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happy new year everyone!

December 31st, 2011 | 2 Comments »

I debated a recap type post, to ring out 2011 with panache and style, but let’s face it….. those aren’t my strong points, regardless of how you look at it. I’m pretty basic and down to earth. And after 5-1/2 years of blogging, recaps are sort of old hat.

And there’s no list either, of stellar accomplishments I’ve set down for 2012. While I love the idea of making positive change, and growing a bit more of myself each year, I don’t publicly declare those. I just try and make some little changes, in baby steps and in the right direction, and I realize that my human-ness will always get in the way of these, every single year.

And this blog, really, wasn’t the highlight of 2011. While I discovered a whole new level of health and well-being this year by giving up meat, it felt so simple and easy, like I was meant to be here, filling my belly with good things. Kind of akin to unearthing a pair of beloved gloves you thought you lost, pulling them on so familiar and solid. I think I’ve belonged here, feeling this good and so energetic, all along.

The best part about this past year? My friends. My amazing, beautiful, talented, funny, touching, warm, engaging and trustworthy friends. These people were but a breath in the air last year at this time; something there, but not really, and poised on the edge of 2010, facing down a new and full 12 months ahead, I had no idea that within six weeks of this year beginning, on a very cold February night, how my life would change so dramatically. That so many incredible doors would open, that these smiles would become so familiar, that the truth of an honest and loving friendship would sustain me so well. Who knew? One month you hesitantly attend a huge social gathering of fellow food bloggers, and suddenly the rug of your normal life is yanked from underneath, but a hundred hands reach out to help you stand, in a brand new way. Could I even begin to describe what that feels like? This beating of wings inside my heart, this joy that’s been quietly administered? I’m more of who I am, because of who they are.

May you be blessed with the gift of honest friendship, now and always, and may 2012 be full of dreams realized, love and laughter.

{{photo from Google images}}

all that’s left

December 27th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

There isn’t much now, that signifies Christmas was only two days ago, other than the abundance of chocolate in the house, the presence still of a tree with glittering ornaments and other holiday decor. The gift bags are empty and some treasured new items have been absorbed in to our days. Everyone seemed to have a good time this year. The stocking hunt was successful…..

The cats received fun new toys that they enjoyed…..

And there was plenty of gatherings, with laughter, delicious food and wine, more cookies than one could shake a leg at, and little children with bright happy faces. But just like that, the planning and preparing and decorating and plotting and going and coming and caroling and waiting waiting waiting was over…… *poof*…… just like that. You wake up on the 26th and it’s back to normal, back to reality, back to work (for some) and another Christmas is done. It seems like so much anticipation, and then in a blink it’s gone.

Some aspects remain, memories made and smiles shared and a new gift to use or enjoy. Or maybe, what remains most prominently is a smidgen of the amazing Cranberry Pound Cake that, on a whim, I whipped together and pushed in to the oven, before dashing upstairs to shower an hour before guests were due to arrive. It was still baking, rich and fragrant and eliciting all sorts of ‘What IS that in the oven?’ queries when my family arrived, and before coats were even shed.

And me, nonchalantly trying to avoid panicking, since the cake seemed off when I shoved the pan in the oven and raced off with a prayer, I just shrugged and said ‘Cranberry cake’ as if I’d just, you know, trimmed a nail or something because I really had little confidence it was going to be worthy of Christmas dessert. It was a blind preparation, something I’d never made before and I had everything I needed and took a chance. It seemed simple enough.

And thankfully, the alchemy of eggs, sugar, butter, flour and a hot oven created a masterpiece that I can’t wait to make again.

I get a bit overly excited each year when faced with orbs of fresh deep red cranberries in the store, and often stockpile as many bags as I dare in the freezer to use over the winter months. I spotted this recipe at Apartment Therapy (as usual….) and tucked it away to try, then of course, got caught up in the crazy whirlwind of pre-Christmas and neglected to make a dessert for our family gathering. But…. like I said, it worked despite a few reservations. In fact, it worked so well that I already am thinking about another go of it. I mean, by golly the initial cake isn’t even gone from it’s plate and I want another one. That HAS to be a good cake, right? It’s got an amazingly rich, yet light taste and a dense sponge to the cake, sweet but not cloying. Pops of deep cranberry flavor are laced with pure almond taste, and the crumbly sugary crust is simply divine. You could make this for an amazing dessert to impress, or you could just make it for yourself as a phenomenal treat.

Cranberry Cake

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 tablespoon kirsch (optional)
2 cups flour
2 1/2 cups cranberries (1 bag)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan or a 10″ springform pan. You can also use a standard Bundt pan, or 10″ tube pan with removable bottom.

Beat eggs and sugar together for 8-10 minutes —no, this is not a misprint! …. the egg and sugar mixture should double in volume and turn pale yellow, leaving thick and shiny ribbons of batter when you lift the beaters. This is the only leavening in the cake so make it good and fluffy.

Add the butter and flavorings and beat for 2 more minutes. Stir in flour and fold in cranberries. Pour into greased pan.

Bake 45-50 minutes for a 9×13, or a little over an hour for the springform, bundt or tube pan. You made need to tent the cake with foil in the last 15 minutes or so to keep the top from browning too much.

Cool completely before serving.

Optional pecan topping: 
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans, toasted

Heat the butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the sugar and stir. Add the toasted pecans and cook for several minutes, stirring, until the butter and sugar mixture is shiny and smooth and the nuts smell toasted. Spread over the cake batter and bake as above.

Original recipe, from Faith Durand at Apartment Therapy, The Kitchn.

~~~Next time I make this cake, I think the addition of fresh orange juice and freshly grated orange zest would be wonderful. Also, a scant 1/2 teaspoon of fresh grated nutmeg would also be marvelous. So many possibilities!!!

too busy to notice

December 20th, 2011 | 5 Comments »

I waken, I connect, then move through the motions of prep for my day; a lunch for later, breakfast for now, then a shower, fixing my hair, some makeup and a trip in the car, mostly without noticing anything. Not anymore. Light follows me in, then darkness ushers me home.

I move through my hours, work hours that either stretch on endlessly or fly by in a flash and I don’t notice the little things, or sometimes I do. The pretty purple coat, the lovely glittering pin on a collar, the purposefully ugly Christmas sweaters worn by the staff at the coffee counter, brightly cheerful and festive. I’m too observant for my own good sometimes, but then moments pass and I realize I haven’t seen anything at all. Not the pleading eyes of two cats that adore me, not the dust settling in the corners, or clinging to the high walls in the kitchen, not the Jade plant, observing it’s annual Christmas tradition of bursting in to bloom.

And life feels like it’s whirring by, a blur of events that I’m not noticing. My world opens and shuts, morning to night from daybreak to sunset and I go here and come back from there and share a meal, then climb the stairs to collapse before it begins all over again. My friends go places and enjoy themselves and I see it all happening and I think “Why not me?” and then I’m too caught up in what I’m doing to even really care all that much. But I do care. Because the Jade plant knows when to unfurl it’s tiny pink flowers, showing off to celebrate the season, and I seem to just watch the clock to make sure I’m not late, carefully folding the blue coat for work, making sure my socks are all clean and my pants aren’t dirty and I face towards the garage and I go. And I return and then do it all again.

Can resentment live with gratitude and not mess it all up? I’m so grateful for this job that I am so good at, with people who are strong in spirit and mind, funny and yet focused, ready and willing to help. I’m so blessed by my work, the customers with their questions both silly and serious and opening one’s eyes to the wonders of amazing food. It couldn’t be more perfect for me. But it takes me away from my life right now, with it’s rush here, go there and be on, on on all the time, with a smile and clean hair and a professional manner. And I struggle with resentment that I can’t enjoy it all. Next year, I say to myself, will be easier; I’ll know more about the job {{because this is my first year at it, I remind myself about a billion times a day}} and I’ll be better about the balance and the focus and noticing the goings-on around me.

I want to strip these blinders off, suffering from whiplash as I take in the world around me, the events of the season, the sparkle and shine. Why haven’t I seen that light display? I drive by this block twice a day and I’ve missed this, every single time. Why am I not noticing, where have my deeply observant eyes gone? I don’t buy in to the excess and stress of the season; I don’t shop for perfect gifts, nor create award-winning platters of amazing food worthy of a magazine spread or decorate as if House Beautiful is coming over. I celebrate the reason we celebrate, with the birth of a baby to a barely teenage mom in a lowly barn of filth, a baby that changed the world. And maybe so much of my resentment isn’t of life, but of how far off we’ve gone from this season, how badly we treat each other, how desperate lives have become, how sad the world seems to be. And there in itself is more reason to see those light displays shine, to throw off the blinders, to observe the good that remains. I just can’t be too busy to notice.

 

It’s ‘Just Write Tuesdays’ with Heather of The Extraordinary Ordinary. This week = the 15th installment.


10 day photo challenge: santa edition/day 1:: red & white

December 14th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

For the next 10 days I’ll be posting a single photo with the Santa inspired theme, an idea hatched and inspired by Flux Foto. The theme topics can be found HERE.

My friend Mary, of White Peach Photo sent me the link, urging me to participate. She’s my not-so-secret Santa this year, who blessed me with Clara. Sharing the photo challenge is a way for me to get more familiar with Clara and what we can do together.

Today’s topic:: Red & White.

 

 

There’s a Flickr group for the 10 day challenge —–> Go HERE

And if you want to follow what I post on my own Flickr page ——> Go HERE

 

clarity

December 13th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

My routine every morning is pretty much the same; awaken to the sounds of my husband coming in the room and placing a steaming cup of coffee at my bedside, dropping a kiss to me, then putting up the shade before exiting. Sometimes a cat curls up next to me, paws kneading the quilt, purring hard and fast, and as my mind becomes clearer and I sip at my cup, I reach for my glasses and suddenly the world springs to life.

Since I was six, my day can’t start without placing glasses on my face. The wedge dug deep into bone on the bridge of my nose attests to a lifetime of pressure, as the prescription gets worse and the glasses become thicker. I can’t see more than half a foot in front of me without them, but without clear sight, I’ve gained other senses in compensation. Like the ability to smell far too many things that others can’t detect, or such delicate hearing that any noise in the night, even a cat sighing in contentment at my feet can waken me. Taste is sharper, touch is sensitive but knock off my glasses and I’m helpless.

Most of the time, I never think about it. Glasses are all right, even chic and fashionable. The lenses are designed to be less thick, more invisible and the styles are beautiful. And when I remove them, and gaze around me, a world opens up that only the sightless can know; shapes are undefined, colors bleed in to one another and the world hovers, dream-like and ethereal.Those with perfect vision can’t know the beauty that bursts forth in my mind when I take off my glasses.

I’ve tried though; tried to describe to someone what I see when I don’t see. But I get a puzzled look, and a smile that says they can’t possibly know. But I want them to know, that even half blind I might see better than those with 20/20. If your eyes were closed and I dropped a handful of cotton balls to your palm, would you ‘feel’ the color white?  If a searing hot pan touches your skin, do you think the color red? Do ice cubes make you understand what blue really is? This sight that’s blurred at the edges, hanging in suspension,  it’s like a secret only those of us with gouges on the bridge of our nose can understand.

The lights are my favorite thing, sans glasses. And when my face is bare, they become like colored fuzzy blobs floating around, with no anchor or connection. If I squint a bit, they dance and shimmy. Christmas lights are the best; an explosion of colors and magical shapes that evade even the wildest of descriptions. And I could never make sense of it to anyone.

But then I found this……

 

 

This….. it almost brings me to tears. Because for all these years, in trying to explain what I see, the magic in staring at tiny spectral lights that are blurred, unfocused and seemingly floating in thin air, this photo captures it all. Perfectly. I could spend hours gazing at blobby hazy lights and I never get tired of it. Like my teeth, or my ears or my hair, it’s part of who I am. This lack of good eyesight, the lifetime of fuzzy images…. it’s not a disability. Not to me. I can remove my glasses and the rest of the world slips away, and sometimes this is not a bad thing. This is my world, my life.

Because when the world is out of focus to some, it’s breathtaking in it’s clarity to someone else. I don’t need to see clearly what I know is really there; it’s perfect, just exactly as I see it. And this photo? This is enthralling, pure magic. Kind of like Christmas itself.

And now, thanks to Grace, from the website ‘Habit…. a collection of days‘, I can share this clarity with others.

 

 It’s Just Write Tuesdays. Stop over at The Extraordinary Ordinary for our 14th week.

blueberry/coconut/macadamia muffins

December 10th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

For starters, there are WAY too many vowels in this muffin description!!

But they are worth every twisted tongue and exhaustible explanation because they are fragrant, tropical and fabulous.

About a month ago I was contacted by a company called Oh! Nuts! and asked if I wanted some products to use for my holiday baking. I’d done some business with Oh! Nuts! before and was really pleased with the quality and freshness of their bulk nuts and dried fruits. Oh! Nuts! has a lot of attractive gift options for holiday giving, as well as fresh nuts, dried fruits, candy and other items for year-round baking. I highly recommend their products and can personally vouch for the quality. I was more than happy to have another chance to use some of their items.

For my personal use this time around, I requested Macadamia Nuts and Calymyrna Figs, and within a week, they landed on my doorstep. The figs are gigantic and sweet with a soft bite, and the macadamia nuts are perfectly tender and moist. I’ve been just tickled with both products and decided that before I gobble them all up in my adoration, I would at least make an attempt to bake something with them. It isn’t often you get a world class nut like macadamia gracing your pantry.

This muffin recipe has been hanging around my kitchen for some time now; originally it’s from the Fall 2006 issue of Eating Well magazine. And in a current frenzy through the recipe stack threatening to take over it’s designated drawer, I serendipitously came across it, magically having everything on hand to whisk up a batch of these to make a sunny, yet chilly December day feel a bit more cozy.

The recipe itself is without a great deal of fat or sugar, thankfully. But the muffin doesn’t suffer in the loss of theses tasty ingredients. They burst with blueberry taste, crunchy bits of chopped macadamia nuts and a hearty, nutty crumb that is moist but not at all cake like. If it’s supposed to be a muffin, I want a muffin, not a cupcake disguised as something else. With it’s crunchy streusel-like topping and tender fruit, this will be a repeat in my kitchen, a perfect means to use the frozen berries in my freezer, and to draw more warmth to our frozen landscape.

Blueberry Coconut Macadamia Nut Muffins

1/4 c. unsweetened flake coconut
3/4 c. + 2 T. AP flour (divided)
1/2 c. + 2 T. packed brown sugar (divided)
1/2 c. chopped macadamia nuts
3 T. good quality olive oil
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 T. ground flaxseed
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/8 t. sea salt
1 T. ground cinnamon
1 large egg
1 large egg white
3/4 c. skim milk
2 T. plain or vanilla lowfat yogurt
1 t. lemon extract (can sub vanilla, or coconut as well)
1-1/2 c. fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries

Heat your oven to 400°. Line two six-cup muffin tins with papers. Alternately, spray the muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine the coconut with 2 Tablespoons each of AP flour and brown sugar with 2 Tablespoons of the chopped macadamia nuts. Drizzle this with one Tablespoon of the olive oil and stir to combine. Set aside for muffin topping.

Whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of AP flour, the whole wheat flour, flaxseed, baking powder and soda, salt and cinnamon until well combined. In a large measuring cup, whisk the 1/2 cup of brown sugar, the egg and egg white, skim milk, yogurt and extract until smooth. Make a well in the dry ingredients and whisk in the wet until only just mixed. Add the blueberries, and the remaining macadamia nuts and carefully fold in until blended.

Spoon batter equally in to the muffin tins, then sprinkle a bit of the reserved coconut topping on each muffin. Press gently in to the batter, and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in muffin pans for 15 minutes, then turn on to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

Original recipe from Eating Well magazine; posted here with heavy modifications.

DISCLAIMER:
Oh! Nuts! provided me with both the macadamia nuts and the calymyrna figs free of charge
and without expectation of any reciprocal endorsement. Everything stated in this post are
my own thoughts and are freely expressed. 

braised kale & chickpeas in coconut milk

December 7th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

I collect a lot of recipes. Papers overflow the corner of our counter where they tend to land; recipes of all types from desserts to main dishes. Trouble is, I rarely use them, verbatim anyway. They serve as a sort of spiritual guidance, infusing me with inspiration to cull what I need to make up a dish all on my own. I’m only home a few nights a week to cook these days. And although I could give any one of the recipes to my guys and they’d likely be able to pull it off, there’s no way I could hand them two or three, with all sorts of odd instructions such as ‘Take this part’ and ‘Do this but not this’ and expect it will come out the way I envision it. My brain works way differently than theirs when it comes to putting recipes together.

Still, even with all the inspiration at my fingertips (or these days, stuffed in a drawer) sometimes the meals I create are derived from a leap or two of inspiration that comes not from a printed source, but from a few wild ideas my brain churns out that I think sound good together.


I certainly had no doubt that we would enjoy this silky braised kale, infused with coconut milk and some fragrant curry powder, but I had no idea that it would swirl through my mouth with such immense flavors, causing me to think almost obsessively about it, plotting the exact next time I could simmer up a large pan of it for us to enjoy. Griffin won’t eat it, and that’s fine. He has tried a few bites of cooked greens that we consume but he’s just not there yet. Mike and I fell over ourselves in adoration for this dish, easily a complete meal. Alone with a large helping of kale, it’s perfect as is, but the second go-round I made of it, I added a large bunch of red chard, complete with the chopped stems and if it’s even possible, the dish was so much better, with richer, deeper flavor and much more balanced.

The best part about making this dish on one of the first bone-chillingly cold days of December, was placing my nose down among the wisps of steam that rose from the pan and breathing in the fresh green scent of kale and chard. It easily transported my mind back to late summer, the bounty of chard bunches to be had for a dollar apiece that I would bring home from the markets each week. Thankfully I can find inexpensive one pound bags of prepared kale, and chard is reasonable for the taking so I won’t be missing my greens all that much. I just won’t be shopping in a flippy skirt and tank top when I buy them.

Braised Kale and Chickpeas in Coconut Milk

1/2# prepared kale, tough stems removed, roughly chopped
1 15-oz can lite coconut milk (you can use full-fat as well)
1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed well
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 t. prepared curry powder, or curry paste (both red or yellow would be perfect- adjust to taste)

In a large deep skillet with a lid, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil, and add garlic. Cook and stir for a few minutes until garlic becomes opaque. Add kale in handfuls, stirring continually, until it’s all in the pan. Continue to stir until it turns a very bright and dark green and has taken on the oil in the pan. Add about a half cup of water and cover the pan, allowing to simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, coconut milk and curry powder. Cover and allow to cook, slowly, anywhere from 5-15 minutes more, depending on how you like your kale to taste. Stir again, seasoning with salt and pepper, if desired. If the kale seems a bit watery, remove the lid and allow some of the liquid to cook off.

Kate’s Notes: If you wish to use chard as well, you can add that after the kale has simmered for the first 10 minutes. Stir in the rough chopped chard and allow the heat to steam it tender. If using the stems too, chop them fine and add them with the garlic in the beginning.

the ‘to don’t list

December 5th, 2011 | 8 Comments »

I’m most frantic with trying to handle all the red-hot details of so very much these days. And I’m no different than anyone else who makes an extensive list that helps organize and pull it all together. The process of extracting it from my brain into line by line visuals takes it from a jumbled mess in my head to categorized chaos on paper, and sometimes it helps pull it all together. Sometimes.

And then, inevitably, I just make more in my head and it starts all over again. Or the list is paralyzing in it’s length, or breadth and it causes me to stare, incomprehensibly at what I think I should do.

Then I lay there this morning, much as I do every day, thinking about the hours ahead and the things I want to do, and a thought struck me so profound and immense that I sat up, quickly, and reached for my phone. Because in this season of ‘To Do’ and ‘To Decorate’ and ‘To Bake’ and ‘To Cook’ and all the other ‘To Do’s we force ourselves to create, I started to think of the ‘To Don’t’ items, the ones that I wish to shut the door on, both this season, and all to come.

They might be something like this:

~~Don’t fall in to the hype of a commercialized Christmas.
~~Don’t get caught up in piteous little daily things and ignore your coffee when it’s hot.
~~Remember, every single day, why we celebrate Christmas. The real reason.
~~Don’t buy anything that you don’t think you will use for 12 months a year.
~~Don’t bake anything you don’t like.
~~Don’t say ‘Yes’ unless you absolutely can.
~~Don’t forget about you, your son and your husband.
~~Don’t wait to decorate if it’s what you want right now.
~~Don’t think you have to be there when the perfect tree is found. They can do it too.
~~Don’t pass by that beautiful light display, glancing at it out of the corner of your eye. Stop the car. And really LOOK.
~~Don’t think you can’t go for a walk when it’s cold; bundle up and suck it up.
~~Don’t forget your camera, regardless.
~~Don’t ever forget where you came from, ever, when you start thinking you don’t have enough.
~~Don’t forget that when you gather, it’s about the company and community and not about the food,
the treats or anything else.

And oh my word, could I fill these pages with my ‘To Don’t's. Because, really,  this list is never-ending. And it doesn’t just apply to Christmas time, with all it’s frantic rushing and shoving through my days, exhaustively pressing pencil to paper in an attempt to slow it all down and control it. I have the same 24 hours as anyone on the planet. And no memories are made when I’m racing around in a panic, trying to fit it all in. And in among the massive endless ‘To Do” tasks that we think we have to accomplish, something will inevitably get lost, those moments forgotten in a mad rush or ‘this’ thing, or ‘that’ thing. And what are you willing to forget, to let go and push aside because some list of stupid tasks is more important?

All we’ve ever done, since list-making was created was make our ‘To Do’ lists, scratching out what we think is some semblance of order. For a dramatic change in perspective, I encourage you to write your own ‘To Don’t’ list.

What would be on it for Christmas this year?


It’s Just Write Tuesday over at The Extraordinary Ordinary. I’m a bit early this week.