first snow

This morning we woke up to a pretty dusting of fresh snow. When Jane came upstairs for breakfast she looked out the window and exclaimed "Snow!!!" followed immediately by "Do you have hot chocolate?!" - like the one naturally would (or at least should) follow the other - and then she was off downstairs again to share the big news with Theo and her mom. 

In short order Theo arrived upstairs saying "It snow, it snow!!". (Theo's language ability grows daily - and adorably - but is still rather unorthodox.) I agreed, picked him up, and went to the window to take a look. He was puzzled by what he saw and after a moment said "What on it?!" I guess he didn't remember the snow from last season, which gave David and I the happy chance to re-introduce him to the wonder of snow. David took him outside and grabbed a handful of snow that he packed into a ball of sorts and gave to Theo. Theo decided it was .... a rock? Sadly, David confided that it was actually snow whereupon Theo happily brought his snowball inside and held it until it disappeared.

By noon all the snow was gone - for which I think everyone over the age of 6 was grateful. Winter is long enough. And in so many precious ways childhood is far too short.


owl costume for aubrie

Eden reminisced last week that her all-time favourite costume was the dinosaur costume I made when she was five. I think that was just about the last big, over-the-top costume making year for me. That was the year that I was pregnant with Mark (our fourth child). Up to that point I had always had a blast planning and making extravagant Halloween costumes for the kids. That year I felt like I was pushing a boulder uphill all the way - way, way too much going on - the result being... after the sewing spree was finally over I became The Scrooge of Halloween. No costumes that required any amount of sewing or purchase were allowed. Miraculously the costume box always revealed enough treasure to disguise the littles and what was lacking there my personal wardrobe and ingenuity supplied. 

This year I appear to have finally recovered from the trauma (a long, long recovery to be sure) and I have found my costume-making mojo again with Aubrie as my muse. Eden suggested an owl mask - an idea too cute to be ignored and my imagination slipped the leash. From one simple concept to another this costume was totally, totally fun to make. Really simple too. I used cheap (I don't use that term loosely - I hate polyester felt but it worked for this application) felt for the top of the wings. The rest of the fabrics are all quilting cottons. The wings have unfinished seams with the raw edges of the cotton contributing to the idea of feathers. The tummy patch on the pinafore is simply made of rough circles with unfinished edges (more feathers) that are overlapped and stitched on. The mask is made from some felted wool sweater fabric I had left from an earlier project and a bit of cotton quilt batting. I sewed elastic loops into the seam near the wrist of the wings so that she can flap her wings as all good owls can.

All in all, I am very pleased with the result. The sad thing? - that Aubrie's beautiful eyes are behind the cute mask. The best thing? - (aside from her pleasure) that the pinafore part of the costume is so cute she will simply wear it daily. Being a grandy is the best job ever!!!

To see some beautiful pictures of Aubrie (and siblings) in costume check out Eden's blog. I love Eden's work. She is incredible!


pumpkin granola

The approach of every season is exciting to me for reasons that are unique and specific to that season. Fall beckons with warm colours and smells, the bounty of the harvest, crisp air, thick wool sweaters, school rooms (despite the fact that it has been ages since I was a student), soups, stews, and .... cooking with pumpkin! I love pumpkin cakes, waffles, pastas, cookies, soups ... the list goes on and every year new ideas join the queue.

Shan and Gabby were over the other night and eventually the conversation got around to granola. (Doesn't it always?) Gabby said that she had made some really yummy pumpkin granola and I was immediately intrigued. After they left I hopped online to see what I could see. I don't know where I have been but it seems as though everyone and their dog has been making (and posting a recipe for) pumpkin granola. Not wanting to be behind at all I determined to make a batch asap. Almost every single posted recipe is the same one and I figured that meant it was probably a good recipe but, me being me, I made a few adjustments when I tried it myself. The result is most likely not any better than what others have posted but I have to say it is absolutely delicious. I share my version here and beg pardon if it is just one too many pumpkin granola recipes for the world to support.

It smells so very good as it bakes and tastes like fall and comfort and warmth on a spoon. In texture this is a softer, chewy granola rather than crunchy but that is just the way that Jonathon prefers it (and if you haven't tried it you should because it really is yummy). The other recipes I saw were fat free - which is a virtue I know - but I like a little fat with my sugar and salt, so I added some coconut oil with all of the benefits it brings.

pumpkin granola
(adapted from several posted recipes)

3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
3/4 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup coconut oil (melted)
4 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3 Tbsp chia seed
3 Tbsp hemp seed hearts
2 Tbsp milled flaxseed
1/2 cup flaked coconut
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup roasted pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl mix together the pumpkin puree, spices,  brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and coconut oil. Add the oats, chia seed, hempseed hearts, flaxseed, and coconut. Stir well. The mixture will be moist.

Spread the mixture evenly on the baking sheet. Using the back of a spatula pack the mixture fairly firmly together so that it is about 1" thick. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the granola over (it will break up a bit - that's okay, just pack it back together). Bake for an additional 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Break up the granola and add the dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds. Stir. Store in an airtight container.

Serve with milk or yogurt. My personal preference is coconut milk. But that is a matter of record by now.


jane's wedding plans

Apropos of nothing, Jane announced at dinner tonight that she does not want to marry Theo. In the silence that followed this announcement, we all reflected that this is probably for the best. Before anyone could venture a response, she explained that he would be too crazy at the wedding. Smothering laughter, her audience almost choked on the rice. But it really is a very good decision and good to get out of the way now.

(Jane will be 4 years old on Christmas Day and Theo is her very nearly 2 year old brother.)


pumpkin waffles

Yesterday was The Perfect Fall Day - crisp weather, fallen leaves, garden clean-up, carrot harvest, chestnut roasting, children playing perfection. The day started with some most amazing pumpkin waffles and just got better from there.

These waffles smell like fall and taste like heaven. (Honestly I am not sure what heavenly things would taste like but can't imagine they would be better than this. I am pretty secure on the smell of fall though if that enhances my credibility any.) We decided that the very best topping for them was simply good honest maple syrup. You really need to have some soon.

pumpkin waffles
( from waffles by Betty Rosbottom - with a few tweaks)

1 1/2 cups flour
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp (generous) cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp ground ginger
pinch each of cloves and nutmeg
1 cup coconut milk (or regular cow's milk if you prefer)
3/4 cup pumpkin puree (plain puree not pie filling)
2 large eggs
4 Tbsp butter, melted

Preheat a waffle iron.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices. In another bowl whisk together the pumpkin, milk, and eggs. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir gently until just combined. Pour the melted butter into the mixture in a slow stream, stirring until the butter is incorporated.

Pour the batter onto the waffle iron, close and bake until the waffle is golden brown and crisp - about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

Note: I doubled this amount for 4 adults and 2 children and we didn't have much left.

Happy Fall!


mabo dofu

Every time I make this dish I think that I should share the recipe. Every time I decide not to - mostly because it is not a beautiful dish. But we love it so much that I have decided to overlook whatever challenges it may face in appearance and hope that others will judge it on its inherent merit as well. Some families pull out a box of Kraft dinner, some order pizza, some pb&j sandwiches, some a bowl of cereal, others whip up a batch of spaghetti but the most often requested, quick and easy meal at our house is easily mabo dofu. It is the epitome of quick comfort food for our family and takes no more than 30 minutes from walking into the kitchen to sitting down at the table, what I often turn to when time is short or I haven't planned very well. (You can surely see why I finally decided to share, and if you smelled it there would be no doubt at all.)

I learned to make this when we lived in Osaka when the kids were little. Mabo dofu converted me to eating tofu - before M.D. I abhorred it, all quivery and bland. It really didn't matter to me that it was reputed to be healthy, if you can't get it down it can't do you much good after all. But cooked this way, getting it down wasn't a challenge. Not for me or anyone else. It is mildly spicy and very tasty. Originally a Chinese dish, this version of the recipe has been 'japan-ized' - something the Japanese excel at. My friend Shoko taught me to make this. We have never looked back, except with fond memories.

mabo dofu
from my friend Shoko

2 packages of medium firm tofu,  drained and diced in 1/2" cubes
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2" piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 lb lean ground beef

Brown the beef with the onion, garlic, and ginger in a large fry pan or wok.

Stir together:
2 Tbsp red miso
1 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp soya sauce
1 1/2 cup dashi*
1 Tbsp mirin
1-2 tsp tobanjan

2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp sesame oil

Add the mixture to the browned beef mixture. Add the diced tofu and simmer for 10 minutes. Mix 2 Tbsp cornstarch with 2 Tbsp water and stir into the meat-tofu mixture to thicken it slightly. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp of sesame oil and stir in gently.

Serve over short grain (Japanese style) California rice. This may seem like an unimportant distinction but it isn't. And in no case use instant rice. Just don't! Really don't.

Important note: Stir this very gently after adding the tofu. This is truly important or you risk making a rather plain looking dish look like something your dog ate and then rejected - after eating. (Is that put delicately enough?)

Dashi, miso, and mirin may not be in your pantry but are worth seeking out - even if all you use them for is mabo dofu. And if you want to do any Japanese cooking at all you will use them regularly. You may find them in the Asian aisle in large supermarkets but more likely (and therefore more easily) in an Asian market. The dashi can be replaced with chicken broth but you really need the mirin and miso.

*Dashi is a fish broth. For this recipe I always use dashi granules mixed into water - kind of like chicken bouillon.

Update: Jonathon suggested that I add this update "so that people don't blow their brains out in the grocery store looking" for the dashi and tobanjan. Tobanjan is simply a chili bean paste - the Japanese version. If you can't find it (and it can be tricky) go with a Chinese version. It will make little-to-no difference in the end. 
The brand of dashi that I use is Ajinomoto. You will probably need to look for dashi in an Asian market. the label will say "Hon Dashi Bonito Fish Stock". It comes packaged as individual serving sachets in foil packets or in small jars, bulk-style. Same/same. If you don't know an Asian market or simply can't make it to one, use chicken broth. I have on occasion and it is fine.

Finally, this is really and simply so good, fast, and easy. Do give it a try. Guaranteed hit!


Beatles - Love

We saw the Beatles Love show at The Venetian on Saturday night in Vegas and it was.... everything superlative. Seriously awesome. Brilliant. Genius. Absolutely and totally enjoyable. The music, the choreography, the costumes, the dancers, the sets. Of course, one expects superlatives after a Cirque show, but still.... Who thinks of that stuff?! I am still mind boggled days later. lol.


bread & butter

You know the day dreams of what you would do if you could do whatever you wanted to do - and then what if that wonderful occupation was more than just play? Some of my personal day dreams have included owning a book store, a fabric store, designing and sewing wedding dresses, doing interior design (for pay!), a gardening service... and those are only the more recent dreams. Just yesterday I met a man who is living his dream. He has recently opened a fabulous new eatery in Henderson, Nevada. We ate lunch there yesterday and went back this morning for brunch. The vibe is pretty cool and the food is fantastic. 

Chris always knew he wanted to be a chef. When he was in culinary school he would take the train to NYC at the weekends, camp outside the door of a selected restaurant so he could meet his chosen chef and then when the chef came out Chris would offer to work for free for the weekend, just for the experience. From there (and with the contacts he made there) he trained in Europe and eventually ended up as the head pastry chef at Bouchon in The Venetian (Las Vegas). That was a great gig but his dream was bigger than that and Bread & Butter is where he wants to be - his own place, his own brand, his own dream.

We sampled a warm pretzel bread with honey butter and grainy mustard while we waited for our purple cauliflower and smoked pork soup. (Both excellent.) The kale salad we shared was so good we have scarcely stopped talking about it, and the monster-sized chocolate cookies define delicious. That was yesterday. The sourdough waffles we had for brunch this morning were a tough rival for the nutella-topped banana-nut mini cake we had to start. Everything - everything - in the shop begs tasting, from the collection of gourmet root beers to the granola and baguettes. And your kids can draw on the chalkboard-painted garbage bin or sidewalk out front so the experience is a good one for all involved. Chris is inviting everyone.

I know that a lot of blood, sweat, and (most likely) tears have gone into this little shop - I hope his dream is as successful as it deserves to be. It is all So Very Fun!

Bread & Butter, 10940 South Eastern Avenue, Suite 107, Henderson, Nevada


painted toenails

I must confess that I have sadly neglected an area of personal grooming this past year that was previously rarely overlooked and always enjoyed. Toenails. Not the entire pedicure thing - just the painting of the toenails. Even when I finally booked a real pedicure I couldn't commit to a color and finally told the girl to just use a base coat and leave it at that. Since I have always looked forward to summer and bare toes with a bright polish on the nails, it was a bit...strange, this attitude of mine. Perhaps it is just the association - Merin was always my toenail technician. She insisted on being the one to paint both my nails and Eden's every summer. In fact, until last night (and other than the occasional professional excursion) I can't remember when anyone else has been the painter. Even when she was hugely pregnant just before Ysa was born, there she was, legs straddled on the floor, leaning over her belly, carefully painting my toenails - at her insistence! But I think I have broken the barrier. I am over the hump. And I have the cute, fun, toenails to prove it. 

Yesterday afternoon I was shopping with my adorable niece and fun sister-in-law (in Las Vegas - and yes I am having a ton of fun!) We stopped into Sephora and our attention was caught by some pretty cool nail polish. We read the product info, got ourselves all girly-excited, and made the purchase. After homework and that other necessary nasty stuff we got down to the real business of the night. What fun we had! This nail polish has iron bits in it that respond to a magnet on the end of the cap to make cool patterns on your nails. (See my left big toe) The fun part is the surprise - you have no control over what you end up with. All three of us sported different looks. But we feel cool. Especially after we googled the product and found out that it was only released six days ago and Katy Perry (ya - I almost took it off right away. lol) uses it too. What geeks we are!

Whatever - I can hardly stop admiring my toes this morning. It feels so good. Thank goodness for a 17 year-old, cool, sweet niece. Thanks Robyn.

In the event that anyone is curious about the polish - it is Nails Inc. Magnetic Polish and the color is "trafalgar square".


rich corn chowder

Dinner last night needed to be comfort food and corn chowder is about as definitive in that regard as you can get. We used Merin's pretty dishes and enjoyed a simple meal of plain good food. Hannah made the most amazing delicious biscuits and honey butter to go with the chowder. We all got up from the table perfectly satisfied - filled with laughter, love, shared memories, and warm chowder and biscuits. David ended the meal with "m-m-mmmm" in Merin's honour - her typical expression of delight in what she ate.

This chowder is made with fresh corn cut from the cob and then uses the cobs as well. You could use frozen corn (and I have when fresh is not available) but take advantage of the season and make a better chowder with fresh.

rich corn chowder
(adapted from High Flavor Low Labor by J.M. Hirsch)

4 cups 2% milk
6 ears corn, husked
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 large yellow potatoes, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp dried thyme
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper
6 slices naturally smoked bacon

In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a low simmer.

Cut the kernels from the cobs.* When the milk is warm, add the cobs only and simmer for 10 minutes. Simmering the cobs in the milk draws out the juices and with it tons of flavour.

While the cobs simmer, combine the oil, onion, potato, and thyme. Saute until the potatoes are golden. Add the garlic and saute another minute.

Remove the cobs from the milk. Using a cloth (so as not to burn your fingers) hold one end and stand the cob on its end on a plate. Using a butter knife run the back of the blade down the cob pushing out the last bit of the kernels. Discard the cobs. Add all the corn (the bits you have just pushed out of the cobs and the kernels cut off) and the potato mixture to the milk. Add the salt and chicken broth. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile cook the bacon to crisp. Drain on a paper towel and crumble.

Just before serving mix together 1/2 cup milk with 2 Tbsp cornstarch and 1/2 tsp baking soda. Stir into the soup and let thicken slightly. Stir in the 1/2 cup heavy cream and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle each serving with bacon crumbles.

*To cut the kernels from the cob stand each ear on its wide end and using a serrated knife saw down the length of the ear. It's a bit of a messy job as the kernels love to bounce onto the floor but persevere, it is well worth it.



I love this picture of Merin (taken by her sister Eden Lang) - it is how I think of her. Happy, buoyant, graceful, beautiful. How I love her! and miss her today. Her birthday.


peanut butter hummus

Until shortly after noon today I had absolutely no intention of ever posting a recipe for hummus. Not because I don't make it - I do. Regularly. It is one of those super simple, fast, and easy lunch staples that I can not understand buying. It is just that hummus is so simple to make and recipes are so readily available that posting another one seemed ridiculous. But today I tried a recipe that caught my eye yesterday ... honestly, how can peanut butter hummus not intrigue? So I made it, tested a nibble and fell madly in love. Essentially one trades peanut butter for tahini, a simple enough concept. Since I like but don't love peanut butter I was more intrigued by what this might taste like than hopeful of something totally amazing. All I can say is that although I could quite happily eat hummus every day for lunch, this hummus I might even be able to eat every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

peanut butter hummus
( adapted from Kitchen by Nigella Lawson)

1 396gm can chickpeas
1 small garlic clove, peeled
6 Tbsp natural peanut butter
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cumin

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Put the chickpeas, garlic, peanut butter, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and cumin into a food processor (or blender) and blitz to a puree.

Put the hummus into a serving bowl and drizzle with more olive oil. Serve with whatever you like to eat with hummus. My personal current favorites are cucumber coins and whole wheat pita breads.

This should keep well in a covered container in the fridge for several days....if it lasts that long!

Update: Make sure to use natural peanut butter (without sugar) for this. The sugar in some peanut butters really effects the outcome in a negative way.