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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Centerpiece for an herb garden: Clay pots paired with glossy paint and VOILA!

You know that feeling you get when you look at the perfect pictures of perfect gardens and landscaping in magazines? Kind of that “oh, I wish my yard could look like that….” But unless you’re a professional landscaper or are willing to spend oodles of money to hire someone to turn your yard into something out of Better Homes and Gardens or Martha Stewart Living, you’re left to your own devices.

And that isn’t always a bad thing. You’ll end up with something much more beautiful and satisfying — if only because you’ve done it yourself. At least, that’s what I tell myself at the beginning of every summer when we begin reworking the gardens and trying to create something different.

My herb garden hasn’t varied much since we first designed this one after moving in 22 years ago — at least in size and shape. Herbs have come and gone, new ones have replaced old ones.

Last year for my birthday, my daughter surprised me with a birdbath that she’d designed from various sized clay pots. It’s amazing what one can do with plain old pots and some bright glossy paint. The birdbath has a place of honor smack in the middle of the herb garden.

It begins with this,IMG_0489[1]

topped with this,IMG_0488[1]

and then….voila!IMG_0485[1]

Aside

When I was a kid, it seemed as if my parents were always doing something new to the house or yard. As I got older, I wondered if they’d ever stop. Would there ever come a time when all of … Continue reading

What I learned from my mama

So…it’s Mother’s Day. I don’t remember much about Mother’s Day when I was little. I don’t think we ever fixed her breakfast in bed or took her out for dinner. The truth is, she probably cooked for us on those days, but I could be wrong. You’d have to ask her.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of us don’t come to really appreciate our moms until later in life when we finally realize what all they taught us.

My own mother turns 90 in about five weeks. 90. Wow. That simply amazes me. This is the woman who is still teaching me new things nearly every time I’m with her. She might not realize this, because often these are things that I learn simply from watching her and listening to her.

Yesterday, I called her at 8 a.m. and began to apologize for waking her up. She just laughed and said she’d been up for hours and was out walking “way out here in Birch Court”, which is probably a good half mile from her place.

So there you have it. One of the things I learned from her is the value of exercise — at any age, and despite whatever aches and pains might be nagging at us.

My mom and dad raised five kids on a small college professor‘s salary, supplemented by her earnings as a piano teacher. She sewed, gardened, preserved the produce, and knew how to stretch a dollar. And while I learned to sew and garden, the one thing I regret never really learning is how to budget. It scares me. But I did inherit her tendency toward thriftiness — also known as “cheap”. 

When I reflect on the many things I learned from my mom, the one I value the most is the ability to sew. Because of her, I’ve always made clothing for myself and my daughters. One of the first things I remember making was is the early 60s when wrap-around dresses were popular. These resembled the hospital gowns that have three armholes. She made one for herself and one for me, and I made one for my doll.

And that was how I learned the art of sewing. From doll clothes, I progressed to simple clothing for myself. Of course, this is also where I learned my propensity for perfection. If I made a mistake that had to be ripped out and begged her to fix it, she’d fix me with a look and say, “Nope, you do it.”

That drove me nuts. It often resulted in my throwing the item down and running off to do something else. But eventually, I returned to complete the project. As a result, I can read nearly any pattern, change whatever parts I don’t like, and alter just about any item of clothing to fit me.

Now that I’m thinking about this, I’m pretty sure I’ve never thanked her for teaching me to sew, to look at a ready-made clothing item and instead of buying it, thinking that I could make it for less and know it would fit better.

So Mother, thanks. I love you. For many, many reasons.

Lovage and basil and curly-leaf parsley…these are a few of my favorite herbs

Herbs have been a part of my culinary experience since childhood, but my parents never had a separate herb garden. Instead, herbs were interspersed throughout their massive vegetable garden. Parsley often sprouted randomly between flagstones on the patio, and dill….well, dill just grew wherever it wanted to.

About 30 years ago, I took an herb gardening class, which inspired me to design one at our first house. Since then, we’ve moved twice, and each time, the herb garden has grown larger. When we bought this house, we created the garden around a grape arbor. The grapes never did well despite my father’s attempts to school us in the fine art of grape growing.

Along the way, the arbor began to fall apart and we finally dismantled it and removed the grapevines. Don’t ask my husband about this. You’ll be sorry.

Anyway, the grapes left, but the herbs stayed. Some survive above ground throughout the winter, while others pop back up each spring.

Some years the parsley sees us through the winter and rejuvenates in the spring. This year, it is nowhere to be found, which means planting new seed — the same with basil. That means making do with the dried version until the new plants begin to produce.

But the old favorites are back in droves…lovage, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, chives, summer savory. Dill grows randomly throughout a separate perennial garden.

My all-time favorite is lovage, which is a tall plant with edible leaves and stalks, and resembles celery in flavor but is stronger. The plant in our garden has been moved three times (from one house to the next) and split up and shared with countless friends and family members. Each summer, I have to trim it back two or three times when it becomes too tall and the stalks too woody. New stalks are always ready to take over.

LovageLovage can be added to salads, soups, casseroles, and is easily frozen or dried for future use. It makes a great addition to one of our summer favorites: couscous salad with whatever veggies are available.

Lemon balm grows like crazy. In fact, a former neighbor and I once suggested to our husbands that we just let the lemon balm take over our yards so we wouldn’t have to mow. Let’s just say their enthusiasm didn’t match ours.

We eat a lot of salads in the summer and throw in whatever herbs are available — parsley, basil, lovage, chives. Oregano is a good addition to Italian dishes — anything with pasta.

Oregano

Lemon balm

Lemon  balm has a gentle lemon smell and taste, and is good for flavoring fish like grilled or broiled salmon. My favorite use is to add it to mint iced tea (no caffeine) — good for settling an upset stomach.

Not everything in the herb garden is an herb and not everything is welcome there (e.g., horseradish).  Technically, this isn’t an herb but somehow it found its way into the herb garden. I don’t even like horseradish, but the hubs does. So does my mom…so much so that every summer, she and a friend dig up their horseradish roots to make pots and pots of horseradish sauce.

In a moment of ignorance, I agreed to let my husband transplant some horseradish from her garden into ours. This was before he created what he and our daughters have dubbed “the man’s garden”. And now it is time for the man to dig up his roots and move them to the man’s garden. In its place, I’ll plant a new herb.

Wonder what it’ll be?

Chives

 

 

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.