aw, nuts (and seeds)

When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, I’m all fits and starts. Do-overs. Try agains. Admittedly, there’s more I can do and should do in just about every area of my personal health habits.

But in order for a habit to become well, habit, it needs to be something I continually practice. And knowing who I am, with my tendency to start strong and then fizzle out after awhile, these habits need to be almost mindless and easily integrated into my
day to-day living.

So I’m after small, sustainable, healthy habits. Here’s my latest:

Given my penchant for salty and savory, I’ve been best friends with hot, buttered popcorn and potato chips for years. And I’m sure I’ll never give either up altogether, but I’ve found a new, healthier crunch in a concoction of nuts and seeds – a vitamin, mineral, and anti-oxidant packed trail mix of sorts – easy to buy, chop, mix, and eat.

In the seed category, this week’s mixture includes; chia, flax, hemp, sunflower, and pumpkin. Nuts this week include: walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, and cashews. I also tossed in a handful of chopped, dried cranberries and chocolate chunks for a little sweet with the savory. The particulars can vary, so I say: mix up what you’ve got. I tend to buy an ingredient or two with each week’s groceries as some of these staples can be expensive. Each week’s blend fills most of a Mason jar.

As I’ve dabbled in reading about healthy diets, I’ve come across so much information about the health benefits of eating nuts and seeds. I’m no dietician or nutritionist, but at my age, phrases like: “excellent source of fiber, lowers LDL cholesterol, helps build strong bones, boosts vision health, and protects the body from certain cancers” – catch my attention. The list of vitamins and minerals found in these teeny, tiny bits and pieces of crunch go on and on.

One simple step toward better health, a snack at a time, for one hopeful, healthier year.

bread

I’ve been baking bread. Loaves. Buns. Rolls. Sourdough mostly. And after many failed attempts.

I am my most patient self while baking bread. I am most patient with myself while baking bread. I allow myself the time. The learning. I forgive failures and put aside worries. The bread won’t be rushed. And neither will I.

There is only the bread. The starter. The flour. The salt. The yeast. Maybe a bit of honey. A pat of butter. Simple ingredients, pleasing to my senses. The combination comes to a kind of miracle. The task offers me some sort of purpose. Satisfaction. A notion I’m doing good work…Is wholesome the word I’m looking for?

Each step, its own place, its own part in the process, a piece of my peace. Of my pleasure. A moving meditation. I am quieted for a time – inside and out. The measuring and mixing. The kneading (needing.) Rising. Waiting. Shaping. Rising. Waiting. Baking. Browning. Smelling. By and by … we break bread and eat. A small blessing.

I clean up. Set the kitchen to rights. Hot water from the tap. Soap and soak bowls and tools. Brush flour from the big, wooden work board – taking care not to dust the floor.

I didn’t know I needed bread making. I did not know my hands needed a simple and satisfying task. I did not know my heart needed another way to love.

(Dedicated to Stephanie)

how do I love you

How do I love you?

Let me bake for you and show you the ways.

I love to cook for you too, of course, but baking is how I’ll love you by the dozen. How I’ll thank you. Honor you. Welcome you. Or encourage you.

Cookies mostly. These for friends. Family. Church. These are especially to thank our custodian at school; they’re his favorites. And in the fall? Crisps. Cobblers. And by frequent request: pumpkin whoopie pies. (Let me tell you: nothing says love like the thick, whipped cream cheese frosting stuffed between those moist pumpkin pies.)

There’s love in a firmly packed cup of brown sugar, a leveled cup of flour, and some very special vanilla. I’m thinking about you with every spin of my spoon around the bowl, every slow pour of molasses, every sift and shake of confectioner’s sugar. Today my love smelled like freshly ground nutmeg. A first for me, and maybe for you too.

I hope you feel the full measure of my love coming from the warmth of my kitchen.

I hope you know baking is one way I love you.

cobbler

I love the whole idea of a cobbler. It’s a work-with-what-you’ve-got kind of baking. To cobble means to put together roughly or hastily. And that’s exactly the kind of time I have for baking. It’s a hurry up sort of season. Gather the last of the harvest. Enjoy the very last of summer’s bounty.

Baking. One of my very favorite ways to create. The warmth of the kitchen. The delight in mixing the ordinary to become extraordinary. The anticipation of opening the oven. The certain happiness which comes from leveling a cup of flour. And now … cobbling!

Here’s to the last of the peaches!

Basic Fruit Cobbler

from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion

Any fruit you bake in a pie, you can add to a cobbler. Peaches, in this case, but apples, pears, cherries, and berries of all kinds work.

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 cup sherry, brandy, or bourbon*
  • 3 to 4 cups fresh fruit (large fruits sliced, berries left whole)
  • whipped cream or ice cream

*If you’d rather not use liquor, increase the milk in the recipe to 1/4 cup and use a mixture of 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/4 cup of water in place of the liquor. (This is the option I chose and it was delightful!)

Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 9 x 9-inch square pan (or similar casserole dish) or an 11-inch round quiche dish.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Beat together the eggs and 1 cup of the sugar. Add butter and milk. Add the flour mixture, stirring just to combine. Pour the batter into the greased pan.

In a medium-sized saucepan, simmer together the sherry (or the mixture noted above) and the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the fruit and stir to coat with the syrup. Pour this hot fruit mixture over the batter in the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

bake for good

DSC_0018 (2)There’s nothing more simply satisfying, more homey and wholesome, or more basically beautiful than a loaf of freshly-baked bread.

Unless you bake two loaves – and share one.

When I bake bread, my heart fills in direct proportion to the rise of the dough. I love all the steps: the measuring, the mixing, the kneading, the baking. I love the aroma as the crust browns. I love to cradle the warmth of each loaf as I wrap it in a cotton cloth just out from the oven. I especially love feeding my family.

I’ve written before about the joy and grounding I find when baking. (See Warmth.) I’m not much for cakes, although this is a good one, and I’m family-famous for my chocolate chip cookies, but my new fascination is with baking bread. It’s been a long-standing someday thought, only recently realized come an unexpected snow day off from school.

And it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.

Time-consuming? Yes. But easy. And so worth the time.

This latest good thing in my life rose even higher, so to speak, this week after an in-school presentation by King Arthur Flour. Based in Norwich, Vermont, King Arthur Flour’s been a baking name to know since 1790 and employee-owned since 2004. With a company focus on connections in the community, the flour company not only maintains a baking school, but several outreach programs designed to “Bake for Good.”

Last week, the students in our school enjoyed King Arthur Flour’s Learn. Bake. Share. program where they learned all the basics of bread baking and the science behind it too. Each student was sent home with a flour-filled canvas tote, a dough scraper, a packet of yeast, a booklet of delicious recipes to try with their families at home … and an invitation: To share what they bake by donating a loaf to a local food bank.

Kids can participate in two ways:

King Arthur representatives visit over 200 schools all over the country every year. In-school presentations can be arranged by visiting here. Self-directed group baking can be arranged by visiting here.

Youth groups of all kinds can participate in Learn. Bake. Share. Anyone can participate and pledge to King Arthur’s Bake for Good. One pledge = one meal donated to Feeding America.  So far, King Arthur’s donated over 41,000 meals to date!

Bake. Enjoy. Give. And rise.

 

 

 

 

mix-ins

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While the weather outside isn’t quite frightful yet, it’s still on the colder side of chilly and I’m all about finding ways to warm up.  These days, I’m bundled up, tucked in, hat-wearing, soup-eating and warming my hands by the fire whenever possible.

And I’m making time in the morning for a rib-sticking, healthy bowl of warmth too – good old-fashioned oatmeal!

There was a time when I tended towards instant, but these days I’m fascinated with making my own everything from scratch, and cooking up a batch of stove-top oats takes but a few minutes. While it’s simmering, consider what’s in your cupboard for whatever’s on hand for mix-ins. You’ll know what’s in your breakfast because you mixed it yourself!

Oatmeal’s a workhorse of a breakfast, high in fiber and antioxidants. A mix-in like dried cranberries adds even more nutritional value to the bowl … just be careful of added sugar. Speaking of sugar, I remember my mother mixing brown sugar in my oatmeal, and that’s an option I’ve traded for a dollop of honey or a quick pour of pure maple syrup.

Just yesterday morning, I added freshly chopped honeycrisp apples and cranberries to my oatmeal and the combination was delicious. A little sweet, a little tart … and so warm!

Mix and match your mix-ins and roll with whatever you’ve got in your kitchen.

Here’s a few possibilities:

  • flax seed                                              cranberries
  • almonds                                              raisins
  • walnuts                                               apples
  •  honey                                                 peaches
  • maple syrup                                      banana
  • cinnamon                                           pears
  • blueberries

I’ll be eating well and staying warm all winter long!

Any ideas to add to my list?

 

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chow-da

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There’s still corn at the farmer’s market, so chow-da’s on the menu tonight. Partnered with BLTs, it’s one of my husband’s favorites.  As soups go, his preference runs toward a good chowder, and he’ll eat just about anything between two slices of bread.

More and more often, I’m cooking with what’s fresh, what’s in season, what’s whole, and healthy. I consider it our grand good fortune to live in an area with a number of farms nearby.  In Vermont, the source of my new and most favorite cookbook, there’s farms aplenty and a hard-working, home-grown mindset I love.

If you love farm-to-table eating, delicious, do-able recipes, and stunning photography … check out: the Vermont Farm Table Cookbook.

In the meantime, enjoy this Corn Chowder recipe:

Corn Chowder

from Kimball Brook Farm, a certified organic dairy farm in the Champlain Valley

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 1 cup diced celery
  •  1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 5 cups low-sodium chicken stock, plus extra as needed
  • 3 medium red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from 6 to 7 ears corn)
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons fresh chopped basil – extra for garnish
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh choped dill – extra for garnish
  1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Leave the bacon drippings in the pot Reduce the heat to medium and add the butter, onion, and celeter; cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  2. educe the heat o medium-low and sprinkle the flour, celery salt, t teaspoon salt, and white pepper over the vegetables. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock, increase the heat to medium-high, add the potatoes and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are almost tender, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add the corn kernels, milk, basil, and dill and return to a simmer. Continue cooking until the corn is just tender, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with the diced bacon, and extra basil or dill, if desired, and serve.

 

 

 

in september

 

DSC_0329 (3)As surely as April brings thoughts of throwing open the windows to the warmer, fresh air, September starts me layering, feathering, and gathering. Yes, I’m sad to see summer go … but I’m determined to welcome fall and find a bit of time for some fun before the snow flies!

Although it’s not formally fall, it feels like it, and it’s starting to look like it too. Yellow and orange mums sit on the stoop where it seems only days ago were daisies. We kick acorns down the road when we go for a walk and hickory nuts too. We’re gathering the last of our luscious tomatoes and saying so long to our flowers.  I’m thinking less about burgers on the grill and more about soups in the crockpot. Suddenly, I’ve a hankering to bake bread!

Just now, apples simmer on the stove on their way to becoming apple sauce. It’s the season of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. We’ve been to the orchard once already and will probably return today. Later, and by request, I’ll make the first pumpkin recipe of the season: pumpkin whoopie pies.  We’ve got neighbors to thank … and those pies are a whole heaping handful of fall gratitude.

Just as we did this summer, we’ll be living out a (fun-seeking) fall alphabet:

A- apple and peach picking (of course!) — B- bonfire in the fire pit out back — C- cider and crisps and cornstalks on the porch — D-  E- F- festivals and fairs and foliage — G- H- I- J- K- L- M- mums from the garden center N- O- P- pumpkins on the steps and in the oven! — Q- R- S- T- U- V- W- X- Y- Z-

We fill it in as we go along and somehow, the alphabet inspires us to keep looking for all the fun we know is out there … but we’re sometimes too busy or tired or overwhelmed to think about. It’s a fun kind of fill-in-the-blank we look forward to.

I can’t wait to leaf kick (L) and discover what face emerges on our Jack o’ Lantern (J). It’s time to pack up the beach towels, layer on the sweaters and boots, and feather the bed with our winter quilt (Q).

I’m hoping for a few more walks on the beach and a couple more tosses of the tennis ball, but mostly, I’m headed toward autumn – full steam ahead!

For those of you local … We’re planning for this Equinox Festival and hopefully headed to this fair for the first time.  This slow-cooker soup is on the menu this week.

And if you’re looking for an easy fall side or transitional topping for the last of summer’s ice cream, you’ll find my go-to applesauce recipe below:

APPLESAUCE

from my mother-in-law’s Betty Crocker cookbook
  • 4 medium cooking apples, each cut into fourths
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Heat apples and water to boiling over medium heat; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally* to break up apples, until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Heat to boiling; boil and sitr 1 minute. Makes about 4 cups.

*I used a potato masher!

 

 

 

zucchini bread

DSC_0337 (4)Good news!

It’s harvest time in New England!

We’re just past picking green beans and starting to celebrate luscious tomatoes around here. We watch our pumpkins grow by the day, and I love to watch their shape emerge: tall and sophisticated … squat and rotund… and this year, a white pumpkin! Surprise!

Probably the most prolific vegetable in the New England garden is the zucchini – folks around here harvest so much of the stuff, they literally give it away. It’s not uncommon to see a pig-pile of zucchini for the taking on the staff room table at work or roadside with a hand-lettered invitation: FREE.

Zucchini is one of the most flexible, hardworking veggies around, and this time of year, it makes an appearance in so many of our meals. In our house, it’s a salad and stir-fry staple. It shows up on many a vegetable platter because it’s so chop-able, slice-able, and dip-able. Zuchinni roasts up nicely in a grilled veggie pouch or sautees well with it’s pal, summer squash, served with a dusting of freshly shredded parm.

And now – I’m baking with it too! Zucchini, you’re pretty much an all-around, all-star!

This recipe, from my newest and most favorite cookbook, the Vermont Farm Table Cookbook, makes two loaves of moist zuchinni bread – one to enjoy and another to share. We’ve enjoyed our bread for breakfast with coffee and for an afternoon snack with milk. The recipe calls for a cool serving – but we loved it warm, right from the oven.

Zucchini Bread 

from Two Black Sheep Farm in Hero, Vermont

  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups pureed unpeeled zucchini
  • 1 cup raisins, chopped walnuts, or chocolate chips (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 9×5-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray and lightly dust with flour. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together the eggs, oils, and vanilla.
  3. Sift together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the we ingredients and stir until smooth. Stir in the zucchini and raisins, nuts, or chocolate chips, if using. Pour into the prepared loaf pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean, about 1 hour.
  4. Let the bread cool in the pans for about 15 minutes, then turn the loaves out onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely before serving.

 

feelin’ the blues

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It’s nigh on blueberry season.

Smile.

There’s bushels of nutrition benefits in this bluesy fruit,  and these summer superstars are so versatile in all sorts of recipes from summer salads to muffins, crisps, pies and buckles. They’re a colorful staple in fruit salads and smoothies, and just plain pop in your mouth good – right after a good rinse.

I’m the first to admit, I find the work of picking a tad tedious, and you’re more likely to find me wandering among the bushes with my camera than my bucket. Still, I love these friendly, little berries and try to make the most of their time in season.

Since one of my summer goals is to eat more fruits and veggies, I’m thinking more about eating this year’s blueberries raw,  tart, and fresh and less about just-baked and juicy.

So what about these salad combinations?

Use blueberries and either baby spinach or spring mix as your base and mix in:

  • mandarin oranges, feta cheese, and slivered almonds
  • raw chunks of summer squash and zuchinni, red onion, turkey, and cheddar cubes
  • shelled peas, cherry tomato halves, carrot sticks, and freshly-shredded parmesan cheese
  • pick just about any other fruit to sidekick with your blues in a salad: strawberries, honeydew melon balls, watermelon, grapes, pineapple, or dried cranberries
  • other healthy toppings: walnuts, pine nuts, flax seed, sunflower seeds or a sprinkle or two of shaved coconut

This blueberry vinaigrette recipie looks luscious

You can also visit the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council for creative recipes as well as freezing, jamming, and canning tips.

Really. They’re a rough and tumble bunch of berries and ready for just about anything.

Go blue!