Monthly Archives: June 2012

supper tonight – 6.25.12 and 6.28.12 – pork (belly) ‘n’ beans – a guest post from Micah – plus 3-ingredient microwave chocolate cakes!

I was much too busy with Red Clay to help Micah cook dinner Monday night, so he whipped up an amazing (and very fancy) meal for us all on his own. I snapped some photos and told him his delicious supper would go up on the blog if he would write up a post about it. So he did, and here it is!

*   *   *   *   *

Hi. I’m Tanya’s main squeeze Micah and her very first official guest blogger.

I’m also the resident cook/curer of all things carnivorous in our household and a dabbler in what Tanya has coined “boozy infusions.” These are simply booze that has been infused with something (preferably non-toxic) that you think it should taste more like. But I’ll go into further detail about those adventures in a future guest post.

The reason I’m writing is to tell you about this here dinner:

beauty and substance – a perfect combination

I’ve recently begun to discover my roots. In other words, I’ve become enamored with Southern cooking.

I’ve long had a taste for the tasty. But whenever I’d think about the great food cultures of the world, I’d think about French, Italian, authentic Mexican, Japanese, etc. Never did Southern cross my mind. Only recently have I discovered what has been right in front of my face (and in my mouth) my whole life.

This has a lot to do with the rise of our local celebrity chef, Hugh Acheson. I know Tanya has mentioned him before. He’s the man who has put Athens, Georgia on the culinary map. His specialty is Southern cuisine with a modern twist.

After we visited his restaurants and read his cookbook, A New Turn in the South, a lightbulb went off in my head. The South does have one of the finest food cultures in the world. In bridging the traditional cuisines of three continents (North America, Africa, and Europe), we Southerners have created something greater than the sum of its parts.

Sure, it’s been hijacked and bastardized by the Paula Deens of the world, but trailblazers like Hugh are taking it back. This makes for an exciting time to be a foodie in the South, and it has made me want to incorporate a little Southern charm into almost everything I cook.

Including the meal I’m telling you about here, which fancifies butter beans and quick pickles with a little bit of pork belly. Voila!

Wait, that’s French. Let’s try again.

Here it is, y’all: my Pork (Belly) ‘n’ Beans.

First, there are two things you’ll want to make ahead: pork belly confit (I followed these directions from Belly Love) and pickled beets (made following thismodernwife’s recipe). These’ll keep in the fridge for a while, so make them when you have time and keep ‘em around for this meal.

(As you can probably tell from the preceding recipes, and Tanya can confirm, I prefer to read things with lots of pictures.)

Ingredients:

  • For the butter bean puree (you’ll have extra left over):
    • 2 cups dried butter beans or baby limas
    • 6 cups stock or broth
    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 3/4 cup heavy cream
    • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
    • salt and pepper to taste
  • Everything else:
    • two 2- to 3-ounce pieces of pork belly confit
    • 2-4 tablespoons pickled beets, sliced into thin strips
    • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped

What to do:

  • Put beans, stock, onion, and garlic into a pressure cooker, slow cooker, or big pot. Cook until tender (about 30 minutes in a pressure cooker or several hours on the stove/in a slow cooker).
  • Puree with a stick blender or in batches in the regular blender until smooth.
  • Add cream, lemon juice, and paprika, plus salt and pepper to taste.
  • Strain with cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer. (Bonus: The solids that are leftover make good bean dip.)
  • Add the liquid back into a saucepan and cook on medium low heat to reduce it until it’s good and thick.
  • The last step is to crisp up the pork belly. Add the pieces to a skillet over medium heat and cook each side until brown.
  • To serve, ladle about ½ cup of butter bean puree onto each plate, add the pork belly, top with slivers of pickled beets, and garnish with parsley.
  • Eat up!

*   *   *   *   *

Tanya here again. I just want to reiterate how good this was! Micah and I usually work together in the kitchen, but this recipe was entirely his creation and entirely, mouthwateringly, perfectly delicious.

The best part? We had enough of all the fixins that, after having this meal Monday night with a tomato cucumber salad, there was still plenty for us to enjoy it again yesterday, this time with the last of my peach tomato gazpacho.

Oh, and for dessert? We made some fantastic 3-ingredient microwave chocolate cakes, thanks to Stephanie at a {modern} christian woman.

topped at the last minute with the remnants of a pint of
cherry vanilla Häagen-Dazs that we found hiding in the freezer

Gluten-free friends, these are made from egg, powdered sugar, and unsweetened cocoa, so you can enjoy them, too! 🙂

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Categories: people, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

gluten-free experiments, part two: fruity nutty cocoa bites, cranberry coconut almond muffins, and a bonus recipe: peach & tomato gazpacho!

I know the title of this post promises an overflow of information, so I’m going to try to keep the hemming and hawing to a minimum and get quickly to the recipes!

The reason I’m sharing so many at once here is because in the last two weeks, I made two more batches of gluten-free goodies to share with my Red Clay buddies, and then I made some peach and tomato gazpacho (both vegan and gluten-free) to bring to the end-of-institute potluck dinner on Tuesday. All this food was for the same audience of eaters, so I decided to put it all in the same blog post, too, for easy sharing. 🙂

For my third-ever gluten-free experiment last Monday, I decided I wanted to make some of those no-bake fruit-and-nut balls that I’ve seen around the blogosphere/interwebs. I looked at a few recipes to get an idea of the proportions, then (of course) winged it based on what I actually had in the cupboard. In the end, these chewy little bites ended up being rich, a little sweet and a little salty, and overall pretty darn tasty!

worried about sticking, I used little paper mini-muffin cups to transport
these safely (probably unnecessary, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt)

What’s in it:

  • 6 dates, pitted
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 cups pecan halves
  • 2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup dried, unsweetened shredded coconut

Step-by-step:

  • Blend all of the ingredients except for the coconut in a food processor until you have a thick mixture, almost like cookie dough.
  • Put the coconut in a shallow dish.
  • Use your hands or a cookie scoop to pick up about 1-2 teaspoons of the mixture at a time; roll and press your scoop of dough into a tightly packed ball. (Warning: your hands will get sticky!)
  • Roll the ball in the dried coconut.
  • Repeat until you run out of stuff! 🙂

For me, this made about 3 dozen little bites, which was perfect for sharing with a group. Though I’ll admit, I probably ate a little more than my fair share. 🙂

Next up was my attempt at gluten-free muffins for this Monday, which I adapted from a recipe on the Gluten Free in Boulder site (with minor changes, as always, because I didn’t have blueberries or quite enough cornmeal.)

stacked upside down because, well, why not?

What’s in it:

  • 2/3 cup raw almonds
  • 1 cup dried, unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1-1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup honey (I would reduce this to 1/4 cup next time)
  • 2-1/2 cups milk (I would reduce this to 1 1/2 cups next time)
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups dried cranberries

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F and prepare two 12-cup muffin pans. (I would recommend using liners as I didn’t and my muffins were a little too sticky!)
  • In a food processor, blend together the almonds, coconut, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt until you have a coarse meal that looks kind of like sand.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, milk, and honey.
  • Add the dry ingredients from the food processor and whisk until combined. If you follow the original recipe like I did, your batter will be pretty soupy, which was kind of hard to work with and made for a fragile muffin–so if I make these again, I’ll adjust the recipe.
  • Pour about 1/4 cup of the batter into each of 24 muffin cups. Top each muffin with dried cranberries.
  • Bake for about 25-30 minutes. (After the original recipe’s recommended 15, my muffins were nowhere near done!)
  • Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before (carefully) removing them to a wire rack to reach room temperature.

Like I said, these muffins were very delicate when they came out of the oven, I think because the batter was just too wet, so I would reduce the liquid as noted above. And I also thought they were a little too sweet, so for my personal tastes, I would reduce the honey, too. Still, made following the directions posted here, these sweet and nutty little cakes were a big hit with my classmates.

and the last leftover muffin was pretty tasty
warmed up and topped with some vanilla ice cream

The last thing I made for my Red Clay friends was for our potluck on Tuesday evening. Since it’s been so dang hot here in Georgia, and since it’s the perfect time of year for peaches (free from Earth Fare!) and fresh local tomatoes…

tomato or not tomato, that is the question….

…I decided to resurrect one of my favorite soups from last summer, a cool and refreshing peach and tomato gazpacho from Epicurious. Besides doubling the recipe, here are the changes I made:

  • I used dried tarragon instead of fresh (so, 1 teaspoon dried in place of 1 tablespoon fresh)
  • I used rice wine vinegar in place of the white wine vinegar
  • I doubled the ice and skipped the water
  • I didn’t strain it at the end (and straining wasn’t really necessary anyway!)

I think last year I might have also added a dollop of Greek yogurt to this, but this time I wanted to make it vegan. And since I pretty much stuck to the original recipe, I won’t re-type it up here. But I will show you how lovely it was!

mental note: parsley looks pretty on this soup, but it’s not the best flavor
combination….more tarragon or maybe some mint would have been better!

This stuff got polished off at the party, but I did save just a little bit for Micah and me to enjoy with dinner later in the week.

But more on that in my next post. 🙂

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Red Clay writings + that exciting project I mentioned yesterday

Hey guys.

I’ve mentioned the Red Clay Writing Project a time or two now, and today is our next-to-last day. It’s been a whirlwind, and I haven’t slept or cooked or spent time with Micah nearly enough–but I’m still sad that it is coming to an end.

Like I mentioned before, we’ve pretty much been writing nonstop.  I’ve got a Google Doc now brimming with story starts, scraps of poems, little bits of introspection….and most of that work is unpolished, rough, and completely unsharable.

Other fruits of my Red Clay work are pieces you’ve already seen, like my musings about root vegetables and my ramblings about vision.

Now, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll share a couple more with you.

*   *   *   *   *

The first is a poem inspired by this little scrap of plastic:

Sal L. Russo was my Pappaw, my Mammaw‘s husband and my mom’s dad.
I’ve saved this since I was a little girl.

Upcycled

Stiff, knuckly fingers
took scissors to me one day.
For those fingers,
for the hands and the body
that moved them,
I was the voice that told doctors,
“Yes, you can care for this old man.
He will be paid for.
He is covered.”

Skinny, withering,
wheezing in from plastic tubes,
leaning on a cane clutched tight,
he needed care—
needed me.

In a year, I was replaced
with a copy of myself—
younger, shinier,
not yet thumb-worn at the edges.
Useful, while I was used up.

The old man could have snipped me
into a trash can
like crescents of yellowed fingernail,
silver mustache trimmings,
an expired credit card.

But this old man,
practical as he was,
was also a man of songs.
Aged, bony fingers—
the same ones that wielded the shears—
plucked out melodies on guitars and banjos
as a tiny granddaughter looked on
and listened.

I once was a silent thing in a leather wallet,
only speaking at the pharmacy,
the hospital.
I once was a thing of business.
But now,
I make music.

*   *   *   *   *

The second poem I’m going to share came out of a movement and improv activity that we did in our class last Thursday where one of us would start a scene, the others in the group would join in. It was also inspired by my first date with my husband (six years and three days ago) and our honeymoon in New York City (almost three years ago).

Death-Defying Stunts and Other Human Oddities for Your Amazement.

Remember the fire-eaters,
the knife-jugglers, the sword swallower.
Remember the tattooed lady.
Remember the spectacle, the danger,
the applause of a mesmerized crowd.

Remember the Cyclone,
the old wooden coaster,
rickety click-clacking
up and down
crisscrossed, whitewashed
peaks and valleys.

Remember the Wonder Wheel,
that tilting car on the Wonder Wheel,
sitting with the one
who quickens your heart
and flushes your cheeks,
sneaking a curled pinkie
around his thumb for the first time
and the electricity of one feverish hand
reaching out for another.
You could look across the water,
across the glittering boardwalk lights,
across the popcorn-dusted bustle
of buzzing, bumping bodies,
and see sparkling Manhattan
stretching infinitely before you.

But you don’t.

You are in Brooklyn,
at Coney Island,
on the Wonder Wheel,
surrounded by sideshows and chaotic sweat,
clutching the trembling hand of the man
beside you—
the man who will still thrill you,
still swallow fire for you,
long after
the carnival
closes.

*   *   *   *   *

And last, here is the digital literacy project that I created to present to our group this morning and to share with all of you in the blogosphere, too:

The music is a song that our band, Fleet Machine, has been playing together since we formed in 2010. Blake wrote the song long before that, and it’s been performed in many different incarnations in different bands he and Micah have been in together. But this is the version we play, minus the vocals. (If you click the link above, you can hear the song in its entirety.)

The images are Creative Commons-licensed issues from flickr (full image credits here).

And the text, visual effects, and layout/design are all my own.

Thanks for letting me indulge a little.

*   *   *   *   *

Next post: two more recipes for gluten-free goodies. 🙂

Categories: musings | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Dave & Kim’s wedding shower!

I just realized that it has been eleven days since my last post. A week and a half!

How did this happen?

Well, I’ve been busy.

First off, I’m on day sixteen of the eighteen-day Red Clay Writing Project Summer Institute, which meets from 8:30am to 4:00pm Monday through Friday. And, as I mentioned before, this thing is intense! I’ve been writing up a storm, pretty much all day every day, even well into the evenings. I’ve written pages and pages and pages of material…just, nothing for the blog.

(I’ll be back with you full time in just a couple more days, so please–stick around! I’ve got a really exciting project to share with you. :))

This past weekend was the AthFest Music & Arts Festival. Micah and I had our very first date at AthFest 2006–we walked around downtown Athens together all night, got drenched in a summer storm, laughed over crispy fried okra and creamy feta dip at The Grill in the late evening, and shared our first kiss in a crowded club to the twangy tunes of an Athens band called the Bearfoot Hookers. It was a magical evening, and we love revisiting that magic every year by going back to AthFest, bar-hopping, hearing awesome local music, and (of course) eating at some of our favorite downtown restaurants.

The weekend before that, Micah and I had his entire family (his parents, his three siblings and their plus-ones, and all eight of their children–whew!) over to our house for a cookout, so we of course went a little crazy cleaning the house and cooking way too much food.

And the weekend before that is what I’m going to share with you today. Like I told you a couple of weeks ago, my brother Dave is marrying his fiance Kim in just a few short weeks! Dress fiasco aside, being a bridesmaid in this wedding has been nothing short of fabulous.

The other three maids are Chelsea, Amanda, and Shannon, none of whom I knew very well until very recently, but the four of us have been working together to plan Dave and Kim’s French-themed shower since April.

The end result was simply lovely! The weather was gorgeous, Memorial Park was a beautiful venue for our summery shindig, the decorations and flowers were simple and pretty, and the food…well, the food was amazing.

I am glad the shower turned out so beautiful. I wouldn’t have wanted anything less for my little brother and his bride-to-be! ♥

*   *   *   *   *

And now…the food!

Amanda brought crackers, a delicious assortment of cheeses, fresh fruits and veggies, and an array of yummy dips to go with them. Simple, refreshing, perfect.

Feast your eyes:

the full spread

Besides being in charge of tablecloths and all of the plates, napkins, cups, etc., Shannon also made macaroons and creme puffs, which were lovely, delicate, and tasty:

pretty pastels

Chelsea rocked our tastebuds with these fantastic dishes:

sweet little beignets

fluffy croissants filled with chicken salad

savory, cheesy, perfectly puffed gougères

If any of these wonderful ladies sends me the recipes they used, I will make sure to pass those recipes on to you! Their food was fantastic.

I brought flowers, paper fans and lanterns, and yes, even more food. 🙂

not quite croque-monsieurs

Micah actually constructed these guys from soft white dinner rolls from the Earth Fare bakery, some excellent uncured deli ham (sliced paper-thin), slices of double-creme brie, and my own homemade grainy mustard.

originally, I planned to make a pear tarte tatin, but
these rustic little guys are what I ended up with instead

These were also super easy:

  • Thaw two packages of frozen puff pastry for a couple of hours, then cut the dough into two dozen little rectangles.
  • Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  • Roll up the edges of the rectangles so you have a little pastry boat.
  • Pre-bake the boats for about 25 minutes or until they are puffy and just starting to brown. (They’ll deflate a little when you take them out.)
  • Dice six or seven fresh pears. Saute the pears in a large skillet with a couple of tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a sprinkle of dried marjoram. Cook them until the liquid is reduced to a nice, thick syrup.
  • Pull your pastry boats out of the oven, top each one with some pear filling, and stick them back in to bake for another 15 minutes or so.

Last, but not least:

leek, chanterelle, and chevre mini quiches

I don’t mean to brag, y’all, but these little quiches were great.

Here’s the recipe:

What’s in it:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 ounce dried chanterelle mushrooms, rehydrated in warm water for 30 minutes (or use 8 ounces fresh)
  • 3-5 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced (about 1 cup total)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 6 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces shredded parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 375°F and get two 12-cup muffin pans ready with cooking spray or paper liners.
  • In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, leeks, salt, pepper, and thyme, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the mushrooms and leeks are tender.
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, and flour.
  • Fill your 24 muffin cups in this order:
    • Cover the bottom of each cup with a layer of shredded parmesan.
    • Add about two tablespoons of leek and mushroom filling.
    • Add about 1-1/2 tablespoons of egg filling.
    • Top with crumbled goat cheese.
  • Bake the quiches for about 15-20 minutes or until the eggs are set and the goat cheese is a little gooey.

These were delicious right out of the oven the night before the shower (yes, Micah and I had to sample one!), but they were also yummy at the shower the next afternoon (where they were served at room temperature), and reheated later in the week (because we were lucky enough to have leftovers).

To sum up: we enjoyed delicious food, a gorgeous day, and a celebration of love with two of my very favorite people.

Categories: people, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

supper tonight – 6.7.12 – frito pies

Yes, you read that right.

Yes, we bought a bag of (corporate, processed, full-of-preservatives-and-crap) Fritos.

We could’ve (and probably should’ve) walked down to Daily Groceries or driven over to Earth Fare for some organic, all-natural Frito-type corn chips with five or fewer easily pronounceable ingredients. It’s always my preference to buy a healthier, more sustainable option.

But when you’re really hungry after a long day at school or work, and the chili’s completely ready in the pot, and then Micah says, “We need chips! How about Fritos? I’ll go get some.”–well, it’s kinda hard to stick to your principles.

And since we do stick to our principles most of the time….well, I wasn’t going to argue.

Plus, I’ll admit: I like Fritos. Always have. And I love, love, love Frito pies.

You might’ve had Frito pies before, but if you haven’t, let me tell you a little bit about them.

The Frito pies of my childhood were comprised of three vital components:

  • Canned chili. Dave and I were the working-class kids of teenage parents, so brand-name chili like Bush’s or Hormel happened sometimes, but other times, the cans looked a little more like this:

from the creative folks at Max Pictures’ Blather, where they actually printed
Dharma Initiative PDF labels for chili and Spam, affixed the labels to the cans,
and then snapped some photos

  • Fritos:

from Frito-Lay’s official website

  • And shredded cheese:

from Joe Hribar’s blog, which includes a whole section about food packaging

We ate a lot of Frito pies growing up, so you would think they were commonplace enough for me not to get that excited about them (or maybe even enough for me to get tired of them).

Not so.

For whatever reason, Frito pies always sparked high spirits. If one of us asked what was for dinner and Mom or Dad responded, “Frito pies!”–they always said it with that exclamation point at the end, always enthusiastic, always eager–then Dave and I always felt the excitement, too. (I’m speaking for him here, of course, but I’m pretty sure I’m hitting the mark.)

Maybe Frito pies were exciting because we had some choices–how many chips, how much cheese, what the final crunch-to-chili ratio would be.

Maybe Frito pies were exciting because they were kind of real food, but still kind of junk food, too, and maybe when the chili ran out, we’d still get to snack on the leftover Fritos afterwards.

Or maybe Frito pies were exciting just because they tasted really damn good.

Whatever the reason–the autonomy, the forbidden-fruit-thrill, or the hearty-spicy-crunchy-melty deliciousness–Frito pies are one of my very favorite childhood memories.

They’re a tradition that carried over to my teen years, too, when we would go camping with my Dad and someone might stew a big dutch oven of homemade chili over the campfire (or just plunk an opened can of chili beans right down on the grates of the grill), and our chili and chips and cheese sometimes got fancified with a sprinkling of black olives or a spoonful of salsa or a dollop of sour cream.

My mom still makes Frito pies sometimes–the kind everyone’s pinning on Pinterest where you put out lots of little single-serve bags of Fritos next to a big pot of chili and and an assortment of fixins so your party guests can build their own Frito pies without dirtying any dishes because the chip baggie doubles as a sort of bowl.

Well, as of last Thursday, I still make Frito pies, too:

the layers, from bottom to top: a generous fistful (or two) of Fritos, a heaping
ladle of chili, a sprinkling of shredded cheddar, and a scattering of fresh cilantro
(Micah also added a dollop of Greek yogurt–subbed for sour cream)

When you eat a Frito pie, you should top it with whatever chili you like best, whether it’s a can of No Beans Hormel or a pot of vegan chili with sweet corn and chunks of carrot or some very traditional chili that’s just chile con carne, stewed to sublime, spicy perfection.

Our chili wasn’t the best we’ve ever made, definitely wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty dang good, so I’ll share how we made it here.

What’s in it:

  • 2/3 cup dry black beans (or you could use a can of already cooked)
  • 1 cup dry pinto beans (or use 1-2 cans)
  • 1 pound bulk pork sausage (ours was medium-heat breakfast sausage from Moonshine, but once we seasoned it, it didn’t taste like brunch anymore)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 pound fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (or sub cayenne)
  • 1 can Pabst Blue Ribbon (or beer of your choice)
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • If your beans are dry, soak ’em and cook ’em. We used our pressure cooker to get them done in about 45 minutes, but you can simmer them all day on the stove or in a slow cooker–or just used canned beans because they’re easier. 🙂
  • In a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat, brown the ground sausage.
  • When the sausage is cooked through (or close to it), add the garlic, onion, and peppers, and saute until they’re translucent and tender.
  • Mix in the tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin, and ground chipotle.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, including the beans. (You can add the liquid from the beans or not, depending on how thick and chunky you like your chili and how long you want it to take to reduce.)
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for at least 30-40 minutes, but as long as a few hours to let the flavors really play together nicely.

Now that you have that big, spicy, hearty pot of chili, go ahead and make yourself a Frito pie. A basic three-ingredient stove-top pie, a rustic campfire pie, a cute little Pinterest pie….or make up your own. Use Fritos, or splurge on the organic all-natural five-ingredient corn chips. It’s really up to you.

And in the end, that’s probably the best thing about a Frito pie. 🙂

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

gluten-free experiments – strawberry coffee cake, crustless carrot quiche

Y’all, I’m in the middle of something really incredible.

It’s called the Red Clay Writing Project, which is part of a larger program called the National Writing Project.

The Red Clay Summer Institute, which I’m about halfway through right now, is sort of like a writing camp for teachers. We meet from 8:30am until 4:00pm every day for three and a half weeks in June, and during that time we….

  • write
  • talk about writing
  • read about writing
  • write about writing
  • share our writing
  • read and listen to others’ writing
  • reflect on how we can build safe writing communities in our classrooms
  • explore why it’s important for us to share our voices and for our students to share theirs
  • discuss ways we can support our colleagues as teachers of writing

And that’s just the short list. This thing is intense, overwhelming, and absolutely amazing.

I’ll share more about my experience in Red Clay once it’s over, but for now, I want to talk about food.

Since we meet from 8:30am until 4:00pm every day, we are together at breakfast time and lunchtime, and so one of the things that we do is take turns bringing food each morning to share with the group. Of course, this is right up my alley. 🙂

I was originally planning to revisit some of my favorite muffin recipes until I learned that two folks have a gluten intolerance–which makes whole wheat muffins a not-so-inclusive choice for sharing. And I really wanted to make foods that everyone could enjoy.

Thus began my research into gluten-free baking, from which I learned that there are all sorts of interesting flours (rice flour, teff flour, chickpea flour, amaranth flour) that gluten-free eaters deal with when they want to bake, not to mention the xanthan gum and guar gum that often contribute to creating a pleasing texture in GF baked goods. I don’t keep any of these items in my pantry, which just made finding workable recipes more a of a challenge.

I also follow several awesome gluten-free blogs, a couple of which I nominated for some blogging awards a couple of days ago–but I still struggled to find a recipe that I was really excited about making in large quantities for this particular purpose (and that didn’t require all those fringe flours).

Honestly, I got pretty frustrated. There are so many phenomenal web resources for gluten-free eaters, but it’s really freaking hard to find recipes on these sites that contain normal pantry ingredients.

All I wanted to do was figure out how to make a gluten-free coffee cake without making a trip to the store, and it just wasn’t happening.

Then came the “Aha!” moment.

Cornmeal is gluten-free. So is almond flour–and although my cupboards contained no almond flour or almond meal, I did have a tub of raw almonds that I could whir around in the food processor.

So I revised my search terms, removed the word gluten-free from my vocabulary, and looked instead for a recipe that included the words cornmeal, almond, and cake.

Jackpot!

Simple Bites offered a recipe for Lemon, Cornmeal, and Almond Cake, which, of course, I made completely differently than they suggested based on what I had in my kitchen. My version was different in that….

  • I doubled it to fit in my Bundt pan instead of a single 9″ cake pan (better for sharing with 20+ folks).
  • I didn’t include lemon juice or zest (we didn’t have any).
  • I used a different proportion of cornmeal to almond meal (there were only 8 ounces of almonds in the cupboard, so when I doubled the recipe, I didn’t have enough to also double the amount of almonds, but I did have extra cornmeal).
  • I added strawberries (just because).
  • I did a few steps slightly out of sequence (just because).

Not surprisingly, my version ended up looking a lot different from theirs, too:

very pretty Simple Bites cake on the left, my funky cake on the right

I wasn’t happy about how this cake turned out, especially since much of the top of the cake (plus gobs of melted butter) stayed in my Bundt pan when I turned it out onto a plate. The final product was also much sweeter, denser, and richer than I was going for–more like dessert than breakfast. In fact, I was kind of embarrassed to bring it in. (Did you happen to read my ramblings about vision the other day? Well, let me tell you–this cake didn’t achieve the vision I’d anticipated at all.)

But, surprisingly enough, it was quite well-received by my fellow Red Clay participants, several of whom asked for the recipe.

So, here it is. 🙂

What’s in it:

  • 8 ounces raw almonds OR 8 ounces almond flour/meal
  • 1-1/3 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 pint strawberries, cut into 1/4″ pieces

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 325°F and grease a 10″ Bundt pan.
  • Mix your dry ingredients:
    • If your almonds are whole, toss them in the food processor with the cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse until the mixture takes on a coarse, sandy-looking texture. (Don’t go for too long, or your almond meal might become almond butter!)
    • If you already have almond meal or flour, whisk it together with the brown sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on high speed to cream the butter and sugar together until they’re light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs–one at a time, making sure each one is incorporated before you add the next one.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until combined. (My mixture was pretty thick.)
  • Fold in the strawberries.
  • Pour the batter into your Bundt pan and bake for 60-70 minutes.
  • Allow the cake to cool for at least 10 minutes in the pan before turning out onto a plate or cooling rack.

If you make this recipe, please let me know in the comments how it turns out for you! I would especially like to know whether or not your final product is swimming in a pool of butter at the end of the process.

(If I make this cake again, I’ll reduce both the butter and sugar by at least one fourth in the hopes that it will be less of a disaster. :))

one more, just because

Since I brought in something sweet last week, I decided for this week’s gluten-free adventure to take a savory path. Having made some mini quiches for Dave and Kim‘s shower last weekend (post about that coming soon!), I had little eggy pies on my mind. But even the crustless quiche recipes I’d found still called for a little bit of flour to be whisked in with the eggs for a little more structure, so I had to do a little more searching.

Again, cornmeal came to my rescue when I found this recipe for Crustless Carrot Quiches from Better Homes and Gardens. Well, actually, I found an adapted version of it that, for some reason, called for more eggs.

Again, I both doubled and changed the recipe, because that’s just what I do.

And, again, I kind of wish I had been able to adhere to the original ingredients and instructions, because I wasn’t in love with the results.

kinda cute, but not Better Homes and Gardens cute….

These weren’t terrible. Some people even told me they liked them. But I didn’t. The flavor was pretty good, but the texture was way off: kind of grainy (maybe from the cornbread?) and not as creamy as good quiche ought to be (maybe too much egg and not enough other liquid like milk/cream/yogurt?). I don’t know. I might make some variation on these again, but I wouldn’t follow either of the two recipes I linked to above. (Of course, please feel free to follow the links and the recipes if you’re so inclined.)

I wouldn’t follow my own version again, either, but I’m posting it anyway because one person asked me for it! (So, maybe, these weren’t as bad as I thought they were…?

What’s in it:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, shredded (about 3 cups)
  • 9 eggs, beaten
  • 2/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt (but I thought it needed a bit more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar (the original recipes called for more–this would’ve helped!)
Step-by-step:
  • Preheat your oven to 325°F. Grease two 12-cup regular muffin pans (or you could do a whole bunch of mini-muffins and cook for a shorter amount of time).
  • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute until translucent.
  • Add the carrots and cook for about 2 more minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients. (At this point, I’d probably throw in a healthy dollop of Greek yogurt for some added creaminess, plus more cheese than I used.)
  • Add the carrot mixture to the egg mixture and stir to combine.
  • Divide the mixture among your 24 muffin cups–this will be about 2-3 tablespoons per cup.
  • Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until set.
  • Allow to cool in the pan for 2-3 minutes, then remove the quiches to a wire rack to cool the rest of the way.

Next week, my group brings food on Monday and then on Friday, so I’ll have two more gluten-free experiments to tell you about soon. Hopefully, they’ll go better than my first two. 🙂

In the meantime…

that’s me on the bottom right…

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

gratitude, long overdue

Y’all, I owe apologies and special thanks to two of you.

I was nominated for two blogging awards, one in late April and one in mid-May, and I have not yet properly acknowledged or expressed my appreciation for either!

If it makes anyone feel better, even my real-life family and friends don’t usually receive prompt written notice of my gratitude. When Micah and I got married, our thank-you notes didn’t all get sent until more than six months later. It was real bad.

So, first, a sheepish apology and heartfelt thanks to glutenvygirl for the Sunshine Award, which is given to those who creatively and positively inspire others in the blogosphere:

This gal does some amazing things with gluten-free cooking, but her blog is worth visiting whether you’re gluten-free or not. 🙂

Next, an equally embarrassed and late thanks to johnnysenough hepburn at Feed the Piglet for my second Liebster nomination! (Liebster, which means ‘favorite’ in German, is a way to recognize your favorite blogs that have fewer than 200 followers.)

Feed the Piglet is another blog that’s definitely a must-visit. Lots of impressive burgers/patties/fritters, not to mention an amazing series of bulgur wheat salads and some very creative dips and spreads.

While I’m flattered to receive honors from both of these folks, the best part is passing the kudos on to some of my very deserving blogging colleagues.

So, first off, here are my five nominations for the Sunshine Award:

  • Two Writing Teachers – Talk about long distance! These gals collaborate from 565 miles apart, not only to share amazing writing activities and resources, but also to inspire teachers like me to write on our own (which is something many teachers will tell you they don’t have time for). Whether you’re a teacher or not, visit this blog–you’ll be inspired.
  • Pedagogy of the Plants – This blog is written by one of my real-life friends, Cameron, who teaches 3rd grade at my school. Stop by and check out some gorgeous photography of the flora (and fauna) around our neighborhood, lots of lovely examples of creative urban gardening, and some delicious vegan recipes.
  • Vegetarian ‘Ventures – Micah and I are not vegetarian, but we eat and enjoy many meatless meals. And with awesome vegetarian blogs like this one to inspire us, I imagine we’ll be cooking up plenty more veggie-centered dishes in the future.
  • Acorn in the Kitchen – This unique food blog is full of great photos and recipes (as you would expect), but it also incorporates fascinating food-related videos and some wonderful lessons in music appreciation, with many posts that celebrate both a delicious recipe and a talented musician. Very cool stuff.
  • Savory Salty Sweet – What a clean, crisp, gorgeous blog! Besides the awesome alliterative name, this blog features some of the best food photography I’ve seen, with exciting recipes punctuated by vibrant step-by-step pictures. Simply amazing.

And now, (ignoring the part about <200 followers because I honestly don’t know how many followers any of these bloggers have) here are my five nominations for the Liebster Award:

  • A Modern Christian Woman – Since Stephanie started this site in April, I’ve watched her blog grow and blossom into something amazing! Every time I stop in, she has added more and more mouthwatering recipes. Truly awesome!
  • Fork and Beans – Like I mentioned above, I’m not a vegan, a vegetarian, or a gluten-free gal–but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy cooking like one! Cara’s story of how she came to cook and eat this way is honest and inspiring, and her recipes are pretty darn inspiring, too.
  • spontaneous tomato – Kick-ass name aside, Allison’s blog also gets props for some really amazing recipes, with lots of focus on fresh fruits and veggies, eating with the seasons, and cooking foods that are simple but delicious.
  • simply dish – Just visiting this blog, with its bright and colorful layout and color scheme, is enough to put a smile on my face. Stop by for some great recipes–especially baked goods–and just a bit of whimsy. 🙂
  • Peri’s Spice Ladle – “Indian-inspired food for the Global Palate.” Need I say more? Whether you’ve cooked and eaten lots of Indian dishes in your lifetime or whether you’re adventurously testing those spicy, savory waters for the first time, you absolutely must drop by this blog for inspiration. Delicious!

Go forth and visit all of these wonderful blogs when you have the time. I promise, you won’t be disappointed. 🙂

Categories: links, places, recipes | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

supper tonight – 6.5.12 – leek & mushroom pizza

Vision:

Musing, wishing, dreaming…

     …conception, imagination, anticipation…

…an overall idea of how you hope something will turn out.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a prophecy.

Some written recipes include an indication of their creator’s vision. Maybe a grab-you-by-the-tastebuds blurb at the top of the page, a charming anecdote that invites and entices you, a photo that captures one stylized representation of what your mouthwatering result should look like.

But mostly, the recipe is a plan–a straightforward description of ingredients and materials, steps and procedures.

A recipe is the map that helps you navigate to your cabin in the woods, not the relaxing thrill of the forested hike you look forward to taking when you get there, not the buzzing and chirping and humming of nature all around you, not the sweet warmth of the hot cocoa you’ll sip on the porch when the evening chill sets in.

The recipe is not what makes your mouth water, not what you’ll look forward to.

The recipe is concrete, explicating (hopefully in careful detail) the very real process of creating your vision or someone else’s. But it is abstract, too, because you as you’re reading, you don’t yet smell it, taste it, experience it in any tangible way. It is only a string of words and numbers, measurements and imperative sentences, that can lead you through–and to–that sensory experience.

The vision blurs these lines, too. It is abstract because it does not exist yet–it is only your dream of what will be (or what could or should be), not what actually is. But it is concrete, too, because the vision is what you can smell and taste, see steaming, hear sizzling–even if only in your mind.

When I cook, I might follow a recipe. But I’m more likely to adapt a recipe, ignore a recipe, forget a recipe, create a recipe as I go along.

Recipe or not, I almost always have a vision. I know what I want my food to look like on the plate, to taste like when it touches my tongue, to feel like as I chew.

I know how I want to feel when I eat it.

But when you’re cooking with someone else, someone you love, and you have a vision but no recipe, how do you communicate that vision to the person cooking with you?

*      *      *      *      *

Tuesday night, Micah and I cataloged the contents of our refrigerator, brainstorming pizza topping combinations. Some items–the squash and peppers, the ham and brie–were off-limits, already earmarked for other purposes. What was left?

For several minutes, we stood, stared, chatted, considered.

I saw the creamy-white button mushrooms, round and plump, still dotted with specks of dark soil. I saw the young, slender leeks, their stalks delicately stretching from small ivory bulbs to sleek green leaves. I saw a deli tub of fresh mozzarella, moist and elastic, floating in cloudy, salty brine, ready and waiting and eager to melt.

And then, I had a vision.

Brown and beige and shades of green. Warm, mellow, earthy flavors. Nothing bright and flashy, nothing showy, no punch-in-the-mouth heat or tang or bite.

I didn’t have a map, but I knew where this pizza was going and what it would do when it arrived. I pulled the mushrooms, leeks, and mozzarella out of the refrigerator, plucked garlic powder and thyme from the spice rack, gathered flour and salt and yeast for the crust.

Micah greased a pizza pan with olive oil while I mixed the dough. Then I pressed the dough into the pan, thinner and thinner, spreading it to the very edges.

As the crust prebaked on its own, unadorned, for maximum crispiness, Micah melted butter in a skillet. I cut up the mushrooms and leeks, which Micah sauteed while I sliced the cheese. The recipe was created as we worked, every ingredient and action working together towards the vision I had in mind.

When our crispy crust came out of the oven and off of the pan, I spread the softened, buttery vegetables over it.

Micah looked again into the fridge. “How about some of these?” he asked, picking up a tub of mixed green, kalamata, and oil-cured black olives.

I love olives. We both do. But I thought about my vision and decided: not on this pizza.

“No,” I said as I worked, eyeing my distribution of leeks and mushrooms, looking for spots that still needed to be filled in. “I don’t really want olives.”

“But what if I do? Could we put olives on half?”

“Olives don’t go on this pizza,” I said. “I’ve got a vision.”

“I think they’d go just fine.”

“But I don’t want olives.”

“I do,” Micah said, clearly exasperated.

With good reason.

I was being stubborn. Of course I knew that. Even then, I realized I wasn’t communicating my vision very well, wasn’t justifying my choices, definitely wasn’t convincing Micah that olives were a topping for another pizza, another time.

“No olives,” I said. I carefully placed the wobbly ovals of sliced mozzarella, spacing them evenly, tweaking the design as I went along.

Micah, sweet and patient as he is, compromised. And by compromised, I mean that he let me have my way.

Micah isn’t what you’d call whipped, isn’t a doormat, doesn’t just give in to my whims any time. But he does pick his battles, and he knew this one wasn’t worth fighting.

I, on the other hand, am hard-headed enough that I would’ve argued about it, not for the sake of fighting, not even because it was that important to me, but just because I wanted to be right (and, of course, I felt sure I was).

The pizza, now dressed, went into the oven. Without olives.

Soon, scents of crisping crust and bubbling cheese, garlic, herbs, sweet leeks and warm mushrooms diffused through the kitchen.

A few minutes later, the pizza was done.

a vision, realized

We sliced. We tasted. The crust crunched between our teeth. The mushrooms and leeks were buttery, delicate, and tender. Each bite was warm and mellow, brown and green, earthy and rustic and exactly what I had envisioned.

“Do you still think it needs olives?” I asked Micah.

“No,” he said. “It’s good.”

“Like I said, I had a vision.”

What’s in it:

  • For the crust:
    • 1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
    • 1/2 cup warm water (about 100-110°F)
    • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
    • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • For the toppings:
    • 1  tablespoon butter
    • 8 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
    • 4 leeks, washed and sliced, white and light green parts only
    • 6-8 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    • salt and pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 450°F.
  • Put the yeast in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Dissolve the sugar into the water, then pour over the yeast. Let stand for about 5 minutes.
  • Add both flours, salt, garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon dried thyme. Mix until the dough comes together into a ball, then knead on a lightly floured surface for about 5 minutes (or use the dough hook on your stand mixer). Flatten the dough into a disc.
  • Brush 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil on a large pizza pan.
  • Put the disc of dough in the center of your pan. Press it with your fingers to spread it all the way to the edges of the pan. (It will be very thin! If you accidentally tear the dough like I did several times, just do your best to smoosh it back together. :))
  • Brush the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the dough.
  • Bake the crust for 7-8 minutes.
  • While the crust is baking, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the mushrooms, leeks, and dried thyme. Saute for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and the leeks are slightly translucent. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Once the crust has baked for 7-8 minutes, remove it from the oven and slide it off the pizza pan and onto a large cutting board (or your kitchen counter, if it’s clean enough–mine never is!).
  • Top the pizza with the vegetables, then the mozzarella.
  • Return the pizza to the oven and bake it directly on the rack for another 8-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and starting to bubble a little bit.
  • While the pizza cools for a few minutes, sprinkle it with just a tad more salt and pepper. Then slice and enjoy.

the vision, close-up

If When your dinner turns out amazing (it will), please don’t gloat and say “I told you so.”

Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to be sharing this pizza with someone who understands your vision, or (more importantly) someone who understands your stubborn need to be right all the time–and loves you anyway.

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

an impossible quest, and lazy brunch – 6.2.12 – baked chocolate doughnuts

My brother Dave is getting married in July, so I made doughnuts for breakfast last Saturday.

This makes sense, I promise.

Please, follow along.

(Or, please feel free to skip the next 1,000 words or so and scroll on down until you get to the photo of the doughnuts. I’ll admit, this is a long story, longer than it needs to be for you, but as long as I needed it to be to indulge my need for confessional therapy–and it really will make sense if you follow along.)

My brother Dave is getting married in July. His fiancee, Kim, is a wonderful, beautiful woman–clever, creative, and quirky enough to fit in perfectly with the rest of our family. We love her!

don’t they make an adorable couple?

(Dave’s daughter, Lilly, loves Kim, too, and the affection is mutual. Again, perfect.)

I’m a bridesmaid. This will be my third bridesmaid gig in less than a year. When it rains, it pours, they say. Or maybe this is just what happens when your best friend, your husband’s best friend, and your brother get hitched within ten months of each other. 🙂

Of course, one of my bridesmaid duties is working with the other bridesmaids to plan the shower, which is coming up this Saturday. More about that later (because, of course, I’ll be cooking).

My other responsibility is buying a dress.

Kim picked a pretty, peachy petal pink for us to wear.

She’s not picky about the style, preferring instead that we each choose a dress that suits and flatters us. (This, fortunately enough, has been my experience with all three of the beautiful brides who’ve asked me to be in their weddings and buy dresses for the occasion–no bridezillas here.)

She’s not even picky about the precise shade of peachy petal pink, as long as we’re all pretty close.

Finally, Kim really wanted us to be able to buy these dresses without spending a ton of money, so she scoured the web for links to some very pretty–and very economical–options.

Armed with ideas, Kim and I took a shopping trip near the end of April. First we visited H&M, where another bridesmaid had already found her perfect dress in the right color. There, I tried on this lovely number:

pretty, right? as soon as I saw it on the web, I knew it was the one…

What you can’t tell from this photo is how translucent the fabric is. But when I put the dress on, I wasn’t even really comfortable enough to leave the fitting room and show it to Kim. Through this wispy little frock, I could see my bellybutton, the tattoo on my hip, even a few of the freckles on my back. Easy solution: a slip. The only problem is, a July wedding in Georgia isn’t ideal for wearing multiple layers of clothing, especially layers with sleeves. Indecent transparency aside,  the dress didn’t fit me well anyway, as blousy styles like this often don’t.

Goodbye, Dress #1.

Moving on, we visited Forever 21, a store I’d heard of but never been inside. Very cute, trendy, of-the-moment styles in lots of colors. But while the website had advertised plenty of peachy pink dresses, none of them were available in the store for me to try on.

I returned home from this shopping trip empty-handed but convinced nonetheless that I could just order a dress via the internet–or even order several, keep my favorite, and return the others.

That’s exactly what I decided to do. I chose three dresses from the Forever 21 website that appeared to be the right color (or at least close to it). I ordered all three, eagerly anticipated their arrival, tracked the package every day until it arrived, wondered which one would be perfect and which two I would send back.

Dresses #2, #3, & #4 from Forever 21

Dress #2 was the right color, but it looked too much like lingerie to even consider wearing to a wedding. Dress #3 was a little light, a bit boxy on top, and scandalously skimpy on bottom, despite my petite frame. Two returns.

Dress #4? Much less pink and much more beige than I’d hoped, so it won’t work for the wedding. But, I loved it. So I kept it. And I wore it out on a date with Micah the other night, because he liked it, too.

I didn’t panic, because at this point it was only mid-May. Still two months to find a dress.

After a long afternoon of shopping downtown and several hours of online searching over several more days, I discovered Dress #5. It was–it had to be–the one:

pretty, peachy, perfect

I had tried it in a size small at one of the cute little dress boutiques downtown, but it was much too snug. So I ordered the medium with alterations in mind, anxiously awaited its arrival, tracked the package obsessively, squealed when it finally arrived.

Of course the medium was too big, as I had expected, but that’s what tailors are for, right?

Wrong. The very nice woman at the alterations shop informed me that because of the location of the zipper, darts, and pleats, and because of the delicate latticework at the top, there was no way that she could take in and shorten the bodice of this dress.

Dear readers, I wept. Tears of frustration–helpless, hopeless tears–welled in my eyes, then spilled from my lids. Right there in the middle of the alterations shop, while I stood staring at that shapeless, saggy, sad sack of a dress.

At this point, it was now a month and a half before Dave and Kim’s big day. The other three bridesmaids had all purchased their own perfect dresses, while I had four frocks hanging in my closet that wouldn’t work for the wedding (and three that wouldn’t work for anything).

Having visited every store in Athens that peddles dresses–new, secondhand, and vintage; trendy and classic; spendy and thrifty; sundresses, work dresses, formal dresses–I knew I needed to expand my search area.

Which brought me, one drizzly afternoon, to Commerce, Georgia. Originally a mill village, this little town eventually incorporated itself as Harmony Grove during the late 1800s. But in 1904, the city reincorporated, renamed itself, reinvented itself. Harmony Grove, folks said, was too countrified, too old-fashioned. Commerce sounded modern and fresh, would encourage businesses to come here, stay here, grow and flourish here. And that is exactly what business has done. I hear there is still a classic, charming, homespun downtown area of Commerce, which I’ve never visited myself. What has put Commerce on the map, besides its proximity to the interstate, is its impressive collection of chain restaurants and retail locations, including a staggering strip mall mecca of Tanger Outlets.

You can read a fictionalized account of the Harmony-Grove-to-Commerce transformation in one of my very favorite novels:

Cold Sassy Tree
by Olive Ann Burns

Surely, in the vast commercial wasteland that is Commerce, Georgia, I could find one dress. Preferably one that fit, one that was the right shade of peachy pink, one that didn’t resemble a nightie.

I wish I could tell you I bought the perfect dress that afternoon. I wish I could tell you that I squealed with delight and sighed with relief when the zipper slid into place. I wish I could tell you that, after visiting every single store that sold women’s clothing, I located even one single dress that day that was the right color.

I wish I could tell you this, because it would mean that my harrowing quest was finally over.

What did I come home with that day instead of a dress?

A new green rain jacket from the Eddie Bauer outlet.

An old-fashioned hand-crank ice cream churn from the antique shop.

A big bag of toys from the kitchen store:

  • New tongs
  • A bag of corks and bottle stoppers for Micah’s boozy infusions
  • One single-handed pepper-grinder with a little magnet on it so it’ll stick to the fridge
  • Eight long, metal skewers for the grill

And this:

too bad I can’t wear doughnuts to the wedding

Yep.

My brother is getting married in July, so I made doughnuts for breakfast last Saturday.

Really good doughnuts, in fact.

Chocolate doughnuts. Because, why the heck not? I earned them.

glazed and gooey, rich and delicious

Having never made doughnuts before, I looked for a recipe on the web to model mine after. And then, like always, I changed it. 🙂

What’s in it:

  • For the doughnuts:
    • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/3 cup brown sugar
    • 1/3 cup milk
    • 2 tablespoons strong brewed coffee
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten
    • 1 teaspoon melted butter
  • For the glaze:
    • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 tablespoon milk

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 325°F. Grease your doughnut pan if you’d like. (My 6-doughnut vessel was nonstick, so I took a risk and didn’t grease or spray. It worked out just fine!)
  • In one bowl, stir together the flours, cocoa, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and sugar.
  • In another bowl, whisk the milk, coffee, vanilla, and egg.
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients, then stir in the melted butter.
  • Divide the batter among your six doughnut rings.
  • Bake for 13 minutes.
  • While the doughnuts bake, whisk together the ingredients for the glaze in a wide, shallow bowl.
  • Set up a wire cooling rack over a piece of foil, parchment paper, newspaper, etc., unless you want sticky drops of glaze to drip onto your counter.
  • Let the doughnuts cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then gently remove them from the pan to a wire cooling rack. (I used a flexible silicone spatula to help me with this.)
  • Dip each doughnut in the bowl of glaze, then stick it back on the cooling rack while you dip the others.
  • Take a picture–they’re pretty!
  • Enjoy with coffee. Try not to eat all of them in one sitting–but, if you do, it’s okay.

As Micah ate his doughnut, I asked him for an assessment. Rich, just sweet enough, really good.

Then I revealed my changes to the original recipe–less fat, less sugar, half whole-wheat flour. Apparently, not bad modifications, though Micah did remark that he’d like to try the full-fat version. 🙂

Since our Saturday doughnuts, three more pink dresses have arrived in the mail:

Dress #6: cute on the model….not so cute on me

Dress #7 – too big, not really peachy enough,
and too low-cut in the back for my strapless bra

Dress #8: peachy pink, pretty, a perfect fit

Yes, you read that correctly. After six weeks of shopping and seven dud dresses, I have finally, miraculously, triumphantly found something to wear in Dave and Kim’s wedding.

The best part? My chocolate doughnuts are healthy enough that even if I eat a whole bunch of them before the big day, I’ll still fit into this fetching little frock. 🙂

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

project in progress – 6.3.12 – Micah’s home-cured bacon, part 1

in the beginning….

Micah has cured hog jowls to make guanciale many times, always with delicious results.

Once, Micah even butchered a whole pig’s head himself, slicing off two big, beautiful cheeks that yielded about three pounds of bacon, not to mention simmering the rest of the head for hours into several gallons of rich, porky stock…and then scraping the remains together into a loaf of headcheese, which we both discovered we really don’t like, at all.

Did you know that you really should shave or burn the hair off of a pig’s head before you cook with it? Neither did we, until we were faced with that hog’s stubbly mug.

And there’s something really unnerving about seeing a pig’s giant face every time you open the refrigerator.

Now, I’m not squeamish about where meat comes from, or, at least, where this meat came from. It didn’t bother me that our hog jowl bacon once had a face (in fact, was a face), because I know that this particular pig lived in squishy mud and green pastures before he so graciously gave his life up for us. No nasty feedlot, no cramped pen full of sewage, no yucky chemicals or drugs. He was surely as happy as a farm pig could be.

I’m not going to argue that any animal deserves to die, and I’m not going to evangelize about the marvels of meat to my vegetarian and vegan friends. All of us must make choices we are comfortable with. I am comfortable with eating animals if they have been treated humanely, respected, honored for what they provide us.

This pig, unlike any other pig I’ve eaten, ever, had a face that I got to see, had features I can still picture. He was scraggly with coarse, short hair. His ears curled and flopped just a tad, right where they came to a point. His snout looked perfectly suited for rooting, and proud of it, too. He smirked. His eyes were closed, but his tongue stuck out of his mouth just a little. What a joker.

As much as we enjoyed the guanciale and the stock, Micah declared he’d never buy another pig’s head after that.

Until a week or two ago.

“You know what we oughtta get?” he inquired, in the midst of a conversation about how we have too much food in our freezer. “Another pig head.”

I’ll let Micah handle that on his own if he wants, and of course I’ll be happy to help him enjoy the fruits of his labors.

Except the headcheese. Unless maybe we find another, better recipe…

In any case, we don’t have room in our fridge right now to store a whole pig head or to cure a pair of hog jowls.

Why?

Because Micah is already busy curing a pork belly to make regular old bacon. Of course, given the gorgeousness of this slab of meat (from our friends at Moonshine), not to mention the generous heaping of fresh rosemary from a friend’s garden, I feel pretty confident that this bacon will be anything but ordinary.

Micah’s been reading up on the process, including how to cold-smoke the meat after it cures, and I’ll share links to his resources plus more photos of the progress very soon.

Also, this means you can certainly expect to see some recipes featuring this lovely bacon once it matures.

Categories: links, musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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