Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow Day, Reprise: Cupcake Double Header

Apparently, the stirring of spring I could have sworn I felt the other day was a tease. This morning the phone rang at 5 a.m. for the second day in a row, with a recorded message letting us know that Ian's school was closed. Steve's site was closed. We were expecting another foot of snow. My office was open, though classes were cancelled on the campus; though the streets looked pretty clear, I decided not to go in. After all, I had important business to attend to today.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Waiting Place: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Dr. Seuss describes a place in his classic Oh, The Places You'll Go, called "The Waiting Place. For people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go, Or a bus to come, or a plane to go,or the mail to come, or the rain to go, Or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow ..." I've felt like I'm a regular at the Waiting Place lately; February has been filled with fits and starts due to snow days and conferences and a host of other things, so much so that the semester seems like it never really got started. The predictions were for another foot of snow or so over the next day and a half, with high winds, but though the clouds hung low in the sky when we woke for the 5 a.m. phone call confirming that Ian's school was closed, it was more raining than snowing. Thankfully, Steve's meetings had been cancelled for the day, because mine weren't, so after playing in the attic for a while with Ian, I trudged in to work, watching the snow fall in large wet clumps. It still hadn't started to accumulate on the roads when I left work and came home to relieve Steve for a while so he could catch up on his own pile of email. I wanted the storm to figure out what it was doing so I could make my own plans for the next two days, which would either entail going in to work, or not, and finding alternate care, or not, etc., etc. etc.

In the meantime, I decided to do what I guess we always end up doing on snow days: bake.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stone Soup

You know the story of Stone Soup. There are probably hundreds of variations on the old folk tale; Ian has this one in his personal library. Two hungry travelers, denied food by the inhabitants of a mountain village, publicly declare that they can make soup from a stone. Only they need a large pot ... and a carrot... and a potato... and a few more ingredients to make it taste really good. Finally, everyone in the town contributes something, pronounces the soup "delicious and nutritious, incredible and edible," and learns that one needs only a few ingredients, and sharing, to make it again. I like this particular edition for two reasons: first, the illustrations are so beautiful, and portray an almost contemporary-looking and very diverse crowd of adults and children who are both responsible for making the magic happen, and second, there's a real recipe at the end, complete with "sharing" as an ingredient, and directions that encourage the reader to sing songs and tell stories with friends while the soup is being made.

This has been one of Ian's favorite books, on and off during the past year, and he really does seem to appreciate the lesson. Just recently, he's wanted me to read the recipe (which I used to skip because there are an awful lot of words on that page for a little person, even a very patient little person). He likes the litany of ingredients and directions, though. The other night, after we finished, Ian asked if we could make stone soup ourselves.
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Friday, February 19, 2010

First Signs of Spring

The air has been warmer these past few days; though the temperature still barely creeps over 40, you can sense that change is coming. Last night I went for a long walk, running part of the way, stopping now and then simply to notice the cool air against my warm cheeks, to drink it in, to taste it.

And it even tastes different; and while the crocuses are not yet peeking through the snowbanks, I can tell that the seasons are shifting, beginning to wake like we do from savasana.

Around here, the first signs of spring also involve seed catalogues. The ones that sit in our bathroom basket all winter, dog-eared pages and black marker circles, finally make their way out to the living room, and sit on Steve's computer until the orders are done. Though we dry seeds from last years' heirloom tomatoes and herbs, we get some fresh seeds for the old standbys: beans, peas, mixed baby greens, arugula. There are always a few experiments: amaranth has taken over our garden for two years now (I'm going to stage a protest against that one this year), and I've been lobbying for butternut squash and kale. I love wandering out to the garden in the evening, picking a few raspberries off of the bushes, still warm from the sun, and gathering a small harvest for dinner.

This year, we also decided to put our names on the waiting list for the CSA at Honeybrook Organic Farm. I've been waiting impatiently to hear back from them since December, when the applications first became available, knowing that their continuing members had until January 31 to renew, and today, not a day after the seed orders went in, the postcard arrived! We're in!

I can't wait for the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, for the challenge of cooking what surprises us in our share each week. And if that weren't enough, there are even pick-your-own privileges that come with membership, so we can drive out to the farm for things like berries and beans!

It's enough to make a girl throw down her snow shovel and jump for joy. Bring on the tomatoes!
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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love at First Bite: Winter Farmer's Market!

OK. It's true. I am a total sucker for a meadow full of white tents. It may be a vestige of my two and a half years in Los Angeles, when I could wander blissfully among the produce every weekend (heck, every day if I wanted to ... there was always a farmer's market going on somewhere), listening to the local musicians, admiring the wares of local artisans. Oh, the peaches. The apples. The kale. The fresh brick oven bread. "Miss, would you like to try a piece?" Oh, yes, thanks so much; I thought you'd never ask.

I have infected my son with this obsession, and he, too, shares my sadness when the white tents at the Dvoor Farm around the corner from our house come down for the season.

In the absence of farmer's markets or church obligations, it's hard to get the boys moving and motivated and out of the house on a Sunday morning. But I'm a believer in fresh air before naptime, and so after feeding them a manly breakfast of pink conversation heart-shaped pancakes with messages written in cookie icing (yes, really; didn't you have something like that for breakfast on Valentines' Day?) announced that I thought a walk along the towpath might be fun, especially if we went hunting for a geocache. (Ian exclaimed, "I love geocaching!" and then promptly took about half an hour to put on his snowpants.) We decided on one near the Prallsville Mills in Stockton, which, according to the folks, is findable even in the winter.

It was a beautiful day for a walk along the river; bright and clear, crisp, but not cold. We found the cache pretty easily, after walking through the snow for a bit, and Ian amused himself by throwing rocks at the thick ice in the canal on our way back towards the mill. I was enjoying myself too much to get back into the car, and told Ian and Steve that if they wanted to ride to town, I could take the towpath in to town and meet them there.

I practically ran through the foot-high snowdrifts in my hiking boots and snow pants, grinning at the idea of beating them. By the time I arrived at Bridge Street, I was sweating, and they were just pulling into a parking space. Together, we walked up the street to the bridge, to look down through the steel criss-crosses at the rushing water below.

It had been a while since we'd been in Stockton. Ages ago, Steve and I had considered having our wedding reception at the mill, and our rehearsal dinner at the Stockton Inn. A few times since, we'd biked the towpath through there. Once we'd eaten at a restaurant in town, which had apparently changed hands since. We walked back down Bridge Street at my insistence, to see what else had changed. And suddenly, a sign: the Stockton Winter Farmer's Market.

No. Really?

Apparently they have been open since November, Saturdays from 9:00 - 3:00, and Sundays from 10:00 - 3:00. How did I miss this?

We wandered inside, and I almost died and went to heaven. I was tempted by the line of coffee urns from Coffee Scoop, but I restrained myself, and after a quick glance inside, informed Steve that we would be getting ice cream from OwOwCow Creamery AND baked goods from Bucks County Cookie. Susan, the baker extraordinare, offered us a sample of the biscotti, which were delightful; Steve prefers his biscotti slightly soft, and these melted in your mouth, leaving a bright (but not overpowering) orange flavor behind. (You can order her goods online; just check out the website.) It was a tough choice, but after deliberating for some time about whether cranberry orange biscotti or the heart shaped chocolate dipped shortbread would be better, we decided on the biscotti and continued on inside.

All of my favorite vendors were there: Tassot Apiaries from Milford (sadly, I'd just bought a huge jar of honey from the grocery store the other day, thinking that I wouldn't see these folks until summer); Rise, a bread shop in Clinton; and Ambrosia, a bakery that comes occasionally to the summer market and tantalizes us with quiche and brioche. Even my favorite soap vendor was there: Storybrook Farm. She gave Ian a small heart shaped valentine soap, and after some careful deliberation (honey oatmeal? java jive? oh, too many choices!) I bought myself a bar of goat's milk spice. Why did no one tell me she has an etsy store?

In the back, there were vendors selling free range chickens, grass fed beef, fresh seafood, local artisan cheeses, and even one stand with organic produce from her greenhouse. Steve bought a wood-fired rye bread from the Bobolink Dairy. There was also a gentleman from the Painted Truffle sampling--get this--salted caramel truffles, dark chocolate nut bark, white chocolate cranberry bark, and another truffle with wine inside. It was absolutely divine.

On the way out, we checked out the flavors on offer at the (local, fair trade) OwOwCow Creamery: madagascar vanilla, chocolate chocolate chip, espresso, and banana walnut. We got half vanilla and half chocolate, and shared the cup while we listened to the duo on guitar and bongo/African drums up front.

I could not have imagined a more perfect Valentine's day adventure.
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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Moroccan Vegetable Stew

It sounds like winter here right now. The house is almost silent; outside I hear the occasional tinkling of chimes as the wind blows, but there are few people outside, and the whole world seems still. Ian is napping; he and I went to another birthday party this morning, but this one was much saner than some of the previous weekends (they had ten children at Eyes of the Wild, where the children can see and touch the animals) ... so I'm not feeling like I need to sleep it off.

And dinner is making itself.

Well, not quite. The vegetable prep does take some time, but I've become a convert to the instrument of torture from my mother's generation, the crockpot. No longer does using a slow cooker mean cooking every last bit of moisture and flavor out of a perfectly good piece of brisket, or leaving a pot of salt and fat bubbling away all day so that you can heap it onto some rice at dinner time.

This stew is pretty healthy, and hearty, and you can substitute the vegetables for the ones you like best. It might not be as Moroccan then, but I'm sure no one will tell. I'm still nursing a cold, so I'm not going to the gym today (despite my recent descent into sugar overload ... too many snow days = too many cookies); I was thinking that maybe a bowl of this for dinner would balance out the baking frenzy.

I cook the spices and chop the vegetables the night before, refrigerate in the crock overnight, then start it in the morning. The boys like to eat it with couscous. It makes a lot, so be prepared to eat it for a few nights, or invite some friends over!

Moroccan Vegetable Stew

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a knife
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 cups vegetable or chicken broth
4 carrots (12 oz. total), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch lengths
2 1/2 cups diced peeled eggplant or sweet potato or butternut squash
2 1/2 cups sliced (1/2 in. thick) zucchini or green beans
2 cups cauliflower florets
1 cup diced onion (about 5 oz.)
2 cans (14 1/2 oz. each) stewed tomatoes
2 cans (15 oz.) garbanzos, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
1 cup chopped toasted almonds
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

Pour olive oil into a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Add garlic and spices and cook, stirring often until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes, being careful not to scorch the garlic. Scrape the mixture into a slow-cooker (at least 5 qt.).

Add broth, carrots, eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower, onion, stewed tomatoes (with juices), garbanzos, currants, almonds, and salt, and stir to combine.

Cover slow-cooker and cook on high until vegetables are tender to bite and flavors are blended, 8 to 9 hours.

Ladle about 3 cups of the vegetable mixture into a blender. Holding lid down with a towel and taking care to avoid steam, whirl until smooth. (Or use a stick blender and just purée that puppy right in the crock.) Return purée to slow-cooker and stir to blend. Serve with couscous and (if you like) a dollop of yogurt.
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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I Want a New Gig, and other true confessions

Here I am, navel-gazing again. After eating an entire "like it" size of Cold Stone, several chopsticks full of peanut butter, two long sticks of "raw" chocolate truffle, and who knows what else is bad for me. There will be no recipe today.

I ought to be sleeping.

It's snowing outside again ... the second blizzard in less than a week. School is closed tomorrow, even though our offices aren't. It's unlikely I'll go in; after all, Ian is off, Steve will be off, and another day of commuting hell just doesn't appeal to me. It doesn't seem right--or even ethical--to expect your staff to go in, but keep your students safe.

I need a new gig.

On Sunday, I had come back early from a youth group meeting (where no youth showed up, much to our dismay) to a quiet house: napping husband, napping son. I tiptoed to the back room, and lay on the bed, feeling a little sorry for myself and my clogged sinuses, feeling like I really ought to be going to the gym despite my clogged sinuses, but feeling incredibly lazy. Half-propped on the pillows, I looked out the sliding glass door towards our neighbor's yard, snow blanketing the boxwoods, dappled sunlight playing in the tree branches above and on the curtains, and thought, I want to quit my job, eat, bake, cook, and write. It was as clear as that.

I know this is ridiculous, because one does not make money eating and baking and writing unless one has a catering business and someone willing to pay for reviews. Or a restaurant. Or is a famous blogger. But it sounded so appealing then. And thinking it, I felt my entire body relax into the idea. Like, ahhhhhhhhhhhh. There. Now I've said it.

We have been trying to have another child on and off for almost two and a half years now. I've lost two, both in January/February, one at three months. I've had no success at all to report for the past several months, I suspect partly because I'm not being treated completely for my hypothyroid condition, which can contribute to infertility. (I have other reasons to suspect this is the case: fatigue, hair loss, sweating, perpetually icy fingers and toes-to the point of pain when I'm outside in winter, weight that I can't get rid of no matter how often I go to the gym-and no, I don't sit and engorge myself like this every night, so it's not that. But I'm also tired of switching doctors, trying to find someone who will listen.) This time of year is hard for me; though women miscarry all the time, I feel oddly like I have amputated limbs, swinging around, ghost-like. There is a part of me that is incomplete. I find myself leaving work earlier than I used to, needing to GET AWAY, but also wishing there were something else I felt I could immerse myself in, maybe a new job, maybe motherhood ... but I can't even feel hopeful about that, knowing what I do about the tenuousness of pregnancy.

Another gig sounds so seductive right now. A gig that would leave me time to experience the things that make me happy, instead of just running through my life, doing. I watch myself, as if from outside my body, rush my child through the day from morning until night, even on the weekends. For a three year old, he is terribly compliant and patient with me.

I want to leave me time to be myself. For yoga class once in a while, where, oddly, I feel supremely content, waiting for the woman I consider my guru to start the class with chant.

I want to be happy.

But it's as if I haven't the foggiest idea where to start.
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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snow Day: Two Bean Vegetarian Chili

There are precious few quiet weekends in our house, these days. Between work, and the seemingly endless string of birthday parties (Ian is much more popular, at age three, than I ever was), and laundry, and youth group, and a thousand other random commitments, sometimes I worry that we rush more on the weekends than we do on weekday mornings. On a particularly busy weekend, Ian once said to me, "Mommy, sit with me and have a conversation and watch the rainbows." How sage, at the ripe old age of three.

In a way, I was glad to see the storm coming this weekend. It meant that we'd be stuck inside, watching the snow fall, nowhere to go. And when it finally came, it was everything I'd hoped. We spent the morning playing outside, making snow angels and digging in the pristine white with sticks, making groundhog holes. We baked cookies. We squashed and molded Playdoh. And all the while, I made chili, which will feed us for a few nights this week. And no, we did not go to or host a Superbowl party this weekend; the chili was all for us.

The particularly cool thing about this dish is that it's vegan, and everyone loves it anyway. (Sometimes, actually I think Ian would rather eat vegetarian.) Veggie chili is almost a no-brainer. So I can feel like I'm being successful in my attempts to eat more ethically, a quest that was the result of two particularly moving conversations with a farmer friend of mine and a former biology teacher turned stay-at-home-mom this past summer, about treating all living things with dignity (not that I'm anti-meat, mind you; I'm just anti-meat that has had to live its life in crowded quarters, shot full of antibiotics, and treated like it's already being measured in pounds). And it's full of fiber and protein, and low in fat and calories, because of the bulghur, which just seems to give the dish more body.

The other cool thing about it is that it works well in a crockpot, when I don't feel like working very hard at cooking, and when watching the rainbows is more important.

Two Bean Vegetarian Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, chopped
3 large jalapeño chilies, seeded, minced (about 4 1/2 tablespoons)
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with added puree
3 cups water
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed, drained
2 15-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed, drained
1/2 cup bulgur
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots, red bell pepper, and jalapeños and sauté until onion and carrots are almost tender, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, 3 cups water, beans, bulgur, white wine vinegar, garlic, and spices. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, until bulgur is tender and mixture thickens, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Ladle chili into bowls and serve.

OR ... put everything in your crockpot and turn in on low for six hours.
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Red Velvet and Silpada

I need to start by explaining that I don't wear a lot of jewelry. I never have; despite my 1980s turquoise blue dangl-ey earring phase, I'm a plain Jane when it comes to adornment. For a while I wore a leather necklace with a totem. There are a few pieces I rotate through to go to work: some modest gold hoops, a pair of sparkly earrings that a student brought me from India, a necklace that my mother in law gave me shortly after our wedding date, with a piece of Italian asphalt on it.

So it's hardly surprising, then, that when my neighbor invited me to a Silpada party, I was a little hesitant. I didn't want to go under false pretenses, knowing that I would probably not buy anything. I didn't know if I'd feel weird, watching everyone else gaze at jewelry. Home business parties always make me a little uncomfortable anyway: Pampered Chef, PartyLite, Arbonne, Lia Sophia ... it's all the same. I feel an obligation to the seller, because I know that this is her (usually, her) living, and I feel an obligation to the hostess, because she's helping out this woman by hosting. Yet, I wonder, do I really need this stuff? I wonder sometimes whether the home business scene is a strange circulation of capital from one woman to another, where everyone ends up accumulating stuff that they don't really use.

But I also happen to think that this neighbor is an amazing human being (she has survived breast cancer twice, has three wonderful children, practices Jin Shin Jyutsu, goes to yoga, donates her time to the domestic violence agency and Operation Smile, and just seems like the calm, centered kind of person I'd like to be if it weren't completely against my nature), and I didn't want to pass up the chance to hang out with her. So I told her my concerns and said I'd try to make it, and she promised that it would just be a fun girl's night out.

I -- and this is probably a vestige from my elementary school years -- need to be liked. A lot. I was never the popular kid, and as a result, even as an adult, I find myself trying to please people. Love me, I say to my husband, who laughs at me. This is true even at parties that I'm not even sure I want to attend. (Steve: "You need to impress people you don't even know?" Me: "ESPECIALLY the people I don't even know.") Lately, I've found that people like me for my cupcakes. It's like a powerful secret weapon. Instant appreciation. I'd just recently gotten Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, and was torn between red velvet cupcakes and cookies of some sort from my new book, but decided on the red velvet, because ... well ... they're just more impressive. And because Ian likes to lick the bowl.

And when I walked in to her studio with my cupcake carrier in hand, watching about 25 women, most of whom I didn't know, neatly wrapped in scarves and poring over catalogues with wine glasses in hand, I knew I'd made the right choice.

I still didn't buy anything, but at least I felt a little less guilty about coming. And today she emailed me, telling me that she wants the recipe. Who says you can't buy love?

Red Velvet Cupcakes (from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World)
I have never had a single person guess that these are vegan. Ever. Most people tell me they're the best cupcakes they've ever eaten. Score for the vegans ... more on that in my next post.

1 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, Dutch processed or regular
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons red food coloring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon chocolate extract
(Chocolate extract is worth the trouble to find, but if you can't, use 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin/cupcake pans with cupcake liners.
2. Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar and set aside to curdle.
3. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl and mix.
4. Add the oil, food coloring, chocolate extract, and almond extract to the curdled soy milk. Whisk well to combine. Gently fold wet ingredients into dry, mixing until large lumps disappear. Do not over mix, otherwise your cupcakes will turn out gummy! Small lumps are okay.
5. Fill cupcake liners about two-thirds of the way full as these cupcakes will rise fairly high.
6. Place in hot oven and bake 18-20 minutes until done. You can stick a toothpick into a cupcake to see if it's done. If you get tiny dry crumbs on it, it is ready!

Let sit on the counter for a few minutes in the pans and then transfer to a cooling rack or surface to cool completely.


Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting:


1/4 cup non hydrogenated margarine, softened
1/4 cup vegan cream cheese, softened
2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Cream together margarine and cream cheese until just combined. Use a stand mixer to whip while adding the confectioners sugar in 1/2 cup batches. Scrape down the sides in between too! Mix until smooth and creamy, then mix in the vanilla. Keep tightly covered and refrigerated until ready to use.
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