Please come and see me at my beautiful new home
Our life can be marked by our losses, which often can be more defining than the days that take our breath away. A loss in life is like running smack into a brick wall, after which you shake off the tweeting birds floating around your head and look around at what’s landed in your path. There is no more going forward as you have been; it’s time to look to either side and determine which is the next best step, choosing your new direction, heading off into the unknown. But sometimes those brick walls of life stop us cold. We had no idea it was coming and it’s frozen us in time, unable to shift our direction and find the new normal. We sit in front of it and stare, uncomprehending this change that we don’t want, and didn’t ask for.
I’ve had times like that. Bad times that have stopped me senseless. I lost my sister in 1991, my Mom in 1994. Both times it was so numbing that I simply sat down, right where I was, and hardly budged. I got stuck a lot in those days, and held big-time pity parties for myself complete with isolation, junk food binges, too much alcohol, or worse, something stronger. I lost a lot of time that I’ll never get back.
This loss was much different, as I had seen it coming for some time. But it didn’t hurt any less. Even with Mike and Griffin right there with me in the Vet’s office, as I held Harmon and felt him slip into an eternal sleep, it was the loneliest feeling I think I have ever known. The past 17 years flashed through my head; every little thing about him that endeared him to me, from the first glimpse of his face to his final day. He was such a part of me that I can’t even imagine how long it will take to stop looking around the house for him. Seventeen years is a very long time. Griffin has never known his life without this big orange cat. I can’t remember much about mine before he came along.
But we move on. We have no choice. And in the days following our loss, I was overcome with urges to eat foods I hadn’t touched in years. The need to cover the pain became very real, and yet none of my old coping mechanisms were still in place and I had to just let the pain seep out of me. It gripped me so hard that it left me physically gasping for air. I had no appetite, but ate mechanically. Nothing had any taste. I wept often, and uncontrollably. I craved fried foods, greasy burgers, heavy pizza, drinks with funny names, being prone under a pile of blankets and more isolation than is humanly wise. I was staring at yet another brick wall and the only thing I knew how to do with pain like this was collapse and disappear from life again.
This is now, however, the kinder and gentler Kate, and after the first acute and tenderly painful days, I realized that I did want food, and was pleased that I wanted good food. And the first dish that I took out and set before my grief was my most favorite Lentils and Farro with Caramelized Leeks. The attention to slowly caramelizing the leeks seemed to almost take my mind off the fact that there was no eager golden-hued face at my feet, weaving in and out of my legs as I stood at the stove. Then copious amounts of this white bean and roasted garlic spread not only had me set for life against vampires, but provided heady aromatic and tasty relief (that photo above should give you some clue as to how critical roasted garlic is in my kitchen). There were more roasted vegetables, despite the warm end to March in Minnesota, a succulent grilled pork tenderloin that I buried under a thick mustard glaze, salads crunchy enough to fill the echo within my heart.
And I baked, because what could soothe one more than homemade scones? Lacking fresh fruit for a Sunday morning treat before a necessary and pleasantly grueling 3.5 mile hike, I gently blended thick fruit preserves with the liquid in my favorite scone recipe, and came up with a delightfully light and flavorful round, studded with chopped pecans and warmly comforting to my tummy. Another batch of Orange-Cardamom Scones sent me skyrocketing into sheer happiness, lush with the crisp citrus scent. The secret to these, I am 100% certain, is the citrus-infused turbinado sugar that filled the interior and decked out the tops. With the crunchy sugar and fresh zest, really, can it go wrong?
And Brownies. Let’s just say that in everyone’s coping arsenal should be a good solid recipe for a Brownie that will calm even the worst of one’s inner storms. Fudgey or cakey, I’m OK with either because where good chocolate therapy is concerned, I’m always a willing participant.
There was also Spring Break with my Teen that included him getting contacts, and or course, the golden sunshine that tickled and warmed our faces as March bid us farewell. I busied myself cleaning up last year’s detritus in the garden, and marveled that I was sweating on the last day of a typically snowy and cold month. I took a very long bike ride. And I cooked more soothing foods. I’m exploring some terrific options for the weeks ahead, in April, the month where Spring explodes over our part of the Earth. I don’t want to miss out on that, or anything else coming my way these days. There’s no more hiding. Not for this girl.
And Easter Sunday I feel, is an appropriate time for a new beginning, wouldn’t you agree??
Orange Cardamom Scones
adapted heavily from Tyler Florence’s Real Kitchen
2-1/2 c. AP flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
2 T. sugar
1 T. orange zest
1/2 t. ground cardamon
5 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 c. buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking tray with parchment.
Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, cardamom and salt. Blend together juice, zest and buttermilk, add to dry ingredients and mix gently with a fork until all flour is incorporated. Careful not to overmix.
Gently scoop individual portions onto cookie sheet. You should get about 8 scones. Bake until slightly browned on top, about 15-18 minutes.
For the Citrus Sugar that I sprinkled on top- Zest one orange and mix the zest with half a cup of turbinado sugar. Place in blender and mix until fully combined. Scrape into container and keep refrigerated. Use regular sugar if you have no turbinado. Sprinkle over tops of scones before baking.
I never expected to have the last six months. And I thank God for them, because it’s been a long preparation for this day.
Harmon has slipped away, very quickly and over just the past few days. It doesn’t matter what’s wrong because we don’t need to know. We just know he’s very ill, he’s very old and he’s leaving us. We need to make his final journey a peaceful one. For the unconditional love he’s given to me over the last 17 years, I owe him as little suffering as I am able to give. It doesn’t make the ache in our hearts any easier but he deserves nothing less from us. For every snuggle, for every jet engine purr and painfully hard head-butt he’s sent me over his lifetime, and for the six months that I’ve had to try and somehow accustom myself to living without him, I can make one of the hardest choices of my adult life.
Inevitable, and bittersweet. There are no more Spring days for him lolling on the patio or chasing grasshoppers, no more expectant faces at the snack cupboard, no more heavy bodies cuddling up to me while I work, or watch TV or sleep at night.
I don’t really know what Bustopher will do. Or for that matter, what we will do.
So please excuse my absence from here for a while.
I’ve noticed lately that my days seem to be having their own soundtracks. We’ve become a kind of soundtrack world, what with the abundant use of iTunes, the earbud generation and the incessant need to insert any type of sound into the hours. These are the playlists of our lives, what we exercise to, the music in the background while we work, what blasts from our computers as we clean, or cook or just manage the day.
What I’ve been noticing is that each day seems to have it’s unique sound, a type of music that fits to the mood, weather and sense of self that we connect with through our waking hours. While most of us have our favorite music, I wonder how often we switch out the tunes in an attempt to match the feeling of a particular Friday, or a lazy Sunday afternoon or a bright shiny Wednesday morning. Rainy days have their own soundtrack, and sunshine makes music like nothing else. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, just sit down with an old Warner Bros. cartoon medley, and see what I mean. The Disney animators of old knew exactly how to use music to create a wordless story, to set mood, to create action. Remember the original movie version of Fantasia? It was all about matching music to mood. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with it’s gentle Springtime lilt and angry Summer thunderstorm movements are a perfect example. I can’t ever listen to composer Paul Dukas’ famous orchestral work ‘The Sorceror’s Apprentice’ without seeing Mickey Mouse, flashing lights and thousands of brooms. Music sets the tone and starts the imagination, it inspires and ignites us.
And food fits into the sense of every day, much the same as music. We all know those lustrous summer days that beg for a juicy grilled burger and corn that’s fresh from the field, the springtime air that makes you dream of salads, fresh peas and asparagus. Winter speaks like soup, or a hearty stew simmering in a pot and then there’s those days that nothing else will do besides a long slow fire and the smoke of a perfect BBQ. Rain and baking, as I recently discovered, sometimes are the best of friends.
I love having music on when I’m elbow deep in the creative process in my kitchen. With iTunes radio, a huge selection is at my fingertips and with a few clicks I can have the perfect background to what I’m doing. I recently was faced with a rainy day that felt like it would perfectly match with soft cafe jazz, a warm oven and a pan of muffins to make it complete. Sitting at the top of my To Make pile on the counter, the place where inspiration lives with just a few shufflings of papers, was a recipe for Fig Muffins with Lemon Honey Cream cheese filling, and oh how that magically blended itself into the saxophone, the steady patter of spring rain outside the door and the gentle rhythm of mid-week. With a loaf of 10-grain bread from my dog-eared copy of ‘Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes’ and a steaming cup of tea, it was about as right and perfect as it could be to give chase to the gray sky.
Of course, I am a bit head over heels for figs, so it likely didn’t hurt that one of my most favorite fruits was the superstar in this moist and tasty breakfast treat. But when you blend up a lovely fragrant batch of sweet honey and lemon flavored cream cheese and bake up these muffins with it’s delightful hidden center, the result alone may have been enough to push the clouds aside for a ray of sun to enter the house.
Lemon is another true love I’ve found with baking. There’s something about the zesting and the juicing and the way the yellow oval resembles a bright July day that always makes me eager to place a few in my basket at the market. For me, the lemon scented cream cheese alone may be the path to a better day, with or without jazzy backdrop, whether it’s raining or not and I was so glad that I made the whole container into this fragrant mix. I will find ways to consume the leftovers. Like spreading it copiously all over these muffins, because I’ve discovered that with some food items, there simply can’t be enough of a good thing.
What kind of soundtrack defines your days? Do you change up your music to suit your mood??
Fig Muffins with Honey Lemon Cream Cheese filling
adapted from Eating Well magazine, February 2010
Preheat the oven to 400° and line two 6-count muffin pans with liners. You can use cooking spray too, if you like.
1 4-oz container cream cheese, softened
2 T. honey
1 T. fresh lemon zest
2-3 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 t. fresh ground nutmeg
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Add more zest or juice if desired. I love a good tart flavor.
For the muffins:
2 c. whole wheat flour
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. sea salt
1 T. ground flaxseed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. turbinado sugar (you can sub in brown sugar if you don’t have turbinado)
1 c. buttermilk (I used vanilla soymilk)
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 c. chopped dried figs
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt and ground flaxseed. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, buttermilk and oil and whisk until blended and uniform. If you’re using turbinado, don’t worry if the sugar doesn’t dissolve fully, just whisk until blended. Mix the wet ingredients in with the dry and stir until just incorporated, then add the figs and gently fold together.
Spoon batter into muffin cups to half full. Add about a tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture to the center of each muffin, then cover with more batter. You shouldn’t see the filling, but don’t worry if you do. I spooned a smaller amount of cream cheese on to the tops of each muffin, but you don’t need to do that. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with more turbinado sugar, or another sanding sugar if desired, then bake them for 13-15 minutes, or until they spring back when pressed.
Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then take them out and allow to cool fully on cooling rack.
My Wednesday evenings are one night of the week where both of my guys are gone, and I have been really treasuring the ‘Alone’ time, pampering myself with candlelight, a glass of wine, classical music and usually some simple meals that are for my mouth only. Do you eat differently when you’re alone? And I don’t mean standing over the sink munching on peanut butter off a spoon, or eating dry cereal by the handful while watching TV, what I mean is, do you take the time to really nurture yourself with good food when you’re alone? Because you should. It’s delightful, really. And with the way most people seem to cram their lives with activity and movement, some time alone is one aspect of our lives that we so desperately need. I know that for myself, I thrive on having some time that is just mine. And my life is pretty simple too; I don’t have much now that pulls me in every direction but that doesn’t change my need to be with myself, to remember what I like and enjoy, to be kind to the ‘Me’ that I know, to who I am. I’ve been this way ever since I can remember.
So my Wednesdays are a treasure. It’s my time to let go a deep sigh as I take in the empty house, and peruse the fridge for a few simple ingredients to fill my tummy. Since I won’t be off-putting to my egg-hating husband, many of these meals will include the cooking of eggs. One week it was a spicy dish of cooked chorizo and potato, topped with a hard-cooked egg, there was the phenomenal and by far most popular of blog posts when I made the shirred eggs in potato skins- that occurred on my solo Wednesday evening, and then just recently, with the desire to make something unique, I created a roasted rutabaga and poached egg dish that was divine, yet so simple and amazing.
I need to confess something about eggs; while I love them dearly, and really, think that it is one food item that I will never give up eating, I have been rather stubbornly affixed to only consuming them when cooked good and solid. I’ve had an aversion to the soft yolk ways for as long as I can recall, and I simply can’t say why. I don’t care for them scrambled either, and no matter how well they’re scrambled, so soft and pillowy and silky smooth, I just won’t eat them. I think it must be the texture. As I’ve grown and watched my food tastes change, the one aspect of it that I’ve noticed is that formerly despised foods were all about texture over flavor. Still, as I can now manage mushrooms, squash, tomato, avocado and a host of other goodies that were once verboten on my table, I draw the line at scrambled eggs. Still, the fact that I just knew this roasted rutabaga dish required a poached egg, that I then went ahead and made, beautifully, is huge growth for this egg lover. And I may never look back again.
The roasted rutabaga has become, at this latest stage of winter, a rather treasured foodstuff. That and parsnips are slowly integrating themselves into my life and I welcome them warmly. I diced the rutabaga into small pieces and tossed them with some oil and seasoning and set the pan in a 400° oven. I stirred them once, and about 20 minutes later, they were toasty and browned, smelling fantastic. The egg poaching method is standard; a pan of water with a teaspoon of white vinegar, bring to a boil, create the vortex in the center and slip the egg into it, reduce heat and allow to cook to your desired stage. I made two, and they were both perfect. As was the evening, alone and content.
There are lots of perks to this food blogging business. My most treasured aspect of it is how it challenges me to be a better cook, to think outside the box and to put together something that is fresh and interesting for my readers to find. I’ve driven myself out onto a proverbial ledge before with the utter exasperation over what people seem to find interesting when it comes to food blogs, how someone’s random post can garner 5o comments when it’s just a rehash of a ubiquitous dish, and then, I’ve just as quickly had to be coaxed back to reality, pushed down into my chair and told ‘Just cook what you want, and write about what you like and forget everything else’ and so then I did, and that, my friends and readers, turns the entire project around. This little corner of the blog world is just what I want it to be. Nothing more.
Then there’s you, readers. I love your visits, comments and feedback. I do this for you and mmmmmuah….big cyber kisses! And lots of thanks. You all keep me going, every day. With every recipe I peruse, every book I thumb through and magazine pages that I absorb, I am constantly thinking ‘Yes, but will they LIKE it? Who’s done it already? Is it something unique?’ because really, the last thing I want you to find here is the same old, same old you can come across in the staggering amount of sites that are out there. My words, and my food, should be the draw. I intend to keep it that way.
And lastly, mostly in terms of importance, there’s the free product offers that land in my mailbox. All. The. Time.
I get a LOT of offers for free product. Some of them… ok, most of them are refused. I won’t accept a product if it’s not something I would normally use at home. And if it isn’t food related, forget it. I won’t link to your tire superstore, no matter how good your prices are, and I don’t care about the resurgence of absinthe enough to warrant taking a free bottle.
Recently though, I did get some nice options sent my way.
I’ve been on the receiving end of this delicious jerky before, so when contacted a second time for more product to review, it was a no brainer. The Teen, my little carnivore, he just loves the stuff, and when he came home from school and saw the packages lying on the counter, he grabbed one and ripped it right open, gleefully pulling out a nice thick chunk and ripping one end of it off with his teeth. The boy knows how to seriously attack his jerky. He chewed contemplatively, then stuffed the rest in his mouth.
“Well??” I asked him. He swallowed again and grabbed his water glass, gulping down a mouthful. Then he turned to me with a smile.
“When they say ‘Sweet and Spicy’, they aren’t kidding!”
I was sent a sample of the Orange and Mango flavored, sweet and spicy indeed. Both have such good smoky flavor, and the jerky is firm and well made, dry but not hard, chewy and tender at the same time. The Orange taste is prominent in the first bite, with a good snap and a nice dose of heat on the tongue. The Mango is a sneaker; the flavor doesn’t really hit your mouth until you swallow your first bite. The spice dissipates and you get fresh mango all around. It sounds strange, and I am often wary of the pairing of fruit and meat, but these two work together. And if you’re at all interested in jerky, but are looking for something other than beef, they do plenty with turkey as well. Turkey jerky- it’s even fun to say!
Another offer that came my way recently was from Pillsbury, and since I’m a true Minnesota girl at heart, I do consider their offers, and they have been quite kind to me in the past. The canvas totes I received from them are the ones most often tucked under my arm when I head into the grocery store, and in this particular email, my contact wanted to send me free pajama pants. Oh hello, my easy like Sunday morning.
And that was the whole idea, to make Sundays easier. But on Sunday, we’re out the door by 8:15 for church. There’s no sitting around until noon, comfy in pj’s, cozy with a cat.
That’s for Saturday, because it’s true…….
Cute, huh? They’re 100% cotton and so big and roomy that comfort becomes my middle name when I have them on. And these are that brand of comfort that we all love, the ‘I never want to get out of these’ kind that’s perfect for my Saturday, the day the guys sleep in while I answer the Cat Alarm clock that bounces over me at the crack of dawn.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging. Brought to you in living health, with delicious aromas, by yours truly.
(oh and hey you FTC dudes?? Nobody paid me for these words, and everything I received was free. I wasn’t coerced, or forced to speak on their behalf or held at gunpoint for anything said here. And I would do it again, too)
I can safely say that gingerbread, or anything molasses-flavored, is going to go over well in my house. Some people have their chocolate, their Proustian moment that renders them poetic. Apparently ours is gingerbread. And it turns us into stealthy nibblers.
I made a small pan of Martha Stewarts’s Chocolate Gingerbread, primarily as an olfactory impetus in ridding the house of the scent of bacon that I had cooked that morning. I don’t think the pan had even fully cooled before I slipped a knife through it and created a set of imperfect squares for us to sample. It was amazing; rich and moist with the tiniest hint of chocolate among the deep taste of molasses. Griffin and I nodded in agreement over this newfound treat. I pulled plastic wrap over the top and set it on the counter.
And then, a day later, there were considerable gaps in the pan. The next day, even more was gone. Something was amiss, because I’d only had one piece.
I can’t say I fault anyone for freely indulging in this treat. What I love about gingerbread is the lack of cloying sweetness that comes with most desserts. Gingerbread has enough going for it to give it dessert-like status, but it’s also like a teabread, and can be treated like a snack, or even a bit of your breakfast too. It partners equally with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream, a mound of yogurt or even topped with fresh whipped cream.
Or even just eaten out of hand, with a napkin to catch the crumbs.
This recipe, from Everyday Food, yields a moist and superbly tender cake, owing to the use of sour cream in the base. It’s a simple quick bread style recipe that takes minimal effort, but can taste fancy enough for a party, that is, if you can keep it around long enough.
Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Gingerbread Cake
from Everyday Food
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for pan
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
- 1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line bottom with a strip of parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides; butter paper. Dust paper and sides of pan with cocoa; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together cocoa, flour, ginger, pumpkin-pie spice, and baking soda; set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together butter, brown sugar, molasses, egg, and sour cream until smooth. Add flour mixture; stir just until moistened (do not overmix). Stir in chocolate chips. Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely. Using paper overhang, lift gingerbread from pan. Transfer to a cutting board, and cut into 16 squares. Before serving, dust bars with confectioners sugar, if desired. (To store, keep in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 3 days.)
I skipped the parchment step, instead just using cooking spray on my 8×8 pan. I did not add the chocolate chips, and probably would keep them out of future uses of this recipe. I just don’t think they’re necessary. The molasses taste was rich, the chocolate not so noticeable. I think that the addition of some extra cocoa would make it more balanced- and in future use I may reduce the molasses to 3 T. and increase the cocoa to 1/3 c. to see if it makes a difference. I also thought about the addition of 1 oz. melted bittersweet chocolate to increase that aspect a bit, and may try that. I don’t keep pumpkin pie spice on hand. I used a teaspoon of cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon each of nutmeg and allspice.
If you’re interested in other gingerbread recipes, you can find more gingerbread love with just a click.