Sunday, December 30, 2012

I had high hopes for something good but .... no pretty pictures today. Just the sad tale of two disappointments. Two! It is not often* that I am really unhappy with the outcome in the kitchen but I must freely confess that I was sadly disappointed today. First I tried this recipe for chocolate muffins - mostly because the recipe made me think of these muffins that I have been making for the last few years and we love! I thought today's effort might be a nice addition to the repertoire but although they are nice enough muffins they don't hold a candle to the banana, chocolate, and pecan muffins. (I am now more than a bit embarrassed by the pic accompanying that post but I stand by the recipe. It remains one of our very favourites.)

The second disappointment was really a failure - not merely a disappointment. Some very promising sounding dark chocolate coconut popovers that resembled rubbery pucks more than anything. NOT what I was expecting. Oh well. Onward and forward. It's not like we haven't eaten ourselves silly in the last week. But don't you hate it when things go sideways like that?!

On the plus side? the coconut hockey pucks are pretty yummy :)

* which is not to imply that everything is amazing by any means!

Sunday, December 23, 2012



In my misguided and greedy childhood the days of December were carefully counted down to  the magical December 25th on a hand-drawn grid, each square marked off with a decided X. I spent hours with the Sear's "Wish Book" and other catalogues imagining how wonderful my world would be if I was the lucky recipient of every item on my list for Santa. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around - about a thousand years after December began - I had worked myself into such a frenzy that I could not sleep. (I learned to stock up on reading material at the library so that the long night would be bearable - reading several books each year.) I thought the excitement of Christmas was that final moment, the big reveal. All that getting! I had so much to learn.

Getting is pretty fun. I have to admit that. I love presents. I love to get them, I love to give them. I think one of the big drivers of my joy in receiving is the joy I find in giving. The planning and preparing I pour into each gift results (I hope) in a tangible evidence of the love that I have for the recipient. So as I receive I anticipate the same. It is not the actual gift, as perfect as it may be, that fills me with delight but the awareness that I am known and loved.

We try hard to teach the concept that it is more blessed to give than to receive and I think that often that precept is interpreted not as intended but as the concept that if giving is 'better' then getting must be less worthy, maybe even a bit shameful. And we become ungracious receivers. How sad..... it seems to me when we are inhibited in receiving gifts we rob the giver of so much joy - and ourselves as well. Gifts are intended to enrich but that doesn't happen when we don't receive them with open hearts and delight.

I watched a dear friends at a party a few weeks ago and thought she has mastered the art of getting. Her delight was abundant and contagious. She delighted as much in the gifts of others as her own. It was childlike and open. Delightful to others because it was absolutely generous. Unselfish and un-self conscious. 

Watching her I knew getting is as much an art as giving. Art takes time and effort to develop. Watching her I realized it is not less good to receive because if it were, if none of us were able to receive with joy, giving would be a chore; perhaps still an act of love but sucked of much of the joy. I resolved to give joy by receiving with delight; to find the love, thought, and effort behind the gift and so realize that although it may not be a perfectly hoped for item it is without a doubt the perfect gift. It is not (after all) what is wrapped up in the box that fills our hearts on Christmas morning but the love.

It has been many years since I counted the days to opening my own gifts having long since learned to find real joy and honest excitement in giving. I know too that receiving with sincere delight is gracious, honest, and kind. Loving. It enhances relationships and opens our eyes helping us see in one another's heart. May we each give and get with delight. The best gifts just don't wrap.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

mini pumpkin cheesecakes




In some families pumpkin pie is reserved, with love, for the Thanksgiving meal dessert. On the other end of the spectrum you have those who eat pumpkin pie nightly - or would - as long as long as it is 'in season'. My dad abominated pumpkin pie (I don't know!?) so I grew up in a family that absolutely never ate it. I married into a family that adores pumpkin pie. I guess my household falls somewhere in what I like to think of as a healthy middle ground. We enjoy a slice of the pie - or the many offspring and relatives of it - over much of the fall and winter, paying special attention at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This sweet little dessert is not a pumpkin pie. But it is undeniably related. Served in mini portions it is just perfect for filling up that empty spot that begs to be filled after a good meal leaving you comfortable but not tipped over into too full. You can feel reasonably noble as well - if you ignore the cream cheese and whipped cream - eating pumpkin and the healthy spices that dress it up. And it is just a little bite.

To make these gluten-free use a gluten-free ginger cookie for the crumb 'crust'. When I make it for our family I make some portions gf and the rest not. To distinguish one from the other I sprinkle a bit of the reserved crumbs on the top of the gf servings. This trick was born after I had made these and thought I would be able to tell the difference from the look of the crumbs. Couldn't really. 

mini pumpkin cheesecakes

16 ginger thins, crushed (I use Anna's)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup canned pumpkin 
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup honey
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
scant 1/8 tsp nutmeg
pinch of sea salt
1 cup whipping cream 

In a small bowl combine the melted butter with the crushed ginger thins. Divide the crumbs into the bottom of whatever you are using as serving 'dishes'. (I used tiny glasses this time and have used the 4 oz canning jars also - both look really sweet.) Set aside.

In another bowl beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the pumpkin, vanilla, honey and spices. Beat until creamy and smooth. Drop the mixture carefully on top of the crumbs, dividing evenly among the glasses.

Whip the cream and dress your little cheesecakes with a dollop of it. Refrigerate for a couple of hours (at least) before serving.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

fruit cake








I do realize that fruitcake is a bit of a joke. It seems to be somewhere on most people's list of dislikes - sadly usually quite high up the list. I may be putting myself up for more than a little ridicule but I hold my head up and proudly say ... I like it. I even like it a lot. That was not always the case, I hated it when I was a child. It was none of the things that qualified anything as a treat nor was it any of the things that qualified as legitimate food. It was just ..... not good. So I avoided it (easy enough to do) and that was that. Then  one day I was visiting a new friend and she offered me a piece of fruitcake -  made from a recipe that was a family favorite. It was one of those awkward situations; I didn't know her well and I certainly did not want to offend her in any way but I really didn't want to even nibble the fruitcake. I could have declined but she was so eager that I try it that I would have felt small if I hadn't. Gracious manners won out and my life was changed in a tiny way. I joined the small (by comparison) number of fruitcake fans. I may not be the head of the fan club but I am a card-carrying member for sure. I remember that December afternoon in Kobe eating my Australian friend's family favorite fruitcake every year when I pull out the recipe for what is now our family favourite fruitcake. I have lost track of the friend but send out a little thankful thought to her as the aroma of the baking cake fills the house.

My mom loves fruitcake and David claims it is his favorite Christmas treat. I like this fruitcake because it is many of the things that make a treat - buttery, tender, toasty, a little bit sweet but not too, filled with wonderful dried fruits and nuts. Light not dark. Fresh with a bit of lemon. Perfect with a cup of tea or a glass of eggnog. Might be you would like it too.

Like everything else this is as good as what you put in it. So use the best butter you can. It really is worth it. Same goes for the dried fruits and almonds. I dislike candied pineapple so you won't find it in my fruitcake. I like the pretty shades of brown in the raisins, almonds and ginger with the bright red cherries. I think it is pretty - in a soft and modest way.

fruitcake
(from a lost friend's recipe file)

1 cup unsalted butter
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup sultana raisins
1/2 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup mixed peel
1/2 cup crystalized ginger, chopped
2/3 cup glace cherries
1/2 cup glace fruit mix
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 1/2 cups flour

Prepare a round 8" baking pan by cutting a parchment circle to fit the bottom of the pan and buttering the sides of the pan. Set aside.

Cream butter, lemon zest, and sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Stir in fruits and almonds, then flour. Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan. Bake at 300 degrees F for 3 hours. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

cinnamon popcorn





I cannot learn moderation when it comes to cinnamon popcorn. Not that I have tried so very hard. I like chocolate but I love cinnamon, caramel, and salt. (My commitment to salty is beyond reason.) Stir the flavours together in a big hot kettle, toss in popping corn and you have some addictive magic.

I learned to make cinnamon popcorn when we were living in Tokyo a few years ago. Merin was with us and doing her last year of high school by distance ed. She was a good sport about being in Japan but the truth is that it was hard for her. She missed her focused ballet life. She missed speaking the language. She missed her sister. On the plus side, she didn't have to miss me, got to go to Thailand, and enjoyed some seriously great shopping. Maybe not compensation for the things she missed but on the whole I think she would say she was happy she went with us. Evenings were a lot more quiet than any of us were used to - again good and less good - but we quickly learned to love a quiet night with a big bowl of popcorn and a season of Jennifer Garner and alias. When we experienced cinnamon popcorn our lives were changed. Seriously. Maybe it won't save the world but then again, who knows how it might impact the state of things if everyone had a bowl tonight?

This is essentially kettle corn. With cinnamon. There is no real need for anymore words.

I use a 'Whirlypop' popper but this will work in many of the electric corn poppers that are on the market (Cuisinart for one). It just needs to be stirred as it pops to keep the sugar from burning.

cinnamon popcorn

4 Tbsp coconut oil
4 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp popping corn

1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt

In a small bowl mix together the 1 Tbsp sugar, cinnamon, and sea salt. Set aside. (It is important to do this first because you need to add it to the hot popped corn immediately and if it isn't mixed up you will miss an important window of opportunity.)

Put the coconut oil into the popper along with the sugar and popping corn. Pop according to directions. Immediately after the popping stops, open the lid and add the cinnamon/sugar/salt mixture. Stir or toss to coat the hot popcorn.

Done! And I dare you to be moderate in your consumption. Double dare even.



Thursday, December 6, 2012

chocolate raspberry clafouti


I am taking a moment away from my Christmas making (back in my atelier and having a blast) because you need this pure and simple, fast and easy road to chocolate bliss. Add raspberries and freshly whipped cream. Sigh and eye-roll. Purrfect. 

This is easily made gluten-free by subbing gluten-free flour. It works equally well. Because I try to stay away from refined sugars I used demerara and muscovado sugars in place of granulated white and dark brown sugars. If raspberries are hard to find (or looking sad at the market) cranberries are an easy, yummy, seasonal substitution.

chocolate raspberry clafouti
(adapted from Gourmet)

3 cups fresh raspberries
1 Tbsp demerara sugar
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
1/2 cup muscovado sugar
1/3 cup flour
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a shallow 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Toss the washed berries with demerara sugar and let stand for 15 minutes.

Combine the milk, melted butter, eggs, muscovado sugar, flour, cocoa powder, sea salt, and vanilla extract in a blender and process until smooth. Scatter the berries evenly in the buttered baking dish and pour the batter over top.

Bake until slightly puffed and firm to the touch - about 35 minutes. Immediately after removing from the oven sprinkle with chopped chocolate. Cool to warm and serve with a generous dollop of freshly whipped heavy cream.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The beginning of December marks the legitimate start of the festive frenzy. Magazines and blogs have been encouraging us for weeks in order that we can be 'ready'. Decorating, baking, gifting, entertaining, dressing - the guides abound for every area. It is easy to get totally sucked in and whirled around, then spit out the other side .... exhausted and unfulfilled, wondering what happened and why.

A good friend suggested that it would be a good exercise to think back to last year - to remember how we felt at the end of the season and on what we wish we had spent our precious resource of effort. The thought really resonated with me and has been constantly at the back of my mind ever since. I know that I don't wish I had baked more cookies or wrapped a few more presents. I don't regret that I didn't buy new Christmas decorations or have Christmas in Hawaii. I am not sure that I do have any significant regrets but the things that I remember and treasure are snuggling with a child and a book in a quiet corner, the mess (and satisfaction) of baking simple cookies with my daughters and grandkids, the joys of being together.

The beautiful trimmings are just that - beautiful trimmings. And I like them. But they are not what make Christmas work for me. All the trimming in the world - be that trimming food, or a pile of gifts beautifully wrapped (or not), or an exquisitely decorated home - doesn't create the love and warmth that happy memories are made of. It is the mindful living of each moment. The knowledge that those moments cannot be recalled and lived again but are precious motivates me to take the time to really connect with the people I love. To snuggle a little longer with a sweet two year old. To take the minutes it takes to teach a six year old to crochet. To listen to a wish list or not mind that things aren't perfectly arranged but are perfectly perfect because we are happy and warm and there is love.

Our Christmas tree is decorated and prettily so but it was not until this evening when our grandchildren looked at it with shining eyes that it became magical. It is that sharing that makes the whole of December so blessed. Perfect doesn't matter - doesn't even exist. Together does.

So I will bake cookies and make candies, sew pajamas and Christmas dresses, shop and primp and wrap. But under and over it all I want to be very careful and sure that at the end of the day the people I love really feel the love I have for them. That I am not so busy with the unimportant that I am drained of the important. No one will be aware of the gift I don't make or the cookie not baked but the memory of warmth and love and closeness will never be forgotten. To make those memories is my Christmas wish.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

gluten-free buckwheat pancakes


December! Time for celebrating and feasting - we could start with buckwheat pancakes. Despite the many pancake recipes on this blog that would argue the contrary, I don't really like* pancakes all that much. But David likes variety and the weekend usually demands a change from the regular breakfast fare so I make pancakes. Because I don't like them all that much I am always looking for ways to make them more worthwhile. And so you end up with quite a few offerings here. Besides all that Eden and her kids like pancakes a lot. So what can I do? I make pancakes. Of course.

The options for gluten-free pancakes range from the sublime to the ridiculous and there are times when I swear to never try another one. Then I see an interesting recipe and ... here we go again.

These pancakes are so incredibly simple and delicious I was honestly excited. Whole grain and gluten-free and yummy, yummy, yummy. They are light and fluffy with more worth than your average empty pancake. Run out and get yourself some buckwheat flour, then make a hot stack of deliciousness.

I increased the buckwheat flour, decreased the brown rice flour, and didn't separate the egg as the author suggests you do. My pancakes were still very light. I say do it the easy way.

gluten-free buckwheat pancakes 
(from Whole Grains for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff)

3/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 large egg
about 3/4 cup milk
1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted - or olive oil
1/2 Tbsp maple syrup

Whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Crack the egg into a measuring cup and add milk to make 1 cup, add the butter and maple syrup. Whisk together and add to the dry ingredients. Pour the egg/milk mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a spatula just until combined.

Cook in a lightly buttered skillet by scan 1/4 cupfuls until dry at the edges and browned on the bottom, then flip and cook until done.

Serve with your favorite maple syrup and fresh berries. 

*I do like all the pancake recipes I have posted. Just to be clear. In fact, I like them a lot. Is that self-serving?