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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.

 

 

fall, and apples

September 25th, 2013 | Comments Off

We’ve passed that equinox now, where the last days of Summer fade in to Fall and everywhere you look comes a pop of color from the trees that wasn’t there yesterday. It happens in a blink, sometimes right before your eyes.

Fall is all about apples. And pumpkin. But with the onslaught of pumpkin recipes that have been spilling out of the Internet since we rolled over the calendar to September, the iconic Fall ingredient stands to hit the saturation level long before Halloween even arrives.

So, let’s talk about apples.

{Baker Orchard, Centuria WI}

Baker Apple Orchard is near our lake home, and we visit this beautiful place multiple times a year, our families being long-time friends. The orchard is wonderful for a leisurely hike, exploring the century-old barn and the woods around the property. We always take home a jug of their exceptional fresh apple cider and often, multiple bags of gorgeous apples.

We could eat apples every day, and sometimes, Mike does just that. But we also love them in baked goods, and I love making fresh applesauce each year. Many years back I made a batch of apple butter too, one of my most favorite spreads. Our first visit to Baker this year netted us a sack of Honey Crisp, so hopefully, this upcoming weekend when we return we’ll have access to baking apples. I’ve been dreaming of applesauce, a simmering batch on the stove, and of these Apple Streusel Bars, too. This recipe is one of my most favorite things to do with apples every year. It yields a tender, buttery bar with that all important crunchy topping amidst chunks of savory apple. We can polish off a pan in no time.

My favorite Applesauce recipe is made with maple syrup and cinnamon, making a holy trinity of Fall flavor that coats the house in a comforting scent. One batch makes a decent amount, and I prefer to make it fresh, and on repeat, over making a large batch. Warm from the pan, in thick, flavorful chunks, with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on top is a perfect treat.

What’s your favorite way to eat apples in the Fall??

Apple Streusel Bars

Pastry:

2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. real butter, softened
1 egg, beaten

Apple Filling:

1/2 c. white sugar
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 c. (about 3 medium) sliced, peeled baking apples

To prepare crust, mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until you have pea-sized crumbles. Gently mix in beaten egg.

Spray a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Gently pat about 2/3 of the crumb mixture onto the bottom of the dish. Preheat oven to 350° and set aside.

To prepare apple filling, combine sugar, flour, and cinnamon and toss with apples.

Spread apples out on prepared crust. Sprinkle reserved crust mixture over apples evenly and bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Allow to cool completely before slicing.

 

 

Maple Cinnamon Applesauce

6 McIntosh or other tart apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 Golden Delicious or other sweet apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine apple pieces and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the apples are very soft and falling apart, about 30 minutes. Mash the apples to the desired consistency and stir in maple syrup and cinnamon.

fall in to soup

November 3rd, 2011 | 2 Comments »

Fall weather and a steaming bowl of soup seamlessly slip in to one another every year. Once the weather turns from the sultry summer sun to that burnished hazy look of Fall, where the leaves outside burn crimson against the blue sky and the air chills down the moment the sun slips to the tree line, a steaming bowl of soup seems as natural as taking a breath.

I used to be afraid of soups, in a life so far past that I can’t recall even the precise reason why. I think I didn’t understand how to properly build the flavor of soups, from the slow caramelization of the vegetables, to the added broth and simmer, the final seasoning; a pot of soup intimidated me, and I would marvel over those consumed at cozy cafe lunches, wondering what I could do to achieve such a grand blend of flavor and texture. The truth, once discovered, astounded me in it’s simplicity: a good pot of soup is built like a good house is built, from the ground up. Once this simple procedure is set, the possibilities are endless.

The Soup and Stew category in my Recipe Index is loaded with content. No truer testimony to that perfect soup achievement can be found anywhere else; we’ve enjoyed some amazing, delicious and hearty soups over the years. I may not be the best at photographing them, but I certainly can make them now. I’m so glad too. There is so much love in a pot of soup, simmering on the stove, chasing the wild winds of Fall or Winter away, while keeping time with the hum of the furnace. They fill the house with warmth, with scent and with promise. And the versatility of soup, at least in my head, makes it a perfect meal to eat most every night, no special occasion, or long stretch of time needed. And then there is the health aspect of it, because you know I need to mention how perfect a bowl of thick vegetable soup can be, once you ignore the call of butter and cream. Some of my most perfect bowls of soup have been made from a handful of sadly forgotten vegetables from the refrigerator, past their prime for anything but to be chopped, sauteed and simmered to a delightful, steaming finish.

And bread. Let’s not forget the perfect match to a perfect meal. A loaf of good sturdy bread. Soup and bread, like Fall and sweaters, just fits; it rolls of the tongue seamlessly, and makes perfect sense. A spoon in one hand, chunk of bread in the other, eagerly soaking up the broth and bits of herbs still clinging to the bowl. In my previous life working in an artisan bakery, a loaf of bread and a bowl of soup from the lunch counter was a regular meal, something I craved daily. And I still do. I can dip a saltine cracker in my soup, or nibble on corn muffins too, but nothing tastes better with soup than bread.

These days, without meat to bulk up my soups, I’m consuming them simply loaded with vegetables, and often, legumes. Thick bunches of chard, or spinach or kale make for stellar soups, along with sharply flavored carrots and a host of other possibilities. I’ve made several pots of green soup, throwing in baby bok choy along with the other hearty leafy greens, then pureeing it smooth, sipping it from a  mug, feeling the bright green goodness flowing through me.


This hearty bowl of Ribollita, or Tuscan Bread and Tomato Soup, used up the very last tomatoes from the garden at the lake. Mike came home from a few days there with a sack of sadly misshapen and bruised fruit, the last of a summer bounty and I quartered them and roasted a large pan worth, reserving the tomato liquid and oil to help flavor this pot of soup. The tomato flavor was out of this world; sweet, deep and lush, and a large bag of chopped dinosaur kale added green goodness. This isn’t a brothy soup, and you don’t need to roast your own tomatoes to achieve it, given the availability of excellent canned products. Place the pot on your stove on a gray afternoon, and simmer it slowly. This one doesn’t take much time at all, but the flavor will fool anyone in to thinking it simmered forever.

What is YOUR favorite soup? Do you like to make it at home?

 

Ribollita Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 dried bay leaf
10-ounce bag frozen spinach
2 cans cannellini beans with liquid
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock, for a vegan adaptation)
One 15-ounce can (1 3/4 cups) tomato pureé
9 ounces day old bread, torn in pieces, about 3 cups
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
Parmesan, grated (optional)

Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, onion, carrots, celery, and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the frozen spinach and sauté for a moment to break up any large clumps.

Add beans, stock, and tomato pureé. Bring soup to a boil. Stir in bread and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until soup thickens slightly. Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil. Remove bay leaf and serve topped with grated Parmesan.

Recipe from Apartment Therapy: the kitchen Written complete, with no modifications

 

Those soups above? You’ll find them on my site if you follow these links:

Quick Three Bean Chili

Chorizo Black Bean Soup

Andean Quinoa Stew

There’s a few other good recipes on my site you might like:

Zuppa Arcidossana- one of my most favorite soups from my meat eating days

Hearty Minestrone - Forgive the horrid winter photo and just make that soup. Wow.

Chili Blanco – from 2007, so far back in the archives, and an amazing recipe.

And for some more delicious soup recipes out there, my friends have been Souper crazy as well:

Amy gives you an amazing array of Fall soup options.

Laurie shares an African Peanut Soup that I can’t wait to make.

Angharad gives us even more soup recipes to enjoy

 

What’s on YOUR plate this month??

always a different view

October 10th, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Eyes on the prize, we are; the human race that’s always striving and reaching for the next greatest thing. We race through our lives, our days and hours with little thought to what is happening around us. We watch traffic, we keep track of our kids, we watch the weather to see if we need a sweater, an umbrella or our sunglasses. We keep watch over our house, our To-Do lists and our spouses. We watch out for each other. We’re focused, with razor sharp precision. And life goes beating a pulse by us, days that we miss because we’re just watching out for what’s next, what’s going to happen tomorrow. Our view of our lives is only what we can fit inside a neat little box, with occasional forays into a view that’s maybe a bit different, or unusual.

Living in Minnesota is living with a palette of seasons that changes almost daily. This is one of those times, this particular season, that the best view comes from looking up, surrounded by the glory that is called October.

Although we can see quite a bit of what makes life so beautiful in this season even when our eyes are on the ground.

It’s important for perspective to look around too, not just ahead at what’s to come, or down to avoid stumbling over any hazards. By looking around, we catch those almost imperceptible moments where we realize there isn’t just one path to follow.

But then again, when we glance down to be sure we aren’t treading on unstable ground, we might catch sight of something that we realize is bigger than what we ever could have imagined.

Or we discover a gift left behind, a way of showing us that we’re not alone.

I’m reflective, yes. October does that to me. Transition does that to me. The job is over and right now, there is nothing else to fill my time. For a short amount of time, laziness will be welcomed but that won’t last. I will need to work again. Yet this season, this glorious thing called October beckons me to run out into it’s blazing sunshine and enjoy every moment I can grasp. And I do.

So on an unseasonably warm October day, a trek through my favorite regional park was the perfect balm for getting the last throes of my chaotic summer out of my system. I had written a post about my job back in early September, nearly 1300 words that spilled out of me in about 4 seconds flat, but as I read over what my mind churned out, I realized that it was written solely for me, a purgatory means to end that stranglehold. I both loved and hated this past summer and I’m still figuring it all out, it’s purpose in my life and what I can take away from it. I may never be able to verbalize it or even make sense of it because a great deal of life’s lessons come to us at inopportune times, when we least expect our brains to wake us up to what really happened.

But I can make sense of right now, right here. I can stop the crazy Merry-Go-Round of life with it’s clanging calliope of noise that’s impossible to shut off. I can ignore the To-Do list. I can take some time for myself. I can go on my rigorous hike through the woods, seeing it as a metaphor, something that applies seamlessly to where I am and use it to keep centered. Life isn’t about always keeping a forward face, never looking back or wearing blinders through your days. It isn’t always about keeping to a schedule, checking e-mail or looking over the calendar to see what’s coming. We miss some pretty glorious moments by being far too focused. We miss out on the season, the one that’s happening right now, in a stupendous and beautiful way.

There’s quite a perspective to be found when walking through tranquil woods, surrounded by towering trees and a shower of leaves with each gust of wind. And nothing makes you feel quite so humble as laying back, and really seeing what is above you.

And of course, there’s food too. I can’t just wax poetic about Autumn in Minnesota- well, I can, yes- but the best part about being away from the confines of my job is that I am bowled over with the urge to get back in the kitchen, the kitchen where Kate is most comfortable and the vehicle for this entire blog. I want to cook again, and I’m so eager to share all of it with you.

So, let’s start with this typically Fall muffin. I happen to be resurrecting it from a post back about a year or so, but it’s no less relevant now. And it’s perfect for this time of year.

These delicious and moist muffins can help with an attitude adjustment too, and be a great means for using up the bounty of squash that’s available this time of year. Although the recipe calls for sweet potato, any type of squash will do. Chock full of oats and cinnamon, they speak softly of the visual blaze of October and are perfect for lunch boxes and after school snacks.

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.

KATE’S NOTES:
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. As always, the ground flaxseed is optional.

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.