30 March 2015

March in the rearview mirror


It's been a good month. I'm sure I'll jinx something by saying so, but March has been the first month in, well, way too long, that we've all been healthy and sniffle-free.  I'm please to say we've been making the most of it too.  While counting the days until Mariner baseball begins, we've started playing our own version at the park.  We're golfing more and have made it to the putting green a few times with the dry weather.  I bought golfing shorts, which I'm convinced will improve my game.  One Friday, we enjoyed the magnolias and cherry blossoms at the Washington Arboretum and hiked Foster Island and Marsh Island with our friends Carrie and William.  Then Wy and I took in an art exhibit and ate biscuits on Westlake Avenue that afternoon.  One Tuesday we took a picnic lunch up to Byron's office.  On the weekends, we've been making big progress on landscaping the front yard and rebuilding raised garden beds in the back.  The garage smells like a cedar chest. Who knows, maybe this season we can enjoy the yard rather than always working on it (what a concept). 

Byron and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary.  Wyatt had his first sleepover at Katianne and Kathleen's house.  Milestones all around. The home office got a deep clean, the taxes got done, and my desk drawers are no longer "junk" drawers but are actually organized for the first time in like four years.  March madness, indeed. 

On the food front, we've been making homemade pizza a lot.  And we're doing our best to cook through the breakfast section of The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee (thanks, Jill).  So far, the Strawberry-Pecan Coffee Cake and the Liege waffles are big hits.  This week I'm trying the Stout Coffee Cake with Pecan-Caraway Streusel. 

But, coffee cakes and adventures don't compare to the best thing that happened in March: meeting Alex and Sarah's new baby boy. 



04 March 2015

Gigantes


You can't go wrong with these. Try them for an appetizer, as part of a composed salad, or for a potluck.  You'll want good, crusty bread nearby . . . to soak up the loveliness.

Gigantes
Start with about 1 1/2 cups dried large white lima beans.  Soak them for a few hours in cold water, then simmer just until tender.  Cool to room temperature or refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble:  Place the beans in a heat-proof bowl and add sea salt to your liking.  Next, combine the following ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. 

1/3 to 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
one small shallot, finely chopped
one clove of garlic, finely chopped
large pinch of red pepper flakes
ground black pepper

chopped Italian parsley (fresh or frozen), coarsely chopped

Boil for about 30 seconds to a minute, but don't let the garlic and shallot brown.  Immediately pour the oil and herbs over the beans.  Jiggle them around to get everything mixed.  Let them cool to room temperature, jiggling periodically to redistribute marinade.  Serve with crusty bread.  

24 February 2015

A very good use for a lemon

Back in January, a lovely friend with whom I serve on a local board flew up from Palm Desert for our quarterly board meeting.  With him came a bag of freshly picked Meyer lemons from the tree in his yard.  I was lucky enough to come home from our meeting with three of them. 

I had no idea what to do with these amazing lemons.  I love the flavor of Meyer lemons . . . but these were enormous . . . and fragrant . . . and home grown . . . and did I say big?  They were too nice to preserve or cut up into marmalade . . . and three isn't enough to make a batch of curd (but who needs lemon curd anyway?).  So I thought about it for a few more days and then happened upon a perfect recipe in my search for what to make for dinner one night: lemon ricotta pancakes. I happened to have half a container of ricotta in my fridge, so the recipe didn't require a trip to the store.  Even better.

We ate pancakes for dinner that night, and they filled the house with a most lovely fragrance.  I topped them with blueberries, plain yogurt, and a touch of maple syrup.  They were so good we devoured every last one and I forgot to take a picture.
  
Although quite light, the pancakes take considerably more time to cook than traditional pancakes.  They'd do well under a warm blueberry compote or even something like citrus segments and syrup. 

The cookbook I found them in is one of those themed cookbooks --  all about breakfast and brunch.  Can't recall where I found it (Anthropologie perhaps?).  It's from the UK and lists all ingredients by weight (couldn't more U.S. cookbooks do this too??? Please.).  The book has a wonderful buttermilk waffle recipe in it that we make all the time.  Plus a few more gems like poached eggs with spinach on flat bread with Greek yogurt & chili butter and a holiday favorite of mine, homemade crumpets.


Now that I've discovered the ricotta pancake,  I'm thinking I might have to try it as a savory herb pancake sometime this spring.  Maybe with smoked salmon on the side . . .

Meyer Lemon & Ricotta Pancakes
Adapted from The Perfect Start to Your Day by Tonia George
Serves 2-4

250 g/1 cup whole milk ricotta
juice and grated zest of one Meyer lemon ( used the juice from only half of my gigantic lemon but zested the whole thing)
3 large eggs, separated
50 g/3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
100 g/3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
a pinch of salt
4 Tbs. granulated sugar
plain yogurt or whipped cream and fresh fruit, to serve

Beat together by hand the ricotta, lemon juice and zest, egg yolks and half the melted butter.  Sift the flour, soda and salt together, then fold into the ricotta mixture.  Separately whisk the egg whites (I use my kitchen aid mixer) until soft peaks appear.  Add sugar and continue whisking until glossy and peaks are firm.  Fold the whites into the batter.

Coat a heavy pan or griddle with a thin layer of melted butter.  When hot, drop a large spoonful of batter on the surface and cook for about 3 or 4 minutes before turning.  The pancakes rise quite a bit and they need to be cooked a bit slower than typical pancakes so they cook through. 

Serve warm with toppings.


17 February 2015

Yay for the edible craft

Before I had a child I was under the impression that all kids like to make art.  That they like to draw and paint and color and cut and make stuff every chance they get.  Okay, so not so much it turns out.  My child has never really been one who gravitates to the art station at school or sits down at his studio to color or paint just for fun.  He'd rather wrestle or build a tower or read or take pictures with my camera. 

Since crafts aren't really his go-to activities, I've been looking for other ways to exercise his creative muscles.  It turns out that cooking is something he likes, and it's creative.  Food projects allow him to use machinery, figure out how something works, watch it get bigger, whisk and stir and scrape, scatter and sprinkle stuff, make swirls, and design something himself . . . followed by his favorite part: eating.  Plus, we occasionally get results that can double as gifts.  Or we get a chance to share the fun with a friend we've invited over.

Here are a few of the edible crafts we've made lately.


Valentine's Bark
Around Valentine's Day, we experimented with white chocolate mint bark . . . then chocolate bark with swirls of white chocolate mint . . . all with Valentine's sprinkles, of course.  Once it was cooled and hardened, we broke it into pieces to eat and share.  Wyatt helped with all the steps.

Melt about 1/2 pound of white chocolate melting wafers (I like the white mint-flavored ones), available at cake decorating shops and craft stores.  Spread the melted wafers in a foil lined baking sheet or shallow pan (works well in an 8x8 or 6x9).  Scatter sprinkles on top before it sets.

For a chocolate version: Melt semi-sweet chocolate chips (or melting chocolate) and spread in a thin layer in a foil lined pan. After it has hardened (you can refrigerate to speed the process), drizzle melted white chocolate on top, then finish with sprinkles.




Dip & Sprinkle Pretzels

White chocolate chips (or melting wafers)
Mint extract, optional
Sprinkles

Line a baking sheet with foil.  Then melt your chips however you like until smooth and thin (add a few drops of milk if it's too thick).  Drop in a bit of mint extract if you like and stir it in.  Then (kids) drop in your pretzels and (grown ups) fish them out with a wooden skewer, letting the excess chocolate drip off.  Place it on the foil-lined sheet and decorate with sprinkles while still warm so the sprinkles will stick.




Breadstick Hearts
Inspired by the set of Katie Woo children's books that Wyatt is constantly reading these days, these bread sticks are a fun afternoon project that becomes a nice snack when accompanied by some veggies. Our latest batch got shaped into Xs and Os.

1 can of refrigerated pizza dough (or breadstick dough if you can find it)
Parmesan cheese, shredded
One egg white, beaten
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to the correct baking temperature for the dough.  Divide the dough into pieces that can be stretched into 12"-long ropes (about 8).  Stretch and twist the dough and shape it into the shape of a heart (or Xs and Os) and place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Brush with the egg white, sprinkle with shredded cheese and top with salt.  Bake for 6-10 minutes until browning on top.


The Strawberry-Blackberry Lassi
I've made this at our preschool as a small group activity.  It's great fun to get five or six kids to help you prep the fruit, measure the buttermilk, and drop in the ice cubes.  Every kid drinks it too!

6 Fresh strawberries, green tops removed by a child
1 cup fresh blackberries (or frozen is okay too)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 Tb. honey
six ice cubes

Blend together and drink.


21 January 2015

A favorite spot

This week I toted Wyatt across town to the University of Washington Arboretum to get myself a little winter garden fix at the Witt Winter Garden.  No matter the time of year, there's always something blooming at the arboretum, or looking "just beautiful" as Wyatt declared Tuesday.  The sun came out for us as we sniffed our way around the garden several times -- the witch hazel and sarcococca smells are incredible -- then wandered off to see what was happening elsewhere and to find a few more things on our scavenger hunt list i.e. a tree with peeling bark and a singing bird. 

Wyatt wrangled my camera away from me and insisted on taking pictures, some of which I've included here.  Although many of the camellias had already come and gone, the witch hazels are at their peak right now.  Magnolias soon to come . . .



08 January 2015

Hurricane Ridge for New Years

After the Christmas holiday, the three of us needed a break from home, so we decided on the spur of the moment to spend a couple days on the Olympic Peninsula and to go snowshoeing at Hurricane Ridge.  We left on New Years Day but didn't arrive in Port Angeles until about 2:30 p.m., which was a bit late in the day to try to make it to the Ridge and do much of anything.

Instead, we opted to get an early start to the mountains in the morning.  We explored the kids' Discovery Room at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center before heading to town and checking into our motel -- the Port Angeles Inn.  The room was simple and clean, and had a nice view of the lighthouse, which was super interesting to at least one of us.  In search of dinner, we took a terribly cold walk the three blocks to downtown and chose between the few places that were open.  The Crab House it was.  All I can say is they have a tasty hot fudge sundae. 

In the morning, much to Wyatt's delight, we got to make hot waffles in the breakfast room of the motel.  Then we headed into the mountains.  We saw deer and lots of snowy trees and some great views despite the overcast day.  After stuffing Wyatt into his snow suit, we gave our snowshoes a spin and it began to snow on us.  It was Wyatt's first try at using his snowshoes and poles but he got the hang of it pretty quickly.  He answered to Yukon Wyatt most of the way. After about an hour of walking (mostly downhill) we headed back to the lodge.  Wyatt made it all the way albeit with a few rests and some motivational snacking provided along the way. The snowball fights made his day.



By two we had eaten lunch, snooped around the gift shop, and Wy had vetoed the sledding idea.  At his request we headed "straight back to the Port Angeles Inn," and he slept the whole way. Once back to town we managed to hit a great sale at the local Brown's Outdoor clothing shop and find dinner at Bella Italia.  Little did we realize we had chosen at a restaurant made famous by the Twilight books/movies.  The young woman filling our water glasses clued us in.  In any case, the food and wine were outstanding.

After another breakfast of motel waffles, we checked out and headed for home via Port Townsend for some wandering, lunch, and a stop at one of our favorite book shops. We had a really nice time on our adventure.  Nothing fancy or resort-like about this getaway, but it gave us quality time together playing and eating and goofing around.  Just right for the start of a new year.



07 January 2015

Quatre

As has become our custom, we celebrated Wyatt's birthday this week with a small family dinner. Perhaps we are all too exhausted from the December festivities to do more, or just not organized enough to put together "a friends party" as Wyatt calls it.  In any case, we ate Wyatt's requested dinner (haystacks a.k.a. taco salad with fritos) followed by cake (the same one I always make) and ice cream and a few birthday presents.  Grandpa Herman, Aunt Becky and Uncle Darren joined us.  The Corvallis grandparents Face-timed with us before bed.

In truth, we also had a friend over for lunch and play date on his birthday, which totally made his day and wore him out.  Byron also came home a couple hours early on his birthday, and the two of them "watched space movies" at Wyatt's request for an hour or so before dinner. It was a pretty awesome day by Wyatt's standards.

I can hardly belive how fast we have gotten to four.  It seems like only moments ago that he started sleeping through the night and rolling over. 

But now that he's four, he has gotten quite interested in how and when he was born and where he came from. For weeks now, we've been talking about how he grew from an egg to an embryo to a fetus to a baby . . . about the day he was born . . . how he peed on dad during his first diaper change (cue the hysterical laughter).  Periodically, he will quiz me about what he was doing during any given time in my life that I mention.  Our exchanges often goes like this:

Me: "I remember my birthday when I turned four years old.  A girl named Julie and I became friends that day.  And I lived in a log cabin with grandma and grandpa, in the state of North Carolina."

Wy:  "Oh.  When you lived in a log cabin was I born yet?  Or was I still just an egg?"

Me:  "You were just an egg back then."

Wy: "Okay.  When you married my father, was I born yet?  Or was I still just an egg?"

Me:  "No you weren't born yet.  You were still an egg."

Wy:  "Oh. When did you decide to grow me?"

All historical occurrences are now measured by whether Wyatt was born yet or whether he was still just an egg.

And how crazy it is that just five years ago, he was, indeed, still just an egg.  How much life and love -- and, well, pretty much everything from my brain chemistry to my outlook on life has changed.  I knew I would enjoy this parent adventure, but I had no idea how much.

Here we are, four years in.  What an interesting person he is.  These days he is "really, really into space stuff" as he puts it.  He's just discovered Legos, which are pretty fabulous.  He counts everything in French.  He's learned to play games like Go Fish and The Scrambled States of America.  He can navigate utube and Apple TV like a pro (unfortunately).  We "sort, sort, sortie, sort, sort" everything thanks to Peg+Cat.  Salad people are all the rage with him (thank you Mollie Katzen).  He can snowshoe, order his own meal at a restaurant, and cut cucumbers with a serrated knife.  He reads.  He sits in a booster seat in the car now.  He can make phone calls and pour his own milk from the carton (definitely not at the same time, however). And if he holds my phone in the car, he takes great pleasure in announcing what businesses we are passing as he tracks us on Google maps. 

Happy fourth birthday, Wy!


 


29 December 2014

Fresh starts


Today the Olympic Mountains were covered in blankets of fresh snow, and when the sun came up they glowed hot pink.  That was the sight I enjoyed, coffee in hand, from my living room window this morning.  With a cold, clear blue sky in Seattle today, it was impossible to picture the many days of gray and rain that await us this winter (or remember the ones that complicated last week).

It has turned cold tonight.  Got our covers on the spigots outside.  The water fountain is indoors for the season. Nobody runs the trash out to the can without a coat anymore.  It's the time of your when you come in from outside and you suddenly think how fortunate you are to have a warm home and a furnace that works. 

Our household is in "reset" mode after hosting our family Christmas festivities last week.  Byron headed back to the office today.  I'm trying to keep a stuffy nose from turning into something worse (and have acquire a nifty new humidifier to counteract the forced air heat).  Wyatt finally agreed to compost the gingerbread house.  And we actually forgot to turn on the Christmas tree lights for the first time tonight.  Today we planned a short getaway for New Years.  And Wyatt's birthday arrives in eight short days.

In a similar effort to begin the "reset" for our bodies following the delicious Solstice-Christmas Splurges, I cleaned out the fridge, dumped all the remaining candies and sweets into the garbage (in a moment of strength), and Wyatt and I headed to the store to load up on fresh veggies and fruit for eating and juicing.

Tomorrow I think we're going to fortify our holiday wind down with some endorphin-releasing, anxiety-decreasing fennel in our morning juice.  Our annual winter juicing regimen will commence to welcome the cold December sunshine with one of our favorite combinations:

Apple-Fennel-Celery Juice

2 stalks celery
1/2 large fennel bulb (fronds and root removed)
4 medium apples
ice cubes, optional

Using a juicer, juice all ingredients into a container.  Transfer the juice to a blender and blend with a few ice cubes to make it frothy. 

Serves at least two.

21 December 2014

Solstice 2014: Dark


Here it is, the Winter Solstice.  I thought I'd have something terribly insightful to say about it.  Maybe that reflecting and paying attention over the past Seven Days of Solstice has changed me in ways I can't begin to explain . . . but that's not really the case.

It's been a busy week.  Lots of preparations, fun, time with people I adore, eating, laughing, catching up and also creating.  Creating a ginger bread house, a better home office space for myself, and foods to eat and share . . . Thinking and planning or "writing it down in my mind" as Wyatt would say, about what is to come after the holidays are behind us.

I envision more outdoor winter play.  Language classes and ice skating.  Maybe a new women's group to participate in for me.  I remain on the lookout for just the right book.

The Seven Days of Solstice have not transformed me.  But I feel as though I'm beginning a new habit of taking more pauses.  Trying to look around and notice, be still, savor, and make the choice that is rejuvenating rather than depleting.

Perhaps, if you've been reading along, these Days have given you something to think about too.  I hope so.

In this pursuit, it's my view that the process is often improved by munching.  We eat a lot of popped corn in this house -- several times a week, really.  Mostly with salt and brewer's yeast on top.  Sometimes with smoked paprika and sumac.  Other times it's Parmesan and dried herb-garlic rub sprinkled over top -- but I digress. . .

This week I decided to come up with a solstice-version of popcorn -- and here it is.  When made correctly, there should be more dark chocolate showing than white popcorn, making it -- obviously -- Winter Solstice Popcorn.

So . . . Here's to thinking and munching and enjoying the darkness!

Winter Solstice Popcorn

4 cups popped corn
3 Tablespoons dry peanut butter powder (optional)
8-12 ounces melted dark chocolate (or semi-sweet chocolate chips)
flaky sea salt

Pop the corn in an air popper or the microwave -- you want plain popcorn to start with.  While it's warm, lay it out on a parchment-covered tray.
Sprinkle it with the peanut butter powder.
Drizzle generously with melted chocolate so that not much white popcorn is visible (obviously the other side is still white but don't worry about that)
Sprinkle with sea salt.
Let the chocolate set up.
Break apart and enjoy.  Keep it in an airtight container (if you have any left).


Photo:  My first batch of Winter Solstice Popcorn, obviously not made correctly since more light than dark is showing, my kitchen in north Ballard, Seattle, Washington.





20 December 2014

Solstice 2014: Light


I'm grateful to count among my friends so many individuals who make a positive difference in the world every day by the work they do and the people they are.  Tonight I am reminded that there is light in the company of good people -- and I am better for having spent time with a dozen of them. 

We ate more than our fill of deviled eggs, bubbly drinks, fondue made with all the good stuff, and sweet potato pie with bourbon -- we managed to consume a few vegetables and a wonderful salad with apples and pecans as well . . . so perhaps it wasn't total gluttony.  In any case, we celebrated the solstice (a day early) by conjuring some light and laughter with friends (nearly half of whom were age four or younger).

Tomorrow winter arrives.