the summer of 2013

This summer hasn’t been about cooking, about food. It’s been about letting go, growing up, blooming, branching out. Food has certainly had its role- in Maine, and Toronto, and at home. The garden is producing. We are eating well and often, but my truest and most constant focus hasn’t been anywhere near the kitchen.

This is the summer of watching, of closely observing. This is the summer of sneaking my iPhone over the back of the couch to snap a picture of my sleeping son and his sleeping cat, all stretched out and blissed out together on a warm afternoon. This is the summer of leaning my head back on the rough blue canvas of the porch swing, closing my eyes as a gentle wave of sound surrounds me, lifts me, as a dozen friends softly sing the precious  verses of “Amazing Grace.”.

This is the summer of standing still in the moments. Of stopping do-ing, and instead fully be-ing. This is the time of helplessly noting how crazy fast the moments zoom by, and trying to hold onto them by unclenching my hands and relaxing my shoulders and breathing deeply into my belly.

This is the summer I’ve left gatherings and dinners and meetings early because my 18-year-old son is home, and he isn’t going to be home much longer. As the leaves begin to fall, he heads off into his life, a freshman in college, a man, entering the world, a world new, a world needing him and what he has to give.

This is the summer tears have caught me unaware, so often. And so often, a weak and watery smile of blazing pride attends those tears.

This is the last summer of being a full-time mother, and every moment is so precious and golden and fleeting.

That time, on the porch, singing “Amazing Grace”, with my husband and his whiskey-rasping-blues-by-the-bayou voice leading the way, I looked to my right, and my beautiful daughter, newly 21 and so fiercely independent, was sitting in the golden porch light and the warm breeze and smiling. I looked to my left, and my wonderful son was smiling, too, and I begged the powers-that-be that I could imprint this moment, forever, forever, into my heart and soul and cells. Nearly the eve of my 46th birthday, it was, and I knew not a single gift I was given would surpass that moment. Never would I feel more gratitude for the beauty and blessings in my life. I knew then, for a certainty, that much that is good and joyous lies ahead, but, in that moment, everything was enough, and so much. Riches heaped upon riches.

This is the summer of living life and love to the fullest, of creating meals for loved ones and not taking the time to take pictures, of sharing many loaves of bread and spoonfuls of ice cream and being fed most of all by the simple knowledge that nothing matters more than love. What matters most is the hearts that meet at the table, the smiles easily given and received, the deep-breathing and wall-tumbling and gut-deep kind of love that blesses us so deeply because we are allowed to know it, to share it.

A sweet friend took me out for a birthday lunch today, and her sister came too, and her sister said, “this is a high-definition kind of day” and I knew exactly what she meant. The blue sky, the white clouds, that unique summer light that tinges and backlights everything. The breeze that caresses, the way we see things new that have been there always.

This is the summer of 2013.  I haven’t had time to write, but I’ve had so much time to live.

May all who read this know exactly what I mean. May all of you be fed by far more than food. May love surround and uplift you, and give light and color to your days. May the joy in the flying moments become who you are, always, even when the walls narrow in and the light dims and things seem to have lost their color. May you have thousands of “porch moments” and may their light and life fill your life and heart to the fullest with grace and joy. This summer and always. Forever and always.

When we’ve been here, ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun…we’ve no less days, to sing God’s praise, than when we’ve first begun....”- John Newton, Amazing GraceIMG_1145

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coconut bacon, anyone? or maybe tortilla pie?

IMG_1002Seriously, this is SO good. And the picture doesn’t remotely do it justice, but it’s amazing I stopped eating it long enough to hold my phone over the baking sheet. Cupcakes and Kale did a fantastic job with this recipe. I promise there is no actual bacon in it- in fact, it’s vegan- but it’s got a taste that is reminiscent of bacon. Well, I think it does. My husband disagrees but he was snarfing it down rapidly all the same. You’ll need liquid smoke on hand, as well as tamari, maple syrup, and sesame oil. That and some coconut flakes (not shreds) and you’ve got a topping for salads, eggs (my husband tried that one this morning- delicious!), pasta, anything. Or just eat it by the handful, as we all did last night.

The night before, I made a tortilla pie, using a recipe from my favorite A Couple Cooks. It was so good we barely had leftovers, and those leftovers were breakfast the next morning. Again, this-lazily-snapped- picture-in-poor-lighting doesn’t do it any favors- visit A Couple Cooks and see their gorgeous pictures of this dinner. It’s easy and quick! I left out the hot sauce, because my son isn’t a fan of spicy things. But it’s certainly easy to add the hot sauce on top of individual servings. We used La Tortilla Factory’s Fiber and Flax corn tortillas and it was great. IMG_0996

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Lent continues

IMG_0942It doesn’t look like a very sacrificial Lent, does it? Baked sweet potatoes with sauteed Swiss chard and lots of avocado. A two-egg omelet with spinach, onion, and lots more avocado. Baked sweet potato chips. Boiled eggs from the farmer’s market. Yes, this has been a gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, alcohol- and processed-food free Lent. But getting those empty fillers out of the way has made room for beautiful, nutrient-dense food that has truly fed me. This eating plan has allowed me to let go of weight and feel energetic and light.

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All these recipes can be found online at www.wholeliving.com, in their 2013 Action Plan. I’ve made every one of the recipes (except for one or two of the snacks). All were good, but some were much better than others, and those are the ones I keep going back to.  Avocado and Black Bean Tacos, Roasted Beets on Greens, Roasted Veggies with Quinoa, Date Oat Bars. Delicious! I fully intend to integrate these recipes into “normal life” after Lent. In fact, I believe eating this way is becoming “normal life!”

 

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a Lent of many colors

I observe Lent every year. Some would say I observe it obsessively. I would not disagree with that. I love Lent, for a number of reasons. Most of all, I love it for the intentionality of my days during Lent- the care I give to what I focus my time on, what I eat, the choices I make. It’s a long hard slog, don’t get me wrong, but I arrive at Easter refreshed and renewed and, well, cleansed. IMG_0911IMG_0910

This year I started the food portion of my Lenten observance two days early, in order to start Whole Living’s 21-day action plan on a Monday. The plan is no gluten, no coffee, no alcohol, no sugar, no dairy, and no processed foods for 3 weeks. I’m on day 11 today, and it’s been quite the trek thus far. Despite believing myself to be a reasonably good and active cook, I am a complete slouch compared to the cooks who designed these recipes. The first week’s delicious menus came from Sarah B., of raw brownie fame (and much more, she is AMAZING), and I was in the kitchen every night for 2 hours making dinner, prepping breakfast and lunch for the next day, and cleaning up every utensil in my kitchen because somehow I used them all. Of course, I’m also making food for the men in the house- I will say they are kindly trying most of the foods I make for the cleanse plan, but they are not limiting themselves to those. But look at the colors!! This food is so pretty and bright!!IMG_0902

The first 7 days are light- lots of juices, smoothies, soups, salads. I got hungry but it wasn’t unbearable and there are some lovely snacks to eat throughout the 3 weeks that have kept me going. Date Oat Bar, anyone? IMG_0914Those are delicious, but if you can find dried cherries without oils and sugars, please tell me where you found them. I used all dates in mine due to the cherry issue. They are still delicious and really helped me on those mornings I’m up at 5 a.m. to teach yoga and don’t stop for lunch until noon. Perhaps I’m not supposed to eat as many of them as I have, but, well, there you have it. I also like the Banana Oat Pancakes:

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Two nights ago I was really hungry. Really really hungry. On the menu were the black bean brown rice patties. These were not my favorite of the recipes. They were a bit mushy (I may have over-blended the lot) but not bad. I added a lot of avocado, and piled on greens and a bit of red pepper. The avocado served as a dressing of sorts.  And I added the sweet potato chips- oh my goodness, soooo delicious!!

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After this 21-day cleanse, there is of course a great deal of Lent left- nearly 4 weeks. I’ll be continuing the no coffee, no alcohol, no sugar, no gluten, no dairy, and no processed foods, but I’ll pick my favorites off the 21-day plan and add some of my own. 

Of course, there’s a lot more to Lent than dietary choices, but I find that they are effective for me because I think about food so much! So when I think about food, I think about Lent, and why I am doing what I do. I get healthier along the way, too. Five long weeks to go- at least they will be full of pretty and good-for-me food!

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pancakes, first attempt

DSC_0029I’m usually a passable cook- meaning, I can follow a recipe. I’ve (almost) learned to read a recipe ALL the way through to the end before I begin it. I know better than to attempt something new late at night on a weekend when I’m sleepy and stressed and two cars in the family have quit in five days and my husband is out of the country and the furnace is struggling to keep up with the cold and the dog is making strange hacking sounds in the other room.

Wait, that last (long) sentence is simply not true. I DO apparently attempt new recipes when circumstances clearly call instead for a hot bath and a glass of red wine and a good book. But there’s this adorable son in my house, who isn’t going to be there for too many more months (college-bound, sniff) and when he asks for pancakes on a Saturday night and he’s stayed home just to keep me company because I’m depressed and stressed after the aforementioned week o’ hell, I make him pancakes. Well, I try.

Pinterest, that time-suck, that inspiration-for-creative-genius, that impossible-to-live-up-to-bulletin-board-of-brilliance, had a picture of adorable German mini pancakes, and a link to the blog of the talented cook (Real Mom Kitchen) that made these. Seriously, these are SO cute. Go see. I’ll wait.

Told you. Darling, right? Tempting, yes? How hard could they be, really? Well. They aren’t hard. Provided you add all the ingredients. Including, and this is important, the milk. I believe it also helps if you have real milk, not only almond milk, as is the case in our household. Either way, adding the milk BEFORE you grease all the muffin tins and pour the batter oh-so-carefully in is a better idea than, say, filling all the tins, wondering why there isn’t enough batter, mentally going through the ingredients, and (mentally) slapping yourself on the forehead for forgetting the milk. Remembering to add the butter slowly, to “temper” the eggs, is not enough. You must also add milk. Scraping the batter out of the pans back into the blender (there are six eggs in here, people, and I buy eggs at the farmer’s market- these are not to be wasted), is not a fun job at all. This is where it helps to have a Courtni. You can’t have mine. But she’s great, and she’ll scrape those blasted tins clean, and if you get a really nice Courtni, she’ll even do the dishes. She’ll refill your wine and tell you to sit down and she’ll fix it. I highly recommend finding a Courtni of your own.

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The final result tasted a bit “eggy”. And it wasn’t anywhere near as cute as the initial picture of inspiration. And we didn’t have fresh berries or berry sauce or anything except bananas, powdered sugar, and maple syrup. But it wasn’t half bad. We will make them again, with real milk, and berries, and bake them a wee bit longer. Perhaps I’ll start them at some point during the day when I’m more alert and awake. I’d like to make sure Courtni is there, just in case.

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red velvet cake, remix, with a dash of the holidays

IMG_0742Well, Christmas was awesome. Family, great friends, delicious food, a trip to Maine (with snow!!), and of course, lots of lovely gifts both given and received. Christmas dinner was simple- we’d had lasagna for Christmas Eve (and LOTS of Christmas cookies!). By the way, do make the Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats from Smitten Kitchen. Oh. my. deliciousness. Give them away quickly (to me is fine) or run the real risk of squirreling yourself away in a dark corner, eating the entire pan on your own. I won’t say I did that, exactly, but I will say this picture includes a lone treat from the second batch I made of those! Also included in this picture are “The Best” Soft Ginger Molasses Cookies from A Couple Cooks. And, yes, they are indeed the best!!IMG_0758 All of us wanted something lighter for Christmas Day. Fish, broccoli, a fantastic raw cranberry-and-orange relish, and mashed potatoes fit the bill perfectly. And it was pretty!IMG_0781

My very first Apron In The Window cake post (and the second post overall) last January was for my friend Nicole’s red velvet birthday cake. It seems appropriate that the first blog post of 2013 include at least a reference to her red velvet cake for this year! Wanting to avoid the copious amounts of food dye required to make red velvet cake red, I found a recipe on Oprah.com, also by that grand cook Deb Perelman of The Smitten Kitchen, that called for the use of red wine versus red dye. This merlot-and-shiraz-loving girl was very happy! Here is a slightly  blurry picture of Red-Wine Velvet Cake:

Nicole's Birthday Cake, 2013

Nicole’s Birthday Cake, 2013

The cake isn’t exactly red. It’s a deep and pretty, chocolate-y rich brown. Maybe with hints of red. Anyway, it’s pretty tasty. Dense. Rich. Cocoa-y. Despite the amount of sugar in it, it’s not super-sweet.

I used only half the frosting- and I knew I would probably do that going in. Just in case, I made the whole amount called for, and ended up throwing half of it away. It is a VERY rich frosting and we found that having it on top and between the layers was more than enough. It was not necessary to cover the sides as well. IMG_0850

Sadly, Nicole got sick and we ate the cake without her (but left her thick slices of cake on her porch!). I think I’d make the cake again, but I’d definitely go ahead and halve the frosting recipe.

On a (much) healthier note, this Vegetarian Thai Quinoa Chili is very nice. I found it a bit bland, so next time I’ll play with the spices and remember the green onions/cilantro/Greek yogurt/avocado for toppings. As my friend Andraea pointed out, it’s better in a day or two, because the flavors blend deliciously. IMG_0858

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holiday baking begins

IMG_0707Oh my goodness. Raw/green/healthy seems to go out the window in December. Well, that is not really true- I quickly begin craving greens and whole grains and juices after a bit of sugar. But this blog seems to be focusing on the baking!

Last Saturday, December 1st, was my family’s Christmas celebration. Early, yes, but when many schedules have to be accomodated, and one family (that’s us) has to travel, we get it in when we can. Because we do the driving, we end up in charge of baked goods- those things that travel well.

My mother wanted a Dickens’ Christmas. A Christmas Carol Christmas. That meant cream teas, and fruit cake, and ginger candies, and gingerbread. After reading a lot of Christmas Cake (fruit cake) recipes, I opted for the more kid-friendly gumdrop cake. This recipe comes from my husband’s mother Lois, from the east coast of Canada. I used red and green gumdrops in honor of the season, but I remember Lois taking a piece out of the freezer for us, and it was full of pastel-colored gum drops. My husband does not like baked goods, except brownies, but even he will eat gumdrop cake. I also made scones, minus the chocolate chips I usually add, and shortbread.

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I made gingerbread, and our family’s Pulla bread.  My sister contributed delicious homemade chocolates, and a ham. My mother fed the vegetarians in the crowd (there’s quite a few of us) with lentil soup, oatmeal bread, and salad. We also had mashed potatoes and my sister’s yummy green bean casserole. We had deviled eggs, cucumber sandwiches, and raw crudités.  And when we first arrived at my sister’s, she fed us a cannellini bean and collard green soup that was amazing. I seriously thought I was never going to be hungry again. IMG_0706


The saddest bit is, I can’t find the gumdrop cake recipe! This post has been written for days, but the recipe is missing. I’ll keep hunting- it will turn up! And when it does, I’ll post it promptly. I promise! To fill the gap (slightly), here is the shortbread recipe.

Whipped Shortbread:

preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 cup unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

Combine and beat for 10 minutes. Bake in a lightly greased 9 in round cake pan for 17 to 21 minutes, until golden brown at  the edges. Let cool. Slice into wedges.

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