Pears en Croute and remembering Ginger.

It has been 120 days since my maternal Grandmother passed away. It was an experience I anticipated to endure someday, but I couldn’t have known just how acutely it would affect me. In our phone calls the weeks before her passing she would mix up her facts, ask the same questions over again, and although I knew they were typical, even necessary marks, for her mortal end, it was difficult to see her once sharp witted mind become dull; and I could tell it frustrated and bothered her. Despite it, she always laughed that beautifully jovial laugh and ended our conversation with her sincere expressions of love. I knew she cared about me and my family, loving us entirely.

I guess it’s typical, when someone loses a person they love, that their thoughts settle on memories, looking back at the legacy the person created through seemingly unimpressive daily patterns. Then those who live on look forward to their own legacy and the seedlings of what their own rhythms and habits are becoming. I am not only looking forward to the life I have yet to live, but how it will influence and affect my own children. I think about the person my grandmother was; the courage she had to live the life she wanted that brought her eternal happiness, and how her example of optimism, fierce loyalty to those she loved, and never forgetting to say I love you or laugh have changed me. She was an example of faith and steadfastness, not without flaws, but she was kind to everyone she met. Often her temper and pride got the better of her, and she always had a deep love for delicious food. Both, I inherited with the genes that skipped my mother’s generation.

Time is cyclical. A fact not only apparent in the seasons and in the turning of the day, but in human lives. However, I believe there is another dimension. Not only does human lives repeat themselves in its basic round of existence, but if we properly turn to look at the lives lived before, and increase upon those lessons learned, we can turn that cycle into a spiral upward, always increasing in love and knowledge. A life lived unshared is wasted if not lived for others to benefit.

Life continues on after death, but not as we know it now. It does get better. Though I believe we don’t have to wait until then to make it so.

Pears en Croute
inspired by this italian recipe

for the pâte brissée (barely changed from Martha Stewart)
1 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup toasted white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (or coconut oil) chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

for the pears and filling
8 pears, peeled and hollowed out
1/4 to 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup walnuts
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

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Prepare the pâte brisée

Sift the flours, salt and sugar.

Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter or fork (or pulse in food processor) until crumbly.

Slowly pour in a couple Tablespoons of the ice water and mix with a wooden spoon (or process) until the mixture comes together but isn’t wet or sticky. If the dough is crumbly when you pinch at it, add another Tablespoon of water until you have the correct texture.

Divide dough in half, flatten into two discs, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

.
Bake the pears
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hollow out pears by cutting a circle around the core on the bottom side of the pear, then spooning out the core. If your pears are ripe, it should remove easily.

Combine brown sugar, honey, walnuts and nutmeg in a bowl, set aside.

Fill each peeled and hollow pear with a few Tablespoons of the sugar nut mixture then carefully set, bottom side down, in greased or parchment lined baking dishes.* If some filling falls out, just tuck it back in.

Roll out pastry dough to 1/4 inch thick (you may need to bring it out a few minutes before to thaw).

Cut long strips, about 1/2 to 1 inch in width. Starting at the top of the pear, wrap the pear with the pastry, slowly turning and overlapping about a third of the strip, being sure (as the italian recipe translated) “not to let any part be discovered”. You can blossom out the pastry by gently opening up the top parts of the pastry strips with your fingertips, but I decided against it to make it a little easier.

Bake for 18 – 20 minutes.

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Serve

Serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar or vanilla whipped cream with a pinch of nutmeg. Or maybe with a bit of vanilla ice cream.

*It is easiest if each pear has its own dish. You can set all the dishes on one baking sheet to make transferring in and out of the oven easier.

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baking whole wheat blueberry muffins

I started home play schooling my four year old a few weeks ago. The novelty hasn’t quite worn off yet, it’s not much different than our day to day rhythm, and truthfully we haven’t stuck to a rigid schedule. We did add a little more structure to the day, have included a formal learning activity (not really that formal) and started doing things to make it feel official like singing more songs about what we’re doing and boarding a “school train” to define the start and end of the “school day”. So far it has been a good experience, it helps that we’re basically exploring all day.. And considering we’re faced with the challenge of balancing our playschool schedule and a baby’s schedule that seems consistent until it’s not, we have done pretty well. Sometimes the littlest one will even join in, sitting on a little cushion like her big sister clapping along as we sing about the weather and days of the week. At least until a doll distracts her or she remembers that she needs to taste test the pot of soup simmering on her play stove.

Everyone’s favorite part of the day is when we do a hands on activity, or handwork. In translation that means baking time, especially since the weather has hailed the arrival of Autumn. In theory and planning I have hopes for teaching my daughter how to finish long projects she can work on a little each day. We have a hand knit scarf waiting to be finished for her doll, and we began a nine patch quilt she has been sewing with supervision (also for her doll). I also have a loom that she could weave a small rug for her play kitchen, a talent she learned during our volunteer hours at This Is the Place Heritage Park this summer. But there is a contentment I will not deprive her of as we measure and combine ingredients, then take pleasure in something delicious we made together while it is still full of warmth from the oven. She has taken to it well. Not surprisingly she is naturally drawn to the beauty and art of baking.

Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins
from Weelicious Lunches

Makes 12 muffins
1¼ cups whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons coconut oil or unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
½ cup buttermilk (almond milk with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries
A handful of sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a muffin pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a standing mixer (or in a bowl using a wooden spoon), cream the coconut oil/butter
and sugar.
Add the egg, buttermilk, and vanilla and mix until thoroughly combined.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
Gently fold in the berries.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan (filling each well three-quarters full).
Sprinkle a pinch of sugar on top of each muffin.
Bake for 14 minutes, or until the tops spring back when lightly pressed.

Originally this recipe called for fresh raspberries, which we didn’t have; and was baked in a donut pan, which we don’t own. Those are the two alterations we made to the recipe. Thanks to this cookbook I have gotten many fun ideas for “school” lunches, even if we’re only having lunch at home. My preschooler will help prepare our meal, eat up, then clean up. She surprisingly enjoys the work of preparing and cleaning up, and not so surprisingly, she really loves to eat it.

our beloved chocolate chip cookies

This week marks a month spent in our new home. After weeks of preparation, we moved our little family across the country to pursue greater dreams and futures. That is the plan anyway. After moving back to my hometown for a few months, I realized I had been missing a place I thought I had always want to leave. As a teenager I was so busy trying to get away, move on, and become something, that I didn’t take the time to appreciate what my little hometown had. Primarily, it has my family. I always knew it had them, but I didn’t realize how much I needed to be near them, if only for a short time after growing up, getting away, moving on and becoming something. I was grateful for those few months spent with them. I miss them now. But I am also grateful to be a part of another family, a worldwide church that can be painfully small sometimes, but in our case it has been a comfort. There is a familiar repose when at Sunday worship, the same lessons are taught with the same spirit and the same love, God’s love.

We have also had some dear friends help us grow roots here, sharing their love for this area, and sharing their friends. There is nothing as necessary as tangible relationships with the people around you. A digital connection can be wonderful and fulfilling, but we all need flesh and blood friends, especially when you need to borrow a lawnmower or be a part of a dinner group. In the last few weeks we have met our neighbors, and found copies of people we knew and loved in our previous Utah life. Have you ever met people like that? They are different individuals, with different nuances and traits, but they just flood you with the sense of a specific person, like a shadow of a friend you had in another place, at another time, giving a feeling of attachment that is immediate. I am not sure this phenom happens often, but it has been a bit of a gift for me.

A beloved recipe is like that. Each time you make it, it creates a different memory, but it has the same encompassing feeling. Chocolate Chip cookies will always remind me of days at my Mother’s knee learning how to level a dry measure of flour with the backside of a butter knife, and sneaking chocolate chips and tastes of cookie dough when I thought my Mother wasn’t looking. Now, as a Mother myself, I teach my daughter the same method of measuring flour, and have to smile to myself when she sneaks chocolate chips and pinches of cookie dough when she thinks I’m not looking. The place is different, the time is different, details and people are different, but the love and familiarity it embodies will always be the same.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup sucanat or brown sugar
1 cup coconut oil or butter, room temperature soft
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 1/4 cups of white whole wheat flour*
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sift dry ingredients together, set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar together.
Add vanilla and eggs.
Add flour mixture, and then gently mix in chocolate chips.
Drop by Tablespoonfuls an inch or two apart on a parchment or mat lined baking sheet.
Bake for 13 minutes.
Cool on cooling rack.

*any other flour will do, if you use all purpose or are at higher elevation add a few Tablespoons more.

udon noodle salad

One of my favorite things about living in the same town as my parents is that my father invites us over for dinner. A lot. His first love is my mother, but a close second is food. Telephone calls always begin with, “What have you eaten?” Gifts are nearly always food related. When he travels, sightseeing is based on where and what he wants to eat. He loves to discuss recipes he is testing and perfecting, and he will often tell me the compliments he receives from others while simultaneously confessing he’s not as good as they think (even thought he is every bit as talented as they say).  His only vice is that he is not a salad lover. The vegetables he does eat are often boiled to death or fried, and a salad is almost always an afterthought, graciously included for company. This salad is a love child of my father’s tastes, and his need for fresh food.

Udon Noodle Salad
serves 4

8 ounces dry udon noodles
Greens; swiss chard, spinach, baby kale, mesclun, etc
cilantro, stems discarded
1/2 red cabbage, the center cut out and thinly sliced
4-8 ounces tempeh, broken into bite size pieces
peanut sauce (recipe below)

Bring a pan of water to boil. Add dry noodles, stirring around and cooking until al dente. Remove and run under cool water. Remove excess water and place in a large bowl. Add a few spoonfuls of peanut sauce to the noodles, mixing around to coat.

Combine the greens, cilantro leaves, sliced cabbage, and tempeh into the noodles. Mix to coat, then plate and serve with a garnish of cilantro and a slice of lime.

Peanut Sauce
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 Tablespoons honey or agave
2 Tablespoons nama shoyu or dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons sweet chili sauce
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon japanese sesame oil
juice of half a lime
2 – 4 Tablespoons almond milk or water
handful of cilantro

Combine all ingredients into a blender or food processor. Process until well mixed and cilantro is chopped fine.

dry roasted muesli

Clear, brisk winter mornings. The type that leave frost paintings on your windows and the sky bleeds a deep bright blue. Near the lake, the fog covers everything through the morning hours and envelopes tree branches near the shore with a frost easily mistaken for fresh snow. The calm of a winter morning is like the stillness of ice. That has been our winter view, until very recently. I never thought I would be happier to see twenty and thirty degree highs.

muesli
6 cups pressed oats
1 cup pecans, whole
1 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds

Warm a skillet over medium high heat.

Toast the oats and seeds until golden. It is best to toast them separately as they each require varied amounts of time.

Combine everything in a bowl or jar and mix well. (Be sure that the germ and bran don’t settle, we scoop from the bottom for this reason.)

Serve with a handful of raisins or other dried fruit, a sprinkle of chia seeds, cut fresh fruit, a drizzle of honey or maple syrup, yogurt, and/or milk.

If your mornings are chilly, warm the muesli in the microwave for a few minutes, or over the stove top.

notes:
– This can also be sprinkled atop honeyed yogurt, baked fruit, or spring greens for a salad.

making pumpkin noodles

Cooking with children.

The first time I let my daughter bake with me, I didn’t anticipate how much longer it would take than usual before we enjoyed the first bite. I also didn’t realize the mess that would be left. Admittedly I had the end goal at the front of my mind rather than the journey.

A couple years later, we have made countless meals together. It has become natural for her to be at my side while cooking and baking, making her messes, tasting every ingredient, asking questions, and making suggestions (the more absurd the better). Now as I am preparing menus and meals, I consciously think of ways her little hands can help.

Though our meals aren’t always the most beautiful, they are ours.

pumpkin noodle dough

2 cups all purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 eggs

Combine flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour, add the eggs and pumpkin puree.

Mix with a wooden spoon or your hands until combined. Turn onto a floured surface, kneading until smooth. Add flour as necessary.

Let sit 10 to 20 minutes before rolling out to use in soups, pastas, etc.

maple cinnamon almonds and kettle corn

Some candied and spiced almonds mixed with our favorite candied popped corn in paper lined boxes for friends and neighbors. Our favorite part of the holidays is giving, even if it’s small.

maple cinnamon almonds

8 cups almonds, toasted
2 cups maple syrup
2 – 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoons salt

Layer the almonds on a large baking sheet, bake in oven (350 degrees Fahrenheit or so) until about ten minutes, stirring them around every few minutes.

In a saucepan on the stovetop, bring the maple syrup to a boil over medium heat. Let boil a few minutes, then add the cinnamon, salt and vanilla. After everything is well mixed, add the almonds, stirring to make sure they are evenly coated.

Cook until the maple syrup there is very little maple syrup left in the pan, continually stirring. It should take a few minutes. Spoon the almonds onto a sheet of wax or parchment paper on a heat resistant counter or table. Allow to cool completely.

stovetop kettle corn

a spoonful of coconut oil to cover the bottom of your pan
2 – 4 Tablespoons natural cane sugar
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
pinch of sea salt
kettle with a lid

Heat the oil in the pot over high heat until it “shimmers”. Add the kernels and stir them around a bit to cover evenly with the oil. When they begin to sizzle and the oil is bubbling around them add the sugar and stir again to evenly coat. Cover with the lid and grab your hot pads.

Let the corn pop, lifting and shaking around the kettle every so often to readjust and bring the unpopped kernels to the bottom of the pot. Be sure to hold that lid on tight! When the pops have a second or two between them, take the kettle off the heat, uncover, and carefully pour out the popped corn into a bowl. Sprinkle a little sea salt, mix with the candied almonds.

Enjoy!

gratitude and a no bake pumpkin pie

A few things I am especially grateful for this year..

Two beautiful, healthy, and happy children.
Four seasons to celebrate and eat.
Acquaintances who have become dear friends.
Learning more every year I attempt and fail at a garden.
Knowing that children go through common developmental stages, (it’s not actual craziness).
Having the strength and ability to bear and birth my children the way I wanted.
Trials I have suffered and fought through, altering who I am.
A loving and selfless husband who makes me laugh every day.
Relations who are the best sort of people.
Music to run, cook, bake, and dance to.
A true gospel.
coconut oil, my other religion.
Thoroughly celebrating Thanksgiving before decorating for Christmas.
Dessert.

It’s about the little things too.

no bake pumpkin pie

3 cups pumpkin puree
3/4 cup coconut oil, melted or soft
1/2 cup nut butter or coconut butter
1 cup maple syrup or 1/2 – 3/4 cup agave nectar or honey
1 Tablespoon cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
2 Teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

Have all ingredients at room temperature.

Combine all ingredients in a high speed blender and blend until smooth. Pour into prepared pie crust (recipe below).

Chill in refrigerator or freezer for one to two hours.

hazelnut and pecan pie crust

1 cup of filberts (hazelnuts), finely chopped
1 cup of pecans, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons maple syrup, agave nectar, or honey
2 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
dash of vanilla
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt

Combine chopped nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a bowl. Whisk together melted coconut oil, agave and vanilla, add to nut mixture. Press into a parchment lined 9 inch spring form pan.

Bake about 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or freeze.

If baked, allow to cool completely before adding pie filling.

apple molasses cookies

Martinmas.

The evening was spent telling stories of selflessness, walking the neighborhood with candlelit paper lanterns in the chill of early winter. Warming the hearts of others with paper packages of glittering cookies and a smile, in turn warming our own hearts. The warmth of winter is love.

apple molasses cookies
makes 6 dozen

1/2 cup butter or coconut oil, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup applesauce
2/3 cup molasses
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cup spelt or rye flour*
2 1/2 cup all purpose flour*
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
hearty pinches of allspice, nutmeg, and cardamom
2-4 Tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger (optional but so good)

1/3 cup sugar
1 packet apple cider mix

Cream the butter and sugars together until well combined. Add applesauce, molasses, eggs (one at a time), and vanilla.

Combine and sift the dry ingredients twice -flours, baking soda, spices, salt, and baking powder. Add the chopped ginger and assure they don’t clump together.

Carefully add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing until just combined, do not over mix.

Refrigerate dough for a couple hours until chilled.

Mix sugar and apple cider packet together in a small bowl, set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Shape dough into Tablespoon size balls, roll in apple cider sugar, bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet a minute before transferring to a cooling rack.

* the spelt and rye can both be substituted by unbleached all purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour equally.