Life Parenting

Hello, 2017

January 1, 2017

It’s been 17 years since my mom and I stayed up late playing Monopoly around the coffee table, waiting for my dad to come home. My two little siblings were tucked away in their beds, and I was happy to have my busy and very pregnant mom all to myself for awhile.  It was the year everyone in the tech field was anxious about the dreaded Y2K and what it would do to computers, so my dad and a few coworkers had to ring in the new year at work in case it all went to hell in a hand basket. We all know how that went down, nothing crashed, nothing happened. Our country still had many unknown trials to face in the future, but that was not one of them.

Last night, my husband and I spent our first new years eve with little Indy. We went to our favorite Italian place for a very early dinner with friends. My poor baby who is suffering from his first real cold pulled my hair and whined until he fell asleep on me. We got him ready for a bath at home and in the one minute that he was naked between diaper change and bath- he peed down my entire outfit, down to the shoes! After we finally got our poor munchkin to sleep, we watched Grand Tour and I read Dragonfly in Amber- the second book in the Outlander series that Ilana mentioned in her last post. We are both hooked! Despite all of the grand plans we had for the evening- these sleep deprived parents chose to sleep through the new year. Goodbye 2016. You brought us our son- the absolute light of our lives, some of our happiest moments, some terrible losses, and the worst election season that I’ve ever experienced. Last night I was more than ready to put 2016 to bed. I slept soundly through the transition of years right next to my best friend. I wouldn’t change a thing.

I woke up at 12:09 to the sound of Indy crying and got up to help settle him. It was officially a new year. This morning, as I write this, I know that the coming year won’t be easy. I am aware of the fear and suffering in the world, as well as the hurt and the pain that my family deals with as so many of us cope with loss. I have hope though, and that makes all of the difference. I hear my son’s little coos and I am determined to do my part to make this world a better place. I have so much hope for joy in the coming year. Today as we all lay low at home to recover from our colds, I’ll pack away our Christmas decorations and prepare us to settle into our quieter winter rhythms after the holiday rush.  I think I’ll leave out my little advent candles for a little bit longer, though. I’m not ready to put them away. I’ll light my candles as a reminder of the hope, peace, joy, and love that I long for God to bring to this world.

Happy New Year my friends! I hope to write more faithfully this year. I’m thankful to Ilana for keeping this blog going over the last few months as I’ve adjusted to new motherhood. Thank you, as always for reading.

Baking Life

A year that was awful, and a pie that wasn’t

December 29, 2016

The title of this post is perhaps a little misleading in that I don’t actually categorize things by year. New Years Day, to me, is just another day. I don’t make New Years Resolutions. But for argument’s sake, because everyone else is talking about 2016, I’ll refer to it that way.

In a lot of ways, 2016 was really hard, for my family in particular. My maternal grandparents passed away within 6 weeks of each other. We watched them struggle and suffer and ultimately go, and we barely had time to breathe between the two. This kind of loss doesn’t just go away after the funeral. You’re not sad for a few days and then you go back to normal. There’s a mourning period and an adjustment period and then…life. Some days it’s easy. Some days you cry in the supermarket. It’s difficult to accept that this is the “new normal”.

Yes, 2016 had been tough. It’s been an emotional year full of sad firsts.

And yes, I am aware of what is going on in the world. I force myself to read news articles on domestic and international concerns to stay informed. This election was quite ugly, and American politics hasn’t gotten much prettier since November.

If I got all my news from Facebook, first off, I’d probably see lots and lots of fake news…but secondly, I’d be pretty sure that 2016 was the worst year ever because lots of celebrities died. It is sad. Some, even tragic. Certainly many were major losses to the entertainment community and our beloved franchises. But forgive me if, standing where I’m standing, this doesn’t make 2016 any number of expletives or exaggerations I’ve seen it referred to as. I’m not impressed.

Everyone, feel how you feel. Seriously, I’m all about people working through things for themselves and I hate when something is used as a stand in to try to invalidate people’s feelings or concerns (ex: just because something is a “first world problem” doesn’t mean it isn’t profoundly affecting your life right now). But as far as 2016 being THE. WORST. YEAR. EVER. Unimpressed.

I’m big on perspective. 2016 hit my family hard. However…

  1. Little Miss is doing well, her speech is progressing appropriately and it’s becoming more and more clear how very clever she is
  2. My nephew, adorable little Indy was born
  3. My brother got engaged to my high school bestie
  4. My mother and I both got involved in an interesting business and are doing well and enjoying the products
  5. My own little business, Seashore Design Studio, has come together nicely and my sales have been the highest ever (out of 10 years on Etsy with various shops), and I now have an amazing group of “fans” who support and encourage me
  6. My husband remains gainfully employed, with good health insurance
  7. We are all, for the most part, healthy
  8. I discovered the Outlander book series
  9. I got over my fear of my canning kettle and learned to make and can jams
  10. I learned to make red beans and rice and arroz con gandules (it was a good year for rice and beans around here, I guess)
  11. I’ve been able to do more charitable giving than ever before, thanks to my little business
  12. I have continued to learn, research and grow as a person

I have good days, and I have bad days; the kind where everything reminds me of people I’ve lost or I can’t stop thinking about the atrocities happening around the world. But also this year I’ve learned that dwelling will accomplish nothing, but action will. Donating, learning, educating, can make a difference. Giving back in ways big or small make a difference.

Be kind, be generous, make someone smile.

Speaking of smiles, you know what makes me smile? Chocolate. So I’m going to finish this post out with a little story about a pie I made yesterday, as well as the recipe.


Vegan Chocolate Pie

This recipe was based on the Chocolate Raspberry Coconut Almond Tart by BlahnikBaker (link to original HERE).

I had pinned this recipe on Pinterest, into my “Naturally Gluten and Dairy Free” board. Today is my husband’s birthday – we had originally planned to see my parents last night, and his family tonight; due to a bunch of people being sick, that changed. But I was thinking I needed to make a birthday cake 2 days in a row, and no way was I making the same kind of cake for both! So, I thought, I need gluten free and dairy free. I headed to Pinterest and found this recipe, and sure enough, I had everything I needed in the house.

My version is slightly different from the original, but all credit really goes to the original recipe. I wish I had thought of vegan ganache! It’s lovely. My version is a pie instead of a tart, and I changed the proportions a little out of necessity. But still. The crust is tasty with great texture, and the center is dense and chocolaty and sweet, nearly fudgy and delightfully smooth. And vegan and gluten free, which perfectly avoided the allergens I needed to steer clear of. I topped it with candied sunflower seeds and served it with strawberries and blueberries to break up all the chocolate.

Now I do need to note…I didn’t know chocolate pie was a thing before I read The Help. And that’s a real shame, because chocolate pie is amazing. Really, what a great idea. But now, I can’t make it, or even really thinking about it, without thinking about The Help. It was hard not to make any off color jokes last night.

But anyway!

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 table spoons agave syrup (you can use maple syrup as well)

Filling

  • 1 cup coconut cream (canned or bottled)
  • 6-8oz semisweet chocolate chips (I had half a bag of mini chips, make sure they’re non-dairy if that matters to you)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3-4 teaspoons cocoa powder

Directions:

  1. Start with the crust. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix coconut flakes, almond meal, coconut flour (I assume another flour, gluten free or regular would act roughly the same) and salt in a bowl. Melt coconut oil and agave syrup then stir together with the other ingredients and mix well. Pat into the bottom of a pie plate (I used a glass Pyrex one) firmly, making sure the crust covers the bottom and goes slightly up the sides. Bake for 10-12 minutes until a little golden around the edges. Allow to cool somewhat.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat your coconut cream until it bubbles gently. Turn off the heat and add the cocoa and chocolate chips. Let sit a moment, then add vanilla and stir until smooth and even in color. Pour your awesome vegan ganache into the waiting shell, then pop it into the fridge for at least 2 hours to set.
  3. Keep cool until serving. Top with seeds, nuts, coconut flakes, some coarse sea salt or fruit (or serve the fruit alongside it, to keep extra moisture off the cake).

And that’s that! While the recipe originally seemed rather involved, it was actually fairly simple and quick.

So here’s to beautiful desserts, love and light and peace and giving, and a 2017 that doesn’t make people quite so miserable.

Life

I should be cleaning

December 15, 2016

I am hosting a party this weekend, a holiday get together for my husband’s friends from work. I believe all told, we’ll have 12 adults and 4 children in the house. I had planned to clean and prepare all week. The week had other plans.

Instead of writing right now, I should be cleaning.

An hour ago, when Little Miss and I were mixing cookie dough to make a surprise for a friend’s birthday, I should have been cleaning.

Yesterday, the day after I said I was no longer accepting orders for holiday delivery, when I stood at the workbench for 3 hours to finish orders for existing customers and excited new customers, I should have been cleaning.

When I sat on the floor and pretended to eat plastic pizza with my daughter, I should have been cleaning.

But I wasn’t cleaning. And despite everything, I think that’s actually okay.

To rewind a bit, one of the things I was most excited about when we bought our house was the ability to entertain. With a smallish kitchen and moderate sized living room, I’m still not able to host holidays and even family dinners with everyone are a stretch. But I appreciate being able to have people over for casual get togethers, pretty much whenever I want to.

Now I’m not going to lie here, I’m somewhat neurotic about cleaning. Things my poor husband has had to endure include:

  • “We need to clean the bathroom, it looks like someone groomed a long haired chihuahua in there!”
  • “Who decided black furniture was a good idea? I dusted yesterday and you know what I see today? Dust.”
  • “The kitchen floor has sticky spots, do you want the baby to get trapped like a rat?”
  • “Where is my stuff? You moved my pile! I knew what was in that pile!”

It’s not that everything has to be shiny and perfect, it just needs to be…as close as I can get it. I mean, don’t look at my windows because I’ve not cleaned them once in the 2 years we’ve been living here. But I want at least the public rooms of the house dusted, swept, vacuumed and CLEAN.

Typically. Typically I make myself crazy, running around for days before the company is due to make sure everything is neat and clean. I re-organize. I clean the kitchen, only to cook a full meal and make it a mess again.

I think I’ve come to a turning point.

No, I will not have company over with a dirty house. I’ll make sure the bathroom is clean and the tables are spotless and the floor has been swept. But the need to have everything perfect? Done.

Because you know what, I’m busy. I’m running a business from home. I’m raising a very sweet, very smart, suddenly very chatty little girl. I’m finishing my holiday shopping and getting the holiday cards in the mail. I’m grocery shopping and making sure my family has a healthy home cooked meal nearly every night of the week. And right now, I’m doing it with a not-serious-but-very-annoying back injury too.

I’m not commuting to work and working for someone else. I’m not making the big bucks. But I’m doing fairly important and good work nonetheless. I’m raising a really good little person. I’m running a business that is making people happy (and this holiday season, I diverted a percentage of sales and was able to donate a total of $355 to 4 different charities).

So the counters will be cleaned, but the cabinet doors can stay as they are. The wood floors will be vacuumed, but not polished. The bathroom will be cleaned and the towels washed, but do me a favor and don’t look too closely at the bathtub. Because you know what? This doesn’t matter.

It’s not about the sparkle. And who did I think was visiting anyway, who would criticize the books on my end table or dust I may have missed on a windowsill or chair back? Really?

I’m tired of running around doing busy work to satisfy some bizarre notion in my own head. I’m tired of focusing on things that don’t matter, and I’m tired of apologizing. How many times have I had a surprise visitor and said “I didn’t get to clean, don’t look at anything too hard,” with a self deprecating smile?

Be my guest. Any day of the week. With advanced notice, you bet I’ll be tidying up. But scheduling a week of my life to dedicate to cleaning for a party? So long to that notion, consider this your Dear John (Dear Broom?) letter because I am out. Take me and my house as we are. Instead of focusing on cleaning, I’m focusing on the things that matter.

Right now? I actually should be cleaning. I have a little more tidying to do, aside from the last minute set up. Then there’s the shopping. Then there’s the cooking! And really, cooking is more fun than cleaning anyway. Then hopefully, we’ll have a successful get together Saturday night, after which I’ll need to spend 2 days cleaning up again anyway.

And that’s that. Where do you stand on the cleaning issue?

Life

It’s the most wonderful time…

December 8, 2016

Oh hi. You’re still here? If I’m not mistaken, I haven’t written a word in just a bit over a month. Life has been…busy.

Truth be told, the end of this year has flown by. I went to Lake George with my family in August and in a lot of ways, it feels like it was yesterday. September was still right after the trip. October flew by, marked only by my brother’s engagement party and my birthday. Halloween was quiet and then November rolled in. There was Election Day and then suddenly it was Thanksgiving. And now we’re full on in the holiday season. I have my Christmas cards, waiting for addresses and stamps, and I’m trying to finish my shopping as quickly as I can so as not to wind up doing it last minute. I know everyone feels this way, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

And you know what they say, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

I actually tend to have a difficult time with the holidays, and this year will be no exception. It’s the first year we’re celebrating without both of my grandparents, which has been an adjustment unto itself. I think a part of my detachment this year has been due to this. I’ve managed to stay fairly even keel most of the time, and make it through all of the events and holidays thus far. But then sometimes reality hits me and I choke back tears in the supermarket. You know how it is.

This year I’m making an active effort to not slip into grinch-hood. Little Miss is almost 2.5 years old, and extremely aware of everything going on around her. She is thrilled with all the holiday lights outside and had fun helping me set up our little tree. Last night I showed her how to spin a dreidel, though her spin looks a lot more like chucking it at the table and laughing. I’m not big into Santa Claus, and really don’t know how much she would even understand, but I am trying to introduce other traditions for both holidays we celebrate as a family, and allow her to get involved.

Today we will do the first of the holiday baking, for an event this weekend. I’m sure she will help; she loves mixing and pouring and helping me measure. It gets messy, but it’s fun. I imagine that in the coming weeks as I make the biscotti and Italian fig cookies, she’ll be helping me as well.

One of the things that has helped me get “into the spirit” this year is actually my business. Through Seashore Design Studio I offer handmade fine and sterling silver jewelry that is strong, and flexible in style. Recent promotions have allowed me to ship dozens of items along with free gifts and extra goodies to friends and customers, as well as collect from these sales for charitable giving. The feeling of being able to give back and make a difference has gone a long way towards keeping me engaged, especially following this year’s political season.

I’ve also been doing a lot of my holiday shopping on Etsy. So far 99% of my shopping has been done from independent artists, with that last 1% from small companies or companies I love. I know how excited I get what I see a new order come in, and I want to be able to do that for other people. Plus there are some absolutely fantastic, unique gifts to be had when you buy from people instead of corporations.

I apologize for this blog being quiet for a while. The time has flown by so fast, and there’s been so much to do that there just never seems to be time to document something to share. I hope you’re well; stay warm (I’m already always cold and it’s not even real winter yet).

Baking

Autumn kitchen sink muffins recipe – gluten and dairy free!

November 1, 2016

So I had a big day Sunday. I peeled almost 30 apples, made 9 jars of quite yummy applesauce (plus some in the freezer), and managed to burn myself pretty nicely. Hey, you win some, you lose some, but the burn is another story.

So before that happened, I’m in my kitchen, big pot of apples cooking on one burner, huge canning kettle coming up to temperature on the other. Little Miss and her daddy are relaxing in the living room, and I think hmm, since I need to be in the kitchen anyway, let me use this time.

Rewinding for a moment, last weekend we visited my brother and sister-in-law upstate and we made a visit to the rather windy, but always lovely Schenectady Farmers Market. I’m kind of kicking myself for not buying more Pucker’s Gourmet pickles, but again, that’s another story.

So we stop to buy some bread and I nudge my husband and nod towards what is labeled as a “carrot apple oatmeal raisin” muffin. Another couple of nudges got me one, and we decided to share it the next morning. It was fluffy and beautiful, and quite yummy; not a combination I would have necessarily thought of. So for the past week I’ve had this flavor combination kicking around in my head.

Fast forward again to Sunday. In between stirring the apples, I shredded some carrots and diced an apple real small and well…threw things together. I made up the recipe off the top of my head based on what I know of baking (and had the forethought to write down what went into the bowl for in case they came good). And come good they did.

My muffins don’t have the beautiful golden domed top of the one we bought at the farmer’s market. But you know what they don’t have either? Gluten and dairy. The ingredients are actually quite simple, and the outcome was moist, yummy, just sweet enough muffins that peeled cleanly out of their wrappers.

muffins3I’m calling these Autumn Kitchen Sink Muffins. Are you familiar with the “kitchen sink” concept? That’s when everything goes in but the kitchen sink (my soups tend to be kitchen sink soups too). I could call these Gluten Free, Dairy Free Apple Carrot Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Raisin muffins, I suppose, but that seems like a mouthful.

The recipe is incredibly straightforward, but there is one point I will clarify. I happen to have recently bought oat bran, which is what I used here, but in the past I have simply thrown organic rolled oats into the food processor to grind them into oat bran. Because this recipe doesn’t rely on gluten free flour, you don’t get that odd taste and texture that it often gives baked goods. As you’ll see when you’re mixing, the ingredients distribute nice and evenly so each bite is consistent; you don’t get doughy bits and them random mouthfuls of just the mix ins.

Feel free to leave out the chocolate chips or raisins, or substitute in craisins or other dried fruit. A handful of rolled oats would add some extra chew.

Okay, enough talk. You got all the big points. They’re gluten free. They’re dairy free. They’re easy. And they make a very serviceable dessert or breakfast, because most of the sweetness is natural.

Autumn Kitchen Sink Muffin Recipe (gluten free and dairy free)

Ingredients:

  • 2 carrots, shredded and peeled
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1/4 cup baking oil (I used avocado, because it’s what I had handy)
  • 2 eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • Healthy sprinkle of cinnamon
  • Generous handful each of raisins and chocolate chips
  • Sprinkle of ground chia/flax seeds and hemp seeds (totally optional, but I threw them in)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grab a muffin tin and some liners.
  2. Peel and shred two medium carrots (I used a box grater), then peel, core and dice a medium sized apple into very small pieces, set in a bowl.
  3. Add sugar, baking powder, oat flour, salt, cinnamon and the ground seeds, if you’re using them. Mix it up so everything is evenly distributed.
  4. Add oil and stir in, followed by 2 eggs. Drop your mix ins on top (raisins and chocolate chips in this case) and stir until the mixture looks even.
  5. Spoon into waiting muffin liners, filling half to 3/4 of the way. These will puff up somewhat, but should not puff enough to overflow.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center of one comes up clean. Allow to cool slightly before removing to a wire rack, or to enjoy warm.

This recipe made 9 muffins, and any leftovers will last several days in the refrigerator.

Baking

Birthday cakes, minus

October 28, 2016

I say “I need to bake” fairly often. And 9 times out of 10, it’s not normal baking.

Normal implies following recipes and baking what most of the population eats. Wheat, dairy, full sugar, all of that. I nearly always bake non-dairy, using either coconut oil or vegan butter in place of real butter, and often enough it needs to be gluten free also. And sometimes I mess with sugar too, either reducing the amount or substituting in some maple syrup.

This fall I had two birthday cakes to make, one for my dad, and one for well, me. Yes, I made my own birthday cake; it made sense and I like baking.

I used existing recipes with only moderate alterations, and the results were pretty nice, which is why I’m sharing. I’ve made plenty of gluten free, dairy free cakes from existing recipes that sort of felt like you were eating sand. The texture was wrong, the taste was off…there are a lot of ways a well meaning cake can go pear shape.

But these were good. Really, quite good. So I decided, even though it’s been a while since I made these, that I’d share these recipes with you for just in case you find yourself in need of a gluten free or dairy free cake. I’ve already done the test run for you!

Gluten free, dairy free birthday cake

cake1For my dad’s birthday, I wanted to do something to his taste. He’s not a fan of very sweet desserts, so I wanted something with enough natural flavor that the recipe wasn’t relying on sweetness to carry it. I found the Light & Fluffy Gluten-Free Lemon Layer Cake from Gluten Free Gigi (click the title to link to the recipe), and decided to use that as the base. After years of thinking otherwise, I’ve found that I rather like lemon and as I suspected, the lemon helped cover the flavor of the gluten free flour.

This recipe does call for 1/2 cup of milk, but the author herself used non-dairy milk instead, so it was very simple to just substitute in the cashew milk I had in the house.

I had a minor mishap in that I planned to top this cake with coconut whipped cream, but my coconut cream wasn’t cold enough and wouldn’t whip; I made emergency vegan buttercream using Earth Balance vegan butter sticks instead. The two layers of gluten free, dairy free lemon cake housed an interior layer of homemade strawberry jam I made back in June, then I piped the vegan buttercream on top and pressed sliced strawberries and blueberries into the top.

The two layers were on the flat side, but that worked out just fine for me. I hate needing to trim cakes to layer them.

The result? The cake had a nice taste and texture, and the lemon rounded it out and covered the taste of the flour a bit. The jam added a nice kick of sweetness, and the fresh fruit on top brought it all together. All things considered, I’d call this a success.

Vegan chocolate birthday cake

cake2For my birthday, I chose what else? Chocolate. I didn’t need to go gluten free this time, but I still needed to avoid dairy. I chose The Ultimate Vegan Chocolate Cake from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken (again, click the title to link to the recipe). The recipe was easy to follow and overall, pretty simple. I did use slightly less sugar than the recipe called for, and didn’t miss the missing 1/4 cup or so. I will admit, adding apple cider vinegar threw me a little because I hate the smell of apple cider vinegar, but it worked.

I did not make the frosting according to this recipe, but instead made coconut whipped cream (you can easily find recipes, basically you throw cold coconut cream in the KitchenAid with powdered sugar and let it get fluffy) which I mounded onto the layers, then sprinkled the top with  chocolate chips. Because why not.

The two layers fluffed up beautifully, taller than the lemon cake came. In my past experience, vegan cakes tend to come very flat, but not this one. The layers were beautiful, and I piled them up with homemade peach jam from this summer generously slathered between. Then topped it with that coconut whip I mentioned.

This cake came really nice. It wasn’t the overwhelming chocolatey-ness of a german chocolate cake (which has melted chocolate in the batter) or a flourless chocolate cake (which is practically all cocoa powder and sugar), but compared to the vast majority of chocolate cakes that just sort of taste brown, this was a real winner. I am extraordinarily picky about chocolate cakes; they’ll be gorgeous and gooey looking and then just taste brown. They betray me.

This was not a betrayal. This was a very pleasant success.

So! Test runs complete. If you find yourself in need of a recipe for a gluten free and dairy free cake, check out the Gluten Free Gigi lemon cake recipe, and if dairy free or vegan is your intention, visit It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken for the chocolate cake recipe.

Cooking

A souper idea

October 12, 2016

lilysoupWe have a problem in my house. My toddler is addicted to soup.

I’m not even kidding. She’s asking for it at every meal, and since she knows I have some in the refrigerator, she keeps opening the fridge and demanding it. This kid’s enthusiasm for soup is both hilarious and unnerving.

Not that I can blame her, really. I love soup, and I love making soup. My husband is of the opinion that soup is not a meal and I humor him, most of the time, by serving it as a starter or accompaniment. But to be entirely honest, a hearty chicken soup is as much a meal as anything else, in my opinion.

Let’s go back to the beginning here, do you make soup? From scratch, I mean, no packets, bouillons or mixes needed. If your answer is no, it’s time to try. It’s so simple, I am absolutely telling you, if you can cook at all, you can make soup.

You don’t even need a recipe. Guidelines are all you need, and before you know it you’ll be throwing things in the pot and seasoning like a pro, whipping up pots of fragrant, amazing soup, and just in time for the cool weather rolling in.

Starting in the fall, I make a big pot of vegetable soup nearly every week, and Little Miss and I eat it throughout the week for lunches. In the past I would fish out the veggies for her but now, she wants her own bowl with the full experience in it for her. She eats the veggies, then points to the broth and says “soup!” before either asking for help with her spoon or feeding herself (really, rather neatly for a two year old).

Now, why is soup awesome?

  • It’s warm and hearty, and you can make it with nearly anything.
  • It lasts several days in the refrigerator, and the flavors combine even better after sitting for a day or two.
  • You can freeze leftovers in plastic freezer bags for easy defrosting at a later date.
  • It’s wonderfully nutritious, with all the amazing nutrients from the veggies seeping into that yummy broth.

If you’re one of those people who fish out the chunks and leave the broth, I’m not going to go so far as to call you a heathen, but I’m going to imply it. Strongly. Ahem. I don’t mean restaurant or supermarket soup, I mean homemade soup. As mentioned in my list above, all the nutrients that cook out of the ingredients go into the broth, and if the soup is done well, it should be absolutely delicious! There is no real skill necessary to make chunks of chicken or veggies taste like what they are. The broth however, is an art, and art should be appreciated.

Are you ready for the guidelines, or should I keep pontificating? Nah, you’re ready for the guidelines.

Guidelines for the easiest soup ever, which you can and should modify to make all sorts of amazing soups:

Chicken: Chicken soup is the base for matzoh ball soup, and matzoh ball soup is amazing. I do generally use matzoh ball mix (the matzoh ball mix, not soup mix) for convenience, but the soup is all from scratch. Adjust your amounts to what you need and your seasoning to taste.

soupveggiesFirst you take a pot. Add a little olive oil and let it heat up, then sear some skinless chicken thighs on both sides and set them aside. In your hot pot, saute 1-2 diced onions, then add some chopped carrot and celery and a parsnip if you wish (they cook down softer than carrots and add a sweet, earthy flavor). Give it a few minutes so your veggies get a little color. At this point I like to do some basic seasoning with salt and pepper to mix into my veggies, then I add my water. How much depends on how much soup you want; eyeball it, you know what soup looks like. I don’t think I make pots with less than 8 cups of water, honestly. Now I crank up the heat until the water starts to boil and add some seasonings; fresh or dried parsley, dried dill, and maybe a little garlic powder. Once the water is boiling I carefully drop the chicken thighs in, cover the pot, reduce the heat and let it simmer for an hour or two or three. Honestly, the order in which you do these things doesn’t terribly matter as long as it all goes in the pot, but I do recommend the searing and sauteing for extra flavor.

Give it an hour or so for your chicken to cook, then taste your broth. The chicken fat will have added color and flavor, and the chicken should be falling apart, so fish it out, shred it and toss it back in. Does your broth need more salt? A little more herbs? Add as needed, and simmer as long as you have patience. If you make your soup the day before you need it, the time in the fridge will allow the flavors to marry beautifully, and once cold, you can skin off extra chicken fat before warming and serving (you’ll see it, a thick yellow coating on the surface).

Congrats, you made chicken soup. If you want matzoh balls, follow the directions on the packet.

Vegetable: I’m going to surprise you here by telling you the method is nearly the same as above, except without chicken. My standard weekly cold weather soup is just a veggie soup. I saute onion and garlic with whatever veggies I have on hand – this week was a handful of chopped string beans, some broccoli, carrots, celery, cabbage and tomato. I’m big on tomato to flavor the broth in my veggie soup. I also added a handful of red lentils which cook down into nothing, adding a little body to the broth and a little protein too.

So. Olive oil! Chopped veggies! Water! Salt, pepper, garlic powder, dill, parsley, in, in, in! And just let it simmer. And simmer. Taste it and adjust your seasonings. Add chicken, or boil pasta or rice to throw in. Throw some grilled shrimp or parmesan cheese in. The possibilities are endless, and think about how many veggies you get into one dish!

And that’s it. Ilana’s first treatise on the wonders of soup is complete. If you’re a soup beginning, grab a pot and go! If you’re a seasoned (pun intended) soup maker, I’d love to know your favorite recipes!

Uncategorized

Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes and Comfort Food

October 5, 2016

Whenever we buy bananas at our house, I may as well assume that we will have two or three leftover in the fruit bowl- squishy and overly ripe. It happens every time. They are perfect for banana bread, but I’ve played this game too many times recently…and impossible though it may seem, I am tired of banana bread. Banana bread and I are on a break, although I was feeling guilty and wasteful for potentially throwing away food. However, I remembered the delicious banana and strawberry pancakes that our friends made us when Indy was born. They were healthy and rather filling, not like fluffy buttermilk pancakes (which are obviously very good in their own right). I remember being very full after eating only one. Our friends also pre-wrapped and froze them for us, so that we could defrost one whenever we needed a convenient breakfast.

With all of this in mind, I hunted down a recipe that I thought seemed similar. I found this one on pinterest and adjusted it slightly to make more, and I added a little olive oil and substituted milk for an almond/coconut blend. The recipe came out great, and its simplicity ensures that you probably have most of these ingredients in your home right now. I hope you try it the next time you are making a lazy Saturday breakfast or on a Sunday night for make ahead breakfasts during the week. These pancakes are indeed the ultimate filling and comforting breakfast to eat on a chilly morning!

Speaking of comfort food, what have you been cooking recently? My husband and I have been cooking at home a lot more often recently, and it has been so nice. We’ve definitely fallen into the habit of eating around the coffee table in a hurry, so its nice to slow down and set the table and just sit, eat and talk. Two of our favorite meals have been The Pioneer Woman’s BBQ Meatballs (very kitschy and not for the food snob- I am warning you!) with mashed potatoes and crockpot chicken and biscuits (made with a roux, not with cream of chicken soup). I used the crockpot for the chicken and veggies, and made the roux on the stove with the chicken and veggie broth from the crockpot. I recommend making homemade biscuits, or using bisquick. When I decided to really cheat and use a can of biscuits, the bottoms got soggy and never cooked properly.  The next comfort foods that I am craving are vegetarian chili and butternut squash soup with garlic bread.

Although this season of life has been busy, it has also been wonderful. Our boy is growing quickly and developing a sweet and social little personality. Sadly his really good newborn sleep habits have regressed, so we are doing some gentle sleep training. It’s more of a fuss though and learn to connect those sleep cycles than a cry it out situation. The weather has been really cool and pleasant, and there have been fun things going on around town despite the fact that summer is officially over. We are relishing our last few outdoor Green Markets, and I recently took home a big grocery bag of books from the library book sale for $2! I am currently reading Nora Ephron’s first novel Heartburn when the little man lets me have some down time.  So far, I am finding that it is darkly funny and lends itself to being picked up for only a few minutes at a time, which is usually all I get. As for television, Outlander has been very good, and I’ve been indulging in my guilty pleasure Married at First Sight. It’s seriously addicting, and before you judge…two couples from season one are still happily married. Has anyone started watching This Is Us? Mandy Moore and Jess from Gilmore Girls are in it. I’ve cried during both episodes. Ugly crying, and this show has lots of twists.

Anyway, we are looking forward to doing some apple picking this weekend! I have applesauce to can before Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving! Anyone doing any canning this fall? img_3944  img_3916

Cooking Gardening Life

It’s not easy being green

September 30, 2016

I have a lot in common with Kermit the Frog. I’ve been known to flail my arms in the air like boneless wet noodles when I’m excited, and I use the phrase “it’s not easy being green” fairly often. Usually it’s in self deprecation, when my husband has responded to something I’ve told him and I just sigh and tell him, “what can I say, it’s not easy being green.”

This post however, isn’t actually about Kermit the Frog, or my pithy comments, but actual real green stuff.

Namely avocados, olives, basil and figs.

I’ve been stuck on both lately. Avocados in New York are not at their best prices of the year, but I’ve been buying them anyway. I recently did my now traditional annual olive curing. And basil, well, it’s coming to that time where my summer garden is nearing the end of it’s natural life and I’m trying to harvest what I can to keep.

First, avocados

avocadoI love avocados. We make guacamole, avocado toast with runny eggs on top, and avocado salsa. I’ve even made lemony avocado pasta sauce. It’s slightly odd, but surprisingly good.

You know what else is awesome? Tacos. I just want to be sure, do we all realize how easy tacos are to make? Grill meat or shrimp, or fry fish (or often in my case, cook some beans), warm up some corn or flour tortillas, and put the filling on the tortilla. You can add shredded lettuce or cabbage, salsa, diced tomatoes, etc. It’s really so simple, and it’s so easy to take it from a boring little roll up to outstanding. Dicing up a mango and dropping a spoonful on top of grilled shrimp adds an awesome tropical flavor. Or, my personal favorite, the 5 minute avocado salsa.

Ready? Dice a tomato or two. Cut an avocado in half and draw the knife lengthwise then widthwise and use a spoon to scoop out neat little chunks. Toss your avocado with the tomato, plus a little lime juice, salt, pepper, dried cilantro if you have and onion powder (or use fresh diced onion, I just can’t eat raw onions so I opt for powder). The acidity of the tomato, tang of the lime juice and creaminess of the avocado really amplifies and compliments the rest of your ingredients.

Second, olives

olives2 weekends ago I cured 16 pounds of olives with the help of my sister in law and my future sister in law. While Little Miss napped, we took all sorts of aggression out on these olives, crushing and cracking them before putting them in their jars. We used my grandfather’s method (which can be found here) and successfully filled 13 jars with only a minimal amount of difficulty. To fully cure, they need to sit 40 days, so I am (im)patiently awaiting the end of that period.

Last year, my grandfather taught me how to cure olives. He passed in March of this year, and the months since have been filled with those odd moments where I almost forget he is gone, or I do things that in the past I may have done with him or asked him about, or things I learned from him. I was afraid that olive curing would make me an emotional mess, but my sisters in law were an extraordinary team that kept me on task. Nonetheless, I’m extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to learn from grandpa last year.

Third, basil

basilBasil! I’m half Italian, so an affinity for basil is in my blood. I planted several rows of basil in my garden this year and then grew into bushy, unruly bundles of leaves which I’ve been selectively picking from for cooking for months. But, it’s the end of September and everything left in the garden will be dying off soon.

If you’re in the same boat, here’s my tip – I pick the basil leaves, wash them and let them dry, then lay them into a freezer bag and freeze them so even in the dead of winter, I can crumble off some fresh basil. Once it’s in the pot with whatever I’m cooking, you’d never know it was frozen.

Yes, there’s always dried basil, which I have and use…but it’s not the same. You know it’s not the same.

Fourth, figs

figsThis is simple excitement. It’s fig season! My two fig trees are producing slowly but steadily, with me picking a couple of figs each day.

I’m not going to lie, the fig trees were not the selling point on this house, but they certainly didn’t hurt. Between the fig trees, the screen porch, and the italian neighbors who talk loudly in their yard (stop laughing, I seriously find it comforting even though I have no idea what they’re saying), it just felt right.

And as it turns out, Little Miss is a fan of figs and has threatened the entire crop with her enthusiasm.

So that’s my green round up for right now. We’re heading into the season of reds, yellows and oranges, so I guess it’s good that I get all this green out of my system now. What’s been keeping you busy lately?

Baking

Farmhouse Rules, Biscuits and Vegan Butter

September 14, 2016

Vegan butter. Oxymoronic, right? Butter is made from milk, and milk comes from an animal, so….

I know, not everyone is as used to the concept of “vegan dairy products” as we are around here. Vegan butter is made from various oils but gives the approximate taste and feel of real butter; it comes in tubs to spread and also comes in sticks for baking and cooking.

Back in early September, I ended up with a box of Earth Balance vegan butter sticks. Prepping for my dad’s gluten free, dairy free birthday cake, I grabbed the box in the supermarket, forgetting I didn’t actually need it for the recipe I had chosen. It was a lucky mistake though; when my coconut whipped cream refused to whip because it was too warm, I was able to just mix up a quick batch of vegan buttercream to top the cake with. Of course, this didn’t use up the whole box, so I had extra for my next little project.

Fast forward to this past Friday. I’m trying to tidy up the house, fold laundry, finish up some work and pack for a weekend upstate. But Little Miss is crabby, and asking to watch her show. I turn the television on planning to put on a 20 minute Netflix kids show for her while I shower. The cable box had been left on, and the channel left on the Food Network. As the TV blinks to life, I see the sign for Fix Brothers orchards in good old Columbia County, New York.

Hang on, what?

Long story short, a rerun of Farmhouse Rules was on. The show is your typical cooking show, starring Nancy Fuller – mom, grandmother and traditional cook – set in Columbia County, where she lives. I realize that to most people, this is quaint yet meaningless. For me however, seeing Nancy visit places I’ve been going to my entire life is fairly exciting!

With half an eye on the television and half an eye on my cell phone, I quickly looked up the show and the recipe for the lemon and sugar mini biscuits that were being made on the show…because with so much to do, why wouldn’t I add baking into the mix?

I’m going to link you straight over to the recipe, right HERE.

biscuitsIt’s a pretty quick and easy recipe. I mixed everything, zested the lemons and had the dough in the fridge to chill pretty quickly, and that’s with a two year old dancing around my feet. Once it had a little time to chill, I rolled it out and cut it with a 1.5″ circle cookie cutter while my little assistant looked on. I rolled them a touch thinner than they should have been, but they puffed up nicely in the oven, even with my alteration.

What was my alteration? Vegan butter, of course. In place of butter and buttermilk, I used the Earth Balance vegan butter and cashew milk and I still wound up with relatively moist, fluffy little biscuits. The egg wash across the top gave it some nice color, though you can easily forgo the egg wash to make it fully vegan and not just non dairy. These biscuits are not very sweet, but were absolutely perfect with a little butter or jam on top.

This post is rambling. I’m sorry. But seriously, if you’re a biscuit person, this simple recipe is well worth trying in it’s original format or non dairy.