Food Memory: Mornings with an Infant

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My friend LJ graciously allowed me to stay in her home for 4 nights when I had a conference in her town; this graciousness was especially amazing because her first child was only 5 weeks old! She was a wonderful but frazzled mother; she now has two little ones and continues to impress me with her love and dedication all the time. The morning that we picked up a couple donuts together as we were out running errands, I got mine in this bag, which I photographed and then left standing on the counter, because mothers need to be reminded of what they deserve: they deserve donuts, and veggies, and hugs, and words of encouragement, and laughter and rest and love.

41. K and G’s Nana’s Cornbread (but Gluten-Free!)

K and G are a power couple in my in-law’s town: K is a world-class photographer, whose beautiful print is now hanging in our living room, and G works for the local government. They passed on a recipe for cornbread, which was perfect because Husband is a cornbread afficionado. The last time I made chili, ages ago, I made this cornbread mix but with a small change: gluten.

I don’t know how you all feel about going gluten free, but for my friends B and K, it has been really helpful to their health and energy levels. I understand that it can be hard to cook for, but I was so pleased to find a cornbread mix that was gluten free that, when combined with all the perfect ingredients from K and G’s recipes, was moist and a total crowd favorite, among both the gluten-free and the gluten filled.

K and G’s Nana’s Cornbread

2 boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix (I used one large gluten free mix; compare ounces to get a good ballpark for what you need)

1 8 ounce container of sour cream

1/4 cup of corn oil

1 15 ounce can of cream style corn

3 large eggs

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal mix, creamed corn, sour cream, oil and eggs. Pour the mixture into a pan and bake until lightly brown, about 35 minutes at 350 degrees.

Cranberry Almond Granola – Homemade Christmas Gift!

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I get hits on this blog because of the title, like anyone, but one thing seems to be a little deceptive – people come here looking for those soup mixes and cookie mixes that look cute in mason jars and are nice presents for people. The recipe for the cookies or the soup comes with the jar, so I guess “recipe in a bottle” is a reasonable thing to search if you want to make those as gifts!

This year, though, I did give one gift in a jar: granola. In college, I learned to love granola for the thick crunch of it, the fact that it masked some great fiber and fruit under a cereal-like exterior, and it livened up my vanilla yogurt. I figured out that the difference between oats and granola was just a few mix-ins and some careful baking, so I tried it. My homemade granola, straight from the grubby dorm kitchen, was delightful and made our institutional walls feel a little warmer when I was sharing it with friends.

Using pinterest, I found this recipe, which seemed like a great start. I used all whole unsalted almonds and dried cranberries instead of blueberries, but I used coconut oil for the fat and maple syrup for the sweetness, and mine came out delectable. I’m using it in my mother and father’s Christmas gifts, and I still have some at home for when we return from our travels. It’s a food I associate with being far from home and trying to make it on my own, but it’s pretty nice to share it with the people who got me to the place where I could feel independent and strong. Christmas with family when you are all adults is a nice time to acknowledge the many roles that you’ve had in each other’s lives, and to celebrate those places.

40. Khadija’s avocado bread!

Avocado is a food I learned to appreciate in adulthood – while I like it, it tends to be a social food in that you need to make a dip or a salad or something communal in order to share it, and after a few weeks of fairly solitary eating, I had an avocado I didn’t want to eat with a spoon but which needed to be eaten.

Thus, here is my first post about a fellow blogger! Khadija posted the singular recipe for avocado bread on the exact day I had an avocado poised on the brink of ruin, and her multi-lingual recipes are documents and clear, while being easy enough for even me to follow. 🙂

I worried Husband would think the bread was too “avocado-ey” but he’s grabbed it as his go to savory bread for the past few days. My mixer made the soft avocado and olive oil incorporate nicely into the bread mix, which is otherwise a pretty standard yeast loaf. it rose less than I wanted, but I was also impatient and I really want to make it again with an extra hour of rising.

Tune in in two days and I’ll be covering another blogger’s zucchini bread recipe with an exciting replacement for eggs that I wasn’t sure was going to work… 🙂

 

Food Memory: A Cozy Host

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One time, Husband and I stayed at an AirBnB, an accommodation where people rent out a spare room for a night or two. It was inexpensive, and these people were so kind while still being so busy: we spent a whole evening together watching extreme sports videos while the hostess worked on a painting and chatted with us, and her husband showed us all the improvements they were in the process of making to their old farmhouse. This breakfast (I swear they gave us more than bacon, but they were quite generous with the bacon!) made me feel like I was staying with friends, not just with people who wanted a little extra cash. 

39. Ricotta Pancakes

I have been thinking about my friend A lately. She’s works for the church I attended while I was in Spain. Spain is not a very church-going country (a lot of Catholic masses in Madrid are mostly grandparents and small children), but in the middle of Madrid there was a church called Oasis, which means the same thing in Spanish and English. People from all different branches of Christianity came together to think and pray and read together, and challenge each other’s assumptions about spirituality. I loved every minute of it, and have been seeking that kind of community since I got back from Spain. A was integral: she led the Bible study I attended, and she took girls like me under her wing as we got used to living in a new place. She knew about loneliness in a foreign land, and she wasn’t afraid to be real about both joys and hardships.

A had me and another girl over for pumpkin pancakes one morning that I remember vividly – her apartment has come to represent home for me in Spain, since it was a constant and I lived in 3 different places during my years there. Settling into a comfortable chair with a plate of pancakes and looking out the window and watching life flood by in Malasaña (her neighborhood) is still one of the things I miss the most. Both A and I have moved since then, but one of the great qualities of food that I appreciate is that specific recipes anchor me to a place and a time that I won’t get to revisit.

I had a container of ricotta in my fridge last week, probably meant for a lasagna but I happened to see The Kitchn’s post about Ricotta Pancakes

and I was so excited by the idea that I just had to do it. The process works pretty much like they say in the recipe, and I got to use the stand mixer to make real STIFF PEAK EGG WHITES and it was so easy. That’s a very long sentence but it accurately expresses how happy this stand mixer makes me about cooking and baking.

Husband and his friend D gobbled these pancakes happily with a strawberry reduction since we were out of syrup. While a lot of work (definitely not instant Bisquick kind of time frame) they were totally worth it on a lazy Sunday morning. A would have had trouble with them – she’s lactose-intolerant and vegan – but I am sure we could devise a work-around to fill her tummy too. We always managed when we lived in Spain. 🙂

Food Memory: Fresh, Tiny Bell Peppers

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The combination of rain and sunshine didn’t do our bell peppers that well this year, but in early October a few late and small peppers came from the plant before frosts took it. They were bitter, like all the thick flavor of a full sized bell pepper had concentrated into these tiny versions, but they made me smile because they seemed awfully tenacious. I hope to help my garden need less resilience next year, but it makes me smile to think at how the plants were fighting to survive, not fighting me. It puts me on good terms with Mother Nature on these frigid days.

38. L’s Lazy Day Lasagna

So, lasagna and I have a complex relationship. On the one hand, I am transported by ricotta, sauce, and noodles – the whole thing screams comfort and is an ideal dish for hiding layers of good veggies. However, I seem to manage to mess it up: watery sauce, too crunchy noodles, pans that don’t neatly fit all of my noodle layers.

L, one of Husband’s friends from Americorps, sent me a promising recipe for lasagna for a “lazy day”, and in my perusal of pinterest I discovered an irresistible variation: the lasagna roll-up. With the roll-up, I got the same tasty fillings but hopefully I could manage the baking stage better? The challenge appealed to me. (I have no pictures of it, sadly, but next time I make it, I’ll update the page!)

As always, I made some tweaks to L’s recipe, but the big one was trying “whole wheat” lasagna noodles giving to me by a friend last week. These noodles came out chewier than average noodles, but I appreciated that when I was spooning filling onto the noodle, rolling them up, and filling a casserole dish with them. I even put pepperonis on top!

I would do the roll-up again, and I enjoy the simplicity of L’s recipe, but I’d encourage you to tweak this the second, third, or fourth time you make it – I made it again with a spinach/alfredo/chicken filling and it was lovely! So it goes when revamping and making recipes your own.

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An example of past lasagna messes… delicious but definitely messy.

L’s Lazy Day Lasagne

 

6 ounces lasagne noodles

¼ tsp dried oregano, crushed

one 15.5 ounces can spaghetti sauce

one cup cottage cheese

one 6 ounce package sliced mozzarella cheese
cook noodles in boiling salted water following package directions; drain. Add oregano to spaghetti sauce. In greased 10x6x1.5 inche baking dish, make layers in order half each noodles, cottage cheese, mozzarella cheese slices, and spaghetti sauce. Repeat. Bake in oven at 375` about 30 minutes. Let stand 10 min before serving, serves 4.

Tending To One’s Frozen Garden

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I haven’t written a lot of new things lately. I still post, short food memories and reposts of old recipes, but I’ve been feeling a bit frosted over these last few weeks – I go to work, I get Christmas presents bought and wrapped, and I try to join friends for cheerful gatherings, but all the other time, the long dark times of the winter, have me wrapped up in blankets with a book or a computer screen. I’m hibernating a little.

I also feel coiled to spring. We have a blow-up Santa Claus in our front yard, and every few days he gets so encumbered with ice and snow that the blower motor cannot puff him up. I kick the snow and ice off of him and eventually, like he was just waiting to be unleashed, he puffs right back up, his pillowy plastic hand waving to passersby. I’m encumbered by the ice too, made to walk very slowly and deliberately, made to relish sleep and revel in hot liquids. But I’m poised, ready to make 2017 wonderful.

I cannot tell if I’m in a rut or simply haven’t finished a big project lately, but whatever it is, I know that this coming year is going to bring big things. I want to teach better than before, do the administrative part of my work with clarity and organization, and work hard on writing. I want to be a great wife and a passionate community member. I have a lot of things I hope to be, and I’m mulling over what the practical steps are to do these things. It’s a good time, winter, for making plans. Some of the plans will just be idle daydreams while the winter makes the streets too slick to go anywhere, but some of them will show up in our spring awakenings.

That being said, I’ll be around. I don’t stop eating and thinking and trying to connect to friends and family just because it’s winter; I’m just moving a little slower, trying to be a little more deliberate.

37. M’s Spicy Peanut Soup

M was one of my favorite people at school – she was a year ahead of me and thus graduated after my first year, but no one really replaced her in my second year. She was one of the most driven, down-to-earth people I met – she was committed to writing in a way that I rarely saw, even though her classmates were all trying to become writers as well. Her work was unique and rooted in the places she’s lived all over the world. I enjoyed sitting on old couches with her during poetry readings and listening to what was going on in her long novel project. When I found out last month that she was going to have this same novel published this year, I was hardly surprised: it just makes sense.

It’s almost summer break, which is a wonderful opportunity for me to get back into writing. I am hoping to channel M when the school year is over and my work becomes writing the novel I’m working on. As I was thinking about her and her drive, I remembered this recipe she shared with me: it was a soup that tasted pretty much exactly like peanut butter, but which was actually chock-ful of vegetables, chicken, and spice.

To remake it I pulled veggies from the fridge that had seen better days: a sweet potato, two onions, a pile of scrawny carrots, and a pile of nearly-too-old celery. I cut it all up into small bits and sauteed the whole pile in 2 tablespoons of butter. I boiled some chicken, two breast pieces, and then I added all the boiled water into the veggies and pulled the chicken into pieces with two forks. I added half a cup of peanut butter and a small can of tomato paste to the veggies, and mixed till it looked velvety and… well, like peanut butter. I finished it with a tablespoon of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and the pulled chicken bits.

The result was strange – the peanut-ness permeates everything, including things like celery, which is definitely not a normal flavor combination in the States. However, the earthy tingle in my throat from the hot sauce after I swallowed made the soup feel complete, like all the flavors were actually perfect together. I recommend giving it a shot, either with your own veggies or with the original combination suggested by various peanut stew recipes on the internet. I am using this soup like productivity fuel, as I hope to write as well and as often as M does.

While I couldn’t find the original version I used years ago, here’s the version I worked from this time: African Chicken Peanut Stew