Cooking at Home with Candace Pilk Karu and Tyler Karu
There is a certain flow, one of lyrical respect, required when adult daughters cook with their mothers in the same space.
Writer and media strategist Candace Pilk Karu and interior designer and real estate developer Tyler Karu have mastered this delicately difficult dance with a reverence to each other’s culinary styles and to their shared history. They are preparing food for one of their favorite ways to collectively entertain: brunch.
“Brunch is an anything-goes-menuing opportunity,” says Tyler, so it is easy to fashion a feast that can be completely prepared before the guests arrive.
“And your guests are always bubbly and bright around midday when brunch is taken,” Candace says. They become even bubblier when presented with this pair’s standard DIY Bloody Mary bar that is stocked with staple tomato juice, horseradish, and vodka, but jazzed up with a prepped plate of interesting additions—like Slim-Jim sticks, trimmed scallions, sliced cucumber, sour pickles, and steamed shrimp to be mixed, matched, and munched on at will.
This mother-daughter brunch preparation ballet is most definitely eased by the flow of Tyler’s sleek and functional kitchen. There is counter space enough on either side of the deep sink for separate working areas. A duel-fuel, stainless steel range with plenty of gas BTUs on top and a steady electric oven underneath enables two cooking agendas to forge ahead simultaneously. And the ample corridor between the refrigerator, island, and range means no one is getting in anyone else’s way.
It helps, too, that both women possess a jovial tolerance for the younger Karu’s husband, Bobby Cooper, as he lobs comic remarks from the peanut gallery about the food as well as the conversation coming out of the stylishly spare kitchen in the couple’s 1950s cape located in Falmouth Flats.
Well, technically it’s not a gallery, but a living room area where Bobby hangs out with his and Tyler’s three dogs, he stretched out on the squarely comfortable couch and they on kingly cushions on the floor. The two Great Danes, called Clyde and Winnie, are tall enough to nose around the muted white quartz countertops flowing over gray (Nocturnal Gray, a Benjamin Moore color, to be more specific) Cabico cabinetry, but also obedient enough that a single strip of packing tape strung loosely across the passage to the kitchen is deterrent enough to stop them in their tracks. As her canine instinct demands, a third dog, a much more demure Brussels Griffon called Haddock, wanders about the open-floor-planned home, which is tastefully awash in soothing neutral tones accented with the ocean blue hues Tyler favors.
Candace works on a plate of coiffed deviled eggs that offer variety in their taste, certainly, but all branch from the same basic recipe: perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs, the yolks mixed with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard and seasoned with salt and a pinch of cayenne. She asks her daughter first for a cutting board, then a serving platter, next a Ziploc bag and, finally, a tiny fork. Tyler produces them all instantly as she goes about her task of making lobster panzanella salad, pulling each from a different drawer or cupboard among the vast amount of very well-camouflaged storage space spread throughout the room.
“Hmm, describe my cooking style…” Candance contemplates the question. “Well, I’m a passionate home cook who relies on simple, fresh ingredients that, when I work with them, allow me to explore different ethnic cuisines.”
She places dots of the yolk filling, squeezed from a trimmed corner of the Ziploc bag, onto the serving platter to gently anchor the halved, cooked egg whites in place before filling them with deft swirls of her wrist. She distinguishes each serving with a drop of Vietnamese sriracha, local microgreen leaves, or a sophisticated dab of caviar, the task that required the tiny fork Tyler dutifully retrieved for her.
Candace asks if she can treat the dogs to the whites that have split in the egg deviling process, a condition that makes them useless for this application. Haddock is keen; the bigger dogs are not.
Clyde and Winnie ignore the egg whites that land with a thunk on the yellow oak floors as they head past their taped barrier, with permission, of course, for a long drink of water. Their dog bowls are elevated to the proper Great Dane height because they are neatly housed in custom cutouts in the window seat storage unit set between two, floor-to-ceiling pantry cabinets. The cupboards frame the picture window with a view of Casco Bay.
As the women fill the top of the eight-foot-long island—designed by Tyler and fashioned by Portland furniture maker Kyle Kidwell—with food, they fill the room with talk of the Chinese hot pot their son and brother, Tim, owner of the Mercury Inn on State Street in Portland, served them last Christmas, remarking at the lengths he went to make the meal as authentic as possible.
“Both of my children have outstripped me in terms of their cooking skills,” says Candace, just seconds before Tyler asks her to taste-test the vinaigrette to see if it needs any more seasoning.
“This [dressing], like many of my go-to dishes, has its roots in a classic Candace recipe. I know those recipes by heart and I just add my own little spin to them,” says Tyler. She swaps out the white wine vinegar in her mother’s French-style salad dressing with lemon juice, which happens to go very well with the lobster and the toasted French bread croutons in the salad in this mother/daughter brunch.
Just as she’s accented her home with the blue of the sea, she likes to fill her plate with the food of the sea. But Bobby is not a fan, so the locally sourced salads she makes to suit their active, healthy lifestyle must be adaptable for both fish and his preferred protein, chicken.
“Her chicken salad is the best!” roars the peanut gallery.
“But you crush cooking it on the grill, honey!” Tyler volleys back from her spot at the stove.
One staple of the Karu brunch menu that doesn’t necessary earn a spot in traditional sustainable eating rotation, however, is Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. Candace uses them in every monkey bread she makes for brunch because they have helped sustained Tyler—who is allergic to both eggs and dairy—through many moments of her life because they contain neither of those ingredients.
“I used to bake crescent rolls in cupcake tins, sprinkle them with sugar, and send them to birthday parties so she had something sweet to eat besides the cake that would make her sick,” says Candace.
From the outside, you wonder if she’s smiling at the sentiment, the taste memory, or the present-day privilege of cooking with her mother in a space she finds almost as comfortable as the act itself.
Cinnamon Pecan Monkey Bread
This recipe was adapted from a Pillsbury Crescent Roll tube. This easy-to-prepare, fun-to eat, pull-apart bread is just right for a casual brunch.
Serves a crowd
2 cans refrigerated crescent roll sheets
½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup raisins (optional)
½ cup butter, melted
½ cup packed brown sugar
Heat oven to 350°.
Thoroughly grease a 12-inch Bundt pan.
Unroll dough sheets, forming two large rectangles. Cut each sheet into 24 pieces for a total of 48 pieces. Gently roll each piece into a ball.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix granulated sugar and cinnamon. Add dough pieces to bowl; toss until each is well coated. Place half the coated dough pieces in the Bundt pan. Sprinkle half the pecans and raisins. Add the remaining dough pieces and sprinkle with remaining pecans and raisins.
In a separate bowl mix the melted butter and brown sugar until blended. Pour evenly over the dough pieces in Bundt pan.
Bake for 20–25 minutes or until golden brown.
The addition of plain Greek yogurt gives these eggs a creamy tang. Get creative with toppings for your deviled eggs. I love to top mine with caviar, jalapeño rings, micro greens or bacon. I also love changing up my deviled eggs by adding Sriracha, cheddar cheese or avocado to the egg yolks. Pro tip: if you’re having last-minute guests and are pressed for time, you can buy hard-boiled eggs at most grocery stores. I won’t tell if you won’t.
6 large eggs, hard-boiled
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper, to taste
Caviar, bacon, jalapeño rings, micro greens or paprika, for garnish
Halve eggs lengthwise and scoop out yolks. In a small bowl, mash yolks with a fork. Add mustard, mayonnaise and Greek yogurt and mix until well combined. (If I have time, I whip this mixture with a hand mixer to make it extra smooth.)
Divide the egg-yolk mixture evenly to fill the eggs. Garnish and serve cold.
Springtime Lobster Panzanella Salad with Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette
Serve a lightly dressed salad at brunch for a fresh and fabulous change of pace. A bed of fresh greens topped with lobster or shrimp in a simple lemon vinaigrette—what could be easier or more delicious?
For the lemon Dijon vinaigrette
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the salad
A bed of fresh greens
Cooked lobster or shrimp
Croutons (a half cup per person)
Whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients until emulsified. Toss with the salad greens, seafood and croutons and store the rest in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Bloody Mary Bar
A Bloody Mary bar is such a festive way to get the brunch party started. And it couldn’t be easier. I have a pitcher of tomato juice, vodka and glasses at the ready. Next, I add anything you could ask for to make your Bloody Mary perfect—and uniquely your own.
Here are some of my favorite additions:
A selection of hot sauces
Sweet and spicy pepper spears
Crisp bacon strips
Dill pickle spears
Lemon and lime wedges
Seasonings—Old Bay, garlic salt, cayenne, celery salt, black pepper, cumin
Shrimp or lobster
The list goes on. The great thing about a fully stocked Bloody Mary bar is that everyone gets exactly what they want; spicy or mild, cocktail or mocktail, classic or fully loaded. Don’t forget toothpicks and stirrers.
Ladies and gentlemen, the bar is open.
Christine has lived in many places, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, England and France. But her professional world has consistently been grounded in just two: in journalism and in the kitchen. Throughout her 30-year writing career, she’s covered sports, politics, business and technology. But for the past 10 years after completing culinary school, she’s focused on food. Her words and recipes about eating locally and sustainably have appeared in publications from The Portland Press Herald to Fine Cooking. Her award-winning cookbook Green Plate Special (link is: https://www.amazon.com/Green-Plate-Special-Sustainable-Delicious/dp/1944762140) was published in 2017. When she’s not laboring over a cutting board or a keyboard, she’s learning from her two semi-adult children, a community of food-minded friends, hundreds of productive Maine farmers, thousands of innovative chefs near and far, and her 30,000 honeybees.