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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

peanut butter quinoa blondies

May 10th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

With chocolate chips- as if they need anything else. It’s a creamy, dreamy taste overload and entirely gluten-free, if you need or want that sort of thing.

Come in to my kitchen…

sugar plums…. a christmas revelation

December 6th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

A few years ago, I had a bit of a revelation in the kitchen. I learned about Sugar Plums. Yes! THOSE Sugar Plums… as in ‘visions of sugar plums danced in their head’; the stuff of lore and childhood wonder on Christmas Eve, the giddy anticipation of morning and a stocking stuffed with toys.

I remember the day quite well; it was a blindingly sunny, brilliantly blue-sky day in December, but the air was frigid with cold, the cold that seems like you could break it with one swift punch. Inside the house, as the furnace hummed, the sunshine on my back so warm that I’d shed my sweater, but kept it close at hand for that magical moment when the sun slips low enough to return the chill to the air. I was gathering ingredients together to make these little gems; dried apricots, figs, and dates, almonds, pecans, pistachios…. it was a heavenly spread laying on the countertop in my kitchen. I had a few round, fat oranges for zest and juice, a jar of honey that caught the sunshine just right, reflecting a golden cast. Everything was measured in to the food processor and I pushed a button. In moments, the mix was reduced to a fine mince and when I popped off the cover, the flood of aromas that swept up to my nose sent chills through me. The hair on my arms stood tall. It was fresh, citrus-y and nutty all at once, and rich with some ancient memory loaded in my mind, far too remote to ever recall correctly. I scraped it all in a bowl, and with a small cup of warm water at hand, I began to form them in to balls. Miles Davis blew his sweet notes on the radio, filling the kitchen with melodious sound, the sun gave the room a drowsy feel, Christmas crept ever closer and in my own two hands, a little Christmas miracle occurred.

Once the entire mass was formed, dredged in coconut or powdered sugar and set in the refrigerator, I felt like I’d stepped in to another dimension in time. Years and years of hearing the same Christmas story, thinking of my own childhood Christmas Eve, laying in bed thinking I will never! sleep! due to all the excitement and waking up with a start, shot through with the thrill of Christmas morning, I never even imagined that such a thing existed as a Sugar Plum. Ages before the Internet could bring anything in your head to reality, I just figured it was a treat of bygone days that no one had any clue how to make. If my Mom didn’t know (because you ALL remember when your Mom knew everything) then it couldn’t possibly be real.

But real they are. And that little treat, passed around to wide eyes as Christmas drew nearer that year, brought exclamations of the same; “These are real?” as eager fingers held one for examination. I nodded. “I know!” and with one bite, a burst of sweet fruit and crunchy nut, with the hint of orange juice and I could see the idea settling in everyone who tried them. At some point, ancient in time I imagine the Sugar Plum was likely something else all together, that slipped from our collective understanding, lost forever. But these are a worthy replacement, ready to be placed front and center in your holiday celebrations.

“I wish I’d known about this years ago.” someone said to me then, biting in to the fragrant mass. “I would have added these to our holiday baking every year.”

“Well,” I said to her, ” now you can.”

Sugar Plums

2 cups almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup pitted dates
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
Unsweetened flaked coconut or powdered sugar for rolling

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

2. Combine almonds, apricots, dates, cinnamon, and zest in a food processor and process into a finely ground mixture.

3. Add orange juice and honey, and combine until the mixture becomes a sticky ball.

4. Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into 1-inch balls. Roll in coconut or powdered sugar. Place on the baking sheet and chill for about 1 hour until firm.

Recipe from Field Guide to Candy by Anita Chu; Quirk Books, 2009

 

KATE’S NOTES: 

I used two cups equivalent of nuts, utilizing pistachios and pecans as well as almonds. It’s my holy trifecta of nutty favorites. Or you could use other nuts like peanuts, walnuts, brazil nuts. The possibilities are endless for dried fruit substitutions; raisins both black or gold, cranberries, cherries, currants, pineapple, mango. . Try it with lemon juice and zest for a different flavor, or maple syrup in place of the honey. Use cardamom instead of nutmeg and cinnamon.

I added a bit more honey and orange juice, as the amount in the recipe didn’t seem to be enough to make the mixture as sticky as it needed to hold together. Adjust it according to your taste preferences.

These improve, and deepen in flavor the longer they sit in the refrigerator. For optimum flavor, make them a week ahead of time.

REMINDER!!
You still have some time to enter my giveaway for a set of Chinet’s Disposable Bakeware.
Go see THIS POST for more details!  

date and nut oat bars

November 5th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

I’m a total rebel.

It’s November, and everywhere you look is pumpkin. In everything. Or butternut squash. In everything. There’s sweet potatoes lurking over there; an acorn squash holding an adorable filling, perfectly browned edge glinting just so. It’s the season for all things roots and orange.

People are already gearing up for Thanksgiving, too. Decorations for Christmas have come out in certain stores. WHAT!!? Gah.

And here I am, dreaming of gooey dates and a crumbly oat bar.

Sarah at The Yellow House recently wrote a post about her Mother’s recipe box, and a particular recipe memory she was seeking, in the stumbling way that a motherless daughter tries to find answers to the questions that can never be solved. Sarah’s post, even in it’s despair and sadness, triggered something in me because I know all about that bitter walk after your Mother dies, the questions you wish you could ask, the reassurance like an anchor, that a Mother brings. She sought answers about a particular barbecue sauce recipe, and for me, the always unattainable answer I sought from my Mom’s spirit was for a treasured Date Bar recipe.

I’m pretty biased towards these iconic baked goods as they’ve been a favorite ever since I could remember stepping up to a kitchen counter, reaching up to place my hands on the worn edge and leaning hard around my Mom’s arm to see what she was doing. A recipe box open, the mass of dates simmering on the stove, the bowl of oats and sugar standing silently, waiting. The small pan ready. A kitchen warmed by an oven.

But then in a flash, I’m grown up, and my childhood kitchen dissipates. I’m a parent now, too. When my tiny boy reached his own chubby fingers towards that kitchen counter, I pulled up a chair and got him situated. We stirred together. We mixed and measured, my hand over his as his blue eyes watched closely. I gave him a knife and he carefully trimmed vegetables. He pushed his luck against my stern warning that yes, indeed that stovetop is still hot even though the burners are no longer red. I dried those tears and soothed the burns. We soldiered on. Pans of Brownies and chocolate cake came and went. Chocolate chip cookies- of course!- and Oatmeal Raisin, Snickerdoodles and Dark Chocolate Drops; Oatmeal Scotchies and Applesauce Cake, cookies every Christmas. Full bellies and full hearts, him and I.  His interest wavered, waned and often, he was absent as he grew too cool to stand by my side. Then, in some great moment of clarity, he returned to the kitchen again, a young man. Now he cooks his own food. Experiments. Expands. Still, if he said to me ‘Can you please make ______ ?’ I would likely tell him ‘Yes.’ and reach for the flour canister.

Because when I would sidle up next to my Mom as she thumbed through a cookbook, or pulled out her recipe card file for inspiration, often she would turn to me and say ‘Got any requests?’ and in my little girl, eager way, I would say “Please make those Date Bars!” And she would, smiling as she pulled the corner piece out of the pan to hand to me, it’s edges chewy and firm and we’d eat ’til our bellies were full, her and I. Eighteen years after her passing, her words still ring strong in my mind, for her baking was her love language, her moment to tell us how much she adored our faces, upturned and eager towards her as she pulled down worn metal tins of flour and sugar, turned the knob on the stove and sought out the warped, old cookie sheets, the favorite baking pan, drawing the aging cookie tin from the cupboard, the big round one with the roses on the top. I still have her recipe box, and I’ve poured over her it in vain, searching for that Date Bar recipe that she made for me, the one that was always just perfect, but I never found it. I poured pan after pan of warm date puree over an oat crust, trying to replicate the taste, seeking her smile in my memory and the love from a chewy corner piece but every time I bit down, the past wasn’t there. I wanted it to be, so badly. I reach for a container of flour, a sack of sugar,  thinking it will restore the dull ache in me that still echoes after nearly two decades. Sometimes the very act of baking will quiet the roar; other times, those first bites just make it more acute.

Then I find this one, a perfect Date Bar with a crunchy oat crust that browns and crisps in the oven, snapping apart to shower on the plate, crumbs falling in your lap that you happily pick up on moist fingertip, the rich dates cooked to a tender chew, gooey edge and all.

And the taste, smell and memory all come together in a tiny piece of cookie, too undeserving to be saddled with the burden of answering the questions of our past, but when I shut my eyes and bite, it’s all there. She’s all there. It’s swift and sharp, a nick of knife metal, barbed hooks caught against the heart. A moment meshes between child and adult, past and painful present wrapped in one oat crust, me as Mom and then, my Mother, with so many similarities between.

Oat and Nut Date Squares

1 8-oz package chopped dates (or equivalent of fresh)
1/4 c. black raisins
1 c. water
Zest from half an orange
2 t. orange  juice
1/2 c. ground almonds ( sub in walnuts or pecans if desired)
1/2 c. each whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour
1/2 t. sea salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/8 t. ground cloves
1 c. packed brown sugar
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced, softened but still fairly cold.
1 c. old fashioned rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350° and spray an 8×8 baking pan with cooking spray. Line with parchment paper so that it hangs over edge of pan, then spray the paper.

In small saucepan, combine dates, raisins and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until all liquid has been absorbed and fruit is a thick, concentrated paste. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in orange zest and juice and blend well. Scrape onto a plate and spread to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor, place ground almonds, both flours, salt, soda and spices. Pulse to combine. Add in brown sugar and pulse to blend. Scatter butter over top and pulse until mixture is like coarse uneven meal. There should be lumps of butter in all sizes. Pour this into a large bowl and stir in the oats.

Press 2/3 of the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing down firmly. Spoon cooled date mixture over, spreading it to cover crust completely. Sprinkle remaining oat mixture over the top. Bake until top crust is golden brown and crisp, 30-40 minutes.

Cool bars completely on a rack, still in the pan. Once bars are at room temperature, gently lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper. Slice into 2″ squares to serve. These bars are delicious when chilled. Keep in airtight container or refrigerated.

 

{{adapted from an original recipe, author unknown}}

coming home to the familiar (with spiced molasses cake)

October 3rd, 2012 | 2 Comments »

Fall began while I was away, on Mountain Time, amidst soaring majestic peaks and deep pine canyons. The Summer season passed in our initiation to a storied national park, and Autumn came on a cliff, crossing steep trails worn down by hooves and hiking shoes; it came through the sunrises over a new sky, shrouded with wildfire smoke, on a white water rafting excursion, over 3,000 miles and 9 days straight with my two most favorite guys. It was the longest vacation I’ve ever taken and it felt strange to clean up the house for the cat sitter, pack a container of veggie chili in the freezer to welcome us home, go over the lists again (and again and AGAIN) making sure that we had good snacks for the car, and lunch on the road (hello peanut butter), packing items like hand wipes and paper towels and extra plastic bags for trash, searching for good audio books to keep us occupied for the 10+ hour drive, and trying to remember all the quirky little things we should tell our cousin about caring for our silly cats. Among all the final frenzy of planning and packing, I kept running the whole thing over in my head, thinking “Can we really DO this? Can we drive across three states and explore the West and be sane enough to still say ‘I love you!’ every day and mean it while cramped inside a 4-door sedan?”

Truth is, yes. We can. And we did. I was never more excited to drive away from home on that glorious Sunday morning while most of our neighborhood still slept, nor was I more thrilled to return home as the sun set on the following Tuesday. To everything familiar and easy, to my bed and my home and my cats.

Even as all the unfamiliar became easy, the roads that I started to learn around my Uncle’s home, their wonderful hospitality, to the pines and peaks I stared at in awe, cementing them in my soul, even with everything that was so perfect about the entire trip, coming home felt better than I could have ever imagined. I couldn’t wait to get away and the anticipation was so richly rewarded, but I yearned for home the moment we turned our car Eastward and headed over the Interstate. Re-entry was simple; familiar, easy, calm, happy.

It’s nice to come home.

{{psssst….. I’m giving away cookbooks. Go check it out!}}

It wouldn’t take much beyond scrolling through my blog reader to know that Fall has most definitively arrived. Soups, stews, braises, pumpkin, squash, brussels sprouts and potatoes adorn the photos and fill the pages, hearty fare to shore ourselves up for the cold, the snow and the darker months to come. For me, Autumn needs two things: color blazed Maples and dark Molasses Cake.

Gingerbread. Molasses Cake. Whatever you refer it as, what name you prefer to call the dense moist crumb of such a perfect Autumn flavor, this recipe is the bees knees for anyone who loves molasses, deep and dark. It’s evokes the perfect memory of past seasons, where the deep reds and oranges of Maple burned bright against the rich blue sky, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the chill in the air as the sun drops it’s golden curve low on the horizon. The whiff of memory is bittersweet; of Gingersnap cookies that my Mom loved, the recipe that came out after school began for everyone, a welcome home with cold milk.

I still love those cookies, and all things ginger and bread and molasses. This cake has made a few other appearances in our kitchen and home, always against that perfect Fall backdrop of blaze and blue. Even with our warm days, bright sunshine and comfortable nights, after a few frosty mornings and finding the familiar in old and cozy sweaters and jeans, it welcomes you home whether you’ve been away, or just greatly anticipating Autumn. We all love Autumn; it’s universal in it’s daily changes of color, of temperatures and air and the gradual slide to Winter.

Ginger Spice Cake


adapted from several sources

2 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1 T. ground ginger
2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. allspice
2 T. espresso powder (optional, but it adds an amazing depth)
1 egg
1/2 c. molasses
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted
1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 and coat a 8″ square pan with cooking spray.

Stir together dry ingredients. With electric mixer, blend egg, molasses, sugar and melted butter until thick and very smooth. Gradually mix in dry ingredients, alternating with buttermilk, mixing each addition thoroughly. Mix for one minute after everything is in the bowl. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake center comes out clean.

NOTE: This cake is wonderful with fresh cranberry sauce and a spoonful of yogurt. Or ice cream. Of course.

ginger nectarine cake, take 2

June 24th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

I’ve been blogging at this site for six years now. I KNOW! What the heck?!!! I’m either crazy, stubborn or irritatingly persistent, or maybe a combination of all three. At any rate, it’s like a child I’ve raised; I vacillate back and forth between utter frustration with it, and phenomenal pride. SIX YEARS!

And this here blog has seen some pretty major input of amazing recipes, many of which most of my readers have never, ever seen because, really, who looks through the Recipe Index? Does anyone? And in being a part of the blog world for six years, it’s been amazing to watch foods change and swell with time, going from something obscure and strange to being mainstream and freaking everywhere. Are whole grains all that new? It seems so, if you pay attention to the blog posts out there, but four years ago I was playing with grains, having to trek all over the city in search of quinoa, red rice, millet and farro. Now every supermarket has them, thankfully. And I love that people have embraced them.

Three years ago I made a cake with olive oil in it and was all over myself at how odd that felt, and also jumping up and down a little bit with each bite because, whoa….. it was GOOD. Nowadays, there are olive oil cakes popping up in every season, with every fruit imagineable. No one bats an eye at olive oil in a cake. But three years ago? It seemed new, fresh and different. And I clearly recall feeling rather odd pouring all that oil in to the batter. But the result was stunning.

That was three years ago, and I haven’t revisited that recipe once. Shame. It was pretty amazing, and now with nectarines in season, I picked up a sack of them and pulled up the recipe in my Index. And I’ll tell you; nothing makes me groan in agony, feeling like banging my head on a wall as I do when I see the way I used to photograph my food. {{Go on, take a look. I don’t mind.}}

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way in that area.

In re-working this recipe, the one substitution I made was to use fresh grated ginger in place of dried and ground. I recalled that the ginger taste was just not that noticeable in the previous attempt, but with the addition of it fresh, it just popped out of the cake, dancing up front and center in my face. Balanced with the tang of lemon, and the subtle fruity nectarine pieces that literally melt inside the cake, it was a combination of tastes that are at once bold and forthright, yet clean and crisp. And that olive oil? It’s darn near perfect.

Ginger Nectarine Cake

2 eggs
1/3 c. milk
1/3 c. good quality olive oil (use the best you’ve got; you will taste it in this cake)
1 lemon, zested. Squeeze out juice from half.
1 T. finely grated fresh ginger
1/3 c. sugar (original recipe calls for 2/3- I found the smaller amount to be perfect. Adjust accordingly to your taste)
1-1/2 c. AP flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
3 large nectarines, two diced small, one sliced for garnish
2 T. crystallized ginger, chopped fine.

Preheat oven to 350°. This cake can be made in any number of pans, like a 9×13 for a thin cake, or an 8×8 for a thicker cake. You can also use a 10-inch springform pan with removable bottom. I used a 2-qt oval baking dish. Spray any pan you use with non-stick baking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk and oil until emulsified. Add lemon zest and juice and whisk again. Mixture will look slightly curdled and will be very thick. Stir in fresh ginger and sugar, whisk the mixture vigorously.

Separately, whisk flour, baking powder and salt together. Stir in to wet ingredients until just barely blended. Add in diced fruit and fold to incorporate. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Arrange sliced nectarines on top, and sprinkle with the crystallized ginger and a tablespoon or two of sugar, if desired.

Bake cake until the top is nicely golden brown and the cake springs back when touched, about 40-60 minutes, depending on the pan you use. The toothpick test will help determine when it’s done. (A 9×13 will get done quicker, so be aware of that)

This cake recipe originated in a copy of Real Food magazine, available quarterly at Lunds/Byerly’s

blueberry compote with lemon thyme

June 13th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

Summer is all about the simple, right? There’s such an abundance that planning a meal becomes moot, and your food comes together easily with a few ingredients, a nice olive oil to drizzle, maybe even served on a paper plate so that we can get back outside. Back to summer and enjoyment.

I’ve been on a creative kick with fruit, as evidenced by that gorgeous and frightfully easy Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, and when blueberries went on sale at a local grocer, I stockpiled them, dropping them on yogurt, in cereal, atop pancakes and just about any other vehicle to my mouth that one can imagine. Nothing like fresh blueberries.

And there is nothing quite like this Blueberry Compote, resplendent with Lemon Thyme and fresh lemon juice.

Coupled with a fast and furious love for the cheese within a cheese known as Burrata, and an ongoing affair with the tender and tiny striped leaves of the Lemon Thyme plant, I took a leap of faith on the perfect marriage of lemon and blueberry and created this quick topping that complimented the creamy cheese to utter perfection.

On a hot day, breaking open a ball of fresh mozzarella, watching the dreamy interior slip in to the bowl, mixing with the dark, deep blue of the berries, this was a quintessential summer treat. It’s made to cool down the sultriest of days. It doesn’t require much else than a spoon, really. Or good toasted bread, because really, anything tastes good on toast, doesn’t it?? And toast is a much easier means to achieving a good meal than any other base as it goes well with just about anything placed on top of it. I think a good loaf of cinnamon bread would be ideal for this creamy, berry-filled treat.

Aren’t familiar with Burrata? It’s a ball of fresh mozzarella that’s filled with shreds of MORE fresh mozzarella that’s soaked in rich cream. It’s cheese, and then some and every bit of it is rich and satisfying. It’s a nice appetizer, a perfect salad option (think good grilled veggies awash in that phenomenal cheese bath) or a delightful dessert. At upscale grocers, you should be able to find it with the other fresh mozzarella products in the deli.

All that’s left to desire is a warm, lazy day and the need to fill the belly.

Blueberry Compote with Lemon Thyme

1/2 c. fresh blueberries, washed.
2 T. fresh lemon thyme, minced
1 t. fresh lemon zest
1-2 t. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of good sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
2-3 T. good quality olive oil (use the best you’ve got here)

Mash berries in a glass measuring cup and stir in the lemon thyme, lemon zest and juice. Allow to stand for a while in order to blend the flavors. Whisk in the oil, add salt and pepper to taste, and more lemon if you wish. Chill thoroughly. The mixture will thicken as it cools, due to the oil. Whisk it again before serving to loosen.

In a bowl, carefully place one Burrata and using a spoon, break it open down the center, allowing the creamy middle to spread out. Spoon the chilled compote over the Burrata, drizzle a little oil over it and a thin pinch of good sea salt. Grab a spoon.

simply sunday, and spoonbread

May 29th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

There are those days that beg for nothing at all; you know which ones I mean- vacation days of sand between your toes, gazing over azure water under a floppy hat, or ones spent in crazy fun activity with family, day trips of time on the road, the ribbon of concrete slipping away under your tires while you watch the landscape woosh by you. We’ve had them. We need them.

One recent Sunday was like that. The house emptied out early, before my mind was even fully awake and I sipped coffee, feet tucked under me in a big cozy chair, book in lap and content kitties napping near by. After a few days of record May heat and intense sunshine, the weather gave way to a thick continual mist and wind-whipped trees. I stepped outside briefly to see if it was worthy of even trying to take a walk, and my hair flew around my head, smacking me in the eye like a mischievous pony. Turning back to the patio door, I saw one cat lift it’s head and stare at me, as if to say ‘What ARE you doing out there??’ I really had no answer.

Back inside, another coffee in hand, I was hungry, and craving something with rhubarb but wanting more than a coffee cake, better than a muffin. Serendipitously, I sleepily browsed my blog reader, and suddenly, a gorgeous Rhubarb Spoonbread jumped out at me, thanks to Autumn, of Autumn Makes and Does. I’ve been reading Autumn’s blog for a few months now, and whoa…. you should too. I’m pretty sure it will make you sigh in happiness at least once or twice. We all could use those moments, right? Where we sigh with joy over something delicious?? Yes. Yes, we do.

I managed to haul myself off the chair long enough to pull together the ingredients for this delight, savoring the fact that I’d stocked away baggies full of fresh rhubarb in the freezer, JUST for a moment like this one. {{high five, self!}} And with a few minutes under cold running water, those luscious red cubes were good to go. The oven sparked to life in that affirming way that chases gray, rainy days away; as the pan cooked, the kitchen filled with it’s inviting scent, tickling my already empty belly, teasing in it’s delicious way. That sound, the woosh of flame igniting seems to bring a grounding for me. I waited patiently for the spoon bread, browsing magazines, and the piles of recipes culled from a thousand sources and soon, all I wanted to do was cook.

That may not sound simple at all, but it is, to me. It’s what pulls together all the fibers of who I am that get scattered in my days away from the kitchen. When our food storage containers are stuffed in the drawer and not in the fridge, I feel like something is missing, and with all this inspiration around me, in blogs and websites and magazines, it doesn’t take much to make it all come together. Maybe all I needed was a spoon bread, an empty house with quiet jazz from the speakers and a misty morning of oven humming and hot coffee.

Like Autumn, I’m not sure why I haven’t explored spoon breads more often. Oh, right; Mike doesn’t eat eggs. Ah well, too bad for him. This was a perfect custard-y bread, sweet and tangy at the same time and dug out warm from the pan, drizzled with good maple syrup and eaten, tucked back in to that cozy chair, and more coffee steaming from the table next to me. It was much, much more than I had imagined for my day when I opened my eyes that morning, or as I stood briefly  in the mist outside, thinking maybe it hadn’t been so worth getting up in the first place. But a spoonbread, warm from the oven, set me upright even with the dull low clouds outside.

And this spoon bread, well, it’s perfect for a savory snack, with maple syrup {although a good dousing of heavy cream isn’t bad at all} and of course, it makes an easy dessert, warm, again, and topped with vanilla ice cream, a scoop of yogurt or possibly maple-sweetended mascarpone cheese. Oh sigh, and sigh again {{see? again with the sighing, and so soon!!}} Something simple, on a blustery, misty day never tasted so good, in so many ways.

Rhubarb Spoonbread

Ingredients

  • 6.5 oz (about 2 cups) rhubarb, sliced about 1/4 thick
  • 2.5 oz (1/3 cup) sugar (I used organic cane sugar)
  • 2 T maple syrup (preferably grade B), plus more for drizzling
  • 4.5 oz (1 cup) yellow cornmeal
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t baking soda
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 3 T butter, preferrably unsalted
  • 3 eggs

Cooking Directions

  1. Place chopped rhubarb, maple syrup, and sugar in a small bowl. Stir together and set aside while you gather the remaining ingredients and complete the following steps.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400.
  3. Place the butter in an 8 x 8 inch square pan and put the pan in the pre-heating oven.
  4. Whisk together the cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center. Add the eggs, but do not stir, set aside.
  5. Check on the butter. Take it out of the oven when it’s completely melted. Allow the oven to continue preheating.
  6. Now, stir the eggs into the cornmeal mixture and add the buttermilk. Stir briskly until completely combined.
  7. Swirl the butter around the hot pan and pour any excess into the batter. Stir to combine.
  8. Stir the rhubarb sugar mixture into the batter and pour into the buttered 8 x 8 pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the center no longer jiggles.
  9. Serve warm drizzled with more maple syrup.
Recipe printed in it’s entirety from Autumn, of Autumn Makes and Does. The only thing I did different was bake it in a 4-qt pyrex baking dish.