9.30.2010

be the change


 I am not always good with change. Not sudden change, certainly. Even gradual transitions, ones that I know are coming, I resist if I sense I don't like where things are headed. I dig in my heels, hold fast, and oftentimes need to be forcefully dragged towards whatever the inevitable outcome is. This dragging, of course, stirs up a great deal of dust and debris, and leaves everyone around me choking and rubbing their eyes, still dealing with my irritating cloud hanging in the air long after I've gone ahead, given in, and accepted the change. Not so pleasant.

Let's just say I'm working on it.

There are some changes and transitions in my life, however, that I not only embrace, but actually anticipate all year long. These are not so much true changes as they are shifts in our rhythm, both internally and externally, that are tied to the seasons and the calendar. Transitions that are ingrained in us through years of repetition and tradition. And it's the repetition and tradition aspects that - partly, at least - make it so easy for me to move through one phase and into the next.

I'm thinking specifically about Fall, which seems to be on everyone's mind these days. Yes, Fall is here, despite the odd hot, muggy days that keep getting thrown into our weeks here in Maine. I love Fall. I've already told you that - all the smoky, cozy, spicy scents, the roasting and the sweaters and the crunching through brittle, earthy leaves. And the great thing about loving something as much as I love Fall is that it doesn't matter to me how it chooses to show up. Whether it arrives as sneak peeks here and there, as if summoning its courage before fully jumping into the game, or barrels in full-force, sails spread, practically shouting in your ear as it whizzes past, "How do you like them apples?" - it's all good.


For many of us in Maine, though, Fall can be here without really being here, not until one important marker is met: the weekend of the Common Ground Fair. Which around here is referred to simply as The Fair, and everyone will know instinctively which one you mean. It is a not-to-be-missed-at-all-costs ritual for my family, and this past weekend was no different. We planned, we anticipated, we got the kids good and excited, and then we went.

As is the case with so much of life these days, our schedule once we arrived was dictated largely by the kids. Animals, crafting, and eating were high on their list, so that's what we did. And it was so great to watch them get excited about all the same things I loved about The Fair as a child; the full-circleness of time and life, even as they march steadfastly forward, is eternally touching to me. We heard some music, ate some French fries and Indian pudding, attempted to roll a hay ball, and felted some wool. In short, we had a typical, wonderful Fair experience.







Which means that now it is really, truly, all-the-way Fall. (Regardless of the humidity today.) Kalen has been asking daily when we will be able to rake and jump into leaf piles. (Soon enough!) Wylie has begun talking to the mini pumpkins on our table in a sweet, soft, nurturing voice. (Which I suppose is more indicative of his weirdness than an embrace of the new season, but as the mother I get to interpret these things differently if I wish.) And I have been making soup.


School Soup, to be precise. I know that sounds like the most imprecise name for a soup, giving you no clue as to what its ingredients are, but in this family it's a very specific type of soup. When Kalen was younger (and I didn't have a second little one around to factor in), he and I attended a once-a-week program for young children and parents at our local Waldorf school. It was a lovely, calming time, a day for him to play with other kids outside of our home, while I got to connect with other adults. (Which, still, is a too-rare event!) One of my favorite parts of the program was the morning snack. Not simply because we were fed (and because my need to eat gluten-free was so graciously accommodated), but because of the spirit in which the snack was made. Whether it was contributing a piece of fruit to the fruit salad, chopping the apples for the applesauce, or bringing in a favorite vegetable to add to the soup pot, each day the children were involved in some aspect of the meal preparation. That, coupled with the focus on whole foods and the sense of community in which the food was shared - well, it was right up my alley.

So this soup. From the outside it just looks like a riff on basic vegetable soup, or really, stone soup. But the addition of a couple of unusual ingredients make it much more than just vegetable soup, giving it depth, complexity, and an air of mystery that no vegetable soup I've ever met had. It's delicious, and appealing in its inclusiveness - pretty much any mix of vegetables work in it. (At our house, the only objection occurred the one time I  added mushrooms to the pot. Everything else, from kale to rainbow chard stems to winter squash to edamame has been embraced and devoured.) The soup is so good, and so well-loved despite its ever-changing roster of vegetables, that at school we had a running joke that the old red Le Creuset pot it was cooked in must have magic properties, to never be able to turn out a bad batch of soup. Well, I cook mine in a newer green Le Creuset pot, and I have the same good luck every time.

The magic is in two surprising last-minute additions: the soup is finished with a dash of tamari and a scoop of nutritional yeast. And suddenly, simple vegetable soup is infused with rich, almost creamy umami. It tastes like no other soup I've eaten, yet at the same time jolts you with an almost primal recognition of itself. Immediately, you know: "This is good." Simple. Perfect.

It's School Soup.


School Soup (or Really Great Vegetable Soup)
yields one large pot of soup

In keeping with the original, recipe-less nature of this soup, I'm merely providing you with some basic guidelines. But I encourage you to play with it, and make it your own. As long as you choose fresh, in-season vegetables and don't forget to add the tamari and nutritional yeast, I'm confident your soup will turn out as delicious as all of my versions have. Embrace change.

Chop an onion. Over medium heat, heat some olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven and sweat the onion - use a little more oil than you think you need for the onion, so that you have enough for the rice you're about to add. Sometimes I also add chopped garlic at this point. When the onion just starts to get some color, add a cup of brown rice and stir to coat with oil. Let the rice toast for a couple of minutes. While you're waiting, start chopping vegetables into bite-sized pieces. I use whatever I have on hand - carrots, celery, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, squash (summer or winter), potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, peas, corn, edamame, cabbage, parsnips, beets, Swiss chard, leeks, etc. - it's all good! After the rice has toasted a bit, add your liquid. Again, use whatever you've got on hand. I've used just water, water and vegetable bouillon, chicken stock, water and veal stock reduction, vegetable broth, and a random mix, and it always comes out great. I usually put in enough liquid to fill the pot halfway, assuming that the rice will absorb a lot and I want some left for the soup! For my pot, this is about 6 cups of liquid. Bring this to a simmer, then start throwing in your veggies. I add enough vegetables to bring the level up to within an inch of the top of the pot. Sometimes I find I need to add more liquid, also. Let this simmer, mostly covered, until the rice is soft (not al dente). By then, the vegetables should all be cooked through as well. Sometimes I also add cooked beans at the end, letting them heat through. Then I add a couple of splashes of gluten-free tamari and a 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast (available in most health food stores), and check for seasoning. Whether or not you'll need to add salt will depend on what you used for liquid - sodium-free stock versus prepared broth, for example. Then it's done! It makes a lot, and I always plan on freezing at least half of it (in smallish containers), so that I have a couple meals' worth of dinners on hand for nights when I don't want to cook. Occasionally we make bread or rolls to go with it, but usually we eat it all by itself. Regardless, my sometimes-picky-about-vegetables boys always love it!

Vegetable Soup on Foodista

9.24.2010

forgetful pie


Time doesn't stop - or even slow down - around here. Surprise, surprise, I know. Yet sometimes, when I look back over this blog, I get the impression that things have progressed at a very leisurely, civilized pace.

Yum, we ate an apricot galette. We celebrated the Fourth of July with the best brownies ever. Oh look, that time we went to the beach and got ice cream - that was fun. And then we enjoyed ourselves at the Folk Festival.

It all looks so genteel!

And yet things really seem quite whirlwind, most of the time. Even when I talk, in this space, about how busy we are, the essence of that busyness doesn't translate. Things here still look very calm and collected. But real life? Oh my.

I take photos of lots of blog-intended food, and never get around to telling you about it. Is it really horrible of me to mention that we've recently enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches with broccoli-carrot-cucumber slaw, fried haddock with aioli, and broccoli-ricotta pizza, all gluten-free and fabulous? Seeing as time keeps marching forward, with new meals to be had every day, it's unlikely that I'll ever have a chance to circle back around and fill you in on all the lovely details. I'm so sorry, it's not intentional; I just can't keep up with my own life!

This constant, possibly faster-each-year forward progression means that I inevitably end up forgetting things. Take this week, for example. Meetings and appointments have been scheduled and rescheduled all week. The whole family has been valiantly battling a head cold-type thing. In just a moment we'll be headed to central Maine, to attend the Common Ground Fair this weekend. I spontaneously invited dear friends over for dinner the other night. And I got all caught up in the whirlwind of support for Shauna and Danny's new cookbook. (Which, by the way, has been wonderful to be a part of. So many lovely, sweet bloggers pitching in to help! So many heartwarming stories coming out of it - pasta-making parties, first forays into non-mix brownies, cultivating new shrimp and anchovy lovers, simple awe at discovering how easy and delicious made-from-scratch food can be. Good stuff. If you haven't already, take a moment to check out the list of participating blogs, and read some of these for yourself. It's such a great community.)

So I've been busy and distracted. And I've forgotten to do things. Like finishing mowing the lawn, which I started doing five days ago. Scrubbing the blackened splatterings out of the slow-cooker from the last batch of apple butter. Putting the new rear wiper on my car, the wiper that's been waiting in the front hall for a week and a half.. And I forgot to give you the recipe for Wild Berry Pie, the one that I dangled in front of you nine days ago! My apologies! Thankfully, a reader pointed out my oversight, and I am here to make amends.


Berry season is, sadly, pretty much over around here. But you can still have this pie. As long as the blueberries are wild - not the cultivated, high bush variety - you can make a perfect pie using frozen blueberries, year-round. I might not have said the same thing about blackberries, except that the ones I used for this pie were frozen, and worked great. So if you, like me, froze bags and bags of fruit this summer, and are now wondering just what you'll do with it all, you can at least take comfort in knowing fabulous pie is possible.

And this pie is fabulous. The crust, oh the crust! I don't need to keep telling you how flaky and buttery it is - you can read my gushings here and here. But the filling is also important in a pie, and this one doesn't disappoint. It's hard to go wrong with blueberry pie (and hard not to channel Bette Midler singing the its eponymous song while making it), but by adding a small amount of intense, somewhat astringent wild blackberries (conventional ones will do in a pinch), the pie becomes deeper, and richer, and more nuanced. It's good after-dinner pie, when you want dessert but a syrupy-sweet filling would be too much. This is grown up pie. By which I don't mean pie just for grown-ups, mind you, but pie that has itself grown up and wizened and matured, and has a bit of sass to show for it. This pie has absolutely "come out of its shell." You're going to love it.


 In fact, I think you should make pie this weekend. For one thing, baking something as homey and comforting as pie seems like the perfect way to mark the change of seasons. But also, things come up, schedules change, life goes on. And soon those bags of fruit get covered up by yet more bags and containers - of veggies or chicken stock or dinner rolls or cranberries - and your berry-pie-making intentions get buried right alongside the key components.

So quick - do it now, before you forget. Bake a pie.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Deep Dish Wild Berry Pie
yields one 9-inch deep dish pie

One double recipe Best-Ever Gluten-Free Pie Crust, or your favorite crust, in two discs, cool but not too cold

5 cups wild blueberries, fresh or frozen (not thawed)
2 cups wild blackberries, fresh or frozen (not thawed)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup tapioca starch
4 tsp lemon juice (Meyer lemon juice is especially good here)
zest of one lemon
pinch of cinnamon
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 Tbsp egg white for interior egg wash (white reserved from egg before making egg-water wash), whisked until slightly frothy
1 egg mixed with 1 Tbsp water for egg wash
turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 425º. Have ready a 9-inch deep dish pie plate.

In a large bowl, combine the blueberries, blackberries, brown sugar, granulated sugar, tapioca starch, lemon juice and zest, and cinnamon. Stir gently to combine. Set aside.

Roll out one disc of pie dough into a circle approximately 15 inches across. I've found that if the dough is too cold (as in straight from the refrigerator), it's difficult to roll and cracks a lot. Letting it warm slightly results in a more pliable dough that's easier to roll out (just be sure to dust it with gluten-free flour, or do it between two pieces of parchment or plastic wrap), and it doesn't compromise the end goal (a tender, super flaky crust) one bit. It's a great thing about gluten-free pie dough; you don't have to be so neurotic about keeping it cold when you're working with it! (Thanks so much to Jeanne for her guidance on this point!) Gently ease the dough circle into your pie plate, letting the edges hang over the lip of the plate. If the dough's gotten so warm that it's becoming too sticky, pop the pie plate in the fridge just long enough for the dough to regain some of it's integrity. Brush the dough with the egg white wash (any leftover wash can be added to the egg-water wash).

Roll out the other disc of dough into a circle approximately 11 inches across. Refrigerate it for just a moment, as you fill the pie plate. I like to use a very small cutter to cut decorative shapes out of the dough, instead of cutting the more-traditional slashes into the top, to allow for steam to escape.

Pour the berry mixture into the pie plate, and dot the top with pieces of butter. Gently lay the dough circle over the pie and trim any excess dough. Press the top and bottom crusts together to form a seal, fold the edges over and decoratively crimp them, if desired. If you didn't already cut out some shapes in the dough, use a paring knife to cut several slashes in the center of the crust. Brush crust with egg-water wash, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. (Regular granulated sugar can be substituted.)

Place pie plate on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Check the pie - the crust will be getting golden brown, so cover it with a foil collar. Continue baking for 55 minutes, or until crust is a deep golden brown and juices are bubbling and thickened.

Cool completely on a rack. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

9.20.2010

Dancing in the Kitchen with Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef




Here's a random and fairly useless fact: Josh and I used to own a gourmet food store. It wasn't that long ago, and yet it feels like it was almost a lifetime ago. Things have changed a lot for us since then.

We often get asked if we miss it. The answer (and the reasoning behind it) is different for each of us, and has changed over time, but mine is becoming primarily "No." Owning a store was never a goal or passion of mine, and the behind-the-scenes work of keeping the shelves stocked and the books balanced was uninspiring to me, to say the least. It's not who I am. I do miss the store, but I miss it in the same way I would miss any other much-loved, but closed, establishment.

Which is to say, I miss shopping in it.  I miss all the amazing foods we sold, things like Salumi salami and syrupy aged balsamic and jewel-like membrillo; things that are now a lot harder to come by around here. Although, to be completely honest, when your culinary philosophy is to try and cook as much as possible from scratch, even specialty foods become less appealing. So many little jars of condiments and sauces and flavored oils, fancy cookies and gourmet potato chips. Try as we might, we never could manage to stock the shelves with more ingredients than processed foods. But it was a great store, and I'll always be proud of what we created.

One thing that made it particularly great, to my mind, was this: Josh made fresh semolina pasta every day, which was rolled and cut to order for our customers. In our small town in Maine this was a pretty big deal, and people loved it. So much so that it was difficult to keep up with all the orders we'd get. Occasionally, though, Josh would have a little left over at the end of the day, which he'd bring home and cook off for a late-night dinner.

That pasta was beautiful to me. Vibrant yellow from egg yolks, curling and wrapping around itself in such a soft, voluptuous way, looking practically fluffy when it was perfectly cooked. Even with just a glaze of butter and a scattering of Parmigiano-Reggiano, I could tell it was a satisfying, complete meal. It was a wholly different creature from dried pasta, and it was a revelation to witness.

Of course, I was just a spectator to all this. I had long ago been given the celiac label, long before fresh pasta (and most artisan food, really) was on my radar. I never ate fresh semolina pasta, and I certainly never tasted Josh's egg fettuccine with pancetta and olives. I always regretted missing out on that part of the gluten-full world.

Until now.


Now I am eating fresh pasta almost every other day, a pasta which has every right to claim the loving description I bestowed on Josh's version as its own. This is gluten-free pasta that can be served proudly to anyone, gluten-free or not, with no apologies or qualifiers attached to it. This feels like a minor miracle, as anyone who needs to eat gluten-free can attest to.

All because of Shauna James Ahern and Danny Ahern, that wonderful duo more commonly known as the Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. I can't imagine I need to tell you who they are. Shauna is only one of the most well-known, respected gluten-free bloggers and authors out there. You need to be reading her. Her equally-talented husband Danny, aka the Chef, is immediately recognizable to anyone who has followed Shauna's blog and her poignant (and often hilarious) telling of their amazing life together, from their first meeting to their Italian honeymoon to the birth of their daughter to this moment, the "birth" of their second major collaboration: a cookbook.


Shauna and Danny have written a beautiful narrative cookbook unlike any other I've seen, and it has the added bonus of being gluten-free to boot. Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes tells a story any romantic epicure will appreciate: of falling in love through food. Shauna and Danny live in food more completely than most people I know, and they do it with grace and respect and humor. This is their story, in their own voices, and it is eloquent and inspiring.

It is also delicious. There's the pasta I mentioned. Which I have been eating every which way, all around town. I made Pasta with Anchovies, Lemon, and Olives from the book. A jumble of some of my favorite flavors - briny, salty, nutty, buttery, rich, and bright. Every tangled mouthful a melding of classic Mediterranean tastes. With that lovely, lovely pasta grounding the whole thing.


But I didn't stop there. I needed more of that pasta. So late one afternoon at the end of a hectic day I made a pasta carbonara - such a perfect, quick supper - which the boys couldn't get enough of. And then I made more pasta, and brought it with me to Josh's restaurant for dinner with the in-laws. He topped half with a spicy seafood arrabbiata sauce, and the rest was tossed with beurre blanc and olives and Parmigiano-Reggiano. We ended up eating in a back room, with bad lighting, where the kids could be rambunctious. Still, I thought the pasta was wonderful. But an even better compliment? Josh loved it, which is saying something, coming from a man with impossibly high standards and the history of his own fresh pasta behind him.


The pasta recipe alone is worth the price of the book. Please buy it.

When you do, you'll happily discover that there is so, so much more to explore and experience in this book.


There are Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brownies, which pair equally well with a healthy glass of milk or a not-so-healthy generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. Can you guess which way is my favorite? Make these when you have company coming over, so you won't have to deal with the inevitable guilt of eating the whole pan by yourself. (Trust me on this one.)


For your next splurge-worthy occasion, seek out Marcona almonds so you can make Seared Shrimp with Garlic-Almond Sauce. We used to sell Marcona almonds at our store. They were a staple in our house. But it never occurred me to purée them to use as a sauce. That's another beautiful thing about this book: Shauna and Danny utilize ingredients and concepts that are not necessarily going to be new to everyone, but they treat them just differently enough so that you feel like you're being exposed to something novel. By showing you food through their eyes, they open your own eyes. To the joys of food, of feeding others, of loving life.

And in the end, that's what this cookbook is about. About learning to live more fully, with all your senses, using food and cooking to create "joy in the belly" for those you love. An invaluable lesson, I think. I absolutely love it.

This post is part of a coordinated effort to promote Shauna and Danny's new cookbook. If you're interested, please head over to Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, where Shauna will be posting links to all the participating blogs for your reading pleasure.

9.18.2010

the apples of my eye

Josh and I have an ongoing debate over the relative merits of growing up (and, consequently, raising our own kids) in an urban versus rural area. We both come by our respective positions quite naturally, as he was raised in a number of cities around the world, while I spent my entire childhood in one small, rural central Maine town. The conversation is typically a less-eloquent version of the City Mouse-Country Mouse story. It goes something like this:

Josh: "A city can offer so much diversity! So much culture and exposure to new things! Art! Music! Architecture! And the food! Such amazing representations of the world's food! You can't help but raise a well-rounded child there!"

Me: "But . . . but . . . it's Maine! It's beautiful! It's The Way Life Should Be™!" (And I stammer and fumble into silence. Because really, haven't I just provided an irrefutable argument?)


Part of the problem lies in the fact that, despite my rural upbringing, I love cities. Especially New York City - it's one of my favorite places in the world. I love the energy, the height, the neighborhoods, the never-ending to-do-and-see lists. And of course, the food. For the year I lived there, even as poor and starving as we were, I still loved the place. So it's hard to argue with someone you agree with.

And yet.

And yet I know there's more to being a kid than gallery openings and restaurant trends and museum trips. Young children don't much care about the club downtown showcasing the hottest new jazz talents. Yes, the best cities tend to have the best parks, and while this is certainly a boon to them, I feel that their presence is a recognition of the inherent human need for open, green spaces in which to play and live and learn, spaces that are usually in short supply in traditional city planning. So they are intentionally created. But, from the child's perspective, isn't it better to intentionally live where open spaces are simply the natural landscape?



I don't have the benefit of a dual childhood from which to survey the issue objectively, or even better informed. I fully acknowledge that amazing, knock-your-socks-off people can be raised in mega-cities; I know some of the best of them. But I also know that I love how and where I was raised. I reminisce about my upbringing a lot, probably more than most do, and I credit at least part of that to this space, this land and its woods and fields and waters and mountains where so many of my childhood memories were formed. They have defined who I am in ways I am forever grateful for.


So yes, I absolutely believe that Josh and I could turn out great kids no matter where we live. And I do not judge anyone who chooses to do it in an urban setting. (Honestly, I feel a little jealous of them. But for purely personal, selfish, grown-up reasons.) I also believe that you can create in a city many of the same experiences that I treasure so much as a child of the country. You can head out of town one glorious Fall weekend and find an orchard and pick sackfuls of perfect apples. You can bring them home, munching on a couple off the top of the bag as you drive. (Although throwing the cores out the window 'for the deer' might not be encouraged in the suburbs.) And when you get home, you can pack your slow cooker with as many apple slices as will fit in there, add some sugar and cinnamon and pour in some orchard-fresh cider. Over the course of the next 24 hours or so, your house will be filled with the deliriously heady scent of spiced apples, and it won't matter where you live, so long as you don't stray too far from that smell. And when it's all done, you'll have a dark, rich batch of apple butter that blows away any you can buy at the grocery store, and if you want to you can get even more domestic and can the whole lot, saving it to slather on your toast on winter's darkest mornings. All this is possible.




And yet.

And yet when outings like these occur practically in your own backyard, with a sense of tradition and festivity but not necessarily out-of-the-ordinariness, it is better. To me. To the way I instinctively want to parent. Organically, consciously, naturally. I might not always feel this way. Certainly, I want to live in a city again someday. But for now, this is my truth. And so, we're staying put.

For now.


Apple Butter
yields approximately 1 quart

enough tart apples to fill your slow cooker (depending on their size, this is between 14 and 16 for me)
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 liquid cup apple cider (you can use water if you don't have cider on hand. But it's Fall. You should always have cider on hand.)

Peel, core, and slice the apples. Place them in the bowl of a slow cooker. Add the two sugars, cinnamon, and apple cider (or water). Put the lid on, plug it in, and set the cooker to High. Cook for 24 hours, or until apple butter is as rich and intense as you like it, stirring occasionally. (I like mine very dark and thick.) For the overnight period, change your slow cooker setting to Warm, raising it back to High in the morning to finish cooking. When it's done, use a stick blender to purée the butter. Alternately, you can purée it in two batches in a regular blender or food processor. Refrigerate apple butter for up to 1 month, freeze, or can according to your preferred method.

9.15.2010

in these days

We have plucked fruit from trees . . .




surveyed the land . . .




played in and around and on an old fort . . .






eaten gluten-free wild berry pie . . .


and we're not done yet!

Gigi and Papa are here.
All is well.

9.09.2010

reason to celebrate


I may be jumping the gun a bit here, but as anyone who knows me well will tell you, I always jump the gun on this particular issue. Because it is Fall!

Well, I know that technically I'm wrong. Kalen's Winnie-the-Pooh calendar, hanging within eyesight, informs me that Fall doesn't begin for two more weeks. But by my own internal calendar, Fall is here. And it's been a dramatic — and near-instant — change-over. Suddenly our nights are cool enough for down comforters, and our noses have picked up the beloved scent of woodsmoke hanging in the air. Culinarily-speaking, I've made the transition seamlessly. I'm done with watermelon and cold salads and smoothies. Give me apple butter bubbling away in the slow-cooker, comforting soups, and roast meats. Even my most recent (and most likely last of the season) ice cream flavor took a sudden turn into Autumn: Spiced Winter Squash.

I just adore this time of year. It may be a family thing, as both of my sisters also agree that it's the best season. Or maybe it's a New England thing, since we certainly get to experience Fall's best attributes. But still, I think Fall holds some universal appeal as well. Fall in Maine demands cozy, comforting, warming activities. It is full of unique feasts for all the senses. Fall provides a great reason to dig out and re-vamp a new wardrobe. And Fall is just plain comfortable. Especially here, right now: we're five days past the end of a record-length heat wave in the state, and this cool, seasonal  weather has felt like the answer to our collective prayer for relief. Suddenly, instead of wilting and withering and finding ourselves stuck to our chairs (and stuck in a heat-induced stupor), we've been re-invigorated, with a restless energy apparently intended to make up for the lack of the same last week. Lots of productivity is happening around here.

Some of it is the boring stuff of life, the laundry and vacuuming and general attempts at keeping house with young boys always under foot. None of it is high on my list of loved activities, but the frazzled, disheveled feeling I get when these things aren't done is worse. So I do them, and am always glad I did, because the mental space that is freed up by looking at a tidy house gives me the enthusiasm and self-permission to head into the kitchen and make.


You already saw the birthday cake. And there was the spiced winter squash ice cream and apple butter I just mentioned. Blueberry pie is on the agenda for tomorrow. But what you might not know is that the day of Wylie's birthday party this past weekend wasn't actually his birthday. That day was yesterday. And so of course we needed yet another treat to celebrate with. This time, however, I wanted something that was semi-acceptable to have for breakfast. There's something charming to me about starting off your birthday morning with a bang, yet even I can't go so far as to actually serve birthday cake for breakfast. Especially not to an already-nonstop two year old.


So I pulled out my fail-proof basic muffin recipe, and turned it into my new favorite fall morning muffin. A muffin that exuded cozy, snuggle-up-with-me scents as it was baking. A muffin that was honestly difficult to photograph, because I was so distracted by that intoxicating smell that I just kept leaning in for one more sniff and almost knocked the tripod over. Several times. This is the muffin that resulted in the epiphany that squash and coffee are a surprisingly perfect combination! Which, of course, means that these muffins are most definitely breakfast food, and will certainly be making future appearances on non-birthday mornings around here.


Now, I've said it before but I think it bears repeating: these muffins are not health food-type muffins. (Despite the fact that they now contain a vegetable. I think the chocolate chips tip the scale back towards too-sugary.) So just be aware of that as you feed them to eager little ones early in the morning. And another note: my recipe for spiced squash purée makes a lot more than you need for these muffins. View this as a good thing. Because now you can make a double batch of muffins, and throw half in the freezer, saving them for a future cool, stormy Fall morning, one on which you're craving muffins but are short on time. These would be perfect for that sure-to-come day. Or you could whisk in some eggs and bake up squash custards. Or squash pie. Or do what I did and make ice cream. You could even decide to just freeze the leftover purée itself, to give yourself a little more time to come up with the absolute perfect vehicle for this creamy goodness (aside, of course, from the already-perfect muffins). So yes, make a full batch of squash purée. You won't regret it. It's a great way to welcome Fall.


Spiced Winter Squash Purée
yields 4 cups

625 grams roasted and cooled winter squash flesh (I used a golden nugget squash. But any medium-sized, starchy, orange-fleshed squash will work)
1 liquid cup whole milk
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 + 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and purée until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Squash purée keeps for up to one week refrigerated, and for up to six months frozen.

Winter Squash-Chocolate Chip Muffins
yields 18 muffins

133 grams Tara's gluten-free pastry flour mix
133 grams Tara's all-purpose gluten-free flour mix
1 tsp xanthan gum
7 grams baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
56 grams canola oil
105 grams eggs, room temperature
113 grams buttermilk
7 grams vanilla
56 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
225 grams granulated sugar
245 grams spiced winter squash purée
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line a muffin pan with paper baking cups.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Combine the oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla (I use a liquid measuring cup - less splashing around) and mix lightly. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. (There's not enough butter to really 'cream,' so just get everything blended well and lightened.)

Add the oil mixture in three additions, beating well and scraping the bowl after each one. It should be pretty soupy now.

Add the squash purée and mix to fully combine.

Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until well-blended.

Add the chocolate chips and mix just until well-distributed.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until muffins are just beginning to brown and a tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Muffins keep, covered and at room temperature, for up to three days. To freeze, wrap cooled muffins tightly in plastic wrap, then place them in a large freezer bag. Frozen muffins keep for up to three months.

9.05.2010

milestones



Yesterday, we had a party. We had hors d'oeuvres and fresh-made limeade. A huge pot of soup simmered on the stove and there were gluten-free baguettes for dipping in it. Dear friends and family made themselves at home, finding space to talk and laugh over the heads and thunder of a gaggle of young children.

Photo courtesy of Caitlyn Barker
And we had cake. Oh boy, did we have cake. A show-stopping four-layer ethereal gluten-free chiffon cake, striated with wild blueberry sauce, swathed in orange whipped cream, and topped off with organic wild blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. A cake in honor of my baby.

Photo courtesy of Caitlyn Barker
We were celebrating Wylie's second birthday, which to my mind is one of the most exciting, important birthdays out there. It's the first birthday a child is really aware of. He's old enough to chime in during Happy Birthday and open his own presents. He has true friends that he's excited to play with. He's stated his preferences enough that we know what gifts he'll adore (and most likely have a hard time sharing with his brother). And he's skilled enough with cutlery that he can help cut his cake, and then help himself to seconds before his first serving is even gone. He's two. Baby no more, surprising me every day with his vocabulary and furniture-climbing and sense of humor.


Photo courtesy of Caitlyn Barker

Photo courtesy of Caitlyn Barker
It was a very good day. Poignant, funny, and chaotic.

Maybe you're not having a birthday party this weekend. But maybe you still want some cake? No problem! I've already got the recipe typed up for you. But . . . you won't find it here. Instead, I'm excited to tell you that I'm a guest blogger over at Cooking with Caitlin, and the cake is featured here. So please head on over there and check it out, where you'll also find out what Labor Day means to me. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Photo courtesy of Caitlyn Barker
And whatever this Labor Day weekend holds for you, I hope it brings as much fun and love to your lives as yesterday did to ours.
 
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