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Sweet Potato Love…..and a muffin

September 30th, 2009 | 12 Comments »

sweet potato

You’re not a potato, my chalky tuber. You are not even really considered a yam, by the true means of the word. But to avoid confusion and misunderstanding, you are required to carry the moniker ‘Sweet Potato’. You are golden, bright orange, pale yellow and the color of a sunrise, at once starchy and dry, as well as moist and tender. You make amazing oven fries, stunning side dishes, distinct risottos and perfect pies. You have that multiple personality trait down to a science, don’t you? Who would have thought that you were distantly related to gorgeous Morning Glory flowers? And aren’t you the healthy one? Rich in antioxidants like beta carotene and Vitamin A, complex carbs and fiber, you rank awfully high on the nutritional value chart, giving us iron and calcium to boot. Oprah is a big fan of you, lucky spud. That pretty much guarantees you’ll be the talk of the town, doesn’t it?  We can come by you quite inexpensively too, although no one can call you cheap- you are a class act, my friend. You hold up well to storage too. And thankfully, you are in great supply, for our demand for you is high and you’re readily available all year round. And if we choose to cook you, mash you and store you in the freezer, you never complain. And patiently you wait for us to bring you back out and make something wonderful from you.

Like these muffins. Thanks for offering up all your golden glory to a humble breakfast and snack food.

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You and I, though, we haven’t always been friends, and I’m sorry I ignored you all those years. Think of the fun we would have had! But no matter. We’re tight now, and that’s all that counts. I love it hanging out with you, and am so glad I introduced you to my good pal oatmeal. The two of you make quite a pair in this delicious and stout muffin, don’t you?

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I’m not at all jealous that you get along so well, in fact, I really like it when my friends find something good about each other, something they enjoy that has little to do with me. I was happy to introduce you two; it seems to be a match made in heaven, and how easy is it to get you two to hang out? Really, it takes little effort, and for my gain I get delightful and simple muffins that speak poetically of Fall, warm with cinnamon and nutmeg and the hearty toothsome bite of whole oats. Not to mention that sweet tender tang of you, my tuberous pal. I’m so glad I gave you more than a passing glance. We’re great friends for life, yes we are.

Oh by the way, have you met another good friend of mine, her name is sweet cream butter?

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Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins
from the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission

1 c. old fashioned rolled oats
1 c. flour (AP or Whole Wheat, or both)
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 T. ground flaxseed
1 c. cooked and mashed sweet potato
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. canola oil
1/4 c. skim milk
1 large egg
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400°. Line two standard muffin tins with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk oatmeal, flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and flaxseed. In another small bowl, combine sweet potato, brown sugar, oil, egg, milk and vanilla, whisking to blend well. Pour over dry ingredients and stir to combine. Mix until just moistened. Scoop into muffin tins and back for 15-20 minutes. Check at the 15 minute mark- these bake up quickly.

This recipe doubles really easily. I doubled it using both AP and whole wheat flour and the result was nice and firm. You can substitute pumpkin for the sweet potato, or use garnet yams. Be sure that the vegetable is cooked and mashed well. I used soy milk in mine and it works just fine. For one batch of these, I added 1/2 c. of flaked coconut, and I think chopped and toasted pecans would be wonderful in these.

For an extra level of flavor, you can top these with a crumb topping made from 1/4 c. oats, 1/4 c. flour, 1/4 c. brown sugar, 1-2 T. softened butter and 1 t. vanilla extract. Combine these well and sprinkle over the muffins before baking. I have not used it, but imagine it would be excellent.

Update on Harmon

September 28th, 2009 | 15 Comments »

Photo on 2009-09-28 at 13.07

Harmon is doing better, thanks to a steroid prescribed on Saturday. The stitches from the surgery are starting to fall out, and he allows me to gently rub the incision with my fingertip. The surgery was two weeks ago today. I’m hoping to be able to clip out the remaining stitches, as I think they are itching him quite a bit.

The swelling that came as a result of the other mass became very bad, and was alarming to us. The steroid has helped reduce this, plus he managed to scratch it open and the amount that drained out was beneficial as well. Had this not occurred, we likely would have needed to lance it, as it looked terrible and was clearly uncomfortable. Thankfully he didn’t need that procedure. The other mass in his chin has gone down in size, but I can still feel it. His mood is better, he eats better- thanks to the steroid- and on Saturday night, for the first time in months, he climbed the stairs to our bedroom and got on the bed, snuggling up against my legs all night long. He even got up in the night, went downstairs for a drink and then came back up again for more snuggling. That to me was a clear sign that he has improved.

The hardest part now is not to become complacent about him, which I am trying hard not to think about. I can’t think that he’s fine, I can’t let go of the sorrow. He still has cancer. He is still sick, but I guess this could be called a reprieve, or maybe even a remission. He is very thin, comparatively, and it is still obvious to me that it’s difficult for him to eat as well as he should. But anything, for now, is a reason to rejoice. And for taking more time to draw him as close as he will allow, and bury myself in his fur as much as I can.

Wine poached prune plums

September 26th, 2009 | 6 Comments »

Stone fruits are fickle little things. They can be at once a juicy sweet perfection, and yet also a rock hard, gritty and sour disappointment. They taunt us endlessly with their possibilities, rarely consistent and yet so tempting.

The tiny purple Italian prune plum has the means to bridge this gap between hope and despair in the mere fact that it simply begs to be cooked in order to reach full enjoyment. The flesh when raw is acceptable; it’s fairly sweet with a decent amount of juice, but given just a brief turn in a warm skillet and it becomes something sublime and intoxicating. Poach it with some deep red wine and the experience soars.

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These days I’m needing all I can get to fill the yawning gap inside me, brought about by Harmon’s cancer diagnosis. The turn to Fall is often one choked with melancholy for me; the loss of summer’s warmth and the mountains of fresh produce, the chill in the air and shutting down the flower beds. Our September has been more glorious than imaginable. We’ve been graced with warm and languid days followed by cool crisp nights that begged for open windows and a light blanket. In our semi-rural neighborhood of open fields and ponds, the geese have gathered in massive droves and flown their missions overhead by the hundreds with noisy and eye-catching appeal. The field mice are much more active, giving our intrepid hunter an endless supply of ‘gifts’ to try and bring to us. Baskets of winter squash are appearing in the Farmers Markets. There are shocks of color through the trees as the thick greens of summer give way to Autumn’s richly burnished palate. But I feel like I am in a state of flux. We just have no idea how the last course of Harmon’s life will go, and for me, I just want to be here with him soaking up what remains of our time together. I feel like Autumn will pass by my windows while I snuggle my old friend and begin to consider life without him. It’s slightly ironic, and painfully so that in this transition of seasons outside, within the walls of our life we are transitioning as well from life to death, a golden leaf withering in front of our eyes into the silence of eternal winter.

So the need for something to soothe is evident. I don’t want much these days, wishing for little effort in exchange for nutritional gain. There were delicious and knobby Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins that spoke of Fall, tinged with cinnamon and warmth. I found an extremely deep sense of comfort in a simple hard-boiled egg and warmed cooked potato sprinkled with a dusting of sea salt. A package of tiny gnocchi dumplings became  crispy and soothing after a sear in brown butter and topped with tender sage leaves, and in the midst of the past few days, where my tears have been so close to the surface that most anything can bring them springing to life, a few of these poached plums have been a perfect foil to fill the pit in my stomach that threatens to engulf me. I sneak them from the bowl in the fridge, where they sat silently as their original use for a delicious cake fell to the wayside while sorrow took over. After a few days, and some stealth tactics of enjoyment, I did manage to cook up a quaint and tiny little coffee cake, richly hued in these dark purple slabs, crunchy with almonds.

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This is a coffee cake unlike any coffee cake that I’ve known before. Thin, somewhat crisp, not too sweet and thoughtfully simple, is a lesson in cake’s alter ego, that which doesn’t comprise itself of towering airy layers sporting thick rolls of buttercream. It can shed that cloying nature, throw off the layer-icing-layer makeup and just be fabulous without fuss. You don’t even need rich and succulent wine soaked prune plums to make it; any ol’ plum will do, or perhaps a good firm pear or a gently caramelized apple.

Wine Poached Prune Plums
by Kate

Wash, split and pit any quantity of prune plums- I used a full container from the grocer; it probably had about 1-1/2# in it. In a deep skillet, combine 2 T. chunky fruit jam of choice (I used Thomson’s Sweet Cherry Preserves), 2 T. red wine (I used a syrah) and 2 T. of water. Heat gently to melt jam, stirring to combine everything. When warm and a few bubbles have been seen around the edges, add as many of the halved plums as you can, cut side down. Cook gently, without stirring, for about 5 minutes. Turn plums over. Cook about 2-3 more minutes and remove to a bowl. Add remaining plums and cook, adding to bowl when done. Pour any juices over the plums and gently turn to coat the fruit. Allow to sit as long as you can. The more time, the deeper the flavor. Chill in fridge.

Prune Plum Coffee Cake

3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. sliced almonds (I had whole; I broke them up first)
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
6 T. butter
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350°. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the sugar and almonds and process until almonds are ground. Add flour, baking soda and salt and pulse twice to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add in egg and yolk and extract and pulse until combined. Spread batter in pan and top with poached plums, pressing them into the batter. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until cake is firm. Allow to cool for 15 minutes or more, then release the spring.


This cake could be better, I’m sure of it. While always wary of using a food processor to make a batter, thinking that the spinning blades tend towards overkill more than gently combining, I would be interested in doing this in a different method. The cake, while good, was a bit dense. The batter quantity is small, and 40 minutes in the oven resulted in browned and crisp edges. I love that on a cake, but many don’t. It was, with it’s almond base and simple design, an amazing flavor. It might come out slightly better if baked in a loaf pan too. At any rate, there is much to experiment with this recipe.


September 23rd, 2009 | 16 Comments »

We won’t be treating Harmon’s cancer.

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It’s not even a consideration. He is 16, and has blessed me with the most unconditional and amazing love of any animal I’ve known. Through times of my life when I felt like I was the most vile and worthless human, he never failed to climb in my lap and press his girth against me, purring his trademark rumble and squeezing my leg with his claws. Every night he curled against my legs in bed, or often on top of them and I would struggle against his weight and warmth to prevent my legs from falling asleep. Yet he never relented. It was like he knew what his role was, knew exactly what I needed even if I couldn’t feel it myself. He knew his place, and it was on my lap, or curled tight next to me.

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It’s one thing to discuss cancer treatments with a human, one who can understand and comprehend why they may need poison in their body to ward off such a terrible disease. You can explain about hospitals and doctors and needles and IV tubes and side effects to a human. You can’t tell a cat any of this. You can’t explain that it will help relieve the pain. You can take a human to the hospital and tell them you’ll return to visit, or be there when the treatment is over but you can’t make the animal understand that. They won’t know it’s in their best interest. They only will know pain, fright and confusion. I could never do that to Harmon, and I could never do that to me.

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And he’s 16. He’s been in beginning stages of renal failure for about two years, but without major problems. And for the love and strength that he’s given me, it’s grossly unfair to think that I can prolong his life for my own benefit. He’s been in a safe and loving environment since he was a baby; I am the one face he’s known his whole life and he’s given me back oceans of love for the simple act of accepting him into my life. What he needs now is relief from the pain and the knowledge that for the end of his life, I was here with him, making him comfortable and showing him how much I love him.

As for what’s next, we just need to watch him. I’m more than aware of the fact that we’ll know, without a doubt, when it’s time to say goodbye.

This ‘bed head’ shot has always been one of my favorites. Harmon does ‘bed head’ really well.

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I’m a little worried about how Bustopher will handle the loss of his cat-bro….

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More importantly, how will we??

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That’s why they call dying a ‘process’, I guess.

Heartbroken and grieving

September 21st, 2009 | 34 Comments »

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It’s Cancer.

Wordless Wednesday

September 16th, 2009 | 3 Comments »

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September 15th, 2009 | 14 Comments »

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Harmon is home and seems to be resting comfortably. He isn’t too interested in eating or drinking much and I’m sure I wouldn’t be if I had that stitched up chin either. He loves it when I lay next to him and scratch his head, under his floppy protective collar and around the underside of his chin. And he’s been OK about taking his medications although they probably don’t taste so good.

We have been so appreciative of the prayers and thoughtful purrs from the Cat community. I am overwhelmed and so thankful for your kind thoughts and words. They have really helped me in the past day. The pathology report could take a week to come back and I’m still fairly anxious about that but am trying to stay focused and make our kitty guy comfortable. I really had to force myself to go to bed last night instead of laying on the floor next to him staring at his face and trying to will healing into him. He seems a lot more comfortable and at ease today.

You can see the other mass in his chin, about 1:00 in the photo above, dark red and slightly lumpy. I am praying the antibiotics will clear that up and that he won’t require another surgery. Please keep the purrs and warm thoughts coming, and again, thank you so much for your kindness and good wishes.

This is Harmon…..

September 14th, 2009 | 23 Comments »

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He’s 16 years old, and has been around since before my own child. I have a hard time remembering life before Harmon.

If you’ve never had a beloved pet, if you’ve never known the beauty of their unconditional love, you can stop reading and I won’t fault you. I’d rather you click away than try and understand.

Harmon will be having surgery today, Monday the 14th to remove a lesion from his lip. It started out looking like nothing more than a blemish on his chin, but it never healed and lately it’s gotten worse. The vet said that it just needs to come off, that certain cancers manifest themselves in this manner and a pathology test will determine once and for all what it really is.


Sixteen years ago I was walking through the rescue shelter, gazing in the cages at all manners of cats. The cages stood three high, and they were all filled. Suddenly I felt something grab my leg from the middle cage near where I was standing, and I bent over to look in. This adorable orange furry face gazed back at me, and reached a huge fluffy paw towards me again. Here was a 4-month old kitten that was enormous, with an equally huge fluffy tail. I got him out of his cage and took him into a small room where you could ‘get acquainted’. This fuzzball of a cat started purring like he’d eaten a jet engine. He literally vibrated from head to tail as he purred and rubbed his chin endlessly on me. With one desperate gaze from his golden eyes, I fell in love and took him home. I was besotted, a complete goner. I was chosen, picked by the cat instead of the other way around. Someone must have known just exactly what I needed.

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And then a vet says ‘Cancer’ and suddenly I can’t even sleep. And it could be nothing worse than a clogged pore, but all I can think about is what life might be like without that purr, those golden eyes and the gentle love he’s always given me. This has been the finest cat I’ve known. He’s always willing to offer a snuggle, he breaks into his trademark purr if I even look at him and say his name, and no matter what I’ve done, where I’ve lived, what I’ve gone through- which have been some extremely dark times- he’s been right there, settling in against my leg, curling his claws in contentment when I scratch his ears and being steadfast and constant throughout it all.
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He’s my sunshine fiend. One ray of sunshine in the house, and he’ll find it.

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But he’s 16. Climbing the stairs is hard, and getting on the bed is harder. He sleeps way more than our other cat. He seems shaky and stiff on occasion, but once in a while he kicks up his heels and runs around like a kitten, batting at a toy or chasing an invisible target. But he is old, and there is fear in me. I know that keeping pets in your life opens up the possibility of enormous heartbreak; I’ve been down that road already, owning pets since I was 10 years old. I’m aware of how much it can hurt.

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Cancer. Pathology. Fear.

I’m trying to think of positive outcomes, but quite frankly it’s difficult, if not impossible. Inevitably, if it isn’t this it will be something else and I’ll have to face it then so I run the movie in my head of what it will be like to say goodbye to him, to wake up and come down my stairs and not hear his loud chirp of greeting, and see the way he runs straight to the cabinet that holds the cat treats even though he knows that he has to wait. To watch TV without him contentedly purring in my lap. To see how he drags himself from a deep sleep when someone is in the kitchen because he just has to come in and check to make sure we haven’t dropped a lovely tidbit he could eat.

What will it be like to eat dinner and not have him pawing us?

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Will Spring be the same without an adorable shaved cat in the house?

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My heart can barely handle these questions now.

C is for Corn

September 11th, 2009 | 3 Comments »

For anyone holding the September issue of Gourmet magazine, you’ve no doubt been taken in by the Vegetables A to Z index, and maybe like me you’ve been drooling over the rich bounty of recipes to help you with the expected garden delights that you’ll have at your disposal in the weeks ahead. I love the idea of sweeping through the end of the gardening season in grand fashion, drawing the curtains on Summer and ushering in the glory of Fall, cool weather cooking and warm hearty dishes. Our summer hasn’t been all that hot, really, and I’ve toyed with the desire to make a steaming pot of soup last month to ward off some cool evenings. Now September has come, and it won’t feel so odd to consider soups, a good stew or an afternoon of baking. It’s a September sort of thing.

And along with the alphabet offerings in the magazine are menu options composed entirely of one letter. Being somewhat of the orderly sort, I first drooled over the ‘C’ menu with it’s Cold Cucumber and Cubanelle Soup with Cashews and Chives, the Caramelized Chipotle Chicken, and this delight, Cheesy Creamed Corn with Cilantro.

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Corn season has begun in earnest here in Minnesota, and trucks at the markets are overloaded with cobs. It’s not at all unlikely that when I hand my bag to the kindly people behind the tables that they dole out an extra ear here and there just to whittle down the mass behind them. I’m happy to relieve them of their bounty as sweet corn is a fleeting season, and an even more fleeting taste. It’s best still rich and moist with the morning dew, it’s silk wet and sticky and the shucks thick and damp. Peel it down, cook it any way you wish, but for me, an ear slathered with real butter and sprinkled liberally with salt is the finest means to chomp through my haul. However, this recipe is really delightful as well.

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The corn is stripped from the cobs prior to cooking, then sauteed in a skillet with green onion and garlic, mixed with a little milk and cornstarch and topped with cilantro and a crumbling of queso fresco cheese. It’s pretty simple, and a cinch to pull together. The corn taste is out of this world delicious, a tiny hint of of onion kissing every bite and the rich creaminess beats anything that could come out of a can. I served it with my favorite Parmesan Grilled Zucchini and a fresh garden tomato for a light, simple and quintessential summer dinner.

Cheesy Creamed Corn with Cilantro
from Gourmet magazine, September 2009

3 T. unsalted butter
6 scallions, minced
6 ears corn, kernels cut from cobs (before cooking)
2/3 c. cream or milk (I used plain soy milk)
2 t. cornstarch
1 garlic clove, minced
2 oz queso fresco, crumbled
1/2 c. cilantro leaves

Heat butter in a wide and deep skillet and add corn. Stir to coat and cook, stirring occasionally until it’s bright yellow, about 5 minutes. Add in onions and garlic, stir well and cook for about 3-5 minutes more. Whisk milk and cornstarch together and pour into pan, stirring to combine well. Allow to simmer for about 2-3 minutes, then serve corn topped with cheese and cilantro.

Wordless Wednesday

September 9th, 2009 | 1 Comment »

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Mediterranean Tuna Antipasto Salad

From Eating Well magazine…..

Good quality tuna in olive oil
Fresh romaine leaves
Red pepper strips
Garbanzo beans
Kalamata olives
Cucumber slices
Tomato wedges (or cherry tomato halves)
Avocado slices

Wash and dry romaine leaves and tear into bite sized pieces. Dress with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Arrange on plate. Top with remaining ingredients and another drizzle of oil.

Variation: The tuna can be mixed with the ingredients (diced to bite size pieces), and a dressing of choice and served in tomato cups, on a bed of greens, on crostini or with crackers.