Goodbye, 2010

The Murphy women had our annual Christmas baking day yesterday--stacks of cookie sheets, oven on all day, constant chopping of nuts and and the crackle of parchment paper. It was a miserably wet day, but I took a little walk by myself after lunch. I ended up in front of the Buddhist temple near our house with Christian hymns playing on my iPod. I stood there in the rain, cold and in awe of this world that keeps turning in spite of everything we've done to it.

I just finished reading my friend Sonya Chung's debut novel, Long for This World. I loved so many things about it, but especially her phrase "Accidental Family." (You'll have to read the book to know the compelling story behind it which is much different than the way I co-opt the phrase here). Just in my zip code, there are hundreds of languages represented, multitudes of religions, millions of stories. I like to think of us as an Accidental Family--we didn't choose one another, we rarely understand each other, and friendship doesn't come easy. I used to think friendship was the mark of relationship. Sometimes, miraculously, friendship happens. More often, we are just near one another--on the train, at the park or produce stand, trying, on our best days, to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

I'm signing off for a couple weeks. Here's a few photos to say goodbye to 2010 and hello to 2011. Wherever you are, whatever your plans, fears, or hopes, may you be met with love. May you experience family, accidental or otherwise.

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Portuguese Honey Loaves

Portugese honey loaf
Agh!! I am drowning in lists over here. They look something like this:

  1. Pray.
  2. Exercise.
  3. Take vitamin.
  4. Make honey loaves for Wyatt and Loretta's teachers.
  5. Go to Costco for baking supplies and try not to hate Christmas while I'm there. (Send Yancey instead?)
  6. Finish workshop design for client.
  7. Copy, cut, stamp, and stuff Christmas cards.
  8. Keep deliberating about which cookies to make on Saturday. Throw old lists out, make new ones.
  9. Stay off Facebook.
  10. Finish workshop design for client.
  11. Make a truckload of granola.

Clearly, I shouldn't be here, writing about honey loaves. But there they were this morning, all forlorn, needing some attention from the camera.

I wanted to make something for the kids' teachers that was still a treat, but not Sugar Overload. Seems like I usually settle on bread. This one, from my trusty (green) Gourmet cookbook, is particularly Christmasy. Molasses, honey, dried fruit, walnuts, port. It's slightly dry, slices beautifully, and is divine for toast. And makes six small loves!

Wherever you are in your list-making, I hope the lauded peace, joy, and goodwill are sneaking in through the cracks.

Portuguese Honey Loaves
I'm not a big candied fruit fan (unless I make it myself, which I don't have time for due to all my time-wasting on Facebook), so I just subbed more dried fruit for the candied and added the zest from a big orange. The original recipe called for mild molasses, but I like the full-flavored kind better. Use whatever you prefer or have on hand. The recipe calls for both yeast and baking soda--that's because honey and molasses are very acidic, when can affect the leavening. The soda neutralizes the acid.

1 1/2 c. mixed dried fruit (I used apricots, cherries, and cranberries)
finely grated zest of one large orange
1/4 c. port
1 Tb. active dry yeast
1/4 c warm water
1 1/4 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped
4 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 c. sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 c. molasses
1/2 c. honey

Preheat oven to 325 and butter six mini loaf pans (6 x 3 1/4 x 2 inch).

Combine dried fruit and port in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and set aside.

Stir together yeast and warm water in a small bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Combine flour, salt, soda, spices, and walnuts and set aside.

Beat together butter and sugar in an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 4-6 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add one third of the flour mixture and mix at low speed until combined. Add molasses and mix until incorporated. Add half of remaining flour mixture and mix until combined, then add honey and mix until incorporated. Add yeast mixture and remaining flour mixture and mix until combined. Stir in dried fruit mixture.

Divide batter among pans, smoothing tops. Bake until a wooden toothpick or skewer inserted in center of loaves comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove loaves from pans and cool completely on rack.

Waiting in Advent

Advent Breakfast 2010
I'm still buzzing from the annual Advent breakfast with my dear friends. What struck me (again) is that we're all waiting for something--wholeness, money, happiness, companionship, insight, community. The trick is to somehow live comfortably in the not-yet. Seems like that's what Advent is all about.

On my mirror (are you tired of hearing what's posted there yet?!), I have a little strip of paper that says, "Be content. Yearn." It reminds me that there is so much to rest in AND so much to yearn for at the same time. If I get too settled, I'm not much good in the world. If my longing takes over, I'm liable to be unhappy and restless.

Are you waiting for Christmas treats? Sorry. They're slow in coming around here. I have some work deadlines and the Christmas Spirit hasn't manifested itself in caramel corn or fudge yet. I promise to let you know when it does.

P.S. Emily made some stunning Apple Pecan Breakfast Buns. I plan to make them soon.

Cumin Fried Rice with Chorizo and Kale


cumin fried rice

Remember when I went on and on about my wok? With romantic metaphors, even? I suppose we are past infatuation and into the settled domestic partners stage. The patina is developing as planned, and I can now fry rice, noodles, or meat without any fear of sticking. I've often thought what a wonderful gift it would be to season a wok for someone else. But I don't want to give up cooking with mine.

I haven't posted a ton of wok recipes because most the things I make in it are so completely and utterly everyday. I'm not sure there's a lot of interest in a fried-rice-a-day calendar. I've sizzled a few delicious numbers, but it's too damn dark at night for decent photos. So you'll have to trust me on this wok thing.

Except for today's version of fried rice, which is a typical example of what I've been up to. This weekday lunch was made possible by:

  1. The fact that I am self-employed.
  2. My addiction to cleaning out the fridge.
  3. The hard work I put into cleaning and prepping vegetables (a ritual part of every weekend around here).
  4. My habit of cooking up some kind of whole grain (brown rice, in this case) and having it in the fridge all week.
  5. PCC's stocking of chorizo in the deli. Real stuff. I couldn't get it in my neighborhood before. Dangerous.
  6. My ongoing commitment to use my wok almost daily. This is a very serious relationship.

Have I mentioned I'm on another health kick? Choosing whole grains over stripped ones, working to get all my servings of fruits and vegetables in, watching my portion sizes, cutting down on sugar and fats. I'm thankful for this body that has such grace for me and responds so energetically when I take care of it. In this season of overeating and constant indulgence, this is my little rebellion.

Cumin Fried Rice with Chorizo and Kale
Serves as a light lunch for two. The important thing with fried rice is that your rice is cold--it's been in the fridge for at least a few hours. For this reason, I always make more than I need and refrigerate the rest. And using brown rice here is no sacrifice--I think it makes a much more delicious version. If you don't have a well-seasoned wok, a large nonstick skillet will work. And you can certainly use other veggies here--peppers, green onions, carrots. The important thing is that they are cut to uniform size.

1 Tb. olive oil
1 Tb. cumin seeds
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 large clove garlic, minced
2" length of cured chorizo, finely diced
1 small zucchini or 1/2 medium zucchini, finely diced
2 c. shredded green cabbage
2 . chopped kale
kosher salt
1 1/2 c. cold brown basmati rice
squeeze of lemon
handful of crumbled feta

Heat your wok on high until a drop of water flicked into it disappears instantly. Add oil, swirl to coat, and add cumin seeds, red pepper flakes, and garlic. Stirfry with a metal spatula for 10 seconds, stirring constantly.

Add chorizo, zucchini, cabbage, and kale, and stirfry to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add salt and rice and cook for 2-3 more minutes until rice is warmed through and vegetables are getting crispy in places. Dump into two bowls, squeeze some lemon over, and top with a bit of crumbled feta.

Ten Tips for Getting Comfortable in the Kitchen


MK kitchen
Let's be honest. The reason there's been such an explosion in the blogosphere is because blowhards like me can give advice and there's no one telling us to shut up! We've all heard that it's much better to listen than to give advice. And we nod in agreement. (By the way, I have yet to meet someone who says they're a bad listener. All of us think we're good listeners.) But I've got some unabashed advice today. I've been thinking about how much time shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up takes, and how miserable it would be to not enjoy some of those tasks. Because eating has so much to do with community, health, and well-being, I really believe it's worth the investment of learning and time. (This will not surprise you, I know.) Here's a few tips that might help you along the way:

  1. Cook a lot. And by "cook," I don't mean an elaborate four-course meal. I mean, get out a pan, scrounge in the fridge, and try to make something at least once a day. You'll learn more this way than throwing a big dinner party.
  2. Limit eating out. Think of it this way--you can't be good friends with someone you don't spend time with.  I love eating out, but it's expensive, dangerous for the waistline, and doesn't allow you the quality time in your kitchen that will make you healthier and a better cook.
  3. Pick a few easy, healthy things and get really good at them. Don't worry about being inventive at first. Focus on technique, timing, and simple ingredients. If you never "progress" beyond this, you're still ahead of most people.
  4. Build a pantry. I hesitate to give a pantry list. When I stumble across one that Martha Stewart or Nigella Lawson has authored, I only get discouraged.  1) Where would I find the room? 2) I'd have to take out a second mortgage on the house to stock a pantry like that.  But here's a modest (cooking--not baking) list: extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, a good pepper grinder and peppercorns, kosher salt, lemons and limes, a couple kinds of vinegar, canned tomatoes, dried and canned beans, onions, garlic, canned coconut milk, a couple kinds of rice, pasta, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, eggs, plain yogurt, fresh ginger, mustard, parmesan, cheddar, and feta.
  5. Have a few cookbooks and pieces of kitchen equipment that won't let you down. Here's another place where the lists can get really long and expensive. I'm always comforted by the stories and photos of amazing home cooks in Thailand or China who have one wok, one wok spatula, one cleaver, and one burner. I get annoyed with the ceaseless gadgets trotted in front of us.  Just like expensive cameras don't make good photographers, fancy kitchen equipment doesn't make you a good cook. Here are the things I couldn't live without: chef's knife, serrated knife, paring knife, 8" nonstick skillet, cast iron skillet, large stockpot, small and large saucepan, wok, rice cooker, colander, bench scraper, 3 heavy aluminum cookie sheets with rims, parchment paper, blender or immersion blender, garlic press, lemon reamer, microplane zester, kitchen shears, mixer, big and little whisks, and yes, my food processor. As for cookbooks, you don't need many. I couldn't live without Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, my two Gourmet cookbooks, and The Silver Palate New Basics.
  6. Inventory and clean your fridge frequently and commit to using what's in there. If you are cooking for a family and using lots of fresh produce, this is no small task.  Using what's in there is a creative constraint--you'll end up throwing some collard greens in with your morning eggs or roasting up the aging parsnips for soup.  I can't think of anything else that will go further in making you a good cook.
  7. Make your kitchen as inviting as possible. As I've mentioned ad nauseam, our house is very small. And I don't pay much attention to it. EXCEPT for the kitchen, which I've meticulously arranged to be as practical and inviting as possible. This means things like hanging up a knife strip, not letting the dirty dishes stack up, finding a workable solution for spices and dry goods, periodically weeding out dishes or appliances I don't like or use, having music in here. If your kitchen isn't well-organized, you won't feel like cooking in it. And organized means organized according to your sensibilities.  It doesn't mean an antiseptic lab from the pages of Dwell.
  8. Engage a friend as your personal cooking coach. Find someone in your life who's better in the kitchen than you are. Ask if you can watch them cook. Ask if you can call them in the middle of dinner with inane questions. Ask them to taste things you make and give you honest feedback.
  9. Keep a log of your exploits. It can be an old notebook, an online journal. Whatever. Something that helps you remember what you've learned, the recipes you want to stay away from in the future, your stunning successes.
  10. Remember that perfect is the enemy of good. I always say that I love to know things, but I don't like learning them. Learning means lots of mistakes and frustrations. But I promise you--every mindful minute in the kitchen makes you a better cook. Perfection is not the goal--enjoyment and health is.

I feel so blessed to share my kitchen with you. Here's to cooking with confidence and playfulness.

Salted Maple Thumbprint Cookies

Salted Maple Walnut Thumbprints
I buy one or two cookbooks a year. Of course, I spend hours coveting them and poring over the cookbook tables at Elliot Bay. But, in the end, I'm very careful about what I bring home to our 750 square foot house, getting most recipes online or tweaking what I already have. I love what Christopher Kimball says--that most of us absolutely do not need more recipes. We just need to keep practicing what we know and slowly get better and more experimental. Sorry, folks. There's no shortcut.

BUT (you knew this was coming, right?), I just bought a new cookbook that makes me want to storm into the kitchen. It's Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. Almost everything in it can be made in under an hour, and is so bursting with flavor that you'll be wiping the drool off the pages. And wondering, "Why didn't I think of that?"

The annual Christmas baking day with my mom and sister is coming up, so the first thing I tried was these cookies. OMG. They don't look like showstoppers, but watch out. I gave them away to several people, and some reluctantly took one off the plate, like, "Well, I guess. There's no chocolate involved, but I'm bored and slightly hungry." Then their eyes would widen and I could have the self-satisfied moment I was waiting for.

Am I posting about Christmas cookies already? I guess I am. Em sent me this Christmas pledge, which I posted on my bulletin board:

  1. To remember those who truly need my gifts.
  2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents.
  3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family.
  4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas.
  5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends.

Here we go. Bring it on, Season of Light.

Salted Maple Thumbprint Cookies
Melissa doesn't instruct you to chill the dough, but I recommend it. It's quite soft and you might have trouble with the cookies spreading if you don't.

3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 c. pure maple syrup
2 large egg yolks
12 oz. walnut halves
Fleur de sel or other coarse salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and kosher salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add 1/2 c. of the maple syrup and the egg yolks, and beat until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Chill dough for 30-60 minutes.

Using a Tb., drop dough, 3 inches apart, onto two baking sheets. Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each round of dough--as deep as you can go without pushing through. Bake until the edges are just golden, 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool.

While the cookies are cooking, prepare the maple glaze. Place the remaining 1/2 c. maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer the syrup until reduced to abut 1/3 c., 7-10 minutes. Carefully spoon the glaze into the thumbprint of each cooled cookie, then place a walnut and a sprinkle of salt on top. Allow the glaze the set, at least 10 minutes, before serving.

Favorite Places: Breadfarm


No, I did not make this bread. Believe me--if I had, I'd be screen-printing t-shirts right now that said so. I bought this sour cherry lemon loaf at the Breadfarm in Bow, Washington. And then the light feel so perfectly on this log in my mother-in-law's yard that I ran to get the blessed loaf.  Look at those floury crags, those cherries studding the curves. A big fat slice, toasted with butter, was more ambrosial than any photo could convey.

Standing at Breadfarm's counter, I was overwhelmed with the bounty. Pumpkin harvest loaves, baguettes crammed with oodles of Kalamata olives, little chocolate mint sandwich cookies, fig and anise panino rolls. On a little bend in this Skagit Valley road, these folks know what they're doing. How wonderful, that all of us end up digging into such varied vocations. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker.

Loretta, my Mom, and I had a little date yesterday morning in Bow--coffee, a "card game" with Loretta, and bags full of bread. Three generations of food-lovers, one camera, and lots of thanksgiving. I  hope you are heading into your week with peace and good toast.

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Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving Fire

We've had a frigid week here in Seattle. We are absolutely spineless when it comes to snow and ice, and this week has been a spectacle of unpreparedness. The kids and I have been sick, lazing around while Yancey and the other firefighters rescue people from ditches.

Remember when Oprah started that big "Gratitude Journal" movement? I never started one, per se, but I suppose this blog honors that spirit. I've had some criticism for not including more of the gritty stuff--I don't log on to tell you when I'm pissed at my husband, when I'm having conflict with a friend, or when I'm disgruntled with election results. All of that stuff happens. And, for the record, I often go months without the a-ha! moments I love to write about.

Today, Thanksgiving morning with the snow still falling, is the perfect excuse for me to be public with my thanks (again). Thank you, universe, for:

  • The amazing, thoughtful, and kind people that keep virtual company with me here
  • A furnace that's been working overtime, Seattle Metro bus drivers, and Seattle City Light workers who've been keeping this city humming
  • Everyone who remembers the sick, injured, hungry, lonely, elderly, homeless, abandoned, addicted, disabled, and mentally ill among us
  • Lunch with my sister last week--a blessed two hours without one interruption from a child
  • The Gingerbread Roasted Pear Trifle chilling in my fridge
  • Emily's safe return from her travels
  • PBS and commercial-free cartoons that keep me sane in the morning
  • Magazine subscriptions (I won't tell you how many)
  • The generosity and courage of all who serve in the military and all families who love them
  • The possibility that these wars might end in the next two years (please, please...)
  • Christmas music and an iPod that allows me to listen to it without the eye-rolling of my husband

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends. May your day be flooded with goodness and awkward family moments. Sending love and warmth through the snow.

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie

You know--the classic Thanksgiving dessert--key lime pie? This pie has saved me a million times. It is too easy to even talk about. Going on and on, trying to convince you of its simplicity, would be more complicated than you just getting out a can of sweetened condensed milk and making it already.

I made a Thanksgiving dinner for our foursome last night, which is a newish tradition I've inflicted on myself. We are always (thankfully) with large, rowdy groups on Thanksgiving, and I'm part of the potluck like everyone else, bringing salad, rolls, sometimes dessert or appetizers. But because of travel, never the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, or yams. Yancey will be working at the station this Thanksgiving, so I wanted to have a little celebration together before the ol' Divide and Conquer sets in. I had planned on not making a dessert, but just couldn't go through with Thanksgiving dinner without pie.

Enter Key Lime Pie. 20 minutes, plus some chill time in the fridge, and just the thing to brighten a dark day. Wyatt juiced limes, I whizzed graham crackers in the food processor, and my trusty pantry supplied sweetened condensed milk.

After dinner, full of blistered brussel sprouts, a classic sausage and apple stuffing, and very buttery mashed potatoes, we cut the pie. I'm not accustomed to eating when I am so full. It's that bloated, strangely comforting"It must be Thanksgiving" feeling. I won't wish you "Happy Thanksgiving" yet, because I plan on posting again before then. There are too many things to be thankful for--they get their own airtime.

Key Lime Pie
Adapted from Gourmet. Of course, my version doesn't have key limes in it. I used Persian (regular) limes like I always have.

For crust:
1 1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs (from nine standard size crackers, or one of the 3 pkgs in the box)
2 Tb. sugar
5 Tb. unsalted butter, melted

For filling:
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
6 Tb. fresh lime juice

For topping:

3/4 c. very cold heavy cream
1 Tb. sugar
zest from 1/2 lime

Make the crust: Put a rack in the middle of hte oven and preheat to 350. Butter a 9" pie plate.

Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl with a fork until well-combined. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 way up sides of pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes, take out of the oven, and leave the oven on.

Make the filling and bake the pie: Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until well-combined. Add juice and whisk well (filling will thicken slightly). Pour filling into crust and bake for 15 minutes. Cool completely and put into the fridge for at least 4 hours.

Just before serving, whip the cream and sugar together until it just holds stiff peaks. Spread pie with cream or top each serving with a dallop and a bit of lime zest.

Note: If you want to make this ahead of time (1 or 2 days), don't put the cream on it. Do that right before you serve it.

Favorite Places: Flying Squirrel Pizza

We took the kids to the park late yesterday afternoon and stayed until everyone's fingers had turned to ice. On the way home, I almost said, "Let's go out for dinner," but refrained. We had food in the fridge and time to cook it, and the prudent thing to do was eat in. When we got home, the power on our block was out. It took one second for me to say, "We're going out for dinner!" Thank you, universe.

We had such a sweet night--at Flying Squirrel, playing tic-tac-toe with the kids, driving home to find the power still out.  Yancey made a fire, the kids pranced around with their flashlights, and it was great fun (the power was back on this morning, so my story would be much different otherwise). Our foursome in front of the fireplace , limbs all tangled up, was almost unbearably comforting. Lately, I've been so aware that these are the golden years--our kids want to be with us, they're curious and loving, and these years will be over so soon.

And about Flying Squirrel. We are into pizza. Though we will eat anything, we have opinions. Yancey especially, since he's the pizza chef around here. We are totally crazy about Flying Squirrel. It meets our stringent criteria:

  • Nearby (Seward Park)
  • Cozy atmosphere
  • Friendly waitstaff
  • Kids welcome, but not crazily catered to
  • Good selection of rotating taps
  • Perfect pizza crust--blistered, thin, but not TOO thin. Bends a bit at the tip, but sturdily holds its toppings
  • Delicious toppings--Salumi cured meats, local produce, homemade sausage

There have got to be other pizza opinions out there. What's your criteria? Where do you go?

Cranberry Pistachio Granola

Pistachio Granola
The last time I posted about breakfast cereal, I was dissing granola in favor of muesli. I'm back in the granola camp these days.

Sometimes, on a rainy weekend like this one, things just don't seem right without a batch of granola in the oven. The kids walk by the cooling pan all afternoon and sneak bits. I act like I don't see. Things are made particularly cozy by the fact that I am officially listening to Christmas music. I make myself wait until November 1st. I am the World's Biggest Toasted-Oat-Eating Sap.

Cranberry Pistachio Granola
This recipe uses butter--you can sub vegetable oil if you want, and you can use as little as 3 or 4 Tb. of it. The less fat you put, the more closely you should watch to make sure it doesn't burn. I put the pistachios in after it's toasted to preserve their bright green color.

6 cups old-fashioned oats
1 c. raw sunflower seeds
1 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1 c. whole raw almonds
1 c. unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. (1 cube) unsalted butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. pure maple syrup
1/2 c. shelled unsalted pistachios
1 c. dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix oats, seeds, coconut, and almonds and salt together in a large bowl.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter with brown sugar and maple syrup. Stir to combine, pour over oat mixture, and mix thoroughly. Divide evenly between two pans and toast for 20-30 minutes, switching pans halfway through. Remove from oven and let cool. Add cranberries and pistachios and store in an airtight container.

Roast Chicken with Fennel, Olives, and Potatoes

Provencal Chicken

I'm in love with this one-pan dish. Roast some sliced fennel and halved new potatoes in your biggest roasting pan. Take them out after 20 minutes, dump your tomato-olive mixture in, set chicken thighs or breasts atop, and baste with a garlicky vinaigrette. It's definitely Autumn, friends. Time to get that oven fired up.

"But did you kids like it?" you ask. Ha. My best tips for picky children are here, but I've been thinking about this subject more lately. I have a friend who raised her son on good, homemade, real food. When he got into high school, the cool thing to do was eat fast food. That's what his friends did for lunch, after school, on weekends. It was isolating to bring lunch from home or be the dork suggesting a healthier alternative. He's now a recent grad, at risk for diabetes, and about to be making even more of his own decisions.

I've read some research lately that says kids don't just "pick up" on things because of their environment. Modeling doesn't take the place of explicit conversations. So I've been trying to talk with Wyatt about food. As you know, he absolutely loathes heart-to-hearts. He clams up, squirms, rolls his eyes, suddenly has to go to the bathroom. But I press on, saying things like, "It's my job to make sure you eat healthy," "I want you to have the energy to keep having fun," and other odious phrases. I've added this conversation to the ones about being kind, appreciating difference, not being afraid of failure, and other parental pontifications.

One of my favorite truisms: "Experience is the thing you get two weeks after you need it." Does that describe parenting or what? Talk about making things up as we go.  Poor Wyatt, subjected to provencal chicken and baked goods with nuts. The therapy fund is still there, but I sometimes steal from it to buy sharp cheddar.

Roast Chicken with Fennel, Olives, Potatoes, and Tomatoes
Serves 4. Adapted from Gourmet, again! I've noticed a new wave of grief over Gourmet's demise lately. Maybe because it's been exactly a year since the news broke and the last issue was published. This recipe is an example of why we're all still sad. The recipe called for breasts and I used thighs, my favorite cut of chicken. Whichever cut you use, I don't recommend subbing boneless, skinless pieces, as you'll miss out on all the delicious drippings that make the dish what it is.

2 medium fennel bulbs
1 1/2 lbs. baby red potatoes, halved
6 Tb. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
14 garlic cloves (about one large head), peeled
4 Tb. fresh lemon juice
8 chicken thighs or 4 chicken breast halves (with skin and bones, about 3 lbs.), rinsed and patted dry
8 plum tomatoes, quartered
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 1/2 Tb. chopped fresh rosemary

Put rack in the middle of the oven, put a roasting pan on rack, and preheat oven to 450.

Cut off fennel stalks and discard. Quarter fennel bulbs. Trim cores, leaving enough to leave layers intact, and cut fennel lengthwise into 1/4" thick slices. Toss fennel and potatoes with 2 Tb. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper in a bowl until well-coated. Spread evenly in hot roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, mince four garlic cloves and whisk together with lemon juice, remaining olive oil, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Brush chicken with about 2 Tb. olive oil mixture and set aside.

Thinly slice remaining 10 garlic cloves lengthwise. Transfer to a bowl and toss with tomatoes, olives, rosemary, and 2 Tb. olive oil mixture.

Remove roasting pan from oven, add tomato mixture, and stir to combine. Put chicken skin side up on top of vegetables and roast for 15 minutes.

Brush chicken with remaining olive oil mixture. Continue roasting until chicken is just cooked through, about 20 minutes more. Serve chicken with vegetables, spooning juices over chicken.


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).

Mexican Corn and Bean Soup

Mexican Corn and Bean Soup
Nothing new over here in the Leftoverist household. How can it be? That nothing changes in my life, but I am so full of things to say? And soup again? That's really nothing new. If I were to document all the soups produced in this kitchen, you'd really grasp the full meaning of "leftovers." And you might not keep reading.

But stay tuned for this one. My mother-in-law has been making this for a long time, and it easily wins the prize for easy, fast, nutritious, and mass appeal. Chalk another one up for beans.

P.S. I follow a lot of food blogs. One thing I notice (and participate in) is lots of sweets and side dishes. Or main dishes with too many steps (or too many expensive ingredients in "30-minute meals"). When I find something like this soup, I hang onto it. With everything I know about food, I'm still desperate to answer that perennial question--What to have for dinner tonight?!

P.S.S. I'm thrilled to announce that I am now regularly featured on The Christian Science Monitor's food and culture page, Stir it Up! I'm honored to be part of this venerable news source and spreading the Way of Leftovers even further.

Mexican Corn and Bean Soup
Another plug for Trader Joe's frozen roasted corn. Delicious! Cheap! Regular frozen corn will do just fine, though. And if you've cooked up some beans yourself, you can, of course, use those instead of canned ones.

2 Tb. olive oil
1 large yellow or white onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. chili powder (ancho is my favorite)
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tb. sugar
coarse salt
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz. can kidney beans
1 14 oz. can pinto beans
2 cups frozen corn
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
sour cream, diced avocado, crushed tortilla chips, and more cilantro for garnish

In a large stockpot, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Mix chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and sugar with a couple tablespoons of water to form a paste. Add paste to onions along with tomatoes, beans, and corn. Add enough water to cover by 1", bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for about 20 minutes, until flavors meld. Taste and add more salt if you want.  Add chopped cilantro at the end and serve with garnishes.


Morning Sanctuary
Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore
unsuitable. --Mary Oliver

Thankful for some time alone these last couple days. I had no idea how much I needed it, and it's ridiculous that I can't keep it to myself.  At Elliot Bay Books yesterday, I saw a journal that said, "[F-bomb] Your Blog" on the cover. Yancey and I fell asleep laughing about that.  I happen to be divulgent, but  we're all walking around with stories locked inside us. And it's alright if they stay there sometimes.

Farfalle with Kale, Bacon, and Mint

farfalle with kale
Yesterday, home alone for lunch, a few quiet minutes between meetings. How I love weekday lunches at home. Luxury. Especially when wilted kale, salty bacon, and mint are involved. And especially when the work of making it came the night before. One of my absolute favorite things is refried pasta. Have you ever noticed that microwaved leftover pasta is rather unsatisfying? If there's any cream or cheese, it turns to oil. If anything was once crispy, it becomes soggy. So I prefer to heat up the wok or nonstick skillet (pasta will stick to anything else), pour in a bit of olive oil, and crisp everything up.

Then Yancey came home, Loretta in tow, lots of chatter about painting in preschool and who cried for their mom. Yancey heated up the wok again, sat down across from me, and our kitchen saw another day in its life of home office, bistro, and incident command center.

P.S. I have a secret. In the last month, we have been eating mostly rice and beans. When I sit down to menu-plan on Sundays, absolutely nothing comes to mind. I can't seem to remember one single thing I've ever cooked. I have no creativity and scant motivation, so I fill up a bowl and soak more beans. My friend Aimee, whose family came over for Night # 4 of tostadas, said, "Why don't you write about this on your blog?" So I am. You are not alone.

Farfalle with Kale, Bacon, and Mint
I've got kale coming out my ears in my garden. Everything else is rotting, but that little row of kale could feed an army. And I've got tons of herbs still, which is where the mint came from. You can, of course, leave the mint out, sub spinach or chard for the kale, use another kind of pasta, leave the meat out or sub chorizo or other sausage. As always, this is more a record of what I did than a prescription for what you should do. This will serve four hungry adults.

1 lb. farfalle or other pasta
2 bunches kale, washed, ribbed, and coarsely chopped
couple big glugs of olive oil
1 bunch broccolini, stems halved lengthwise and cut into 1" lengths and florets broken up
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz. (or more!) thick-sliced bacon, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. good quality sundried tomatoes, julienned
1 c. finely shredded parmesan
finely grated zest and juice of one small lemon
2 red Thai chiles, seeded and finely chopped
handful chopped fresh mint
handful chopped fresh oregano

Set a big pot of salted water on to boil.

In a small bowl, mix 1/4 c. of the parmesan, lemon zest, chopped chiles, and chopped herbs. Set aside.

In a large skillet, crisp up bacon. Remove bacon from pan, reserving most of the bacon fat, and turn down to low.  Add broccolini stems and cook for 5 minutes. Add florets,garlic, salt, and pepper, stirring often, and saute until broccolini is tender, not mushy. Add sundried tomatoes.

Pour pasta into boiling water and cook until tender. At the last minute, throw kale in there, using a spoon to submerge it in the boiling water. Drain pasta and kale, reserving 1/2 c. of cooking water.

To the pasta and kale, add bacon, broccoli mixture, cooking water, parmesan and olive oil.  Stir and divide among pasta bowls, topping each with the herb mixture.

Peanut Butter Coconut Bars

peanut butter bars
For a few years now, these have been my go-to cookies. (Alright. One of them.) You can almost make them in your sleep. In fact, I've often been half-asleep, standing at the mixer at 11:00 pm, making cookies for a potluck I forgot about or a school bake sale I foolishly agreed to contribute to. Peanut butter (the bad, hydrogenated oil kind), coconut, butter, maybe some chocolate chips. They're what I like to call "sleeper cookies," in that they look disappointingly dull.  Like, "Who made those for the bake sale?" No one will swoon when you walk into the room with your Saran wrap-covered platter.  But they'll be your BFF after that.

Maybe you can bring these to the Halloween party you forgot about. Growing up (and this is a long story I won't tell), our family was one of those weird ones that had harvest parties instead of going trick-or-treating. So I am bound and determined that my children will go trick-or-treating, get as ghoulish as they want, and dive into the ridiculousness of Halloween with gusto. And if that means cookies and candy, so be it.

Peanut Butter Coconut Bars
Adapted from my Gourmet cookbook. You really do want the bad kind of peanut butter here, not the good-for-you, stir-it-up kind. Other than that, these cookies are a blank slate. I've made them without the coconut, subbed oatmeal for the coconut, added chocolate chips or not, put salted peanuts on top or not. The best pan to make them in is an aluminum  1/4 sheet (half the size of a regular baking sheet). If you don't have one of those, a  9 x 13 will work.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2  cup white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut or oats (or 1/2 and 1/2)
1 c. chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 cup finely chopped salted roasted peanuts for the top (optional)

In a bowl with an electric mixer cream the butter with both sugars and beat the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Add the peanut butter, beat the mixture until it is combined well, and beat in the egg, the vanilla, and the salt. Add the flour, beat the mixture until it is just combined, and stir in the coconut and/or oats, and chocolate chips. Spread the mixture evenly in a buttered jelly-roll pan, 15 1/2 by 10 1/2 by 1 inches, sprinkle the peanuts over it (if using), pressing them into the mixture lightly, and bake the mixture in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let the mixture cool completely in the pan on a rack, cut it into 24 bars, and cut each bar in half diagonally to form 2 triangles if you want (I usually don't.)

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds with Lime and Garlic

roasted pumpkin seeds
There are so many things that can go wrong in a day. Forgetting to put out the garbage, missing your bus, refereeing sibling rivalry, or the mail getting soaked. And bigger things, too--losing your job, getting your feelings hurt, worrying about bills, coming down with the flu.

And that's what I love about stepping into the kitchen--it's a daily chance for something to go right. And even if your venture fails spectacularly, at least you've been doing something with your hands, creating something, being generative instead of reacting or solving problems.

Carving pumpkins with the kids yesterday, I was scheming about how the pumpkin seeds could go right. It seems like a lot of work in the moment--separating stringy flesh from seeds, making sure  kids don't fling them everywhere. Finally, a precious bowlful. Curry powder? Cinnamon? Chili powder?

I settled on lime zest, olive oil, and garlic powder. I don't use garlic powder a lot, but it's magical, in its way. Fresh garlic on these would be totally overpowering and would burn in a second.

God. These were so good. Last night for Yancey's birthday dinner, we had french onion soup,  salad with pomegranates and goat cheese, and caramel apple cake. But these stole the show. Three cheers for little things going right.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds with Lime and Garlic
Extract the seeds from one big pumpkin or two smaller ones. Put them in a colander and rinse really well, pulling off any strands of flesh. Shake vigorously, removing as much water as possible. In a medium bowl, toss pumpkin seeds with 1 tsp. coarse salt, 2 Tb. extra virgin olive oil, finely grated zest of one lime (making sure not to get any lime pith in there--very bitter), and 1 tsp. garlic powder. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then spread pumpkin seeds out in a single layer. Roast at 375 for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from oven when seeds are dry, golden and dark brown in places, and sizzling. Let cool. They'll get more crunchy as they cool. Add a little more lime zest and salt after they've cooled.

Blistered Brussel Sprouts

blistered brussel sprouts

I married a man whose second love (I'm the first, of course) is brussel sprouts. Nothing makes him happier than when I haul home a big old stalk, and nothing makes him more sad than when they don't turn out perfectly.

A few weeks ago, I tried parboiling and then stir-frying them in my precious wok, planning to blog about my brilliant success. Notice that post never showed up. But these are another story. We talked about them all night long. After you've been married for 15 years, I guess it doesn't take much to light things up.

They really do blister--you will probably think you've done something wrong, but don't worry. Brussel sprouts never won any beauty contests. They key is to administer tons of salt and olive oil. Much more than you feel comfortable with. All the variegated surface area of these little bulbs will suck the salt and oil right up and render the entire bite perfectly seasoned and tender.

The rain has begun in the Pacific Northwest. Thankfully, we have lots of delicious diversions.

Blistered Brussel Sprouts
Heat oven to 450 and put a sturdy baking sheet in there. Wash 1 pound of brussel sprouts, trim the outer leaves, and halve them. In a medium bowl, toss with 1/4 c. olive oil an 2 tsp. coarse salt. Throw onto the hot baking sheet (they'll sizzle) and check/stir after 10 minutes. You might even want to (gulp) drizzle a little more olive oil at that point. Cook for 8-10 minutes more, until they're blackened and tender all the way through.