april twelfth

last summer i kept hearing about Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. i’d read about her ice cream in magazines and heard her interviewed on podcasts. our local library finally bought a copy of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and on day two of its being in our home, all three kids have been seen at various times of the day snuggled up with it. elisha was enamored from the start and thinks the lemon and blueberry frozen yogurt should be made first. asher initially said he just wanted to look at/try ones that were white (?) but then decided passion fruit would be good, too. lenna flipped through the pages for quite some time and studied any page that had a picture of a cookie.

the book really does look good in both the content and presentation. i’ve had hits and misses with homemade ice cream. the texture is often way off. but these recipes include a little bit of cream cheese and light corn syrup to help in the texture department. my vote for first attempt is the ylang-ylang with honeycomb and clove ice cream. or the star anise ice cream. or the beet/mascarpone cheese ice cream. as i told a friend this morning, i see some extra pounds in our future.

april tenth

today found us getting back into the swing of day-to-day life. the cousins are gone. spring break is over. easter week has come and gone.

elisha read and wrote some numbers. asher dabbled in some reading and excitedly wrote the word “cat.” i read them a book about johhny appleseed, and now they have big plans for me to make apple butter tomorrow.

but today there was granola. orangette’s new granola. our new favorite granola that is made with coconut chips and drowned in maple syrup and olive oil. i follow the recipe but decrease the sugar by half, throw in a few more pecans and coconut chips, and add some freshly grated nutmeg. because i always add nutmeg. to almost everything.

april third – also known as free cone day

or free cup day, depending on the child.

ben and jerry’s free cone day was providential in its timing. because today was one of those days that i earned no points in the gracious/loving/kind/patient mother department. it was a day where by 4:30 the pattern of me losing my cool/asking for forgiveness/losing my cool/asking for forgiveness was getting old for everybody. and then i spy an email from my friend who lovingly passed on the news that today was indeed free cone day. so a long ride along the beach and free ice cream of their choice put me back in their good graces.

sanctification always goes better with ice cream.

april second

a day where the kitchen stars aligned, and tasty things were made with minimal effort.

recipe 1 – fennel and leek soup: chop a bunch of veggies, toss them in a pot, cook for a bit and puree.
recipe 2 – cold brewed coffee: grind some beans. add some cold water. let it steep. done.
recipe 3 – lemon curd (via jax): add lemon juice, zest, eggs, sugar, and butter to a pot. heat, whisk, strain, and chill. spoon over ice cream for dessert.

she made me love cabbage

tamar adler’s book An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace is inching its way up to the top of my favorite’s list. i love a book that uses language like this:

“Our daily bread” means food. It is also called the staff of life, which I like: bread there, all life leaning against it. Our lives don’t lean against it anymore: we’ve decided that bread is bad for us. Our staff has broken, and that is part of why our diets seem so hard to get in balance. p79

Stale bread cannot be bought. It must be waited for, which gives all dishes containing it the weight of philosophical ballast, as well as dietary and budgetary ones. p85

Salt is food’s mouthpiece. Acid also helps food find its voice. p192

i was a bit skeptical about her style the first few pages in, but i soon recognized it as endearing and honest. she talks about the simplest of things: boiling, bread, eggs, beans, underappreciated veggies. and it’s the ideas i’ve taken away from this book more than the recipes she includes (which seem wonderful, too).

the cooking with grace part comes through naturally in her style of writing. i can see how she would be graceful in the kitchen, but it is not pretentious. she is quick to admit her kitchen faults and failures.

and as for the economy of her cooking style, it definitely is. she saves everything: onion skins, bean broth, the oil from sauteing anything and everything. her ideas for leftovers, especially rice, make me want to keep a pot of old rice in the fridge. there are so many ideas and suggestions she gives that sound delicious, simple, and, perhaps best of all, cheap. i’ve read few books that i know will help lower the grocery bill and this one does so without setting out as that being its main goal.

she’s gotten me looking at the kitchen and cooking differently. she’s gotten me looking at leftovers differently and more economical cuts of meat differently. and she’s given me courage to think that perhaps i can find something interesting and edible to do with huge bag of csa turnips in the fridge.

there is no picture of it because it wasn’t the prettiest

but it was delicious. so good, in fact, that i didn’t want an unattractive picture to dissuade you from making it. the above picture? it’s a picture of the original recipe i tried my hand at a couple of years ago. it was prettier than my recent attempt but even then, not so pretty that you’d want to see any more than angled corner shot of it. it is a casserole-like dish, and i’ve yet to meet a casserole that takes a pretty picture.

the original baked french toast recipe was ok but, like most baked french toasts i know, was very wet and mushy (i like mine on the drier side, so if you like very wet and mushy, this might not be the one for you). and while i love a bit of sweetness, i’m not usually in the mood for dessert first thing in the morning. i also used a dark whole grain bread. some might swear that only a soft white bread or challah is the way to go here but i disagree. once the bread is covered in blueberries and pecans and spices, it will make a believer out of even the most devoted white bread lover.

baked blueberry and pecan french toast

1 whole grain loaf of bread (enough to slice and fill a 9×13 casserole dish)
4 eggs
2 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 brown sugar, divided
1 cup pecans
4 TBS butter
2 cups blueberries

cut the bread into 1 inch slices and arrange in overlapping layers in the dish (alternatively cut into large chunks). in a large bowl whisk together eggs, milk, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, and 1/2 cup brown sugar. pour over bread. cover and chill until liquid is absorbed, at least 8 hours or overnight. when ready to bake, remove dish and let come to room temperature.

preheat oven to 400°F.

roughly chop pecans and toast them in a skillet until fragrant. in a small saucepan melt butter with remaining 1/4 c sugar, stirring until combined. sprinkle pecans and blueberries over bread mixture. drizzle butter and sugar mixture over bread and bake for 30-35 minutes.

two flew north

i don’t normally take pictures of my food at restaurants, but this was a memorable occasion.  it was the best blt i have ever eaten.  it was eaten at a table with only omar.  it was accompanied by a crispin chotokkyu hard cider and fries covered in five spice powder. in an airport.

we just got back from a trip to north carolina, and we knew we were in for a great trip when only two hours into our journey omar remembered a Food&Wine article about the best airport restaurants.  atlanta earned a mention with its restaurant one flew south and we had two hours to kill.  now we’re just trying to figure out reasons why we must always fly through atlanta. the restaurant was lovely, the food delicious, and the cider a fortunate find.  we just finished watching the pbs show based on michael pollan’s book The Botany of Desire, and a segment of the show discusses the history of hard cider (not always the sweet variety) in america and how it is harder to come by these days, just not in the atlanta airport. and they even carried a more obscure hard cider made with sake yeast.

so good, friends. and it’s in terminal E, which is always a nice breather from the craziness of the rest of the airport. and isn’t it our good fortune that we’ll be back up there in a couple of weeks for another trip.

it was a work trip for omar, but i got to tag along and spend time with the dearest and most generous of friends. i was a bit worried about leaving the kids for four nights (their rambunctiousness and my parents’ sanity being the chief concerns) but they seemingly had a wonderful time and found my phone calls more of a disturbance than a time to shed any tears (by parents or kids).

we’re now back. the scarves are packed away. lenna has been a little bit more cuddly than normal and actually let me trick her into letting me carry her in the beco for awhile today. (our baby carrying days are nearing an end. sniff.) and the boys took turns coming up to me today telling me how glad they are we’re back:  “oh, you are!?” i gushed to asher.          “yeah, i missed my bed.”

welcome home.

carrots and spelt

ah, resolutions. truthfully, i don’t get too hung up about them.  they usually come to me in a rush the night before the new year and i figure there’s no harm in trying them out, but i don’t beat myself up if they end up not happening.  there’s always the next year.

but since much of my life at the moment is spent in the kitchen i usually take the food resolutions a bit more seriously.  usually.  remember my culinary resolution last year to cook and bake with more whole grains?  full disclosure: i tossed the bag of remaining buckwheat flour 11 months later and thought surely it hadn’t been 11 months since i used it last. it was actually closer to 12 months.  (side note: i notice that one of my 2011 resolutions was to try a new cheese each month.  how did i forget to follow through on that one?)

my eye caught the bag of spelt flour on the shelf the other day and i figured i’d give the 2011 resolution another go.  one spelt recipe down – carrot muffins from Good to the Grain.  delicious and downed by all the children.  next up: huckle buckle coffee cake.

christmas, meet summer

well.  the chocolate mint thumbprints from Baked Explorations did not disappoint.  the dough really did not disappoint.  i know good ingredients make a world of difference in food, but i thought i normally used a pretty good cocoa powder.  but i’m not sure what else it could be other than the valrhona cocoa powder i used that made that dough so darn good i was tempted to forget the baking. and i was right, the cookies really are like a cookie version of the chocolate souffle cupcakes with white chocolate mint cream. here is the cookie recipe if you’d like to take a stab at them.  i’d go halvsies on the dough – half to eat, half to bake. omar thumbed through the book and was pretty blown away from the pictures of their cakes.  i’m seeing a burnt sugar bundt cake with caramel rum frosting and perhaps a caramel apple cake in my future.

believe it or not, i’m not much of a cookie person, and it’s kind of low on things i like to bake.  but christmas hits and who doesn’t like making them?  i made three batches the other night.  the above recipe, the current Martha Stewart Living‘s chocolate mint crackles, and some chewy orange-almond cookies.  omar is not even an anise seed fan and he loves them.  i love anything that contains anise seed, orange, and almond so i knew they’d be a winner. if you decide to make them, do as my mom says and be sure to toast your nuts. it’s good advice.

i think this is the first christmas that i don’t think twice that while on one side of the kitchen the oven is puffing away churning out rich and christmasy baked goods, the other side of the kitchen is a mountain of beautiful ripe tomatoes, squashes, corn, and greens.  it’s south florida.  it’s christmas.  it is what it is.  and i kind of love it now.  the lighter meals make up for the many, many cookies i’ve been eating.

if we were to hang out right now i’d probably be able to turn the conversation to peter berley’s The Flexitarian Table quite quickly. i don’t know the last time i was so taken with a complete cookbook. if you can get your hands on some good cherry tomatoes and fresh corn, go try his fresh corn polenta with sauteed cherry tomatoes.  he suggests you top the creamy corn-filled polenta dish with a poached egg, and everyone in this house agrees. (except asher, but he doesn’t agree with much in the food department right now.  poor kid and it’s his loss he’s choosing to go on what is amounting to a food strike in the middle of cookie season.) another winner was the quinoa (i subbed brown rice) salad with green beans, corn, tomatoes, and toasted pumpkin seeds.  squeeze a bunch of lemon juice on top and it’s pretty much perfect.

and after all the veggies, there is no guilt from all the cookies.

wednesday linking

1. kate ascher’s new book, The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper, is tops on my to-read list. i’ve had a subscription to Wired magazine this past year and in the latest issue there is a diagram from her book of a footprint of a typical 1.3 million-square-foot mixed-use skyscraper. i love this kind of stuff. check it out. i also heard a great interview with her on npr which led to a funny conversation between asher and me about her name being kate ascher.

2. speaking of Wired, last month’s description of kohler’s $6000 toilet was the highlight. it includes ground-level air vents to blow warm air on your feet, ambient lighting, and a place to plug in your mp3. but i’m not sure if it was the description that was funnier or the fact that a few pages earlier there was an actual kohler ad for the thing. crazy.

3. care to listen to feist playing from her new album? here you go.

4. i think we hit a wall in the kitchen department. i’m loving all the veggies coming our way but most of our cookbooks treat the vegetables/grains as side items, so i’m trying to branch out. i’ve borrowed peter berley’s The Flexitarian Table before, but this time around i think every recipe sounds delicious. on the to-make list are his gratin of cherry tomatoes and white beans, fresh corn polenta with sauteed cherry tomatoes, and pinto beans with chipotle and melted garlic. tonia linked to a recipe on The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen blog, and i’m finding some great things there, too. fortunately there is no medical need for anyone in our home to stay away from gluten, but this site has some great looking recipes. the current recipe posted, though, includes quinoa. i just. can’t. do it. i’ve tried. there is something about the smell. strange.

dinners

last night’s dinner was a hit. (there was a minor incident with a five year old and a cucumber but once the five year old understood that the cucumber stood between him and the next morning’s cider doughnuts it ceased to be an issue.) and that is saying something.  not all dinners have been hits around here recently.  last week there was a rice noodle, shrimp, and bok choy dish that had the boys a bit in distress.  “not the chewbacca!” was the cry.  asher wants to love ratatouille, a common side dish at the moment as the csa zucchini and eggplant are coming at us in full force, but ends up spending more time talking more about the movie than eating the actual thing.

but then there was the pesto-rubbed chicken and panzanella salad and life was good. this pesto-loving family loved the chicken, and the salad had something for everyone: “croutons” and tomatoes for asher, olives for elisha (hold the cucumber), and red peppers for lenna.

everyone was fed.  everyone was happy, and multiple csa items were used and crossed off the list making me extra happy.

she dances, i drink

first up, the drink. i am now in some sort of debt to my friend lydia. her love for all things pumpkin led her to a recipe she emailed me this morning.  it’s the kitchn‘s recipe for pumpkin spice latte. i’m a black coffee kind of girl yet i’m always swayed by the combination of the words pumpkin, spice, and latte.  every year i see it pop up on the menu at starbucks and every year i order a small one asking for only half a pump of syrup.  and every year i can’t get over the chemical aftertaste.  sad.  but this recipe actually uses pumpkin puree.  it’s like pie in a cup.  i played with the proportions a bit and here is what i came up with:

1 cup milk
1.5 TBS pumpkin puree
1/2 to 1 tsp sugar
1 TBS vanilla extract
1/4 tsp spice mix (i poured some ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon in a little bowl and mixed it up)
pinch of salt
shot of espresso
fresh whipped cream

combine milk through salt in a small saucepan and heat through.  pour into mug and add espresso.  top with whipped cream.

next up, the moves.  i’ve been trying to capture lenna walking on video.  there hasn’t been much luck.  but today i finally got something.  not the best quality but it captures her walking and shaking it up a bit. Florence and the Machine always gets her going.

fancy cookbooks, fancy blenders, and fancy nuts

Here is a TED Talk by Nathan Myhrvold where he shows a bunch of cutaway pictures from his cookbook that explains the physics and chemistry of cooking.  The cutaway pictures are impressive, and the video of a kernel of corn popping is beautiful.  Save your pennies, though, because the multi-volume cookbook set is a mere $625.

But if I had a spare $625 sitting around, I’d be more tempted to drop it on a Vitamix.  Or a Blendtec.  Don’t we all need something that can make a smoothie out of an iPad?  I think a Vitamix should be included in all CSA subscriptions.  My CSA induced food anxiety would be greatly lessened if I knew I could just whiz up all the excess zucchini and greens and serve them as soups or smoothies. I would be saving money (wink).

In the name of research I dropped some grocery money on some fancy bags of nuts this week.  While we were on vacation a few weeks ago I grabbed a bag of Sahale Snacks Valdosta Pecans (pecans topped with black pepper, cranberries, and orange zest).  I can eat a bag in one sitting.  Yesterday I also bought the Sing Buri blend (cashews with pineapple, peanuts, lemongrass and Chinese chili).  I just know I can make these.  I only have 7 more varieties to “work” through.

at the table

tostadas :: lots of them. a simple picture at Buttons Magee a few weeks back made me realize that yes, tostadas are a brilliant way to break out of the pbj lunch rut.  omar’s love of anything made with a crunchy tortilla is so strong that i think our marriage has hit some new level over the past few weeks considering how many times i’ve served them. really, what’s not to love?  you can put just about anything on them. and then as tostada-fate would have it, we were served them for one of our vacation breakfasts piled with beans and poached eggs and mango salsa. so good.

conversation :: elisha could easily be assigned the award for mealtime conversation starter.  at lunch on sunday we ate with some visitors who have been looking for a new church home.  “so, do you like our church the best?” he asks.  awesome.  later someone asked elisha what sports he likes.  “oh, i just don’t have any time for sports.  i have SO MANY chores i have to do.”  ha!  i have no idea where that boy gets such things. i’m not really sure how much dishwasher emptying and table clearing get in the way of his playtime but evidently a lot in his mind.  just wait until he sees what i have in store for him with our fall time chore chart.  and these were only the two conversations i witnessed or heard about.  who knows what was discussed while omar and i weren’t around.

coffee :: recent rainy day nap times have been spent at the table with cups of coffee reading and thinking and writing about what it is i really want this coming school year to look like.  the thoughts have less to do with which books to use or what methods to follow but more with what i want our days to look like and how i want to see my kids and myself grow and stretch ourselves.