Let’s Talk About Running {And Fig Cake}

This title may seem incongruous at first glance.   And possibly at second glance, too.  The truth is, I don’t care.  I want to talk about both, and this here is my blog, so I’m gonna do what I want to do.

So there.

Back in January, I made a commitment publicly – right here in this space – to complete the Couch to 5K program.  I haven’t really talked about it much since then, but that’s not because I haven’t stuck with it.   I ran (sort of) my first (and only) 5K back in March.  And I did run the majority of it, but I was unable (unwilling? unmotivated?) to actually RUN the entire time.

Even now, six months later, I’m still struggling to run more that two miles continuously.  And the truth of the matter is, I’m really not sure if it’s a matter of ability, or just a matter of will.  Because honestly?  I still don’t really like it.  I do it, but I haven’t yet learned to enjoy it.

Please don’t misunderstand – I can definitely tell a difference.  Both in my endurance, and in my body.  And I like that part.

I’m thinking that maybe I need to add some strength training to my routine, because it’s not so much that I get winded, or that my heart-rate is too high; it’s more that my legs start to feel like they weigh about a ton.  And you know, a ton is a lot.  So maybe some strength training would benefit.

This morning I went for a run around our neighborhood.  It was around 10 AM, and the day was just starting to heat up.  I felt pretty good when I started, and I managed to get to about the one-and-a-half mile point before I felt like I needed to take a little break.  I walked for 30-seconds or so, and then picked up the pace again.  I finished it out at a good pace, only stopping to walk the last little bit to cool down.  The problem is, I had really planned to do three miles when I set out from the house. Somewhere along the way, I talked myself out of it and ended up only doing two.

Why do you think that is?  If you run, how do you stay motivated to keep going?  What kinds of strength training do you do?  Do share – maybe I’ll gather some inspiration and motivation from your suggestions.

As a thank you in advance, I’ll share this fig bundt cake with you.  Figs are good for you – especially for runners, as they contain high levels of potassium and fiber.  So, you know, this cake is kind of healthy.  Sort of.

As I was running yesterday, I was contemplating what to take as a dessert to a late lunch/early dinner (dunch?) at my in-laws’ house.  They had graciously kept our boys overnight on Saturday so we could have a grown-ups-only night with some friends and family.  I wanted to contribute a little something as a token of gratitude for their willingness to open their home to our two hooligans.

My mind kept settling on some figs I had put in the freezer back in June after spending an afternoon plucking them from our neighbor’s tree.  I decided on this simple bundt cake that uses fresh fig puree, and I was pleased with the outcome.  The texture was a little funny, more like a steamed pudding than a cake, but that’s probably more because I transported it almost directly from the oven in a cake carrier, so it sat in it’s own condensation for a while.  You won’t have the same problem if you allow it to cool completely before serving.  The flavor is delightfully figgy, and it’s not at all too sweet.  It would be especially nice for breakfast with a cup of coffee.

Fig Bundt Cake with Honey Butter Glaze (adapted from this recipe at Andrea Meyers’ Blog)

prep time: 15 minutes

bake time: 45-50 minutes

yields: 12-15 servings

Ingredients

Fig puree

  • 1 lb figs, destemmed and pureed in the food processor

Cake

  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 cups honey granules (can use granulated sugar)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups fig puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3  cups flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

Glaze

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 Tablespoons butter

  1. Begin by preheating the oven to 325F and greasing and flouring a 12-cup bundt pan
  2. Cream together the butter and honey granules using an electric stand mixer with a paddle attachment
  3. Add the eggs, one at the time
  4. Add the fig puree and the vanilla
  5. Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking soda
  6. Add flour mixture slowly to the fig mixture
  7. Scrape batter into prepared pan
  8. Bake at 325F for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean
  9. Turn out and cool on a cooling rack
  10. Prepare glaze by placing the honey and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook until butter has melted and mixture is warm
  11. Glaze cake while it is still slightly warm
  12. Enjoy!

Hen House Drama, a Timely Pardon, and Cornmeal Pancakes

Before I get started, I want to give a warm welcome and sincere thank you to any of you who found life, in recipes through Freshly Pressed.  I was completely surprised (pleasantly so) when I saw that one of my posts had been featured the other day.  I am beyond grateful for all of your thoughtful comments and words of encouragement.  If you like what you’ve seen so far, I invite you to keep up with the blog through Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed.  You can also follow me on Pinterest

In the spirit of full disclosure, our adventures in backyard poultry rearing have not been without, um, shall we say,  challenges.  We started back in April with three Rhode Island Reds – Fred, Tweety and Sally.  Things seemed great at first – we were getting three eggs a day, the chickens seemed happy (we let them free range during the day, and put them back in the coop at night), and it wasn’t a tremendous amount of work.  We made sure they had food, water, and fresh air, and they provided us with a dozen eggs every four days. It seemed almost too good to be true.

And that’s because it was.  We lost Fred in August to what we believe was a black widow spider bite, and we lost Tweety in October to a predator of some sort or another.  We didn’t want Sally to be lonely, so we found her four new friends – Spot and Dot, two lovely black and white Barred Rock hens, and Fred, Jr. and Tweety, Jr., a couple of Ameraucanas.  We promised to keep them safe, well fed and watered, in exchange for eggs.  We were looking forward to four or five eggs a day, perhaps enough to share with our friends and neighbors.  This was in November.

At first, Sally wasn’t terribly keen on her new coop-mates.  In particular, she decided that Tweety, Jr. was her nemesis.  Every time that poor hen would get close to Sally, she would peck at her and pull her tail feathers out.  Tweety, Jr. became scared to leave the corner by the nesting boxes – she would huddle there, trembling, trying to make herself as small as possible.  Sally was like the schoolyard bully, exerting her dominance over the new kid on the block.  I’m not sure what it was about poor Tweety, Jr. (maybe it was her name), but after a while Sally left her completely devoid of tail feathers.

In addition to this little pecking-order drama, the egg production was not what we’d hoped it would be.  For a while, it was only Sally laying.  Then occasionally one of the Rocks would lay – either Spot or Dot.  We know it wasn’t an Ameraucana because all of the eggs were of the brownish variety – Ameraucana eggs are greenish blue (part of the reason we chose the breed).  From late October to late January, there was nary a green egg to be had.  We’d been told that the hens were 8 months old when we got them, so they should have been of prime laying age.  Had we been swindled?  Were these gals completely infertile?  Was the trauma being inflicted upon them by that bully Sally too much to handle?  We weren’t sure.  What we did know was that they were eating an awful lot of feed and not producing anything in return.

Over time, the drama subsided, and Tweety Jr.’s tail feathers began to fill in again.  Both Rocks began laying regularly, and things seemed to be on a more even keel in the hen house.  When the weather began to get cold (for those two days back in January) we decided we need to put a heat lamp in the coop to keep the water from freezing overnight.  The light seemed to make things even better – the egg production from Sally, Spot and Dot increased.  Tweety, Jr. and Fred, Jr., though?  Not so much.

My mother and my husband have “joked” on more than one occasion about sending the Ameraucana’s to the stew pot.  I chose to ignore them.

The other day I went out to the coop, as I do in the afternoon, and I lifted the door to the nesting boxes.  There, nestled in the straw, were four eggs.  Three brown and one green (!).

And there was much rejoicing.

The (theoretical) trip to the stew pot has been stayed.

This morning I used that beautiful green egg in some cornmeal pancakes I’ve been wanting to tell you about.  I made them for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about them ever since.  I make whole-grain pancakes all the time – usually a mixture of rolled oats and freshly ground wheat – but this is the first time I’ve really delved into the cornmeal variety.  I think it’s because I’ve been getting all of this lovely freshly ground meal from Rockin’ S Farms – I really want to showcase it.  The sweetness of the corn lends itself really nicely to a pancake application.  Together with some local raw honey, cultured buttermilk, and those coveted eggs from our backyard flock, they make for a delightful breakfast. 

Honey, Buttermilk and Cornmeal Pancakes
prep time: 5 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
yields: 16 4-inch pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 2/3 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup honey (I’ve also used molasses here, for a deeper flavor)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, honey, eggs and melted butter
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Do not overmix.
  4. Ladle by quarter-cupfuls onto a hot griddle.  Allow to brown on the first side before flipping to the second side.
  5. Serve warm with warm maple syrup, honey or fruit compote (I used some warm blueberry jam).
  6. Enjoy!

Why I Love Southern Food; A{nother} Hash Recipe; And a Giveaway Winner(!)

Lordy, Southern food has been in the news a lot lately.  From Paula Deen to Trisha Yearwood to Hugh Acheson, there’s been a lot of talk about what southern cooking really is. I know I’ve written about it before, but I thought it warranted a bit more discussion.  I mean, I’m a southerner, and I cook, so I guess you could say I’m a southern cook.  I grew up watching other southerners cook, both men and women, and I’ve learned a thing or two from each of them.  Mostly what I know is that, for the most part, southern food is simple.  It’s based on seasonal foods that come from the land, and it’s highly flavorful.

I love the tradition of southern food.  I love that it’s based on an agrarian lifestyle, one where food is grown within a community and consumed within that same community.  And while the fats of choice in southern cooking have traditionally been animal fats in the form of lard, butter and tallow, I’m okay with that too.  There are more and more studies every day that show that fats from pastured animals are actually good for us in moderation.

Moderation is also a common thread in southern cooking (and eating).  I can remember being at my grandparents’ house in Mississippi when I was young.  Supper was often a simple bowl of white beans spooned over cornbread.  Or a plate of garden vegetables to accompany a few fried fish that had come from the lake earlier that day.  And yes, the fish were fried (probably in Crisco, because that was all the rage those days), but they were small and the majority of the meal was made up of vegetables in the form of green beans, tomatoes, green onions and peppers.

To this day, this is how I prefer to eat.  A little bit of protein, accompanied by some farm fresh vegetables.  In my mind, this is the epitome of southern food.  Simple, fresh, seasonal.

Even when those seasonal vegetables might not be my favorite, I’m making an effort to learn to like them.  I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a rutabaga hash that I’d made for breakfast one morning.  In that post, I mentioned that I’ve never really been a fan of rutabagas (also known as turnips) because of their bitter, earthy flavor.  The problem is that they are in my CSA bag every week.  And I am beyond grateful to have the resource of a local farm that brings me farm fresh vegetables on a weekly basis, so I’m not about to complain.  So I just have to make every effort to embrace the rutabaga

This time, I shredded them using the large shredding blade on my food processor.  Then I salted them and let them  sit for five minutes or so.  The salt drew out a lot of the liquid, which also removed much of the bitterness. I placed them in a clean kitchen towel and twisted it tightly to squeeze out as much of the liquid as  I could.

Then I sauteed them in some clarified butter with some kale and pulled pork.  The earlier version of rutabaga hash was good, but it wasn’t great.  The cubes never got good and crispy the way I like, they just kind of got soft and mushy and wet.  They tasted alright, but I felt like they needed a little tweaking.  The shredded version?  Crispy, brown, tender, flavorful – really great.

I served it over some heirloom pencil-cob grits and topped it all with a couple of poached eggs.  It was a quintessential southern dinner – local, seasonal and fresh. 

Pork, Rutabaga and Kale Hash

prep time: 10 minutes

cook time: 15 minutes

serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 3 small rutabagas, shredded
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup kale, shredded
  • 1/2 cup pulled pork (could also use pot roast, corned beef, or leave out meat altogether)
  • 2 teaspoons clarified butter

  1. Place shredded rutabagas in a stainless steel bowl, and toss with 1 teaspoon salt.  Let sit for five minutes to draw out the water.
  2. Place on a clean kitchen towel, pull ends of towel up to create a little pouch.  Twist tightly to squeeze out as much water as you can.
  3. Heat an iron skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add clarified butter  to pan and melt.
  5. Add the kale, pork and rutabagas.  Cook over medium heat, stirring periodically until crispy and brown.
  6. Taste for seasoning – add salt and pepper as necessary.
  7. Enjoy!

If you, like me, are not a fan of the humble turnip, give this method a try.  The salting and draining really mellows out the flavor, and it helps in the crisping process.

And finally, for the announcement you’ve all been waiting for, the Whole Foods gift card giveaway winner.

There were 32 entries into the contest.  I wrote them all down in the order in which I received them, and then I went to random.org to choose a winner. 

Congratulations, Natalie!  Email me your address at lifeinrecipes[at]gmail[dot]com and I’ll arrange to have the gift card mailed to you. You’ll be making over your pantry in no time.

Thank you to Harry’s Farmers Market Alpharetta for partnering with me on this generous giveaway!

In Defense of the Humble Prune

I don’t care how hard the California Dried Plum Growers & Packers try, they will never make prunes sexy.  They can change their name to “dried plums” and put them in fancy packages, but they’ll always be prunes in my book.  And the thing is, no matter how old (and constipated) it may make me sound, I really like prunes.  I don’t need them to be sexy.  I just need them to taste good.  And they do.

Prunes have gotten a bad rap over the years.  Mostly because people associate them with “regularity” and other such sensitive topics.  They were those wrinkly black things that your grandparents ate.  And yet nobody had issues eating dried apricots, or raisins, or dried cherries, blueberries, apples or bananas.  For some reason, prunes were the only dried fruit that gave people issues.  So the powers that be decided to change their name.  Next thing you know, we’ll be calling raisins “dried grapes”.  What is the world coming to when even our fruits have politically correct monikers?

I hadn’t bought prunes in years, but over the holidays, Tami posted this recipe for Zinfandel Poached Prunes.  Simply spooned over a dollop of rich mascarpone cheese, it exuded elegance.  This is how you make prunes sexy, I thought to myself, not by changing their name to something innocuous like “dried plums”.  I still haven’t had a chance to make that beautiful dessert, but I did go out and buy a passel of prunes.  And we’ve been snacking on them ever since.  My youngest thinks they’re the biggest, most delicious raisins he’s ever tasted.

People, I implore you.  Give prunes a chance.

Oatmeal with Almonds and Prunes
prep time: 2 minutes
cook time: 10 minutes
yields: 1 serving

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (could sub soy or dairy milk)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup prunes, chopped
  • 1/8 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sucanat (could sub brown sugar)
  1. Bring milk and salt to a boil in a small saucepan
  2. Add the oats and cook, stirring to keep from sticking, until thickened
  3. Add the prunes, almonds and sucanat
  4. Enjoy

This is a hearty, nutrient-dense breakfast.  It is not terribly low in calories, but it makes up for that by packing a wollop of vitamins, minerals and fiber into the calories that are there.  I’m often left wanting when I eat a bowl of cold cereal for breakfast, but this sticks with you.  It’s sweet, but not too sweet.  The texture from the raw almonds is a nice contrast to the oatmeal and the prunes.   And if you use almond milk (as I did), you get an extra bit of almond flavor, which is nice.

So while this is not as sexy as poaching them in red wine and spooning them over creamy Italian cheese, this oatmeal should help you overcome some of your preconceived prune notions.  Oh, believe me – I’ll be poaching prunes soon – but until then, this will have to do.

A Post Dedicated to Community Supported Agriculture

Over the summer, I took the time to read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  It was the height of gardening season, we’d just acquired our first round of chickens, and I was completely enamored of her stories of sustainability and year-round local eating.

Of course I was – our garden was overflowing with tomatoes and beans and peppers, and there was local produce to be had at farmers markets and roadside stands everywhere I turned.  Even the chain grocers carried local and regional fruits and vegetables, and proclaimed it proudly with prominent signage.

When fall rolled around, I even planted a “winter garden” full of a variety of cruciferous vegetables – cabbages and brussels sprouts and broccoli and greens – along with tender lettuces and spinach.  Unfortunately, the brassicae were more fodder for a host of Mamestra brassicae (cabbage moths and their larvae) than they were for our family.  We managed to eke out a few small heads of broccoli and some collard greens, but for the most part the chickens enjoyed the leafy treats crawling with juicy caterpillars.  Our lettuces did well, though.

About four weeks ago, the Marketing Team Leader at Harry’s Farmer’s Market (with whom I’m partnering on the pantry stock-up giveaway – if you haven’t already entered, there’s still time!) announced on their facebook page that they were working with Rockin’ S Farms to put together a Community Supported Agriculture subscription program.  I was so excited to hear this – I’d read about Rockin’ S on Jenn Carter’s A Hundred Miles of Food blog, and was intrigued by this little farm located about 14 miles northeast of my house.  They grow their own corn for meal and grits, and grind it on their property.  They also make jams and jellies, and are known for their chow-chow.  I immediately decided that I would give their CSA program a chance.  I even had a chance to meet Nichelle Stewart, one of the owners, and her family at Harry’s one day when I went in to pick up my produce.

The thing about eating locally year round is that winter can be a tough time for produce.  Luckily, here in Georgia we’ve had a very mild winter so far, which means our winter growing season has been extended.  However, winter vegetables are very different from what we’re used to in the spring and summer.  Instead of brightly colored summer squashes, peppers and tomatoes, we’re talking about root vegetables, leafy greens and densely packed heads of cabbage.  As far as fruits go, you might still be able to get some varieties of apples, persimmons, pears and pomegranates.  And since we’re close to Florida, citrus is always an option.

One of my favorite ways to use kale

Our bags from Rockin S’ are always chock full of picked-fresh (usually the morning of the day they are delivered) greens and root vegetables. We’re also privy to bags of corn meal and grits, as well as shiny jars of preserves.  One week we even got honey from a local bee keeper.  I’ve had a great time coming up with new and interesting ways to incorporate these vegetables into our meal routine.  Yesterday, I had a comment on my facebook page from a fellow CSA subsriber.  I had mentioned using rutabagas from our bags one week to make dinner for our family.  She said she was a little inexperienced with some of these veggies, and asked for more info on how we used the rutabagas.  It occurred to me that there might be more people out there with similar questions (Nichelle Stewart from Rockin’ S does a great job of including recipes and information in the bags each week, by the way), so I decided to do a post recapping some of the ways we’ve put this bounty to good use, including the Kale Carbonara pictured above.

This salad with greens, pomegranate arals, pumpkin seeds and goat cheese is based on one that Tami of Running with Tweezers featured a couple of weeks ago. I shredded up some napa cabbage and colorful rainbow chard from one of our bag one week, and subbed chevre and pumpkins seeds for Tami’s pine nuts and aged goat cheese.  It was a huge hit at a dinner party we went to, and I’ve been making variations on it ever since.

This Asian-style beef stew is loosely based on this recipe for pot roast from Whole Foods.  I used carrots, beets and rutabagas as the vegetables in the pot and added some orange zest to brighten things up a bit.  It was delicious.

And for breakfast this morning, I made rutabaga and mixed-greens hash with a poached egg.  I love hash, and typically make it with potatoes.  Nichelle had mentioned that they use turnips and rutabagas in place of potatoes in lots of different applications so I thought I’d try them here.  I have to admit, I’ve always had a slight aversion to turnips.  They have a slightly bitter earthy flavor that can be a little offputting.  However, I really enjoy them in this hash.Rutabaga Hash
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 1 large rutabaga, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 small carrots, finely diced
  • 1 cup mixed greens (I used rainbow chard and mustard greens), cut into thin ribbons
  • salt and pepper to taste

Begin by melting the coconut oil in an iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the diced onion and saute until translucent.

Add the rutabaga and carrot and spread out into a single layer.  Allow to cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes (you want them to get good and brown on one side before stirring).  After the first five minutes, check to see if they have browned sufficiently.  At this point, stir periodically to make sure that rutabaga pieces get brown on all sides.

Toward the end of the cooking time, add the greens.  If necessary, cover for a couple of minutes to make sure the rutabagas are cooked through.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve topped with a poached or fried egg and a sprinkling of hot sauce.

I have really enjoyed the challenge of finding creative ways to use the vegetables I’ve received from Rockin’ S Farms.  I love knowing where the food comes from, who grew it and harvested it, and that I’m doing my part, however small, to support our local economy and agriculture industry.  Nichelle and her family are providing a wonderful service, and we’re lucky to have access to that.

Don’t forget to click over to this post and let me know your New Years Resolutions (maybe you resolved to eat more locally this year!), or tweet the following: I want to win a $50 Whole Foods Gift card from @HFM_Alpharetta and @lifeinrecipes: http://bit.ly/AsEio7.  You could win a $50 gift card to Whole Foods, courtesy of Harry’s Farmers Market.

 

Streusel-topped Cranberry Orange Muffins

Friends, I just can’t accept the fact that it’s the middle of December.  I just. can. not.  How is it that there are fewer than two weeks until Christmas?  Where has the month gone?  I need for time to just slow down. Take a breather. Relax.

Seriously.

For one thing, it just doesn’t feel like December.  It was 65 degrees outside today.  There I was, out in the garden, picking collards and broccoli and lettuce.  Relishing the warmth. Feeling slightly off kilter because it IS December, after all, and my garden is still offering up all sorts of goodies.

December.  Last year it snowed on Christmas.

I’m kind of torn.  I love the fact that the kids can still play outside in the afternoons, but I miss having a fire every night in the fireplace.  I love the lovely greens still coming out of the garden, but I would also love it if it snowed one day soon.  I want the best of both worlds.  I guess I just need to learn to be thankful for what I’ve got.

I had a meeting the other morning at the school where I used to work.  I was supposed to be there at 8 a.m., but Atlanta traffic had other plans for me.  As I was sitting there, surrounded by every commuter in the metropolitan area, I praised the fact that my new job is three miles from my house.  I used to drive 50 miles round-trip.  Every day.  Now it’s ten at the most – and that’s because I have to drop the little one off at day-care beforehand.  I know I’m thankful for that.

Because it was an 8 o’clock meeting, I wanted to provide some goodies that we could munch while we chatted.  I had recently dried a bunch of cranberries in my dehydrator, and candied some orange zest using honey in place of the granulated sugar.  I love the combination of orange and cranberry, so I decided to bake a variation on this crumb cake I made last year, but making muffins instead.

Streusel-topped Cranberry Orange Muffins
adapted from the Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook
prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 35-45 minutes
yields: 1 9-inch square cake
Ingredients
For the topping:
1/2 cup sucanat (or firmly packed dark brown sugar))
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
generous pinch of salt
For the batter:
2 cups freshly ground flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup plus honey granules (or granulated sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup half and half
2 large eggs
1/4 cup coconut oil
4 large pieces candied orange peel, chopped

1 cup unsweetened dried cranberries, reconstituted in 1/2-cup of  apple cider

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In the bowl of your food processor, combine the brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, and butter.  Pulse the it until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Set the mixture aside in the refrigerator.
  3. Add the reconstituted cranberries, along with the liquid, and the candied zest to the food processor.  Process until the berries and zest are chopped
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  5. In a large bowl, co tmbinehe sour cream, half and half, eggs,  and oil
  6. Add the flour mixture to the sour cream mixture and stir just to combine.  Fold in the cranberry mixture.
  7. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.

What’s nice about these is that the muffins themselves are not too sweet (the tart cranberries take care of that), so the sweet streusel topping really contrasts nicely with them.  The original recipe called for using fresh cranberries that have been chopped in the food processor, but I think the dried ones work equally as well.  I definitely like the addition of the candied zest.  They were a big hit with my kids, and with my fellow meeting attendees.  I think they would also be a delightful addition to your holiday breakfast or brunch table, if you do that sort of thing.

Homemade Holiday Gift Ideas ( A Round-up of Sorts)

Can you believe that tomorrow is December 1? I’m kind of in denial about the whole thing – holding on to November for as long as I possibly can.

Maybe it’s because I’m starting a new job on Monday. Yes, right in the middle of the holiday fray, I’m starting a new job and putting my youngest back into day care. What stress? What added pressure?

It’s definitely for the best, and I’m really excited about the opportunity. It just comes (as most things do) at a particularly busy time.

With that in mind, it might be a while before I post anything on the blog. It’s not that I won’t be baking and cooking, it’s just that I’m not sure how much writing and editing time I’ll have. I’m prepared, though. I’m arming you with some of my favorite holiday posts from last year to get you started. These were all big hits with my friends and family, and I hope you’ll enjoy making and giving them as much as I did.

Homemade Panettone (excellent for French Toast)
Time consuming, but totally worth it!

Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
A versatile cookie recipe that adapts to all manner of flavors and add-ins.

Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt Caramels
As delicious as they are beautiful!

Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
If you’ve ever been intimidated by royal icing, this should help you overcome your fears!

So, thanks to all of you for continuing to come to this little corner of the internet.  I’m grateful for your support and feedback, and for your patience when things get a little sporadic.  Life continues to happen for all of us outside of cyberspace, and I’m thankful that I still have a creative outlet and a place to share the things I love.

Let me know if you try any of these recipes, and if you give them as gifts or keep them all to yourselves (I know I’m tempted to do that with those caramels, and with that panettone).  Hopefully I’ll find that I have time to continue to post regularly, but if not, maybe you’ll find some inspiration from these in the meantime.

Enjoy!

Unexpected Beauty And a Recipe For Apple Cake

There are places in this world that have become embedded in my soul.  Something about the history and atmosphere and architecture and general overall there-ness touches me and leaves a mark that can’t be erased.  They aren’t always grand or spectacular; sometimes – rather often actually –  they’re quiet and small and simple.

Christ Church, Frederica is one of those places.  An historic church in the Christ Church Parish of St. Simons Island, nestled among giant live oaks and old crepe myrtles festooned with spanish moss, there is something magical about the gothic-style building and the cemetery grounds surrounding it.  It’s quiet, peaceful, simple.  You can feel the weight of history there.

We stopped here on our way back from touring a golf course.  It was almost an afterthought – not a scheduled stop on our route.  In fact, we were late getting back because so many of us couldn’t tear ourselves away.  Our tour guide spoke to the abundance of churches on St. Simons Island, saying that he believed you couldn’t visit a place of such beauty and not believe in the existence of a higher power.  You feel that here.

When you walk through the weathered wooden gate, surrounded by moss-covered red brick, you are struck by the serenity of the place.  There are cars going by on the road just behind you, but somehow you are sheltered from all of that.  The light filtered through the trees falls just so, dancing haphazardly in the breeze.There is unexpected beauty here – dried brown leaves on the roof of the entry gate, dappled sunlight through moss-covered trees, gray-green shingles and heavy wooden beams.  Even the hint of a yellow leaf through the dried fronds of a fallen fern, with the bokeh created by the light coming through the trees above, takes my breath away.

As you walk among the tombs and gravestones, there are little tokens left by visitors.  Some might even make you chuckle quietly to yourself.  Rachel and I joked that Bo and Luke were laid to rest here.  Irreverent?  Maybe – but I don’t think we were the first to think it.

There are small surprises around every turn.  These soft pink camellias were nearly hidden from view behind a large oak heavily draped in moss.  Had I not been looking for treasures, I might not have spotted them.  Sometimes I think my camera seeks out these little gems – like it’s leading me to capture fleeting beauty.

The interior of the church is just as lovely as the surrounding landscape.  Every stained glass window is unique and the exposed-beam ceiling and warm-wood pews are a testament to the workmanship that must have gone into the construction of the building.  This is a church that is well loved and well used.  And it is still an active Episcopal church, with daily morning and evening prayer, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday Holy Eucharist services.As with many churches, The Episcopal Churchwomen of Christ Church put together a cookbook of their best loved recipes.  Being a lover of church cookbooks, I couldn’t resist purchasing one while I was there.  In many ways it is a typical church cookbook, with scads of casseroles, gelatin-based salads and more variations on brownies and pound cakes than you might think possible.  There are some hidden gems, though – I especially like the chapter at the end titled “Men Cook, Restaurants, Olde Time”.  There you’ll find a “Cure for Dysentery or Diarrhea” alongside “Martha Washington’s Boston Cream Pie.”


In determining which recipe to make first from the Christ Church cookbook, I knew I wanted something rather simple that would reflect the unexpected beauty found on the grounds and in the building.  I adapted this apple cake from a recipe for “Apple Dapple Cake” by Mary Jane Flint, but I changed quite a few things along the way.  The original sounds delicious, and it certainly inspired the cake you see above. But, if you want the original recipe, you’ll have to order a copy of the cookbook for yourself (all proceeds from the sale of the books go to help charitable organizations on St. Simons Island and worldwide).

Oatmeal Apple Cake
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 45 minutes
serves: 12-14

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tsp soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup apple butter
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 cups apples, chopped
  1. Grease and flour a 10×18 inch pan and preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients
  3. Stir together the sugar, apple butter, butter and eggs
  4. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients
  5. Fold in the chopped apples
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Serve plain or topped with unsweetened cream, creme fraiche or yogurt.

I’ve actually eaten this for breakfast every morning this week.  With a cup of hot black coffee, it’s just what I want to start my day with.  Mildly sweet, moist, full of autumn apple flavor – it’s reminiscent of baked oatmeal, but all grown up.  There’s something really lovely about it – it’s beautiful in its simplicity.  Unexpectedly so.

Father, we thank you for this meal, for our lives, for other people, for beautiful things, for goodness, and for You.
Amen
~Christ Church Cookbook

When All Else Fails, Make Granola

A week or so ago, I posted something to this blog’s Facebook page about trying a recipe, and hoping it wasn’t a total disaster.  My cousin commented almost immediately, saying that she doubted anything I ever made was a total disaster.  While flattered, I laughed out loud when I read the comment – if she only knew how many miserable failures I’ve had in the kitchen (and elsewhere).  Some of them to the point that they’re completely inedible.  I just don’t write about the failures.  Maybe I should.

I think if you love to cook, you can’t be afraid to fail.  There’s always going to be that one batch of cookies that you burn, or that jelly that didn’t set or the bread dough that just didn’t rise for whatever reason.  The important thing is that you try to learn from those mistakes and move on.  Sure, sometimes it can be painful to your ego (and to your wallet, in some cases), but it’s not the end of the world.  I’ve curdled a dozen egg yolks making custard, and had an equal number of egg whites that never whipped to stiff peaks.  I’ve turned multiple batches of failed sourdough bread into sourdough breadcrumbs.  I’ve tossed out a stockpot that had sugar burned so badly on the bottom that it was irreparably damaged.  Believe me – I’ve had plenty of disasters in the kitchen.  Sometimes they push me to try harder, and sometimes they make me take a step back and reevaluate whether I really have the time and the inclination to babysit a sourdough starter.

The answer to the second question, by the way, is no.  At least not right now.

Speaking of stockpots....

Yesterday was one of those days.  You know the ones – where nothing seems to go quite the way you’d planned?  I woke up thinking that I’d do some grocery shopping, wash some clothes and maybe make some granola bars to send to school as snacks for the boys.  A productive day – that’s all I’d really hoped for.  And it’s not that it wasn’t productive, it was just not the kind of productive I’d planned on.

New chickens on the block
New chickens on the block

You see, rather than running my grocery errands and washing the umpteen piles of laundry that are currently carpeting my laundry room floor, I spent half the day yesterday driving 100 miles round-trip to procure these lovely Barred Rock and Ameraucana hens.  We started our backyard flock back in April.  Three Rhode Island Red hens, which my oldest son promptly named Sally, Tweety and Fred.  Since then, the trio has dwindled to a lonesome single Sally – Fred was felled by a Black widow spider, and Tweety we lost to an unknown predator just a couple of days ago.  While we know that these are just some of the perils that come with raising livestock, it’s still a sad affair when you’re faced with the loss of an animal.  Poor Sally seemed a little lost without her flockmates, and we’d been thinking of expanding our numbers anyway, so I felt justified in postponing my chores for a bit so that we could do just that.

Once we got back home, got the chickens’ wings clipped and transferred them safely to the coop to get acclimated, I decided to move on to making granola bars.  I had placed some apple chunks in the dehydrator before we left for our chicken wrangling adventure, and they were nice and leathery upon our return.

Semi-succesful granola bars

I had attempted granola bars earlier in the week, based on this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  They were good, but they didn’t really ever set up the way I expected them too.  First, they burned and stuck on the edges; and, second, they were too soft at room temperature to maintain their bar shape.  I’m not sure if its my error (probably) or a flaw in the recipe (probably not – Deb’s pretty much a genius, plus she tests her recipes carefully), but I wanted to start over from scratch to try and get something that was more bar-like and less really thick oatmeal-like.

I used a combination of rolled oats, wheat germ, dried apples, raisins, unsweetened flake coconut, sucanat, agave nectar and coconut oil.  I sprayed my pan liberally with oil.  I only baked them for about 15 minutes.

And they were a disaster.  A complete and utter failure.  At least as far as granola bars go.

As granola, though?  A total success (well, except for the part that was so baked on the pan I couldn’t get it off without soaking it in hot water for an hour or so).  With a little almond milk, it makes a delicious breakfast cereal.

So despite the fact, that nothing that I initially intended to get done yesterday actually got accomplished, I wound up with some beautiful new chickens, and some delicious granola.  I won’t bother sharing the ratios I used, since I really was trying for something completely different from what I ended up with.  However, once I do figure out the perfect granola bar recipe, I’ll be sure to pass it along to all of you.  In the meantime, don’t be afraid to try and fail in the kitchen- it’s better than never trying to cook at all (or something like that).

Oh, and those new chickens?  My oldest son ran right out to the coop when he got off the bus and promptly named them: Spot, Dot, Tweety, Jr. and Fred, Jr.  He’s nothing if not original.

In case you’re just really jonesing for some homemade granola bars, here are a few recipes that seem promising:

Alton Brown’s Granola Bars

King Arthur Four’s Chewy Granola Bars

Ina Garten’s Homemade Granola Bars

Apartment Therapy’s Crunchy Granola Bars

Whole-wheat Croissants

I went shopping last week at one of my favorite places in Atlanta, Your Dekalb Farmers Market.  I needed some coconut oil, and I knew they were supposed to carry expeller-pressed coconut oil at a very reasonable price.

Unfortunately, it is not near my house.  At all.  So it’s not like I can just run down there whenever I need something.  It’s kind of a special treat.  And when I go, I have to explore every aisle, and peruse all of the exotic produce.  I check out the cheese selection, and see if there is any fabulous seafood I can’t live without.  It’s quite the expedition.  And I always end up putting things in my shopping cart that I didn’t plan on when I started.  In fact, on this particular visit I had only one thing in mind when I went – coconut oil.  Guess what they didn’t have?  Right – coconut oil.  Sold out, I was told by the friendly Ethiopian man who was stocking shelves on that aisle.

Continue reading “Whole-wheat Croissants”