Pecan Crunch Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin Muffins

I woke up this morning feeling content. Sometimes my anxieties come flooding in before my feet hit the floor. On good mornings, I don't let myself get out of bed until I've formed some intentions for the day--to be grateful and mindful, to be kind to the children, friends, or clients in my sphere. And today, one of my intentions was to bake.

I found this recipe on Foodgawker. Foodgakwer is a (favorite)  juried site where food bloggers can submit photos. (You can find In Praise of Leftovers gallery here.) I like searching for recipes on it because 1) All the thumbnail photos pop up and I can compare recipes 2) I'm exposed to great food blogs I didn't know about and 3) Going to the site is always a visual treat. I chose these for the crunchy topping. The kids downed two apiece and I took the rest to church. My friend Dawn was sitting across the table eating one and praised them. She said, "Wow, you just lit up! Nothing makes you happier than cooking for people." And she's right.

These are just what I want in a pumpkin muffin--heavy on the pumpkin, moist, sweet, and a crunchy streusel that elevates them above your average version.

Pecan Crunch Pumpkin Muffins
Makes 18. Adapted from Once Upon a Chef .
You can leave off the topping, but I think they'd be much less interesting. If you don't want nuts, you can sub old-fashioned oats for the nuts and still get a nice streusel.

For Topping
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup demerara sugar (raw cane sugar, also called turbinado)
½ cup chopped pecans
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

For Muffins
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup  granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 15-ounce can 100% pure pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two standard muffin pans.

For Topping: Combine flour, butter, demerara sugar, chopped pecans and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.

For Muffins: Combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl and mix well. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars at low speed until just blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; continue beating at medium speed until very light and fluffy, a few minutes. Add pumpkin and beat until combined, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Turn speed down to low and mix in flour mixture until just combined. Use an ice cream scoop to transfer batter to muffin pans, filling each muffin tin about ¾ full. Sprinkle topping evenly over batter. Bake for about 30 minutes. Let cool on rack for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack to cool completely (use a butter knife to lift them out of pan).

Whole Wheat Pear Poppy Loaf

Sigh. First day of school for second-grader Wyatt. He tried to act all composed this morning, emerging from his room with his school clothes on and his pencil box all organized. But I know better. He's thinking, "Will Kyle still be in my class? Will Oscar and I get to have recess together? Will people remember and still like me?" He is one lucky, loved-up kid, but days like today are still heartbreaking for his mother. His bus route got all mixed up, they called me from school,and he finally got off at his bus stop an hour late, lower lip trembling. Remember that feeling, like you might get left behind?

I stayed up last night to make these little loaves for his teachers. I know they don't expect it, but it helps me get back in the rhythm of things, gives me some small way to acknowledge how hard they work every day. And they do. Damn. They've got all the cubby holes set up with the little name stickers, ordered special books for Wyatt to keep up with him (Bursting with pride? Yes.), and they'll get up tomorrow and pay that much attention all over again.

I really, really like this bread and can foresee making it many more times. Whole wheat floor, grated pears, lemon zest, poppy seeds--tastes like bright, crisp autumn with fiber to boot. I made three mini-loaves so as to spread the wealth, but you could certainly make one big one and keep it all to yourself. I'm certain there are changes going on in your life, too. Whatever they are, breakfast is always there to keep us tethered. And maybe it will be as delicious as this.

Whole Wheat Poppy Pear Loaves
Adapted from Oprah magazine, of all places. Like I've said many times, you don't have to look far these days for interesting or inspiring recipes. Have I mentioned my magazine affliction? I only have five subscriptions at the moment, but if I had my way, there would be more. Oprah magazine is my guilty pleasure. I love reading about what kind of mascara I should buy even though I don't wear it.

1/2 c. canola oil
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
zest of one lemon
2 large eggs
1/2 c. honey
1 c. applesauce
2 Tb. poppy seeds
2 ripe pears, grated

Preheat oven to 350°. Brush one 9" x 4" loaf pan or 3 baby loaf pans with oil or butter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a small bowl, stir together oil, lemon zest, eggs, honey, applesauce, and poppy seeds. Add to dry ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in grated pears.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until bread is golden brown, slightly cracked on the surface, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 75 to 85 minutes. (if you're baking mini-loaves, it will be more like 40 minutes). Remove from oven; let stand until completely cool, about 30 minutes, before serving.

Yogurt Parfaits

Good morning, friends. I should be doing a million other things right now, but woke up feeling a little lonely. So I'm here instead.

And with not much to say except that sometimes, even if everything else seems dull and gray (right, Seattleites?), the colors on our plate offer themselves as a reminder of all the riotous bounty in the world. It could have been that all fruit was khaki-colored, and all vegetables were white. Or that we take a pill every morning for the day's nourishment.

Instead, it's this--orange mango chunks in the bottom of a glass, a dallop of yogurt. Then jam or fruit sauce--in my case, mushy plums that I cooked down and put through a food mill. Then some crunchy granola. Now, all four layers again. Or maybe you've got berries, some early apples, pineapple or cantaloupe, nectarines or peaches. Anything will do. Stick your spoon in--you might be the stirring type or the keep-it-in-layers type. I'm the latter. Whatever the day holds, at least there is this bright, sweet sustenance.

Breakfast Crumb Cake

crumb cake

I've got some really healthy and seasonal things waiting in the wings. And then there's this. Sour-Cream-Heart-Attack-Crunchy-Streusel Special. I've had this issue of Bon Appetit sitting in the bathroom for a couple months, so by now I have practically memorized all the recipes. One of the features was from the Brooklyn Baked boys, and this coffee cake has been haunting me. (Seven-year-old Wyatt is very thankful for things like coffee cake specters.)

I've been doing lots of reading on nutrition and health lately, so I'm fully aware that this won't make the cut on any of those lists. But here's the thing--I'm not tempted by baked goods lying around the house. I have a small piece for breakfast and find ways to give most of it away. (Guacamole is another story.) If you're in the can't-leave-it-alone camp, my advice is not to make this. It's a temptingly tender cake, piled high with thick streusel, and the very definition of comfort food. My mom (and probably your mom, too) had a similar version of sour cream coffee cake. I remember she'd make it for special occasion brunches or if we had overnight guests. Honestly, this whole summer has felt like a special occasion around here. I've been having so much fun with my kids, discovering new things about them and yes, cooking for them. Wyatt looked at me adoringly after his first bite of this. Who can resist that?

Breakfast Crumb Cake
This is lifted exactly from Bon Appetit. If you wanted to mix it up a little, I think some very thinly sliced pear and a little cardamom would be delicious in it.

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 Tb. cinnamon
1/2 ts. salt

1 c. unsalted butter, melted, warm
2 1/2 c. all purpose flour

2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/3 c. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla

For topping: 
Mix both sugars, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl and whisk to blend. Add warm melted butter and stir to blend. Add flour and toss with fork until moist clumps form (topping mixture will look slightly wet). Set aside.

For cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat room-temperature butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Add sour cream and vanilla extract and beat just until blended. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, beating just until incorporated after each addition. Transfer cake batter to prepared baking dish; spread batter evenly with rubber spatula or offset spatula. Squeeze small handfuls of topping together to form small clumps. Drop topping clumps evenly over cake batter, covering completely (topping will be thick).

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean and topping is deep golden brown and slightly crisp, about 1 hour. Cool cake in dish on rack at least 30 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool completely. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

Cut cake into squares and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce


I had just cracked two eggs into a bowl this morning, readying Wyatt's usual omelette, when he called from the living room, "Mom, can we have pancakes this morning?" On top of that, as I was putting Loretta to bed last night, she said, "Mom, I have two dreams. One is that we will spend the day together tomorrow, and the the other dream is that we will have pancakes for breakfast." I double-dog-dare you to resist that.

I had no intention of posting about this since I already have at least two other pancake posts, and there's nothing special about this recipe. Then I decided that 1) I'd rather keep in touch with you than hold out for some spectacular recipe and 2) I have quite a bit more to say on the subject of pancakes and stewed fruit. Of course, you are not surprised by this.

On pancakes, here's where I stand currently:

  • The only reason I don't make them every time Wyatt and Loretta ask for them is that they derail me from my healthy breakfast regimen--granola and yogurt, oats, wheat toast and an egg, etc.
  • For several months, I've been obsessed with Molly's oatmeal pancakes. The kids like those, but they'd prefer these. I give in every once in awhile. Plus, those little wonders require thinking ahead a whole night before.
  • I never order pancakes out. Sometimes, they arrive lukewarm (horrors!), they're usually overpriced, and, snobbily, they are never as good as mine.
  • As I have mentioned a bazillion times, I always have buttermilk in my fridge. If you love pancakes, I recommend adopting this strategy.
  • I have stopped using my double-burner nonstick griddle in favor of my 10" cast iron skillet. A 12" would be ideal, but Yancey might annul our marriage if I brought home another pan. Cast iron skillets cook perfect pancakes every time, and it's worth the wait.
  • I cook them in butter. You could go all unsaturated on me and use vegetable oil, but I would still like you.
  • The biggest favors you can do your pancake batter are 1) Don't over-stir it. Leave lumps and 2) Let the batter sit for 10 minutes before you portion it into the pan. This helps the gluten develop and results in much fluffier morsels.

On stewed fruit (in this case, blueberry sauce), here's where I stand:

  • Sometimes, yours truly purchases a whole flat of berries at the farmer's market with no plan for it. If a pint or two of those precious berries needs to be used up, this is what you can do with them.
  • Cooking fruit down with a splash of water and some sugar is timeless, easy, elegant, and saves softening fruit from the brink.
  • If you've got leftover stewed fruit, put it in a smoothie.
  • For berries with lots of water content (raspberries, blackberries), you'll need to add a couple teaspoons of corn starch to thicken it up for a sauce.
  • This sauce was Wyatt's idea this morning. I asked if they wanted blueberry pancakes or regular (wouldn't you like to be a kid in this house? Sheesh.) and Wyatt said, "Why don't you make blueberry sauce?"

Goodness. I had more to say than I thought I would. They were delicious. Loretta ate them with her shirt off.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce
Makes about 12 medium pancakes. This recipe is almost identical to the base of this one, except I've started adding melted butter to the batter. &%$!! If you're going to eat pancakes, you might as well really eat them. And, if you sub raspberries or blackberries for the sauce, make sure to add 2 tsp. corn starch before you simmer it so the berries thicken up.

1 1/2 c. flour
pinch salt
1 Tb. suguar
1 Tb. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
3 Tb. melted butter, cooled

Combine all dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk eggs and buttermilk together. Add buttermilk mixture and butter to dry ingredients, gently stir just until combined, leaving some lumps, and let batter sit for 10 minutes. Melt a bit of butter in a cast iron skillet, heat over medium heat until gently foaming, and make pancakes whatever size you want them. Flip them when bubbles are forming.

For blueberry sauce: In a small saucepan, combine 2 c. blueberries with 1/4 c. sugar and a splash of water. Cook on medium high until blueberries are bursting and forming a sauce, about 5-7 minutes. Stir frequently. You can mash up the blueberries with the back of your spoon if you're impatient.

In Praise of Uni-tasking


I've just been to another planet. One without Facebook, blogging, or email. One where uni-tasking (instead of multitasking) reigns supreme. I have mixed feelings about opening up the laptop again this  morning, but I miss you. And vacations wouldn't be vacations if they didn't come to an end, right?

Were I to list all the internal and external events that have filled me up these last 10 days, I'd lose you. But here are a few highlights:

  1. Uni-tasking with Loretta at the laundromat on account of our broken dryer--reading stories, watching the bright clothes whirl, and doing nothing except being there.
  2. Sitting in a big circle with 25 amazing women at The Gathering, passing the tissue as we talked about all the love and loss and in our lives.
  3. Celebrating 15 years of marriage to Yancey with 2 nights and 3 days away. Every moment together was a perfect little gem. I'm not being hyperbolic here. It was a celebration in every way imaginable (including some mountaintop restaurant experiences).
  4. Exploring the tidepools at Seahurst Park, hearing Wyatt's exclamations echo down the whole beach.
  5. Going to yoga four times.

And, for Father's Day breakfast, I made Kristina Kringle. You long-timers will remember this was my second blog entry entry ever--without a photo, no less! Here's a better-late-than-never photo, and another plug for this ambrosial, easy pastry that will catapult you to Brunch Fame should you make it.

Thank you Emily, Naomi, Mary, Mama, and Papa for making uni-tasking possible the last 10 days. We are so blessed by your generosity.

expert unitaskers

Kristina Kringle

From the Alice Bay cookbook. The first time I blogged about this, my proportions were different. I am back to following the recipe as it appears. I imagine this would be fine without the almond extract, but it's the almond that makes it for me. I've never made it without.

1  cup flour
1/2 cup butter (1 cube)
2 Tb water
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
3 eggs
1/2 ts. salt
1/2 ts. almond extract
1/4 c. toasted slivered or sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut together 1 cup flour and 1 cube butter in a food processor until mixtures resembles fine meal.  (You can do this by hand, also.)  Add water and pulse (or mix) well.  Form dough into a ball and divide in half.  Using the heel of your hand, press dough into into two 2 1/2"  wide strips down the length of a cookie sheet.

In a saucepan, bring 1 cup of water and 1/2 cup butter to a boil.  Remove from heat.  Add flour, and stir until smooth.  Add eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition.  Add salt and extract.  Spread on top of dough strips.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until puffed and slightly golden.  Cool and frost with almond icing and scattered slivered almonds over the top.

Almond Icing
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tb milk
1/2 ts almond extract

Combine all four ingredients with a whisk or fork.  Blend until smooth and spread over cooled pastry.  Cut into pieces and get ready for compliments.


Still on the Muesli Train


Six or eight weeks ago, I told you about my new thing for muesli. We are still in the honeymoon stage. I found a great glass jar at a garage sale, and I've freshly filled it every week. For some reason, Yancey and I both consume it much faster than we ever did granola. He takes it to work, and I eat it every morning while the kids wolf Panda Puffs. (Organic sugar cereal, which is ridiculous.) In the original recipe I gave, I instructed you to pulse the oats in the food processor or use quick oats. I just use whole ones now. The mix pictured is oats, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, dried blueberries and cherries, toasted almonds, raisins, sesame seeds, pinch of  brown sugar, pinch of salt, and dash of cinnamon.

I'm leaving town for a few days to go on my annual women's retreat. Yancey keeps a tally of all my retreats. He thinks it's hilarious. I try explaining that they are my job, but he teases me anyway. Thankfully, this one has nothing to do with work and everything to do with rejuvenation. I room with my dear friend Nalani every year, and a dose of her is exactly what I need right now. And four days of showing up to food that's already been prepared?! Heaven, actually. It forces a healthy break from my compulsive planning, shopping and chopping.

We open our retreat every year in a big circle, sharing what's been most important to us in the time we've been apart. You, favorite readers, will surely figure largely in my litany of gratitudes. Thank you.

Resolution Muesli

resolution muesli

If you're not into introspective crap, you'd better surf on over to a real food blog. Or just skip down to the recipe.

Emily and I had an urban retreat last weekend. She stayed at her place, and I stayed in Julia's apartment across the alley (Julia's out of town). We had planned to go to St. Mary's, but the nuns called and said they all have the flu. No thanks. This household has had enough sickness in the last month. So, (twist my arm), we suffered on Capitol Hill instead. We went to the new Elliott Bay Books. There is NOTHING like a new book store to create needs you don't have. And a delicious dinner at The Tin Table, then Molly Moon salted licorice ice cream. After we said goodnight, I walked to Madison Market in the dark to get a few things for breakfast. I loved being there right before closing, childless and wandering the aisles, trying to decide between grapefruit or orange juice. At 10:30, the couple in front of me at the checkout was clearly buying things for dinner--a loaf of bread, salad fixings, a six-pack. I cannot remember the last time I ate dinner after 8:00.

The next morning, Emily and I had some time alone before we met up. We're different in lots of ways, but we are two peas in a pod when it comes to making charts, graphs, and resolutions about our lives. Sheesh. I realized lots of things about my time, energy, and sustainability in this stage of life. One of them is that I haven't been taking care of myself. I've been staying up too late, eating too much sugar and white flour, avoiding the gym, not dealing with my back pain, not making great decisions about my time. While I was eating muesli from the co-op, I made a bunch of lists and decisions.

plotting and planning at julia's table

Then I came home and made this muesli to start the week out right. Please don't take this recipe as a slight against granola. I adore granola and always will. But I have to talk behind its back for a minute and say it's full of fat and sugar! I've always thought of muesli as thoroughly unappetizing compared to its crunchy granola cousin. But, for some reason, walking through the market at night, this is what I chose. And it tasted so good the next morning, sitting in the sun with my colored pencils, making lists.

Like it or not, I'll be dragging you through these resolutions. Emily bought me Mark Bittman's Food Matters for an early Mother's Day gift (do you believe I get Mother's Day gifts from her?!), and I'm devouring it. Chickpeas three ways this week. Get those beans soaking, friends.

muesli with apple

Resolution Muesli
If you don't have quick oats (I didn't), you can put regular rolled oats in the food processor and pulse a few times. And endless combinations are possible for the seeds, nuts, dried fruit, and fresh fruit here. And I particularly love it after its soaked in soy milk for 10 minutes.

3 cups quick oats
1 c. mixed seeds and toasted nuts (I used hazelnuts, walnuts, raw sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds)
3/4 c. dried fruit (I used dried cherries)
pinch salt
2 Tb. brown sugar
milk or yogurt for serving
fresh fruit for serving

Mix oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, salt, and brown sugar together. Store in an airtight cannister.

To serve, mix with milk or yogurt and let sit on the counter or in the fridge for at least ten minutes (and you can leave it overnight in the fridge). Stir and top with fresh fruit. This morning, I put a pile of grated apple on top. Yum.

Banana Crunch Muffins

banana crunch muffins

As I've mentioned before, we're not big banana eaters in this family. But blessed is the blackening bunch of bananas sitting in the fruit bowl!

Aimee and I took our kids to the park yesterday, and we managed to have a great conversation in the middle of handing out animal crackers and rationing juice. We talked about how routine our lives are these days--one foot in front of the other, paying the mortgage, figuring out complicated schedules with our spouses, trying to save money. And we both teared up with the realization (again) that this life is what we have. These mundane things are the important ones, and both of us have so much to be thankful for.

Like last night. Wyatt was spending the night with a friend and Yancey was at the station. Loretta and I had popcorn for dinner and watched Scooby Doo: Legend of the Vampire. I suggested Veggie Tales, but I think she was trying to be brave with the Scooby Doo pick. She said, very seriously, "Mom, I will hold your hand if you get scared. And if you get tired, you can lay down on the couch." We curled up together, and she'd occasionally look up at me and smile. When it was over, she insisted I sing every song in the MK family repertoire. Her current favorite is "Ubi Caritas," a Latin taize song.

In the spirit of loving the ordinary, here's a poem I wrote several years ago about bananas. I've always liked it, and thought of it this morning while I was mashing up bananas for these delicious muffins.

Bunch of Bananas

Looking up dates for a job application,
I haul out old journals. Just five years ago,
I wrote, "Distractions during meditation today:
bunch of bananas on the table."

How beautiful the banana bunch!
Curved like a sickle,
seams along cold skin, a handle
waiting to open soft flesh.

I should be so lucky--
to be loosed from coming and goings
of striving thoughts, distracted by
yellow bananas balancing lightly on the table,
waiting to be eaten or dismissed.


I hope your week is full of sweetly ordinary moments. These muffins won't hurt.

Banana Crunch Muffins
I've been making these muffins for years. The recipe is Ina Garten's, and it's scribbled in my recipe book from one of the times I borrowed my sister's cookbook. I subbed one cup whole wheat flour, didn't use walnuts, and used buttermilk instead of whole milk. If  you don't have granola around like I always do, you can use oats.


Celebrating Year One with Rhubarb Sauce

rhubarb sauce

One year ago, I threw my Mom a surprise birthday party. I made one of my ubiquitous grain salads, and a bunch of people asked for the recipe. I had always prided myself on being the sort of person to actually go home; hunt down or make up the recipe; write it on a cute little card; and stick it in the mail. This time, I decided to put the recipe on a blog, figuring it might save a stamp or two. What I didn't know was that, for several months, the absolute only thing I'd want to do is cook and write about it. In Praise of Leftovers moved in.

A year later, it's clear to me that this venture saved me from myself in lots of ways. Bits of my angst leaked out, but it's easier to tell you now that last year was a hard one for me--lots of identity issues; the intensity of Yancey starting a new job; working again to find my place in the world. That's a journey that never ends--a task that crops up over and over again if we're trying to live engaged lives. For the moment, though, I'm happy to be taking a breather from asking impossible questions. My family and I seem to have come into a clearing of sorts--we're a little scratched up from bushwhacking, but the sun's out now and we've found a grassy patch. And, of course, I brought a picnic.

Spring means rhubarb. And rhubarb means rhubarb sauce. For starters, how on earth are you going to shove all those unruly stalks into your fridge? I know my fridge would resent it. Too many tubs of half-finished yogurt camping out. So wash and chop it, throw it in a saucepan with a good bit of sugar and splash of water, and you'll have spoonfuls of spring in 20 minutes. To my taste, there is nothing better.

Happy Birthday, In Praise of Leftovers. Thanks for giving me a swift kick in the *$%# last year. And for all these dear, dear readers whose insights and friendship have helped me love life more.

Rhubarb Sauce
We had a giant patch of rhubarb in our alley growing up, so Mom became an expert in all things rhubarb--cake, crisp, chutney, bread, and always sauce. Mostly, I eat it with yogurt and granola, but you can use it a million other ways--over ice cream, pancakes or waffles; in smoothies or stirred into oatmeal.

5 cups chopped pink rhubarb (I chop mine into 1/4" dice. If you chop them bigger, they'll just take longer to cook)
3/4 c. sugar (or more to taste)
splash water

Throw everything into a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then turn down to low. Cook for about 20 minutes, until most the fruit has dissolved and it's a nice thick consistency. Add more sugar if you want. Cool, then refrigerate. Keeps a week in the fridge.

Oatmeal Pancakes

oatmeal pancakes

If you want a much better history and description of these treasures, click over to Orangette. I'm just here to testify.

My testimonial: regular buttermilk pancakes don't tempt me anymore. They're so...what's the word? Oatmeal-less. Disappointingly fluffy. I'm always after texture--crunchy, chewy, crispy, toothsome. My default pancakes don't have any butter in them, though you'd never know it. These have a whole cube. Is that a plus or a minus? And I love how they get all lacy around the edges and beautifully golden all over.

Here's the fine print, though--you have to start them the night before. But wait! Don't close your browser! Just throw two cups of old-fashioned oats in a bowl, add two cups of buttermilk, stir and cover, put in the fridge. The next morning, add a bit of flour, melted butter, leavening and eggs. 2 minutes. And who are we kidding? Like I don't start thinking about the next day's breakfast right after dinner is over.

One of the things I love about pancakes is that you can have that industrious, Prairie Home Companion feeling of making something from scratch without too much effort. I don't know if you've noticed, but I haven't been churning out a bunch of creative meals lately. Toast for breakfast, cottage cheese and crackers for lunch, burritos for dinner. I don't feel bad about it, especially when I think of these pancakes, just waiting to fortify us again.

Oatmeal Pancakes
Lifted straight off Orangette. These have frozen blueberries in them, which I didn't stir into the batter, but dropped one-by-one onto the cooking pancakes before I flipped them.

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups buttermilk
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. table salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted but not hot
Vegetable oil or spray, for greasing the pan
Maple syrup, for serving

The night before:
Combine the oats and buttermilk in a medium bowl. Stir to mix. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

The morning of:
Take the bowl of buttermilk and oats out of the fridge. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Add the eggs and melted butter to the oat mixture, and stir well. Add the flour mixture, and stir to blend. The batter will be very thick.

Warm a large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium-high heat, and brush (or spray) with vegetable oil. To make sure it’s hot enough, wet your fingers under the tap and sprinkle a few droplets of water onto the pan. If they sizzle, it’s ready. Scoop the batter, about a scant ¼ cup at a time, onto the pan, taking care not to crowd them. When the underside is nicely browned and the top looks set around the edges, flip the pancakes. Cook until the second side has browned.

Re-grease the skillet, and repeat with more batter. If you find that the pancakes are browning too quickly, dial the heat back to medium.

Serve hot, with maple syrup.

Yield: about 12 pancakes, or 3 to 4 servings

Sunday School Muffins

wyatt with muffin

When we first started at our church, Pastor Angela asked if I wanted to help with Sunday School. I immediately said "no." Give me a room full of adults, and I know just what to do. Kids? Forget it. They need crafts and snacks. Most terrifyingly, they see right through you and how you'd rather be lying in bed with magazines than listening to their thoughts about God.

So I've been surprised at how much I've been enjoying teaching Wyatt's little 6-8 year-old Sunday school class. We light a candle when they first come in, and I ask them how their week was. They are always bursting with news. Irene went to her Grandma's house. Nora got in a fight with her brother, and Annie got a new stuffed animal for Valentine's Day. Wyatt eagerly pumped is hand in the air, dying for me to call on him. His news:  "My mom got a new iPhone."

It's true. Wyatt and Yancey have been making fun of my obsessed ineptness all weekend. I couldn't sleep last night, and I truly think it was due to iPhone Excitement. I got up at midnight and went back to bed at 2:00. I prepped for Wyatt's class; cleaned the kitchen; started these muffins; and yes--browsed the App Store.

The Sunday School curriculum says things like , "Supplies needed for February 21: 6 indsustrial-strength crab pots; bandsaw; live bait; 12 yards of baling wire; and 400 rounded popsicle sticks." Good Lord. I'm not that committed to my child's learning. So last night at 1:00 a.m., cutting 20 footprints out of construction paper (don't ask), I was surprised to feel so content. The house was quiet, my newborn iPhone was happily sleeping, and I felt for a moment how precious those six kids were that would be coming to my class in the morning. Sunday School isn't about morals or getting indoctrinated. If you're in my class at my church, it's about growing up together, about looking past the answers to the amazing questions that children will ask if they're not surrounded by know-it-alls.

And it's about muffins. Last time, I scrounged a snack last-minute--a bag of tangerines and oatmeal raisin granola bars.Wyatt hates that variety, and was mortified we didn't have chocolate chip ones to bring. Remember that feeling? That you're the kid without the cool snacks? He felt much better about the snack situation this morning, helping pass them out and distribute seconds. I didn't tell them about the oat bran and zucchini.

Sunday School Muffins
These are a riff on Morning Glory Muffins. I guess I've been Muffin Queen lately. I suppose there are worse things to be.

2 cups flour
1/4 c. oat bran
2 ts. baking soda
2 ts. cinnamon
1 ts. salt
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
4 large carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
1 medium zucchini, coarsely grated
1 c. vegetable oil
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 and butter 15 muffin cups or line with cupcake liners.

Mix dry ingredient together in medium bowl and set aside.

In large bowl, combine grated carrots and zucchini. Add flour mixture and mix with your hands to coat. Add vegetable oil and eggs, stirring to combine.

Fill muffin cups to the top, and bake for about 25 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean and tops spring back a bit. Let cool for 5 minutes in pan, then remove.

Snickerdoodle Muffins

snickerdoodle muffins

Remember yesterday when I said there wouldn't be any schmaltzy Valentine posts?  That was before I had a day off.  And time to make muffins.

My Mom used to make these "French Breakfast Muffins" for special occasions growing up. They were from a Junior League cookbook of hers. I can still see that recipe on the page--green font, butter stains around the edges. And there were lots of special occasion breakfasts in our house. Birthdays, of course, but also St. Patrick's and Valentines Day, first day of school, May Day. She is a master ambiance creator.  I don't share that talent, but at least I clear the clutter off the table (you're welcome, Yancey).

v-day breakfast

This morning when Yancey got off shift, the kids had been waiting by the door for an hour, anxious to open their gifts. Wyatt got a graphic novel, and Loretta, a ladybug umbrella. I started reminiscing about past Valentines Days, which precipitated a string of storytelling. The kids were enthralled.

In third or fourth grade, I was smitten with a pair of shoes at Hilton's Shoes. Most our clothes came from thrift stores or KMart (pity mothers 30 years ago who didn't have Target!), so these shoes were out of my league. They were varsity.  Rainbow canvas, covered toe and heel, with ties up the ankle. I drew them, imagined myself making an appearance at school, and was certain they would make me feel beautiful forever. Unbeknownst to me, my mom saved up some extra money and rode her bike downtown to make the purchase. When she got to Hiltons, the cash had fallen out of her pocket somewhere along the way, and I never got my shoes. I teared up recounting it, and Yancey said, "Why did your Mom even tell you that story if you never got the shoes?" I said I didn't know, but that I had always been glad she did. It's one of the many, many things in my life that's told me I'm loved.

Emily always says that Valentine's Day is a time to celebrate love in all its forms. Though she's been single for much of the time I've known her, she's always the one sending pink cards or calling to say she loves me. I'm soaking it up today, from every little nook and cranny. I hope you are, too.

P.S. Soaking it up from my sweetheart, too. Sarah Murphy, Yancey Kangas, Junior Prom, 1991. If it's true that all you need is love, we've been very rich for a very long time.


Snickerdoodle Muffins
I got so carried away with nostalgia that I've forgotten to talk these up properly. Every mother should have these up her sleeve. One bowl, pedestrian ingredients, but a child's delight. I almost made a cranberry Irish soda bread this morning, but remembered that my goal was so see the kids wolf something down. If your children are anything like mine, they're not big on texture. These are buttery, sweet, yielding pillows--nothing to get in the way of appreciative grunts. This recipe makes only 8 muffins, which I like. If you're serving a crowd, though, you'll want to double it.

1 1/2 c. + 2 Tb. flour
3/4 c. sugar
2 ts. baking powder
1/4 ts. salt
1/4 ts. nutmeg (freshly ground, if possible)
1/2 c. milk
1 beaten egg
1/3 c. melted butter

For topping:
1 ts. cinnamon
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. melted butter

Preheat oven to 400.

Combine first five ingredients.  Add milk, egg, and 1/3 c. melted butter, mix gently to combine. Butter a muffin tin, and fill muffin cups 1/2 full and bake for 15-20 minutes, until tops are light brown and springy to the touch.

While muffins are still warm, dip in butter and roll in cinnamon and sugar.  Serve warm.

World's Greatest Breakfast

soft boiled egg

We've been eating a lot of eggs lately.  It goes something like this:

  1. Wake up, check blog stats to see if Mark Bittman has decided to endorse In Praise of Leftovers (sadly, not yet)
  2. Set four eggs in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a gentle boil
  3. Check Facebook to see if someone, somewhere, might be thinking about me
  4. Remove my egg after four minutes
  5. Open it over buttered toast, sprinkle coarse salt and aleppo pepper, ponder how I might engineer more provocative Facebook posts to attract a flood of comments
  6. Call the kids to eat their hard-boiled eggs six minutes later
  7. Notice again how eating an egg in the morning keeps me full until lunchtime and makes me feel retro in an MFK Fisher kind of way (who didn't have Facebook and was the better for it)

I've had seasons.  Months of granola for breakfast, not an egg in sight.  Spells of fried eggs, especially sandwiched between an English muffin with sharp cheddar and lots of ketchup.  And poached--I even have a special egg poacher that produces glossy white pucks, all squat and predictably shaped.

But this is the Season of the Soft-Boiled Egg, and it might just last forever.

What's your story with eggs?  How are you eating them these days?

Fig and Fennel Scones

lorettas bday

Birthday mania around here.  We had 25 people in our 800 square feet yesterday.  Why do I clean before parties?  What is the point?!  I suppose it's for that first guest.  They can walk in without tripping over a pile of shoes, and I can lay their coat on an unrumpled bed. After that, trying to maintain any sense of order would just be inhospitable.

Whenever my kids' birthdays roll around, I think of the street kids I used to work with.  We made big deals out of birthdays. I'd be in my office above the drop-in center, and someone would bound up the stairs and holler, "Anyone that wants to sing Happy Birthday, come on down!"  We'd leave whatever we were working on to gather round some pierced, tattooed, bashful kid, and we'd sing at the top of our lungs.  Often, they'd never been sung to before.  I always teared up watching them blow out their candles.  Now that I'm a mother, I'm a basketcase when I think about any child, anywhere, who might not feel loved and celebrated the way my children do almost every day of their lives.

Emily and the birthday girl

I ordered a big, hideous cake for Loretta's breakfast party.  She said she wanted a rainbow, sun, and clouds. White cake with raspberry filling, absolutely laden with frosting.  For the adults, I made a frittata and these scones.  There's already a few variations of this recipe floating around In Praise of Leftovers.  These are my favorite so far--packed with oats, candied ginger and dried figs (sorry-can't keep myself from using them), and a hint of fennel (which kept the kids away from them--perfect).

fennel and fig scones

Fig and Fennel Scones
This is a variation on Nick Malgheri's  tried and true Oatmeal Raisin Scones.  You could certainly leave out the fennel, figs, and ginger, and just sub raisins or another dried fruit.  I use a food processor to make mine. You could do it by hand, too. Predicatably, the point is not to overwork the dough.

1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. rolled oats (not instant)
1/3 c. light brown sugar
1 Tb. baking powder
1/2 ts. baking soda

1/2 ts. fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 ts. salt
8 Tb. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
1/4 c. finely chopped candied ginger
1/2 c. coarsely chopped dried figs

1 c. buttermilk, plus more for brushing tops
1 Tb. turbinado or regular sugar

Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450.

Combine dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse 5 times.

Cut the butter into 12 pieces, add to the bowl, and pulse 12 times, until the mixture resembles fine meal.  Add  ginger, figs, and cup of milk and pulse 3 or 4 times to form a very soft dough.

Generously flour your work surface, turn the dough out onto it, and fold it over on itself 3 or 4 times, until it is less sticky.

Pat dough into two discs, cutting each into 6 wedges.  Brush top with buttermilk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake scones for 15-20 minutes, until they are golden and firm.  Be careful not to overbake.

Almond Fig Granola Bars

Back in the day, I posted about Nigella's granola bars.  My friend Jordan made them and commented, "I don't know how else to say it--they just tasted healthy." Some of you know Jordan, and you know that she is the absolute PICTURE of diplomacy. She never has a bad thing to say about anyone.  So her comment is basically the equivalent of throwing the whole damn batch in the garbage and cussing me out.

Jordan and I met for lunch at Oddfellows today--she's home from NYC on holiday break.  And yes, I'm definitely linking to Oddfellows, still one of my favorite places and spaces ever.  To make up for last spring's healthy disaster, I brought her some of these.  I cannot stop eating them.

Every morning, Loretta wakes up earlier than the rest of us, wanders into our room with binky and Hug (her stuffed lamb, of course!) and says, "Mom, can I have a 'nola bar?"  I buy the Quaker 60-packs at Costco.  They taste like sweetened sawdust. She eats them happily in front of Sesame Street, and every night I sweep up the crumbs from under the couch.  These are not those. Or the disappointing curse-Sarah-under-your-breath ones.

I found the recipe in the magazine Eating Well, which was hanging around the gym.  By the time I was done with my workout, I had decided to stop at the store on the way home to buy cereal and almond butter.  And I ripped the recipe out of the magazine, hoping everyone's iPods were too loud to notice.

I've been driving a lot for work lately, and these solve a lot of problems for me.  Full of fiber; sticky and just-sweet-enough; infinitely portable while still being a little soft; and able to be found with one hand while I'm talking on the phone (don't tell the Bluetooth cops).

And welcome home, Jordan.  Seattle and this Seattle girl have missed you like crazy.

Almond Fig Granola Bars
Adapted from Eating Well.  They call for currants and dried apricots--I used dried cranberries and figs instead.  I cannot get enough of dried figs these days.   But you can certainly play around with what you add.  These aren't low-cal, by any means.  Brown sugar, honey, almond butter.  But they'll keep you full and happy so you don't gorge on cheese right when you walk in the door.  I took one in my pocket the other morning, walking in the early morning rain down to the train station.  It made my dreary morning a lot brighter.  If you like them firm, store them in the fridge.  I like them more yielding, so store them in a canister on the counter.

1 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 c. slivered almonds
1/4 c. raw sunflower seeds
1 Tb. flaxseeds or ground flaxmeal
1 Tb. sesame seeds
1 c. unsweetened whole-grain puffed cereal (like Kashi)
1/3 c. dried cranberries
2/3 c. dried figs, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. creamy almond butter
1/4 c. turbinado or brown sugar
1/4 c. honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt

Lightly oil an 8"square pan.

Preheat oven to 350.  Spread oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and sesame seeds on a large, rimmed baking sheet and toast until everything is lightly browned and fragrant, 8-10 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Add cereal, cranberries, and figs, toss to combine.

Combine almond butter, sugar, honey, vanilla, and salt in small saucepan.  Heat over medium-low, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles slightly, 2-5 minutes.

Immediately pour the almond butter mixture over the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon until no dry spots remain. Transfer to the prepared pan.  Lightly oil your hands and press the mixture down firmly to make an even layer.  Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.  Cut into bars--whatever size is most practical for you.

Sarah's Biscuits

Sarah's Biscuits

Happy New Year, friends!  We have just come home from our annual New Year's eat-fest with Bethany and Chris.  There are lots of little traditions we keep, and one of them is biscuits in the morning.  Bethany says she's become the local Biscuit Queen in Bellingham, with people begging, "Can you make Sarah's biscuits?"  I told her she can definitely call them Bethany's Biscuits at this point.

I have been making these biscuits for at least fifteen years, and they're my most requested item from friends and family.  I have no idea where the actual recipe is since it's been in my head for so long, but I think it came from Cooks Illustrated.  There's nothing novel in the ingredients.  The magic is in the handling of the dough, how it's folded over onto itself to make flaky layers. I'm miserable  at tutorials, but you'll see I've attempted one here.

late breakfast on New Year's Day

4 1/2 years ago, I missed the home birth of Bethany's daughter because I stopped to get bagels on the way--or, more specifically, bialys from The Bagelry with pimento cream cheese.  I made biscuits and eggs to make up for it, and no one has ever been as appreciative as Bethany was, eating in bed while the midwife fluttered around.  I remember standing in the kitchen, my hands covered with flour, and hearing Pippa's newborn cry.  My favorite biscuit memory, for sure.

Just last night, my Mom called me from their vacation rental to ask for this recipe.  We have a running joke about her forgetting it.  One year for Christmas, I made her four laminated, magnetic cards, all with this recipe on it.  I have no idea where they are now.  Now she can find it here.

Sarah's Biscuits
Makes about 8 biscuits.  I've experimented with different kinds of milk, and have even made them with powdered milk once (they turned out great). My favorite, though, is biscuits made with whole milk.  But nonfat, 1%, or 2% work just fine.  Half-and-half or cream aren't recommended.  And a couple more tips--use cold milk and butter; don't overwork the dough; make sure your oven is preheated. Don't use a drinking glass to cut the biscuits--the twisting you need to do to get the dough out will wreck the flakiness. Use a sharp biscuit cutter.  And while these are an obvious choice for breakfast, I make them almost as often to go with soup at night.

2 c. flour
1 Tb. baking powder
1/2 ts. salt
1/2 c. (1 cube) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
3/4 c. cold milk (whole milk if you have it) + a little more for brushing

Preheat oven to 450.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Whisk to combine.

Drop cold butter in flour mixture.  With your fingertips (what I use) or a pastry blender, work in butter it's formed pea-sized lumps in the flour.  Do this as quickly as possible so the butter doesn't get too warm.  Add milk, pouring evenly across the flour mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.  Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead a couple times until you have a smooth ball.

Now for the rolling-out part.  This is what gives the biscuits their flaky layers (and how you will make a name for yourself.)

  1. With a floured rolling pin on a floured surface, roll your ball of dough into a rectangle, about 6" x 11" and about 3/4" thick.
  2. Turn the rectangle around so you're standing parallel to the long end.  Fold the short ends of the rectangle in toward the middle.
  3. Now take the folded rectangle and fold the whole thing down toward you.
  4. Roll that dough out into a rectangle again, and cut biscuits.  Take scraps, do the same procedure, and cut biscuits out of that.

biscuit tutorial

Arrange in a pie plate, close together, brush tops with a bit of milk, and bake for about 15 minutes, until tops are golden brown and insides aren't doughy. You definitely don't want to overbake them, but underbaked are just as bad.

Serve with butter and jam and don't call them "Sarah's Biscuits."  Call them  yours.

Fig Walnut Crisps

fig and walnut crisps

Already, today's list is looking distressingly long.  Half my Christmas cards not sent yet, gifts not wrapped, house a mess. Isn't this what we're supposed to say at Christmas?  Cliché moans of  "Not enough time!" or "Christmas comes earlier every year!"  All that's true, but, in spite of the break-in, I feel a little Christmas spirit sneaking in.  I'm even making cranberry cognac trifle again, if you can believe it.

A few years ago, I stopped purchasing gifts for family and friends.  Children are the exception--for some reason, they don't get excited about chutney or spiced nuts.  Everybody else gets things from the kitchen.  Always granola, and this year, some combination of lemon curd, cranberry vanilla jam, or these crisps.

Have you seen these crisps in bakeries or at nice grocery stores?  They're so expensive!  Generally around $10 for a small package whose ingredients cost $2.  I love them, but never buy them.  Brie or chevre are absolutely transformed atop these little things--they make crackers seem pretty darn boring.  I know I've been using an inordinate amount of dried fruits and nuts lately.  It's the season.  So much fresh stuff is out of season, so I dig into the pantry.

Since you're probably reading this much too late for more Christmas baking, I think these make wonderful New Year's treats or hostess gifts for that wild party you're going to.  (Our wild New Years always consists of holing up at Bethany and Chris' house in Bellingham and consuming egregious amounts of cheese.)

In Praise of Leftovers is going silent for several days since things in my offline life will be busy.  But I feel all sentimental signing off this time.  This is my first Christmas as a blogger, and I feel my community has expanded.  Thank you for your part in that.  And if I could digitally cry, I'd be crying as I tell you how generous, kind, and present everyone has been to us since the break-in. Daily, envelopes have arrived for Wyatt with money to restart his piggy bank, and his eyes get wider each time.  For all of us, it's a tangible reminder that we are loved.  I feel so sad (and yes, still mad!) for the person that was here in the dark, stealing cheese and chicken and spare change.  That's desperate. Wherever s/he is, I hope their envelopes start coming in the mail soon, too.  Merry Christmas, friends.

better than being at the mall

Fig Walnut Crisps
Have I directed you to Seven Spoons yet?  It's one of my daily reads.  I remember, right when I was starting my blog, I'd read Tara's with my jaw on the floor.  So beautiful!  And so beautifully written!  I still feel that way about it.  The only thing I changed from her recipe was adding some coarse sugar and salt to the tops of these loaves and baking them in mini pans instead of full ones.

softened butter for greasing pans, or nonstick spray
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 cup coarsely-chopped dried figs
1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup flax seed meal or whole flax seed, bashed in a mortar and pestle or pulsed in a spice grinder
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped

1 Tb. coarse sugar
1 tsp. grey salt or flake salt

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease 4 mini loaf pans, or spray with a nonstick spray.

Spread the walnuts and pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes until fragrant but without much color. Remove from the baking sheet and into a bowl, then set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the buttermilk, brown sugar and honey and stir until combined. Add the reserved nuts and remaining ingredients and stir until just blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Top loaves with a sprinkling of coarse sugar and flake salt.  Bake until golden and puffed, about 30 minutes. When touched, the loaves should spring back immediately. Turn the loaves out of their pans to cool completely, right side up, on a wire rack.

The bread is easiest to slice when fully-cooled. Leave the loaves to rest at room temperate for a few hours or, following do what I did and pop them in the freezer.  Once frozen, slice the loaves as thin as you can and place the slices in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Heat to 300° F and bake them for about 12 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 8-10 minutes, until crisp and deep golden. Cool completely on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container.

Easiest, Most Tender Cinnamon Pull-Aparts

new christmas tradition

You're in charge of the carbs for Christmas breakfast.  Scones?  You're not inspired.  Muffins?  Muffins are so...the other 364 days of the year.  Look no further.  I don't care what your culinary plans for Christmas were. These are your new plan.

Tammy, loyal reader and hard-core promoter of In Praise of Leftovers, asked if I had a good cinnamon roll recipe.  I said no, but I'd work on it.  Three guesses what I did (and the first two don't count.)  I called my Mom, of course.  She rummaged through her recipe box and laughed that every recipe in there was from her friend Gayle.  Dear readers, that is good news for us.  Gayle is an excellent cook with a keen eye for good recipes. That's a skill I haven't talked much about here.  There's no shortage of recipes in the world--how many thousands of food blogs are there?  The trick is in being able to tell, after a minute of perusal, if a recipe is good or not.  I'm not sure how to teach that, but a lot depends on it.

So my Mom did it the old-fashioned way--she read the recipe to me over the phone, skipping parts according to the shorthand we have, and working up her own appetite along the way.  She made them the next morning, calling to confirm that yes, they were as good as she remembered and yes, I should definitely make them as soon as possible.

I brought them to my sister's house this morning and we attacked them.  Naomi decided to make them for Christmas morning. I'm telling you--these moist little rolls inspire changes of plans.  And you'll end up being more popular than Santa.  I made mine with pecans and orange zest, but can envision so many other combos--slivered almonds and almond extract; lime zest and toasted macadamias; little bits of dried fig and anise.  The dough is incredibly tender, you don't need to bother with yeast, and I'll stop trying to sell you on them. Because I think you might already be changing your plans.


Easiest, Most Tender Cinnamon Pull-Aparts
I like these much better than any traditional yeasted cinnamon roll I've ever had.  In fact, I'm disappointed with cinnamon rolls most the time--too heavy, often too dry, with those annoying raisins clogging everything up.  The recipe, originally from Fine Cooking, directs you to put them in a 10" greased springform pan, which works beautifully.  If you don't have a springform, just bake them in a solid circle, edges almost touching, in the middle of a baking sheet.  You could leave the nuts out and be fine, I think.  My mom put chopped fresh cranberries in hers, and they were so delicious and festive.  Also, I didn't have all the spices around, so just used cinnamon, allspice, and some freshly ground nutmeg.

For filling:
3 Tb. melted butter
2/3 c. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 ts. cinnamon
1/2 ts. allspice
1/4 ts. cloves
1/4 ts. cardamom
1 c. pecans

For dough:
2 c. flour
1 Tb. baking powder
1/2 ts. salt
1/4 ts. soda
3/4 c. 4% milkfat cottage cheese
1/3 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. sugar
4 Tb. melted butter
1 ts. vanilla

For icing:
2/3 c. powdered sugar
2-3 Tb. milk
1/2 ts. vanilla
finely grated zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 400 and butter a 10" springform pan.

For filling:  In food processor, combine pecans, brown sugar, and spices.  Pulse a few times until pecans are chopped semi-finely.  Set aside with melted butter in another bowl.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and soda.  Set aside.

In a food processor, mix cottage cheese, buttermilk, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla, pulsing for about 10 seconds until just mixed and cottage cheese is pureed.  Add flour mixture to cottage cheese mixture, pulsing in short bursts until dough is just beginning to clump.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface, kneading a couple times until smooth.  Dough will be very soft and fragrant, but surprisingly easy to work with.  Roll dough out into a 12"x15" rectangle. Brush dough with melted butter, leaving a little border around the edges.  Sprinkle pecan spice mixture over dough.  Roll the dough up lengthwise, pinching ends.  Using your sharpest knife, cut dough into twelve rounds.  I didn't have any problem doing this.  They will squish a little bit, but don't worry about it.

Arrange in the springform pan (or in a solid circle in the middle of a baking sheet) and bake for about 20 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs.  DO NOT OVERBAKE!  This is super essential. 28 minutes max, depending on your oven.

Let cool for about five minutes, then whisk powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and orange zest to make your icing.  Drizzle icing over buns, let cool for about five more minutes, then unmold the springform.

Emergency Frittata

potato and feta frittata

10:00 p.m., I'm straightening up the house before bed, and remember I'm supposed to bring snack to my mom's group. Rarely is my refrigerator as empty as it was on Wednesday night.  If it's rice, dried chickpeas, or canned tomatoes you're after, I'm your gal. Otherwise, it's emergency frittata time.

Unless things are really dire, I've always got a carton of eggs and some bits of cheese, and I lucked out with a half pint of cream. Nothing green, so settled for onions, potato, and a few of the plump sundried tomatoes from DeLaurenti's that have saved me a million times.

I gave a bunch of frittata tips here.  If I posted every one I made, I'd lose readers in a hurry.  We eat them for dinner, I bring them to potlucks.  They're best at room temperature and easy to transport.  You can serve it in the skillet or slide the whole thing out on a flat plate and cut it on arrival.  I know there are a lot of nonstick-avoiders out there.  You're more conscientious than me.  I couldn't do without my 10 and 12 inch nonstick skillets, a $50 Calphalon set.  For perfect eggs, it's hard to beat them.  Like I've said before, top quality isn't paramount where nonsticks are concerned--they won't last a lifetime no matter what you do. Essential for frying up potstickers, too.  I haven't written about frozen potstickers yet, but they keep me in good standing with my kids.  If I didn't vary all our kale and curries with potstickers, I'd have a revolt on my hands.

Potato Feta Frittata
Frittatas are perfect vehicles for leftovers.  You can vary just about everything in here according to your inventory.  This is just an example of one that's materialized recently in my kitchen.  I cut it  into 16 little wedges so all of us multitasking mothers could eat them while chasing children.  If you were going to sit down with a fork, you could definitely make the pieces bigger.

2 Tb. olive oil
1 small onion, very thinly sliced into rings
1 small potato, very thinly sliced into rounds
salt and pepper
8 large eggs
1/2 c. cream
1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. plump sundried tomatoes, julienned
handful fresh herbs (I used oregano, but you can use parsley, cilantro, whatever you have around)

Preheat oven to 375.

Heat olive oil in a 10" nonstick skillet.  Add onions and saute over medium high heat until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste, then add potato rounds, making sure as much of their surface as possible is touching the pan so they get browned and a a little caramelized around the edges.  Stir a couple times so both sides of the potatoes get cooked.

Spread onion/potato mixture evenly around the pan.  Whisk eggs and cream together, then pour over onion mixture.  Turn heat down to low, cover, and cook until eggs are starting to set, about 10 minutes.  Sprinkle cheeses over eggs, then sundried tomatoes and herbs.  Cook for about 5 more minutes on the stovetop, then finish, lid off,  in preheated oven until eggs are puffed and just set in the center, about 5 more minutes.

Let cool before slicing.