Saturday, December 31, 2005

Cheers!


My Granola Girl and I enjoyed a bit of bubbly a couple of nights early (actually, that's the dandelion wine, but it's got a nice light fizz to it), so I thought I'd share with you.

Happy New Year to one and all!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Return of Pie in the Sky

When the dark days of winter linger before the light begins to lengthen the days once more, I tend to cook or bake cheering foods that remind me of bright sunlight.

And what could be a sunnier flavor than that of freshly squeezed oranges?

Perhaps that's why at this time of year I tend to rummage through the bags of fresh oranges sent by my Wonderful Parents in order to make Pie in the Sky.

I've mentioned before how this first original creation from my kitchen layers the flavors from orange peel, orange juice, and a special orange extract into a light but creamy and warming pie that astonishes and delights unsuspecting guests.

But before tonight, I had never before made it for the friend who inspired both the recipe and the short story I had written to introduce it. And since my Granola Girl had found the time to visit me over the holiday break, surely I could find the time to make "her" pie.

The pie itself, though loaded with a stunning burst of sunshiny flavor, has an unremarkable appearance straight out of the oven:


That brown, almost crusty topping (a little darker this time due to the use of Sucanat) doesn't look like anything special, does it? But once you've whipped the cream with an orange peel-infused sugar,


you cut the pie into generous slices so that you can see how the layers blend into one another ā€“ and top it with a heaping spoonful of that rich cream.


Described once as "a slice of sunshine topped with a dollop of cloud," Pie in the Sky remains a crowd-pleaser in my home.

And what did my Granola Girl think of "her" pie?

Amid the rapturous sighs and fluttering swoons (and I'm not exaggerating... well, maybe a little), she managed to murmur, "How lovely!" before taking another blissful bite.

And she readily agreed to take some of the leftovers home.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Yule Love This

It's Christmas Day, and I have at last finished the holiday baking (started two months ago) with the last two loaves of julekage.

While it hasn't been two months' worth of non-stop baking, I am glad to reach a resting point. It has been delightful to deliver homemade treats and to hear my friends' rapturous sighs and generous compliments, but now I'm more than happy to rest on my laurels for a little while.

I'll be quite content this week to wake up to the prospect of a cup of good green tea, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, and a couple of slices, toasted, from this beautiful loaf:


And once I've fortified myself for the day, I'll spend some time playing with my new toy: a digital camera. That's right, Dear Readers, you will now be able to enjoy pictures along with delectable recipes and succulent descriptions, thanks to the generosity of a couple of very precious friends. Their Christmas gift to me thus becomes my gift to you, and I hope you'll enjoy my budding efforts at food photography in coming months.

I have a list of dishes I'd like to cook for myself over break, but so far I've had no motivation to begin any of them. Never fear, though ā€“- when I do, I'll let you know (and see!) all about it.

But if you'll excuse me, Iā€™m off to play. (Aren't you?)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Bready or Not, Here Comes Christmas!

Christmas is two days away... can you hear the clock ticking?

Today is my last day at work for the year, so you may not see any posts here for a week and a half. (I am updating my laptop as I type, so there's a possibility I'll get a little more caught up at My Favorite Coffee House sometime next week... but don't hold your breath.)

And right now, I'm just itching to get through this day because tomorrow I start the final round of holiday baking: breads.

I'll be spending part of Christmas Day with my adorable boys, Beaker and Scooter, and along with the presents, cookies, baklava, and biscotti (for their dad, the Absent-Minded Professor) that I'll have in my pack (no, it's not red, and my coat is green, so you'll not mistake me for old Kris Kringle), I'll be packing good, wholesome yeast bread.

This family of mine (they're related not by blood but by spirit) loves good bread as much as I do, so along with a loaf of bread to go with dinner, I'll have a loaf of the traditional Norwegian Christmas bread, julekage.

A tender, enriched bread laced with cardamom and raisins, julekage makes for a simple but delicious treat, especially when toasted and well-buttered and served with fresh fruit and a good cup of something hot to drink. My Opera-Loving Friends introduced me to it when I visited them in Norway many years ago (they were on leave), and I found a recipe in order to make it for them when they came back.

Of course, come Boxing Day (the day after Christmas), I'll be trekking out again with a pack full of goodies, including julekage, for those Opera-Loving Friends and their family. After all, though I know my baking is not the reason their sons are heading down from Canada for the week, I also know that, like my local friends, these gentlemen wouldn't say no to the usual array of Christmas treats.

In short, it's time for me to head out to the kitchen again! After breads, I'll start in on my own cooking over break, stocking up on good, hearty, consoling meals (some of which I hope to stash in the freezer for later use) and cooking for company later in the week.

I'm sure I'll have more to tell later, and I do know that I will have a very special treat for all my Dear Readers in the New Year.

In the meantime, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah... whatever blessed holy days you celebrate... and may hope and peace fill your hearts with light at this darkest time of the year.

I wish you much joy, love, and good eating in the New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Nothing But the Tooth

True confession time, Dear Readers.

Part of the reason I haven't been indulging in too many sweets (even my own!) this holiday season is that I learned before Thanksgiving that I have my first cavity ever and needed to have a filling made.

Never having had a cavity before, you may imagine the horror struck into my heart at that news... and the blow to my precious pride. Oh, the humanity!

(Let me drop the drama for a moment to say that I am fully aware... and enormously grateful... that if a mere cavity is the extent of trauma in my life, I'm blessed. I truly am. Still, I couldn't pass up the humor in this situation and not post about it to all of you.)

I admit it. I'm a wimp. A wuss. A baby. And I was not looking forward to this dental adventure with anything but fretfulness.

But thanks to a skillful dentist with a light touch... as well as to my new friend, Nitrous Oxide, which left me completely indifferent and blissed out, gurgling contentedly to myself while the work progressed... I emerged from the ordeal largely unscathed and actually pretty pleased overall.

I almost (almost) regretted not bringing some baklava for the man (but really, what does one give to someone who has just wielded a laser in your mouth?).

So how does one celebrate surviving such an event? After all, I'm pretty good at celebrating firsts these days.

Well, my Dear Readers, I did what any normal kid at heart would do:

I went home, curled up in front of the VCR (let's give it up for Monty Python!), and ate some of my Fabulous Aunt's cookies.

And I didn't brush my teeth for a good hour afterward.

(I know... living on the edge there!)

To top it off, I toasted my newly fixed-up tooth with a tipple of dandelion wine in the evening. (Better than champagne!)

I can laugh at myself now, of course, and could even beforehand... but I am glad that's over with and that it went so well.

And now... let the holiday munchies begin in earnest!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sweets to the Sweet

I returned home for lunch yesterday to discover a stack of boxes on my front step.

Well, two boxes, stacked up, both from my Fabulous Aunt.

So after a quick lunch, I opened the boxes and pulled out several small Christmas gifts as well as about 3-4 dozen buckeyes, 3-4 dozen caramels, a quart of party mix, and two plastic tubs full of I don't know how many kinds of cookies.

Wow.

Of course, the Quality Control Checks had to be begun in earnest, so I sampled a buckeye, a thumbprint cookie, and a truffle square to round out my lunch. I'm happy to report that thus far, my Fabulous Aunt's confections live up to their usual high standards of quality and lusciousness.

I have plenty to share and will be packing up some goodies to save for those people who are away for the holidays, because I certainly can't eat all that! (Though, given enough time, I probably could... especially those yummy buckeyes...)

You see where I get it from, this love of baking?

That's probably the sweetest gift of all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Simple Gifts

It's good to be the Baklava Queen. Really.

Not only do I have some wonderful, enthusiastic friends who clamor for the chance to dine at my table or who beg for boxes of home-baked goodies... and who then pile high the lavish compliments!... but those same wonderful, enthusiastic, food-loving friends also treat me right.

How? By giving me wonderful food-related gifts, of course!

So far this Christmas I've received another 1/4 bushel of fresh Florida navel oranges from my Wonderful Parents... as well as a surprise box from Adagio Teas, courtesy of The Gentleman.

Now, let the record show that the Gentleman received not one, but two boxes for Christmas this year. It's not that he was especially good (he never is), it's just that the baklava didn't fit into the original box with his presents and the other goodies. And since the Gentleman is one of the biggest fans of my baklava, I couldn't not send him any, so I packed up a second, smaller box with a generous package of his favorite pastry.

In return, I received a lovely sampler collection of tiny tea tins containing three different green teas and a fragrant chamomile, along with a sturdy little tea press that should be just perfect for brewing some loose tea here in the office. Very handy!

And to top that off, after yesterday's delivery of fresh baked goods to my lovely colleague, She-Who-Brings-Fresh-Donuts, this morning she brought me... no surprises here... fresh donuts to share with my boss. Oh, darn!

I think I could be quite content with all food-related gifts this year!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Sweet Relief

Six more days until Christmas.

The ginger-molasses cookies have all been distributed, along with the chai spice shortbread and the cranberry-orange biscotti.

The third and final batch of sunshine cookies was made on Saturday, and all but about half a dozen of them have been packed away in tins for local friends or imminent guests.

The last pan of baklava was baked yesterday afternoon, and after wrapping up pieces and adding them to the aforementioned tins (some of which came into work with me this morning for a few special colleagues), I have only seven pieces left. (I'd offer them to all of you, but I'm worried I might have forgotten someone.)

The egg nog is all gone. Whew! But what a blissful treat!

In short, all of the sweets I wanted to bake for Christmas are done and distributed, and I am keeping almost nothing for myself because my sweet tooth is pretty well done in. (Didn't take much this year, because I had on average two samples from each batch!)

Christmas breads are still to come, to be made just before my Christmas Day visits, but for now I can breathe easy.

Anyone want the rest of my cookies?

(NOTE: Lest you think me a hopeless case not worthy of anyone else's fabulous holiday baking, I must add that I am, in fact, eagerly anticipating a box from my Fabulous Aunt containing her legendary buckeyes, caramels, Russian teacakes, and other goodies... as well as my cookie swap box from Dear Reader Tina.

But I'm also happy to wait a few days to get said goodies!)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Brunch Bunch

Instead of throwing a lavish holiday buffet for the usual crowd this year, I talked with Phoenix and decided to host a simple Sunday brunch for her and Mr. Nice Guy. After all, they've enjoyed brunch with me before, and though I often share muffins and scones with them at work, they haven't yet had the chance to try many of my favorite breakfast foods.

In keeping the menu simple, I stuck to just two recipes: confetti pancakes, a nice substitute for latkes, and my favorite date-pecan coffee cake. I especially like the coffee cake -- and Phoenix was especially eager to try it -- because it's vegan, yet uses no soy ingredients and still turns out moist, light, and incredibly delicious.

It takes time to make, though, so I pulled it all together yesterday afternoon, step by step. First, I simmered some dates from my Wonderful Parents, then mashed them together with spiced pecans for the filling. Next, I whipped up an easy streusel with more pecans, flour, maple sugar, spices, and just a drizzling of oil. Finally, I mixed the cake, which uses baking powder, baking soda, and just a splash of vinegar to give it its leavening power.

Layered together -- cake, filling, cake, streusel -- this recipe rises into a glorious, spicy, nutty, satisfying addition to the breakfast table (or your dessert plate!).

Added to those two dishes were the freshly squeezed orange juice (nine oranges! which then turned into this year's candied orange peel) and a pot of hearty Scottish breakfast tea, so I think it's fair to say that we had a well-balanced and fairly healthy meal that tasted wonderfully decadent.

Certainly my guests were satisfied and thankful for the meal since they offered to do the dishes for me! (You see why they get invited so often.)

So much good food, so much less fuss, so much more relaxed conversation with friends.

Yes, I think the Brunch Bunch will meet again in the coming year!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

With a Nog and a Wink

I had a list when I visited both the grocery store and the co-op this morning, with no apparent need or desire to add anything to my selections.

But after I picked up my whole grain pasta and organic sugar at the co-op, I idly wandered over to the refrigerated case. And what should catch my eye but the new, seasonal item on the milk shelf:

Egg nog from the local dairy.

Normally I hold out for the soy "egg" nog at this time of year since it's lighter but still delicious. It's been ages since I had the real deal, and knowing the high quality (and butterfat content) of this dairy's ice cream, I knew this egg nog would be very rich and creamy.

Frozen for a split second by the indecision, the conflict between good sense and longing, I stared at the quart-sized glass bottle until I reached the tipping point.

It is locally produced, after all, and you know how I feel about that.

Yes, that bottle returned home with me, and the small sample dusted with nutmeg that served as my dessert tonight proved to be every bit as rich, creamy, and luscious as I had expected.

I won't be drinking this every night, of course, but it will surely be a delightful nightcap when I do.

Local tastes good... really good.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Slowing Down

It's been a while since I hauled out my trusty slow cooker, but I decided that yesterday was the time to use it along with some of the vegetable stock I made last weekend.

I found a recipe for a Santa Fe Sweet Potato Soup in my book of vegetarian slow cooker recipes, and since I had all the ingredients on hand -- and I love sweet potatoes -- I thought I'd give it a try and have something warm and comforting waiting for me after work.

Before work, I minced the garlic and onions (both local and organic, from the farmers' market... I love how long this stuff lasts!) and sauteed them in olive oil with some dried oregano and salt. Those went into the cooker along with peeled and chopped sweet potatoes (also local and organic), a dried chile pepper (courtesy of my folks from last winter's sojourn in Arizona), and the vegetable stock. I set the cooker to low and headed off to work in the bitter cold.

When I returned home, I was greeted by the fragrant aroma of cooked sweet potatoes and onions... so satisfying! My handy immersion blender did the trick of pureeing the soup into a thick, creamy consistency before I added some thawed corn kernels (local and organic again!) and a splash of lime juice and let it simmer some more.

As the soup finished cooking, I made half a batch of millet pancakes and steamed the last of the kale to go with dinner. The array of colors and textures turned out to be very pleasing, and the fall flavors all came together perfectly.

Later, as the snow started to fall steadily, I needed only a couple of sunshine cookies and a cup of sweet dreams tea to lull me into a state of blissful satiety and contentment.

As the semester winds down and we draw closer to the end of the year, I find I'm resisting the frenzied pull of holiday preparations and activities. I just want to slow down, take my time, and appreciate life as it comes. And along with that, I want to have (and to take the time to make) nourishing meals loaded with good fall vegetables and hearty grains to keep me healthy and happy.

I suspect my slow cooker is going to get a workout this winter, and I'm looking forward to trying some new recipes with it. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, give yourself a break, too... slow down... and enjoy!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Headin' Out to the Foodshed

Local agriculture is getting some good press and more supporters these days!

I missed picking up last week's local paper (the weekly, not the daily) but grabbed the last copy yesterday when I saw the front page article "Chefs, Local Growers Find Niche in Ohio Agriculture." Not only is the local Bistro supporting local growers, but other area restaurants (especially in the big cities) are finding it worthwhile to buy locally. And consumers are expressing support, too:

The 2004 Ohio Survey, conducted by Jeff Sharp and Molly Bean Smith from Ohio State's Department of Human and Community Resource Development, found that 59 percent of the nearly 2,000 respondents said they would be willing to pay at least 10 percent more for foods grown locally.

Wondering who in the area serves some of that farm-fresh goodness? The Central Ohio Chef-Grower Network offers that information (though the site is still under construction). I doubt this is a completely comprehensive list, or else my area isn't considered "central," but it's a start!

I've also ventured into the links on other blogs and come across the food blogs of a couple of other local foods advocates: Cookin' in the 'Cuse (Syracuse, NY) and Life Begins at 30 (the San Francisco Bay area, CA). Wouldn't you love to read more about the raptures of local foods? (And if any of you Dear Readers find similar local-food blogs, will you share?)

Those sites then led me to a wonderful project called Locavores, a "group of concerned culinary adventurers who are making an effort to eat only foods grown or harvested within a 100 mile radius of San Francisco for an entire month." An ambitious project, but one that can be done well in an area of abundant small farms and farmers' markets. They have opened the door to encourage others to make the same attempt in their own foodsheds, offering additional information as to why it's better to eat locally.

Given what I've learned this year about what is available just through the local farmers' market, I'm leaning toward giving this one-month-of-local-foods a try in the coming year. (It's probably foolish to try it in the depth of winter as my stores run out!) After all, a 100-mile radius for me encompasses most of Ohio, including some rich farmlands and abundant farmers' markets. So in coming weeks, I'll be looking through my cupboards to figure out what's there, what gets used, and what I need to try and find locally. (Inspiration continues to come from the Tyee's series on the Hundred-Mile Diet, with "With the Grain" being the latest.) Perhaps I'll even contact some of my far-flung friends to work out swaps of locally-produced foods where either of us have a local lack.

This is likely to lead to further changes in my eating habits... all for the better, I would hope! But I'll keep you posted as my adventure progresses. And by all means, if you're willing to give it a try, too, let me know and share your experiences with us all!

And I'll meet you out behind the foodshed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Time for More Layers!

Baby, it's cold outside!

I know, it's only early December, and chances are, it's going to get a lot colder than the single digits at some point. But BRRRRRRRRR! I left the house this morning wearing two pairs of socks inside my boots, two pairs of pants, two sweaters, two scarves, two hats for crying out loud, two pairs of gloves, and one heck of a heavy wool coat. (Nope, no partridges in pear trees.) And still I was cold!

Welcome to Winter!

But adding on extra layers isn't a bad thing, especially when those extra layers happen to be made of whole wheat filo dough, brushed with organic butter and layered with local walnuts and local-to-a-friend pecans.

Yes, it's time once again for my signature holiday baking delight, baklava!

All those nuts I've been shelling recently came in handy last evening as I turned to the last recipe in this round of holiday baking, because I used up all of the walnuts I had shelled to date (about 1 1/2 c) and an equal amount of fresh pecans to make two layers of spice-tossed nuts in between all those light, flaky sheets of filo.

After the whole confection baked, I added the traditional honey syrup (using some of that wonderful local honey from the farmers' market along with organic cane juice crystals, fresh lemon juice, and water) while the pastry was still hot, causing the syrup to hiss and bubble merrily.

And once the pan had cooled, back to the kitchen I went to cut and wrap up almost every last piece to pack into gift boxes (to be shipped to friends today) and small containers or bags (for friends here). I did sample one small piece (the piece that fell apart when I took it from the pan), and I'm happy to report that the usual standards of quality and flavor have been met, if not surpassed.

I know I'll be making more, perhaps next week, and I'd like to try a small batch that works in some organic pistachios and that uses a traditional Turkish recipe for the syrup (using rosewater instead of honey and lemon).

In the meantime, I'm happy to share the majority of this batch with friends, and I hope you'll all enjoy it as much as I did.

Guess it's time to layer again for that cold walk to the post office!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Eat Your Veggies (If You Can Get 'Em)

It's wonderful to be able to go to the grocery store and have your pick of a wide selection of fruits and vegetables. Right?

In his latest post to the Gristmill blog, one of my new heroes, Tom Philpott, brings us up to date on the farm labor crisis in vegetable farming... and what this could mean:

"The End of U. S. Vegetable Farming?"

Do you still need a reason to eat local foods?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sun and C

I came home from work today, ready to tackle the last batch of cookies for this round of holiday baking: sunshine cookies.

I warmed up the oven with a quick batch of cinnamon-orange pecans while I mixed the cookie dough, and as I started to roll out the dough, the phone rang.

The Gentleman has been sick this past week with a sore throat and an ear infection, but he's doing better now, thank you, and was ready to chat again. So as I cut out the cookies and sprinkled them with the orange-infused sugar, we caught up from the events of the past week, including the usual friendly insults and jokes.

I did allow that as he was being nice and was still somewhat pathetic from his illness, I might be persuaded to send him some of the cookies. After all, with that fresh orange peel, there's bound to be plenty of vitamin C in each cookie, right? (I know, it's a stretch.) So I could send him a few samples, strictly for medicinal purposes, and that seemed to please him.

(I didn't mention that I'd be sending samples of all the other cookies recently baked... I try not to let him feel too privileged or deserving.)

Half an hour later, I hung up the phone and took the last batch of cookies out of the oven, finally ready to switch over to making dinner. I do enjoy company when I bake, though nowadays that company is usually found in phone conversations with the fair Titania, my Granola Girl, or the Gentleman. It seems appropriate, since I'll be
sharing the baked goods anyway, to share the time spent making them, too.

Later in the evening I packed up cookies and tucked them into boxes of presents, saving just enough room for the last treat to be baked. I sometimes think I enjoy this part of baking the best: the giveaway, since I can imagine the delighted smiles on my friends' faces when they open their packages.

There's a little sunshine in every box.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Cookie Hooky

Regular chores are falling by the wayside this weekend as I try to push ahead on my holiday cookie-baking.

On Friday evening, I whipped up a batch of chai spice shortbread, all buttery and crisp and packed with cardamom and ginger flavor. They smelled wonderfully fragrant as they came out of the oven, but I resisted sampling them since I ended up with a small batch that has to be divided between five boxes for faraway friends and at least three local people, if not more.

This morning, I baked a batch of cranberry-orange biscotti right after breakfast, filling the house with good scents to start the day off right. I ground some of the dried peels from the oranges my Wonderful Parents brought me recently, and I filled another jar with the rest of the ground peel for future baking.

I had hoped to make another batch of sunshine cookies this weekend as well, but with other events on the calendar (a memorial service for a beloved member of the campus community, a superb brass concert, and an opera matinee), I think they'll have to wait until tomorrow evening.

I may make more cookies later in the month, but I suspect that these, along with the ginger-pecan biscotti and ginger-molasses cookies will suffice for now. (Well, those and the first batch of baklava, still to come.) And because I'll probably make more later, I doubt I'll save any for myself. (No, that's not willpower -- that's overload!)

For those of you who might be expecting boxes from me, I hope to send them out mid-week so that they arrive by the weekend, but I'll let you know for sure when I get them in the mail.

Just don't eat them all at once, okay?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Year in Food

It's been one whole year since I started this journal to share my love of food and cooking with others. And what a year it's been!

Having grown up surrounded by teachers in my family, I learned early on that you never stop learning until the day you die. So when I come to year's end, I tend to look back and think of what I've learned from my experiences in order to see where I might be headed next.

What have I learned, then, from keeping and sharing this journal with you?

1. It's pretty darn difficult to keep coming up with posts sometimes, especially when I haven't been cooking much. But, as with my yoga practice, sometimes just continuing to "show up" helps me regain my focus, and that discipline does help me stop and appreciate what I'm doing.

2. On a related note, I've found I apparently have an unlimited supply of food puns. Let the groaning commence!

3. I will never be one of the "celebrity" food bloggers, like Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini. I haven't got a digital camera to add photos, I don't have a fancy web design, I don't have a new recipe every day, and I will never have the same kind of traffic on my site. I didn't start this blog with fame as a conscious goal, but being human, I realized that I did sort of want that attention. Now I find I'm much happier keeping this a fairly simple blog that only a handful of people visit, and I truly appreciate the thoughtful comments from my regular Dear Readers.

4. I've reached a point in my skill level where I've gone beyond just tweaking recipes to creating entirely new recipes (well, spin-offs of old ones). Some of these new recipes have been inspired by the other writing I've done this year, and I have been blessed with some very willing taste testers who also helped me critique and improve the recipes. (Big thanks to Spicyflower here!) It astonishes me that I've reached this point in my cooking, and it opens up wonderful realms of possibility.

5. I've tried to learn more about techniques this year so that I can continue creating new recipes. After all, once you know how to make a basic gratin or jam, the possibilities are endless!

6. My reading has led me to think more about general food production and its impact on the environment. I've mused at length about the need to support local food production (especially at the farmers' market) as well as to choose organic produce -- and how to balance the two. I think that, more than anything else, this constant awareness has changed how I eat, both in quantity and quality. And I feel much happier and healthier for it.

7. The other big change in my eating and cooking habits has come from my Granola Girl, who inspired me to move away from using highly refined sugars to baking with sweeteners such as Sucanat, maple sugar, local honey, and local maple syrup. I'm finding that it's helping me use sugar and sweeteners less -- and in a family where diabetes has been a regular problem, that's a good move for me to make.

8. Everything tastes so much better when shared with friends. I knew that already, but it's become even more obvious as I've shared stories from the Dinner Club or other adventures.

9. And speaking of friends, I'm grateful for the new friends I've made and the old friendships that have been strengthened through this sharing of culinary wit and wisdom. I continue to learn from all of you, whether you realize it or not, and I thank you for it.

10. Finally, I have learned what I'm sure generations of cooks before me learned: you learn more and develop your own skills more when you begin to teach and share your knowledge with another person. I am truly blessed to have such a willing, wonderful, and fun "apprentice" in Phoenix, because our cooking lessons have pushed me to think and learn more, to seek out answers, and to try new things. And the joy of seeing someone else share my enthusiasm for good food, from the garden to the plate, is indescribable -- though I'm sure that any parent or teacher knows it well.

So much learned from what seemed like an idle "scribbling" about my annual holiday party when I first began!

Since I've looked back, it only seems right to look forward and dream a little more about what I'd like to do in the coming year. Here's my wish list:

--try drying vegetables for winter storage
--learn how to make pasta
--explore solar cooking
--make new herbal tea blends
--grow other heirloom vegetables (like beans!)
--support the local farmers' market even more
--memorize a few more basic recipes so that I can experiment further
--simplify, simplify!

But above all, I hope to keep sharing these adventures with you and being inspired by you in turn.

Will you join me?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Beam Me Up, Biscotti

I finally had a free evening last night in which I felt rested enough to tackle holiday baking again, so I pulled out the recipe for my longtime favorite, ginger-pecan biscotti.

Of all the biscotti I've made... and I've tried quite a number of recipes... this remains my favorite of the bunch, probably because even though it goes through the double baking that all biscotti experience, it still remains not too hard and tooth-crushing.

And all that ginger flavor! Well, how can I resist?

Otherwise, I find I'm growing less and less fond of biscotti, strangely enough, even though some of my friends still look forward to the holidays when they know they will get a tin of two or three kinds of biscotti from me. (One friend, the Absent-Minded Professor, gets a tin all his own that he doesn't have to share with his wife. He'll eat them straight, half a dozen at a time, with no dunking, while she just shakes her head and eats "his" piece of baklava. It works.)

Since I didn't get a head start on biscotti over the Thanksgiving weekend, I decided it was time last night, so I pulled out all the ingredients and mixed up with whole wheat dough laced with oatmeal, maple sugar, and two kinds of ginger (ground and crystallized), along with almost 2 cups of chopped, freshly shelled pecans from my Wonderful Parents. Add some butter, eggs, and vanilla, and you end up with a slightly crumbly dough that yields a couple of medium-sized logs for the first round of baking and a couple dozen small biscotti after the second baking.

I resisted sampling one of the cookies last night, though I saved up all the crumbs from the cutting and noshed on them for breakfast this morning with some cold cider and hot tea. It seems a smaller batch than usual, so I will have to ration the biscotti carefully when I pack up presents and cookie boxes this weekend or early next week.

Or, I'll have to make some more.