Turn! Turn! Turn!

Little kids itch to see the first snowflakes arrive. We seek the first glimpse of the brave crocuses. Summer sort of gently slips into place after spring’s bright plumage fades a bit. But when I think of seasons turning, my mind immediately goes to autumn. I picture the glossy green leaves transforming to a riot of gold, russet, and bronze, I starting thinking about soups and roasts and bread, winter squash and kale at the markets, Halloween and Thanksgiving and bonfires. Yesterday, when my youngest son and I were wandering through the Emily Oaks Nature Center paths, he mentioned that the end of the summer was bittersweet… pretty fancy phrase for a ten-year-old kid!

I came up with this recipe a few years ago, when we moved to Kansas City and were first subjected to REAL seasons (as opposed to the kinder, gentler versions I knew of in the Sacramento Valley of California). Chilly mornings stirred something deep in me, and soon I was stirring things myself.

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My 20-year-old son, having just graduated from DePaul University with highest honors, is leaving today for at least seven months to work as an English teacher for the French government. He has always loved these cookies, and I bake several batches every year for him. Today, the first really cool day here in Chicago, I’m making them for him to pack for his journey to the other side of the world. He takes a piece of my heart with him, as well as a few goodies from my kitchen.

Fall Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour substitute, and a big pinch of xanthan gum)
1 cup rolled oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. freshly grated orange zest
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup cooked and pureed pumpkin and/or sweet potato (can use canned, but NOT the sweetened/spiced kind)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pecans (toast for a few minutes whole, then chop)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix well.

Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange zest (those last two items alone are a great reason to own a Microplane grater, by the way!)

Alternate additions of dry ingredients and pumpkin, mixing well after each addition.

Stir in chocolate chips, cranberries, and nuts.

Drop by tablespoonfuls (I use a dough scooper like this) onto a baking sheet covered with either a Silpat mat or parchment paper. and bake for 10-12 minutes (until the tops of the cookies are dry and spring back when touched lightly). Remove from baking sheet and cool on racks.

Bon voyage, Clayton, and j’espère que vous avez une grande aventure!

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Seasoning for Cordell

My oldest son loved this seasoning powder we got at Costco, Johnny’s Garlic Spread. You sprinkle it on buttered toast and voila, garlic bread! It’s salty with a bit of a bite, loaded with umami, and comes in a giant bottle. What’s not to like?

Well, turns out there IS something not to like. My son Cordell is a vegetarian, and he found out that the cheese powder in Johnny’s is made from Parmesan, which must be made with animal rennet… the lining from the stomach of cattle. We tried to contact Johnny’s to confirm that the “enzymes” listed on their ingredients were indeed animal-based. One receptionist said she spoke to the development people and found that the enzymes were lab-grown; another representative said they were animal-based. Cord isn’t going to take any chances, and so he’s quit using his favorite seasoning.

I decided I wanted to try to make him some kind of replacement, and so the next time I was near The Spice House in Oldtown Chicago, I stopped in for supplies. Once I got home, I pulled out my trusty giant mortar and pestle and went to work. The replacement powder, while not exactly the same, is a darned good copy if I say so myself.

Cordell is leaving for California soon (to work on his PhD in physics at UC Davis, /proudmamabrag), and he asked if I’d give him the recipe so he could make more once this batch runs out. Here you go, Cordell! Enjoy!

Cordell’s Seasoning Salt
1/4 c. granulated garlic
1/4 c. brewers yeast flakes
1 T. salt (I used sea salt, but any kind would work)
1 T. dried basil
1 T. dried parsley

Put all ingredients into a large mortar and grind with a pestle (or use a spice grinder or blender). Once the contents seem evenly mixed and pulverized, store in an airtight jar or bag. Sprinkle onto popcorn, rice, pasta, veggies, toast, anywhere you’d like a pop of garlic flavor!

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Gluten-Free Happy Muffins

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I was invited to sit in on an aromatherapy class many years ago. Not much stuck with me, I’m afraid, but one piece of information sank in and has proven to be useful for me over and over: many people associate the scent of oranges with the emotion of happiness. Since then, I’ve put in a few drops of orange oil in a candle diffuser to cheer myself up, or a bit of zest in cookies to perk them up, or just eaten pounds of Satsuma mandarins during the cold dark winter days. Besides holding scurvy at bay, oranges really do seem to facilitate a better mood.

Not that I was feeling bad yesterday… a beloved baby had arrived, we had a lead on an awesome new apartment, one of my writing pieces had been published, and I had suddenly been gifted a whirlwind trip to California. I was feeling really great, and I wanted to celebrate with something sweet and zesty. These little treats did the trick so well, I’m making them again today and sharing them with you!

Note about the chocolate: I’m certain these would work fine with dark or milk chocolate chips, but the white ones add a subtle richness that enhances the delicate orange scent rather than overpowering it. I say this as someone who honestly does not like white chocolate.

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Happy Muffins

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened in the microwave for a minute

1/2 – 2/3 cup white sugar (depending on how strong your sweet tooth is today)

2 eggs

Zest and juice of one large orange (I used Cara Cara oranges, which have a pretty pinkish tinge and unique flavor, but you could use any orange you have on hand)

1/3 – 1/2 cup fine cornmeal (I ground some of my Glass Gem corn in a coffee grinder I reserve for spices and such)

1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour 

Big pinch of xanthan gum

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt (a little less if you had to use salted butter)

1/2 cup white chocolate chips 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-muffin tin with muffin papers, or spritz with your favorite spray oil, or just grease ‘em up.

Add sugar to softened butter. Beat in eggs one at a time (I have no idea why you do this; I just see it in so many recipes that I figured I needed to say it too so I have Kitchen Cred). 

In another bowl, whisk together cornmeal, gf flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift through a medium-meshed strainer into the egg mixture; if a lot of your cornmeal is still in the strainer, run it back through your grinder for a moment (but there will always be a few teaspoons that are too big; toss ‘em out for the birds). Stir together, mix in white chocolate bits. Mixture should be thick and gloopy, more of a quickbread consistency than pancake batter. If too thick, add a bit of milk or water to thin. If too thin, add the flour mix by tablespoons until you are happy.

Spoon into muffin tin and bake for 18 minutes, until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Enjoy!

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Practically a salad

My friend Carl asked me for the recipe for this family dip, and I realized that there really wasn’t a recipe… it’s more of a super quick friends-are-here-and-the-fridge-is-empty throw-it-together thing. It’s a very forgiving dish; I never measure any of it. Use what you have on hand — you can do it with just the beans/corn/salsa/cumin/salt and it’s fine. Still, I can definitely give a rough guideline for how to pull it off yourself, and so here it is.

Knock yourself out, Carl!

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Katje’s Party Dip
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup prepared salsa (we often use the jarred Costco stuff, but there’s some spicy chipotle salsa we use sometimes to great effect. If you’re out, just throw in a can of diced tomatoes or a few chopped fresh tomatoes and call it good)
Half a red onion, chopped fine
Half a red bell pepper, diced
A ripe but not mushy avocado, diced
A clove or two of garlic, minced very fine or crushed (or garlic granules if you’re in a hurry)
One jalapeno pepper, chopped fine (remove the pith and seeds if you don’t like heat)
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Shot of your favorite hot sauce (like Frank’s or Tabasco)
Juice of a lime (no lime? Add a splash of white vinegar instead)
Big handful of cilantro, chopped
Sour cream

Toss the beans and corn together. If it’s cool out, run it in the microwave for 30 seconds to get the chill off, but the frozen bits can be yummy when it hot. Add all the rest except the sour cream and mix well. If you can keep your mitts off this for a few hours, it will be even more delicious once the flavors meld a bit. Top with a scoop of sour cream and a few artful leaves of cilantro, and devour with your favorite tortilla chips. It’s all veggies, so it’s practically a salad… that means it’s good for you and you can eat as much as you want!

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Published pieces

I need an online public space to keep track of my publicly published writing, so for now… it’s going to be here.

LTH Forum
In a Pickle: What’s Up with the Green Relish
Jewels from the Garden: Glass Gem Corn
The Garden in Winter

Nature Nurtured
Affirmative!

Sacramento News & Review
Drugs & Death

Book Editing
Killer Comedy, by Jonathan Root

Fiction
Cat Scan

Nonfiction
Strange Pregnancy Symptoms
The Byways of Davis

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Crispy Tofu with Sweet & Sour Sauce

Wow, this was SO GOOD! The little tofu bits were twins for chicken nuggets. Everyone in the house loved them, including the avowed carnivores.

Crispy Tofu
1 block extra-firm tofu, frozen and thawed
2 T. cornmeal
Salt and pepper
Peanut oil

Drain the tofu and lightly squeeze out the water. Slice the tofu into flat triangles or rectangles… the more surface area, the crispier they will be. You don’t want them any thicker than 1/2″, though. Put them in a bowl and cover with boiling salted water and let stand for 15 minutes. (I used this time to make the sauce, below.)

In a heavy cast iron pan, start heating your oil. I covered the bottom of the pan with a good thick layer, about half as thick as my tofu bits. Make sure you give the pan enough time to get to about 350 degrees (if you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, you can toss a popcorn kernel in there… when it pops, your oil is ready).

Drain and scatter the tofu on an absorbent kitchen towel, then cover with another towel and gently press to remove as much water as you can. You don’t want to obliterate your little tofu bits, though, just get them dried off as best you can. In a medium sized mixing bowl, toss the cornmeal, salt and pepper together, then dump in the tofu pieces and toss to coat (I had some leftover, so don’t worry if it doesn’t all stick).

Here’s the fun part! Make sure everyone else in the house is occupied, because you can’t walk away from a pan of hot oil. Carefully drop the tofu bits into the oil (use tongs if you’re hinky about this step) and let them sizzle. Despite your curiosity and urge to fiddle, don’t mess around with them. You’ll be able to see when they are starting to brown on the bottom (it’s actually more of a yellowing; if you wait until a full-blown toasty brown, they’ll be closer to burnt). Use the tongs or a spatula to carefully flip them and let them cook on the other side the same way (they’ll go faster on the second side; your vigilance will be well rewarded!). When they are done, place them on a couple of folded paper towels to drain. That’s it!

Sweet & Sour Sauce

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 T. fresh ginger, grated
2 T. rice vinegar
1/2 c. ketchup
1 T. brown sugar
1/2 – 3/4 c. water
2 T. cornstarch

Mix everything but the water and cornstarch in a small pan, and heat to bubbling. Mix the water and cornstarch together, then add to the pan and stir over medium heat until thickened. Add a big ol’ squirt of Sriracha (or other chili sauce) if desired.

We served this with some rice and a salad, and it went over great. Enjoy!

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Widening the focus

This blog started as a collection of my food-based writing exported from LiveJournal, because LJ had become unstable and the rumors were flying. Now I’m finding myself with more to say, and feeling less inclined to chisel my thoughts down to fit into Facebook- or Twitter-sized chunklets. So I’m going to work on writing more consistently, and spread my range a bit further than my kitchen counter.

Spreading my wings!

Some of the topics I’d like to explore and document here:

Self Love (including Happiness, The Hair & Nail Chronicles, Being Fat, Yoga, Meditation, The Saga of the Ear, Menopause, and NIA)
Family (including Yay Bob, Marriage, Sex, Polyamory, The Ex & Divorce, Homebirth, Attachment Parenting, Teen/Adult Children, Homeschooling/Unschooling, Eldercare, and Long-Distance Family)
Home (including Chatelaine, Cooking, the Studio, Holidays, Pets, Gardening, Stewardship, and Tightwaddery)
Community (including Friendship, Volunteer Work, NextDoor, Midwifery Advocacy, Grief & Loss, NUG, MISS, LTH, NPL, SCA, IJA, Facebook, Norwood Park, and Chicago)
Maker (including Braiding, Calligraphy & Illumination, Editing & Writing, Sewing, Kumihimo, Victorian Hairwork, Beadwork, and Knitting)
Play (including Boardgames, Crosswords, Books, Juggling, Geocaching, Acapella, Exploring, Road Trips, Kites, Music, Movies, TV, Rainbows, Otters, Video Games, and Glitch)

Wow, that was actually a lot of fun! I sometimes feel like a lump, that I never do anything worthwhile… but my beautiful friend Nancy passed on a quote that resonated strongly: “You are a living mockery of your own ideals. If not, you have set your ideals too low.” — Charles Ludlam

With that, I shall move along and get on with my day. Thank you for visiting!

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