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lift, swim, eat, repeat

January 22nd, 2014 | 2 Comments »

It’s frigid outside, again, although nowhere near as cold as it was a week ago. In the pool room of the Y, the sun is making the water sparkle, when it’s able to peek out from the whirling dervishes of snow kicked up by the intense Northerly winds. The snow devils block the two story high windows, but even on this deeply cold day, the warmth in the pool is welcome. I slip in to the water and feel the shock of the cold over my entire body, shivering a little as I push off from the wall.

I’m sore this morning, as our Body Pump class has started a new release, changing the sequences and challenging our muscles all over again. This happens every six weeks, and I equally anticipate it, and dread it. And I love it. And hate it. Change is hard, and this physical change that I’ve been putting myself through for the last 14 months has forced me out of my comfort zone more times than I ever expected. Some mornings, just stretching, and rolling out of bed elicits groans and tender first steps. Going up and down stairs can hurt for the first treads after a good leg workout, and those first strokes in the pool, like today, felt tough, but freeing. Swimming takes the hurt out of muscles torn and battered, challenged through lifting, forced into re-building and growth. But the first 100 yards or so can almost bring tears to my eyes as the soreness abates, the tendons and ligaments stretch and recover. I swim to make it better, then, the next day I lift the bar, clip on the plates and tear myself up all over again.

I’ve always been active, but in previous years, most of that activity was in warmer months, saving my nordic ski habit for Winter. As much as I love the skinny skis, it wasn’t enough, and I knew I needed more; more weight training as I age to help ward off osteoporosis and keep good skeletal health. More cardio to keep my lungs healthy, in a family with history of asthma. And more movement to keep me from languishing through a Winter, sinking in to a soft chair, one eye on the calendar, waiting for Spring, for my bike to come down from the rafters in the garage so I can spin the tires once more. Starting was difficult, keeping at it to make it a habit was even more difficult, but one day I awoke and felt excitement at the thought of another Body Pump class, in realizing it was a swim day and anticipating how good I would feel when it was all over. The rewards were reinforced even further when clothing began to loosen, my shoulders strengthened and those bike rides didn’t feel so strenuous any longer. In 14 months, I haven’t lost a single pound, but everything looks different, and pants that were snug before I started can now be pulled over my hips without even being unbuttoned.

I love this article … stop a moment and go read it, as I think you’ll find it fascinating, too. I was a skeptic, and at one point would have scoffed at the information, but now, I’m a believer, and a convert and gladly head to the YMCA six days a week for one more Body Pump class, or to slip through the water, admiring the sparkling sunbeams on the pool floor as I swim. All the aches, the hurt and fatigue, the sore muscles and mind-numbing but uplifting after-burn combines to motivate me every day, to be better, and stronger.

Soups and hearty warm stews are a constant these days. Nowhere in your kitchen repertoire can you find a dish that is so versatile and so accepting of the varied means to an end. Minestrone is designed to take in the leftovers lurking in the fridge, the odds and ends of vegetables that don’t have a place otherwise, to steep together, to create something that fills you up after a cold day has taken the last of your coping skills away, or a good workout has drained your energy. I love that a good soup or stew tastes better in subsequent days, that the flavors meld and deepen, almost, like continual exercise does with our bodies, becoming something else altogether.

Perfect Minestrone

1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks, with leaves, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced (adjust to taste, I am a garlic lover)
2 small zucchini, peeled and diced
1/2# fresh green beans, cut to 1/2″ pieces
1 bunch fresh kale, rough stems removed and chopped (sub chard, collards, or spinach)
1 32-oz container Pomi* Tomatoes (use equivalent of your choice)
1/4 c. quinoa (optional, but I like the heft and nutrition it adds)
1/4 c. fresh chopped parsley and oregano (basil and thyme are also good)
Parm-Reggiano shavings

In a large stockpot, heat a small amount of oil and add the onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are opaque. Add the carrots, celery and green beans and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to brown a little, maybe 10-15 minutes. Moderate the heat to prevent them from scorching.

Add the garlic and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir to incorporate and cook for a few minutes until it’s wonderfully fragrant. Add the  zucchini and the tomatoes and a quart of broth or water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender enough to pierce with a fork, but not completely soft.

Add the kale, the pasta and the quinoa, if using. Depending on what pasta shape you use, cook until the pasta is al dente. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper. Make sure the pasta is cooked, but also remember that it will continue to absorb liquid as the soup sits.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with a sprinkling of the fresh herbs and some shavings of cheese. Serve with a good bread, if desired.

*- Pomi Tomatoes are a packaged brand of tomatoes available in most grocers. The container is aseptic, with no BPA and the taste is phenomenal, fresh and clean. It’s one of my favorite brands of canned tomatoes on the market.

NOTE: The original version of this recipe called for pasta, as most Minestrone soups do. I subbed in quinoa for a GF option but you can use any small pasta shape of your choice if you wish. The photo shows Orzo pasta.

 

KATE’S NOTES: A good Minestrone is designed to use up vegetable odds and ends. While these make for a delicious soup, use whatever you have available to make your Minestrone unique, and to use up what’s in your refrigerator.

renovation

January 14th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

We’re renovating our Master bathroom, and it’s just as fun and exciting as it sounds. Mike is pretty handy, and I have some skills of my own, so we’re doing all the work ourselves. Obviously, we aren’t casting and pouring our new countertop and sink, and we’re not molding the tile for the floor one by one, but we’ll be tearing it all out, pulling off the enormous mirror that covers one entire wall (which I am THRILLED to be rid of, thank goodness), ripping up old linoleum, breaking off the gad-awful frosted shower door and throwing away every single piece of brass fixture in the room. When it’s done, the new tile floor will contrast nicely with Antique Blue paint,(formerly dark {DARK} teal green wallpaper <— [ugh] ), the Hollywood light fixture will be in the trash and a much smaller mirror will grace the wall. Plated nickel fixtures will soften the whole room.

Here is the BEFORE shot:
The walls had the same dark teal green of the countertop, which made the room feel so small and closed off. I should have taken a shot of that before we ripped it all off. That brass….. ugh. See that mirror that extends along the entire wall to the shower? That’s going away.   I don’t like that there isn’t a single spot in the bathroom to stand where you can’t see yourself in that mirror.

January is like that. There is renovation everywhere. Changing your life is hard. And it’s forever. The wellness journey I began when I was 33 is now nearly 17 years in process. I’ll never be finished with it. Each year that goes by adds another challenge, or change, to the equation. I’m OK with it. For you, in your process, please be OK that it will take time and a lot of effort, and don’t think that it will be easy. I’ve been often kicking and screaming my way to well-being, burrowing down in my bed making a million excuses why I don’t need to get up and go swimming at 8:00am on a Monday morning. But I only hurt myself when I do that. So I shake out the cobwebs and gather my swim bag. After I’m finished, I’m always, always glad I went.

I made a few decisions about my little space here on the web, too. There are a lot of words inside of me that are clamoring to be heard, and in past years, I’ve been focusing this space on just the foods that pass through my life, and not connecting the food with the thoughts, the life and the faith that also feeds my soul. Everything is entangled in one big web, and all of it is important, and if you come here for the food, you’ll still get that. But there will be so much more, pieces of me that, up until now I’ve pushed aside as irrelevant. There is so much more to feeding ourselves than just putting food in our mouths, and I want to be able to explore all of that.

One last aspect of blogging that I’m completely turning my back on is sponsored posts and product reviews. It seems that every PR company out there wants to send you a pitch for you to post to your blog [for free. Right.]  Why this is considered appropriate, I’ll never know. I’m not a successful blogger by any means, so I don’t get many product offers any longer, and a few that I agreed to try recently ended up being awful, and there was no way I could post about that. I received several wonderful cookbooks at the end of 2013, but never found the time to offer up even a minor review, and that just seems wrong to accept something for free and not give back.  So I’m done. I might talk about a product I love, but it won’t be due to anyone’s urging other than my own. I recall, with a deep sense of disappointment, that there used to be a time when blogging was fun, when it wasn’t all just pitches for products and sidebars jammed with anointed badges trumpeting accomplishment and I really long for that simplicity again.

It may never happen, but it doesn’t hurt to try. I’ve never been one to jump on the blogging bandwagon and be like everyone else. I hope that’s why you continue to come here, for a different, or refreshing perspective. I hope you continue to stop by for a chat.

 

 

cold weather coping, with soup

January 8th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

We’re on the upswing of some pretty intensely cold weather. Thankfully it was brief, only a few days, but the deep freeze shut down the state in ways that I haven’t seen in almost 20 years.

I’m old enough to well recall the last two deep freeze spells that came through Minnesota; the last one, in 1996 caught me inside a superbly drafty, old house and my poor baby, barely even 2 years old, was wrapped up so tight in layers that he could barely toddle around. We spent a lot of time snuggled in blankets watching PBS and reading books.  And prior to that, in 1994, I was carrying him around on my insides, and so toasty warm with extra weight and hormones that I walked to the bus stop in -20 temperatures, with a cruel wind to boot, in an open winter coat that flapped in that vicious breeze. And I was still too warm. I didn’t get any frostbite, but I sure got some weird looks.

And here’s the thing; yes, by golly, it’s cold. But that just means more layers, more awareness when going out. I was outside on both of our recent cold days and although I could certainly vouch for the bone-chilling wind, I was dressed properly and felt just fine. Not fine enough for being out very long, taking a walk or getting out the nordic skis, but there was no fear in running errands and going about my business. Working in a grocery store led me to witness some pretty bizarre behaviors in people buying up supplies like an apocalypse was upon us, but quite frankly, I’m more fearful of being out in a blizzard than I am of dealing with a polar vortex. Cold is not so bad if you aren’t afraid of it.

We did have a big hiccup with Mike’s car, though, as he willingly allowed Griffin to park his car in our garage overnight so that when he had to leave for work at 4:30am, his car might start a bit easier. Which it did. But, as you can imagine, Mike’s car wouldn’t start after being out overnight in -50 wind chills. After multiple attempts to get the engine running, he disconnected the battery and brought it inside to warm up, keeping it connected to an electric charger. The next morning, the car roared to life as it should. Bottom line: if your car has to be outside, try taking the battery inside on those brutal nights. It’s a little extra work that might save you from a dead vehicle. And an electric charger should be in everyone’s arsenal.

Our fireplace got a lot of use over the past week, too. It’s gas, which isn’t our favorite, but you can’t beat it for ease and for incredible warmth. The fireplace has a blower that sends the warm, heated air out in to the room, and I curl up on the sofa in front of it, cats draped across my lap, my knitting in hand and a movie or TV show on Netflix and can pretty much forget that’s it’s not a fit night for anyone outside our windows.

At the top of every coping mechanism, however, is the food we love to consume when the weather bottoms out. You all know that I love soup, almost beyond words, and for one of our bitterly cold night, I made a simple pot of simmered beet greens, chickpeas and red-skinned potatoes from our Fall Storage CSA share. Simmered in turmeric-laced coconut milk, spiked with red curry paste, it was enough to cut through even the most bone-rattling cold, warming us right to our toes. Beet greens {and all hearty greens, like kale, mustard greens, collard greens, and chard) become silky smooth, nearly melting in your mouth when simmered slowly, and this method has made me a huge fan of just about any dark, leafy green, loaded with the iron our bodies need. This soup is pretty similar to my popular Braised Kale & Chickpeas recipe, with a few tweaks here and there. The addition of turmeric adds lovely color, and the wonderful anti-inflammatory properties that turmeric offers.

We’re expected to warm up in to the low 30′s by the weekend, and I can’t even imagine how delightful that’s going to feel after this last blast of arctic air, but, sadly, weather patterns hint at the brutal cold returning all too soon. There’s lots of Winter left. Plenty of soup to be made, I imagine.

Greens, Potatoes & Chickpeas in Coconut Milk

1 large bunch dark, leafy greens such as Beet, Collard, Chard or Kale, washed, de-stemmed & rough chopped
1/2# red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut to 1/2″ {leave the peels on}
2 c. cooked chickpeas {equal to 1 15-oz can, rinsed well}
1 15-oz can coconut milk {use full fat for best flavor}
1 c. water
2 T. ground turmeric
2 T. red curry paste {optional, but you’ll love how it warms you from the inside}
1 large shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced {use less, or more, to taste}

In a deep skillet, warm oil of choice and sauté the shallot and garlic with a big pinch of salt until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add in the greens by the handful, stirring to help them wilt slightly. When all the greens are added, pour in the coconut milk and water, and stir to combine. You won’t have a ton of broth, and you don’t need a lot. Add the curry paste and whisk to incorporate, then sprinkle the turmeric over everything and stir until combined. Bring to a simmer, add the potatoes and chickpeas, then cover and cook over low heat until the potatoes are just fork tender, stirring occasionally. Don’t cook them to the point of falling apart. The greens should be silky smooth.

Season to your taste with salt and pepper, then ladle in to bowls.

 

#oneword365

January 1st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Two years ago, without even knowing why, the word ‘mindful’ came to me on a cold January morning in 2012, and sank like a stone in to my heart. It stayed there for the next 12 months, sprouting upwards in consciousness through interactions at work, with my friends, my family and with my actions. I stopped and paid attention whenever ‘mindful’ crossed my life and by the end of the year, it was ingrained as a part of me in everything I did.

Last year, the same thing happened, and ‘growth’ became the word that I focused on each day. But it wasn’t until far in to 2013 that I discovered this #oneword365 movement of mindfulness and focus, on choosing a single word to sift through your life for a year and make lasting changes. I was floored at the thought that somewhere, my mind had received this information without even knowing the source and used it to enact a fitting change to my daily interactions. Once again, it was clear that the hand of God was working in me beyond my understanding.

And there was a lot of growth this past year, much of it in very subtle ways. I took on a great deal of physical growth in the way I cared for body through weight-training and exercise, working up to attending three Body Pump classes a week, biking to the Y as much as possible, getting out for walks with Mike; there was a lot of growth throughout the year in my job, far too much detail to get in to here, but I saw three General Managers cross my path in 2013, highly unusual no doubt, and chaotic, too. I like consistency in my job (and my life, really) and the ups and downs of that made this past year difficult at work. I’m hoping that 2014 evens out in that area, now that we have a permanent leader there. As always, there is growth in relationships as well, both at home and with friends. It became clear to me this past year that some friendships and connections had to be released, that they were no longer bringing anything positive to my life, that even their words seemed to grate against my heart. It’s hard when that happens, but I recognize deeply that I need to surround myself with people that bring the good to my life, that show up when needed, that celebrate joy with you and are there to lean on when the ground trembles.

There was a lot of personal growth, too, as I felt myself moving closer to realizing that there is a deep potential in me that I have yet to allow to break loose. As I look back, I can see clearly that I need to stretch myself and reach out towards that potential, that mulling it over in my head was a way to accept that this growth is necessary.

For 2014, my one word came early, many weeks ago as I sat, wrapped in a blanket against the cold December day and gave thought to where I wanted life to take me in the coming year.

Like a meteor from the sky, simplify settled in deep.

I didn’t need any more prompting, because I now know that God has for me more ideas, plans and beauty than I can possibly comprehend. Simplify is perfect, after a year of growth, after a year of mindful. In making life easier, it will require letting go of what is holding me back and moving in to a deeper sense of self. I’m not kidding myself that my life will be easier, or simpler in this transition, but the gain and reward will be far greater than the journey.

And settling in to what I am truly called to be WILL simplify my life. 

cold weather coping, with Vegetable Shepherds Pie

December 31st, 2013 | Comments Off

There’s no shortage of weather folklore to be found, in which the rhythm of the seasons can be a harbinger for predicting coming temperatures. This one seemed particularly fitting to our current weather in Minnesota.

When leaves fall early, Fall and Winter will be mild;
When leaves fall late, Winter will be severe.

Our whole theater of seasons in Minnesota was far, far behind the norm this year, with snow falling on May 1st, the growing season extended to near the end of October, and Autumn leaves peaking weeks behind schedule. Is it all an indication that our Winter will continue to be caught in a deep freeze? Stick around.

Decembers as of late have been all across the board for weather; we’ve had monster blizzards (December ’10) that dumped nearly 2-1/2 feet of snow on us, and Christmas weeks that have had nothing but hard rain (December ’12).

This December, it’s been the season of sub-zero temperatures.

It’s a languid post-Christmas week (languid for me as I took 9 days off after Christmas), and we’re already experiencing a second round of deep cold and unpleasant wind chills, of complaining and groaning over why one lives in such a place, running through Instagram photos of island vacations past, to dream of warm sand and sunshine and forget that exposed skin could acquire frostbite in just 10 minutes exposure outside. We bake to ward off the chill, simmer kettles of soup or slowly braise a comforting pot, cuddle under blankets, binge-watch Netflix and Hulu or movie catalogs, or just plain deal with it when the temperatures plummet and the wind bites with gnashing teeth at our skin. But one thing remains; we’re all in this together.

Cold weather isn’t much of an issue with me. I’ll add another layer, pull out the thick, warm wool mittens, tug on some leg warmers and keep my head down from the wind. Inside, I slip on wooly hand warmers, sheepskin slippers and invite the cats for a snuggle. Cranking up the oven helps too, as adding warm, cozy foods to the menu is the best way to keep warm from the inside.

This Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie was created as a vegetarian entree I was designated to bring for a Christmas gathering with my in-laws. I wanted something that would be universally accepted across the board by all the various dietary needs of our extended family; the Primal eaters, the wheat-free, the dairy-free and the meatless. It covers all those bases with it’s lush pile of heavenly roasted vegetables bathed in a balsamic glaze and a simple shower of salt and pepper. I chose not to use a binder to hold it all together, and instead of rich, buttery potatoes coating the top, I used roasted sweet potatoes, spun to a silken mass with a hand-mixer, touched only with good seasonings. The result was remarkable in flavor, eye-catching in presentation. I was thankful that it was so well-received, and grateful to have still a large portion to bring home and consume, post Christmas, as the deep cold set in.

Don’t be put off by the long recipe; you roast most of the vegetables, which can be accomplished while the sweet potatoes and beets do their thing in a hot oven. You’ll spend some time prepping those veggies, but putting it all together happens quickly. You can make the recipe in two 8×8 pans, saving one in the freezer for another time. Another elegant presentation would be to portion out ramekins for individual servings, an ultimate dinner party delight. The recipe makes plenty of filling to do with as your creativity leads you.

Best of all, when the temperatures drop and your belly growls it’s hunger at you, this feeds you with warmth, good health and well-being. For the upcoming winter, you’ll love having this in your repertoire.

Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie

3 Parsnips, peeled, cut to 1/2” chunks
4 medium carrots, peeled, cut to 1/2” chunks
2 stalks celery, cut to 1/2” pieces
2 8-oz pkgs whole baby portabella mushrooms, quartered
1 medium onion, halved, sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
3 cups Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and halved
4 small to medium gold beets (from one bunch) scrubbed, greens removed if needed
5 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed well
1/3 c. mixed fresh herbs, minced (oregano, parsley and thyme are delicious)
olive oil
salt and pepper
balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 400 degrees. You will be roasting all of the vegetables except for the celery, onion, mushroom and garlic. They will all take different amounts of time to finish, so start with the ones that will take the longest: poke the sweet potatoes a few times with a sharp knife and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Wrap beets well in foil. Place both in hot oven and roast until tender. A fork should slip easily in to the beets when they are done. Set aside to cool.

In a bowl, toss parsnips with a bit of olive oil and salt and scrape onto one side of a baking sheet. Repeat with carrots, and place on the other side of the baking sheet. Roast in hot oven until just tender. Place back in bowl and set aside. Repeat with Brussels sprouts, roasting until just tender. Scrape from pan in to bowl with parsnips and carrots.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter. When bubbling, add mushrooms, and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until they release their liquid. Add onion and celery and continue to cook, stirring often, until they soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat slightly, and cook for about 10 minutes, allowing the mushrooms to brown in spots and become very fragrant. Stir in garlic and sauté for about a minute, then add about 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar. Scrape up any browned bits in the skillet, and simmer until the vinegar is absorbed. Add in the parsnips, carrots, and brussels sprouts and 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar. Stir to combine and allow to simmer over low heat for a few minutes. Turn off the heat. Peel the beets, chop in to bite sized pieces and stir in to vegetable mix with the fresh herbs. Scrape entire pan in to a 9×13 baking dish.

Peel sweet potatoes and place in a bowl. Mash with a fork, or potato masher until smooth and creamy, season with salt and pepper. Spread evenly over vegetables. Place back in the oven for 15-20 minutes to heat through.

reflecting, forward and back

December 20th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

My current view is a darkened house, lit only by Christmas lights on the tree, and draped over various banisters and cabinet tops in my main level. If only it was appropriate to have these twinkling multi-colored lights and deep green strands cascading everywhere, all year long, I surely would as it’s the most soothing light I know. Plus, when I take my glasses off and the colors bob untethered in the air with a blurred edge, it’s pure magic. Everyone loves to sit by the Christmas tree.

Christmas is but days away. Five to be exact. This year has felt different in many ways; quieter, more peaceful and focused. Less madcap. Less of everything. There was a simple cookie exchange with a group of close friends, and instead of baking like crazy to make a dozen cookies for each participant, we decided to only bring 3 dozen total, which gleaned us a smaller amount, but without the crazy-making. Because power failed for one friend, the other- pregnant and a Toddler Mama, well, you can just imagine the challenges of baking in that season of your life, and everyone else just said ‘Can this be fun instead of hard?’. To which we all, resoundingly, agreed. So we gathered, sat by a crackling fire and laughed about the absurdities of life and when it was over and we walked to our cars, a gentle snow-globe snow was falling to big smiles all around. We are Minnesota girls to heart, and we all love snow.

And by the way, most of those cookies are already gone. The snow, however, continues to fall. Snow globe like. More pure magic.

There was the heater core that failed on Mike’s car, too, on the cusp of the coldest week in Minnesota in more than five years. There might be a hiccup in the car that can be set aside for a more flush time, if that ever exists, but heat is essential and he was tired of numb fingers and toes so we plunked a chunk in to that and wheeee…… there went Christmas. Sort of. I stamped my feet and pouted a bit over that, and a few tears stung my eyes at the rotten timing, but Christmas will come, like the Grinch discovered, without packages, baubles and bows and I know, really know the true meaning of the holiday. The presents are pretty, and festive. But when I look around at what is contained within these walls of my twinkling home, I see healthy folk, (and two happy kitties) with full bellies and hearts and a rapture that can’t be bought with a dollar sign of any amount. It’s far more clear this season, of cold days that seem to crack through a deep breath, of the hustle around you and the holiday smiles and the pre-Christmas full moon that created that breathtaking luster of midday in the middle of a frigid December night, that my wish list was fulfilled by His birth, that of which the angels sing. While I’ve known this for eternity, it seems, the truth of it has landed this year with something far more solid.

I’m figuring out the next steps, here on this blog and on the path I walk daily, trying to determine A) what can a blog of nearly 8 years continue to offer, and B) am I truly living my life as God intended, with the gifts that He gave me, to the potential that I am capable?

Big words. And an even bigger reach for my arms, and my heart. Are you with me? Let’s welcome 2014 together, then.

holiday eating, + down time

December 6th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

The space between Thanksgiving and Christmas feels so much shorter this year, like a freight train coming at us, all decorated in sparkling lights, tinsel and bows. I love Christmas a lot, and the decorations are only a part of what makes it so appealing. But we’re barely past Thanksgiving and December is already roaring in to greet us, all proclaiming the glory of the season.

It’s time to turn the focus on the real meaning of the season.

But first….. we need some good food for celebrating, don’t we??

I tend not to post a lot in the last month of the year. My job becomes so incredibly busy this month and the uptick in activity drains a lot of energy out of me, leaving little time for extra effort in the kitchen to make, photograph and write about a divine treat, or beautiful holiday option. Plus, I just don’t think anyone needs yet another food blogger spelling out Christmas cheer in concentrated posts between now and the end of December. It’s become so saturated with those, hasn’t it?

But I do have some delicious treats, side dishes and snacks from past years that I think are wonderful, and thought that I’d just share a few of them with you. Some are old (but all things old are new again, aren’t they??) and some are new; some spell Christmas loud and clear, and others are just a darn good idea, but all of them can be incorporated at some point over the next weeks in to your holiday repertoire.

May your season be cheerful and bright, however you celebrate.


The ultimate Christmas treat: Sugar Plums

If you’ve never made this classic holiday treat, this should be the year you do. They are superbly simple, with a delicious taste that only gets better as they sit, waiting for Christmas morning. They’re quite healthy, too.

Sugar Cookies. The perfect blend of butter, sugar and vanilla, and just what you need to roll out and cut with fancy cookie cutters for decoration.

 

A Nutmeg Cake that smells like Christmas:


White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies- Christmas perfection.

Swedish Holiday Fruit Bread (Fruktkaka), tasting like a long forgotten memory.

Nutella Pound Cake, anyone?? Can’t get much richer and decadent than that, can you?

Earl Grey Tea Cookies- made with the beautifully aromatic tea leaves, these taste like a gorgeous Winter day and are a great afternoon treat.

Authentic German Stollen, which I must make again this year. This recipe was glorious. (Photo is from 2008- no judging!)

Great snack option, or perfect for gift giving, Dark Chocolate Nutella Muddy Buddies:

For a very hearty appetizer, this Chili Bean & Queso Dip is spectacular:

For something completely different, try making this Middle Eastern spice and nut blend called Dukkah. (again, photo from 2008- no judging!!)

Make Christmas magic with this unique and delicious Red Rice Pulao with Roasted Vegetables as your side dish:

You can substitute your favorite hearty green in this Boursin Spinach Gratin, and still get an amazing, rich and creamy side dish:

May the magic and beauty of Christmas, and all the holidays be kept close to your heart, now and all the year through.

on knowing it’s enough, and apple cranberry crisp

November 13th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

The end of the year always brings reflection for me. I tend not to wait until the flip of the calendar to January, and resolutions never cross my thoughts, but I look at my life and do a sort of personal evaluation on where I am, where the past year led me, and where I’d like to take the next 12 months. This process is only in the beginning stages right now, and as in past years, it always includes this blog space of mine.

Our church just started a sermon series on breaking free of the chains that hold us to societal norms, like the collecting of possessions, the constant need for ‘new’ at every turn, putting forth the appearance of perfect, and other traps that hold us to a collective thinking that is less than Christ-like. Our first message talked about how we tend to accumulate far more than we ever need, that our houses are twice the size they were 20 years ago, and at the same time, Americans rent 1.2 billion square feet of storage space. No one needs to have that spelled out; our homes are even way too big to hold everything we have.

This series comes so perfectly timed for Mike and I, as we decided the week before that we need to clear up the clutter of un-used items in our home and take back the space, even if it means simply leaving it bare. There’s that desk that sits in the corner, it’s purpose long gone yet the top is cluttered with items that haven’t got any other ‘home’. The spare bedroom has become a dumping ground for far too much, unorganized and chaotic. The lighter weight blankets, the flannel sheets, a closet full of off-season clothing, items that Griffin has outgrown, a pile of clothing started for donating. The list is endless, and I know that you’ve probably got a space like that in your house, too. I open drawers and find items I had forgotten about, and I wonder, why do I have this if I don’t even remember that I own it?

I look at my life over the last nearly 30 years of my adulthood and I see this triangular alliteration, a constant passing of years and growth that is my life. From the wide-open possibilities of my 20 year old self, I’ve seen how my focus has narrowed down, tossing aside what doesn’t work, trying on a new persona, peeling away the bits and pieces until I arrive, here, with the still changing ideas of what my life needs. Mike and I, with a young man looking at his 20th birthday next year, are starting to think of the paring down process of our third act. Our empty nest years. We know we’ll need to move, depart from this beloved home with it’s bright Southern light and wide open space. What do we really need, and what can we begin to release from our lives?

All I know is that if it’s been in a drawer, collecting dust, or tucked in a box that I don’t recall the contents of, hanging in a room that I don’t frequent, buried under a childhood long gone, I can rightly agree that its need has left my life. I can gaze at a box of beloved books that I read to Griffin, on repeat, under the blankets of his first bed, his little boy body, warm and youthful, snuggled next to mine and I remember how I loved those moments in the night. I can release these books, retain the memories and place the box in the pile to donate. I’m finding that the more I let go, the more joy I begin to feel. We simply aren’t made to thrive amidst clutter that has ceased to serve any purpose.

As the November light faded on our day, after raking one more time through the yard, clipping away dead growth on the annuals and moving more items to donate, I found myself peeling apples again. Fall has it’s routines and therapies, the cleaning out and putting away, storing Summer, baring the space to settle under silent snowfalls. Apple peeling is one of my Fall routines, the peel slipping away from my hands in one long strand, juices running down my wrists, a quick twist of knife and hand and the pieces begin to pile up in a beloved ceramic bowl. The oven tells me it’s ready, cinnamon fills the air and butter meets oats to top a pan full of apples and crushed, fresh cranberries. The fragrance unmistakeable, the timing perfect. I can see what I no longer need in this life, and eagerly anticipate letting go of it, but I could never stop peeling apples each November, eating Apple Crisp, warm under melting vanilla bean ice cream, ready to welcome in a new season.

 

Apple Cranberry Crisp

For the apples:
6 c. chopped apples, using a mix of tart and sweet (this batch I used Haralson and Honeycrisp)
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. almond flour
1 T. coconut flour
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
pinch of ground cardamom

1 c. fresh cranberries, chopped (i used a food processor; you will mix these in just before assembling the crisp)

For the topping:
1-1/2 c. whole rolled oats (use gluten free oats if needed)
1/2 c. almond or sorghum flour (use AP if no need for gluten-free)
1/3 c. brown sugar
2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground cardamom
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
pinch of sea salt
4 T. super cold butter
1/3 c. maple syrup  (if you have apple cider syrup, it’s a divine substitution)

Mix the apples with the brown sugar and flours, stir to combine and set aside. Heat your oven to 375°.

In a small bowl, stir together the dry ingredients for the topping. Cut the cold butter in to small cubes and add to the bowl, tossing to coat. With a pastry cutter, two forks, or your hands, quickly cut/rub the butter in to the dry ingredients, leaving some large pieces. Drizzle the topping with the maple syrup and toss to mix.

Spray your baking dish with cooking spray, or rub with additional butter. Toss the chopped cranberries with the apples, and spread half the mixture in the dish and top with about a third of the crumb topping. Layer the remaining apples, then the rest of the topping. Drizzle a bit more maple syrup over the top, then bake 30-40 minutes, or until the topping is crisp and browned and the contents are bubbling.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, creme fraiche, vanilla yogurt or warmed and whipped cream cheese.

 

NOTE: I like my crisp a bit drier than most, and the flours tossed with the apples will absorb their moisture. If you prefer a more saucy version, omit the flours and use white sugar in place of the brown to toss the apples. It will draw out their juices. Tossing the chopped cranberries with the apples just prior to assembling keeps them from bleeding. If you don’t mind that sort of thing, toss it all at once and let it sit.

 

 

the amazing sweet potato cornbread {gluten free}

November 4th, 2013 | Comments Off

I talked about walking away from wheat in my last post, with that delicious Maple Apple Cake that had no wheat whatsoever in it, and I couldn’t resist sharing this incredible Sweet Potato Cornbread recipe with you as well.


Cornbread is a staple around here in the cold months. We eat it with all manner of soups, chili and such, and all of us love a good hearty piece, drizzled with honey as a side to a steaming bowl. I needed to find a wheat-free option for this quickly.

Fortunately, it didn’t take much searching to come across this recipe for Pumpkin Cornbread on Ashley’s delicious blog, Edible Perspective. I’ve been following Ashley’s site for quite some time now and love all her simple yet inventive recipes. She inspires a great deal of dazzling food thought for me in my own kitchen.

Ashley has no less than three versions of her Pumpkin Cornbread in the referenced post and the last one she lists is the one that nailed the homerun of wheat-free Cornbread that will now be my go-to recipe. Again, like that phenomenal cake I just made, the base is a mix of flours and does not rely on a commercial blend. I just don’t want to take the lazy route to make my favorite baked goods without wheat, and exploring the means of creating these standards is half the fun.

Texture is of vital importance in baked goods without wheat. A good quality result shouldn’t immediately raise a red flag that something is missing, and this cornbread’s texture is spot on for what I love about top-notch cornbread; it has that cracked, rugged top and a dense crumb that holds just enough moisture to keep it from crumbling with the first bite. Adding roasted and mashed sweet potato helps with that tenderness. Sinking my teeth in to that first piece, cut while still warm from the pan, and I rolled my eyes in joy. It was perfect. The crumb was perfect. The taste- superb. The texture was pure cornbread, with hardly a hint that the wheat was missing.

It’s results like this that I can’t resist praising. I LOVE this cornbread, and can’t wait for the next bubbling pot of soup so I have an excuse to make it again.

Like I need one, right?

 

Sweet Potato Cornbread

1/2 c. gluten free oat flour (I grind Bob’s Red Mill GF oats to make mine)
1/2 c. medium grind cornmeal
1 c. corn flour (use Masa Harina in a pinch- this is different than cornmeal)
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. fine grain sea salt
2  large eggs
1 c. mashed sweet potato (about one good sized spud; I roasted mine until it collapsed, cooled, skinned and mashed)
2 T. maple syrup
3/4 c. unsweetened almond milk (use whatever milk you wish)
2 T. olive oil

Heat your oven to 375°. Spread a few tablespoons of oil around the pan you chose for baking. I used an 8×8 square baking pan.

Whisk together the oat flour, corn meal, corn flour, baking powder, soda, and sea salt. In a large measuring cup, measure out the milk, then add the sweet potato, maple syrup, eggs and oil. Whisk wet ingredients together until smooth, then pour over the dry ingredients and gently mix with a rubber spatula, scraping across the bottom of the bowl. Mix only until combined, then scrape in to prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake 30-40 minutes, or until tested done in the center of the pan. Allow to cool before removing from the pan.

 

This recipe is adapted slightly from Ashley’s. Please check out her post on how she created, and re-created this cornbread, and the multiple ways she made her version.

maple apple cake {gluten free}

October 24th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

Several months ago I started having pretty severe discomfort in my belly and immediately suspected that wheat might be the problem. I decided to eliminate it from what I ate for a week to see if there was any relief, and it was clear after only two days that my belly was happier without it. I had been considering cutting back on my consumption of wheat anyway, so it wasn’t much of a change to stop eating it all together. Once dropping it completely, I’ve realized that eating a small amount here and there is not that disruptive on my digestive system, and can enjoy a bit of  good quality bread if need be, but along with dairy, I’ve learned that the more processed the product is, the worse it affects my gut. I think it’s so amazing that our bodies know what’s not good for us, and all we need to do is pay attention.

Along with eliminating wheat came the need to understand substituting gluten-free flours for baking, a process that is expansive and often dizzyingly complicated, with the starches, the gums, bean flours, ancient grain flours, rice flours and such, but thankfully there is a huge wealth of knowledgable people out there who can take the mystery out of replacing whole wheat with delicious alternatives. I’m not interested in just subbing in an AP GF flour blend when I bake; I want to understand how blending GF flours can enhance your baked goods, and make them more flavorful, instead of just relying on what someone else decides is a good alternative. Plus, the more I read about GF baking, the more I realize that not one blend will produce similar quality results for breads, cakes, muffins or scones. Each of those baked goods requires different blends, gums and starches to produce the textures that we crave, that are often gone missing in GF baked goods.

It’s been a learning curve, no doubt. I made a GF Lemon Coconut Cake that sounded amazing on paper, but the first bite was akin to a balloon rapidly leaking air. It wasn’t good. Not even close, and despite my hatred of throwing out food, the whole cake went in the trash. I’ve spent a lot of time reading GF blogs, researching and absorbing. I’ve purchased small bags of all the options I want to try, and slowly am working towards a fuller understanding, but folks, it’s a long way off. We all have to start somewhere, don’t we?

Yesterday, while pining for something cake-like and warm to use the apples that are sitting in storage, I found this cake recipe on Healthy Green Kitchen, which is one of my go-to sites for healthy eating. I had everything necessary to make it, too, which was miraculous. And Winnie is a source to trust, as far as I’m concerned, so I wasn’t all that concerned that this cake was going to end up in the garbage.

And if you’re one of those folks who think sugar is the devil itself, please read her current post containing her thoughts on the whole sugar uproar. It’s worth a few minutes of your time.

Now, back to that cake.

This recipe was heavily adapted from the one on Winnie’s blog, mostly because I discovered that I was out of white sugar so I subbed in a brown sugar/maple syrup blend. Her recipe called for straight almond flour too, but due to it’s expense, I don’t like to use it so freely, plus I love how coconut flour works to add bulk and texture in baked goods, and with the extra liquid from the syrup, it needed that bulk. I also wanted to add sorghum for experimental purposes. The texture, crumb and flavor of this cake was delicious and tender, with a flavor that we all gave an enthusiastic thumbs up! I’d make it again, exactly the same way.

Please note that it can be made with regular AP flour in the same amount as the total of the three GF options I’ve listed.

 

Maple Apple Cake

3 eggs
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. pure maple syrup
1 c. almond flour
1/2 c. sorghum flour
1/2 c. coconut flour
3/4 c. cup plain almond milk
3 T. butter, melted
2 t. baking powder
1 t. pure vanilla extract
3 medium apples, about 1 3/4 pounds peeled, cored, and chopped. I used Haralson.
Optional: Powdered sugar for dusting the top, ice cream or yogurt to serve along side.

Preheat oven to 350° and prepare a 9″ springform pan by spraying with cooking spray, or rubbing with butter. Coat with a sprinkle of almond flour, if desired. {{My springform pan always seems to leak, so I wrap the bottom in tin foil}}

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the eggs, brown sugar and maple syrup. Beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, until light brown and thickened. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the flour, scraping sides if needed, then the milk and melted butter. Scrape if needed, increase to medium, and blend for 3 minutes. Add in baking soda and vanilla extract, then blend for 2 minutes.

Scrape batter in to prepared pan and arrange chopped apples on top. Sprinkle with a few pinches of brown sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon, then place in pre-heated oven. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not over bake.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then release the spring on the pan. Cake can be served warm.