Gingerbread before Autumn Truly Arrives

I have so many good memories of gingerbread. I associate it most with a college friend, S; he was so quiet and shy but I got to know him through a church group and the one thing he wasn’t shy about were sweet, spicy, snappy gingerbread men that I’d bake in the dorm kitchen and bring to events. My recipe was legendary, with the secret ingredient being butterscotch instant pudding mix. Mmmmm.

For the party last weekend, I wanted a soft, cake-y gingerbread, something simple after 7 or 8 samplings of soups. I started with this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction: http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2015/12/01/my-favorite-gingerbread-men-recipe/ but I modified in a few ways: I had no molasses, so I subbed in more brown sugar and a bit of honey. I used pumpkin pie spice mix instead of the separate cloves-allspice-cinnamon, but I used the right amount of ginger! The one direction I recommend following: letting the cookie dough set in the fridge for 3 or 4 hours! I didn’t turn my cookies into gingerbread men, but they held up beautifully between fridge and oven.

I made the dough the morning of the party and baked them after running out to visit J and her rolly polly baby E; after lots of slobbering and toothless smiles, E went down for a nap and I came home and baked the cookies! They were high and puffy like I like, and though husband was disappointed because they weren’t ginger snaps (evidently I need a good recipe for those!), I thought they turned out wonderful. I’ve been eating the leftovers for days as little breakfast cookies with my coffee. They remind me of mornings in college when my church group friends would go on walks or evenings when we’d go out and watch meteors during the Perseids. A cookie companion makes cold weather more bearable, and even though Autumn hasn’t quite reared her head yet here, these cookies make me less worried about winter coming.

Piecing together crochet projects… and my days

Does it ever feel nearly impossible to make time for what you care about in a day? I tell myself that what matters is making healthy, inexpensive meals with Husband, working on my crocheting and writing, picking the fruits of the garden, going for runs… and yet I still find myself lounging and watching TV serieses I’ve seen before. You can aspire to “energetic” hobbies and still be seduced by the more lounge-y versions of fun.

I like balance, and I’m learning that as I work on my blanket for my mother-in-law, H. She sent me a picture of the color scheme in her camper, and I found wonderful shades of green, red, and yellow… but the scheme was not complete. I found a perfect sunset-in-the-mountains shade of blue, though, and I think I have what I need. Not only that, but with 4 colors, I can put together a more varied blanket.

It makes me feel like I don’t need to berate myself for lounging, chatting with husband and maybe not getting much done, or taking a long bubble bath when my day doesn’t inspire any yoga or running. It just needs balance – a homecooked stir fry tonight and a take-out pizza tomorrow. 🙂 The little hexagons of this project are perfect because they don’t take long to make, and even though the blanket takes a long time to complete, I can see myself progressing, feeling the present that I want to create for H taking shape.

I have had a lot of phases in my life that were too short to feel like I ever got to the point where I had some balance; I moved on too quickly to something new that needed a new kind of balance. With married life, I’m really attempting it, though down the road work or moving or family could really shake up my plans again. What do you do to balance your day, to work hard and also to find your peace?

Relaxation: the final product of continual potlucks

I had my third potluck of the year last night; while a couple of new friends and N’s boyfriend came for the first time, the core of the group had all been to my house before and new the drill: we fill our giant dining room table with food, you help yourself to drinks and pile plates high, and we mingle between rooms and the back porch all evening. Nearly everyone knew where the bathroom was, and no one seemed shy about raiding the fridge.

I had anticipated, as I moved from crockpot to oven to stove with the various foods I was cooking, some nerves or butterflies or just general anxiety about the party. However, it really never arrived; around 7 I put on some background music and people began arriving. It felt comfortable: a couple of my more shy friends sat on the back porch where it was quieter, and Husband started a fire in our firepit and talked heat transfer with a couple coworkers. We played one silly party game, but it was mostly to make each other laugh, not because there was nothing to talk about.

As for food… soup and bread turned out to be a wonderful theme! We had tomato soup, butternut squash soup, Indian mulligatawny, chili, gumbo, a sweet red bean soup from China, golden curry, and potato leek soup. For breads, we had roti, naan, fluffy peasant bread, crusty artisan bread, sesame seed bread from the farmer’s market, cornbread casserole, and smores bites for dessert! I also made some gingerbread cookies, which I’m happy to see have survived to the second day. 🙂

I include this picture of N putting away a pile of spilled toothpicks because she is grinning, and because it makes me smile too; parties aren’t perfect, just like spilled toothpicks are no fun to pick up, but if you get to know people and spend time eating with them and sharing life stories with them, you will eventually find a comfy rhythm that can actually look like being relaxed, not like being a stressed host.

Preserving leftovers for eating later!

Husband and I have been taking a hard look at our food expenses; we aren’t being super irresponsible with groceries and restaurant expenses, but it seems like an area where we could trim back a little just by wasting less. I hate it, but there are drips and drabs of food that get thrown out because we either get sick of it, or it sits in the fridge too long, or we just miscalculate and make too much.

One place where we have room to work harder is when we have these parties – they are potlucks, and pretty much always involve more food than is needed. This time, since soup is involved, I’ve got one plan: I read online that many soups that freeze well can be frozen into ice cube trays and then stored in freezer bags until needed. I like this, because the soups I’m making might actually make nice sauces in the future.

If you have favorite ways to preserve extras after a party, do comment! I am especially in need for bread reuses (though I do love croutons and french toast for that), because i think we may have excess homemade bread tonight. 🙂

Party time, the third!

It’s coming. The third potluck. I think back to when I started this blog, and I can hardly believe it – the original plan was 35 recipes and 4 dinner parties. The 35 recipes has mushroomed, but I’m still only 2 out of 4 for the potlucks. Thankfully, the third is coming. When N expressed just as much excitement as I did about the idea of a party themed around soups and breads, we decided to go halves on hosting again – she’s going to bring friends from where she lives, 30 minutes away, and I’m inviting friends who live in my town, all the join each other for some autumnal enjoyment at my house.

Soups are one of my favorite foods, and that’s a little strange because they weren’t hugely important in my childhood. My dad makes a mean Korean noodle soup, and my Mom knows her way around a pot of chicken and dumplings, but purees, chilis, etc. just weren’t that common for us. However, I’ve got big plans: I’m going for a chunky tomato and gouda (won’t call it a bisque because my tomatoes may not whip up smooth, but a soup nonetheless) and a version of my curried butternut squash soup that has some apple in it for added sweetness and depth. I want to make the buttered-bowl peasant bread again, and then something for dessert… I will dig through the recipes I still have to use, but I’m thinking maybe gingerbread? Tasty but also autumnal in their flavors?

One of my favorite parts of eating soup is dipping a really good piece of bread into it, so I hope to have a wide variety of soups and breads to share with you once the party is over and the soup has all been packed in pyrex to take to work the next day. I’m hoping for good fall weather, though, because we have had a bit of a heat wave lately.

 

Homemade Salsa – Delicious Veggies in Disguise!

Some of my favorite aspects of Mexican food (and all the American variants on Mexican food) are also the fattiest ones – avocados mashed together with garlic and pepper, sour cream on top of a taco, and that glorious spicy goo that is hot queso. I generally saw salsa as a garnish on top of other food.

I have had two experiences where salsa became one of my favorite foods, and where I realized that it is pretty much all veggies while not tasting anything like salad. One was when a classmate brought in homemade pico de gallo and we all crunched into tortilla chips covered in the fresh, spicy mix; I noted how refreshing it was, while still feeling substantial – iceberg lettuce, it is not. The other time was at a girl’s night, when I was first getting to know three friends, B, K, and J, who live near where I live now. They made an enormous bowl of corn and black bean salsa, which is pretty substantial and filling without being super calorie dense like guacamole or queso. I could eat it all evening long and still leave a reasonable level of full. Also, it utilized red wine vinegar and had this amazing, addictive combination of sweet and savory. For something similar, check out this recipe from Culinary Hill: http://www.culinaryhill.com/black-bean-salsa/

So when Husband proposed a Taco Tuesday this week, I thought I’d whip out the food processor and make some homemade salsa; we still have mountains of tomatoes coming in and it seemed a great way to liven them up and try using some spices other than my go-to italian-driven palate. I didn’t have any cilantro – our one little cilantro plant had a sad and short life this year – so I employed this recipe – http://www.food.com/recipe/salsa-no-cilantro-370600 – and used lots of onion, garlic, and spices to bring the tomato to life. Instead of layering cheese and avocado on my tacos, I put a large bed of this spicy salsa in and left less room for my fattier favorites. The result was a more fresh-tasting taco that didn’t leave me feeling like a blob afterwards. Delicious.