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This ain’t yo’ mama’s banana bread!

This ain’t yo’ mama’s banana bread…

It’s mine.

Every Christmas Eve my mom would make fresh loaves of banana bread that we would dig into bright and early on Christmas morning.  But it wasn’t just any banana bread.  This bread had cherries, chocolate chips, and walnuts.  She called it “Banana-Nut-Chocolate Chip-Cherry-Bread”.  It was warm, sweet, a little gooey, a little nutty- just the right way to open your eyes on Christmas morning.  Or, really, any chilly morning that you don’t want to get out of bed.

Her recipe is pretty simple:

1 basic banana bread recipe (I like “Joy of Cooking”)

jar of maraschino cherries, chopped

1 C. walnuts

1 C. chocolate chips (though I’ve been known to add way more)

Mix all of the above ingredients and bake at the temperature stated on your basic banana bread recipe.  Serve warm.  Or cooled.  That is, if you can wait!

What does home mean to you?

I have a home with my husband, cats, and dog.  I have a home under the redwoods.  I have a home that smells of pie and coffee this morning.  This is my home.  But it is not my only one.  I am certainly not wealthy enough to own more than one home, but I belong to more than one home.  I belong to my grandparents’ home.  The home where I could always get really good hugs.  The home with the swing set and back porch that was always cool even on the most humid of Wisconsin days.  I belong there, too.  I belong to my mother’s home.  The home that I never grew up in, but wish I had.  The home where my mother and I have had some of the most touching moments of my life.  The home where we have baked and sewn and felted together as adults.  As friends.  The home where I realized my mother is not just a wonderful mother but a beautiful human being and friend.

Home is so much more than where you live.  At this time of year, I always feel my heart-strings pulling into these three directions so hard that it feels as though my heart will burst through my chest and each little piece will fly away…

This is what home means to me.

What does home mean to you?

Thanksgiving Mini-Feast

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving.  You’re supposed to go out and buy a whole ton of stuff while elbowing out crowds of tired, bloated people who are looking for deals on sweaters and toys.  Children screaming.  Old ladies with too much perfume on.  Teenagers bumping into you because they’re texting while walking (tww?).  Umm… I’ll pass on all of that, thanks.  This Friday we’re actually celebrating Thanksgiving because of scheduling issues and tomorrow (Thursday) we are going to have a day of fun.  This includes yoga, surfing, and the requisite football watching (go Packers!).  I am not a Thanksgiving Grinch, though, and will still be making a delicious Thanksgiving-inspired dinner.  A Thanksgiving Mini-Feast, if you will.  I’m keeping it relatively small and healthy because it is just my husband and me.  We’ll be having pumpkin-apple sausages, garlic sautéed green beans, orange-cranberry sauce infused with ginger, and rosemary and garlic roasted root vegetables.

Many people shy away from root vegetables.  They’re a little weird-looking with all of their knots and bumps and sometimes stringy parts.  They also can have really mild flavors (potato) or really intense flavors (rutabega), which confuses people on how to cook with them.  As with most vegetables, though, if you use enough garlic and high stove or oven temperatures, you will get something comforting to eat.  Plus, your house will smell like you worked for hours on those vegetables.

Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Root Vegetables are a kitchen-sink deal; I usually use whatever I have on hand.  This is a healthy recipe that is suitable for everyone, from meat-lovers to vegans.  It’s also delicious hot, cold, or mixed with other ingredients (roasted vegetable pasta is a good one). Here’s my go-to recipe.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Rosemary and Garlic

About 4 cups of potatoes, zucchini, carrots, beets, bell pepper, onion, or whatever else seems like a good veggie to throw in the oven.  No exact measuring required.  All vegetables do not have to technically be root vegetables.

A “glug” of EVOO

2 T. rosemary

1-2 T. minced garlic, to taste

salt and pepper, to taste

Chop all vegetables into approximately 1″ pieces.  Place in a bowl and pour the “glug” of EVOO, minced garlic, and salt and pepper on top.  Toss to coat.  Put into a preheated 375 degree oven.  Roast for about 45 minutes, or until the veggies are lightly browned and tender when poked with a fork.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What’s that on your face?

There have been numerous studies stating the amazing healing powers of daily meditation.  I, for one, love meditation.  I love it and never want to give it up.  It’s the sweatiest moment of my day.  I never sit still.  I never say “Om”.  Balk if you must, but I must insist that you have an open mind.  (It’s pretty key to meditation anyway.)

What is my miraculous, sweaty, non-om way of meditation?

Here is my easy-to-follow meditation plan that will guarantee better health, happiness, and fitness:

1. Put on comfortable clothes and shoes.

2. Stick your favorite songs on your iPod.  Place ear buds in ears.

3.  Go outside.  It doesn’t matter what the weather is like.  Just go.

4.  Now run.  Run to the beat of every song.  Run like you dance.  Happy, joyful, free.

5.  Repeat as often as necessary.

Wait?  What’s that on your face?  Have someone take a pic- you’ve got a great BIG smile!

Do you have a quirky form of meditation?  If so, what is it, and why do you do it?

 

Stuff It!

We all know that squash is good for us.  But how many of us really venture out of the “butternut squash soup” or “side-dish of squash” phase?  Well, it’s time to get out of your comfort zone.   I want you to stuff it!

Do I have your attention?

Good, because you’re going to love this!

Today, I made stuffed squash.  The squash was similar to an acorn- you could easily use acorn, butternut, or something similar that you find at the Farmers’ Market or local store.

STUFF IT! SQUASH

(Makes 4 mini-servings or 2 decent entrees)

1 spinach & feta sausage link, chopped into small pieces

1 C. fresh spinach, washed and chopped

1/4 of a small onion, chopped

2 T. chopped garlic, adjust to taste

1 tsp. olive oil

2 acorn squash, small

1 1/2 C. cooked brown rice

1/4 C. feta

3 T. parmesan, grated

1 small slice sourdough bread, lightly toasted

1 tsp. italian seasoning

1 tsp. basil

1 big splash of white wine & splash of milk (that’s a cooking term, right?)

Cut squash in halves.  Scoop out seeds.  Steam on stove or in microwave (I did microwave- there it’ll steam for 6-7 minutes.  Be sure to but a bit of water in each half so it does dry out.)  Meanwhile, heat a pan over medium heat.  Add olive oil, garlic, sausage, and chopped onion.  Turn heat down to low-medium once the onions have turned a golden brown.  Add the splash of white wine, spinach, and the italian seasoning and basil.  Stir to coat all the pieces.  Cook for a minute, then add the brown rice, only 2 T. of the parmesan, all the feta, and a big splash of milk.  Reduce heat again to low, softly simmer for about 5 minutes, checking to make sure sauce stays smooth and doesn’t stick to the pan.  While this is simmering, tear up the slice of toasted sourdough into small pieces.  Put half of it into the rice & sausage mixture.  Then, scoop out just a bit (about 1 small spoonful) from each half of squash.  Add this also to the rice & sausage mixture.  Do not skip this step- it adds a sweet creaminess that you can’t get otherwise!  Next, put the halves in a glass casserole dish.  Divide the mixture among the four halves.  Sprinkle the remaining sourdough slice and the leftover 1 T. of parmesan on top.  Place in the oven at 375 for about 10 minutes.  Serve and enjoy (maybe with another “big splash” of wine?).

Now, aren’t you glad I told you how to “stuff it”?

Chocolate-Covered Me!

Small pieces of shell were flying everywhere, landing in my hair, sticking to my face, plummeting down my dress.  I was itchy and covered in what looked like dirt.  And I liked it.

Why?  Because the shell was from the cacao bean, and now I smelled like chocolate.  Heavenly, decadent chocolate.

You see, on my quest to make things that are homemade and healthy, I signed up for a Chocolate Making Class this weekend.  The steps from bean to bar chocolate are incredible:  Pick, roast, grind (2x), refine, press, conch…  I came away from this class not only itchy from shells and smelling of fresh chocolate, but also with a new appreciation of all chocolatiers.  Including myself (see the photo of me taking a big bite).  Now I am a chocolatier!

Here is a recipe for a lovely 56% Cacao Chocolate:

36 oz. cacao nibs

8 oz. cocoa butter

1/2 ts. lecithin

36 oz. sugar

1 vanilla bean, finely chopped

First, grind the nibs in a Crankenstein or food processor.  Pour the ground nibs through a food mill or juicer.  This will make chocolate liquor.  Melt the cocoa butter and lecithin together. Grind sugar with the vanilla bean until you get a soft, powdery consistency.  Put the vanilla sugar on a cookie sheet and heat in the oven to 120 degrees (about 10-15 minutes).  Next, pour the chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and lecithin into the concher.  Turn on the concher and slowly add the vanilla sugar.  Conch for 14 hours.  Conchers are very expensive but necessary for chocolate making.  If you can’t afford a concher, I highly recommend “cheating” with other recipes that use cocoa powder or chocolate wafers.  You won’t get the same satisfaction from the process, but you’ll get a delicious result in the end.  Plus, you’ll still smell like chocolate.  And that’s what really matters anyhow, don’t you think?

Sayonara Summer…

A few days ago, I purchased a few quarts of this summer’s last strawberries.  Plump, ripe, and royal red, I decided to turn savor these for the rest of the year.  And how best to savor strawberries until next summer than by making Strawberry Jam.  I set to work by carefully hulling each strawberry by hand, then measuring the berries.

Next, I mixed them with sugar and lemon juice, set them on a medium heat burner, and gently brought the berries to a boil.  After they’ve been brought to a boil, it is important to lower the heat so that the sugary berries do not burn.  You also need to be attentive and stir frequently.

In the end, the canning was successful.  When I woke this morning, I made a slice of wheat toast and topped it with my freshly made strawberry jam.  It definitely wasn’t sweet like store-bought varieties (my recipe uses half the sugar of a normal recipe), but it had a very soft and appealing texture.  This jam would be very good mixed with vanilla ice cream or even added into muffin batter.  (If you are interested in a standard, sweet jam recipe, check out http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/fresh-strawberry-jam-recipe/index.html.  You can’t go wrong with Ina Garten.)

So, summer has drawn to a close.  Sayonara summer.  Hello, fall.  Hello, sweaters and soup.  Hello, strawberry jam!