Back on the porch, and our wedding

Front porch, Maureen Abood
Summers on the porch here on Main Street have always brought visitors by. From the start, my dad would wave them on up to join him on the white wicker chairs for a visit. Before they could hit the top step, he was turning to his daughters to bring out glasses of iced lemonade for everyone.

On Dan’s first visit to our place on Main Street, he’d come over from Charlevoix on the water in a big, bad cigarette boat with his brothers. I’ve always thought that boat was yellow, but Dan says no, red. They were very young, swarthy men; no doubt they sauntered through town and hung out on the docks looking at the pretty girls pass by. They didn’t leave, though, without visiting my dad, Camille. Since their own dad died unexpectedly, a young man himself just a few years before, my father had stood close by the boys and their mom and their sisters as they put their lives and their auto dealership back together in the difficult aftermath, and then for years beyond that. In other words: they were close friends. Close Lebanese friends—which means, you know, that they were cousins.

Church, Maureen Abood

Rings, SBThe brothers came up on the porch, my dad waving them over and turning to his daughters for the lemonade. Dan says it was a glass of pink lemonade that I handed him, and that I had long brown braids on either side of my 12-year-old face. He must have pulled on one of the braids and cast a certain spell, one that said: I’ll be seeing you back here somewhere down the line, and then for good.

For a lot of years (read: 30) after that, Aunt Hilda was the epicenter for us to hear, however sidelined, how the other one was doing. She and I would sit at her kitchen table and she’d fill me in on what was happening with everybody we know, from cousins to more cousins to the Shaheens (Danny is a hanoun, she’d say, like you) and the family over in Lebanon.

Parents wedding photos, SB

Moms, Maureen AboodHilda’s best friend? Dan’s mama, Louise. They shared the same towns (Flint, then Lansing), ran with all the same people, had both lost their husbands too young, and were “like that”–two fingers crossed: tight. Sisters. Cousins. Close friends. (My own mom was of course part of that circle of Lebanese lovin’ ladies too)

After Hilda passed away, Dan discovered a whole slew of missed voice messages on Louise’s phone, which they saved so she could hear Hilda’s voice whenever she wants.

Monogram hankie, Maureen Abood

Maureen, SBDown the aisle, SBRight around the time that Ruth passed away in 2009, Dan and I were in a similar state of mind. The road had been bumpy. The Path of Life had not, in many ways, been what either of us had in mind. At the funeral, I stood up and sang a tear-laden Ave Maria and Dan says he sat in his pew listening, watching, and wondering. He came up to say hello after; why I don’t remember this, I have no idea other than that I was in a fog of pain for all kinds of reasons (like this and this).

A year or so later I was in San Francisco at culinary school (a new day had dawned!). Aunt Hilda had gotten very sick, to the end-time, and I came home. We were for a good week, with Louise and Alberta and Uncle Dick and lots of others, up at the hospital holding the vigil.

Wedding flowers, Maureen AboodHazy tables, JAChampagne fountain, SBAt Hilda’s wake, the room was jammed with all of the Lebanese dressed in their handsome black, laughing and crying and laughing some more.

I was telling Aunt Rita that I was moving back to Michigan after culinary school, when I turned to see the handsomest of them all, Dan Shaheen, standing by my side. It was our first real, head-on conversation since the lemonade-visit when I was a kid.

Ladybug, SB

M and D dance, SB


Cheese tableWe nodded about Aunt Hilda (she always told him he was her favorite, and he was genuinely surprised to hear she’d said the same to me…), but then he cut to the chase: You’re coming back? When? I told him I’d be heading directly Up North, where I’d stay.

See you on the porch for a glass of lemonade, he said.

And that we did.




Maureen and Dan, SB(Happy end of summer, all. Thanks to so many of you for asking to see photos and a story of our joy. Of course there is so much more to show and tell, but here’s a taste. Despite the weather, it’s been such a beautiful season. Your recipe for a last-hurrah lovely lemonade is here. Try using summer raspberries in place of spring’s strawberries, straining the fruit mixture before stirring it into the lemonade).

**We thank Erin at Anchor Events, Bella e Dolce cakes (stay tuned for that story!), Galley Gourmet, Stephanie Baker Photography, Pontius Flowers, our priests Father Mark and Father Joe, and many more!

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Apricot Sherbet Recipe, from the summer sun

Apricot sherbet in tub, Maureen AboodIt’s nothing short of embarrassing when I hear myself complaining about it.

The complaining is about the most mundane thing: the weather. The embarrassment is because when a girl gets married to the best man in the world and completes her first book and her whole family is in this moment healthy and happy, she knows it’s downright pathetic that she’d have a complaint in the world about much of anything, let alone the weather.

And yet. She does. Here’s how it sounds:

This weather! Just stupid-ugly.

If it rains again today, I’m going to…(she trails off with no real threat to give the rain)

I’m so sick of wearing the same summer sweater every day.

I feel like I should make a warm and cozy stew today, not ice cream.

Breakers sunset with clouds, Maureen AboodOne of the few positive things that could be said about the weather up north in Michigan this summer, besides the sometimes beautiful sunsets it produces, is that it’s a lot like San Francisco in summer. You know the Twain quote: the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. Except we’re not in San Francisco.

Thing is, we had similar weather last summer. And then the winter of polar vortex. I wish I could joke about having heard on the street more than once in the past week that we can expect snow again up north…in September.

Dan reminded me recently that I haven’t made a single batch of ice cream this summer (no stew, either). He remembers a salted caramel dream I made last summer, and tub after tub that I twirled out during cookbook recipe development over the winter. It’s been months, he groaned.

Apricot baskets, Maureen Abood

Apricot close-up, Maureen AboodI came up with every excuse I could think of, from wedding to book to blog, but the biggest one to which no retort could be made? Too cold for ice cream, man. That held no water, though, since Dan knows all too well that I’ve never let the weather keep me from a cone, (and neither has he).

I suspect the Mr. is not expecting apricot sherbet for the ice cream response to his request. But I’ve been thinking on developing this recipe ever since I tasted something like it back in January when I was in the sunny south visiting my snowbird mother and my brother Richard and co. who live in that balmy bliss year round. The apricot flavor will slap you in the face, it’s that tart and good (those who know my sister can tell from that slap-phrase that I’ve been hanging out with her a lot this summer…). Besides, when I saw the pretty little apricots at the market I realized the sun must have been out once or twice here to have produced such bounty of my favorite–the Lebanese favorite–fruit. The taste of the apricots-turned-sherbet is so WOW, it will transform any and all bad weather juju into just what a beautiful summer it’s been up north in Michigan.

Apricot sherbet, Maureen AboodApricot Sherbet
It’s remarkable to discover that a sherbet is simply just cooked fruit or fruit juice and sugar (not too much, or the sherbet won’t set and the fruit flavor won’t shine), chilled and then churned in your ice cream maker. That’s sorbet, actually—add a cup of cream and you’ve got sherbet. Add the same of yogurt or labneh instead, and you’ve got frozen yogurt.

1 pound ripe apricots
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup heavy cream

Pit the apricots by simply splitting them in half with your fingers. Coarsely chop them, leaving the skin on.

In a heavy medium saucepan, bring the apricots and water to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover, cooking until the apricots are broken down and very soft, about 5 minutes. Lift the lid now and then to stir the pot and take in the scent of summer.

Add the sugar and lemon juice and taste. If the apricots need more sweetening, add more sugar a tablespoon at a time until it tastes perfect.

Puree the apricots in a food processor or blender. Add the cream and puree until combined.

Chill the mixture quickly by pouring it into a zip-lock bag and immersing the bag into a bowl of ice water. Massage the bag numerous times, opening the top of the bag to release steam. Or, chill the mixture in the refrigerator for at least a few hours.

Pour the cold apricot mixture into your ice cream maker and churn. Serve the apricot sherbet soft right away, or freeze for a couple of hours for a harder, colder effect.

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Za’atar Fried Chicken and my cookbook photo shoot

Chicken and donuts, Maureen AboodWhen I take photos for Rose Water and Orange Blossoms, there are so many things to consider: the light, the lens, the plate, the background surface and the backdrop. And of course, the food itself. I run around the kitchen and down the stairs to get it all together, then hope the sun doesn’t fall to a place where its light through the window becomes too bright or too dim, and all is lost until tomorrow…when the food may no longer be photo-ready.

Last week, I witnessed all of this action on a grand scale in the studio of photographer Jason Varney in Philadelphia. Jason and a crew of artistic wizards cooked, styled, propped, directed, and photographed more than 60 photos for Rose Water and Orange Blossoms, the cookbook (to be released spring 2015 by Running Press). I end that sentence with a period, but every sentence in this post, and every sentence I write about the book, should really be punctuated with a whole slew of exclamation points, for how excited I am to see this book coming to life!

Cover sketch, Maureen Abood

Ingredients, Maureen Abood

Props, Maureen AboodThe experience is…surreal?…watching such talented pros go at my recipes to show them off in all of their beautiful glory.

The styling process is much as you might imagine it to be: the food is glossed and dusted and tweezered to be sure the mint lays just so or the spoon looks naturally well-used after a dip in the mujadara.

Photo shoot, Maureen Abood

Skewer torch, Maureen Abood

Tomato salad, Maureen AboodOf course, I didn’t mind hearing all of them rave about the Lebanese deliciousness every time they tasted it (the fig and the apricot jams were a hit, and a crazy-good cake with warm orange blossom caramel too; can’t wait to share that one in the book), and I’ve been bragging all week back home about how they raved about this and they raved about that, in true Aunt Hilda-style. My Aunt Hilda basked in the light of every awe-struck eater of her food, and she taught me to appreciate the same.

I was happy to realize that just like a writer in her kitchen and at her desk Up North in Michigan, photographers and stylists and art directors get pretty hungry doing their work. And Philadelphia, my friends, delivered. The wrap meal Jason hosted at Zahav, an Isreali gem of a favorite in the city, put me over the top with a line-up that’ll make you weep, including an outrageously smooth hummus and a lacquered roasted lamb that silenced the table. This was an epic feast, as Jason said. Almost as SICK as the photo he took of our lifft, our pink pickled turnips. That one was so SICK, he said it might just be the sexiest, best photo he’d taken all year. Which is saying a lot, because it seems to me every photo Jason takes is the best photo ever, with light and composition and that special something  that comes from great artists. So that makes me very SICK happy, dude!

Lift, Maureen Abood

Screen shot, Maureen AboodThe final day of the shoot was rescued from my own melancholy at leaving, at the thing being finished, by the lunch Jason ordered. He and our art director Josh had been talking about it all week, za’atar chicken that comes with a side (or a box, as the case may be) of the best donuts you can eat. That’s a fantasia of flavor that I couldn’t stop devouring, even after vowing the night before, after our epic feast, never to eat again.

I flaunted the za’atar chicken and donuts all over my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter worlds (join me there!), and shot texts to the family left and right. It didn’t take long after I got home to serve up a plate of my own version of za’atar fried chicken, albeit without the donuts this time. I use a lot more za’atar than Federal Donuts does, to get even more of that za’atar-lovin’ flavor. The result is nothing short of all that we want from our fresh and classic Lebanese recipes, and all that is promised to deliver from my cookbook: superb…stupendous…and seriously sick.

Maureen, Maureen Abood

My zaatar chicken, Maureen Abood

Za’atar Oven-Fried Chicken
If you want to really go crazy here, fry a batch of Lebanese donuts to eat along with your chicken… For the chicken, click over to my Mom’s recipe for oven-fried chicken, and simply rock it out with a heavy dusting of za’atar when it comes out of the oven. You could also add some za’atar to the dredging flour mix, a tablespoon or so. I also added a pinch of cayenne to the mix.

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Raspberry-Rose Crumb Cake Recipe

Raspberry crumb cake with plates, Maureen AboodI’ve more than mentioned here how seriously we take our raspberry picking Up North. They dazzle, those razzles. Right now the berries are finally so ripe they practically fall off the bush at the mere whisper of “hello,” before the hand even approaches.

When we picked this week, a whole hand filled before you could get it back to the basket. Many went into my mouth, but more than a few fell to the ground. My reaction to that (OH NO!) disturbed the zen mood of the picking place every time a berry fell. I mumbled that the lost berries were the result of my small hands, but I admit it had more to do with greed.

Raspberry crumb cake, Maureen AboodMama was extremely selective in her picking. That was her explanation when she saw my four quarts and my sister’s four to her three. She inspected ours and turned her nose up a little, saying she only picked the finest berries.

Come breakfast the next morning, she lifted a berry high up off her plate and said: I picked this one. It is perfect.

Raspberries POSTRaspberry stand, Maureen Abood

Raspberry patch, Maureen AboodWe come by this naturally, as the Lebanese affinity for all fruit (the apricots are coming, promise) is a hallmark. I like to brag about that, and the fruit-laden table that is the backdrop to every evening’s visit in Lebanon and no doubt wherever we are around the world.

Our fruit is often eaten in place of dessert. I find this practice mildly offensive, with my proclivity to sweets in their homiest or most elaborate forms. With the raspberries, they are, as Mom says, quite perfect in their natural state, but then one has to do something special with them, especially when there are so many and we’re going back for more soon.

Raspberry cake batter, Maureen Abood

Raspberry crumb cake top, Maureen AboodMy brother Richard, who has a special place in his heart for the U-Pick raspberry in Harbor Springs, will be pleased that for them even the most creative recipe idea in me is going to be sweet and beautiful rather than savory. He let me know he was none to pleased last week with my cherry salad. When he saw the words “cherry” and “parsley” together pop up in his inbox, he kept right on moving through the email and didn’t even click through. Brother!

Probably I should have put it like this: Cherry, Walnut, and Parsley salad…that way he’d have seen walnut and while that wouldn’t thrill him at all, at least he might have clicked over before parsley killed it for him.

Raspberries weighed, Maureen Abood

Raspberry post, Maureen Abood

Raspberry patch with boy, Maureen AboodWe got to talking with Linda, who runs the U-Pick raspberry patch, about what they do with all of the berries. Sell them to the local markets and restaurants? Nah, they just put too high of a price on them, she said. We like to keep them for the people. Real affordable.

When I asked her what she likes to do with the berries in her own kitchen, she said she freezes them for later mostly. I was quiet for a moment and thankfully she said that also her raspberry crumb cake is quite nice. That sounded quite nice to me too, and if my brother clicked through and read this far, hopefully it sounded quite nice to him too.

Slice of Raspberry crumb cake, Maureen AboodRaspberry-Rose Crumb Cake
This recipe is adapted from, where it is a blueberry coffee cake.

For the Crumb Topping:
5 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Cake:
2 cups minus 1 tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon rose water
3 cups fresh raspberries
1/2 cup milk, whole or 2 percent

Heat the oven to 375°F. Butter and lightly flour a 9-inch round cake pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a small mixing bowl, prepare the topping by whisking the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt, then cutting the butter in with a pastry blender, fork or your fingertips, working the mixture until it is coarse crumbs.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl or in the stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until they light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and rose water and mix until they are incorporated and the batter is smooth. Beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredient mixture just until they are combined. Mix in half of the milk, then alternate mixing in another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, the remaining milk, and the final 1/3 of the dry ingredients to make a stiff batter.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Scatter the raspberries over the top of the batter and gently press them in, just by about 1/2-inch. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the raspberries.

Bake the cake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for at least 20 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a plate. Turn the cake over onto another plate to have the top facing up.

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Cherries with Parsley, Walnuts, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

I have been turning out lots (and lots) of pies lately. This, however, is not a post about pie, but anyway: A few of the pies we give away, but most…we eat. That means I’ve also been turning out lots (and lots) of miles running. You’ve gotta pay to play, and as Dan has told me, bridal boot camp doesn’t end when you get married: It’s just the beginning, girl! And I agree.

Most every pie this spring and summer has included at least a handful of tart cherries. The tarts, the sours, they are the darling of our region Up North, and just to make you jealous I will tell you that we can find them frozen all year up here at the IGA.

For the fresh ones, we await their soft, vibrant, sour little selves with truly baited breath, and when they get here, we go kind of bonkie. Because, well, read this and this, and you’ll understand the depth of our Michigan tart cherry-love.

All of the tart cherry worship has left our sweet cherries, the dark reds found at stands dotting the sides of the road from Gaylord north to the U.P., in a bit of an eclipse of the heart. Perhaps cherries aren’t unlike people; sometimes the sweet ones get less attention.

Sweet cherries are not good for pie, so around here we end up just eating them, handful after handful, spitting the pits ever-so-properly into a fist, or wildly out the car window. But the cook in me has been wanting to do something more (meaning “in addition” as opposed to “better”).

I did a double take, then, when I saw a recipe from Saveur, a Middle-Eastern style dish featuring sweet cherries, but savory. As a salad, with herbs and our beloved walnuts all dressed in a pomegranate molasses vinaigrette. The salad is so gorgeous, I just knew its beauty was a harbinger of delicious.

Now. This isn’t tart cherry galette with cream cheese crust (get after that too, I beg you). It is salad, and you know the Lebanese love salad. This one is going to be a new and regular addition to our summer repertoire, perfect with lamb, pork, beef, fish. Or, honestly, for dessert. Call it post-script, if not dessert.

Amazing how a little attention to the quietly sweet—here the cherries, but surely it applies all over the place in our lives—reveals how exciting, how very exotic and noticeable, they can be.

Cherries with Parsley, Walnuts, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette
Adapted from Saveur.

1 quart sweet cherries, pitted and halved
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of salt

In a lovely small salad bowl, combine the cherries, walnuts, and parsley,

In a small bowl, whisk the pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt until it emulsifies.

Dress the salad with the vinaigrette and serve immediately, or later, at room temperature.

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