Saturday, March 31, 2012

Try, Try Again

I admit it.
I often try to do things that I consider virtuous and aligned with independent living values, not always because I aspire to be a pioneer woman (ahem), but because I like being able to opt-out of the modern food system, which I feel is not serving us well in the long term.

One of those Things I Do is try to make beans. I have failed several times - undercooking, overcooking - and succeeded a time or two as well. But it seems a hard thing for me to get a hold of. These complex legumes want to keep their mystery from me! Nevertheless, I keep trying.

Last weekend, I rinsed, I soaked overnight, and I left the house to meet a friend for the afternoon, leaving my Jacob's cattle beans (purchased at my local Bloomingdale Farmers' Market last summer) with their aromatics (bay leaf, onion studdded with cloves) in the oven at ~290 F, from this recipe. I met my friend Yasemin at the metro, and we went on a mini-adventure (for me, not for her) to the Turkish grocery/ convenience/ dry goods store a few minutes away (Attila's on Columbia Pike). I saw, for the first time in 6 years, products that made me squeal with delight- soup mixes and pretzel sticks, ayran and apple tea powder. It was like visiting a locked room in my mind.

Afterwards, Yasemin graciously had me in to her house for tea and snacks, and we talked and talked and talked...and of course you remember I had beans on at home? Well, the fact had fled from my mind, until I realized it was past 5 PM and had a shock of 'Oh I hope I didn't ruin my pan!' We postponed the forthcoming Turkish coffee and I sped home to survey the damage.

None! Still cooking away! Phew. Aren't beans grand?
I settled down with a movie and looked up an hour later to see that the beans were all crusty and had mostly dried up except the ones under the onion.


Like beans, running is something of a pioneer sport: no money down, no fancy equipment, just gumption, persistence, and determination. If you mess up once, no matter, you can try again next time. Tomorrow is my Try Again.

See you under the cherry blossoms.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Things, in a quickbread

Today's post begins with a Guessing Game. What is this a picture of? 
The answer will come in the next post! For now, we turn our attention to a delicious new conquest:

Chocolate Banana Gingerbread

How did this come about, you ask? As usual, with the need to use up soon-to-be-gone ingredients. In this case it was ripe bananas, the last bit of molasses, and cookie crumbs (that were also used in a certain pie). I love it when things work out like this- you feel economical and thrifty while at the same time ending up with a gorgeous load of sweet baked goodness. It's kind of like the feeling you get when you manage to do two things at once, like laundry and paying bills, except better! Because this gingerbread is sure better than the mostly-dried clothes I get from my building's dryers...
I found the recipe on a blog I am only recently following: How Sweet Eats. I'm not sure if it's How Sweet It Is or How Sweet Eats- she has both. Either way, I am hooked, because her writing is hil-ar-i-ous. Go to this post, read all the way through the recipe, and tell me that you didn't laugh. "Stupid legs." She has a genius for internal comic dialogue.

I loved the combination- banana bread, gingerbread, and of course: chocolate! I stuck mostly to the recipe on this one, although I didn't have enough molasses to equal her amount (1/3 instead of 1/2 cup), but called it close enough. I substituted 1/3 whole-wheat flour for all-purpose to no adverse effect. And instead of turbinado sugar, I sprinkled the top with my ground gingersnap crumbs for an extra sparkle of spice.
The result had a gorgeous moist, practically gooey, crumb, an even crust on top, and filled the role of "Semi-Healthy Dessert" in my household to a 'T'.

Yes, infinitely better than semi-dried clothes. 
Don't forget to guess the subject of the photo above in the comments! No telling what the scale is...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Gingered Lemon Pie for Pi Day

Shadow Puppet Pie Theatre!
Welcome to the Pi Day Post! Working with engineers and following Gesine's blog made me very excited about the possibilities for this day which honors... an irrational number.

Happily, Pi Day this year coincided with a Green-themed Potluck at work, so I wasn't forced to eat the whole pie myself. (Wouldn't that have been awful?)

What's so green about a lemon pie, you ask? Well, lemons are in season in winter, and ginger is easily frozen, making both of these organic choices great ones for this March (even though this winter has hardly earned its stripes). Add in the fact that I was using crushed Ikea ginger cookie leftovers and the final sweetened condensed milk can from a Costco raid a couple years ago, and it becomes also a thrifty and economical use of my pantry ingredients! Ah, happiness found. :-)
I was excited to use such a great recipe from Leah at So How's It Taste?, whom I met through the Food Bloggers' Cookie Swap last Christmas. She has crafted a pie with many layers of both lemon and ginger flavor, for a fantastic result! Her recipe follows, with my adaptive tweaks.
Gingered Lemon Icebox Pie
makes 8 servings 12 modest slices
1 1/2 cups Trader Joe’s Triple Ikea ginger cookie crumbs (or gingersnap cookie crumbs)
1 tbsp. crystallized ginger
3 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
6 tbsp. melted butter (could've done with 5 tbsp, I think)
1/2 cup 1/3 cup was fine fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons, mailed from the backyard tree at home in California!)
2-inch piece fresh ginger, minced
3 egg yolks
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
zest from 1 lemon

1. For the crust, preheat oven to 350°F. Blend the cookie crumbs and the crystallized ginger in a food processor until well blended and no unappetizing chunks of the ginger remain. Transfer crumb mixture to a medium bowl and add the sugar and ground ginger; mix well. Add the melted butter and combine. Press into the bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake 10 minutes. Let cool.

Down to the bottom after baking, cooling
Up the sides before baking...

2. For the filling, in a small saucepan add the lemon juice and minced ginger. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and let steep for 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, add the egg yolks to a medium bowl and whisk. Add the sweetened condensed milk and the lemon zest. Strain the ginger lemon juice mixture over the same bowl, pressing on the ginger to release its flavor (save to flavor tea). Whisk all ingredients until well combined.
4. Pour lemon mixture into baked pie crust. Bake at 325°F for 30-35 minutes, until filling is set. Cool at room temperature for 1 hour. Place pie in refrigerator and let set for at least 3 hours (I made mine 2 days in advance and it wasn't adversely affected). Serve chilled with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.

The behind the scenes shots show my battle array:

From window to wall...
From wall to window!
And from this you can understand why each and every baking effort of mine results in a sinkful of dishes! From Left to Right: egg yolks being whisked, sink starting to fill, open can of sweetened, condensed milk, ginger-lemon juice mixture steeping on a burner, pie crust awaiting filling, zesting accomplished. Phew!

Lots of steps and utensils, but sooo worth it!

Did you make a pie for Pi Day??
Do you have advice about how to stop a cookie-crumb-crust from sliding down while baking?
Are you laughing at the size of my kitchen?

Let me know in the comments so I can laugh along. :-)

And make this pie. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

where she admits Spring is here

What a disappointing winter...
The height of DC's snow: Shaw Recreation Center on Feb. 12th
I repeatedly humored the so-called winter weather, preferring to think that all the mild December and January temperatures presaged a violent dumping of snow to occur in mid-March or *gasp* end-of-April (birthday). But the climate appears not to have heard me. I think I can finally declare to myself that Spring (and temps in the 80s) are here to stay. Cue groaning about DC humidity here...
Unfortunately this gives me a good excuse to gripe about my running schedule as well. Progress in training this week has been irregular, and I am comparing myself to the early-peaking cherry blossoms in reproach. It's not ME! It's the CLIMATE!
That's okay, though. If I've learned one thing from my mature years, it is that one dip does not mean the end of the streak. No, we shall just go bumping along, like many other fearless creatives who are risking it all for their happiness.
Well, folks, it's been a tough week, with the runs falling a bit short, and having to face several goals that are not being met (pages written, healing accomplished, enlightenment achieved). One morning, I woke up decidedly against running. Daylight savings had it completely dark outside during my usual run time, and I was tired from the time change. I didn't want to run, so I decided...

To Bake.

That makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Maybe not. Well, it's like this: my body didn't feel like running, but my mind craved the satisfaction, the sense of accomplishment, that come from putting in the effort toward a worthy goal. So I made these cookies, from the blog, Coconut & Lime. They were pretty good. And I got to conduct a science experiment.

6 oz semisweet chips
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, at room temperature*

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, beat until fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, the spices and oatmeal. Mix until well combined. Fold in chips. Place tablespoon-sized blobs of dough on the lined cookie sheet about 1/2 inch apart and bake for 12-14 minutes or until they look "set" and the bottoms are just golden. Carefully remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
The experiment was this: you know how some cooks recommend you squash down the tops of drop cookies before baking? What's that about? Instead of Googling it, I did half spheres and half smooshed spheres of cookie dough and observed their behavior in their natural habitat.
Squished on the left, Round on the right
The smooshed spheres of cookie dough burned on the bottom faster than the regular spheres, which even got an extra minute in the oven. After combing the Googels extensively for 20 minutes, I found this article that stresses the amount of baking soda as key in how much a drop cookie will spread when baking (more soda, more spread). However, I'm having difficulty finding the cause of the tradition of flattening the drops of dough. Does anyone out there in Blog Land have an idea? Please let us know in the comments- your help would be much appreciated!

The cookies were gobbled up to general satisfaction, but it will be good to get back to running.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Will Run For This Soup

Full [seven] times hath Phoebus' cart gone round
Neptune's salt wash and Tellus' orbed ground...
...since last I wrote anything here. It has been BUSY!

Lentil Roasted Garlic Soup with Chard
Not necessarily with cooking and baking, but with writing and dreaming and planning (also good things). Oh, and running. Yes, there has been an awful lot of running around here lately, due to my winning the lottery of DC runners: Cherry Blossom Ten-Mile Race on April 1st. In the spirit of spontaneity, I put my name in for the race in December, and heard back a couple of weeks later that I had gotten "lucky," and would have the rare opportunity to run 10 miles before most people had gotten out of bed on a Saturday morning. So I have been training, and the arm incident did not stop me for long.

As of this week, I've gotten up to 7.7 miles at a stretch, which took me 1 hour and 24 minutes. So, I'm getting close!

If I take a moment to reflect (tasting life in retrospection, as it were) on what voice inside me made me put my name on that list, I would say that running a race is a great example of setting a goal, devising a strategy, challenging yourself to meet your own expectations, and, I predict, feeling elated upon conquering what might have looked like an unconquerable mountain mere months before.

It's good practice, is what I'm getting at, for launching other types of efforts.

Consider this your encouragement from me, and let me know if you'd like more!

Now I see why they're called 'aromatic vegetables'...
Since I've been paying more attention to my digestion and eating habits lately (advisable when you rise early and run before eating), I've decided to try to go as vegetarian as possible in these last few weeks leading up to the race. In that vein, I made this recipe from The Daily Soup Cookbook, which has been bookmarked with a sticky note for-ev-er:
Lentil Roasted Garlic Soup.
The ingredients and procedure are below, modified for my special scaling-down (some in the fridge, some in the freezer) and wasn't-in-the-cupboard (only a puny amount of Puy lentils left, and didn't want to mix them) techniques:
  • 1 whole head of garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 1 Bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pound 1/3 cup of french lentils
  • 8 cups 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 half of one 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • about 3/4 cup chopped chard
  • 3 Tablespoons 1 rough tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tablespoons 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 Italian Parsley, chopped
Pre-heat your oven to 450 degree F. When it comes to temperature, loosely wrap the head of garlic in aluminum foil and place in oven for 15-20 minutes, allowing it to roast. Remove from the oven, and let cool long enough to skin the cloves, placing the cloves into a food processor. Pulse to a near-paste. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a stock pot. When nice and slithery, add the onions, celery and carrots. Allow the aromatic vegetables to cook in the pot for 5-7 minutes, adding a slick more oil if necessary. Add the rosemary, bay leaf, salt and pepper, incorporating them into the vegetables. Allow to cook for 2-3 more minutes.
Add the lentils, broth, tomatoes and tomato paste to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and partially cover with a lid. Allow to simmer for one hour.
After the hour, stir in the chopped chard, roasted garlic paste, the minced garlic and balsamic vinegar. Simmer for 5-7 more minutes in order to have the soup incorporate the new ingredients and wilt the greens.
Remove bay leaf and serve.
Serves 5-6.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Well, hello there.
If this is your first time visiting, you might want to catch up before you continue reading. I fractured both of the arm bones in my right forearm while ice skating in January, which curtailed some of my adventurous living for a few weeks, but now I am back.
The date for the Cast-Off, as I liked to call it, was Valentine's Day, and it was as good a distraction as any... plus a big positive step in the right direction! Now I've got a removable brace and physical therapy exercises, which aren't too bad at all.
This being my first time with a broken bone, it was pretty cool seeing how the process went. It was painfully obvious that the technician did a dozen of these a week, but it was new to me, and fascinating. So of course I took pictures. Cackhanded.
 First he used this mini-circular saw, powered by what looked like a shop-vac (see top picture) to cut through the fiberglass part. It tickled a bit, and gave off some heat. Me? Worried?
Then he used a pair of surgical tongs to widen the strip, and then surgical scissors to cut through the under-layer of gauze. I had been wondering what kind of super-sensing machine could saw through it all without nicking your skin for 4 weeks, so I was somewhat relieved that there were graduated steps to this process.

 When the cast came off, my skin felt weird. Old. And that makes sense, when you think that skin under a cast doesn't have a chance to slough off in its natural course, so I needed to exfoliate it. Ick.

What was surprisingly painful was the range of motion. I was kind of assuming that when the cast came off, I would be able to move my arm normally again, if carefully and with caution. Nope. What you see here is as far as my wrist would go backward and forward, on its own. Whoa. They said it would feel 'stiff,' but this was nuts! It got much better after 24 hours though, and now I'm chipping away at it with the PT. I'm very grateful it was a clean break and I didn't need surgery. Whew!
Now I am pretty much back to my old tricks...
Yaki Soba noodles and spice packet, but with pre-chopped vegetable mix from Trader Joe's (new item, and not something I would buy with two good hands)

Linguine with Smoked Trout, with fennel and onion broth (using up leftovers, frugal foodies can rejoice!)
Peppermint Chocolate Chip Cookies
What's not to love? I was having fun with the microwave reflection in this as well. Because if you can't have fun with your peppermint chocolate chip cookies, what can you have fun with??

More to come on those action steps from the Tea Klatsch, including social connections, skill cultivation, and balance. Do any of those jump out at you as something you're working on, or might need to focus on? Leave a comment and join the group!