Tag Archives: cooking

Baking to beat the cold and stress

In many ways, yesterday was a typical January day in northwest Ohio. Sort of. There was nearly one foot of snow on the ground, and extremely high winds had created large drifts up the sides of houses and parked cars. Icy roads made driving dangerous.

Okay, so if you live in Minnesota or North Dakota, you might be yawning by now. But hey, this is Ohio. We get snow. Some years we get a lot. Some years we get none. This is one of those “a lot” years. Windchills of 40 below didn’t make it any more palatable.

So there we were. Stuck in the house. Even Bluffton University shut down for two days. So…what to do?

One of my favorite rooms in the house is the kitchen. It’s bright. It’s yellow. And it gives me a nice view of the back yard, and the little A-frame that my dad built 20 years ago. He insisted it would probably fall apart after two years.

Backyard
Looking at the A-frame sparked a memory of Dad baking bread on cold winter days. So? I baked bread.
Bread-baked

While that was rising, I figured I could log on to my work desktop and get some work done. But since I’m really good at procrastinating, I shoved that thought to the back of my brain, and instead baked cookies.
Not just any old cookies. It’s January. I hate January. In fact, my stress level rises just thinking about January. So…since whoever decided that dark chocolate and antioxidants are good antidotes to stress, I’ve resorted to the perfect cookie, Anti-Stress Cookies.

Chock full of ingredients like whole wheat flour, olive oil, dark chocolate chips, raisins, dried sour cherries, walnuts, oats, yogurt, brown sugar, butter, and whatever else you feel like adding.  I added 1/4 cup of flax seed this time. You can’t ruin them…unless you leave the room and forget they’re in the oven. Doesn’t matter. Surely, someone in your house likes dark cookies. If not, call my husband.

cookie-plate

Anti-Stress Cookies
1½ c. white flour (or white whole wheat flour)
¾ c. whole wheat flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
¾ teaspoon salt
½ stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 c. olive or canola oil
1 c. packed dark brown sugar (I actually use 3/4 c.)
1 large egg
2 egg whites
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
½ cup oats
1 ¼ cups Monukka raisins
1 ¼ cups dried cranberries or dried cherries
1 ¼ c. DARK chocolate chips (i.e. Ghirardelli)
1 ¼ cups chopped walnuts
Directions
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat the butter, oil and brown sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and egg whites  Add the molasses, yogurt, ginger and lemon zest and beat until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the flour mixture to make a sticky batter (do not overmix). Fold in the oats, raisins, cranberries or cherries, chocolate chips and walnuts.
Chill dough for at least 30 minutes. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of batter onto prepared baking sheets. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bake the cookies until dark golden but still soft, 10 to 12 minutes; cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container for up to one week. May also be frozen (I like my cookies hard!)

By the time I was done with all the baking, I’d warmed up the house, and the frigid temps outside didn’t seem nearly so daunting.

Got peaches? Freeze ’em in OJ

Canning summer produce is great if you have the time. It also works well if you enjoy canning. I might have the time but patience is not one of my virtues…at least not when it comes to canning.

I remember the shelves of my parents’ cellar lined with jars and jars of beans, corn, pickles, tomatoes, ketchup, applesauce, pears and peaches. So pretty…and then I remember hours in the kitchen sweating and whining. I’m pretty sure my mom sent us all off to the pool so she could can in silence. And yet, somehow I acquired a canner early in my marriage but every time I looked at it, I shuddered and so it quickly found its way to the garage sale table.

Last week I saw the best peaches at Suter’s farm stand, and couldn’t pass them up. But canning was clearly not an option. So….what to do?image

After my parents bought a giant freezer, they shifted their energy to freezing. One of my favorite foods were my mom’s peaches frozen in orange juice concentrate. Problem was, I had no recipe and by the time I thought to ask her, it was past her bedtime. So….I resorted to the old “by guess and by gosh” method.

Here’s the deal:
Prepare whatever containers you prefer — I used both zip locked bags and glass containers.

Thaw frozen OJ concentrate quickly by soaking it in hot water while you prepare the peaches. Pour the OJ into a container, add a little water (I think I added about 1/2 c. to the large OJ concentrate.image (6)

Peel and cut the peaches into slices or chunks and place in a large bowl. I had about 12 large peaches (I said this was by guess).

Pour about half of the OJ over the peaches and stir well. There is no need for added sugar and the OJ’s citric acid keeps the peaches from turning brown.image (2)

Use a large spoon to scoop the peaches and some OJ into containers and freeze.image (10)

My favorite way to eat these is when they are only slightly thawed. Kind of like a slushee!

Farmer’s market the community hub

It was a pretty typical August Saturday morning in Bluffton, Ohio. The sun was shining and by 9:30 a.m., the local farmer’s market was bustling. As I waited for a vendor to wrap my sunflowers ($3 for 15 stems) in newspaper and twine, the woman next to me asked if the market was always this full of vendors and buyers.  She’d come to town to visit the local quilt store and just happened to see the market.

photo (10)How can you not love a good farmer’s market? It’s not just the food — which is the best around — but the camaraderie, seeing lots of friends, sharing ideas of what to do with unusual produce like the lemon cucumber I picked up today.

It’ll be a week of veggies again — and trying out some new recipes. And while the sunflowers make me smile every time I look at them, my best purchase of the day was an eggplant. Not just any eggplant — this one was just begging for a face. Not sure what this one will become but for now, it’s also making us laugh.

photo (12)So here’s what I picked up today. Brown eggs, cucumbers, squash, cabbage, swiss chard, lettuce, white carrots, red and green sweet peppers, muskmelon, and a loaf of the best hearty, whole wheat bread (saves me from having to bake immediately).

Any suggestions for what we should be cooking?photo (11)

Send me some recipes! I love trying new things.

 

 

 

 

 

What would you do with a kumquat? Top a goat chop!

While on a recent vacation to Tybee Island, GA., we trekked up the outside stairs to our landlord’s deck at the top of the house. From there, you can see all over the island and out to various points in the Atlantic. While I was busy looking at my favorite beach spot, my husband was excitedly motioning at what he thought was a kumquat tree in the side yard. It was.

Their first response was a very eager, “Would you like some?” Apparently, the tree bears year round and after awhile they grow tired of them. She made kumquat wine once but the labor intensive project convinced her not to try again.

I knew someone who would come up with a use for them and happily picked a bag of them. This solved my quandary about what to take to my brother and sister-in-law when we stopped at their farm on the way home.

On the way to Virginia, the hubs ate a few, proclaimed them delicious and then admitted he could only eat a few at a time.IMG_0088[1]

Kumquats are often eaten whole — the rind is sweet and the center is sour. Culinary uses include candying and kumquat preserves, marmalade, and jelly. They can also be sliced and added to salads.

When we got to Va., I handed them off to my sis-in-law, Karen, knowing that she would come up with a creative use for them. Which she did. Several nights later, we had goat chops (they raise goats) with a kumquat-pineapple salsa. Of course, there is no recipe. She remembers throwing kumquats, pineapple and “some other stuff” into the blender. We then topped our goat chops with it.

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What questionable leftovers have to do with being buried “in straight lace shoes”

My husband and I have a recurring conversation when we eat a leftover that is a bit past its time or if we are about to have a medical procedure we think we may not survive. Actually, I’m the only one who worries about not surviving the medical procedures but that’s probably because I’ve had more experience with those…like emergency surgeries.

Anyway, this is how the conversation starts:

“If I die, do you promise to…?”

Okay, so I admit it’s a bit morbid, but we share a rather warped sense of humor and sometimes that’s the only thing that keeps us sane. The upside of this is that we both usually end up laughing so hard we forget why we were worried in the first place.

Last night, we were each fixing something for supper. He held out some potatoes and asked if I thought they were safe to eat. They were a little on the green side, which I always thought meant they weren’t really ripe. Still, they weren’t sprouting and they looked okay when he cut them, so we figured they were okay. Just to be on the safe side, I posed the “What do you want me to do if you die?”

His response was classic. “Dress me in straight-laced shoes.”

After 33 years, you’d think I’d have heard all of his responses, but this was a new one. He caught my doubtful expression and (acting stunned) said, “C’mon, you know that one, don’t you? You know (cue the trumpets)…The St. James Infirmary?”

He knows perfectly well that I did not grow up on the jazz music that he did. So our supper prep morphed into a quickie lesson on yet another Louis Armstrong  classic…”I went down to St. James Infirmary, saw my baby there, sat down on a long white table, so sweet, so cold, so fair…When I die I want you to dress me in straight lace shoes…

I must have looked completely clueless, because he insisted on playing the song for me. I mumbled something about it sounding like one of those New Orleans jazz funeral marches, which apparently is exactly what it was.

Seems I have learned something after 33 years of listening to his jazz lectures. Oh and by the way, no one died from eating the potatoes.

Curious enough to hear the real thing? Here you go…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-hIplBbiCc

 

Oooooops Crackers

As I headed out to yoga, I took one last peek at the bread dough rising in a bowl on the register. Looked great and smelled great. Two hours later when I got home, the dough appeared to (a) not have risen at all, or (b) risen and fallen. I was pretty sure it was (a).

A little thought niggled at the back of my mind. What had I done wrong? Smack to the forehead….of course….no yeast. As any self-respecting baker knows, bread won’t rise without some sort of leavening agent.

As I stood there, berating myself for being careless (s0 much for that hour of restorative yoga), my husband saved the day. He would make crackers with the dough. Which he did. And they are scrumptious.

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This was intended to be whole wheat bread with seven grain and flax seeds. I’d mixed the dough in the bread machine to save time. So the recipe is written for a bread machine. If you were mixing it up by hand, you’d proof the yeast first by mixing it with the water, then adding the dry ingredients.

7-Grain/Flax/Whole Wheat Bread
(AKA Oops Crackers)
1 1/2 c. warm water
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. salt
1 c. white whole wheat flour
2 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. 7-grain
1 tbsp. flax seed (or more)
1 tbsp. yeast (I use bulk yeast)
Set bread machine on dough cycle. When it completes the cycle, remove and place in an oiled bowl, turn dough over a few times to coat with oil, then cover bowl and set in warm place to rise.

After a few hours, remove dough and place in oiled bread pan, let rise f0r 40 minutes or so, then bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes. (This is an estimate, since everyone’s oven is different.)

NOTE: IF YOU FORGET THE YEAST or if you just want to make crackers, you can skip the yeast and they’ll turn out fine.

Roll out the dough and fit into cookie sheets. Score with a knife, poke holes with a fork. Sprinkle with salt, garlic salt, sesame seeds, or whatever you like, and bake at 300 for 10-15 minutes. (Again, this will depend on your oven.) Let cool if you can stand to wait. Otherwise, eat them!

What’s wrong with a little Valentine’s Day fun?

Today a coworker remembered that Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays and speculated on whether as a child, my family had observed it in some special way.

She’s right. I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day, beginning with those early primary school days of decorating shoeboxes with pink and red paper, doilies, cut-out hearts and cupids. We’d make a slot on the top and place it on our desk and each child would go around the room, subtly dropping home-made and purchased Valentine’s in our classmate’s boxes. Every year, at least one classmate stuck a few of the big candy conversation hearts in each card. I lived for those.

Silly, I suppose, but those memories are the ones that fuel my love for the holiday. But that’s not the story I told my coworker. The truth is that my best Valentine memories begin in my college days.

Every year my dad sent flowers to me at the dorm — even though his office was just across campus. And my mom? I’d return to my dorm room to find a package of homemade cookies or chocolate candy. I don’t think they ever realized how much those gifts meant to me.

Later when our girls were old enough to appreciate the holiday, they each decorated a shoebox with whatever scraps of fabric and paper, stickers, etc., that we could find in the craft box. That box sat outside their bedroom door for two weeks before Valentine’s Day. Every morning, they’d squeal with delight at whatever someone had dropped into the box overnight. I’m pretty sure they thought every family did that, but I think they’ve since learned that wasn’t the case.

One year I baked a giant chocolate chip cookie in the shape of a heart for my husband and each of the girls. Another year, we had a heart-healthy dinner than ended with a frozen ice cream pie for which I’d made a meringue crust from egg whites and sugar.

This year my husband, who can be very romantic when he wants to be, surprised me by writing “the Valentine’s Day column that will never be published.” I’m probably going to get in trouble for even revealing this much, but suffice to say that it was a rundown of all the girls he’d dated before he ended up marrying the girl next door. Well, technically, it was the girl who lived down the street, but you get the picture.

I alternately laughed and cried as I read it. It was the ultimate in thoughtful gifts — more meaningful that a dozen roses.

Note: The two antique Valentine cards included above are part of a collection of several hundred that my husband’s grandmother saved between 1890 and the 1930s. Clearly, our love for this often sadly-maligned holiday is genetic.

 

 

Random thoughts strike again….and again

It’s another Random Thought Day. Truth be told, every day of my life is made up of random thoughts. Oddly, it’s often one of those thoughts that prompts me to start writing. To whit:

1. This morning, Ike and I were walking over to meet Mary Ann and Sparky (AKA Arthur). Two minutes after leaving our house, Ike decides it’s time to do his thing. Yes, I had a bag with me and scooped it up. Interesting. Usually, this takes a good five or 10 minutes. So…we’re heading down the road and passing a certain superintendent’s house. Ike decides this will be a two-poop day. Ugh. No more bags. Sorry Mr. D. We’ll be over to scoop that soon!

2. Last night as we were getting into bed, Ike (who thinks he is human and therefore, can sleep in our bed), stood at the end of the bed looking at us. I don’t know what he was waiting for, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to invite him to nose in between us. The Saint glared at him and mumbled something like: Just be glad we let you in this room.”

3. Whyizzit every time I buy a pair of pants, they fit fine in the store, but when I get home, they don’t? And whyizzit, just when I pull up to said store to exchange them, the clock strikes 9, and the doors close?

4. How did all that fabric get into my sewing room and what am I supposed to do with it? I’m sure there was a reason for buying it, but that reason now escapes me.

5. Who planted all those morning glories in my garden and why do they take over everything? My poor delphinium got strangled to death.

6. Does the cat really think I want to come out to see what remains of her latest catch? Is it really that crucial to her ego that she share three feathers with us?

7. Who made the decision that if I find a penny I shouldn’t pick it up unless it’s heads up? Why can’t I have good luck either way? Don’t rain on my parade, buster.

8. Some guy at the farmer’s market gave my mom and me a lecture on the advantages of red potatoes vs. white potatoes. She wanted white and all he had was red. He gave her the antioxidant lecture and pointed to a little graph that proved his point, or so he thought. And then he handed her a pile of potato recipes. My mother drew herself up to all of her 5 feet 1 inch, and said, “My dad grew potatoes. I know potatoes.” (Insinuating, of course, that she knew potatoes far better than he.) Guess she told him.

9. Howcum I’m always the last to know everything? Believe me, this is true.

10. Like my friend, Peter, I’m always wishing tomorrow was Friday. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

11. Why is the distance between Ohio, Virgina, Kansas and Arizona so far? Could someone please just scramble the states so I can live closer to my brothers? I want to be able to walk over to their houses when I know one of them is baking or cooking so I can just eat their food. It always sounds better than mine.

12. Why do those damn walnuts keep dropping in my yard? And why do I have to worry about them smacking me on the head on the way to the ground? It’s not even my tree!

Okay, now that I’ve got all those random thoughts off my chest, it’s time to become productive. Time to sift through all that fabric and decide what to do with it. Oh yeah, and time to visit Mr. D’s house for some poop scooping.