The Shared Banana Bread by Amy Cantu

The rain gods have blessed us with water falling from the sky, but with it comes the damp coldness and gray. The kids were bouncing around the house aimlessly, so I knew we needed to get our wits about us and come up with a rainy day project. Behold the four darkly spotted bananas sitting on the counter: It's time to fix this dark, dreary day with some homemade banana bread. My five-year-old did a happy dance around the kitchen, and my two-year-old immediately dunked his hands into the flour and flung it into the air yelling, "It rain! It rain!" Let the baking (and mess) begin! After mashing the bananas, (a.k.a. squishing banana pulp between tiny fingers,) the next best thing about making banana bread in our house is that everyone gets to pick a mix-in. The eldest begged for chocolate chips, but alas, we were out, so he grudgingly settled on shredded coconut. The younger one was adamant about "nuts! more and more and more nuts!" And me? A splash of bourbon please, because that's how I roll. The end result was a glorious, golden loaf of banana bread, generously studded with chopped walnuts and toasted coconut, with a whiff of bourbon, and warm, cozy house to fight off the cold day. We were all quite pleased with ourselves.

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Coconut Bourbon Banana Bread

The Shared Bakealong by Cynthia Raub

I have always been intimidated by baking. I find that I have the hardest time with measuring and weighing exact amounts, as I'm more of a heaping-scant-dash kind of cook. I also have severe time and personal management skills, which means I start things at the most inopportune time and/or completely forget that I was in the middle of something. And ya know what, I also am a "little more time shouldn't hurt" kind of person, too. I have left cakes in the oven for a few extra minutes to make sure they are baked through. They are definitely baked through. And very dry. Take it from me, these are all poor qualities to possess if you want to bake yummy things.

Making pizza dough for the first time was a revelation. The transformation of water and flour, (with a dash of patience,) was remarkable, and I felt like a magician. Ever since then, I have successfully baked rich profiteroles and golden, airy gougères. Somehow, baking a multitude of batches of pâte à choux dough has awoken the baker inside of me. I bought a two-pound package of yeast from Costco and a Pullman Loaf pan, and I am baking more than my family of four can consume. King Arthur's flours, customer service, and recipes are all infallible. (This is not a sponsored post). When they began their Bakealong social media campaign in August, I was immediately hooked. August's recipe was for Pane Bianco, (Italian for "white bread",) featuring the enduring and eternally perfect combination of cheese, garlic, tomato and basil. While this bread may look fancy or complicated, it was truly easy and FUN to make.

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Pane Bianco

The Shared Cheese Puffs by Cynthia Raub

I am a low-key Francophile. I chose French to learn in high school because I loved croissants. Don't get me wrong, I also looooove burritos, but I was feeling angsty and emotional and croissants just seemed more complex and romantic than burritos. (Side note: I've grown since then and now I can get very romantic and emotional about burritos.) But high school French class was the genesis of my love for everything French - from the language, history of art, food, culture and even SPORTS?!?! (Tour de France). I met my husband when we both worked in a French bistro, and it was love at first cornichon!

Gougeres, (also known as cheese puffs,) are SO French: sophisticated, technical but simple, and delicious with champagne. These have been in heavy rotation in my kitchen for the past two months since I first made gougere's sister, the profiterole, (which is a sweet version filled with pastry cream or split open with a scoop of ice cream). They are a breeze to make. They are impressive and are perfect for any occasion. I originally made the profiteroles for a bake sale. Since then, I have made savory and addictive gougeres with a friend for a pot luck, to accompany dinner in our bread basket, and even for a casual afternoon wine tasting with friends. See? Versatile, delicious, and addictive. I'm convinced that once anyone has this in their cooking repertoire, it will become an instant classic that will never fail you.

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Gougeres (Cheese Puffs)

The Shared Craving by Cynthia Raub

My family has been on a homemade Pizza Night kick for the past few weeks. This entails my husband making the dough, then prepping the toppings with our daughters, all while I impatiently sit on the couch on my phone waiting for dinner to just be DONE. I know they would appreciate my hovering, unrelaxed presence in the kitchen, but most of the time I let the three of them enjoy the relaxing and fun project together. Anyway, there's really only room for three people to crouch in front of the oven, to watch the pizza crust expand and brown while the cheese melts.

Amy has made Pizza Two Ways before and I wanted to try my hand at making a homemade dough. I wanted to make the dough without the watchful eye of my chef husband, and I didn't feel like getting the kids involved because I'm just not a very fun parent. I was craving Chicken Shawarma and after telling Amy I needed the chicken in my life, she admitted to craving eggplant and then all we could talk about was how we REALLY wanted to eat our ideas. (This is why we are friends!) I'm not sure how it happened, but I think I bamboozled her into developing the unctuous and delicious recipe for Eggplant Dip with Caramelized Onions and Tahini to marry the pizza/flatbread and chicken together. I don't think she's put out though, since it turned out to be a tasty and fun afternoon that satisfied both of our cravings.

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Flatbread with Chicken Shawarma, Eggplant, and Caramelized Onions

Chicken Shawarma

Eggplant Dip with Caramelized Onions and Tahini

The Shared Labor of Love by Amy Cantu

Six and a half years ago, I called a huddle in the middle of my friend's kitchen with my bridesmaids. Our task: make 102 small jars of raspberry jam as favors for my upcoming wedding. The crazy voice in my head said, "This is noooooo problem. This is a completely reasonable task for your bridesmaids. Bridesmaids are just indentured servants right??? When else, (besides your wedding,) do you test the limits of your friendships?!" Yes, my inner-cuckoo was strong that day. Cartons upon cartons of raspberries were stacked up precariously around us, threatening to tumble down and bury us at any moment. I had never made jam before, let alone for 102 people, nor had I ever scaled a recipe to yield so many servings. What I did have were friends who clearly loved me enough to slave over a hot stove on a hot summer day to help me figure it all out. We churned out batch after batch of sweet, sticky, bright pink raspberry jam - each jar topped with a small square of floral fabric and painstakingly tied with a bit of ribbon. In that moment, I had never felt so loved by this group of friends who stood by me through all of my food-related (and non-food-related) drama, and again to bear witness to the love and happiness on my wedding day - the jam was truly a labor of love.

Once more, I found myself stirring together a big pot of jam, but this time with the help of much smaller hands. One of my besties had her seven year-old niece, Aaliyah, over for a visit, so together with my four year-old, Alex, we all gathered in the kitchen with a flat of peaches and a couple cartons of raspberries to make a yummy gift that Aaliyah could take home to her family. Raspberry Peach Jam and Buttermilk Biscuits! The kids couldn't wait to cover their hands in fruity goo! Their faces were wrought with deep concentration, as their little fingers nimbly peeled the skin from the peaches and scooped the flesh into a giant bowl. They giggled as the peach juices dribbled down their hands and arms and onto the counter. Again, my heart swelled with love, but this time because I was witnessing two small children learn the rewards of sharing and giving food with the generosity of their hearts.

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Raspberry Peach Jam

Easy Buttermilk Biscuits

The Shared Scones by Amy Cantu

I am not a morning person. I thought that perhaps having two small children that wake with the sun would cure me of this, but no. I am still not a morning person. There are few things in this world that will rouse me from the warm, cozy cocoon of my bed covers in a cheerful mood - these scones are on that short list. These are scones that I've been making since . . . well, since forever. I used to bake scones instead of studying for finals in college, and Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook was my textbook of choice. Ina, in her hostess-with-the-mostest way, opened my eyes to a world of butter and flour that held my interest in a way that Economics never could. Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and I'm faced with a preschool bake sale. I'm tired. I'm always tired now (because I love to sleep and will never properly sleep in again). I reach really far back through the fuzzy cobwebs in my brain to the recipes I can reliably make even in a semi-conscious state, and I find these scones archived somewhere between "Econ 101" and "Accounting 101". I may not remember much about Econ anymore, but my hands still remember precisely how to shape and form these tender, buttery scones. Within the hour, the scent of butter and flour filled my nostrils with their heady scent - a smell worth waking up for. I can't ever decide if I want a sweet or savory scone, so of course there is one of each. These are tried and true and flew off the bake sale table in the blink of an eye.

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Rosemary-Cheddar Scones

Salted Maple-Oat Scones

In the Kitchen Now - Hot Cross Buns by Amy Cantu

Easter is tomorrow, and I had Hot Cross Buns on my mind - soft, pillowy, lightly sweet rolls, studded with little nubs of dried fruit. Doesn't that sound heavenly? This recipe is a little bit traditional and a little bit different - traditional in that I stuck to the flour-water paste to make the crosses on the tops, but a little bit different in that I added vanilla and cardamom and sticky honey tops to these spiced buns. Happy Easter!

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Hot Cross Buns