Gingerbread Cranberry Trifle

trifle

I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home lately and laughing at all her little lists, rules for life, resolutions, and mantras. Laughing because I relate so completely to wanting to categorize the world that way. I won't go so far as to say we're two peas in a pod (her pod happens to be more disciplined and successful than mine) but I'm sure we'd enjoy a cup of coffee with one another.

She has a rule to Keep it Simple. Unless it leads to too much simplicity! She says,

 I was always telling myself, "Keep it simple." But as Albert Einstein pointed out, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." I was made happier by my decision to bring paper plates, not home-baked muffins, to Eleanor's school party, but "Keep it simple" wasn't always the right response. Many things that boosted my happiness also added complexity to my life. Having children. Learning to post videos to my website. Going to an out-of-town wedding. Applied too broadly, my impulse to "Keep it simple" would impoverish me. "Life is barren enough surely with all her trappings," warned Samuel Johnson, "let us therefore be cautious how we strip her."

I would put food and cooking into the "Happy Complexity" category. Making thoughtful decisions about what to feed my family, keeping a stocked pantry, cooking every day. All of this boosts my happiness, but it surely adds complexity. I always joke that if I were to add up the hours I spend planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, eating, and cleaning up, I'd go into shock.

Yancey and I are going to his work Christmas party tonight. His world at the fire station is so separate from mine, and it's a rare chance to meet his shift-mates and their partners and have a night away from the kids. Yancey signed up for the dessert slot, and I decided not to Keep it Simple. Instead, I made this trifle between basketball games, and it's made the house smell amazing all day. (Gretchen also talks about her rule of Embrace Good Smells. Check.)

Out of all the desserts in the world I could make, I chose this one because:

  1. I've made it before. As Christopher Kimball says, new recipes aren't what most of us need. We need to master a few good ones. I love pulling things out of my back pocket.
  2. Oil-based cakes like this gingerbread one are foolproof. You're not creaming butter and sugar, it's guaranteed to be moist.
  3. I adore ginger, gingerbread, and the tang of cranberries. Even though this dessert is definitely sweet, it's a spicy break from the over-the-top sugar that's around every corner at Christmas.
  4. No cooking eggs for a custard! Even I stress over custard occasionally. This mascarpone-based custard couldn't be easier.
  5. One trifle bowl will easily feed 15 adults, and it transports well.

And, to remind myself mostly, here's the Christmas Pledge I've posted at least once before. Thank you for being such a joyful part of my year:

The Christmas Pledge:

  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.

Gingerbread Cranberry Trifle
This is adapted from Epicurious. I found their recipe overly complicated, so yes, I made it simpler! You'll need a deep trifle dish or big glass bowl for this. I found the recipe made more than my trifle dish held, so I made mini trifles in drinking glasses with the rest. Fun and cute. Really any straight-sided glass vessel will work. The one pictured is packed in a glass cannister. I put a lid on it and gave it as a gift.

You'll need to have this assembled and in the fridge at least 4 hours before you need it as the "mushing" time is crucial for trifles. If you made it the night before, it would be even better.

Wine-poached cranberries
2 cups fruity red wine (such as Syrah)
2 cups sugar
16 oz. fresh or frozen cranberries

Gingerbread cake
1 c. extra stout (such as Guinness)
1 c. molasses
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 c. flour
2 Tb. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3 large egs
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
3/4 c. vegetable oil

Mascarpone cream:
3 8 oz. containers mascarpone cheese (3 cups)
3 c. chilled heavy cream
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
3 Tb. Grand Mariner or orange liqueur
4 tsp. finely grated orange peel

For wine-poached cranberries:
Stir wine and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil wine mixture for 5 minutes. Add cranberries and simmer until soft but still intact, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl and chill. Before using, pour cranberry mixture through a strainer to separate cranberries and syrup.

For cake:
Combine stout and molasses in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in baking soda (mixture will foam up). Pour into a bowl and put in the fridge to cool down.

Preheat oven to 350. Generously butter 3 8" cake pans and dust with flour.

Whisk flour and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl to blend. Whisk eggs and sugar in a medium bowl, then whisk oil and cooled stout mixture into egg mixture.  Gradually add flour mixture to stout-egg mixture and divide batter between prepared pans. It will look like it's not enough. Don't worry--you're going to cut the cake up into cubes, so it doesn't have to be all pretty and fluffy.

Bake until inserter comes out clean, about 25 minutes, switching pans on racks halfway through to ensure even cooking. Cook cakes in pans for 15 minutes, then turn out onto racks or a piece of parchment paper. Once cakes are cool, use a serrated knife to cut the cake into 1" cubes.

For mascrapone custard:
Using electric mixer, beat mascarpone in large bowl until smooth. Add all remaining ingredients and beat until peaks form and mixture is smooth. (Don't overbeat as mixture may curdle.) The mixture will look too wet at first. Don't despair. Pretty soon it will start to get more of a whipped cream look. Cover and chill up to 2 hours (though you can use it immediately).

To assemble trifle:
Line of the bottom of your trifle dish with cake cubes, making sure you're covering the bottom while still leaving a tiny bit of wiggles room. Spoon about 2 Tb. of cranberries and a bit of the syrup over the cake cubes. Top the cake and cranberry layer with about 1 1/3 c. mascarpone cream, and repeat 3 more times, ending with a layer of cream. Sprinkle some more orange zest over the top, cover with plastic wrap (which means your trifle will have to stop just below the rim of your dish), and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

To serve, use a long spoon and dish it into bowls.

What I Bring to Potlucks

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I feel two ways about potlucks. On one hand, they're the only sensible way for a big group to gather and eat together. In all my magazine-reading (have I mentioned how much I love magazines? The paper kind?), I often come across "Easy Do-Ahead Party Menus!" that look atrocious. More work than I have ever put into having anyone over in my life. Maybe each step is technically easy, but you'd still have to be unemployed (or have a kitchen staff), hyper organized, and LOVE cooking to pull it off. So potlucks solve this problem.

However, *&%$#!. Sometimes too many potlucks stack up in one week, and I find they are just as much work (or more) than what I would have made for my family that night. And I have occasionally cursed potlucks, though please don't tell anyone. Puget Sounders are supposed to love them. Always.

I adore people that bring a hot, main dish to potlucks. People with crockpots (I gave mine away as it was suffering from disuse), people with those handy Rubbermaid sets with thermal jackets. If you're one of those, thank you! Keep doing your thing!

As for me and my house, we will supply the salad. It's usually something like this one--brown rice and kale salad with cranberries and pecans. Here's my reasoning:

  1. It's vegan and gluten free. And I label it as such. 
  2. It's filling. Though I'm not a Main Dish Super Hero (God bless you!), it's conceivable that someone could eat a **#load of this and feel fairly satisfied.
  3. It's delicious. Have I ever let you down? (Don't chime in if I have. I know readers have slaved over some recipes and been ruinously disappointed. I'm sorry!)
  4. It is best served room temperature (Potluck Royalty!).
  5. It can sit in its vinaigrette forever and just get better. You don't have to worry about it getting soggy.
  6. Crazily, I usually have everything I need for a version of this salad--grains, greens, homemade vinagrette. If you wash and dry kale and put it in a ziploc bag in the fridge, it lasts a really long time. (Though it gets gobbled up around here. Along with a latte and Triscuits, it's the food I eat almost every day.)
  7. It looks bright and beautiful with the macerated cranberries and the green kale. There's never any left.

And for those of you that have been following this blog since its inception almost 4 years ago, you might remember the very first recipe I posted was something similar--Barley and kale salad with dried cherries and blue cheese. I had taken it to my Mom's birthday party and been accosted with requests for the recipe. I prided myself on always delivering recipes (handwritten and cobbled together from memory) to people who asked for them, but had the idea of putting it online to save my fingers from so much work. I made up the name on-the-spot, and I've always been glad I didn't think it about it much. Otherwise it wouldn't have happened. (I have a couple dear friends who are contemplating--and contemplating some more!--the idea starting a blog. Just get out there. We'll all be better for it.)

Happy Week of Giving Thanks. As always, I'm thankful for you.

Kale and Brown Rice Salad with Cranberries and Pecans
You could use white rice, barley, quinoa...so many other grains here. The important thing is that it's had a chance to cool down a little bit so the grains can separate. If you can't cook it ahead of time and chill it, just spread it out in a very shallow layer, drizzle a little bit of olive oil over it, and stir it occasionally to release the steam.

4 cups cooked grain (I made brown rice in my rice cooker the day before)
1 large bunch curly green kale, de-stemmed, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped
1/2 c. toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
2 Tb. honey
salt and pepper
2 garlic gloves
4 Tb. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. olive oil 
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced 
1/2 c. dried cranberries

For dressing:
Combine honey, salt and pepper, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil with an immersion blender. (Or with a whisk if you use a garlic press.) Add more of anything to taste. Drop the sliced onions and dried cranberries into the dressing to marinate.

To assemble salad:
In a large bowl, combine rice, kale, and dressing. I use my hands. Make sure everything is covered with the vinaigrette. That's what makes this salad. Scatter the toasted pecans over the top and maybe a little more coarse salt and pepper. 

Winter Oranges

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In September, I start thinking about oranges, tangerines, satsumas, minneolas. By October, I salivate whenever I think of them. When I spot the first box of satsumas in early November, I buy them no matter how much they cost. The bright lights of winter. My mom gave me this gray bowl for a housewarming present. When I fill it with fruit and set it on the counter, it reminds me of the riotous abundance in my life and in the world.

We had our housewarming party last month--one year after moving in, one week after the painters were done, and one day after baseboards were nailed to the wall and pictures hung. We cast a wide net--family from here and from Seattle, neighbors, families from Roosevelt Elementary, friends from high school, and old family friends. When the first guests came, I judiciously laid their coats out on my bed and poured them a drink. An hour later, there was a ridiculously massive pile of coats and shoes by the front door and I couldn't even cross the room. 

I told Yancey I had a biological need for a party. A party to say "We're here!" and to christen this house we've resuscitated. The party satisfied my needs in every way. We sat around afterward debriefing with my parents (who produced countless trays of nachos all night), emptying the last pints from the keg, and feeling, more than ever before, that moving to Bellingham has meant coming home in all the best ways. 

I've been cooking my brains out, but in very routine ways. Rice and beans, lentil soup, burritos, baked potatoes, lots of cookies for clients or teacher appreciations. We've definitely entered another stage of life with both kids playing basketball, Wyatt in choir practices, and more and more homework at night. Somehow we've managed to keep eating together at night, but it's meant keeping it really simple. We have friends or family eat with us once or twice a week and I've gotten good at not doing anything special for them. And my new rule is never to apologize for a messy house. It's much more important that we are together.

And that we are grateful. There are some people in my orbit whose lot in life is hard right now. At the moment, my lot in life is easy. But I hope, when the hard times come, I can still be grateful. I'll leave you with this beautiful quote from Kevin Kelly, part of the "This I Believe" NPR series. His essay has been important to me for a long time, but I pulled it out again recently to pass along to a client. As often happens, I needed it too:

I've slowly changed my mind about spiritual faith. I once thought it was chiefly about believing in an unmeasurable reality; that it had a lot in common with hope. But after many years of examining the lives of the people whose spiritual character I most respect, I've come to see that their faith rests on gratitude, rather than hope. They exude a sense of being indebted, and a state of being thankful. When the truly faithful worry, it's not about doubt (which they have) but it's about how they might not maximize the tremendous gift given them. How they might be ungrateful. The faithful I admire are not certain about much except this: that this state of being embodied, inflated with life, brimming with possibilities, is so over-the-top unlikely, so extravagant, so unconditional, so far out beyond physical entropy, that is it indistinguishable from love. And most amazing of all, like my hitchhiking rides, this love-gift is an extravagant gesture you can count on. No matter how bad the weather, soiled the past, broken the heart, hellish the war – all that is behind the universe is conspiring to help you – if you will let it.

 

Broiled Eggs with Kale and Roasted Kabocha

kabocha and eggs

The Pacific Northwest just finished up over 80 days without rain. Until last week, people were sitting on their decks with cocktails. At Wyatt's soccer game 2 Saturdays ago, I took my shoes and socks off and pretended I was on the beach. 

Now, rivers of rain out my window, there's no mistaking the arrival of Fall. I think Puget Sounders are a little relieved. So much sun was too good to be true. Now we can go back to taking our Vitamin D, feeling sorry for ourselves, and coming up with every conceivable use for pumpkins.

I got the most beautiful Kabocha (or Japanese Pumpkin)  squash at Joe's Garden before it closed for the season. I peeled and thinly sliced it, drizzled it with olive oil and salt, and roasted the slices at 425 until they were tender, about 12 minutes. I then used it for a million things, including a galette and these eggs. 

And that's what I recommend for those inhospitable squash, sitting in your pantry or on your porch and staring you down. If you roast it up (there's a good method here) and put it in the fridge, all of the sudden it will be in your eggs, squished between bread with cheese and grilled, or tossed into pasta. 

Broiled Eggs with Kale and Roasted Kabocha
Serves 2. Turn broiler on. Saute several handfuls of washed and chopped kale in an ovenproof skillet with olive oil and a little garlic and salt. Cook until halfway wilted. Add a handful of your roasted squash and a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of grated lemon zest. Stir. Crack 4 eggs over the top of the kale and squash mixture, and top with feta, sharp cheddar, or other cheese. Add some chopped fresh herbs if you want (parlsey, rosemary, thyme, cilantro.) Cook until eggs are set a bit, then transfer to to the broiler. Broil until everything is bubbling and eggs are cooked to your liking.  Cut around eggs with a small spatula and serve, or just eat right out of the pan by yourself or with your friend or sweetie.  

Mile-High Biscuits

mile-high biscuits

Wyatt wandered upstairs this morning and, noticing my distraction, said, "I guess I'll make myself a piece of peanut butter toast." "No, don't! I'm making biscuits"! He slapped his thigh--"yes!-- and ran downstairs to tell Loretta. Ah. Sunday mornings.

I have a list of 14 daily habits that I aspire to. (Those of you who are my friends in the offline world are NOT surprised. And you might even be rolling your eyes right now.) One of them is, "Do one kind thing for a friend or stranger." This morning I decided that my one kind thing would be to make biscuits for my children.

In my perfectionistic past, this would not have counted. No way. It would have to be delivering a handmade gift, buying lunch for a homeless person, or letting someone cry on my shoulder. Those are all worthy things, of course, but so is being in the moment with my children. I'm their mother, yes, but they're also my friends. I listened to this podcast recently and was blown away. Especially by this idea of parenting, first and foremost, as a relationship. Relationships mean time spent. It means both parties get their feelings hurt sometimes or let each other down. And it means doing kind things for one another, which is so often forgotten in relationships that mean the most to us.

Wyatt plus biscuits equals love

Of course I would have made my children breakfast. I do every day. But I don't always do it in the spirit of relationship. I've been mediating on this quote lately from Thich Nhat Hanh:

If you are peaceful, if you are happy, whatever you do will be an offering for the people around you.

Making the bed in the morning (that's another of the daily habits I aspire to), sweeping under the table for the umpteenth time, listening without judgement to my clients, friends, or strangers. All of that can be an offering if it's coming from my own peace and happiness. 

I've given my biscuit recipe before, but it was a slightly different technique. I've moved onto this because it's less handling of the dough so therefore even lighter and higher! Impossible! I have made these so many times that, not counting the cooking time, they're almost as easy as making eggs and toast. Once you've made them a few times, you'll say the same. And you will become famous in your own household.

Mile-High Biscuits

2 c. flour
1 Tb. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 Tb. (one cube) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
3/4 c. cold milk

Preheat oven to 450.

Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Drop butter in and cut in with your fingertips until mixture has pea-sized lumps of cold butter all through it. Pour the cold milk evenly over and mix quickly with a wooden spoon, forming a ball. Let dough rest for one minute. It should come together quite easily in a ball. Add a dab more flour if it's too sticky or a tiny splash more milk if it's too dry.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Quickly pat into a disc, then fold the disc over on itself once. Pat again into a disc about 3/4" thick and 8" in diameter. With a sharp knife, cut disc into 8 equal wedges. Place wedges in a pie plate or small cookie sheet about 1/2" apart and bake until golden on top but not burned on the bottom, 10-14 minutes, checking frequently after 10 minutes.

Life Force

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Loretta had her first day of kindergarten last week. She cried, I cried. Talking to my friend Ricky about my nostalgia and the kids getting bigger, he said, "Wasn't that the plan?" Yes! I'm so happy for every day they are alive, but also so wistful.

I saw the following scene at the gas station later in the morning. A young father, dirty jeans and scruffy beard, carrying a large back and pulling a suitcase. And his elementary-age son, wearily following him and chugging a soda. Why wasn't he in school? Probably because that family is homeless, and school is complicated. Clean clothes, being somewhere on time, lunch money. And which school do you enroll your children in if you don't have a home?

I felt so many things in that moment. For starters, despite her tears and trembling lips on kindergarten's first day, Loretta will be just fine! Her every move and milestone has been celebrated in this family and in our community. But EVERY CHILD should have that. Every child should have their picture taken, standing proudly with their little backpack on and lunch to look forward to. 

I think of MLK: "I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be." There's something missing for me in Loretta's sweet first week of school because there are so many children who don't have enough love, celebration, kindness, food, or clean water. I think of how much I love her--sitting in her classroom in rapt attention, trying to keep her new shoes clean and figure out where the bathrooms are. Despite my mistakes, I know she's growing into who she ought to be. But, again in MLK's words, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" We're not okay until everyone's okay. There's a lot of work to do.

I'm amazed lately at the sheer force of life. We keep having children, making plans, sending people into outer space, curing cancer. Sometimes I think, "For what? We're all going to die anyway!" Wyatt's been scared of death lately, and I can't tell him it's an irrational fear. Quite the opposite--he's in touch with something most of us manage to block out. What I'm coming to is that the point, more than posterity or legacy, is the sheer joy of the present moment. The moment when Wyatt plays with my hair as he's falling asleep, or the moment  on the trail when I'm overcome by the goodness and mystery of God. We are all, every one of us, going to die. And some more unfairly or untimely than others. I can't tell my children otherwise. But I can teach them to pay attention, be kind, and be brave. 

This milestone business--indeed, this life business!--is not for the faint of heart. But one of my favorite quotes (don't ask me who said it) is that rest is not the antidote for being overhwhelmed. Wholeheartedness is. I'm in.

P.S. Thanks to my friend Jackie (one of my biggest and most enduring fans) who asked when I'd be posting again. Thanks for liking me and believing in me.

Blueberry Slump

Blueberry Slump

I was too absorbed to take any photos of the blueberry fields yesterday, but it was summer personified. Warm, the soft "plop" of fat blueberries falling into buckets, Loretta stuffing her face under the shade of the bushes, and my Mom rattling off all the things she'd make when she got home--pies, crisps, galettes, and blueberry jalapeno corn muffins. (Clearly, the apple does not fall far from the tree. Or the blueberry from the bush. I come by this obsession honestly.)

Every summer, my gratitude for farmers reaches a fever pitch. I was telling the kids as we picked how hard it is for farmers to take vacations. And how they put everything into their crops, hoping the weather is right, the insects stay away, and the birds don't steal everything. Thank you, hardworking farmers, especially those of you doing it the hard way, without pesticides, insecticides, and other shortcuts. I owe you a lot.

We stocked the freezer with bags of berries. They'll make the winter more tolerable. Wyatt and Loretta love to eat frozen blueberries out-of-hand. I know the popular way to freeze berries these days is to lay them all out individually on a cookie sheet. That takes forever! And takes up so much space! I wash them, spread them out on towels and lightly pat them dry, then freeze them in large ziplocs in a shallow layer, stacking the bags on top of one another so the berries freeze not individually but almost. You'll use more bags this way, but it's much quicker. I figured out long ago that speed in the kitchen is much more important to me than perfection.

So I'm grateful for farmers, and sitting here writing is always an invitation to be grateful for lots of other things. Among them, I'm grateful for: 

  • John Kabat-Zinn, my virtual meditation teacher. He's patient, authentic, and ONTO SOMETHING. I am doing it very imperfectly, but I really needed his guidance in my life right now.
  • On Being podcasts, my spiritual director in the summer when I can't seem to darken a church door.
  • My husband Yancey who's been working tirelessly the last 2 months to get our house ready for painting in a week. New siding, framing in a garage and a front porch, making our house look less abandoned by the minute. We have a good laugh when I say, "Some people buy houses that look good right away!"
  • Making friends in Bellingham--Liz, Megan, JoElla, Breeze, Kate, Ann, a neighborhood BBQ. Gift after gift.
  • Many dear Seattle friends about to descend on our house for Labor Day Weekend.
  • My sister Naomi, who inspired me by working all year to raise money for a trip to El Salvador where she helped dig a well for a village that had been waiting for years. When her team left, the villagers said, "Thank you for coming. We know now that God has not forgotten us."
  • Klushan Brewing Company for setting up shop one mile from our house. 

Blueberry Slump
I followed Saveur's recipe exactly. Almost. The first time I used my 8" cast iron skillet, and you can see from the photo that I had an avalanche of spillover. Good thing I put a cookie sheet underneath. The next time I actually read the directions and pulled out a 12" All Clad skillet, and it worked much better. As you're boiling the berries and sugar on the stove top, don't worry about it looking liquid-y. Blueberries have enough pectin to thicken up, and you'll get such a pure taste--no flour, cornstarch, fillers. And these biscuits are really dumplings--more milk than butter, which makes them wet and perfectly tender once cooked up. We had this for dessert the first time and breakfast the next. 

Blueberry Slump

This is the Better Place

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Just home from our annual trip with Yancey's family to Ross Lake. It never gets old--Cascade Mountains in the moonlight, feet dangling off the dock, morning coffee and books, Wyatt practicing dives into the cold, clear water.

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I read Anna Quindlen's memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. Emily read it first, then mailed it to me from her vacation in Michigan so I'd have it for mine. Is that true love or what? Reading Quindlen's reflections on aging, career, motherhood, and womanhood seemed especially poignant as I sat in the sun and watched my children. My life is now. What matters most are the sandwiches in ziploc bags, serving my clients between homework and laundry, teaching my children about money and kindness, reading the news and trying to love the world in all its brokenness and beauty.

Anna remembers her mother's early death, and the empty consolation of well-wishers:

"She's in a better place," [the friend said]. There is no better place. This is the best place, here, now, alive, a chipmunk scampering across the stones, a cloud scudding across the sky, the dogs barking at nothing on the road, the road running empty into an unseen distance and beyond, my husband busy at the office, my children busy in the world. The better place is along the Hudson River, where the loon bobs on the swell from the ferry and dives for unseen fish until it seems he must drown, then pops up glistening  twenty feet from where he went down. The better place is that spot on the highway when you can suddenly see New York City strung like a necklace of jagged diamonds, and that corner of the porch where the house wrens build their nest and disassemble it and build it again, and the table at Thanksgiving and tree at Christmas.

And I'm learning (again?!) that my task is to pay attention, both to the suffering and to the Cascade Mountains in the moonlight. And it's to pay attention to myself--my anxiety, my fears, the food I eat, the addictions that sometime seem easier than paying attention. When I take a breath in and then breathe out, I can remember that everything I need is right here. There is no better place.

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And if you find that the unlikely luck of a 5 year-old fishergirl turns up a beautiful rainbow trout, you can do the following:

Whole Roasted Trout with Cumin and Lime
Preheat over to 425. Take a scaled, cleaned and gutted fresh-caught trout. This one happened to be about 15" long and a little over an inch thick. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet. Add a big handful of thinly sliced red onions, a finely chopped clove of garlic, and cook down about 5 minutes. Add a tsp. of ground cumin, coarse salt, freshly ground pepper, and a big squeeze of lime juice and simmer for another minute. Along with a handful of fresh herbs (parsely, basil, cilantro, oregano, chives), stuff the fish with most the onion mixture. Sprinkle more herbs and the remaining onion mixture over the fish, drizzle with a little olive oil, and lay some thinly sliced lime over the top. Put the skillet into the preheated oven and roast about 15 minutes per inch of thickness, or until fish is tender and opaque and the skin slips easily from the flesh. Stand around and eat with your fingers, like proud Loretta did.

Summer Salad Series: Grilled Squash with Preserved Lemon

Roasted squash

At the end of a busy week, all I feel is blessed. I feel a list coming on. Thank you, Loving One, for:

  • Rich, Mary, Oscar, Milo, and Sebastian being with us for the week and our precious friendship that's endured a move
  • Liz and her amazing Lego Camp and how much delight it brought Wyatt, Oscar, and Milo every day
  • Walking with my aunts and cousins in the Relay for Life and remembering my uncle's battle with cancer
  • My new meditation pillow and the (surprising) discipline with which I've been using it
  • Falling asleep in the sun
  • Privileged time with clients doing good work
  • Pandora summer stations
  • My cousin Josh and his girlfrend Jamie coming up from Seattle to see us
  • Volunteering in the Roosevelt Elementary garden and harvesting golden beets, kale, snow peas, lettuce, and broccoli
  • Walking with my family and Bellingham First Congregational in the Pride Parade this afternoon. When our pastors walked in front with their robes and stoles on, I cried. Indeed, God loves everyone.

And a little meandering at the Bellingham Farmers Market where I bought a couple pounds of the World's Most Beautiful Summer Squash. Smooth, bright yellow, thin-skinned, firm, small. Just completely perfect.

We slathered grilled bread with pesto, laid some thick slices of French feta, then piled this salad on top of that. That was dinner, and there were groans of delight all around the table.

To make: Cut several small summer squash lengthwise into 1/4" thick strips. Grill with olive oil and a bit of salt. Toss the grilled squash with a few tablespoons of smashed preserved lemon (pulp, peel, and juices), olive oil, pepper, and lots of parsley leaves.

Summer Salad Series: Steak Salad with Corn Salsa

 

I'm serious. It's a blazing 72 degrees in Bellingham. I always joke that when the sun is out in The Ham, it's like you just handed everyone a $100 bill. People are so stinking happy.

Yancey is home recovering from knee surgery, and we're happy, too. The surgery went without a hitch, it was overdue, and he's mending nicely. And we've had the strangest couple days--just hanging out, doing puzzles (him, not me--I have ZERO attention span for puzzles), lolling about with the kids, family dropping by to bring food or say hello. I can't resist philosophizing here--it's too bad it takes a surgery for an unplanned weekend! We're pretty good about saying "NO!" to things, but still. I resolve to do LESS in the future. It's pretty great. Yancey's sister Kelly is here today kicking #%$ on the puzzle. Look at this sweet photo.

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The biggest news around here might be that Wyatt is now riding around the neighborhood on his bike. Alone. And the shoes I just bought him are a size SIX. Get out. He is suddenly giant, witty, independent, and more engaging than ever. He took his bike out this morning and went garage saleing with his allowance. He bought a puzzle and a foot massager. He would grimace at me calling him cute, but God. He's cute. And mine. That is what's so crazy. He came from me.

I suppose I should get around to the food here. This site was down for a week (please say you noticed!) because of some technical glitches, and I'm all chatty now that it's up again. Sometimes I think, "Maybe In Praise of Leftovers has run its course." Then things happen to change my mind. Like it disappearing and me missing it. Or Jenny and Dusty bringing me cocoa nib shortbread from The Breadfarm and writing me a card about how much iPol has meant to them. Or Janie sending me an email and saying it's made her gluten intolerance so much more bearable. Or Emily saying, "Where did it go? It's a community service!" Ah. Happy to oblige.

Okay. Really getting around to the food now. Our new thing around here is salad bar. I cook, chop, and whisk some things, set them in the middle of the table, and wash a lot of dishes at the end. If you're into One Pot Meals, this probably isn't your thing. My Mom and I have always been into Thousand Pot Meals. Ask our husbands. 

There are going to be so many salads this summer that I can't see myself recording every single "recipe" or proportion. (Okay. I can see it. I just don't want to.) The great thing about salads is they're pretty hard to screw up. So I've decided to give myself a break and just post the ingredients, and by the end of the summer, you'll have lots of good ideas and you'll be proud of yourself for winging it.

For this salad, assemble something like this:

  1. Salsa of cooked corn kernels (fresh or frozen roasted corn from TJ's), tomatoes, cilantro, basil, salt, olive oil, and lime juice
  2. Avocado
  3. Pickled or fresh red onions
  4. Crumbled feta, cojita, or queso fresco cheese
  5. Roasted or fresh poblano chiles
  6. Greens (romaine, kale, beet greens, arugula, etc.)
  7. Thinly sliced grilled steak or chicken (or leave meat out alltogether)
  8. Dressing of lime juice, cumin, garlic, olive oil, and salt

Set everything out and let the fam or guests assemble their own. Mysteriously diappear when it's time to clean all the bowls. How I adore my home office.

Happy Summer, friends. I like being here with you.

Vietnamese Cucumber and Melon Salad with Peanuts

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When I got home from my retreat last week, the fridge was bare. The kids and I had to go out for breakfast on Sunday morning for lack of fruit, bread, milk, or eggs. Amazing! Monday I could hardly close the fridge!

Once the grocery shopping is done, I often spend a good 2 hours in the kitchen--cleaning the fridge, consolidating boxes of crackers, freezing overly ripe bananas for smoothies, and washing veggies for the week. If I don't make time for this task (which, crazily, I actually LIKE), I am sure to be frustrated and impulse-eating by Wednesday. A giant bunch of unwashed kale taking up a whole shelf in the fridge isn't nearly as likely to be sauteed with eggs in the morning as a neat like bag of washed and chopped kale. I overestimate myself if I think otherwise.

This week, I cut up a cantaloupe and a pineapple. I washed two big bunches of cilantro and a head of lettuce, roasted a head of cauliflower, made a big batch of brown rice, and rescued half a head of radicchio that looked past its prime but actually just needed a little trimming.

I was famished by the time I was done. And of course, inspired by handling all those beautiful fruits and veggies. This salad is what I made for lunch. My goodness. It's not summer here in the Northwest, but this salad tricked me. Juicy, sweet, spicy, sour, crunchy. A delicious little number to bring to a potluck or BBQ and infinitely more fascinating that the other salads that might be sitting on the table. (I'm always looking for a chance to be popular. At least I admit it.)

Vietnamese Cucumber and Melon Salad with Peanuts
Gently combine about 1 c. each of thickly sliced cucumber, pineapple, and cantaloupe in a medium bowl. Add a good portion of cilantro (I used stems and all), mint leaves, celery leaves, thinly sliced red onion, and fresh chile if you wish. Add 1 Tb. sugar, a good jigger of fish sauce, salt, juice from half a lime, and about 1 Tb. of sesame oil. Combine gently with your hands, and scatter chopped salted peanuts over the top. Serves 1 famished Household Coordinator or 2 more petite eaters. Eyeball it for a crowd. 

Feeding Kids

Dining room still life

Almost summer.All of us are ready, especially Wyatt, who's insanely jealous that Loretta's preschool ended May 23. 

And here's what snacksville summer will sound like:

Loretta: Mom, I'm hungry. What can I have?
Me: Fruit, yogurt, or a rice cake with peanut butter. Or a pickle.
Loretta: But what ELSE can I have? 
Me: What do you want?
Loretta (stomp of the foot): I didn't say I wanted a treat. Just what else can I have?
Me: You can't have crackers. You can have fruit or yogurt or a rice cake with peanut butter. Or a pickle.
Loretta (big sigh): Ooookaaay. I guess I'll have a banana. 

And, of course, I have reproduced for you one of the more successful conversations. Not the one where she waits till I'm on a conference call, waves fruit leather and animal crackers at me, I nod frantically, and emerge later to a pile of wrappers and sticky fingers.

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I could really fill up this post with BAD news about childhood obesity and diabetes and all the ailments lying in wait for consumers of the Western diet. There's plenty of information out there if that's what motivates you.

What motivates me is family dinner time, my unabashedly favorite hour of the day. I've got a few tips, tricks, and credos that have helped me in my 9 years (!!) of motherhood, and the advent of summer seems a good time to pass them on. Like always, take my pontifications with a rather large grain of salt. These are what work for me, but we all have to find our own way.

  1. Kids like interactive food. I have fabulous luck with serving things family style--lots of condiments, kids get to take the amount they want. Our latest thing is good old-fashioned salad bar. I've given several ideas at the end of this post. The best thing about this, of course, is that it's difficult to complain about something they've created! Genius.
  2. Something they'll go ape for twice a week. I try to make something they'll unequivocally love about twice a week. That way, when they complain, I"ll say, "I'm immune to your complaints. We had pizza last night." I actually say that. I am mean. And what do they love? Potstickers and rice, pizza, tuna melts, any kind of pasta, BLT's, teriyaki chicken, tortilla soup, rice and beans, burritos, tostadas, panini, anything with meat.
  3. Once a day treats. They get a treat after dinner (small dish of ice cream, piece of candy) only if they haven't had a treat already during the day. I am POSITIVE I don't know everything they've eaten and don't interrogate them, but if we've had something together earlier, they've been to a birthday party, etc., no after-dinner treat. 
  4. Exposure to everything. My kids love sushi, pho, ramen, Korean BBQ, Mexcian food, dim sum, curries. Maybe they just like the BBQ steam buns and chow mein at dim sum, but they can see Yancey and I eating everything and that's important to me. (No chicken feet for me, though.)
  5. Turtle shell. That describes me when they're complaining--impervious! Protected! Do I like to see them love my food? Of course. Do I take their tastes into account when menu planning? Of course. But I don't try to please them all the time and I don't take their complaints personally. Their abilities to adapt and be thankful are much more important.
  6. Parties are a free-for-all. Birthday parties, BBQ's, family reunions...who knows what they eat!! I'm having fun with adults. I'm positive Wyatt has found a bush to hide in and chugged four sodas. Better than having a soda every day. Childhood has got to have some of these stories, right?
  7. We don't eat meals in the car unless we are on a road trip. A few times a week, all four of us are home for dinner. But often, Yancey or I is at work, and it's just one of us with the kids. No matter what, whoever is here sits down and eats together. Quite leisurely, too. When Wyatt was in basketball this winter, we'd wait until the game or practice was over and often eat at 7:30 rather than get fast food or eat in the car. This takes planning, but it's worth it.
  8. I want to be able to take my kids anywhere. Practicing manners and patience at the dinner table is a perfect place to prepare kids for more formal situations. (And, it must be said, my kids aren't toddlers anymore! That's a whole different ball of wax.) They are very capable of sitting still and making conversation. Plus, it's cute conversation.

And here are some MK family interactive favorites:

  • Baked potato bar with roasted or stirfried broccoli, cheese, sunflower seeds, spinach, red pepper, cottage cheese, and bacon if we have it.
  • Good old rice and beans (black or pinto) with cheese, avocado, salsa, cilantro, crushed tortilla chips, spinach or kale.
  • Cobb salad bar with grilled chicken, bacon, avocado, tomato, feta or blue cheese, thinly sliced red onion, hard boiled eggs, and dijon vinaigrette
  • Greek salad bar with cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, feta, grilled chicken, and grilled pita wedges
  • Tostadas with refried beans, salsa, greens, cheese
  • Grilled teriyaki chicken with rice, thinly sliced cucmbers, and toasted seaweed
  • Whatever the *$# is in the fridge salad bar. Bacon helps the kids excited about anything if you have it.
  • Veggie roll ups with hummus, shredded carrots, diced cucumber, feta, sunflower seeds, julienned lettuce, yogurt
  • Spring rolls rice paper wrappers with rice noodles, peanuts, cilantro, julienned carrots, hoisin sauce
  • Make your own pizzas on naan or pita bread. Tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, thinly sliced peppers and onions

What are your no-fail family favorites?

Happy Summer, favorite readers. 

Dijon Sausage and Broccoli Bake

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Friends! Family! Everyone About To Give Up On Me!

I am here, cooking, living, and opining, but you wouldn't know it to visit this site. I have always said this blog goes how my life goes. Which is to say, in spurts. I'm fine with that, and I'm glad you are too.

We are so blessed to be settling into Bellingham life. Each of us commutes twice a week to Seattle for work, which is turning out to be very doable. And we're living close to five grandparents, toting kids to soccer games and playdates, plotting the next phase of our remodel, and making friends. We are not, like so many people in the world, scrounging for our next meal or scheming about how to get our children medical care. We are not victims of political unrest or war. We are not waiting in long lines for fuel or applying for assylum. I'm aware, more and more every day, that our reality is not the world's reality. The fact that I can find time and bandwidth to write about food and community means I've been given so much. I just have to say this every once in awhile.

And I have to say, "One Baking Sheet!!" That's all you need for a great dinner. If you've got parchment paper, even better. Bon Appetit have a great feature on this that's inspiring. I've taken to roasting everything--sausages, fish, prawns, bok choy, broccoli, caulifower. Of course, there are the standards like peppers, potatoes, eggplant, onions, zucchini. I've heard Lynne Rossetto Kasper say that when she doesn't know what to cook for dinner, she walk in the door, turns the oven to 425, and then opens the fridge. I find myself in a similar pattern these days.

Depending on your ingredients, you can start things at different times (as I do here), separate them on the sheet if you don't want them mingled, or mix everything up and throw it in all at once. An essential tip is that the closer things are together, the more they will steam and not roast. They'll still cook, but without the delectable crispy edges.

My kids down the sausage, eat a good bit of broccoli, and usually leave the peppers for us. I've been around lots of picky kids lately, which has got me thinking about tips and philosophies for feeding children. Next post? See you then.

Dijon Sausage and Broccoli Bake
Serves 4 with some highly unlikely leftovers. Preheat oven to 425 and line a large jelly rolll pan (baking sheet with sides) with parchment paper or foil. In a large bowl, combine 6-8 fat sausages (Italian, bratwurst, etc.) with 2 coarsely chopped red, yellow, or orange peppers, a coarsely chopped onion, 1/4 c. olive oil, coarse salt, 2 Tb. coarse dijon mustard, and a squeeze of lemon or some lemon zest. Toss with your hands. Spread evenly on your baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, take a big bunch of baby broccoli, coarsely chop it (stems and all) and toss with olive oil (a couple tablespoons) and salt. Add to roasting mixture after it's been in the oven for 10 minutes, and roast for 15 minutes more, until sausage is bubbling and charred in places and everything's crisping up. Dump everything into a pretty bowl, put in the middle of the table, and serve with potatoes or bread, if you like. And maybe a dallop of dijon.

Pecan Sour Cream Coffeecake

sour cream coffee cake

Rich, Mary, and family came up last weekend. It's the first time we've been together in Bellingham since we moved. At our 800 square foot house in Seattle, all 9 of us in one place would have been physically impossible without a tent in the yard. It's hard to describe how wonderful it felt to host THEM, for once. The kids ran around willy nilly and we very loosely kept an eye on them while we drank coffee all day and caught up on months of news and musings.

Rich and Mary are one of my most appreciative cooking audiences. They swoon over everything and don't complain about the carnage I leave in my wake. I'm really, really speedy in the kitchen. As Yancey will tell you, that's partly because "Clean as you go!" is not a mantra of mine. (But I'm getting better. We've had the serious conversation where I say, "If it's important to you, it's important to me." That's marriage in a nutshell.) So Mary (cheerfully) did a lot of dishes. But with the walls we knocked down, it doesn't matter! We are still all together. Thank you, Universe, for this house and all the people it's hosted already. The fact that it's only half done hasn't stopped us at all.

I always joke that I'm not a brunch fan. Who would ever want to combine two meals into one?! Let's eat all three, at LEAST. But a weekend with friends is why brunch was invented--no one is paying attention to the clock, there's no pressure or plans, and it meant we could go out for "dinner" at 4:30 with all the kids. (Fiamma Burger, of course.)

I'll bet your mother or your aunt used to make a coffee cake like this--tons of sour cream, a layer of nut struesel in the middle. Nigella Lawson has a cake she calls, "Cut and Come Again." Cut some big wedges for brunch, leave the rest on the counter, and find a plate of crumbs at the end of the day.

Pecan Sour Cream Coffeecake
Adapted from Ina Garten. I used one cup of sour cream and one cup of nonfat Greek yogurt because that's what I had in the fridge. If you used all Greek yogurt, I'd recommend that at least half of it be the whole milk kind. And you could sub walnuts or almonds for the pecans.

For cake:
12 Tb. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. sour cream (or 1 c. sour cream and 1 c. Greek plain yogurt)
3 extra large eggs at room temperature
2 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt 

For struesel:
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. pecans, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cinnamon

For icing:
3/4 c. powdered sugar
3 Tb. real maple syrup 

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Add eggs one at at a time, then add vanilla and sour cream. 

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to make sure the batter is completely mixed.

For the struesel, combine nuts, sugar, salt, and cinnamon.

Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Sprinkle the struesel topping over and top with the rest of the batter. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Let cool for at least 30 minutes, then turn out on a plate. Stir powdered sugar and maple syrup together. Mixture will be quite thick. Spread it on, and a bit will start to run down the sides. Cut and come again.

Cornmeal Biscuits with Ham and Cheddar

ham and cheddar biscuits

I've got an easy, crowd-pleasing little savory bite here, and  not much else to say except that I am, still and again, so grateful for my life.

If you're a mom, you've probably seen this post going around--about how our kids need us and not expertly executed birthday parties, cute Easter crafts, or the stress of living up to the curated perfection of Pinterest. And if you're not a Mom, the same is true--the people in your life need YOU, your presence, the way you show up, more than anything you produce or any ideal you uphold. 

And I want to show up--with children, husband, strangers, clients, friends--in a way that's open to outcome, drawing from energy deeper than mine, and ready to give and receive. I do that better some days than others. Some moments that have helped me out lately:

  • A family outing to Vancouver, where we played on the beach, ate lots of sushi, went on long bike rides, and enjoyed the miracle of being a foursome in the world
  • Sun!! Not oodles, but enough to remind me that orb is still in the solar system
  • Loretta practicing her letters all the time, on every scrap of paper in the house
  • Wyatt winning a ribbon at the science fair and constantly thinking in fractions
  • Starting to work on the house again
  • Wyatt coming home from soccer, covered head-to-toe in mud
  • Walking the labyrinth at my church and feeling renewed my calling as a peacemaker
  • Spring cleaning and tossing things I don't love or need
  • Aerobics with Liz, bopping to the '80's with some really fit 70 year-olds

kitchen still life

with kids in Vanouver

spring is springing

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And these biscuits. It's not warm here yet despite the fact that it's technically spring. So we're still having soup and biscuits for dinner. It could be worse.

Cornmeal Biscuits with Ham and Cheddar
Adapted from Gourmet. I usually have some proscuitto around, which is the "ham" in these biscuits. I buy the German brand of proscuitto at Trader Joe's, which is very reasonably priced and has a good balance of saltiness and fat. If you want, you can add chopped chives, fresh thyme, or green onions. These couldn't be easier--one bowl, a wooden spoon.

2 c. flour
1/4 c. cornmeal
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp. salt
6 Tb. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar
1/2 c. coarsely chopped proscuitto or cooked ham
1 c. well-shaken buttermilk 

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 450. Butter a large baking sheet or line with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Blend in butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cheddar and ham. Add buttermilk and stir until just combined.

Drop dough in 12 equal mounds about 2" apart onto baking sheet. Bake until golden, 15-20 minutes.

Kimchi Soup (and my essential Asian pantry)

Kimchi Jigae

For some reason--the vitamin D, lighter evenings, more kimchi--things are looking up around here. In spite of the unrelenting, almost menacing rain, I'm finding it a little easier to face the day and even dare to dream about summer. Wyatt and Yancey both said to me today, "Don't get your hopes up! It might rain all summer." And then Wyatt quoted me back to me: "Peace ends where expectations begin." Damn that kid. I can't keep up with him. (And yes, Amity, I am totally stealing that awesome gem from you and your uncle. It's already helped me out of a lot of scrapes this week.)

These are the kinds of days when my whole body just wants to be warm. (I know I sound like I'm 80.) If I'm not drinking a hot beverage, I'm scheming about how to get a few minutes in the steam room at the YMCA, stay in bed longer, or make soup. Especially this soup. 

This is a classic Korean soup, and there are more complicated and caloric ways to make it. It's often made with pork belly (yum!), but the point for me is usually to have something quick and healthy. I can make it for myself in 10 minutes for a working lunch at home. It takes that long to make a sandwich, for gracious sake.

Of course, this would be impossible without my pantry. When Armageddon comes, feel free to hole up with us. We might have brown rice and kimchi for months on end, but we won't run out of food. If we're really desperate, we could probably live on Asian condiments for a week or two. 

Here's my dream (Westernized) Asian pantry. Sheepishly, I should admit that this dream is a reality most the time. Even though we've moved out of our Asian-Market-on-Every-Corner Seattle neighborhood, I have my ways: 

  • Sesame oil and sesame seeds (white and black)
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Rice vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Fish sauce
  • Mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • Toasted seaweed sheets
  • Sriracha (hot sauce)
  • Sambal (hot sauce)
  • Furikake, a few different kinds (Japanese seasoning shakers, usually containing seaweed, sesame seeds, and dashi)
  • Miso paste
  • Korean hot pepper paste (gochujang)
  • Peanut or vegetable oil
  • Fresh ginger and garlic
  • Napa kimchi
  • White and brown rice
  • Rice noodles
  • Coconut milk
  • Red curry paste 
  • Limes
  • Peanuts

Most of these things keep indefinitely at room temp or in the fridge once opened. If you live in the Seattle area, H Mart in Lynnwood will make you lose your mind. They have an entire aisle of Korean hot paper paste, about 10 million kinds of fresh noodles (soba, udon, etc.), and their cooler of braising greens will make you cross-eyed. If you live in an area that doesn't have Asian markets, Cash and Carry is great for pantry items--a big bottle of sweet chili sauce, for instance, at a fraction of the price the "Asian" aisle at the grocery store will charge.

Wherever you are, I hope Spring is advancing. Tell that rascal not to skip over Bellingham.

Kimchi Jigae
Serves 2. Heat 1 Tb. peanut or vegetable oil in a heavy saucepan. Briefly saute 1 minced garlic clove. Add 2 c. coarsely chopped napa kimchi with its juice, 2 Tb. Korean hot pepper paste, 2 Tb. miso paste,  and 2 Tb. rice vinegar. Stir constantly and saute for another minute. Add 12 oz. softest tofu you can find and enough water to barely cover everything. Simmer for 10 minutes until warmed through. If you want to get fancy, you can add lots of fresh veggies--spinach, kale, or chard at the end, or finely sliced zucchini, cabbage, or julienned carrots at the beginning. Garnish with sliced green onions and a drizzle of sesame oil.

Banana Lemon Scones

Banana Lemon Scones

Give me carbs.

Yancey and I were watching late-night TV the other night. (I'm the last one to join the party, but I'm finally smitten with Jimmy Fallon.) I was full from dinner and drowsy. And yet, unbelievably, I was thinking about breakfast the next morning. About how I didn't want a kale smoothie or rewarmed Irish oats. How I wanted to smell something in the oven and the kids to come running up the stairs asking what it was.

I had a foggy memory of this scone recipe from an edition of Fine Cooking that's long since disappeared. I'm an insatiable magazine reader, but I don't keep them. It might threaten our marriage. So I sometimes clip or scan recipes, but mostly I just enjoy them in the moment and move on. Thank God for the internet and for YMCA members who will read any old donated crap in order not to focus on their workouts. 

I was skeptical that one diced banana would do the trick, but these were so stunning. They had a delicate banana aroma and flavor, but totally different than banana bread or banana cake. And, if you really pay attention, bananas are actually a little acidic, and the lemon paired perfectly. I have hardly been known to peel a banana and eat it out of hand, but I can't resist banana desserts and baked goods.

We've had some sweet family time this weekend--cooking, a little road trip with lots of singing, naps, New York Times. And, despite my skepticism, Spring has got to come. It can't help but get closer.

Banana Lemon Scones
Adapted from Fine Cooking. I added 1/4 c. brown sugar for two reasons--to make them sweeter and to make them more tender. It had the effect of the scones spreading ever so slightly, but it was worth it. If you want sturdier guys, leave it out. Most scones aren't good the next day, but these are delicious as the banana keeps them moist.

For the scones:
2 c. flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 Tb. finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6 Tb. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 medium ripe (but not mushy) banana, cut into 1/4"dice
3/4 c. + 2 Tb. heavy cream(and more for brushing)
coarse white sanding sugar (optional) 

For the glaze:
3/4 c. powdered sugar
1 1/2 Tb. lemon juice
1 Tb. butter, softened
pinch kosher salt

Heat oven to 375 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, lemon zest, and salt. With your fingers, rub the butter into the flour mixture until a few pea-sized lumps remain. Stir in the banana. Add the cream, and with a fork, gradually stir until the mixture just comes together.

Turn the dough onto a lighly floured surface and pat into a 7" circle about 1" high. Using a chef's knife, cut the dough into 8 wedges. Transfer to the baking sheet, spacing the wedges 1-2" apart. Brush the tops with heavy cream and sprinkle liberally with sanding sugar (if using).

Bake until tops are golden, about 18-20 minutes, rotating halfway through baking for even browning. Transfer scones to a wire rack and cook slightly, 3 or 4 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir the powdered sugar, lemon juice, butter, and salt until smooth. Drizzle the warm scones with the glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Chicken Chickpea Stew

Chicken and Chickpea Stew

I know I'm not the first to praise the restorative powers of chicken soup.

I've been meaning to make some of these, and nothing cheers me up in cold February like a big bowl of pho, steaming with anise-scented broth and lime juice.

And when new babies come or when tragedy or illness strikes, soup is inevitably my answer. I usually don't bring over a multi-course dinner, because I find that prevents me from offering. And I usually don't plan when I'll drop something by. I just do it according to my energy and schedule. And the recipient can always freeze it if 20 other people brought dinner that day.

I don't remember where I read the story of an American traveler, somewhere in remote parts of Southeast Asia. He approached a hut, needing a question answered or maybe needing shelter. He heard the inhabitants scurrying around, saying to one another, "There's someone on the porch! Let's make rice!"

I love that. I try to live by it--"There's someone on the porch. Let's make rice." Instead of keeping them standing at the door, having a perfunctory conversation, pretending like I don't have time, or resenting the interruption. I don't do this perfectly, but I know I won't get to the end of my life and wish I'd vacuumed the floor or answered my email instead.

My friend Liz's mom fell and broke her arm in 3 places, so it was soup time. I checked my pantry and freezer, and this is what I came up with. I rarely actually cook recipes out of magazines, but they always influence me. I'd just been reading the new issue of Saveur and their feature on Persian cooking (salivate!), so was thinking about pomegranate molasses and walnuts. 

Happy Rice-Making!

Chicken Chickpea Stew
Serves 6. If you don't have pomegranate molasses, just add a little more lemon juice. The tahini gives this soup a richness and depth that's unbelievable, but I bet you could substitute finely ground walnuts if you don't have tahini around. And chicken thighs are my favorite for this sort of thing, but you could certainly use breasts if that's what you have in your freezer. I didn't make this spicy since it wasn't for me, but you could spice it up with dried chile flakes, fresh chiles, or sambal.

If you're slow cooker kind of folk, this would be great in a slow cooker. I gave mine away because I like to fuss, stir, taste, and hover. I never wanted to be away from my project that long. I'm weird.

4 garlic cloves
4 Tb. olive oil
2 roasted red peppers, drained (I just used the kind in the jar)
2 tsp. cumin
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fresh or frozen 
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 28 can crushed tomatoes
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tb. tahini
3 Tb. pomegranate molasses
1 Tb. sugar
1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro

Optional garnishes:
cilantro
toasted walnuts
lemon wedges
olive oil
chile flakes 

In a food processor, pulse garlic and roasted red pepper until you have a puree. Heal olive oil in a large, heavy stockpot and add red pepper puree. Add cumin fry for a couple minutes, stirring constantly. Add everything else except cilantro and cover with about 1" of water.

Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender and flavors have melded. Break chicken pieces up with a spoon or remove them from the soup and roughly chop. Add them back and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice to taste and the cilantro.

Serve soup with garnishes, if you like, or with a scoop of rice or quinoa in the middle.

Kale Caesar with Rye Croutons

Kale Caesar

This one is for Emily. Apparently it's possible for someone to love kale more than I do.

We met her for lunch yesterday at Skillet Diner. We split lunch, and she wisely chose the Kale Caesar instead of fries as our side. I was a little wistful--I've said no to fries maybe one other time in my life. But love demands sacrfice, so I went along.

Of course, it was no sacrifice. Curly, bright green kale with garlicky caesar clinging to the ridges, every forkful a hit of winter vitamins. I made the kids a giant vat of white rice for lunch today and got busy making this for myself. (White rice is like crack to them. If they have enough of it, I could probably sneak out of the house, go for a sauna at the Y, and come home before they'd notice.)

I'm tracking my calories lately, and apparently a plateful of this salad will deliver over 800% of your daily vitamin A. I know you don't need that fact to entice you, though.

P.S. I want this t-shirt. Kind of a friendly way to get up on one of my soapboxes?

 Kale Caesar with Rye Croutons
Serves 4. These days, I often have a bag of Trader Joe's washed kale around. When the farmers markets open, I'll commence with washing it again. If you have dino (aka lacinato) kale around, that's even more delicious here, but more expensive and a little harder to find. (Have I mentioned that our house in Bellingham is 5 minutes from Trader Joe's? It's rough.)

For salad
1 large head kale, washed, spun dry, and chopped
4 slices dense rye bread
olive oil
Parmesan or manchego cheese, shaved off with a vegetable peeler

For dressing:
1 large clove garlic
2 anchovies
1 Tb. dijon
1 Tb. worchestershire
1 Tb. mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 c. olive oil 
freshly ground pepper
pinch of kosher salt 

To make dressing, put all ingredients into a beaker and stick your immersion blender in there. (Or use a food processor.) Add more of anything to taste or thin with a little water if it's too thick.

To make croutons, heat a castiron griddle or pan over medium-high heat. Brush bread with olive oil and fry until golden brown on both sides. Cut into cubes.

Toss kale with croutons, cheese and dressing (maybe not all of it), saving a bit of everything for the top.

Love Note

muffin-eating Loretta

I dare you to sit in front of this muffin-faced rascal and feel blue.

Winter is doing a number on me. I've heard there are some people in the world whose sadness, madness, or darkness means they paint more. Or write more. Apparently, that's not true for me. I was just beginning to wonder if I'd ever log in here again when some universal promptings showed up. A comment from Grace Young, my hero of Chinese cooking and wok love. A nudge on Facebook. And finally, some little well in me beginning to fill up. Some quiet voice that said, "When you don't have anything to say, that's saying something, too."

In my professional life, I help individuals, groups, and organizations be appreciative as they go through change. Usually, I get helped too. Recently, I facilitated a retreat for a friend who's trying to discern what's next. We read this passage from William Bridge's Transitions:

One of the difficulties of being in transition in the modern world is that we have lost our appreciation for this gap in the continuity of existence. For us, "emptiness" represents only the absence of something. So when what's missing is something as important as relatedness and purpose and reality, we try to find ways of replacing these missing elements as quickly as possible. That state of affairs, we imagine, cannot be an important part of the transition process: we hope it can only be a temporary, if unfortunate, situation to be endured.

In this view, transition is seen as a kind of street-crossing procedure. One would be a fool to stay out there in the middle of the street any longer than was necessary; so once you step off the curb, you move on to the other side as fast as you can. And whatever you do, don't sit down on the centerline to think things over!

I'm on the centerline. And it feel dangerous! Moving from Seattle to Bellingham seemed liked a clear end and a clear beginning. But I forgot about the drab Neutral Zone. And then there's sunless days, two funerals in six weeks, and the little boy in Wyatt's class who said to Yancey, "Can I trade my dad for you?" 

IMG_0985

I love Valentines Day. I always have. Especially those little white bakery bags, decorated with red and pink hearts, full of friendly messages. I remember keeping everything intact for weeks, taking the cards out, reading them, and putting them back in in their envelopes. You don't have to tell me twice to celebrate love. I'm all over it. And that makes me very open to sadness, too. Sometimes it finds me and it takes up residence, right there with the love.

Were I to relate this to food (not hard!), I'd say my New Year's resolve to take care of myself has been what's sustained me. I've been getting outside to run or walk, eating great, and doing crazy things like drinking kale smoothies. If I try, I can see this (mild) depression as a gift, getting my attention and maybe leading me deeper into love if I don't try to squirm out of it, if I don't try to get to the other side of the street too fast.

The photo is from Loretta's preschool valentine party today. 16 5-year-olds opening Valentines. If that isn't a cure for what ails you, I don't know what is. Wherever you are tonight, favorite readers, I hope you're reaching in and pulling out some love notes. Consider this one. xo