What I am Learning

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Last year I decided to go back to school.  It was an idea I had kicked around from time to time, but was never able to settle on a subject long enough to justify the time and expense of college.

It was last summer when I realized that studying Nutrition was what I wanted to do.  I love making, eating, sharing and learning about food and the impact it has on our mental and physical well being.  So after ten years of being out in the world working full time in retail or as an office receptionist, I’m working part time and in school full time.

Here in California, one of the general education requirements is to take a speech class.  Being an introvert, the prospect of getting up in front of people to give a speech was terrifying.  While public speaking is not something I would just do for fun, taking this class has been a little bit life changing.  Not in a big momentous way, but in a slow-growing way.  My teacher was amazing.  She pushed us outside of our comfort zones without pushing too far.  She encouraged us to keep trying.  She was firm, but always gave a second chance if we were having an off day.  The class I was the most scared of became the class that I most looked forward to and feel like I learned the most from.

One of the speeches that was required in the class was a performance speech.  Of all the speeches I gave, it was my favorite. In spite of having my performance memorized more than a week in advance, I still stumbled a few times, and forgot a few words.  This performance isn’t perfect, but it was my proudest moment.

For this speech I chose to adapt the Florence and the Machine song, “Shake it Off” for spoken word.  It is one of my favorite songs.

In closing, here is the statement I wrote for my teacher to go along with the performance:

This song holds a great deal of meaning for me.  I see myself in the first verse, “I like to keep some things to myself, I like to keep my issues drawn.”  One of my biggest struggles is being able to express my emotions, especially feelings of anger, frustration or pain.  The “devil on my back” represents my struggle with guilt.  It is an ongoing process, but slowly, I am learning to let go of the things that I can’t change and to say the things that I need to say.  Music is an important part of that journey, helping me to say the words that refuse to come out unless they are pushed out with a melody.  Every day, I come closer to finding my voice and learning to dance.

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Purim Sameach!

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So yesterday, I made an enormous batch of Hamantaschen. There was blueberry, apple, chocolate-hazelnut, and my new favorite, lemon.

I am blessed to live in an area where many people have citrus trees in their yards, and as the fruit ripens, people share. One of my coworkers brought in some lemons that completely blew me away with their awesomeness. As I was zesting them to make the lemon curd, I kept asking my husband, “Can you smell that? Isn’t it amazing?”

The finished product:

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So hamantaschen are a huge amount of work, but they are also hugely delicious, and if your only making them a few times a year, then they’re extra special.

These cookies came from several sources:
The dough and baking directions were from MarthaStewart.com. I made a few minor changes, instead of 4 cups of white flour, I used 3 cups white flour and 1 cup white wheat flour. I also had blood oranges on hand so I used them. It’s not really visible in the finished cookie, but the blood oranges gave the dough a lovely slightly pink color.

The fillings:
Lemon – I used Martha’s Lemon Curd recipe and then followed the suggestions from PragmaticAttic’s blog. It looks like she’s got a lot of great recipes over there – definitely worth checking out, even if you don’t like lemon hamantaschen. The lemon filling kind of leaked a little, but I think I may have either overfilled the cookies or I might have been a tad too impatient with the freezing step. Either way, they were still delicious!

Chocolate-Hazelnut– this filling came from GourmetKosherCooking.comit isn’t specified in the recipe, but I used a food processor, and finely chopped enough hazelnuts to make 1 cup.

Apple– this filling is based on years of making apple cobblers.
3 cups peeled and finely chopped Apples.
1 1/2 tsp. Cornstarch
1 tsp. ground Cinnamon (or to taste)
1 pinch of ground Cloves (optional)
Put all ingredients in a saucepan, cook over medium heat. After a few minutes, the apples will begin to soften and release their juices. Let the mixture come to a boil. Boil one minute. Remove from heat and let cool.

Blueberry– these were a bit more experimental, but here’s what I think I did.
1 1/2 cups dried Blueberries
3 cups water (this might also be a good time to use blueberry juice if you have it. I didn’t have any,so I just used water).
1/4 cup Cornstarch
Approx 1/4 cup cool water
Put the blueberries and water into a sauce pan. Let simmer until berries are nice and soft. Leaving the berry juice in the pan, remove the berries and purée them. They don’t have to be super smooth, just a rough purée is fine. return the berries to the pan. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch with the 1/4 cup water, add to the berries. Bring your berries to a boil, stirring frequently. When the mixture becomes thick enough, it should coat the back of your spoon and drip slowly back in to the pan. Let cool. Don’t worry if they still seem too runny for the hamantaschen. As the berries cool, they will continue to firm up to a jam-like consistency.

Here they are again in all their glory:

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Biscuits and Creamy Vegetable Gravy

I woke up recently with a major craving for biscuits. Over the last year or so, I've been exploring cooking kosher-ish. My kitchen is far from being kosher by many standards, and I still partake of the occasional cheese burger or pizza smothered with chicken and mozzerella, but I generally try not to mix meat and dairy, and we don't eat shellfish or pork at all.

Because of this, my biscuit intake was seriously low. When I was younger, hot, buttery biscuits were a natural companion to dishes like roast chicken and pot roast. And while I've had success with substituting the milk content in the biscuits with chicken broth, biscuits really need butter. Or gravy. Or both.

So I decided on biscuits for breakfast. But what to serve them with?

What I wanted was something a bit like the creamy sausage gravy that you can get for breakfast in a diner. The kind that I stopped ordering because it's usually made with pork sausage…The solution was to make a vegetarian version. It is thick, rich and creamy, and the veggies can be changed up depending on what you have on hand.

Biscuits with Creamy Vegetable Gravy

Baking Powder Biscuits

1 cup unbleached white flour

1 cup wheat flour

1Tbsp baking powder

1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup milk

1. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour the vegetable oil and milk into the well. Stir just enough to combine. The dough should be soft, but hold together well, not sticky or crumbly. Be careful not to over-knead or you will have a hockey puck instead of a light, fluffy, tender biscuit.

2. On a lightly floured surface, press the dough out to about 1/2 – 3/4-inches thick. Cut dough into the desired shape. Usually, I just do circles, but maybe there are children in your life who would prefer being canine to being human. In that case, now would be the perfect time to break out that cookie cutter that looks vaguely like a femur. As you cut out each batch of biscuits, press the scraps back together. You don't really have to knead the scraps, just press them together.

3. Place biscuits about 1-inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in a 450F oven for 10-12 minutes or till golden brown. Serve hot with butter or gravy, or butter and jam. Or eat them cold for breakfast, broken up into bite-sized pieces and drowning in milk. So many delicious options, you can't go wrong.

Creamy Vegetable Gravy

1 Tbsp. butter

1 stalk of celery, minced

1/2 medium onion, minced

2-3 small or medium carrots, minced

2 Tbsp. white flour

2 cups milk

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Mince celery, onion and carrot. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add minced vegetables and cook until just tender. Add flour to vegetable mixture. Stir well.

2. Add milk to saucepan 1/2 cup at a time. Stir well between each addition. The only lumps you want are the lumps of vegetables, not nasty, gummy, bits of flour.

3. Bring to a boil for just a moment, then reduce heat to low and let simmer until gravy is nice and thick. Stir frequently. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: You can change up the veggies depending on what you have on hand or what sounds good to you. When I made this, I happened to have a package of yellow, orange and deep red carrots, they were gorgeous and delicious! Next time, in addition to the other veggies, I think I'll add about 1/2 cup each of frozen peas and corn. I've also been dreaming of eating this gravy as stopping for a fried egg on a bed of spinach…Mmmm…yummy.





 

Long Time, No See!

Well, hello! Merry Holidays!

So it's been awhile, and given the time of year, I smell a resolution for more regular posts coming. We'll see how that works out 😉

Since we last met, my husband and I moved across country. It was a big, exciting, scary endeavor moving from Maryland to the ever so lovely San Francisco Bay Area. I love being in this part of the country! For one thing, as I write this on Christmas Eve, I have the windows open to let the air in and earlier, I was able to take a walk without an excessive amount of outerwear. Just a sweater. Just. A. Sweater. I grew up in Connecticut, and winter is serious business out there.

We saw some interesting things during our travels.

An abandoned farmhouse in Iowa. Photo by Jay Latman

Closed Today. Photo by Jay Latman

A Windmill Blade

Windmill blade - these things are so huge!

Boothill Cowboy. Photo by Jay Latman

Mountains in Utah. Photo by Jay Latman

Mountains in Utah. Photo by Jay Latman

The Salt Flats in Utah. Photo by Jay Latman

Mountains! And clouds...

The clouds are suddenly ominous.

Trying to out run the storm.

Almost out of it...

We made it over the mountain and through the storm.

The Pacific Ocean! Half Moon Bay, CA. Photo by Jay Latman

So I've spent the last several months learning my way around, making our new apartment “home”, and looking for and thankfully finding work. Even after several months of being here, I still look around me and say “Ohmigosh, I live here!” I am truly blessed to be in this beautiful place and it is indeed, a wonderful life.

 

Matzo Ball Soup

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I know I’ve made something good when my husband tells me that the kitchen smells like his Grandma’s house. Usually when I get that reaction it’s related to chicken soup. Which is what we made for dinner tonight. Actually, because my husband is so marvelous, he did a lot of the cooking. The result was a pot of steaming hot awesomeness, perfect for when the weather can’t choose between Winter and Spring.

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The recipe we use for matzo balls is from the book, “Kosher and Traditional Jewish Cooking,” by Marlena Spieler.

Knaidlach (Matzo Balls)
3/4 Cup Matzo meal
2 Eggs, beaten
3 Tbsp Vegegtable oil or rendered chicken fat
1 Clove Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1/2 Onion, finely grated
Salt and pepper or any additional seasonings to taste
About 6 tbsp water

Mix all ingredients. The texture should be like a thick paste. Cover the mixture and let it chill for 30 minutes. With wet hands, form bits of the batter into one inch balls. I like to drop them directly in the boiling soup after shaping each one. After all the balls have been added to the soup, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Enjoy!

The Passover Dinner Challenge

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After my husband and I were married, I started to celebrate Passover with him. When we started planning what we were going to eat during the holiday, he told me how Passover was not one of his favorite holidays because of the dietary restrictions. I sensed a challenge and every year since then I try new recipes and add them to my growing list of dishes that I make especially for Passover.

This year, I thought I would share some of the recipes I have found. Tonight, we had
“Spinach and Feta Matzo Pie” This recipe is from Whole Foods and is based on Spanakopita.

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This recipe is loaded with dairy, so I just served it with a garden salad drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Next year, I think this would be even better served with a few kalamata olives sprinkled on top. The dark olives against the white cheese would be such a pretty contrast.

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Chag Sameach!

Baby Knitting

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A couple of weeks ago, I found out that my little sister is going to have a baby. I’m so very happy for her and I can’t wait to meet my new little niece or nephew. To fill the time between now and when little Sea Monkey gets here, I’ll be doing some baby-sized knitting projects.

Sweaters are something I’ve wanted to try knitting for a while now, but the yarn and time investment seemed a little steep for me. Since babies start out very little – thank goodness – this is the perfect time to learn about making sweaters. I’ve decided to start with the “Baby Sachiko Kimono Sweater” by Erika Flory. It’s a really sweet little wrap-style sweater, worked mostly in stockinette stitch. The combination of such a simple pattern and being baby-sized, means that this project is working up quickly. Here is my progress so far:

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The two front pieces are complete and I’m working on the back now. Soon it will be time to start the sleeves and sew everything up! The yarn I’m using is great, it is the “Country” from Caron. This is a 75% Acrilyc/ 25% Merino wool blend. Usually I like to use 100% wool, but for Sea Monkey, I wanted this sweater to be super soft and easily washable. “Country” is machine washable on the delicate cycle in warm water. Another thing I really like about it is that it is soft has a little bit of a shine and lovely stitch definition. Here is a close up to give you bit of an idea of what the yarn is like:

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Hopefully, when I’m finished the sweater will look something like this:

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Donuts!

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It had been years since the last time I had made donuts. Now, mind you, I’ve eaten my fair share but I hadn’t made any. Well, when struck with a massive craving, I had no choice but to act on it.

When it was time for breakfast, the donuts joined forces with some fabulous strawberries from the farmer’s market. This was the result.

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Old Fashioned Cake Donuts with Strawberries

1 cup wheat flour
2 1/4 cups white four
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2/3 cup sour milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Oil for deep frying

In a large mixing bowl, combine the wheat flour, 1 1/4 cups of the white flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and 1/4 tsp salt.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine milk and melted butter.
In another large bowl, combine eggs, sugar and vanilla. Beat with an electrics mixer until thick. Alternate adding the dry mixture and the milk mixture to the eggs. Stir in remaining 1 cup flour. Cover dough and chill for 2 hours.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out to about 1/2-inch thick. Cut dough into your desired donut-type shape.

Fry donuts a few at a time until golden. Eat donuts. Repeat until there are no more donuts.

For the Strawberry topping:

Mash up the best strawberries that you can find. For two people, I used about 1/2 pint. You’ll know you’ve got good berries if you find you can’t wait to eat them before you get home. If they’re really good you won’t even need to add sugar to the berry mash.

Dust with powdered sugar.

The Denim Project – Striped Floor Pillow

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There has been a pile of denim jeans growing in my closet for years.  They have been patiently waiting to become something new.  For a few pairs, their wait is over.  No longer jeans, they have been transformed into a floor pillow.

I cut the jeans legs apart and then cut the legs into strips.  The strips were sewn together into one large piece of fabric, about 30 x 60 inches.  I folded fabric in half, sewed up three sides and half of the fourth side.  Then it was on to the stuffing!

Denim!

Because this project is all about repurposing, I decided to use old pillows from Goodwill to get the stuffing for my new pillow.  Overall I think this was a good idea.  It was an inexpensive way to get the stuffing I needed and I just plain like the idea of transforming something old and smelling of Goodwill into something new that doesn’t smell.

Pillows from the Goodwill

Now to be fair, the smell wasn’t baaad.  It was just the usual musty and dusty sort of smell you expect from getting something second hand.  So, I decided to do some washing.

While working on this project, I learned one very important thing.  When a little voice inside you offers some useful advice, it is usually a good idea to follow it.  But alas like Alice I too give myself very good advice and very seldom follow it.

Pillow guts

The very wise little voice told me, “You should divide the stuffing up into pillowcases and tie those pillowcases shut before putting them in the washing machine.”

The finished floor pillow.

Alas, I did not listen.  The first batch of stuffing came out fine.  So in went the second batch.
The second batch killed my washing machine.

The machine was overheating and would not drain.  After emptying the machine, I rather sheepishly went to the management office to put in a maintenance request.  Thankfully, the wonderful folks who take care of maintenance in my apartment were able to come to my rescue and resuscitate the machine that I was sure I had killed.

So, should you attempt this project, listen to that little voice giving you good advice.  That voice knows what it’s talking about.

 

I ♥ Challah

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One of my favorite things to bake is bread.  One of my favorite breads to bake is challah.

This year one of the things I would like to do is bake my way through Maggie Glezer’s  “A Blessing of Bread.”  This book is full of recipes for traditional Jewish breads from around the world.  In addition to the recipes Ms. Glezer shares stories she learned while collecting the recipes, as well as folk tales and traditions about bread.

The first recipe is called “My Challah”.  The dough is very firm, almost like clay, but with the elasticity of dough.  If you like to sculpt your food, this could be a great recipe for sculpting.  The finished bread is  fairly dense and just a little bit sweet.  It would be great for french toast if it could stick around long enough.  Unfortunately I have no self control and therefore no french toast.  But, I think I will live.

It was Valentine’s Day when I baked this so I made a heart.  The dough rose a bit more than I expected but you can still kind of see the heart shape.

I ♥ Challah
And since it was Valentine’s Day, I also made these:
 Dark Chocolate Truffles

I must say they were delicious and fabulously messy to make.  The kitchen looked like it had been dipped in chocolate by the time I was finished.  Mmmm chocolate kitchen.

Here is what you will need for your own dark chocolate kitchen:
1 2/3 cups heavy cream
7 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound chocolate (I like to use Gihrardelli‘s 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate)
Cocoa Powder


-Put the cream and butter in a saucepan.  Melt the butter and allow the cream to just come to a boil.
-Turn off heat.  Add the chocolate to the saucepan and stir until chocolate has melted.  Keep stirring until the mixture has thickened and been allowed to cool a bit.
-Chill for at least 2 hours, stirring 3 or 4 times while the mixture cools.
-Dust your counter thickly with cocoa powder.  
-Scoop out bits of the chocolate mixture and with cocoa dusted palms, shape the chocolate into balls.  
-Roll the balls in the cocoa powder and refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to serve.


The chocolate melts very quickly, and just as quickly, I had to accept that this project would be a mess.  Use the cocoa powder liberally and the freezer if necessary.  This was one of the most scrumptious messes I’ve ever gotten myself into.  I can’t wait to do it again!