The Circle of Gratitude

Every Thanksgiving, I am reminded that gratitude is a circle. Welcome to Honeysuckle Hill is both an open thank-you letter to the people in my past who have so graciously shared their culinary treasures—and a trail of seasoned breadcrumbs that I hope will lead our daughter into a future rich in “kitchen tradition.”

But this year, there’s a new ripple that I’m thrilled to share. Since the book launch party last month, I have started to receive personal notes from people who are working their way through the chapters—including pictures of everything from kids making cookies, to sumptuous full spreads pulled right from my pages! I am so grateful to know that I have brought people together for a few hours, to share in the joy of creating something. It means so much to me, and I hope you’ll consider sharing yours. gwen@honeysucklehillbook.com



Whether you can’t wait for the magic to begin or just cannot deal, the holidays seem to bring out strong emotions in everyone. Everybody has at least one relative who is an accomplished button pusher, and it can be difficult to take the high road when you’ve spent two days toiling in the kitchen. So let’s all take a moment to express our sincere thanks for my favorite holiday coping mechanism: Apple Pie Moonshine.

Another helpful contribution from our friend Jimmy the Fur (and his partner in crime, Amy), this stuff kills THREE holiday birds with one stone: it tastes amazing, makes your house smell great, and makes your mind and body comfortably numb. I’m not sure you could really ask anything more of any holiday libation. Try it once, and see how little you care about Aunt Debbie’s snarky comments or Uncle Joe’s open-mouthed chewing. Trust me—it works so well, you may be tempted to hook up an IV.

Apple Pie Moonshine

1 gallon fresh apple cider

1/2 gallon apple juice

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

8 whole cinnamon sticks

4 whole dried cloves

1/2 gallon grain alcohol or Everclear

In a large stock pot, combine apple cider, apple juice and sugars and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, add cinnamon sticks and cloves, and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and allow mixture to cool for a full 3 hours. When mixture has completely cooled, skim any remaining foam from top, remove cinnamon sticks and cloves and add alcohol. Stir well to combine. Pour into mason jars, seal tightly with lid and store in refrigerator until use.  Serve cold.  Makes approximately 2 gallons.



There’s a whole chapter in the book dedicated to Thanksgiving, so let’s just cut to the leftovers situation—specifically, how can we make all of that sliced turkey just as amazing the second (and third, and fourth) time around? My cousins Danny and Barbara offer this easy solution: a special sandwich spread made specifically to complement the flavors of roasted or smoked turkey. On rustic bread, this makes an amazing sandwich.

Danny & Barbara’s Turkey Sandwich Spread

3/4 cup Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon whole grain mustard

2-3 tablespoons sour cream

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped

2 teaspoons fresh chives, finely chopped

Salt, to taste

Black pepper, freshly ground to taste

Makes 1 cup.

Done cooking—at least until the next holiday? Pick up a jar of Robert Rothschild Farms Anna Mae’s Smokey Mustard. It’s the best jar mustard out there, and you’ll love it on everything all year long. www.robertrothschild.com



In Northern Michigan, near the town where I went to summer camp, local Native American tribes are busy preparing spirit feasts—a November tradition that goes back hundreds of years. These ceremonial meals (including traditional tribal foods like fry bread, venison and of course, roast turkey and dressing) are a way to pass along an important oral history while sharing the bounty of harvest time with friends and family.

But as much as they’re a celebration of the present, spirit feasts are also a way of connecting to ancestors who have “walked on”. After the living have finished enjoying their meals, the food is left on the table for the dead to enjoy during the night. Family members take special care to prepare loved ones’ favorite dishes, as a reminder that they remain alive in heart and spirit. This Thanksgiving, I invite you to celebrate your own dear departed with a special dish or two. A minute in the mouth, but a lifetime in the memory.

Baker’s Dozen

There’s nothing more invigorating than a crisp, sunny fall day in the Midwest; the leaves are so bright, they don’t even look real! Sadly, when we found ourselves in Michigan this past Halloween weekend, it was wet and chilly…and we’d missed the foliage by a few days. Fortunately, there’s something that makes any trip (in any weather) worthwhile: the Franklin Cider Mill.

Open only three months out of the year, this place is synonymous with my carefree, small-town childhood. Their apple cider is still the best I’ve ever tasted, and no visit there is complete without the accompanying brown paper bag filled with hot, greasy spiced donuts—the only suitable accompaniment to the cider. After decimating the first donut, I told my husband, “These are so good that I could seriously eat a dozen”. Here’s how the rest of that conversation went:

“No, you couldn’t,” he replied.
“WATCH ME,” I said.
“Honey, no one wants to see his wife eat a dozen donuts.”

Message delivered. In addition to cider and donuts, The Franklin Cider Mill also sells caramel apples, homemade pies, breads and other goodies. On this visit, I found a table stacked with something I don’t recall seeing before: Apple Pie Bread. It looked fabulous, so of course I had to buy a loaf to taste—then try to reverse-engineer the recipe at home. The bread dough was cut into chunks, combined with a mixture of fresh apples and cinnamon, and then placed in a loaf pan and baked. Decadent and delicious. I’m working on my own version, and will share it once I get it right.



Another Michigan thing (or more specifically, a suburban Detroit thing): Seven-Layer Cake. Thankfully, unlike apple cider, it’s in season all year long! The basic concept of this cake, unsurprisingly, involves seven very thin layers of yellow cake separated by billowy, whipped-cream-like filling—which, weirdly, contains no dairy at all—and covered in rich chocolate ganache frosting. I am addicted to this classic bakery cake. Every time we visit Detroit, I drag at least one whole log on the plane back to LA, and store the tightly wrapped slices in the freezer “for later use.” They have never made it longer than a week.

Detroit folks have VERY strong opinions about which bakery or deli makes the best one. In the interest of culinary research, I have painstakingly sampled every single one—and my vote goes to The Bake Station. Nut-free and kosher, their Seven-Layer Cake is a literal slice of heaven. While there are bakeries in LA that make this confection, it NEVER tastes remotely as good as the Michigan cake. If you happen to find yourself in Detroit, you should also find yourself here: www.bakestation.com

We stumbled upon this old-school diner on Woodward Avenue in Pleasant Ridge, and waited in the windy October chill for a table. SO WORTH IT. With cozy counter seating and a just few small tables, this bustling local charmer has it all, including classic diner fare made with locally sourced ingredients PLUS fresh baked pastries and breads from the famous Zingermann’s—which they toast and slather with butter! YUM. It’s the perfect embodiment of Detroit—and our new favorite spot. www.maesdetroit.com

Challah-Back Girl

I don’t think I’ve ever met a Challah I didn’t like. In recent years, this cakey, slightly sweet and ultra-soft egg bread has transcended its status as a Jewish staple, transforming into amazing gourmet varieties that are loved by Jews and Goyim alike. They are so good, in fact, that you might find yourself wanting to celebrate Shabbat, if only to have a guilt-free excuse to eat Challah once a week. Here are a couple of my absolute favorites:

CHALLAH KING BLACK MISSION FIG: Christopher Brugler, founder of Challah King of Beverly Hills and sought-after caterer, has developed ten specialty loaves, in addition to his incredible traditional Challah. They’re all delicious, but our favorite is Black Mission Fig—a grilled cheese made with this bread will change your life. Ships anywhere in the U.S.; order by 5:00 p.m. Monday for Friday delivery.

GOT KOSHER? CHOCOLATE PRETZEL: This heavenly Challah made fresh at LA’s Got Kosher? restaurant is amazing on its own—we’ve been known to polish off a 2-lb loaf in one sitting—and unbelievable as the foundation for chocolate bread pudding. Get it fresh on Friday before they sell out.

In a place that is practically “sunny-and-72” all year long, it may seem a bit hyperbolic to throw an end-of-summer party. But there really is something about those warm Santa Ana winds that makes us all want to have one last outdoor to-do in the last days of that golden evening light. For the pizza party pictured here, Hollyflora created beautiful fall color arrangements, despite the lingering 90-degree heat. Having just been gifted with a huge batch of avocado honey, we decided to make good use of it—see below for details. Our go-to pizza guru, chef Louise Leonard, served up a bunch of her signature crispy-charred Neapolitan pies; below is her recipe for one of my favorites.

A friend recently brought us a jar of the most amazing avocado honey from a visit to Buckhorn Canyon Ranch in rural Fillmore, California. This honey was so deliciously different—with a rich, mellow and buttery taste—it prompted me to investigate a bit. Here is what I learned: honey flavors can vary dramatically, depending on the type of flower being pollinated. Different regions within the state and across the country produce varieties specific to that area, each with its own distinctive flavor. For example, Tupelo honey is produced exclusively in the Southeast, and is derived from the local Ogeche trees, which only bloom for two weeks out of the entire year!

Avocado honey is culled from the nectar of avocado blossoms, and produced exclusively in certain regions of Mexico, California, Central America and Australia. Avocado trees bloom at the same time as citrus trees, and evidently the honeybees prefer citrus blossoms—making avocado honey a delicacy generally produced in small batches. Ours seemed to go perfectly with EVERYTHING: pizza with Brie cheese and truffle oil, bourbon cocktails and especially homemade vanilla bean ice cream. If you can find some at your local gourmet store, it’s worth a try.


1 packet active dry yeast
Pinch granulated sugar
1 ½ cups warm water, divided
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
Semolina flour, for dusting

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the active dry yeast, sugar and ½ cup of warm water (approximately 110–130 degrees). Let stand for 10 minutes to activate the yeast. You will notice that the mixture will become frothy and double in size. IMPORTANT: If this does not happen, either you’ve got a bad batch of yeast, or the water is too hot or cold. Without the yeast activated, the dough will not rise and your pizza will not pass muster.

Once the yeast is activated, add the rest of the water, flour, sugar, salt and extra-virgin olive oil. Using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, mix on low speed 3–4 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Turn the speed up to medium-high and mix for another 3–4 minutes. Depending on the humidity in the air, you may need to add a bit more flour if the dough is too sticky. It should not be wet, but it should pull away from the sides of the bowl and form somewhat of a clump.

Next, oil the inside of a large bowl with extra-virgin olive oil. Scrape the pizza dough from the bowl of the stand mixer and place it on a floured cutting board. Knead it a few times to bring it together into a cohesive mass before placing it in the oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (80 degrees is ideal; I put mine next to the stove) for a minimum of 2 hours.

After the dough has risen, transfer it onto a floured cutting board. Using a knife, divide the ball into 4 equal pieces. Oil a sheet pan and place each new ball onto the pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise again for another 2 hours. At this time, you can also put each dough ball into a small Ziploc bag and refrigerate or freeze for later.

Once the dough has risen, it is ready for pizza. Put the dough onto a floured cutting board and pat it into a disc. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12–14 inch round, making sure it is not sticking to the cutting board. You can also stretch the dough by hand, lifting and rotating it around your knuckles, while gravity does the work. Dust a pizza peel with some semolina flour and place the dough on top.

Top the pizza sparingly with the ingredients of your choice—see recipes for ideas. This dough is meant to be stretched thin and cook quickly, so less is more when it comes toppings. Cook in a wood-fired oven, grill or the hottest setting in your home oven equipped with a pizza stone (which should heat for 1 hour) until crispy. Eat pronto, and enjoy! Makes 4 pizzas (12–14 inches each).


1 pizza dough
2 oz triple-crème Brie cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle
Truffle oil, to drizzle
Honey, to drizzle
Sea salt, to taste

Follow the directions for pizza dough. When you are ready to dress your pizza, start by drizzling the dough with some extra-virgin olive oil. Bake in the oven until the dough sets. Pull it out, add the Brie and put back in the oven until cheese has just melted. Remove from the oven and drizzle with truffle oil and honey. Sprinkle with sea salt, slice and serve immediately. Serves 8.

Next-Level Vanilla

Vanilla extract is an obvious baking staple, and most people have at least one bottle in their pantry. But did you know: not all vanilla extracts are created equal? After a lifetime of using McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract, I was about to make a recipe that called for Vanilla Bean Extract ‘Crush’—from Sonoma Syrup Company, but also available via Amazon and other online retailers. It’s $22.99 (!) which definitely got my attention, so I decided to order some and see what was so special about this stuff. Answer: this vanilla bean extract is peppered with flecks of actual vanilla, which makes the flavor absolutely divine AND lends a bit of visual interest to whatever you’re making. I was immediately converted; I use it for cakes, cookies and even homemade ice cream.

And I guess Vanilla Bean Crush was kind of a gateway drug, because eventually I found myself experimenting with other artisan vanillas. Another favorite: Heilala Bourbon Vanilla Extract 2X, which brings its exotic taste all the way from New Zealand. As the name suggests, it’s twice as concentrated as most vanilla extracts, with a flavor that’s bold without being too bourbon-ish. They also make a Vanilla Bean Paste, which is thick and rich and gives you the gorgeous seeded texture of Vanilla Bean Crush and an equally intense—although slightly different—flavor. My suggestion is to play around with a few different varieties, and see which you like best. Even if they’re pricey, my feeling is that NO vanilla extract will ever go to waste.


My friend Betsy is a accomplished baker who (lucky for us all) also happens to be incredibly unselfish. I have been known to chase her down the aisle of the supermarket for her latest recipe discoveries, and she is always happy to share. Not only does Betsy never leave out an ingredient—she actually tells me what she has changed or added to make the dish in question even better.

In fact, it was Betsy who suggested using vanilla bean paste instead of regular vanilla for her Peach Tea Cake recipe. This foolproof cake, which she adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts, is always a hit! Although any stone fruit will work, I prefer to use ripe peaches at the peak of their season. The rich vanilla bean paste flavor layers beautifully over the deep peach flavors and gives the cake a gorgeous flecked appearance as well.

PEACH TEA CAKE12 tbsp (1 ½ sticks) butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp Vanilla Bean Paste
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups ripe peaches, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Cream together the butter and white sugar with electric mixer on medium high speed for 3–5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add vanilla bean paste. Add the flour mixture and stir just until a smooth dough forms. Place dough on sheet of plastic wrap and cover with another sheet of plastic wrap. Flatten into a 1-inch-thick disk and freeze for 30 minutes.

Butter an 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Divide dough into two equal portions and pat one portion evenly into the bottom of the buttered tart pan. Spoon the fruit all over the dough. Break the remainder of the dough into tablespoon-sized pieces and distribute evenly over the entire top. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 40 minutes, or until lightly golden and firm. Cool for 30 minutes before serving. Note: If wrapped well, the dough will keep for up to 3 months in the freezer. You can also freeze a whole unbaked cake with fruit for up to a month. Serves 12-14

Summer Sips

I’ve never liked limoncello, not even when I tried the authentic version in Italy years ago. It was always too strong and tasted like liquid lightening, burning as it travelled down my throat. But thanks to our colorful friend Jimmy “The Fur” and his outstanding recipe (“Good s*#! and fun to make!” he told me), we have a new hobby here at Honeysuckle Hill—from-scratch limoncello. The homemade version of this traditional citrus liquor has officially won me over.

Our daughter went to an extended sleep-away camp this summer, and my husband and I spent LOTS of time making homemade limoncello (actually, my husband watched helpfully as I peeled about a hundred lemons by hand) and nearly as much time drinking it. If I was feeling adventurous, I’d throw in some lime and orange peels to make the flavor a little more complex. Note: you DO have to be patient, because it takes three weeks for the grain alcohol to become fully infused with the citrus oils. But in the end, it’s definitely worth the wait. Limoncello not only won MY heart, but has become the most requested summer cocktail at our house.

SERVING TIP: Limoncello is traditionally served arctic cold, without ice. I recently found these mini shot glass mason jars at Cost Plus World Market—they hold just the right amount, and they look great!


½ gallon grain alcohol (I use Everclear) or unflavored 100-proof vodka
30 lemons
¾ gallon water
4–5 cups granulated sugar

Pour alcohol into a large bowl or glass jar with a lid. Use a vegetable peeler or very sharp paring knife to carefully peel only the top layer of skin from the lemons into wide strips—no white pithy parts. Discard the fruit (or better yet, set aside to juice for lemonade or lemon ice cream, later). Place the peels into the container with the alcohol, cover with lid, and freeze for 2 weeks to infuse liquor with citrus oils.

After 2 weeks, remove container from freezer and bring to room temperature. Remove peels and discard. In a large pot, bring ¾ gallon of water to a boil. Add 4–5 cups sugar, depending upon how sweet you prefer your limoncello. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved and liquid is clear. Remove pan from heat, and let sugar water cool. When mixture reaches room temperature, add to the lemon-infused alcohol. Presto! Limoncello! Serve ice-cold. Makes approximately 1 ½ gallons.

To me, nothing says summer like the sound of burgers sizzling and popping on the grill. It’s not like I need an excuse to eat them more often, but if I did, here it is: Nancy Silverton’s Special Burger Blend. This unique ground beef mixture, available exclusively at Huntington Meats in the Los Angeles Farmers Market, makes THE BEST burgers I’ve ever tasted, anywhere. The meat is not seasoned; rather it’s a unique blend of coarse-ground prime chuck along with other select cuts. An ideal fat content makes them drip and smoke just so—giving you a crispy charred crust outside, and tender, juicy meat inside. If you’re within a decent drive, it’s worth braving the traffic and parking for the perfect burger.


We stumbled across Rose’s Sugar Shack Cafe in San Clemente accidentally, while looking for a pit-stop during an excruciating bumper-to-bumper drive from LA to San Diego. Just off the El Camino Real exit from the 405 Freeway, we found two kinds of relief: a clean restroom AND true cinnamon roll greatness. I don’t take traffic lightly, but these might be worth two hours of gridlock.

Proprietor Rose bakes her secret recipe from scratch every morning; the cafe is only open through lunch AND they sell out most days, so you’ll need to get an early start. If your arrival time is approaching 10 a.m., consider giving Rose a call—if you ask nicely, she’ll be happy to set a few rolls aside for you. If you need to take your rolls to go (and can somehow avoid scarfing them down in the car), use Rose’s easy trick for re-heating. To keep these huge cinnamon rolls moist and gooey, simply place a glass of water in the microwave next to the plate with your cinnamon roll. Heat for 45 seconds, and enjoy. A LOT.

Berry Bounty

Summer doesn’t so much arrive in Los Angeles as it sneaks in the back door. Southern California has a microclimate condition called “June Gloom,” during which our trapped marine layer can make mornings chilly and overcast—even 10–15 miles inland! While this is bad news for ladies who lunch (or at least ladies who lunch on patios), it’s great news for anyone with a garden! Our blueberries and ollalieberries LOVE this weather, and if we can manage not to devour all of them straight from the bush, June is Blueberry Crisp and Ollallieberry Pie time at Honeysuckle Hill.

What’s an olallieberry, you ask? I first tried these amazing berries on a romantic trip up the California coast with my eventual husband. A uniquely flavorful cross between a loganberry and a youngberry, olallieberries are grown exclusively in the areas surrounding the quaint coastal town of Cambria. I had difficult time finding them here is Los Angeles, so I resorted to growing my own! If you are unable to get them, regular blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries—or any combination of the three—will do just fine.  However, if you’re willing to go the extra mile, you can taste for yourself by ordering incredible olallieberry jams and pies from Linn’s Pantry in Cambria, California.  They ship nationwide.  www.linnsfruitbin.com 



¾ cup granulated sugar, unleveled
12 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour, scant
¾ cup finely ground almond meal flour, heaping

4 cups fresh blueberries, washed and dried
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

FOR THE STREUSEL: In a medium bowl, combine sugar, all-purpose flour and almond flour and mix thoroughly. Cut in butter until mixture becomes a coarse crumb. Set aside.

FOR THE FILLING: In a medium bowl, use a spatula to gently toss together the blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Let mixture sit for about 15 minutes. Place blueberry mixture into a 1 ½-quart baking dish and cover completely with Almond Streusel. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until top is browned and berry filling is bubbling. Serve with homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (see recipe on page 121).

NOTE: This streusel makes enough for 2 (9-inch) pies or 2 blueberry crisps. If you only plan to make one, freeze the remainder for later use on your morning yogurt or evening ice cream. Serves 8.

For 1 (10-inch) pie crust or 1 (9-inch) pie crust with a lattice top:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp granulated sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup Crisco
4 tbsp salted margarine
4–5 tbsp water, ice cold

For 1 (9-inch) pie crust only:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp granulated sugar
½ tsp salt
⅓ cup Crisco
3 tbsp salted margarine
2 ½ tbsp water, ice-cold

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Cut in Crisco and margarine with pastry cutter or fork until it forms a coarse crumb. Add ice-cold water (I actually chill mine with ice cubes) 1 tablespoon at a time, adding only enough to hold the dough together. Mix until just combined. Flatten into disk on wax paper or plastic wrap and cover and chill in refrigerator for 20–30 minutes before use.

FOR PRE-BAKED PIE SHELL: Place rolled crust in pie plate and use a fork to poke holes all over. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before filling.




1 (10-inch) unbaked pie crust
4 cups fresh olallieberries
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp lemon zest
⅓ cup crème de cassis or blackberry liqueur
Pinch salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Make pie crust according to Thelma’s recipe for 10-inch pie. Use ¾ of the dough to make a 9-inch pie crust and reserve ¼ of dough to make lattice top. In a medium bowl, toss olallieberries together with sugar. In a separate small bowl, whisk together cornstarch, lemon juice, lemon zest, crème de cassis and salt. Gently combine liquid mixture with berries and toss until coated. Place berry mixture into prepared pie crust and dot with butter. Roll out remaining dough and use a fluted-edge pastry cutter to cut even-width strips, approximately one-inch wide. Place strips over berries and weave into lattice pattern. Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 30–40 minutes until crust is golden brown and berry filling is bubbling. Serves 8.