Sunny Side Out

Golden Winter Breakfast Hash 2

It might surprise you to learn that I’m not a very voracious reader. I’m an airport fiction kind of girl, and the titles I’ve read aren’t Titles, in the classic sense, except where food is concerned. Like my taste in music, my taste in reading veers to the trashy, unless the topic is short enough to fit between the covers of The New Yorker magazine. Did you have higher expectations? I’m sorry.

Actually, I’m not. Because here’s the thing about expectations: they’re bunk. (I’m sure I’m missing a huge point here from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, but I didn’t read that book either, and late at night in my faded pink bathrobe, when I do what little reading I do, I don’t care.)

A dear friend recently wrote a sagging email of sorrow. It was a real whopper—the kind of thing that reeks of tears and ice cream, at the very least. She said a lot of the things happening in her life weren’t what she envisioned or hoped for. Her life isn’t meeting her expectations. I nearly exploded with frustration. It still astounds me when people hew to their childhood expectations—not because childhood dreams are bad, but because I think being an adult requires taking the time to dream up something new. It requires forks in the road, even if they’re sometimes dangerously pointy forks. It requires flexibility. It requires adjustment.

No one expects to have a child born with cerebral palsy, or to develop lupus, or to break her collarbone on the 4th of July. No one expects two speeding tickets in the same week.

Then again, no one expects to land her dream job at 25, or feel totally satisfied with her shoe collection. (My mother just sent me this pair.) I didn’t expect to spend the bulk of 2013 working with an incredible chef whose fingerprints will forever be found on my cooking and on the way I approach food. And clearly, I didn’t expect to suddenly have thicker hair at 35.

I guess what killed me about that email—I should probably admit that it was sent months ago, but it’s been tailing me since—was that there are so many things this person also didn’t expect of her life that are positive. She has a thriving career. She has a gorgeous, happy child and a supportive family. Somehow, though, none of those things seemed to matter.

So here’s your holiday assignment, if you’re an expecter: if you find yourself turning into Eeyore while you’re doing your Christmas shopping, or ruffling through your cookie recipes, or digging through the files that have been stored in the garage for five months (which is what we’re doing this weekend), make a list. Make a real list, on real lined paper, the way we did when we used the pads of our digits to communicate instead of just their tips.

On one side of the page, you can whine. I didn’t expect my dog would become such a pain in the ass. Let it out, sister. Why did the contractors forget to put heat in the bathroom? Bitch and moan. I hate that my husband has started to snore. But really give it your best, okay?

Then, when you’ve wrung out the bad stuff, turn the paper over. On the fresh side, jot down the good things. I didn’t expect to write a cookbook using recipes from this website that could theoretically raise money for lupus research. Dig deep. I didn’t expect to be able to do a chin-up at all, even if my husband was holding enough of my body weight to make him sweat. And include the small stuff. The glue is holding on the teapot that shattered on the way back from France!

Are you done yet?

There. Read both sides again. Now, put the paper up somewhere where you’ll see it fairly often, sunny side out. This is how I live; the hard things are there, but I only look at them when I need to.

On the harder days, I turn the paper over, and scribble the most recent offense down with a dull pencil, so the lead smears into the cracks of my left hand. Then I get out the cast-iron pan and make a bacon-studded hash that looks like just potatoes and eggs, but is really made with golden beets and celery root. It’s a sneaky sort of breakfast, and it looks a bit homely, but the flavor always beats my greatest expectations. And it reminds me, like I wanted to remind my friend that day, that there is always, always a bright side.

You just have to get good at finding it.

Golden Winter Breakfast Hash 1

Golden Winter Breakfast Hash (PDF)
Simmered until almost tender and seared in bacon fat, golden beets and sweet celery root make a delicious, golden-hued alternative to the traditional potatoes in breakfast hash. Add a bit of goat cheese and a poached egg, and you’ve got a breakfast that will turn any dull day around before it even starts.

To peel celery root, use a heavy-duty peeler to get every bit of skin and dirt off, or simply use a small, sharp knife.

If you’re concerned about timing, cook the hash completely and let it sit in the pan, covered, while the eggs poach. The hash won’t mind.

Serves 2
Active time: 20 minutes

1/2 pound good bacon, cut into 2” pieces
3 medium yellow beets, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1 baseball-sized celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2” pieces
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more, to taste
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground pepper
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves (no stems)
2 large eggs, poached

In a large cast-iron pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning and rearranging occasionally, until crisp, about 15 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, eating about half of it casually as you cook. (Seriously. Who can wait?)

Meanwhile, combine the chopped beets and celery root in a saucepan big enough to hold them comfortably and add about a tablespoon of salt. Add cold water to cover, then bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery root is almost tender but not ready to fall apart, about 8 minutes. Drain the vegetables and set aside.

Drain about half the fat off the bacon pan and discard. Reheat the pan over medium heat. When the fat begins to sizzle, add the shallot and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 1 minute. Add the thyme, season with pepper, and stir to combine. Scoot the shallots to the edges of the pan and add the cooked vegetables. Cook, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes, or until the beets and celery root have formed a nice brown crust. Stir the vegetables and cook again for 3 to 5 minutes, undisturbed, or until the mixture is nicely browned all over and the celery root is soft.

Crumble the remaining bacon and add it to the vegetables, along with the goat cheese and parsley. Season to taste, if needed, and serve in two heaping bowls, each topped with a poached egg.

17 Comments

Filed under recipe

Chemin St. Martin

Clock Tower

I cut my toenails twice while we were in France. I did it slowly and carefully, always before it was too late, which is the opposite of what I do at home. And that’s how our three weeks in France went—slowly, carefully. The days unfurled. We found our route before starting the engine of our little Citroen rally car. We watched the ivy on our stone house turn from emeralds to fire as October progressed. We wandered. Time passed at a thick liquid pace, each day surrendering into the next not with the violent crash of fatigue we know at home, but with a shrug and a lazy turn of the covers. I relearned how to live.

Over those three weeks, I realized how many things I’d plum forgotten how to do, like listen for birds and make paper airplanes and walk down stairs softly and eat just cheese for dinner. Now, as my last day here dawns at the airport and I break out my husband’s computer to type for the first time in three weeks—not to actually work, but because the words just seem unavoidable—I wonder what I’ll take home.

First, there will be memories of the house in Provence, including the crumbly mortar between the stones that formed one wall of our little bedroom there. The house was old, clearly—although in France, 1904 is practically infantile for a residence—and it since the wall used to be the outside of one building, before the home we rented was tacked on, it clearly wasn’t meant as a morning headrest for an American coffee drinker. When the wind blew, the mortar sometimes loosened a bit and I had to pick it out of my hair.

Chemin St. Martin

The houses, which look like Siamese twins from tiny, narrow Chemin Saint Martin but don’t have any awareness of one another from anywhere inside, are collectively called Mas de la Laiterie. They sit on land that was once the town diary, and until the 70’s, when modernity stomped in for real, folks picked up their milk in what’s now our living room. Then the whole place was purchased by an old French Resistance fighter who had retired and, with 3 buddies, apparently started a little travel business called Club Med. The owner lived in our house, and the offices were in the original house next door until the firm outgrew the space and sold the older house to the current owner, our landlord. The resistant lived to a ripe old age before passing, at which point our landlord bought the house we’re in as a rental property. In typical French fashion, the two houses technically have the same address, and save the entrances, which are on different streets and are a good 500 yards apart, it’s difficult to describe the difference between the two if the landlord’s dog, aptly named Caffeine, isn’t home.

Anyway. That’s all to say that we came to France with one plan, which was to rent a fantastic place and spend time with friends and family. It worked. We lived just outside the medieval walls of Pernes-les-Fontaines, a town known for its 36 working fountains. It has an old-school boulangerie with a giant indoor cast iron oven—the kind Bob Cratchit must have bought his bread from—and a single popular café, called Café de la Place, where we spent lunches drinking cheap, delicious local rosé and feeding our child his abominable but dependable French diet of frites and ice cream.

Cafe de la Place

Some days, we’d wander the town, hitting one of the two local aire de jeux with Graham, but more frequently, we’d start the morning with a map, tracing our fingers over the towns we’d seen and the towns we still wanted to explore. We consulted the market calendar and scouted parking and packed the car and left, mostly in quest of a view and something to eat for dinner. It was an ideal existence. We had time to talk, the three of us. We all read books, including one on raising kids with special needs that will, we think, lead to a sea change in the way we’re approaching cerebral palsy. We slept enough to make up for the last decade.

Paris was busier. We had a tiny hotel room and a short list of things to do and friends to see and places to eat. We walked and walked and walked, and rode enough escalators to satisfy Graham for at least a month. We taught Graham to drink out of a teacup. When Jim and Graham pulled away in a taxi, leaving me to go to Normandy for a few days to finish the last photographs for the book I’m working on with Renee Erickson and Jim Henkens, I burst into tears. We had fun, our little family.

Today, honestly, as I see the pink tinge on the puffy clouds outside, it’s all run together a bit. My muscles are sore today—more from drinking wine, I think, than from actual athletic use—but my brain isn’t tired. And that was the other goal, if I remember. We wanted to stop thinking so much.

I wonder how I’ve changed, flying back. I have a bit more luggage. My French is certainly better than it was when I arrived. And in my back pocket, stuffed between the list of antiques markets I found in an old Gourmet magazine and the receipt for my carrot and duck mousse sandwich, I’ll carry the memory of the three weeks we spent as a family in Provence, paying attention to where we were going, and what we ate, and to each other.

I hope I don’t lose it.

Family

8 Comments

Filed under recipe

The Village

photo

Fifteen people helped me function normally yesterday. I probably only know ten of their names, and I’d only really call five of them friends, but nevertheless, these days, all 15 are essential. See, I broke my collarbone on the Fourth of July. It was a classic bike accident—despite enough city riding to have a solid awareness of the problem, I fell for the old bike tire in the railroad tracks trick—but it’s left me with 3 good breaks and a not-so-classic problem: how does one cook with just the non-dominant hand?

The truth is, I haven’t been cooking. Or typing for more than ten minutes at a time, or exercising, or lifting my 44-pound child, or putting him into the car, or getting him out of the car, or bathing either of us if not absolutely necessary. This was all well and good when my husband was home, mostly waiting on me, but he’s off to sea again, so I’m either begging for help or learning to do things a little differently. Here are the fancy things I can do with just my newly promoted right hand: open jars (if braced properly between my hip and the counter), pick herbs off their stems, pour wine, slice cheese badly, make scrambled eggs, help my son pee on someone’s lawn because I can’t carry him inside in time, clean up after my cat’s mousing habits, put on anything with an elastic waistband, sit in a boat holding liquor while other people drag crabs off the bottom of the ocean, use an ice cream scoop, win at corn hole, pick up my telephone.

Here’s what my right hand can’t handle: cracking eggs, writing, wiping my child’s face, helping my child walk, pulling my child’s pants up, putting on make-up. When I’m alone, I just deal; I do things that I probably shouldn’t, like make my son’s lunch, or cut a nectarine, or put on sandals with two hands, or (the worst idea ever) dry my hair. But watch out; if you walk into my home’s general vicinity, you’ll get nabbed. Which means that yesterday, for example, members of the fantastic crew rebuilding our basement helped me get my kid into and out of the car. My neighbor’s daughter came over to water the garden, cut food and do dishes, put Graham’s shoes on, get him into the car while he threw a tantrum, and then later, when he finally sacked out, carry him into bed. One friend undressed my child for swimming lessons; another redressed him when the lessons were over. Graham’s therapist put on his shoes, and the preschool teachers helped me navigate transportation details into and out of his school. Mark carried my coffee when my useful hand was full. The baristas at Top Pot offered me ice for my injury. Whole Foods made me lunch. Jackie wiped the construction dust out of my house. And later, when Graham was finally asleep, I poured the rosé all by myself.

Today will be a totally different cast of helpers. Richie will probably get the kiddo into the car again—hear hear, Moms, hire a builder who’s had six kids—and the process will start anew. I’ll go back to the coffee shop where the barista knows how to put my barrette in, and to the gym, where I’ll ask a random old lady to help me put on my clothes in exchange for her bad collarbone stories. Tami will bring dinner and Dan will wrangle 3 kids at bath time. JJ, a guy I’ve never met, will pick up the tile for the downstairs for me, because it would be silly to lift all 3,000 pounds’ worth when I can’t drink out of a Nalgene bottle with either hand, and my in-laws will collect a week’s worth of laundry to take back to their place, because, naturally, the washer and dryer in the basement are disconnected and the plumbing is a bit spotty these days.

The whole experience has made me feel like a tornado of need, traveling through every village of friends that’s ever helped me, leaving a trail of appreciation and debt two (left) arms wide and three dinners deep. And since, for me, the path to paying it forward has always started in the kitchen, it feels like a rather irresponsible way to live.

Curiously, breaking my collarbone hasn’t seemed to impact my whining ability in the slightest. I seem to tolerate alcohol just fine, and I’m perhaps a bit better at sitting still to watch sports (although now that the Tour de France has finished, I may consider rescinding that claim). But two weeks ago, when the novelty of breaking what shouldn’t break was still all new and shiny, I was being very tough and resilient. Which is why, five days after my all-too-dramatic crash, but two full weeks before I could comfortably type, I made cookies.

I’m not normally one for contests, but Drew laid it out flat: this wasn’t a bake-off. This was a “cookie on,” because no one was allowed to enter unless they promised to get their cookie on for reals. I’d committed to entering the week before the Fourth, when Drew—another patient with (much more severe) cerebral palsy at Graham’s therapy center—had announced over her sparkle-tied Chucks that I was invited to join.

When I was out flat after the Fourth, slathered between ice like a freshly-caught salmon while my family stripped the basement naked in preparation for all that construction, I privately resigned from the contest. But the day before the cookies were due, I saw Drew again. She’s a gorgeous, spunky, bright-eyed, smartly dressed kid heading into 7th grade at the top of her class. She has severe cerebral palsy. She’s still learning to talk, walk, and write. Yet somehow, despite unimaginable obstacles, she cooks. She has major opinions about what tastes good and what doesn’t. And she wanted me to enter. How can you tell a girl who can’t stand at a counter that a broken bone is stopping you from turning on an electric mixer?

Good butter

I started with 3 sticks’s worth of butter, because it meant opening a single large package of butter instead of multiple smaller ones. I weighed instead of measuring wherever possible, because my right hand’s dexterity hadn’t yet gone through its latent puberty. It was so awkward. I made a hell of a mess. But in the end, I wound up with crunchy, chewy cookies with the tang of summer cherries.  I was satisfied.

My entry was the first on the cookie table the next day. Graham and I left the therapy center, and I waited. And waited. I never got to see the other cookies, but I felt like I’d made a good specimen. But alas, among the plethora of categorized prizes available—prettiest cookie, best-named cookie, tastiest cookie, etc.—I got nothing. Well, except an honorable mention, for Best One-Armed Baker.

I get it. Nothing beats a Husband Getter. (When Stephanie tells me what exactly a Husband Getter is, perhaps I’ll be able to explain why she won.) I never tasted that, or what Drew made, or what Drew’s mom made, but they were apparently all wayyyy better than mine. I’m working hard to avoid losing confidence over a cookie-baking contest instigated by a 12-year-old. And I get that I should have added chocolate, even if it might have meant figuring out how to axe into a block of Callebaut with my non-dominant hand.

But what I also get, as I dole out lumpy scoops of dough every other day from the bucket in the refrigerator when the need for a cookie calls, is that no matter how annoyed I get about needing and asking for help, I’m both lucky to be whole and lucky to have a village. And I understand that I’ll have ask and ask and ask for help, and be okay with it, until this whole episode is over, which, someday, it will be.

And some day, when I’m all patched up and she’s perhaps a little older, I’ll ask Drew how she does such a good job giving back with just her smile, and how she’s okay with not giving back sometimes. Because if there’s ever a contest to get your gracefulness on, or to get your spark on, or to get your ability to inspire people 25 years your senior on, those are the ones she’ll win.

Super-Powered Cherry-Millet Oatmeal Cookies (PDF)

These cookies have a distinct advantage over every single other cookie recipe I’ve made before: they can be made with one hand. My apologies if you don’t have a scale to measure out the dry ingredients properly. You’ll understand, I hope, that since Hogwash is about food and life, there is naturally a category for recipes made with a broken collarbone.

If you have the pleasure of the use of both of your arms AND a food scale, add a couple handfuls of chopped dark chocolate to the mix right at the end.

Makes: About 4 dozen

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
350 grams/12 1/2 ounces all-purpose gluten-free flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
150 grams/5 ounces old-fashioned oats
100 grams/3 1/2 ounces raw millet
1/2 pound dried sour cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and whip again on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the sides occasionally.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the machine on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the mixer in a few separate additions, mixing until thoroughly combined. Add the oats, millet, and cherries, and mix on low until evenly distributed, scraping the bottom of the bowl if necessary.

Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop (or a big cereal spoon), form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on the baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until the edges of the cookies are browned but the centers are still light. Let the cookies cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, transfer to racks to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough.

Cookies are best eaten the same day.

9 Comments

Filed under Cookies, gluten-free, grains

When May Flowers

©LFerroni-RhubarbJam
Photo by Lara Ferroni

This, people, will be a tumultuous spring. I can feel it. My arugula is flowering faster than I can eat it. The rhubarb in my garden is higher than it should be for the last day in April, and tomorrow we’re slated to see final plans for our big basement remodeling project. In the meantime, between book edits and my quest to find the perfect antique cast iron utility sink, there will be jam–simple, oven-roasted jam. I’ll have it on hand for the mornings the construction crews shut the water off on accident, and as a snack for stoppers by, and, of course, at a few upcoming book signings. Come say hello.

May 1: Orca Books, Olympia, WA, 3 p.m.
May 4: Costco, Kirkland, WA, 1 – 3 p.m.
May 5: Molbak’s, Woodinville, WA, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
May 11: Costco, Aurora Village location, Seattle, WA, 1 – 3 p.m.

IMG_0642

Caramelized Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam (PDF)
Here’s a jam that takes instant gratification into account. Start with a trip to the farmers’ market. Buy a flat of strawberries. Eat a pint right there in the sun, chatting with friends, and down another pint on the way home — if you’re on a bike, congratulations. (You must be a Seattleite.) Now you have four pints left, which you’ll roast in the oven with bits of fresh rhubarb until they’ve both caramelized into a deep, brownish burgundy. It’s easier than regular jam because there’s no stirring involved, but the result, with its sweet, deep flavor, is even more toast-worthy.

4 pints small, ripe strawberries, hulled
1/2 pound rhubarb, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of 1 large lemon (about 3 tablespoons)

Makes: 1 pint

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice in a large roasting pan. Mash about 25 times with a potato masher, until all the large chunks of fruit are gone, then roast for 1 to 1½ hours, stirring once halfway through, or until the fruit has melted into a jam and no liquid runs down the pan when you tip it sideways.
3. Store the jam in small jars in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Excerpted from Dishing Up Washington by Jess Thomson with permission from Storey Publishing.

7 Comments

Filed under Dishing Up Washington, fruit, gluten-free, recipe

Definition: Chameleon Writer

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake whole 2

When I was in San Francisco last week, a fine, thin layer of buttery yellow pollen settled into the exterior corners of my car’s windows. I returned with watery eyes and a flooded calendar, and now, plumped with the delayed mental energy of a long weekend with colleagues from all over the country, it feels like a new year. But it’s not just the flowers.

I shouldn’t be surprised. The ides of April affects me this way almost every year. I feel new. Most years it’s because the part of season changing toughest on my body is finally over. Some years I feel new simply because those buds bloom. One year, it was because we had a child. Last year, it was because I started Benlysta, my no-longer-new-to-me lupus medication. And this year. This year, oh gracious, ever-surprising life, you have given me something to get ruffled about that doesn’t require additional trips to Swedish Hospital. It’s a new job. Only, it’s not really new.

I am a food writer, among other things. My job has lines, lots of lines. There are lines that define what I do on a weekly basis—I write for Sunset magazine quite regularly, and I dig around for new ideas, and I inevitably test a random recipe or two from a new book or for another person’s book or for, say, Highlights or Arthritis Today magazines. There are lines that define what I do on a monthly basis—I write for Edible Seattle, and on this blog, for example. These lines are the constants on my calendar. They are my structure.They are my steady dates.

But outside those lines, very little of what I do is well defined, beyond the computer on my lap right now. Recently, my 22-year-old sister fantasized a day when she might know what she wants to do for a living. I told her I still do the same. She wasn’t exactly spirited by my comment, but it’s true. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. So when I lifted off for the IACP conference in San Francisco, I had very little in the way of an agenda, but I did wonder whether other food writers—other authors with travel writing habits or photography habits or even sometimes-sidelined mosaic-making habits, anything—know what they want to be when they grow up.

What I do know about my job is that besides that faint weekly or monthly outline, I tend to be somewhat of a serial monogamist. I jump into projects and start swimming, breath held, eyes down. Most recently—and apologies for not having mentioned it sooner—I finished the text portion of a manuscript with the crew at Ivar’s. It’s a whale of a cookbook, based on dishes at the restaurant’s three full-service locations, that will be released this summer, to coincide with Ivar’s 75th (!) anniversary as a Seattle institution. It was fun to write thousands of words in Ivarese—a punny combination of history and educational fishspeak—but even more satisfying to learn the workings of a company run so well, by such a casual, understated, wicked smart management team.

Working with Ivar’s made me realize that part of what I love about writing cookbooks with other people, other chefs, or other business owners, is the jumping in itself. I like the challenge. I like the unknown depth. And landing in San Francisco, foremost on my mind was how to decide between being a ghostwriter—someone who writes cookbooks with and/or for other people—and being my own brand, with my own recipe style, and my own distinct voice. I felt torn.

So I asked people. The response astounded me. Why can’t you do both?, people asked. Somehow, twisted up in the details of each project and in the attempt to form a real writing identity, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could always be both. Giving my brain over to projects I enjoy but might not conceptualize myself (or even take credit for in the end) doesn’t mean giving my writing voice away for good.

Still, I’m a person who works by definitions. So for now, for this new year of work, I’ll call myself a chameleon writer. I can change shades with the weather and the sun, and when life and health get in the way, I can hopefully sit on a rock in the sun, just breathing, like I did for most of February this year. In and out. In and out.

And when the weather turns, and the tides change, and another project comes my way—this next one, should I sign on for it this week, is an absolute dream—I’ll find just the right color and jump.

These days, my sister is working as a baker in a small town coffee shop. It’s hard not to be motherly and tell her she’s doing just the right thing, trying her hands at new things as the opportunities present themselves. It’s hard not to tell her over and over that she could really be good at anything she set her mind to doing, and that diving into something new doesn’t mean leaving behind whatever stays on the shore on a given day or month or year. Mostly, though, it’s hard not to take my own advice to heart.

Buttermilk Banana Cake 3

Here’s a cake that understands what it means to be a chameleon. Make it in one pan, as a single layer cake, with a simple pouf of whipped cream and perhaps a sliced banana or two on top, and it’s a 12-minute miracle. Gussy it up by baking it in two separate pans and smearing the layers with a cardamom-scented cream cheese frosting, and by golly, it almost looks like a birthday cake. Either way, it depends on moisture from bananas and Greek-style yogurt. It works with either all-purpose or gluten-free flour. (I’m curious to try it with a mixture of rice and oat flours.) I personally find it’s as happy on my breakfast plate as it is shared with friends after a celebratory meal.

And as far as I can tell, deep down, it doesn’t really matter how you make it, because you can always make it a different way the next time.

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake 1

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake
Laced with cardamom, this stir-and-dump cake is a good, reliable crutch for the dessert-desperate if it’s cooked in one pan. (Serve the cake warm, with whipped cream and sliced bananas, if you’re so inspired.) Or fancy it all the way up and cook it in two pans, for something of a celebration. Bake the cakes for about half the recommended time, then serve them layered with a basic cream cheese frosting, made by whipping a stick of softened butter with 8 ounces softened cream cheese, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 4 cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted), and cardamom to taste.

TIME: 10 to 30 minutes active time, depending on your day
MAKES: 8 servings

Vegetable oil spray
1 3/4 cups all-purpose or gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 very ripe bananas, well mashed
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup (6 ounces) plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9” cake pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt together into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Mash the bananas in the bottom of another mixing bowl. Add the sugar, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla, and whisk until well blended. Add the dry ingredients and the oil, and gently fold the batter together with a spatula, just until no dry spots remain.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake the cake on the middle rack for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is lightly browned at the edges and just barely beginning to crack in the center.

When the cake is done, let it cool for about 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge. Using oven mitts, place a cooling rack on top of the cake pan and flip the cake and the rack together. Remove the cake pan, so the cake is upside-down on the rack. Place a serving plate upside-down on the bottom of the cake, and flip the plate and the rack together, so the cake is now right side-up on the serving plate. Serve warm.

7 Comments

Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, recipe

The quickest bite

toasted meusli

Here’s a breakfast cereal that lands halfway between real muesli—made with uncooked oats—and granola. The ingredients are lightly glazed with coconut oil and toasted, so that each oat carries a bit of crunch and true coconut flavor, but there’s far less sugar than typical granola. Serve with milk or yogurt, topped with fruit and perhaps a touch of honey.

Toasted Coconut Meusli (PDF)
Makes: 5 cups
Active time: 10 minutes

3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup flaked unsweetened coconut
1 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil (measured warm, as a liquid)
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, stir together the oats, coconut, almonds, oil, sugar, and salt until well blended. Spread the mixture on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake until evenly golden brown, stirring every 5 minutes or so, about 25 minutes total.

Let the muesli cool completely on the sheet, then store up to 1 week in an airtight container.

2 Comments

Filed under Breakfast, gluten-free, grains

Spanish mission

Chorizo Soup with Parsnips and Thyme 4

I like almost everything about a good chorizo soup. I like how spicy, smoky chorizo turns the broth an almost bloody shade. I like how the broth stays thin, like a tonic that happens to house bites to fill the belly. But mostly, I like how the first taste plonks me right back into the creaky wooden chair at that truck stop somewhere between Rioja and Madrid, when my husband and I were traveling with a five-month-old in Spain in 2009. Graham was cranky after hours in the car, but when the soup landed, glorious fat bubbles bobbing at the edges of chipped ceramic bowls, pork and chickpeas swimming frantically, he silenced long enough for us to eat with both hands. When we finished, only a thin orange rim of spice clung to the inside edge of each bowl.

I’ve been trying to remake that soup ever since. Sometimes I add different types of pork, or kale, or tomatoes. I’ve nailed the way the paprika smokes itself up into my nose. I think I’ve figured out how to add just a hint of sherry vinegar, for the right tang. But that elusive broth–I never did quite get the broth right. It was never pure enough. It was never red enough.

Last weekend, inspired by a novel that talks about Hemingway’s time in Spain, I bought some chorizo from Sea Breeze Farm at my local farmers’ market. I thought it would be the same soup I’d made before, but as soon as the meat hit the pan, I could smell a different kind of success. I smelled the spice I’d been missing in the broth. All along, I’d simply been using the wrong chorizo.

As the soup simmered, I smelled warmth and winter. I smelled Christmas. The ingredients on Sea Breeze’s sausage list the usual suspects–pork, garlic, paprika, etc.–but they don’t list cloves or allspice or cinnamon, which were what I thought I tasted in my bowl when we finally sat.

I changed a few things. I skipped the pimenton de la vera I typically add, because the sausage had enough already. I added water instead of broth, because I wanted to taste chorizo, not chicken. The soup was perfect–right color, right texture, right fat bubbles, everything.

The lingering question, of course, is how I’ll make the chorizo on my own, if I want to doctor my own ground pork to the same perfection. They must have used a high ratio of pork fat, or perhaps ground pork belly, because both the meat and the broth had a silkiness only attributable to fat. I have a sneaking suspicion that those sausages may have depended on the pig’s blood for those Christmassy flavors.

So I need your help. Have you made chorizo before? What recipe have you used? I’d love to know more. I have a mission, and it tastes like a truck stop in Spain.

Chorizo Soup with Parsnips and Thyme 1

Pan-Roasted Chorizo and Parsnip Soup (PDF)
Serves 2 to 4

Made by first searing bulk chorizo in big chunks in a pan, then combining it with browned vegetables, this rich wintry stew has the appeal of a roadside soup stop I once visited in Spain. The secret to this soup is the chorizo; find one with lots of spicy, smoky flavor—or add a bit of spicy smoked Spanish paprika with the thyme, if you doubt your chorizo.

Note: I used a wide cast-iron pan for this recipe, to allow as much room as possible for the vegetables to brown without steaming, but you could also use your favorite Dutch oven or soup pot.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound bulk chorizo
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 medium parsnips, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
4 small celery ribs, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry red wine
4 cups water or chicken broth
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Heat a large (at least 12-inch), deep, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, then the chorizo, breaking it up into roughly 1-inch chunks as you add it. (Think meatballs.) Cook the chorizo for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once or twice, leaving the chorizo as intact as possible as it cooks. Transfer the chorizo to a plate and set aside.

Add the onion, parsnips, carrots, and celery to the pan, and cook, stirring every once in a while, until the vegetables are soft and browned in spots. Stir in the garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and add the wine. Cook, stirring, occasionally, until the wine has almost entirely evaporated. Return the chorizo (and any collected juices) to the pan, add the water and vinegar (you may need to transfer it to a bigger pan, if you didn’t start with a 12-incher), and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the soup has a rich red color. Adjust seasonings and serve warm.

12 Comments

Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, soup