Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Brown Tuesday: Gluten Free Dark Chocolate Cookies

There are people I know for whom Black Friday is like a religious experience.  They start out at midnight, armed with sales flyers and coupons and large mugs of coffee, determined to get their holiday shopping done, and they post Facebook updates along the way, as if on a pilgrimage.  It's tradition.

Me, well ... I make cookies.

At least, I usually make cookies.  Somehow, as I mentioned in my Black Forest Cake post, I'm way behind on cookie-baking this year.  I've been thinking about why this might be, and decided that despite my participation in the upcoming Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, maybe it's because I don't have as many people to bake for this year, and I'm having a hard time getting motivated.  I'm the kind of person who goes to the gym if I'm enrolled in a class ... you know, because if I don't show up I'd be letting the instructor down.  (I realize that this is bizarre logic, but it works.  Yes, I was raised with a healthy guilt complex, thank you very much.)

I started to make a list of people who might need cookies.  The woman down the street with a new baby.  The gluten-free piano teacher and her daughter up the block.  (Do you need cookies?  Why yes, yes, you do.)

In the middle of my list-making, I got an email from Mel, who mentioned that her family bakes for a shelter during the holidays.  That was enough to send me over the motivational hump.  Baking for other people somehow defines the season for me, and with newfound purpose, I found myself getting excited about the holidays, feeling less beleaguered by the anxiety of having to search for expensive gifts (which is something my family argues about every year, because I prefer homemade gifts with meaning); less depressed about the fact that my husband is embarking, starting today, on three weeks of business trips.  So today, on a rainy, unseasonably warm, anticlimactic Tuesday, I fired up the oven.

The thing about having a food (or even a food-and-life) blog is that you feel this weird pressure to one-up yourself every year.  Sure, you can make the things you've already written about, but you'd better be prepared to come up with something new and even more spectacular to post.  It's almost like preseving anti-tradition.

I came across a recipe for these last year around this time, when I already had too many chocolate cookies on deck, and bookmarked it to try later.  They are chewy, fudgy, decadent, and a safe bet for your gluten-free friends (though you'll have to find something else for vegans and friends with nut allergies!) and they come together in a jiffy.  You could even whip them up on short notice if you find out that you're about to have company.  They remind me a lot of the traditional Chocolate Crinkle cookies; a quick sprinkle of powdered sugar would make them even more festive.  Most of the fat comes from the almonds, and they're full of antioxidants because of the dark chocolate.  So they're practically healthy, right?  Er ... right.

Tell us: what are your favorite cookies during this time of year?  Do you have any holiday baking traditions?

Gluten Free Dark Chocolate Cookies

6 oz. dark chocolate chips or chunks (preferably 60% or greater)
2 large egg whites, at room temperature (this is important!)
1/8 t. cream of tartar
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. vanilla extract
3/4 c. almond flour (or ground blanched almonds, not roasted)

Melt 5 oz. dark chocolate in microwave at 30-second intervals on 70% power until smooth, stirring after each interval.  Add the last ounce of chocolate (if you have time to chop it, do so) and stir until they're just mostly melted, so that you get very small pieces--these will turn into micro-bursts of chocolate when the cookies are baked.  Set the chocolate aside to cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment (or lightly oil them if you don't have parchment on hand).  Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Continue beating, adding in sugar and vanilla slowly, until mixture forms stiff peaks.

Gently fold in chocolate and almond flour until fully incorporated. Drop rounded teaspoons of batter onto the prepared cookie sheets, leaving one inch between cookies.

Bake 10-12 minutes. Cookies are done when there is a light crust on the outside, but they are soft on the inside.
Pin It

Saturday, November 26, 2011

CSA Fail, Thanks-givings, and Vegetable (Beef Optional) Barley Stew

One of the reasons I've been posting less often of late is the lack of inspiration in my kitchen.  It's not that I'm not cooking; rather, it's that I'm dealing with the same head of cabbage and the same husk cherries and the same sugar pumpkin for the SEVENTH week in a row, and I hit the cruciferous wall somewhere back around week four, when my family threatened to stage a coup.  I have been bravely soldiering on nonetheless, but I'm not going to shoulder you, dear readers, with yet another week of cabbage stew.  (If you're having the same problem I am, please do feel free to peruse the archives ... that's what I've been doing.)

It was a pretty bad CSA year for us.  Our farm was feeling its way through a new program, and though we'd heard great things about their produce, and had seen them at our farmer's market last year with lots of great fruits and veggies, every week we got a box that was half full of rotten--or on their way to rotten--items.  The things that weren't rotten were the things that we couldn't stand to think about eating any more of.  I know I whined and moaned about the chard last year, but I would have given my left arm for some chard this year: at least chard is something you can do things with.  Our Thanksgiving box had no sweet potatoes, no arugula, no dinosaur kale, or radishes, or anything else you'd expect to find at this time of year.  Really?  I thought when I saw it.  And because our farm was not very good at communicating with us about what has happening, we're left to wonder: was it just a bad year?  a bad program?  bad luck?

Between that, and the fact that our own garden was decimated by rabbits, groundhogs, deer, and all manner of other woodland creatures who are reclaiming suburbia one squash, one tomato at a time, it would be easy to throw in the towel and decide that it's easier to drive to the grocery store than to live off the land.

The weird thing is, I'm not. The season is officially over now, and we're back to meal and menu planning on our own.  But I'm already scoping out CSAs for next year, and my husband is collecting and browsing seed catalogues.

The experience got me thinking.  For some people, 2011 was a year of prosperity, but for many more it was marked by uncertainty, hardship, despair.  People are out of work, in debt, in distress.  We're supposed to be grateful at Thanksgiving, but it's easy to feel overwhelmed by all that we didn't harvest this year.

Still, though we may not feel much like we have blessings to count, it's pretty likely that we're still holding on to hope for the next year.  By the end of November, we can see the new year approaching, and we project ourselves into a happier future, another chance.  If you got to break a wishbone with someone, I'll wager that you made a wish for something to change for the better in the year to come.  And it seems to me that especially when life throws us against a wall (cruciferous or otherwise), hope is itself a blessing that deserves to be counted.

Here's to the harvest, such as it was, with gratitude for our capacity to sustain the hope that what is needed is on its way.

This body-and-soul-warming stew is full of the vegetables of the late fall and early winter (and is adaptable for vegetarians and non-vegetarians), the barley stretches your dollar a little father, and it doesn't even have leftover turkey in it.  If you use a slow cooker, combine everything except peas and cook on low for 8-10 hours; stir in peas during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Vegetable (Beef Optional) Barley Stew

1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2 lbs. tempeh or beef stew meat
1 T. all-purpose flour
2 c. chopped onions
1 c. sliced celery with leaves
4 c. low-sodium beef stock or broth
1 bay leaf
¾ c. hulled barley, rinsed. drained
4 c. peeled sweet potato chunks, 1-inch squares (about 1½ pounds)
2 c. sliced carrots, 1-inch rounds
1½ c. cubed parsnips
½ T. Worcestershire sauce
1 t. dried oregano
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes in juice, broken apart
1½ c. frozen peas (optional)

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan on medium-high. Add tempeh or meat and sprinkle with flour, stirring well to coat. Cook until browned. Stir in onions and celery and sauté for 5 minutes or until onions are soft. Add stock or broth and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 1 (if you're using tempeh)-1½ hours (if you're using beef).

Add barley, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, Worcestershire sauce, and oregano. Cover and simmer 50-60 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Stir in tomatoes and peas. Reheat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pin It

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Imperfect: Black Forest Cake

In years past, by this time in the season, I would already have at least several dozen cookies in my freezer waiting for the holiday open house I held for my students.  It's strange not to be preparing for that event this year.  I'm participating in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, though, which will be good motivation to inaugurate the holiday baking.

In the meantime, I've been busy with cake: last weekend I made two dozen chai tea latte and red velvet cupcakes for a birthday party, this past week I was asked to make a Black Forest cake, and this week I have an order for a red velvet cake for Thanksgiving delivery.  I'm not exactly rolling in profits, but cake makes people happy, and I like making people happy, so I like making cake.

Layer cakes are my nemesis.  Put a piping bag in my hands and I can serve up some drop-dead gorgeous cupcakes.  Pie crust?  A snap.  Layer cakes, though, refuse to unmold themselves from pans; layers become lopsided; crumbs leap out of the frosting despite my careful attempts at "crumb layers."  This week I learned that I clearly need to work on my whipped cream frosting; the cake has sort of a "stucco" look to it; charming, to be sure, but not quite what I was going for.  I stopped trying to smooth it out because I didn't want to ruin the sides entirely.  I wanted to post this cake today, and in a momentary lapse of sanity, I almost Photoshopped the side of it to make it look smooth and even.

Then I thought, what am I doing?

There's been a lot of talk in the blogosphere lately, it seems, about people's self-portrayal of perfection online, in Facebook and in blogs.  It's true that I am my father's daughter, and I am a perfectionist.  But it's also true that the blogs I like reading the most, and the people I feel closest to, are the ones who honestly portray flawed lives, who experience the range of human emotion, who meet adversity and have to figure out what the hell they're going to do next.  Because that's really what the adventure is about, isn't it?  Loving what is, even as it's falling down around your ears?

The holidays sometimes produce more stress than joy, because of expectations (yours, theirs) of perfection.  This week, I'm reminding you to go easy on yourself.  Life is not a Norman Rockwell picture or a Martha Stewart magazine layout.  And if you have to excuse yourself from the Thanksgiving table, pull up a chair over here.  There's a lopsided, but really delicious, piece of cake waiting for you.

Black Forest Cake 

Devil’s Food Cake (recipe below)
cherry preserves
cherry filling: 1 14.5-ounce can tart cherries (drained) + 1/4 cup cherry preserves + 1 tablespoon kirsch (optional)
whipped cream: 2 pints heavy cream + 2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons Kirsch, divided
Maraschino cherries
1 ounce shaved, semisweet chocolate (use vegetable peeler on room temperature chocolate)

Bake and cool the Devil’s Food cake layers.

Prep the cherry filling.

To make the whipped cream: In the bowl of a standing mixer, whip cream and confectioner’s sugar until stiff. Place in the refrigerator.

To assemble the cake:

Place the first layer on your base.

Spread a very thin layer of cherry preserves on the cookie bottom.  Evenly spread 1 1/2 cups of whipped cream over the cherry preserves.

Carefully place the top layer of cake, top-side down, on the whipped cream. Brush the cake with 1 1/2 tablespoons of kirsch.

Spoon half (for a triple decker cake) of the cherry filling evenly on top of the cake.  Top with 1 1/2 to 2 cups of whipped cream. Top with the remaining chocolate layer, bottom-side up. Brush the cake with the remaining kirsch.

If you have three 8 inch layers, repeat the steps above with your last layer.

Pile most of the rest of the whipped cream on top of the cake (save a cup or so), and gently spread the whipped cream to cover the top and sides of the cake. Fit a pastry bag with a large decorating tip, and fill the bag with whipped cream. Pipe a rosette on each eighth of the cake.

Place the maraschino cherries on a clean kitchen towel to drain, and pat them (as dry as possible) before placing one in the center of each rosette.  Decorate the top by piling the shaved chocolate in the center.
If you have any whipped cream left, pipe a border along the bottom edge of the cake.Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve. Use a long, sharp knife, and wipe it off with a damp towel between slices.

(thanks, Mia, for sending photos of the sliced cake!)
Devil’s Food Cake

Adapted from Kathleen King’s “Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook”

Makes two 9-inch cakes or three 8-inch cakes

2 1/4 c. cake flour
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 c. salted butter
2 1/4 c. packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 oz. good unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 c. boiling water
2 t. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour two 9-inch or three 8-inch springform pans or round cake pans (I used cocoa powder instead of flour).

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Stir in the melted chocolate.

Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk in three stages, ending with the flour.  Add the boiling water and vanilla. Mix well, but don’t overmix. (The mixture will be VERY thin.)  Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Place the pans on a wire rack, and let the cakes cool completely in the pans before unmolding. (If the middles dip a little, the cakes are still OK.)

Once the cakes are cool, you can wrap them in plastic wrap and store them in the refrigerator.
Pin It

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Seeking Crafty/Creative Bloggers Who Sell Stuff!

Just a quick note: if you are a crafty/creative blogger who has a small business in gift-able items (food included), I want to know! I'm writing an article, and am scouring the web for great reads and great gifts. Leave a comment below with your blog address and a link for your shop (Etsy or otherwise), if you have one.

I'll be back soon with more droolworthy posts. :)
Pin It

Monday, November 14, 2011

Boot Camp and Red Velvet Cake

I've never really been very good at going to the gym. I don't like the loud music, or the close quarters, or using machines that make me feel like I'm on a hamster wheel. As winter approaches, though, and I'm home with N. (so I can't exactly go running when it's below freezing like I did when she was still in utero), I'm starting to feel like I need to explore indoor options. When the Boy was still a babe, I went to a 24 hour fitness center at 11pm, after kid was bathed and fed and the laundry was done and the dinner cooked for the next day.  I came back feeling completely wiped, and finally decided that it wasn't worth it for me to lose sleep in order to go to the gym.  This time, I won a free month membership to our local YMCA, which I'll activate at some point, but in the meantime, I confess: I went back to boot camp.

There's something about the format of boot camp that appeals to my competitive Type A personality. First, you're expected to show up. I ace  showing up. Second, you are working out with other people. This is great motivation for me because unlike yoga, I can compare myself to every other person there, and there is always someone more svelte than I am.  Third, it's generally outside or in a public place (this one is in a very low-traffic mall early in the morning), so no special equipment is necessary, and you can potentially get some fresh air.  Sort of like running, but a bit more varied, and someone yelling at me to go faster or higher, which I tend not to do on my own (quite the opposite, exactly).  And this particular boot camp is just for relatively new moms, so even though I can't get there every day, or even every week, I get to work out with N, who now can't go in the jogging stroller to sleep for her standard half hour, because she's in nap boot camp.

N has been a horrible napper since we brought her home from the hospital.  She's been a pretty good sleeper at night, though, so our pediatrician is convinced that she can do better during the day to self-soothe and put herself back to sleep after the first sleep cycle of half an hour is over.  She prescribed nap boot camp: we are to put N. down for a nap twice a day, and leave her there for an hour and a half, checking on her every 15 minutes or so while she's awake, soberly reminding her that it's nap time.

In case you're wondering, no, she's not enjoying it.  But yes, it seems to be working.

The up side of this, for me, is that I've had not one but three orders for baked things this week, so with her doubling up on her nap time twice a day instead of doing three shorter naps with lots of fuss before putting her down, I actually have time to do more than go to the bathroom and fold a half load of laundry.

This cake is technically one of Martha's wedding cake recipes, but it's a drop-dead awesome cake to serve for any occasion.  In this case, it was the request of a friend who was being showered for her second child, and I believe that second showers are all about the mom (because often the family has enough baby gear), so her wish was my command.  Especially because I was invited, so I got to eat said cake.

AND ... this one happens to match our barn.  How did I never notice that before?

The down side: I need to go back to boot camp for moms to work off the pounds I put on eating my share of the frosting.

Martha's Red Velvet Cake

Unsalted butter, softened, for pans
2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
2 1/2 c. cake flour (not self-rising)
1 t. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. canola oil
2 large eggs
2 T. red food coloring
1 t. vanilla
1 c. low-fat buttermilk
1 1/2 t. baking soda
2 t. white vinegar

For the frosting

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 c. confectioner's sugar
1 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Butter pans; line with parchment paper. Butter lining; dust with cocoa, tapping out excess. Set aside. Whisk together flour, salt, and cocoa in a medium bowl; set aside.

Mix sugar and oil on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk until combined. Add eggs one at a time; mix well after each addition. Mix in food coloring and vanilla. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the buttermilk and beginning and ending with flour, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed.

Stir together baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl. Add baking-soda mixture to batter, and mix on medium speed 10 seconds. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool completely in pans on wire racks.

Once the cake is cooled, using a serrated knife cut off the convex tops from both cakes, leaving your cakes with flat tops (unless you have perfectly flat cakes, in which case, you're out of luck). Crumble the discarded cake tops into tiny crumbs to be used as a garnish for later. Set aside.

While the cakes are baking, prepare the frosting. In a large bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, mix together the softened cream cheese, butter, and vanilla extract. Add the confectioner's sugar in batches until the frosting comes together and there are no lumps. Let cool in a refrigerator until the cakes are ready to frost.

Frost your cake as you normally would, using about a third of the frosting for between the two layers, the top, and the sides of the cake. Finally, sprinkle the cake crumbs around the sides of the cake, spreading evenly.
Pin It

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Harvest: Broccoli Tomato Soup

I am cresting the hill next to a field near our house, half-running, half-walking on the gravel trail to avoid jolting a sleeping N in the jogging stroller.  At the edge of the field, two tractors, a mower, and a rotary rake stand silent in the early morning mist.  It's harvest time; the hay has been cut and raked into neat rows, and is now ready for baling.  There is something immensely pleasing to me about the neat symmetry of the mowed field, waiting to be cleared.

At the bottom of the hill, there are black figures moving through the rows.  As we get closer, suddenly I realize what I'm looking at: turkey vultures.  Perhaps twenty of them, scattered through the field.  I shudder as I pass them, quickening my pace.  For some reason, looking at them feels like looking at death.

And yet, they are taking care of the field, too ... only clearing away the carrion left by the mower, which made hay, cutting down life in order to sustain other life.  Most people think of harvest as a time of abundance.  But that abundance is inextricably intertwined with loss.  The hay is cut to sustain livestock through the winter.  The vultures pick through the hay to find the rabbits and mice and voles who didn't escape the mower in time.  Death brings life brings death brings the possibility of life again.

There are so many things that are like this, aren't there?  We can't have abundance without loss; we can't have loss without abundance.

We've officially entered the season of the One Pot Wonder around here.  Soups and stews and baked things dominate the menu at our house during the fall and winter, and I'm glad; I like both the kinds of things that simmer all day and the things I can throw into a pot and turn into a meal in a matter of minutes.  This one is an unexpected twist on the harvest, too; people don't normally conjure broccoli when they think of fall -- usually we get stuck on pumpkins and winter squash and corn -- and I don't usually put tomatoes in broccoli soup.  My husband calls bacon the Noble Meat; he's a chemical engineer, so he thinks of things in terms of the Periodic Table.  But you don't need to use bacon to appreciate the harvest from a slightly different perspective; simply omit it for a vegetarian version.

Broccoli Soup, Monastery Style (from the Monastery Soup Cookbook)

1 lb. broccoli
3 garlic cloves
6 c. water
6 parsley sprigs
4 strips lean bacon (or veggie bacon or smoky tofu or skip it entirely or perhaps use a smoky cheese below)
6 T. olive oil
1 6-oz can tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
Gruyere or Parmesan cheese, grated

Wash the broccoli, slice into small pieces. Chop the garlic, parsley, and bacon.

Pour the olive oil into a soup pot, add the broccoli, garlic, parsley, and bacon, and saute them for a minute or two. Add the tomato paste and 2 cups warm water. Stir well. Cover the pot and allow the soup to cook for about 5 minutes.

Add the remaining water and cook the soup over medium heat for about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper and simmer for a few minutes. Just before serving, puree the soup in a blender. Soup can be served hot or cold. Garnish hot soup at the last minute with some grated cheese.
Pin It

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Occupy Halloween: Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

(with apologies to Stephanie, and others who have had their fill of pumpkins and are just too kind to say so ...)

Our street is Halloween Central.  The houses sport giant cobwebs, the walkways are lined with pumpkins, the trees filled with filmy ghosts hanging from the branches.  People drive from miles around to drop their kids off for trick or treating because the houses are closer together than in the surrounding townships (more candy bang for your walking buck). And most of the residents on the street take on this responsibility without too much complaint; even though it's pretty expensive to supply treats for over 300 kids (especially for folks like my ninety year old neighbors), it's something we've always done.  Very few people turn their lights out for Halloween.

Which makes it even more frustrating when this kindness is taken for granted.

Every year I have my "pet peeve" trick-or-treaters.  One year it was the two moms pushing babies in strollers up to people's doors (the babies couldn't have been more than a year old, if that, and were not walking), collecting candy "for the kids."   Ummmm, right.  Other years it's the kids who come to the door without even an attempt at a costume.

This year, two groups stuck out.  (Here, friends, is where I completely toss the teachings of my kind Buddhist friend from the other day about not being able to change others, but only my own perspective.  No, I'm not proud to say that.  I am going to try again tomorrow.)  The first, tweenaged twins, came to the door, and stood there, pillowcases open.  My husband, jokingly, opened the door and said, "Can I help you?"  To which one of the kids replied.  "Yeah, give me candy."  My mouth hit the floor.  "Seriously?" I said, frowning, storming up to the door.  "Take a hike.  That was really obnoxious.  How about 'please' and 'thank you' and 'trick or treat' and 'happy Halloween'?"  The kids looked at each other in disbelief, as if no one had ever said anything like this to them before.  My husband, who is more of a nice guy than I am, urged me to let it go; he was probably thinking he didn't want our house egged.  He gave them the candy and they walked away, snickering nervously.

A while later, the second group of offenders, a pre-teen boy and his father, rang the doorbell.  Both of them were holding sacks.  "Trick or treat," said the boy.  It was nearing the end of the night, and so I gave him a few pieces, instead of just the one we'd been handing out to each child.  As I turned away, the father held out his sack, too.  I looked at him quizzically.  Really? I thought.  "It's for my daughter," he said, gesturing towards a group on the sidewalk.  "She's right down there.  She's just tired."  "If she's tired," I said, "maybe she should go home.  I don't do parents collecting candy for their kids."  "Oh, all right," he said, turning away.  Did I mention he was dressed as a Jesuit monk?  The irony did not escape me, though perhaps it escaped him.

The evening got me thinking (and I realize some people will hate me for this, but I'm going to say it anyway): if people don't like the Occupy movements, they should look at what we're teaching kids, starting with Halloween.  I'm not advocating for socialism or communism, just human decency.  Teaching kids compassion.  Saying please and thank you.  Helping them to understand that the night is not about bankrupting neighboring towns just to amass a stockpile that's going to end up rotting your teeth anyway.  And you know, while we're at it, maybe we should Occupy Thanksgiving.  And Occupy Christmas.  And Occupy Hanukkah.  And every other holiday, and every other day of the year.  Because (again, completely disregarding what the monk told me about people being able to give only what they have) the reason we're in the mess we're in is that some people forgot the lessons they learned the first time they ever went trick or treating: how to be polite, and thankful, and know when you have enough and should go home for the night, and maybe even when you might be able to share with someone else.

Like these, for example.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars

1/2 c. flour (or spelt flour, oat flour, etc.)
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/8 t. nutmeg
1/8 t. allspice
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 egg (or 1 T. ground flax stirred with 3 T. water until gelatinous)
3 T. brown sugar (or agave, though you may want to lower the oven temp by 25 degrees)
2 T. regular (white or turbinado) sugar
1/2 c. cooked, pureed pumpkin
2 T. nondairy milk
2 T. coconut oil (vegetable oil will do)
3/4 t. vanilla
for frosting: cream cheese mixed with a little agave or honey or maple syrup to make it spreadable, or use your favorite cream cheese frosting recipe

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine dry ingredients, then add in wet. Spread into an oiled 8×8 pan and bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool fully before frosting.
Pin It

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Meal for the Monks: Pumpkin Apple Soup

Six monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery, who have been traveling around the U.S. for eighteen months, arrived in my little corner of the universe on Saturday night in the middle of a freak blizzard.  I can only imagine what the drive down from New York State was like for them; I was driving my son and daughter home from a birthday party, and every muscle in my body was tense as I watched huge tree limbs snap all around us under the weight of the snow on the leaves that hadn't yet fallen.  It still looks like a war zone around here, worse than when the hurricane hit.  Lots of people still have no power, which means no heat (with temperatures outside below freezing) and no water (unless you're lucky enough to live in town, like we do).

It was pretty amazing to meet Tibetan Buddhist monks on tour, and their visit brought some useful perspective and calm to the county in the aftermath of the storm.  They were down to earth (three of them actually went trick or treating with some kids in the neighborhood), and yet, somehow unearthly--both their chanting (which sent chills down my spine) and their air of calm acceptance made them feel different.  They talked about a lot of things I've been thinking about recently anyway: that life is like a great ocean, and that the ups and downs are little ripples (even if they feel like tsunamis at the time); that you feel the most suffering when you spend the most time thinking about yourself and your inappropriate attachment to things that just go away or change anyway; that people can only give what they have, and that people who are suffering cannot give joy.

(This last one is the hardest for me to swallow.  My conversation with one of the monks went something like this:  
me: "So what about people who are malicious?"
monk: "They're not malicious to everyone.  And they are suffering."
me: "But why be malicious to me, then?"
monk: "That's what they have to give."
me: "I'm not feeling very compassionate towards these people."
monk: *smiling*  "No one said it was easy.")

Now I don't think that I'm going to become a Buddhist any time soon.  In a perverse way, I think I enjoy the highs and lows of human existence.  But I confess I've been feeling more than a little sorry for myself lately, hearing nothing but crickets from the resumes and cover letters I keep sending into the abyss, especially as we're turning the corner into winter (and I'd thought that by now I'd be re-employed), doing the endless loads of laundry and dishes (which I'd be doing anyway, but breaks in the monotony would be nice), cooking until late into the night only to get up at 5am and start the whole thing over again.  And it would be wise of me to remember compassion, and appreciate simplicity (gee, isn't it nice to have heat and running water?), and be a little less cranky.

I volunteered to bring the monks a meal while they were staying with another family in town, and I made this soup, along with a lentil salad and homemade bread.  It's the sort of soup that warms you body and soul, and makes you remember that the world is a fundamentally good place, and that just as the good things come and go, so do the power outages and the crappy days filled with laundry.

Pumpkin Apple Soup
(with thanks to Brown Eyed Baker for the original)

1 T. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
½ t. kosher salt
6 c. vegetable stock
2/3 c. natural (no sugar added) applesauce
½ t. ground white pepper
½ t. ground sage
½ t. dried thyme
¼ t. ground nutmeg
2 (15-ounce) cans pumpkin (3 1/2 c.)
¼ c. brown sugar (or 2 T agave)
½ c. light cream (or half and half)

Heat a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the diced onion, apples and salt. Saute until onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, applesauce, white pepper, sage, thyme and nutmeg. Bring to a boil and cook until apples are very tender, about 5 more minutes.

Add the pumpkin and brown sugar and cook for 10 – 15 minutes over medium heat. Use an immersion blender to blend soup until it’s smooth. (You can also use a blender to blend the soup in batches.) Add the cream to the soup and heat through over very low heat. (You can add more cream or water, if desired, to thin out more.) Remove from heat and serve.
Pin It
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...