of the color and texture so just be watchful. I pulled mine out at about 35 minutes.
  6. Turn the cakes onto a wire rack and let them cool.
  7. When to frost? You can frost the cake and eat it as soon as it’s cooled to room temperature, but it will be much easier to decorate and cut if you wrap the layers individually in plastic wrap and stick them in the freezer overnight before decorating (they can also be prepared in advance and kept in the freezer for up to a week). Let the frozen cakes thaw on the counter for 30–60 minutes before serving.
Shopping List (original recipe)2 14-ounce bags sweetened coconut
2 cups sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon red food coloring
4 large egg whites
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cans of store frosting

bought myself a present


I'm not really one for buying myself amazing shoes, makeup or clothes really. I guess you could say that I invest in going to yoga, buying pancetta and cheese, and anything that falls into the category of fleece or vest. It's a constant struggle for me to not buy more cheese and more outerwear. At the grocery store today I think I bought 5 types of cheese: shredded mozzarella, baby bell cheese wedges, grated parmesan, and 2 goat cheese flavors. In my defense, all of the cheeses were on sale except the Baby Bell wedges. I need the wedges to "pair" with my pretzels during snack time. It's just important.

But last week, I bought myself a nice present. I upgraded my camera body from a D3000 to a D5500. My friend Sarah put the bug in my ear during Labor Day in Maine... and I just couldn't get it out. I took two trips to the local camera store, I kept the camera in my Amazon cart for weeks, and then finally pulled the trigger last week. I figured it would come and then I would look at it and decide... "no, I don't need this". But, the minute I took it out of the box I was hooked. It has this amazing feature of linking to my iPhone to upload pictures. As a result I was able to send my family gorgeous pictures of Ruby May from the beach. I'm planning on taking a online photography class to refresh my memory of the manual settings - like I did that time I was in Yosemite - but I played a little bit today out at this marsh / beach in town.

But today was a beautiful Fall day. The beach was beyond windy for a walk, so I took a little drive and found myself here. All the pictures are taken on manual settings... and having recently eaten a blueberry donut so I was clearly feeling very confident.

a quick note


I really treasure fresh air. When it rains during lunch, I have to stay inside and I don't get to just simply get outside. Outside = better than inside. It is just that simple. Today I was on a lunchtime walk for some beloved fresh air... and then it started to rain.

While I wasn't exactly looking my best today, I was wearing a striped cotton dress and sandals. It might be October but I'm not giving up on exposed calfs until mother nature forces me to cover up. I refuse. So when it started to rain, I kept walking for a block until I found a good stoop to take refuge under. Unbeknownst to me, the owner of the house was getting out of his truck immediately in front of me. What are the chances? I quickly apologized for being in his way and said I hadn't expected the rain.

He dropped his groceries in the front hall. I think we said something else to each other but I honestly can't remember. If we did it was nothing profound. I was probably looking at the weather app on my phone. Before grabbing the second bag of groceries, he handed me a beautiful old umbrella from his truck. I tried to refuse but he insisted. I said I wasn't walking far and the rain was stopping. He still insisted and said he had a million - and so now I'm the proud owner of a vintage umbrella.

I'm going to be honest and say I got a little wet-eyed as I walked away. It reminded me a lot of the time I was in Italy and the priest pressed a rosary into my hand. I couldn't even tell you what street I was on in Somerville - but I'm going to love this umbrella well. It has a real wood handle and the strap you use to wrap it up is kind of stretched out. But, it smells like a grandparent and is now one of my favorite things.

bye church (belated)


Feel free to file this gem under "heavily delayed". I have started to complete this post two times. Once after my staycation in July ... and then originally back in the Spring. But I was reminded yesterday and it felt like I needed to wrap this up. 

My old childhood church is closed for good. There is probably a whole lot of back story behind why the church is closing that can be summed up in politics / debt / modern day changes... but what it boils down to for me is the loss of a seriously beautiful building loaded with memories. I'm fundamentally someone who likes to save / rebuild / restore / love old things.

According to the internet, the church was built in 1961. When you look at it from the outside ... and I guess the inside too ... it has a decidedly dated structure. But, man is it beautiful. There are intricate stained glass windows at almost every turn. The ceiling is very tall with a few fans to alleviate parishioners from the summer heat. And despite years and years and years of use and wear, the wooden pews are still solid and ready for visitors. I really want one of these pews.

I hadn't been inside the church in 13 years. The last time was probably before the Archdiocese shut down the parish. I hadn't even graduated from college. I was just beginning my junior year and still had no real idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I still don't most times :) 

Things I remember about the church:
  • The Giving Tree // Every Christmas there would be a tree with homemade gift tags on it. You would pick off a tag for the present you wanted to buy for a kid in need. I feel like we were very strategic for the ones we picked. Lots of puzzles and books.
  • Seeing my grandparents in their normal pew at almost every mass // They always sat in the same spot. Even after my grandmother passed away, you could expect to see my grandfather on the left side of the church about half way up.
  • Saying hello to Mr. Pyne in the back // I feel like he always had a slightly sassy remark back when we would say "hello mr. pyne". He still does a bit when I see him around town. Apparently when I first remember meeting him I was wearing a hat that said my name on it and when he said "hello jennifer". I looked at him in shock... unaware that I had inadvertently told him my name. That's what happens when you can't read.
  • Sitting in the "crying room" with my baby brother... when he was still a baby // The crying room was great because you could relax a bit. Plus if you were the one holding the baby you got to relax even more.
  • learning to drive in the parking lot // I remember the first couple times learning to drive in this big expansive parking lot. I had wanted to learn on my mom's standard transmission car initially. I got it going great once... and then never again after that. I still feel like I see parents teaching their kids to drive here.
  • CCD carpools // my dad was the carpool master. He would strategically build carpools so that people only had to drive like once a season - so I vividly remember piling in and out of station wagons with a bunch of other kids. I feel like we were also always a few minutes late.

On the last day the church was open, it honestly felt really weird to be able to walk anywhere I wanted. I walked up and down the aisles. Sat in the pews. Gazed at the towering stained glass windows. Looked at the overrun flower beds. The women there said I could take anything that I wanted. Well, what I wanted was a pew - but as you can see they are quite large and heavy. But I still want it. I can imagine it being a fixture in my house. I can see it as a bench in the mudroom where you sit to put on your boots. I can see it in the kitchen as a part of a breakfast nook. And for some reason, I can see it as the place where you tell kids to sit in timeout. I'm not quite sure how I get one of these pews but I really want it. So we'll see.


roasted garden tomatoes with crispy kale and gnocchi


I'm not going to mince words here. This meal made me a feel like a flipping culinary wizard. I took a bite and said "oh fuck ya". Out loud. Alone. In my house. I am currently in mourning that I didn't make any extra.

After realizing earlier in the day that it has been a while since I cooked, I really felt compelled to rectify this... and ideally without going to the grocery store. I have a garden loaded with kale and somewhat unripe tomatoes. It seems reasonable that I could make something happen here. Thankfully during some prior trip to Trader Joe's I felt it was necessary to buy gnocchi - so I had that too. And honestly, that's really it.

What makes this meal so amazing is all the texture and flavor combinations. There is absolutely nothing in this world like a slow roasted tomato. It's sweet and buttery smooth and yet salty - so everything pretty much. Then add the soft gnocchi but with just enough of a sear on them to be crispy. And then you have the kale... this is where an unexpected magic happened. Because of the way I cooked it, it got crispy - not sauteed. So it was essentially like kale chips for dinner. Oh, and I also added some diced pancetta because why not.

The only thing stopping me from making this meal again every night this week is that slow-roasted tomatoes are ... slow. I honestly didn't watch the time much on how long I kept them in the oven for. I do know that I got home from a hike at 5:43 pm... and I was hungry then. So I quickly grabbed some tomatoes from the yard, sliced them, cored them, sauced them up, and put them in the oven. Magnificent.

So here's how it goes.
  1. Preheat oven to 300.
  2. TOMATOES// Slice tomatoes in half and remove the juices and core. Lay them on the baking sheet and drizzle heavily-ish with olive oil. Sprinkle moderately with sugar and kosher salt. Put in the oven as long as you can handle it. I lasted probably an hour.
  3. GNOCCHI // Cook gnocchi as directed. For me this was tossing some gnocchi into a pot of boiling water for 3-4 minutes. They are done when they float to the top of the water. Easy peasy. 
  4. KALE // In a medium heat skillet, add some roughly chopped kale to the pan with some drizzles of olive oil. Optional? Add in some diced pancetta to crisp up. 
  5. Add the boiled gnocchi to the kale skillet with a bit of butter. At this point, everything is already cooked so you are just getting it to the textures you like. I let the skillet cook at a medium heat until my gnocchi were just slightly light brown. 
  6. PLATE & EAT // This is simple. Just put the kale and gnocchi on a plate and then add your roasted tomatoes. I drizzled the top with olive oil for good measure. 
Shopping List (for 1 person)
3 large leaves of Kale
3 small tomatoes 
1 cup of gnocchi
1/4 cup of diced pancetta
olive oil
kosher salt

peach coconut scones

It feels like it's been awhile since I've cooked. The last meal was this fabulous garden inspired tomato thyme fish. I'm beginning to crave meals like this insanely good (but salty) fish dish from last Winter or this chicken tagine from several years back. The past few weekends in the kitchen have mostly been spent making small batches of tomato sauce.

But I've been really in the mood for some scones ... in part because I ran out of sourdough bread and haven't been to the store. It's a silly world where it feels easier to make a batch of scones than drive 3 miles to the store for bread - but that's my world. The base for these scones is from the coconut dream scones I made back in May. I need to try this a few more times before I call it a win - but it's hard to turn down scones this easy. The coconut milk completely changes the process and cuts about 30 minutes out - but they are clearly coconut. Also, a little part of me still enjoys grating all the frozen butter.

I was originally planning on a batch of strawberry poppy lemon poppy seed scones... but instead opted for coconut peach. See, I was cutting up the strawberries and they just didn't seem right. A quick look in the fridge for other options gave me either pancetta or peach. I was already locked into the coconut ... so peach it was. Pancetta and coconut just seem like a bad idea.

A couple notes:

  • PEACH // I cut up a whole big peach for this. It was too much. Use your judgement better than I did. Yes, I love seeing the hunks of peach in the dough but its not exactly as exciting to me as hunks of chocolate or blueberries or just butter.
  • COCONUT MILK // Because of the added peaches, one can of coconut milk was just a touch too little. I needed to add a splash of milk to get the dough to stay together. It might have been fine without it but the chunky-ness of the peaches made me a bit nervous
  • FREEZER PREP // Sometimes its hard to make delicious scones in the morning. Thankfully scone dough loves to be frozen overnight. After tossing the baking sheet in the freezer to harden up (step 4), I opted to just wrap the sheet up in plastic wrap and bake them in the morning. It worked wonderfully.

Here's how it goes. 
(Step 1) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

(Step 2) Whisk together sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add in diced peach. Combine coconut milk and coconut extract; drizzle over flour mixture and fold in just until flour is incorporated and a shaggy dough forms. 

(Step 3) Divide dough in half and turn out on a lightly floured board. Use lightly floured hands to pat each half into a 6-inch circle. Cut each circle into 6 wedges and gently pull apart. Use a spatula to gently (again) place scones on the baking sheet.

(Step 4) Chill baking sheet in the freezer for 20 minutes while preheating oven to 425°F. 

(Step 5) Brush scones with coconut milk and bake for 16 minutes. Cook until tops are set, edges are beginning to turn golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

(Step 6) Let scones cool / rest for about 5 minutes before drizzling with glaze. For the glaze, whisk together powdered sugar, salt, coconut milk, and coconut extract in a small bowl. Drizzle glaze over scones and maybe sprinkle with toasted coconut chips. 

Shopping List (based on this original recipe)
1/2 cup sugar 
1 tsp lime zest 
3 cups flour 
1 Tbsp baking powder 
1 can full fat coconut milk (1 1/2 cups)
1/8 tsp pure coconut extract 


1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted 
2 Tbsp full fat coconut milk 
2-3 drops pure coconut extract 
3 Tbsp toasted coconut chips

long weekends are the best weekends


Long weekends are seriously beautiful things. There is something so heavenly and magical about that bonus day when you can do anything you want. And perhaps because you already had two weekend days to do "life chores", you can do the things that you really want to do - whatever that might be. 

And this was yesterday. After a real rainy weekend, it was a phenomenally gorgeous morning that just inspired productivity and being outdoors. I'm still mourning the loss of Summer but a day like this was just the reminder I needed for why Fall is not a terrible thing.

Recipe for a great day? Drink a beautiful coffee, see some boats, steal the family dog, garden for hours, make some tomato sauce... and catch a real beaut of a sunset.
[1, 4-5] on the back deck at Lucky Finn. This might legitimately be the only town coffee shop. There are others that sell coffee for sure, but not where you can sit and read a pile of US Weekly magazines and gaze at the boats. 
[2] gigantic and windy waves
[3] super cliche latte... with the most amazing almond croissant I can ever remember. I don't like all croissants. I like good croissants but I love almond croissants. This one was so good that I will stop eating seasonal Reese cups shaped like pumpkins as a health trade. 
[6] I might have hit my stride on Fall plantings. It is still mainly kale and cabbage that you can't eat but just like any planting activity, I like it. Ruby was a good sport while we replanted at the family cemetery... until she was politely asked to leave - apparently dogs aren't allowed. 
[7-9] Ruby really hates the woods. You can see how little she trusts me here... but man does she love the water. As soon as we got to the end of the trail, I unclipped her and she immediately trotted down the bank and into the water. 
[10] As previously noted, I needed to spend a good amount of time in the garden - but I also wanted to. I needed two hands to rip out most of the dead sunflowers. My hope is that by cleaning out the dead vines and extra tomato branches, I'll be able to increase the chances for ripe tomatoes. There are still so many green ones... and I'm not sure what to do with all the green tomatoes.
[11] Still pissed that not all the mums matched but feeling pretty pleased about my kale heavy planters. I've bought all the white pumpkins that existed. I know this for certain because I went back to the greenery where I bought them and there are very few left. 
[12] Sweet Eleanor taking sun naps. 
[13] I took a quick walk to the beach while my tomato sauce roasted. It was pretty gorgeous. The moon was so bright and the waves were still so big but not in a nor'easter way.
[14] I'll never get tired of the tree silhouettes at sunset. Never.

packing up the garden


I think in a very large part the gardening season is over. It's unfortunately the month of October. While there are many upsides, I am really going to miss gardening season. I'm also not quite sure what I will talk about in any of my conversations.

For the past 6 months, I started and ended my days with those silly plants. In the winter months when they were just wee little seeds, I checked on them before getting into my car. As the months turned, I would drink my coffee while I peered at them before work... most often in my pajamas. When the snap peas came in, I would snack on them immediately after coming home from work. You could find me with the mail in one arm and snap peas in the other hand.

But now it's Fall. The sun isn't rising until nearly 7 am... and it's dark when I get home. So, those two little parts of my day when I would pluck fresh tomatoes are few and far between. Boo. I'm 100% sure that my neighbors noticed how much time I spend around this 16x8 plot of beloved dirt.

I really think gardening brings out the best in me. I get to be outside all the time checking on them. I can be crazy about setting up the optimal watering system. I can feed them crushed up organic egg shells and advil. On more than one occasion I turned my hands green after a long day of pruning up the tomato vines. And then the inevitable challenge of using all my produce. I thoroughly enjoy deciding who gets tomatoes. I've given them to many characters in my life from the mail lady, the dentist, the guy who sits next to me at work, my physical therapist, the neighbor couple at the end of the street, and people I've lured over for dinner.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't overflow with pride when I hand them to people. Sometimes I am even lucky enough to get pictures of the final product. I love telling them the varieties and what they can expect. "Hi, touch this one. See it's fuzzy? That's the garden peach." "Oh, this one? It's a yellow tie dye. It is beautiful when you cut it open. Slice it horizontally for the best stripes".

So farewell garden. I've swapped my geraniums for mums and pumpkins. Literally so many white pumpkins. Fall planters are essentially just vehicles for different types of kale. I miss flowers already.  I'm spending the long weekend heavily pruning back the tomatoes to try and get the remaining fruit to ripen. There are just so many green tomatoes left... and every one of those babes has the potential to be part a salad, some sauce, or a friendship gift. A girl can dream.

[1] See all the carrot tops. So many carrots.
[2] I have no idea why that marigolds are still doing so well. This feels very abnormal. I yanked a few of them out today as I was trying to prune back the tomatoes. Things got rough.
[3] Red zebras and one garden peach tomato. The red zebras have been great for making sauce. The garden peaches are good for starting conversations.
[4] See all those green tomatoes!
[5] I prepped and froze nearly all the peppers two weekends ago. Glad to see a few more pop up just as I'm getting in the mood for some stuffed peppers.
[6] The yellow tie dye tomatoes are very prolific. Unfortunately, the ones in the bucket are a lost cause. I wasn't able to get them in time... so they'll be going in the marsh.
[7] It was so windy the past few days that all the cages are tipped very much over again. Still so much fruit hidden in there.
[8] I love all the tomatoes - but the black truffle is one of my favorites to find. The colors are just so beautiful when they are really ripe.
[9] I'm going to miss the Dusty Miller. Absolutely doing this again next year.
[10] Fall planters are better than empty planters.
© WHAT JEN DOES • Theme by Maira G.