NWK

NWK

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Updated Hot Buttered Rum

I share this recipe with friends and family, and I think I have posted it here, but it has been revised slightly.  Well, I've included an option.

When I make hot buttered rum, it is a creamy, boozy, spicy concoction that really has people clamoring for more.  Be careful, though!  Too many of them and you might find yourself dancing on the table tops, an act for which I am not responsible!

For my hot buttered rum, you need:

1 pint vanilla OR caramel ice cream (this is the new twist), softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (bonus points for having the fresh stuff to grate)
1 bottle dark, dark rum
boiling water

I put the softened butter and ice cream together in a mixing bowl.  Add the sugar and spices and whip it until it's combined.  Put it in a container and pop it in the freezer.

When you're ready for your drinkie-poo, add 2 tablespoons of the batter to a cup.  Pour in a shot of rum, top it off with boiling water, and stir well to combine.   Garnish it with whipped cream if you want, and maybe pop in a cinnamon stick and/or grate some fresh nutmeg on the top.

This year, we're all about the caramel ice cream, as it's my boyfriend's favorite flavor of...well, everything.

Let's Have a Drink

I decided to create a drink for the holiday season. I am well-known for my hot buttered rum, but I wanted something cold.

Drunk as the Dickens 

Makes two drinks:

1 cup apple juice
2 cups cranberry juice
2 shots Captain Morgan
2 shots Gran Marnier
1-2 shots Wild Turkey

Shake it together and let it get slushy in the freezer.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

For the first time in a long time...

I am almost looking forward to the winter holidays.  I am just so incredibly happy to be back home.  I love living here again, and I love where I work.  I haven't been able to say I love my workplace in...well, I don't think I've ever said it before now.  I guess I could say that I am truly thankful to be back in my mountains and at this university.  

Tomorrow, I will begin preparing the Thanksgiving feast.  I already celebrated a Thanksgiving/Harvest Home at the autumn equinox, but when do I turn down the opportunity to cook?   I will get the rolls and the cake made, drink some wine, and watch The Last Waltz.   For those of you who know me, it's not Thanksgiving until Rick Danko says it.   THEN, and only then, has the holiday season begun.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Day 13: Stirring Deosil or Widdershins

How do you stir your pots of stew, soup, or sauce?   Do you prefer to go clockwise (deosil), or counterclockwise (widdershins)?

I stir clockwise when I cook.  I see it as stirring good energies into the food.  When I scrub a pot, however, I tend to scrub in the opposite direction in order to remove the essences of the previous recipe.

The Return of the 30 Days of Kitchen Witchery: Day 12

Remember this?  I started it back in...I dunno, 1962 or something *lol*.  

Day 12 is a recipe for peace, but I honestly do not have a specific recipe for peace.  Instead, what I do is knead peace into my bread dough.  I speak of peace as I knead.  I may say something to the tune of, "May all who eat this bread have peace in their lives."   It's really that simple.

What about you?  Do you have a specific recipe for peace, or do you do something more like what I do?

I am STILL looking for my copy of Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen, so I don't have a list of foods for peace at the ready.   I haven't unpacked everything yet.  Maybe I never will...

My Thanksgiving Menu (revised), with Recipes

Thanksgiving 2013
·         Pear salad with ginger-sesame dressing and almonds
·         Lentil-rice loaf with mushroom gravy
·         Smashed red potatoes
·         Duchess sweet potatoes
·         Sautéed Swiss chard
·         Glazed carrots and parsnips
·         Harvest Home rolls
·         Cranberry upside-down cake

Salad with Pears and Ginger-Sesame Dressing
Ingredients:
2 pears, cored and thinly sliced
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
4 cups spinach
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
Juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 small clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup toasted sliced almonds

Directions:
In a small mixing bowl combine orange marmalade, lemon juice, ginger, and garlic.  Whisk to combine.  Slowly incorporate olive oil and toasted sesame oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange spinach on a platter.  Top with pear and onion slices and almonds.  Drizzle with dressing. 

Walnut-Lentil-Rice Loaf
Ingredients:
1/2 cup walnuts
2 TB olive oil
One onion, diced
One large garlic clove, minced
One large carrot, peeled and grated
Two celery ribs, diced
2 cups cooked lentils
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable broth, as needed
1/2 cup cooked oatmeal
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp. celery salt
Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350º. Spray a loaf pan or 8x8 square baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside (an 8x8 pan makes a crisper loaf).
Grind the walnuts into a coarse meal using a food processor or spice/coffee grinder. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Sauté onion, shredded carrot, and celery in the olive oil until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2-3 minutes longer, until fragrant. Add to the large mixing bowl along with all the remaining ingredients. Mix and mash together well, adding only as much liquid as needed to create a soft, moist loaf that holds together and is not runny (you may not need to add any liquid if the grains and protein are very moist). Add more oatmeal and/or brown rice as needed if the loaf seems too wet. (No matter how well the lentils are drained, they will still retain a good bit of moisture. I normally do not need much extra liquid at all.)
Press mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until cooked through.
Let the loaf cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out and slicing.


Mushroom Gravy
Ingredients:
½ cup dried mixed mushrooms
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons corn starch
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons olive or grape seed oil

Directions:
Place the mushrooms in a bowl or measuring cup.  Pour over 1 cup of boiling water.  Cover and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes.
 In a sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Cook the shallot for 4-5 minutes.
Reserve the liquid from the mushrooms and chop up any large pieces into smaller ones.
Pour the mushroom liquid into the sauce pan.
Dissolve the corn starch in the vegetable broth and add to the sauce pan.
Increase the heat slightly so the mixture bubbles and thickens.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mashed Potatoes
Ingredients:
2 pounds red potatoes (these will be skin-on potatoes)
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup each milk or half and half and vegetable broth
Fresh chopped chives, optional
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Cube the potatoes and place in a pot. Cover with cold water.
Bring to a boil and cook until fork-tender.  Drain well.
Return the potatoes to the pot or use a mixing bowl.
Add the butter, liquids, and salt and pepper.
With a stand mixer or hand mixer, whip until fairly smooth.  There will be some ‘shrapnel’ from the skins, which you can remove prior to cooking if you prefer. 
Fold in the chives, if using.

Duchess Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients:
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons cream
4 tablespoons butter, divided
½ teaspoon garam masala
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Prepare the sweet potatoes the same way as the red potatoes. 
Once smoothly whipped with the butter, cream, and egg, spoon into a pastry bag or plastic baggie fitted with a star tip.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
Pipe equal mounds onto the parchment.
Heat oven to 375 F. 
Lightly brush the potatoes with melted butter.
Bake 20 minutes, until heated through and slightly browned on the outside.

Glazed Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
Ingredients:
½ pound each carrots and parsnips, peeled and cubed or sliced
1 tablespoon olive or grape seed oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons each melted butter, honey, and balsamic vinegar

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Toss the vegetables with a tablespoon of oil and season with salt and pepper. 
Spread evenly on a large baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray.
Roast for about 15 minutes.
Combine the honey, melted butter, and balsamic vinegar.  Pour over the vegetables and stir to coat.
Allow vegetables to roast until tender and glaze has thickened.

Swiss Chard
Ingredients:
1-2 bunches Swiss chard, stems and leaves separated
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive or grape seed oil
3-4 tablespoons water
Salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste

Directions:
Blanch the chard stems in boiling, salted water for about 2 minutes.  Strain and place in a bowl of cold water. 
Shred the leaves by rolling them up and slicing. 
Heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet or pot with a lid.
Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
Add the stems and leaves of the chard.  Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Add a couple of tablespoons of water and put the lid on the pot.  Allow the chard to steam for 5-7 minutes.  Check and add more water and continue steaming if not tender yet.
Remove the lid and allow the liquid to evaporate. Make sure the garlic does not burn.

Harvest Home Rolls
Ingredients:
½ cup milk, warmed to 110 F
1 package yeast
¼ cup butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1/8 c sugar
½ - 1 tsp. salt
2 ¼- 2 ½ cups unbleached bread flour ( I used KA), plus extra for dusting
1 tablespoon oil
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

Directions:
Bloom the yeast in half the milk.  I always add just a pinch of sugar at this stage too, maybe ½ tsp.  Wait 15 minutes. 
Add the rest of the warm milk, melted butter, sugar and salt.  Stir to dissolve.  Add the beaten egg and stir.
Gradually mix in the flour with a wooden spoon.   Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes, until the dough makes a satiny ball.
Pour a tablespoon of oil into the bowl. Place the ball of dough into the bowl and turn to coat.  Cover with a clean towel and leave in a warm place to rise for about an hour, until doubled in size.
After an hour, punch down the dough and let it rise until doubled again, 45-60 minutes.
After the dough has risen a second time,  lightly oil your hands and pinch off 12 small balls of dough.   Do this by squeezing the dough between the thumb and forefinger of your fist.    Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cover with a clean towel.  Let rise again until doubled in size, about 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.   Brush beaten egg on top of each roll before baking.  Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.  The egg wash will make the tops a nice, golden brown.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake (adapted from allrecipes.com)
Ingredients:
½ cup butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoons water
1 12-oz. bag cranberries
1 ½ cups cake flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
2 eggs
¾ cup sour cream
½ teaspoon orange extract
Zest of 1 orange

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease a 9-inch spring form pan or 8 x 8 square  (I like my cast iron skillet for this, honestly.)
Melt ½ cup butter in a sauce pan.  Add the sugar and water. Stir to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to a boil.
Add the cranberries. Coat with the mixture in the sauce pan and then pour into the baking dish.
Sift the flour and baking soda together in a mixing bowl and set aside.
In another bowl, cream together the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar. 
Incorporate the eggs one at a time. 
Add the orange zest, orange extract, cardamom, and sour cream.
Add the dry ingredients.
Pour the batter over the cranberries.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool for 15-20 minutes on a rack before turning cake out.   (Again, I’ll use my trusty cast-iron skillet and probably won’t invert it until serving time.)


Friday, November 22, 2013

A Yule Menu

Since the holidays do tend to sneak up on us, I went ahead and made a solstice menu for my friend to prepare and enjoy while celebrating Christmas with her family.  The loaf recipe is more or less from this site: http://www.veganlunchbox.com/loaf_studio.html.   I included my favorite Turkish dessert for this menu, kabak tatlisi (pumpkin dessert).  It's extremely simple to make and incredibly delicious.  The most difficult part is cutting up the pumpkin!   I'd suggest cutting it into wedges first, and then cutting the flesh away from the skin. 

Note: One recipe calls for either honey (if you aren't strictly vegan) or maple syrup.  You could use agave if you wanted to, however, I'm sure.  You could probably replace the corn starch in the gravy with arrowroot, but I've honestly never used it.

1.      Quinoa Loaf with mushroom gravy
2.      Mashed potatoes
3.      Green beans with cranberries and walnuts in a mustard vinaigrette
4.      Glazed Carrots and Parsnips
5.      Kabak tatlisi (Turkish pumpkin dessert)


1.      Quinoa Loaf

Ingredients:
½ cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive or grape seed oil
One small onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 cup mixed mushrooms, cleaned and finely chopped
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
1 cup cooked quinoa
¼ - ½ cup vegetable broth, as needed
½ cup cooked gluten-free oatmeal
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 F.    Spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray.
Mash garbanzo beans (or use the food processor)
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Cook the onions, mushrooms, celery, and carrot for 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes, until fragrant.
Grind pine nuts into a coarse meal and place in a mixing bowl.
Add mashed garbanzos and vegetables.  Add only as much vegetable broth as needed to create a moist loaf that holds its shape.   Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Press the mixture into a loaf pan. 
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until cooked through and firm.
Cool the loaf in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out onto a platter to slice.

Mushroom Gravy

Ingredients:
1 ounce dried mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive or grape seed oil or margarine
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons corn starch
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Pour  1 cup boiling water over the mushrooms.  Cover and set aside for 20 minutes.
In a skillet over medium heat, cook the shallot in the oil for about 5 minutes. 
Reserve the soaking liquid from the mushrooms.  Chop any large mushrooms into small pieces.
Add the mushrooms and the soaking liquid
Dissolve the corn starch in the vegetable broth.
Pour into the sauce pan and increase heat until mixture bubbles and thickens. Season to taste.

2.      Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:

3 pounds potatoes of choice, peeled and cubed  (Yukon Golds are good here)
¼ cup margarine (Earth Balance, for example), or olive oil
4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
¾ - 1 cup nondairy milk such as almond (unsweetened)
Salt and white pepper to taste

Directions:
Place the potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil and cook until fork-tender (20 minutes or so).  Drain.
Place drained potatoes in a mixing bowl.
Add the margarine or oil, milk, and salt and pepper.  Mix until fluffy.
Stir in the chopped chives.

3.      Green Beans

Ingredients:
1 pound frozen green beans
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup toasted walnut pieces
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons grain mustard
1/4 cup olive or walnut oil
1/8 cup maple syrup
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Cook the green beans in boiling salted water until heated through.  Drain.
In a mixing bowl, add lemon juice, maple syrup, mustard, shallot, and salt and pepper.
Whisk to combine.
Slowly whisk in the oil.
Place the green beans in a serving bowl.  Add cranberries and walnuts.
Toss with the dressing.

4.      Glazed Carrots and Parsnips

Ingredients:

1 pound each carrots and parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons olive or grape seed oil
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
2 tablespoons melted margarine (Earth Balance or whatever you use)

Directions:

Heat oven to 400 F.   Toss the carrots and parsnips with oil, salt and pepper.  Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice.
Mix together melted margarine, honey or maple syrup, and balsamic.  Pour over the vegetables and stir to coat.  Continue cooking until vegetables are tender and glaze has thickened.



5. Kabak tatlisi
 

Ingredients:

1 small pumpkin (4 pounds or so)
2 cups sugar
½ cup ground hazelnuts
½ cup tahini

Directions:

Peel, seed, and cube the pumpkin.  Place in a pot.  Sprinkle the sugar over the pumpkin, put it in the refrigerator, and let it sit overnight.  The pumpkin will release liquid for cooking.
Simmer the pumpkin until tender.   Chill.
When ready to serve, pour tahini over each serving (you may need more than ½ cup, depending on how well you like it), and garnish with plenty of crushed/ground hazelnuts.


Holiday Menus for Special Diets

I have a good friend who, due to allergies and sensitivities, follows a gluten-free, soy-free vegan diet.  She's getting ready for the holidays like the rest of us, but she was a bit worried about what to do for food.  I responded by putting together a menu for her that I would like to share with you all.

I will share the Thanksgiving menu I put together for her below.  I will post the Christmas/Yule menu in a separate post.

Notes:  Gluten-free oatmeal is available in many places.  As for the broth, I know that some chicken broths and stocks can have wheat flour in them.  I'm not sure about all vegetable broths and stocks, however, so be sure to check the labels (which you already do I am sure).   I would suggest making the lentils ahead of time, along with the cranberry sauce.  The flavors will intensify and the dishes will taste even better if made a couple of days in advance.  When reheating the lentils, add extra liquid as needed.  Red lentils take less cooking time than brown.



1.       Acorn squash with curried lentils
2.       Sauteed shredded Brussels sprouts and Swiss chard with Balsamic vinegar and walnuts or pine nuts
3.       Orange-maple roasted beets
4.       Sweet potatoes whipped with coconut milk
5.       Gingered cranberry sauce


1.       Acorn Squash with Curried Lentils  (double or even triple the recipe, as needed)

Ingredients:
1-2 acorn squashes
4 tablespoons coconut oil
1 ½ cups lentils, washed
1 small onion, finely diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 chili (deseeded to remove some heat), minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
¼ cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons curry powder
Approximately 3 cups vegetable broth
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 F.  Cut the top off the squash.  Scoop out any seeds.  Reserve the top for serving.  Brush the top and the inside of the squash with melted coconut oil or olive oil.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Place in an oiled baking dish and roast until tender, about 40-50 minutes.
Heat coconut oil in a pot.  Add the onion and carrot.  Cook 5-7 minutes on medium heat, until onions start to turn translucent.
Add garlic, ginger, and chilies.  Cook 2-3 minutes longer.  
Add the lentils, tomato paste, and curry powder.  Stir to coat. 
Pour in the vegetable broth.  You may need a bit more as the lentils cook.  You may also supplement with water.
Cook until lentils are tender.  This can take anywhere from 20-35 minutes, depending on heat.  Check them after about 20 minutes.  Add more liquid as necessary.  You want them to be thick and stew-like.
When lentils are done, add cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste.
When the squash is roasted, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.  Fill with the lentils.  Pop the top on to serve.

2.       Sauteed sprouts and Chard: 

Ingredients:
1 pack fresh Brussels sprouts
1 bunch Swiss Chard, stems and leaves separated
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive or grape seed oil
Scant ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar, if needed
3-4 tablespoons water or vegetable broth, as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts

Directions:
Cut the ends off the sprouts and finely shred them with a knife or in a food processor.
Blanch the stems of the chard in boiling water for a couple of minutes.  Drain and shock in cold (ice) water.
In a skillet over medium heat, sauté the shallot in oil for 3-4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or two.
Add the sprouts, chard, and chard stems.  Stir to coat.  Sprinkle with a little salt. 
Add a bit of liquid and put a lid on the skillet so the vegetables can steam.
When vegetables are almost tender (check after about 7 minutes), take off the lid and pour on the vinegar.  Let the liquid reduce until syrupy.  If the vinegar is too tart, add a teaspoon of sugar.
Season with salt and pepper.  Garnish with the nuts. 

3.       Maple-Orange Beets: 

Ingredients:
2-3 large beets, tops trimmed
Olive oil

Glaze:
1/4 cup maple syrup
Juice of one large orange
Zest of ½ orange
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Rub the beets with oil and wrap in foil.  Roast the foil-wrapped beets for about 90 minutes, until tender.
When beets are done, remove from oven and allow to cool.  When you can handle them, peel off the skins and cut beets into chunks.
In a saucepan, combine orange juice, maple syrup, and orange zest.   Let simmer until thickened slightly.  Add beets, stir to combine, and simmer for another minute or so.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4.      Whipped Sweet Potatoes with coconut milk:

Ingredients:
4 large sweet potatoes, peeled
2 tablespoons margarine or coconut oil
¼ - 1/3 cup coconut milk (full fat)
Salt, white pepper, and nutmeg to taste

Directions:
Cut the sweet potatoes into chunks and place in a pot of cold water.   Bring to a boil.  Cook on medium-high heat until fork-tender (20-25 minutes or so).
Drain the sweet potatoes well and place in a mixing bowl. 
Add coconut oil or margarine, seasoning, and coconut milk (start with ¼ cup and add more if needed)
Using a stand mixer, hand mixer, or potato masher, whip the potatoes until smooth and creamy.

5.       Gingered Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:
1 bag cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup ginger ale
¼ teaspoon grated ginger

Directions:
Place ingredients in a sauce pan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.
Reduce to a simmer and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.   Some of the berries will burst and some will remain hole.

Mixture will thicken as it cools.  Serve chilled. 


I know this menu has her approval, and she is very excited to try it out.  If you need recipes for special diets, maybe some of these recipes will pique your curiosity as well.   Happy feasting. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hungry Holidays

The holiday season is nearly upon us.   With schools closing for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, many children in this country are going to be hungry.  Free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches provide necessary nutrition to growing bodies and minds, but we're about to have a few weeks without those programs.

That doesn't sit right with me.  It makes me extremely upset, to be honest.  I HATE the fact that there are families who cannot provide adequate food.  Part of my spiritual path (a large part of it, in fact) revolves around kitchens, cooking, and food, specifically providing food to others.  I don't want ANYONE to be hungry, especially a child.

I'm working to organize a food drive in my department at work. I am going to try to get our students involved in helping the local food bank.  I am making lists, putting together information, and gathering facts, reports, and statistics for all the teachers to share with their students.   I really, really want this to happen.

This holiday season, I implore you to please, please, please make a donation to a food bank if you can.  There will be a lot of empty bellies next week. No bountiful Thanksgiving feast.  No giant turkey on some tables.  While many of us will be sitting down with friends and family and stuffing ourselves silly, others will be crying themselves to sleep while listening to the rumble of their stomachs.   No.  Just...no.

 It's not right, and we can't just stand idly by while it happens.  Thinking, "I'm only one person. What can I do?"  doesn't cut it.    Just a few dollars worth of food could make all the difference.   Won't you join me in sharing the blessings that we have with others?    If you can, please do.  I want to help anyone and everyone that I can.  My resources may by limited, but I will gladly share what I have.   I urge you to do the same if you are able.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

My Plain Blog

You've undoubtedly noticed that lack of pretty food pictures on this blog.  Sure, it would probably get more hits if I photographed what I make, but there are a few reasons I don't take a lot of pictures.

1. My kitchen.  My kitchen isn't fancy. It isn't perfectly spotless, either.  I clean and sanitize my work surfaces, but the dish drainer is always full of clean dishes.  The sink usually contains cooking vessels in various stages of soaking.  I don't have enough space for all of my appliances and non-perishable food items, so a lot of things kind of hang out on the counter. Permanently.  Yeah.

2. Do you REALLY need to see what a chopped stalk of celery looks like?  Really? You've never seen one before?  I don't think it's necessary to photograph every. single. step.  It clutters up a perfectly good blog post.  Case in point:  I was looking at a recipe blog tonight, and there were so many friggin' pictures that I nearly stopped before I got a chance to look at the actual recipe.    Yes, yes, I get it.   This is what a greased baking sheet looks like.  Oh, so that's raw dough.  Who knew?  Come ON!

3. I'm not a good photographer.  I don't totally suck, but I'm not all that talented.  I have a phone and a shitty digital camera.  The lighting isn't that great in the kitchen, either.  Lots of shadows.  Oh, and then there's that whole clutter thing, and the fact that I'd have to scrub the table again before I take the photos.  No one wants to see my work surface covered in flour and mixing bowls, right?  Do you want to see my cluttered counter and a cutting board covered in onion juice?  I didn't think so.

There you have it.  I really do want to take more pictures of the finished products, however.  I think that it is nice to see what the finished dish looks like.  Just don't ask me to plate it artfully.  Not happenin'.    However, the next time I make something delicious (tomorrow, hopefully), I will attempt to make room and take a nice snapshot of the results.  We'll see.


Thanksgiving, You Say?

I don't really celebrate Thanksgiving, at least not in November.  For me, the autumn equinox is my feast of thanksgiving/harvest festival celebration.  Samhain is the last of the harvest festivals.  By the time November rolls around, a lot of things have already been harvested.  Also, I'm not too big on celebrating things that are attached to the Puritans and their murderous, poo-poo-headed ways.   Pass.

Still, I'll be off the entire week (working from home Monday-Wednesday), and my Aussie will finish the work week on Thursday.  He probably won't have to work the entire day, but we're not sure yet.  We know that he'll work half a day on Dec. 25, a full day on the 26th, and then have the 27th and 28th off.  That's when we will go to my parents' house.

I figure since I'll be off all week, and he'll have worked 5 days, I could at least prepare a nice meal to celebrate his weekend.  While he's at work, I plan to cook and drink a lot of wine.  I'll probably watch Alice's Restaurant and The Last Waltz, too.

There will only be the two of us.  We were invited to a coworker's house to celebrate with her visiting family members, but my meatless fast thingie would just complicate things too much.  I'm saving my appetite for Dec. 27, for a pork shoulder roast with crackling and a roasted goose!  Oh, yeah.  I'm looking forward to that, for sure.   So, no turkey here, especially since only one person would be eating it.

I'll make a pared-down vegetarian feast.  I have lots of dishes planned, but I will make smaller amounts of them.   The menu thus far:

* Spinach salad with almonds, pears, and a ginger-sesame dressing
* Lentil-rice-walnut loaf
* Smashed red potatoes
* Mushroom gravy
* Duchess sweet potatoes
* Harvest Home rolls
* Swiss chard
* Glazed carrots and parsnips
* Cranberry upside-down cake with orange and cardamom

I'm getting full just thinking about it.  What are you making?

Friday, November 15, 2013

What I Get from Cooking (And How it’s Part of my Path)

This is a rough draft.  I wrote this essay last week.

Of course I get food out of cooking, but I get so much more than a meal out of the process.  For me, the act of meal preparation is an exercise in spirituality as well.  Allow me to elaborate.

I am what I call an Agnostic Pagan, or Pagan-ish Agnostic, depending on the day.  I have written about this topic before, so I won’t go into it too much here.  I will say that I connect more with the wheel of the year, the changing of the seasons, than I do with the (to me) rather abstract notion of ‘god(s)’.
I must begin by providing some background information.

I do not have a garden currently.   I have a postage stamp-sized yard and a brown thumb.  However, I was raised by a mother who is also an avid gardener.  It is something she does because she enjoys growing food, and it is something she does so we can *have* food.   She may not identify as Pagan, but she does have a deep connection to nature and the seasons.   She depends on the earth, rain, and sun to help her crops grow.  She preserves everything that comes out of the garden, either by canning or freezing.

I have seen what a drought can do.  I have seen what a severe storm can do, flattening stalks of corn to the ground and making my mother almost cry from frustration.  Nature has a lot of power, and I grew up respecting it.   Late winter was a time to plan; spring was a time to start seeds.  Summer brought hoeing, watering, weeding, and the first harvest of green beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes.  

Since I have never been very talented at growing food, I helped to harvest it.  To this day, I still love picking and shucking corn.  I still gag at the smell of tomato plants.  My back and knees hold the memories of stooping to pick green beans (ouch!).   

I also learned to take the bounty from our two small gardens and turn them into delicious dishes.  These meals are my way of giving thanks, not only to the earth, but also to those who worked so hard to plant and tend these edible gifts. 

Food is tangible.  We can touch it, smell it, and taste it.  Nature is also tangible.  The concept of god(s) is not something we can see, taste, hear, or touch.   It isn’t even something that I proclaim to feel all that often.   
I won’t go so far as to say food is a manifestation of the Divine.  If it were, wouldn’t everyone have enough?  Would there still be starving people in the world?  I would hope not.   What I will say, however, is harvesting and preparing food and giving food to those who need it helps me feel a closer connection to the Divine.  

Nowadays, most of us don’t have gardens.  We don’t depend on our own agricultural efforts, but we do depend on the agricultural efforts and talents of others.   In these modern times, we can get strawberries in January (yuck) if we want them or asparagus in October.   Food is grown all over and shipped great distances.   Most of us don’t even know where the majority of our food comes from, let alone have an actual hand in its production.   I count myself in that group.  I try to know where my food comes from, yet I still don’t grow it or slaughter it myself.     Our connection is waning, but I am trying to get some of that connection back.   I long to feel a deeper connection to the Earth.  From there, I believe that I will feel the essence of the Divine.  

Sure, I’ve plucked chickens and helped cut up venison and such, but it’s been a long time.  I haven’t lived with my parents for many years, and I can’t really do much in this little trailer park.  What I can do, though, is support local farmers by buying locally and seasonally.  I can show my gratitude to them in that way.  
Other ways in which I practice my path in the kitchen include being mindful and trying not to waste food.  I admit that things do sometimes get pushed to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten about for a while, though.  I’m a good cook but a lousy housekeeper.   

I used to identify with the term ‘kitchen witch’.  I suppose I still do identify with it to some extent.   Once upon a time, I read and researched the magical properties of certain fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, and nuts.   My goal was to include ingredients with similar energies into my recipes and to make meals that were harmonious as well as delicious.  I strived to make foods for certain purposes.  I devised recipes for love and prosperity.  To this day, I swear my Prosperity Shortbread recipe helped me land a new job after I left that horrible high school teaching gig.

Currently, my focus is a bit different.  I still try to keep similar energies together when I combine ingredients, but it isn’t a prime concern.  I still cook with intent.  Maybe I’ve read Como Agua Para Chocolate too many times, but I don’t like to cook when I’m angry, for fear of putting negativity into my food.   I still feel that my emotions could affect the outcome of the meal.  Maybe it won’t affect the diners’ emotions outright, but I don’t think anyone should have to ingest another person’s stress or anger.

Even though I still feel that the Divine may not be terribly invested in humanity, I still chant when I knead dough.  I say prayers for the health and well-being of those who eat what I prepare.  I try to prepare everything with a peaceful mind and a grateful heart.  I am grateful for the food itself, for some people have little or none.  I am grateful for those who eat the food because it means I have friends and family.    To me, that’s what it’s all about. 

To me, it isn’t about casting a spell for love by making an apple pie.  Instead, it’s more about recognizing the end of the year and enjoying the sweetness of the apple pie and sharing it with someone I love.   That, to me, is recognition of the Divine:  Love.  

It all boils down to love and thankfulness.   That’s where I am on my journey to the Divine right now.  It could change, of course, and it most likely will.  That’s what happens when people grow.    When I make a family recipe, I feel love and gratitude.   When the seasons change and different produce is available, I feel gratitude.  I am alive, and that’s a gift.  

There you have it.  My path is about love, gratitude, and a reverence for the life that grows upon this planet.  My path is about nourishing bodies with things that grow in nature and about feeding people’s spirits as well.  I am trying to spread the love around.

Sit at my table, and I will feed you.  I will set before you a plate of food that has been cooked with love.  I will share with you not only a plate of roast and vegetables, but also my sincere hope that you push away from the table with a full belly AND a full heart.    That is how I experience the Divine. 


Eat up. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Dealing with Loss

I lost a ferret on Monday night.   Poor little thing had bladder stones that wouldn't pass.  He couldn't urinate. He was struggling.  We rushed to a veterinary clinic that is open until midnight.  The vet couldn't do anything but put him to sleep.  They put him under before administering the shot.  The too-full bladder ruptured, but thankfully, he wasn't conscious to feel it.

I cursed the Divine for not answering my prayers.  I cussed and shook my first.  I don't feel bad for it, really; after all, the Divine is not a human with a thin skin.  People have been mad at the Divine for thousands of years.  It has been sworn at countless times.  It can take it.  I still feel that there is a presence in the universe, but I am more convinced than ever that It doesn't always listen and respond in the way we want It to.

However, I am thankful for a few things still.  I am thankful I had time to get to know the ferret and love it.  I am thankful we discovered the problem.  I am thankful that the clinic was open until midnight and could see us.  I am thankful my ferret is no longer suffering.  

Still...I hurt.  I am sad. I feel angry that nothing could be done to save him.  I feel let down.  Hugely, enormously, completely let down.  

Am I stupid for still believing in a power that doesn't seem to influence my life in any POSITIVE ways?  Maybe...   Maybe not.   I'll never be sure.  Not while I live, anyway.   Then, my ashes will be put somewhere and my spirit/soul, if I have one, might go somewhere.    Won't know til I get there.  If I get there.

Rest in Peace, little buddy.  I do hope we meet again one day.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mmmmm....smoothie

I haven't posted a recipe (or much else, for that matter) in a while, so I thought I would share the recipe for what I'm currently drinking:  a brownie batter smoothie.  

I LOVE avocados.  They are so good for you: good fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals out the wazoo.  They're also creamy and delicious, plus they freeze well!  Who knew?   When I read that, I started stocking up when they came on sale.   I buy a few at a time, scoop 'em out, cut the flesh into chunks, and freeze on a baking sheet.  Then I just pop the frozen pieces into a zippered baggie.

When I want to make this smoothie, I defrost some chunks until they aren't rock-solid (my blender doesn't like super frozen things) and make THIS:

1/2 frozen avocado
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
sweetener of choice ( I used 1 tablespoon of honey)
1/2 teaspoon each vanilla and butter extract

You could add some nut butter in there, too, if you want.  Just put the milk in the blender, and then put in the other ingredients and blend until smooth.