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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Turning Two + Pumpkin Cheesecake

Evelyn turned two on October 20th. It's hard to believe she used to be a tiny, helpless baby when now she runs, jumps, speaks in sentences, and has a true personality. For her birthday party, I decided to go with the toddler trifecta: bubbles, balloons, and birthday cake. You really can't go wrong with that.

Except instead of a traditional birthday cake, I wanted to make something that everyone would want to eat. So I decided on pumpkin cheesecake (recipe below). I knew one would not be enough, so I planned to make two. Then I wondered, maybe I need more? I decided ahead of time to pull the double chocolate cookies I had made previously out of the freezer to serve with the cheesecake. Then the night before, I thought we might need more dessert. I whipped up some chocolate lavender cupcakes. Needless to say, I was maybe looking for excuses to bake new things I hadn't tried before.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Farm Dinner

I recently had the delightful opportunity to cook a four course dinner for my friends and neighbors. Last year at the Whitelock Community Farm Annual FUNdraiser (which you can attend this year, coming up on November 8th!), they bid on and won a dinner for two at the farm.

I enjoyed planning the menu around produce available from the farm as well as making it fall inspired. And since I know Courtney and Jonathan, I knew which ingredients to avoid and which to embrace, for example, nuts are out, and cardamom is a sure thing.

The Meal

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Short List: Lunch and Dinner

Summer is winding down. I'm about to pull up the remaining tomato plants, pickle the green ones, and plant some cool weather kale and radishes. The nights are cool and the days are warm and breezy. I always say that my favorite season is when they change. I love the excitement of cooler temperatures and turning leaves. When fall gives way to winter, I love the smell of snow and pulling out warm scarves and boots. Spring brings life and joy, and summer means swimming. At the start of fall, I will savor warm comfort food, go apple picking (and making apple butter), and eat out on the picnic table for as long as we can stand it. And host fire pit parties.

I owe you a second short list. I posted the previous one here, one that highlighted brunch and dessert. This list is all about lunch and dinner. The idea behind it is highlighting my go to recipes if I don't want to do much thinking or if unexpected guests are coming. These are all recipes that I do well, and it surprised me to look over them and see that most of them are soups or stews. Add some homemade bread or rolls, and you're all set. Here is the list.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bacon Fat, Chard Stems, and Fennel Fronds

What do these three things have in common? They usually end up as food waste. Me, being the thrifty gal I am, I like to try and use everything. Even fennel fronds

I used to pour off my bacon fat and discard it. Then the low-fat craze ended (for most) and I realized that I cook with olive oil. And butter. They are fat. Bacon fat is fat. Why am I throwing it away? Silly me. Save it in a jar in the fridge. I use it to fry eggs, saute veggies, and grease the pan for cornbread. I save my olive oil for salad dressing and my butter for baking.

But wait, you say. Even with fats being allowed in a normal diet, isn't bacon fat too high in saturated fat? I recently read an interesting article about our body's very real need for saturated fats. The link between heart disease and saturated fats has been debunked. The real killer is refined carbohydrates (sugar, white flour) and unhealthy oils, such as canola oil and and soy oil. I'm not sure how well I do avoiding sugar, but...

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Mocha

About two years and four months ago, I sat on a slightly reclined bed while an ultra sound tech put jelly on my belly, slid a wand over it, and looked at the screen. "I think I had a miscarriage," I said, "But I still have pregnancy symptoms." Pause. "You're still pregnant," she said. "Listen, you can hear the heartbeat." Wop-wop-wop-wop. On the screen was a little wriggly mass.

How could this be? A week and a half earlier, I had a miscarriage. I knew it. All sorts of emotions of sadness, failure, yearning, and weirdness swirled around in my head. But there was nothing to be done. I started drinking wine and coffee again. I went to NYC with Justin to visit my brother. On the way there, I barfed. I felt gross, exhausted, and everything I had been feeling while pregnant. What was going on? (Come to find out later, I probably miscarried a twin. But I'll never know for sure.)

I could not believe I was still pregnant. It was an unseasonably warm day in March. I biked over to Milk and Honey Market, feeling free as a bird, and sat outside with an iced mocha. I called Justin. Called my mom. Called my sister. Texted the two friends I had already told. That feeling of sitting outside with my iced mocha and sharing the good news (again) with family and friends will never leave me. It's one of those memories that is burned in my mind.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Foraging for Jewel Berries

We camped for a night last week at Greenbrier State Park in western Maryland, close to Virginia and West Virginia. Justin very much wanted to camp just the three of us this summer. We are going later with my family, but that may involve many things to do and a little bit of chaos, in spite of the fun times that are sure to be had. So I cooked and packed, and Justin packed and loaded, and Evelyn flitted around and made messes. We arrived at 10:30 am on Thursday, stayed through the following afternoon, and then visited Harper's Ferry in West Virginia before heading home on Friday evening. It was a quick trip, but so worth the effort. We relaxed, we swam, we hiked, we ran, we built a fire, made s'mores, watched fireflies, and loved every minute of being outside.

A major perk of Greenbrier State Park, and this whole area of Maryland, really, is that in July, there are wild raspberries. Everywhere. I was ecstatic. They were along the pathways, in the woods, at the side of the road. I made it my mission to pick every ripe berry I could find. When I closed my eyes I saw raspberries. I became a little obsessed.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Love and Greens

On Saturday, June 28th, Justin and I celebrated our six year anniversary. When I say "celebrated," what comes to mind? Romantic dinner, wine, time alone...nope. We actually forgot to say happy anniversary to each other until about 1 pm that afternoon. Here is how our day went.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Homemade Tortillas

The more I started cooking from scratch, the more I became unsatisfied with many packaged, processed foods. Not all, of course. There are still some good ones out there. But take hamburger rolls. I don't like them very much. They're either too mushy, or too sweet, or too dry, or too bread-y. I would never eat them without something inside of them, and I don't think bread should be that way. So earlier this week when I knew we were having burgers, I found a great burger bun recipe online and made it. It was incredible. I would eat the bun on its own. And it transformed my burger.

I realize that not every meal can be a transcendent experience, and there are times that you just have to eat (real) food to quell your hunger and keep you going. As much as possible, though, I attempt to cook from scratch and enjoy every part of my meal.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Food Thoughts

I have an interesting relationship with food. Not only do I consume it, but sometimes it consumes me. When I finish my coffee in the morning, I think, "I can't wait til my afternoon cup of coffee." If I have dessert, I think, "Just one more bite, and then I'll be satisfied. Just one last cookie, and then I'll be set." If I have a plate of good food, I sometimes finish the whole plate of food, even if my belly was full after only half a plate.  I love to talk about food. It's a safe subject that most people are interested in. I read recipes like a book. I stockpile dessert recipes because I want to eat the finished products.

My late twenties brought about my food renaissance. I learned about real food, bought locally, and memorized the "dirty dozen" and "clean fifteen" lists for organic produce. I signed up for my first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and nearly turned vegetarian overnight in order to not let any veggies go to waste. I helped establish a farm in my neighborhood. I ate less meat because the good stuff was too expensive to buy regularly. Reading these last few sentences, I wonder what happened to the girl in college who thought free/cheap food was the most important factor.

I also got into baking. Weekly baking, which produced lovely muffins, bread, cake, cookies. It didn't make a difference on my I'm-still-in-my-twenties body. I exercised regularly, and figured anything extra would just burn off. Then I turned thirty. And had a baby. Even on my awesome 40-60 minutes a day workout plan, I cannot just eat whatever I want anymore, and especially not in whatever quantity I want. Ah, thirties.

It also got me to thinking that eating beyond the feeling of fullness is simply a waste. A waste in my body, a waste in dollars, and a waste in food production. I got used to food having power over me. "That is a cookie. You love cookies. Eat that cookie." Even if I had already eaten three cookies. It's so stupid! I am trying to take back the power by changing my thinking about food. I truly delight in eating good food, but when I give food too much power, it consumes me, and I feel guilty. By changing my thinking, I eat more balanced, and I enjoy it so much more.

This has not come about suddenly. I have been pondering these things for a couple of years. When I start to feel like I'm spinning out of control, I ask myself, "Why do I want to keep eating? What will it accomplish? What void am I trying to fill?" Usually I can identify something that is pushing me to want to snack or keep eating when not hungry. It is often stress or anxiety. Or tiredness.

In light of all of these food thoughts, I typed some one-liners into my phone to refer to when I feel the need. I'd like to share them with you. I showed Justin, too, and he was amused, because he does not have such a complicated relationship with food. Here goes:

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Short List: Brunch and Dessert

Saturday was a beautiful day with clear skies, a gusty warm wind, and everyone and their brother outside. We all three of us went to the playground in the park. Me, Justin, and Evelyn. Evelyn happily kicked her legs as we pushed her in the stroller. She pointed at random things and said, "Hi!" to people way far away. We enjoyed the togetherness and sun. "Isn't it so nice to be together?" I asked Evelyn as we set out on our playground adventure. She looked like she was thinking seriously, and then said, "Yeah." I think she knew what I was asking.

The playground was crawling with kids, to be expected. Evelyn hustled up there with the big kids. She is as tall as most two-year-olds. She got to the top of the biiiiiiig slide. A parent was up there among the taller, older, noisy kids. She pointed to Evelyn, and pointed to me, and I nodded. "She's about to go down the twirly slide. You see her? She's gonna go down." "That's ok!" I yelled. "My husband is at the bottom. He's going to catch her." Down she went, over and over and over again. The look of sheer delight as she came zooming down the slide thrilled me. She literally caught some air off the end as she sailed in my arms and I swooped her high in the air. "Again?" I asked. "Yeah!" she said, her back already to me. 

So what does this have to do with the short list? Nothing. I just wanted to share.

I've been thinking lately about what I would serve someone with just a few hours notice. Which recipe would I take out of my bag of tricks? What dish never fails? I wanted to create a short list of go to recipes that I tend to use weekly. As I browsed through my past blog entries and through my cookbooks, the listed started to get too long. So I broke it down into breakfast and dessert, with a lunch/dinner list to come later.


- Fried Egg Sandwich and Omelets (and omelets and omelets)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Shall We Dance?

Justin and I signed up for dance lessons. It has been a dream of mine for years. We both love to dance, but he didn't know how to lead, and I didn't know how to teach him to lead. Our dance package includes six private lessons, six group lessons, and three "parties" (and the parties start at 7:00 pm -- that's our type of party these days). In addition to learning how to dance, this turns out to be fifteen guaranteed dates. Whee! Saturday morning dates are fine by me. We get dressed up, just a little. He wears cologne. I put on makeup. Our dance lesson is preceded or followed by a trip to Atwater's for coffee and pastries.We love to sit at the bar and watch the baristas flurrying around. The waiters bustle orders out to diners at tables. We share chocolate croissants, triple ginger muffins, and mini loaf cakes. We love the pour over coffee, and I love the pretty mugs they come in. It is fun to have toddler-free time together.

Have you ever partner-danced before? The most important rule is: he leads, she follows. It doesn't work to have both lead, or both follow, or to switch off who leads and who follows. One would crash into the other time and again (alas, this was us at many weddings...until now). At lessons, it is so relaxing for me. I get to zone out and become like putty. All I can do is follow Justin's lead. He, on the other hand, is doing all the learning and thinking. It is fun to watch his eyes narrow with concentration and his tongue stick sideways. He has gotten better with not looking at his shoes, but now he will often look at me without actually seeing me. His mind is on the steps and the beat.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Winter Brunch

I would love to share this brunch with you. But first, a love story.

Our friend Mike is a renaissance man. He knows how to do pretty much everything, and if he doesn't, it still comes across that he does. He met a girl online. Andrea. She is Mexican, and was about to move to Baltimore for school. They started dating and we quickly realized how lovely and genuine she is. So, on April Fools Day last year, they eloped. We were shocked! They marched themselves down to City Hall and got married. Turns out their lawyer advised them to just get hitched so that Andrea's green card process would be sped up. April Fools Day was the perfect day to do it.

This was the first of three weddings for them. Last fall they had a beautiful wedding near Mike's parents house. Blue skies, warm sunshine, and autumn leaves. (Their third wedding will happen in Mexico in the spring). They requested no gifts. They had no registry, and said that if we really wanted to be creative, we could draw a picture or write a poem. Something from the heart. We decided to make them brunch, but not just any brunch. I believe the invitation went something like this:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Food Grace

I received some birthday money in the mail a couple weeks ago. I stick to a budget very well, but it is hard for me to save any extra cash for very long. I like to spend it on what some people might view as frivolous: restock my wine, buy some good chocolate, maybe a pair of earrings I don't really need. Spending extra cash on whatever I want is an outlet that helps me stick to a strict budget.

So this morning, before story hour at the library, Evelyn and I wandered into The Wine Source. We were the only customers in there at the early hour of 10:00 am. I pushed her around in the shopping cart while she took off her hat, pointed to the cash registers, chewed on the expensive coffee bag I handed her, and wanted to eat the comté I selected from the expensive cheeses and salumi.

I bought a couple bottles of liqueur to use for a brunch Justin and I are hosting on Saturday, a demi baguette to go with my comté, some dark birthday beers, and another bag of Counter Culture coffee. Birthday money well spent, in my opinion.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

My Favorite Room + Basic Polenta


You've probably guessed. It's my kitchen. It's where I spend most of my time puttering around, whipping something up, cleaning lots of dirty dishes and spills, cooking, baking. It's where I automatically go when I arrive home or come downstairs, even if I don't actually need anything. I just end up there. I get euphoric about recipes that turn out well and comforted by old favorites. Justin bikes home from work and heads straight for the pantry to pull out the peanut butter, raisins, or a handful of granola for a snack. Evelyn helps unload the dishwasher, pulls things out of cupboards, and tries to climb the refrigerator shelves whenever she gets a chance. We do a lot in this kitchen. 

So allow me to share some photos with you. Take you on a tour. And then maybe a little recipe at the end. Come along, friends, my kitchen welcomes you.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Your Guide to Spectacular Salads

Greens with summer tomatoes, cucumbers, hummus, and tuna

I'm back after a bit of a holiday break. And, no surprise, in need of a break from sweets and over-snacking. Christmas was filled with truly good food: lots of veggies, grass fed beef, whole grains. But it was also filled with a lot of extras, such as snacks here and there, coffee and croissant out with my mum and aunt, Christmas cookies...everywhere. My favorites are the tea time tassies ("triple T's" as my brother calls them) with a cream cheese crust and a nut filling. Oh, but we were talking about salad, weren't we?

Yes, salad. It's so good. Switch your mind away from sweet for a bit and think about crunchy vegetables, savory vinaigrettes, protein-filled toppings, and dried fruit. And some nice bread on the side.

How to build a spectacular salad:

- Choose greens that you like. Branch out and try new greens. Think beyond romaine and iceberg, and try arugula, radicchio, kale, butter lettuce, spinach and swiss chard. My favorite flavor of greens is arugula. Kale gives really nice crunch and bulk, and benefits from sitting in a dressing for at least 30 minutes. Romaine and iceberg lettuce are usually cheaper, so you can use them as a base and mix them with pricier greens.

Herb vinaigrette

- Make your vinaigrette. In my opinion, making your own salad dressing is easy and tastes better than bottled. You also control what goes into it. Instead of a low quality oil in a bottled dressing, you can use all extra virgin olive oil. The basics are a 1:3 ratio of vinegar (balsamic, red wine, apple cider, or white wine vinegar are great options) to oil (I always use extra virgin olive oil). Add some salt and pepper, and there you go. Extras include minced garlic or shallot, herbs, and dijon mustard. I put everything in small jar, screw a lid on top, and shake it to emulsify it. Here's a great beginner vinaigrette.