Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I'm thankful for my sane and loving family.

I'm thankful that my brother's tour in Afghanistan has been busy but largely boring.

I'm thankful for good friends and annual traditions, in my no-longer-so-new California home, and in Oregon as well.


I'm thankful that I am employed and get to see people who are friends on a daily basis.

I'm thankful I am healthy. I'm thankful I am emotionally, financially, and physically fit. I'm thankful for beauty and fresh air and the ability to enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cookie madness!

My friend Astra comes from Wisconsin, with a large extended family. One of their traditions is to gather after Thanksgiving and cook a massive amount of cookies, to then swap with each other. Last year she participated from afar, mailing at least nine dozen cookies, and receiving nine different types of cookies, a dozen of each. It was a lot of work!

This year she asked if I'd like to bake with her, and split the booty. I jumped at the chance!

Our submission was Nutella ravioli cookies. We made three batches of sugar cookie dough, and spent a long time rolling, cutting circles, blopping Nutella into the discs of dough, then folding & pinching the edges before baking.

Then we spread out the cookies, and melted some chocolate to decorate them. (In the process of doing that, I found out what chocolate looks like when it seizes... very very ugly & inedible. Thank goodness I bought two bags of chocolate chips.)

(Note how dark it's gotten outside!)

Then, for fun, we made some other cookies: Munchable Mice. They were cute, but a fair amount of work!

You make sugar cookie dough using 2 1/2 cups flour. Then you split the dough into two heaps. Into one, mix a half-cup of cocoa; into the other heap, mix a half-cup of flour. Then make little (3-inch?) logs:

Use currants to make eyes, and sunflower seeds to make ears (the recipe calls for peanuts, which would be bigger ears - but I had sunflower seeds on hand so we punted):


Yes, it's a pain, but they come out SO CUTE:

That's licorice as tails - the recipe calls for licorice whips, but all we had was licorice pieces, so tried cutting them into tails. It worked okay, but longer would've been cuter. I'm SO glad we didn't do a triple-batch of these little guys!

Mushroom-barley soup

Today's lunch group offering is something I made on Friday when I got home from work. I was hungry, so I nuked some leftover roasted veggies to hold me until the soup was ready. Then I opened a bottle of wine, and got to chopping.

Mushroom-barley soup

In a stock pot, heat some oil, then add:
1/2 onion, diced small
2 garlic cloves, diced small

After about five minutes, add 1 or 2 pounds of sliced brown mushrooms. Stir occasionally as they release their liquids. Don't let it cook totally dry. When there's still some liquid left, add:

3 carrots, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
pinches of salt, pepper, sage, and oregano

pour in approximately 4 cups of water, and a cup of barley. Bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour or so. Enjoy!

I'm going to serve it to lunch group with some Parmesan to sprinkle on top, and with a side of salad greens and a batch of tahini goddess dressing from the excellent "Jam it, pickle it, cure it : and other cooking projects."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Recipe review: Savory Pumpkin Pie

For this week's lunch group, I made savory pumpkin pie. Okay, so the blogger who posted the recipe is Canadian. Therefore the recipe is actually Savoury Pumpkin Pie, or Kolokithopita. (Aside: I notice he also has a recipe for zucchini pie, and it's also called Kolokithopita, so I assume Kolokithopita = squash pie in Greek).

I won't rip off his recipe, but it's basically:
layer phyllo dough in a pie pan
combine pumpkin, egg, feta, sage, and pepper; pour into the pan, and bake.

I made the recipe as written, but then I realized two things: a) the pie plate wasn't very full; b) I had about 1.5 cups of pumpkin left (stupid can sizes). So, I sort of halved the recipe and made a second batch of the pumpkin/egg/feta/sage combo, and poured it on top of the original layer. (You couldn't tell, fortunately.)

The recipe was easy, that's for sure. It tasted good, but upon discussing it with one of the Lunchers, we agreed it seemed to be missing a flavor note. I think it needed something bright/acid in it, probably some lemon juice. It was easy to make, and I might do it again, but I'll definitely tweak it a bit. You're shocked, I know!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday baking: Quadruple-ginger/pear bundt...bread pudding

I'm going to a fall party at a friend's house today, and we're to bring a favorite autumn dish. I decided to bake something, and thanks to Mary the Food Librarian, I know that TODAY is International Bundt Day (I'm not sure who says so, but it works for me). So I decided to make a bundt cake.

Her pear-ginger bundt looked good, though in her notes she said it needs more ginger. That reminded me of the ginger cake I made earlier this spring. I decided to combine the two, and the Quadruple-Ginger/Pear Bundt cake was born!

I had most of the ingredients at home, except the ginger.

It was a bit laborious to grate the 1/4 cup fresh ginger, and dice the candied ginger, AND make ginger simple syrup, but I think it'll add some amazing flavor to the cake.

Quadruple-Ginger/Pear Bundt 

Ginger simple syrup combine:
  3/4 c water
  3/4 c sugar
  2-inch slice (or so) of ginger, peeled and sliced
Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove ginger & allow to cool.

Prep work (do while the syrup is simmering & cooling):
 * peel, core and dice 2 pears (I used Anjou, I think)
 * peel and shred 1/4 c ginger
 * dice about 3 T candied ginger; add a bit of sugar to keep it from sticking together.

Dry ingredients - in a bowl, combine:
  3 c flour
  1 1/2 c sugar
  2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  1/2 tsp salt
  2 tsp ground ginger
  1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Wet ingredients - in a larger bowl, combine:
  1 c milk
  2/3 c canola oil
  3 eggs & 1 egg white
  the 1/4 c grated fresh ginger from above
  1/2 c of the ginger simple syrup from above

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones; mix gently. Add the diced pears to the batter. Pour into a greased & floured bundt pan. Sprinkle on the diced candied ginger, and use a spatula to work it into the batter.

Bake at 350 for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick or knife inserted in the cake comes out clean.


Well, it smells great. Unfortunately it broke a bit when it came out of the pan. Did I not cool it long enough? (I waited ten minutes) Did I not grease & flour the pan well enough? (or should I skip that step in my nonstick pan?

Maybe I should've whipped some cream and called it good...but I didn't think of that. Since I'm bringing this to a party, I tried slicing it and arranging it on a plate, but that didn't look any better. As a last-minute move, I've cut up about 3/4 of the cake and put it in a pan with 3 eggs and 1 3/4 cups of milk, then baked it at 350 for another 40 minutes. It's bread pudding!!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


So, I stopped shopping in October and found that it made a BIG difference in my spending. I decided to do it this month too.

But then I went to a nursery for a class on worm composting (more on that later) (it was fascinating), and I slipped. I bought two small blueberry bushes, two pots, and dirt. For a total of 87 dollars and some change. If I guesstimate that blueberries go for 2 bucks a pound, it'll take 44 POUNDS of blueberries to get me to the break-even point.

Here's hoping! I'm kind of a fool for blueberries - and they're in a container so I can take them with me if I ever move!

They are the Sunshine Blue and Southmoon varietals.. but I can't tell them apart! 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Company-worthy muffins

I had some friends stay with me for a couple of nights this weekend. I am SO inspired by the amazing adventure they're on: they got married in Northern Ireland in May and have been traveling for the last six months, with one more month on the road before they move to Australia. WOW. There's one reason to save a lot of money (it IS very expensive to be cool like that)!

They were excellent guests, and went off entertaining themselves all day Saturday. I was thinking that the thing I would most miss if I were traveling would be home-made food. I like to bake on weekends anyway, so I decided to make some muffins to share with my guests.

As usual, I flipped through some printed-out recipes, mentally rummaged in my cabinets, and looked at some cookbooks. I knew I had 2 eggs, a few apples, and the usual baking ingredients. I settled on a muffin from an old standby, The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks At Home... but of course I modified it! I added oats to the mix, used their suggestion for grated apples, but also diced some (because I like chunks in my muffins, and because grating is a pain). Since this was for company, I splashed out with a yummy topping as well.

Here's the recipe. The result was fantastic!

Company-worthy Muffins
preheat oven to 350; line 12 muffin cups with paper inserts (or butter & flour the pan)

Topping - in a small bowl, combine:
   1/4 c flour
   1/4 c oats
   1/8 c brown sugar
   2 T butter chopped into pieces. Use your fingers to combine these into a crumbled mixture.

Wet ingredients - in a large bowl, mix together:
   2 eggs
   1/2 cup vegetable oil
   3/4 cup packed brown sugar
   1/2 tsp vanilla extract
   1/2 - 3/4 cup grated, squeezed apple (see note below)
   1 c diced apple

Dry ingredients - in a separate bowl, combine:
   1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
   1/2 cup rolled oats
   1 tsp baking powder
   1/2 tsp salt
   3/4 tsp cinnamon
   1/4 tsp ground cloves (I haven't tried this but I bet it will make the muffins even better)

Gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones. As soon as the baking powder gets dampened it starts its magic leavening work, so you don't want to over-mix, and you want to get it in the oven pretty promptly.

Once the batter is combined, put it into the muffin cups so they are evenly filled. Sprinkle with the topping mixture. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in a muffin comes out clean.

Note: grating apples was new to me. It's kind of a pain: you have to keep an eye on the core so you don't get seeds and hard bits in your muffin. It's also messy! I was using honeycrisp apples which have been delicious and extremely juicy this year: luckily I was grating onto a plate which had a raised lip. Once I'd worked through 2 small apples I gathered the shreds into my hand and squeezed out the excess juice (which I later drank.. yum). Then I packed it into a cup measure - 2 small apples worked out to a bit more than 1/2 cup. At that point I gave up and diced another apple or so. It wound up being a nice combination to have the apples in two different shapes in the muffins.

Serve with a glass of milk and good company.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jammity jam jam

In the past year I've become rather interested in the fine art of canning. I haven't done much of it yet - in fact, I've only made two half-batches of jam; each was a learning experience.

The first batch of jam I made was sour cherry. Sour cherries aren't grown locally, and I was delighted when a friend casually mentioned that the local foodie mecca had some back in August. I promptly bought six pounds! So far I've only used about two pounds which, after thawing, pitting, and chopping, worked out to about a cup of fruit. (It also yielded about 32 ounces of sour cherry juice, which I brought to a potluck to mix with sparkling lemonade: YUM.) The main lesson from this jamming experience was that I should've chopped the fruit MUCH finer. As you can see above, it's lovely in the jars, but very chunky on top and then truly jam-like on the bottom layer. I only have a crappy apartment freezer so I'd really better get onto using the rest of those cherries - they're already starting to look a bit frosty, though I've got them double-wrapped in the freezer.

The second batch of jam I made was blueberry-peach. It's.. firm. Very firm. Almost fruit-leather-in-a-jar firm. I don't know why. Well.. I have some theories.
  • Pectin Issues: When I made the sour cherry jam, it was a half-batch; the directions on the pectin said to use half the packet, 2 Tbsp. When I made the blueberry-peach jam, I didn't measure the leftover pectin - I just dumped it in. So, maybe I used too much pectin.
  • Sugar Impact: I didn't use the full amount of sugar called for. I rather expected that it might then be more runny. Was that wrong? 
  • Type of fruit: I've learned that different fruits have different amounts of pectin, I guess, so maybe need less than others to achieve firmness. I.. really don't know for sure.
  • Pureeing the fruit: I used my immersion blender to process the fruit so it wasn't chunky like the cherry jam. I don't know if or how that affected anything. Actually, that leads me to my fifth theory:
  • Pure and Total Ignorance: I just don't know much about jamming, what works, what doesn't, what affects what, etc. So I clearly did something wrong but don't really know what!
Anyway, it's all a learning curve. I don't even have a proper canning setup right now: So far I've boiled the jars in a large soup pot (sort of lined with a towel.. but that tends to float upward) and hoped for the best. They haven't cracked, chipped, or shattered yet, but one of these days I'm going to need to get a proper canning pot & rack.

I am hesitating because I don't have a lot of storage in my kitchen, so I am loathe to purchase a really big pot that can only be used for one thing. The less-expensive canning pots are very thin metal, and so I assume they aren't great for actually cooking or making things like soup (plus, I have an awesome soup pot already). I've found a much more-expensive and more-sturdy-seeming pot that works for canning, but I can't tell from the interwebs if I could also cook in it. Not that I'd NEED to cook in it, but I don't want a really big single-purpose item if I can help it. So, that's my hesitation. Well, that, and being back on a no-shopping month.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

fun doings: Alcatraz!

A few weeks ago I got what is probably the chance of a lifetime to spend the night on Alcatraz. Apparently there's some complicated lottery system; the guy who coordinated my group has been trying to get to sleep on The Rock for 9 years. It was great!

Each overnight is limited to 35 people. We met at Pier 33 in San Francisco, and at 4ish we got on an empty boat to Alcatraz - tourists were still on the island but no new day trippers were allowed. It's a 12-minute ride over, and once we arrived there was a fair amount of hurry-up-and-wait, but we eventually put our food in a storage room and our luggage in a truck, and then did a service project - we helped sweep a path clear of the fallen detritus after a big storm last week. It was fairly messy, but with 35 of us, we cleaned it up quickly, and had plenty of time to admire the incredible sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge. I'm so glad this is a national park and not some rich person's private reserve! 

After the service component, we reconvened with our ranger who had agreed to stay with  us, and he gave is a brief overview of our evening's plan: first, we'd watch a showing of a short movie about Alcatraz. Then we'd go up and put our baggage into the cells where we'd be staying. Following that we'd take the audio tour that everyone gets (it was very good, if quite realistic and creepy!). After the audio tour we were able to regroup down at the pier where we had a BBQ set up, and shared our potluck meal.

As we were eating, the final evening tourists departed on the last boat, around 9:30. We packed up our meal and went with "our" ranger for an amazing exploration. He spent at least three hours with us going over all manner of the history of the island, using the buildings to illustrate the history of the island. We also heard about some of the escape attempts and lots of details of life there. We got to go up in the guards' gun gallery (which overlooked the cell blocks), into the former chapel/movie theater, up on the roof with its amazing views of San Francisoc, down in the basement which dates to the 1840s, and was some of the first places where they put military prisoners, and even out into the prisoners' yard where they played baseball and walked around a couple of hours a week. We even got to see how the mechanism for selecting & opening some or all of the cell doors!

We finished off by being allowed up into the hospital wing which was SUPER creepy as most of it was dark. We'd signed waivers before we arrived, so were allowed to go pretty much where we wanted. we were turned loose around 12:30 or 1 am. After poking around the hospital, I made a final trek allllll the way outside to the bathrooms before going to bed in my cell. They couldn't get the lights off in the main room, unfortunately, and it was warmer than I'd expected, but I was pretty tired after walking around on concrete all evening, so I slept okay.

We regrouped at 7:45am in the spectacular morning light to pack up and start getting our luggage out, and got to have a bit more of a tour outside before gathering to wait for the boat. We planned to have breakfast on the other side, but happily scrounged the leftovers from the previous evening's potluck while we waited for the 9am boat. We got back, some of us stuck our luggage in one person's truck, and then had breakfast together before splitting up. What a set of memories!


We even got cool patches: