Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bri Spirit

Among the joys I've found in writing this blog (as well as for the Ethicurean) and hearing from you Dear Readers has been making new friendly "almost-neighbors." (I like Kelly's term because it somehow feels strange to call people I've never met in person "friends" -- yet something akin to that bond of friendship does exist in this geographically-widespread community called the Internet.)

One of these dear new "almost-neighbors" is the ever-enthusiastic and charming Briana Brownlow of Figs with Bri. In just a few short months, Bri has become like a sister to me, sharing my delights in cooking, in ingredients, and in life. Her kindness and gratitude never fail to bring sunshine to my day.

Unfortunately, dear Bri announced recently that a difficult illness of hers proved to be a recurrence of the cancer she had struggled with before. It's devastating news, and I figure that if I, who know her so little in comparison, feel so distraught over this blow, the pain and questions and frustration and host of other emotions that she and her family must feel must be overwhelming.

There's not really anything I can do to help, and there probably seems to be no point in me going on about this on my own blog. But Bri, though relatively new to food blogging (under a year), has provided a quiet but shining example of excellent food writing and photography (with the sterling support and work from her husband Marc), and if you haven't visited her site through the link on the side of this page, I encourage you to do so. You'll find yourself uplifted in no time.

As for me, I'm planning to make shahi paneer tonight, one of my favorite dishes and one that makes me think of Bri since I shared with her my paneer recipe some time back. (Granted, I'm planning on making a vegan version, replacing the paneer with tofu, but I'm also going to use local produce from my pantry and I'm making it as a test recipe for other friends with health problems.)

And when I sit down to dinner tonight, I'll lift a fork to Bri. She's off in search of possible healing treatments, and I don't expect she'll read this, but I'm hoping that just sending a little extra good thought and energy her way will do some good for someone. If her family is hoping to "honor her spirit by fixing delicious organic meals" as she would, then I figure I can do the same.

If you're so inclined, won't you join us?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Stickin' to My Buns

In all the bread-baking lessons I've given the Renaissance Man so far, I've let him do very little of the actual work.

Why? Maybe I'm just a control freak in the kitchen and have to do it all myself, or maybe I'm just too used to cooking on my own wavelength instead of adapting to someone else's speed (like I used to do when the fair Titania and the lovely Phoenix were around to cook with me).

Whatever the reason for my previous reluctance, I determined that the next time we baked bread together, I would make sure that he got his chance for some hands-on education.

He got that chance today.

In making cinnamon rolls a little while back, he expressed interest in making "sticky buns" at some point in the near future. I'm not a big fan of sticky buns that are so sticky and caramel-laden that your mouth feels like it's being glued shut, but I did remember a delectable recipe for pecan rolls in the Tassajara Bread Book that I thought would satisfy us both.

Well, I didn't take that book with me when we headed into the kitchen, but he still had my copy of Uprisings sitting around, so we took the same cinnamon roll recipe and adapted it to make the pecan rolls.

After making him mix the sweet roll dough while I added ingredients, I nudged him ever so firmly toward the bread board and encouraged him to knead the dough. While his technique differs slightly from mine, it proved more than effective because he ended up with a firm but tender ball of dough that we let rise on the board.

I whipped up the filling -- doubling the amount of butter, substituting some brown sugar for half the honey, and adding a lot of cinnamon -- and once he had rolled out the dough, he smeared the filling over it in a thin layer before rolling it all up into a tight log. (For a beginner, he's really very good!)

In the meantime, I covered a greased baking pan with thin slices of butter, a generous sprinkling of brown sugar, and handfuls of chopped pecans. As he sliced the roll of dough, I set each roll on top of the mixture, nestling them all together cozily.

Half an hour or so later, we slid the plumped-up rolls into the oven and waited for that seductive fragrance to lure us back for the finished product.

And oh, my, was it ever worth the wait! While they could have used more butter on the bottom of the pan for just a touch more stickiness, they certainly had plenty of sugar and pecans to make anyone hungry.

Dare I confess it? We ended up eating warm, fresh "sticky bun" pecan rolls for dinner. Nothing else -- no vegetables, no fruit, nothing. And we were so, so happy.

I told the Renaissance Man in no uncertain terms that I was very proud of his first solo outing as a bread baker -- and that I expected him to make more again soon.

And you'd better believe I'm stickin' to my guns on that.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dig In, Everyone!

At the beginning of the week, the wonderful friend who is hosting my Victory Garden let me know that he had finished filling the garden bed with the soil and compost -- as well as laid out a second bed for me to use -- and I could start planting seeds whenever I was ready.

Oh, happy day! So I headed over after work today, seed packets clutched in my fist, and got to work.

I was pleased to find the neat stone paths dividing the plots as I had requested, and though they look narrow, they were easy to traverse as I put in rows of black garbanzo beans, carrots, lettuce, and selected herbs. So far I've only planted in the near left two sections of the main bed as I'm saving other beans and herbs, plus melons and kales, for later planting.

With the help of my Adorable Nephews, I also managed to plant several short rows in the other bed (in back of the main bed) with amaranth, Chinese broccoli, pac choi (Beaker's favorite to say), more beans and lettuce, and a sprinkling of other herbs. There's still room there for more, so I'll save some of the later seeds for that bed, too.

Once the seeds had been tucked under the soil, the boys helped me sprinkle some ground eggshells (the white line) over a row of carrots to keep some bugs away, and they gleefully dumped bucket after bucket of water on the areas we had planted. (Yes, they did have to be stopped after a certain point.)

Once the new beds had been tended, I checked on the first bed, near the deck, and discovered a faint row of fringe where I had planted the first of the Jaune du Doubs yellow carrots.

The first row of lettuce looked sweet and sprightly as well, hinting at a later need to thin the seedlings. (Hungry for salad yet? I am!)

The fava bean seedlings, looking small and tender last week, looked a lot more sturdy today, so I feel certain they will grow up big and strong and productive. How exciting to see so much growth already!

There's still a lot to be done, of course, and the work on the garden is only just beginning. But what a treat to see something green and to get my fingernails black with good honest soil!

Hope you're all getting a chance to dig in to your own gardens, too!


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wining About the Lawn?

Since I had the chance to visit the farm again this past weekend, I made an effort to get out before the rain and forage a little more local edibles. Tempting though it was to pick more chickweed -- and excited as I was to find other wild edibles coming into view (like May apples and wild raspberries) -- I stuck with my old friend the dandelion.

Surprisingly, the vast expanses of grass behind the house were only lightly speckled with the golden blossoms, so I suspect it was still just a little too early for a bumper crop of dandelion flowers. But I took my quart jar and headed out to pick what I could, plucking off the bitter green base of the blossoms and tossing the petals into the jar.

Once I had tired of picking (and the sprinkles began, causing what few blooms remained to withdraw into themselves), I carried the jar back inside and topped the petals off with plenty of sugar.

If you're wondering about that other jar, well, my copy of The Dandelion Celebration indicated that the unopened buds could be picked as well and pickled, so I thought I'd give that a try, too. Granted, that means fewer blossoms will open this year, but as I don't expect to get back to the farm before the crop dwindles again, I'm not heartbroken.

Since I didn't have all of the ingredients for dandelion wine with me at the farm, I let the blossoms sit covered with the sugar until I got back home. Last night, then, I added the boiling water needed to dissolve the sugar, followed by the yeast (for the fizziness) and the lemon and orange juices (for extra flavor) and let it bubble away overnight.

Tonight I strained the liquid, catching the blossoms and remaining yeast in muslin (and adding them to the compost). The liquid needs to rest another three days before I strain it again, and then it will require a few months before it's ready for the final strain and bottling. This is not a work-intensive process (aside from the picking), but it does call for a good dose of patience.

While I would have liked to have made a larger batch of wine, I have to be realistic: there's just too much going on this month to warrant spending huge amounts of time on one project like this. So, once this brew is ready for the bottle, I'll just have to savor it in small sips until I have the chance to make more.

I might look out at the grass with a wistful expression, but it's not because I want to eliminate the dandelions...

I just want to cook with them all!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hello Muddah, Hello Fava

The temperatures have been so deliciously warm the latter part of this week, I've been itching to get out and get the Victory Garden started. And this morning, it was time.

The Absent-Minded Professor, bless his heart, has been hard at work laying the stones for a retaining wall around the garden plot (to keep beans and melons and tomatoes from sliding down the hill), and he was out early, digging the bed and working in some of the soil he had bought and the compost I had bought. (You might think that one of my Adorable Nephews had been helping him, given the added equipment in the garden, but no...)

That may look like way more than we would need in the stone-lined bed, but since the bed size had to be scaled back due to the topographic limitations, the AMP promised to use the leftover soil and compost mix to build a second bed nearby for the rest of the vegetables. Not only that, he was happy to do all the shoveling and hauling by himself -- what a guy! (I so owe him a loaf of bread -- or three.)

Once he gets that all sorted out, I'll be ready to plant the April seeds -- later this week, I hope -- with the tomatoes and melons and later seeds to be sown in May.

While there, I checked on my early seeds and found not only a few thin seedlings from the row of carrots but also a few sprouts from the fava beans. Yippee! It's such a treat to see things starting to green up, and I'm getting hungry already, just thinking about all the good produce I'll have to harvest this summer.

I still have plenty of other prep work to do in the garden(s), but I'm so excited to start seeing some progress.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fine and Dandelion

A few years ago, the lovely Phoenix introduced me to a book called The Dandelion Celebration, loaded with nutritional information about and recipes for the most common wildflower in the neighborhood. (That's wildflower, not weed. Got it?)

I came across it again this winter at the local used book store, and I decided to take it home with me. Turns out the author of the book is a fellow Ohioan, a scholar in the field of food as medicine, particularly wild edibles. And as I thumbed through the pages, I realized that I had many more possibilities for devouring spring's first edible offerings than just dandelion wine (wonderful though it may be).

So on my visit to the farm this past weekend, I decided I'd look around and see if I could forage any dandelion greens -- not to mention to look for buds to see how long I might have to wait to gather blossoms. I found plenty of tender greens poking up here and there, and some of the larger plants already had one or more plump flower buds nestled into the crown. A bumper crop!

Knife in hand, I walked along the lane behind the house and stopped periodically, stooping to cut a bunch of greens from a young plant and tossing the greens into the colander. I worked until I had a full container, and then I headed back into the house to warm up and wash the greens.

After washing them, I dropped them in a steamer basket and steamed them until they were limp, then dumped them back into the colander and finished the blanching process with a thorough dousing in cold water. I decided to take this approach with the greens because I knew I wouldn't really have a chance to experiment with the freshly-cut leaves there at the farm, and I had plenty of recipes for cooked greens that I wanted to try. So I squeezed out the water and packed the greens into a plastic bag to take home. (Ah yes, farm take-out... there's nothing like it.)

The greens sat in my refrigerator, a little forlorn, until this evening, when I knew I wanted a quick, comforting meal. I had had visions of an omelet with dandelion greens, but I've never been able to flip a perfect omelet to save my life, so I downscaled that vision a bit.

I browned potato slices in my big skillet, and when they had become satisfyingly crisp, I added minced garlic, a handful of greens, salt, pepper, and a splash of black raspberry vinegar. Once that had cooked a bit, I threw in a mixture of three eggs beaten with milk and scrambled it all together.

I made a lot more than what's pictured, of course, being a hearty eater of such comfort food. But the Renaissance Man came by to share dinner, and I forgot to pull out the camera until he had his portion half eaten. ("It tasted like something was missing!" he teased when I reached for the camera. "It doesn't have all the nutrition if you don't take a picture!")

Joking aside, though, he agreed with me that the dandelion greens tasted great in this combination, with none of the bitterness I've usually experienced in eating them raw or simply sautéed.

Now, of course, I still have more greens to use up, so I'll have to try some other recipes. Somehow I suspect they might work well in a substantial soup or in an Indian dish (replacing spinach), and if I find a little more time this week, I'll test one of those thoughts.

And that's just fine and dandy by me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Forage Change of Pace

Despite the cooler weather this weekend, spring has definitely made an appearance with the return of golden daffodil and forsythia blossoms. And as the grass greens up once more, I long to do the same with my dinner plate.

Unfortunately, I still haven't had a chance to plant my Victory Garden since March's snowstorms set our preparation schedule behind, and my windowsill pots have been sorely neglected of late, leaving me with a handful of unthinned, small-leaved leggy seedlings.

But never fear... Spring has a way of providing good, fresh, nutritious greens where you least expect it. And while I visited the farm this weekend, I went out rambling and spotted a few places where I could forage some wild edible plants (otherwise known as weeds).

I've had my eye on the farm as a potential source of dandelions for dandelion wine this year. They're not blooming yet, so I wasn't able to harvest blossoms, but I did manage to pick lots of greens (and I'll write up a separate post about that once I've been able to use them).

I also lucked out in finding a couple of thick patches of chickweed, a wild edible I've never tried harvesting before. It wasn't much of a picnic to bend over in the pelting sleet to pick this creeping plant, but I ended up with a large storage bag filled with greens from my efforts.

Like other wild edibles, chickweed has an astounding bounty of vitamins (especially C) and minerals, and it has medicinal uses as well as culinary. And though chickweed makes a great addition to spring salads, I found myself remembering Ed's tribute to chickweed pesto over at The Slow Cook and knew I wanted to make that instead.

Intrigued by my enthusiasm for the weeds outside the barn, the Renaissance Man willingly allowed me to store my find in his refrigerator upon our return home as well as to take over his kitchen this evening in order to make the pesto.

As with basil pesto, the chickweed combines with garlic, olive oil, nuts (walnuts in this case), a bit of Parmesan cheese, and a sprinkling of pepper. After a quick buzz in the food processor, all the ingredients turned into a sharply fragrant thick sauce -- perfect! (And unlike basil pesto, it didn't lose its fresh green color after a bit of time!)

I tossed the pesto into some cooked whole wheat spaghetti and added just a few oven-dried tomatoes for color, and in almost no time, we had a simple but incredibly satisfying and fresh-tasting meal. I was taken by the tang of the chickweed holding its own against the pungent garlic, and I think the Renaissance Man really enjoyed knowing that weeds could taste so good.

Since I only managed to use about a third of the greens I had picked, I'll need to spend more time tomorrow or later this week in cleaning the rest of the chickweed (a very fussy task, but well worth it) and enjoying it in a salad or more pesto. (I'm leaning toward the latter.) It's such a treat to have fresh greens again!

And I'm sure that the next time I visit the farm, I'll have book in hand, looking for more weeds to follow.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Farm and Away

Long, long ago, in those halcyon days of my childhood, I had little connection to farms. I grew up in a suburban area, with only a vegetable garden to pull me closer to the earth. My paternal grandparents had a place at the edge of town that was closer to farmland, though they didn't have anything beyond a vegetable garden themselves, and my maternal grandmother had a big vegetable patch behind her house (in a small farming community).

I knew farms were all around me, but aside from going to pick berries in the summer or apples or corn in the fall, I never really got close to a farm. That's probably why I've always had something of an idyllic view of farm life. Yes, I know it's hard work, but even a visit to the Original Organic Farmer's acres made me long for a place in the country where I could go crazy growing fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, and maybe even raise chickens or goats.

One of the many joys of getting to know the Renaissance Man has been the opportunity to head out of town with him to visit his parents on their rural farmstead. Granted, it's never been a working farm under their ownership, though a neighboring farmer has grown corn or pastured cattle on some of their fields. But whenever I'm out there, I feel like I'm getting back to what's important in life: plenty of land with room to grow food, forage for wild edibles, walk in the woods, and generally have what we city folk might call a simpler way of life. (Yeah, I know, it's not so much simpler as different... but indulge me.)

Since visiting the farm means most of a day or a weekend gets wrapped up in travel and company, it means I have to simplify my own expectations for what I can get done on my days off work. And since this weekend we planned to be away for most of both days, I knew I wouldn't get any cooking done at home.

Still, you can't really keep me out of the kitchen, and his dear Farm Mother is perfectly happy to let me take over her domain in order to whip up meals for everyone.

I managed to whip up a batch of bread dough before leaving home, using the Chef Mother's white bread recipe and replacing some of the unbleached flour with whole wheat flour, spelt flour, and rolled oats (all local). The resulting loaves proved to be as comforting as an old quilt: wholesome with a soft, tender crumb (and oh! so warm right from the oven!).

I had grabbed several things from my pantry and freezer with the intention of making a pot of soup to go with the bread for dinner, so I sautéed onions with herbs and dried vegetables before adding the remaining vegetables, two pints of tomato sauce, and some vegetable stock, setting the pot on to simmer while I joined the Renaissance Man and his brother for a look around the farm.

As the day was damp and gray, we found ourselves thoroughly relieved to return to the house and to be greeted with the aroma of a vegetable-packed soup. I added pasta along with a cube of homemade pesto and let it continue to simmer until dinner time, then garnished each bowl with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

A simple meal of soup and bread -- followed by warm and gooey homemade brownies -- seemed not only the ideal supper for a cool spring day but also a fitting tribute to farm life. Since I associate farms with a certain degree of self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and making do, this soup reflected my own appreciation for those qualities in myself, in the Renaissance Man, and in the people who choose farm life.

I know I idealize farming a good deal, not having experienced it myself, but I think it's worth holding onto the virtues of farming as stewardship at a time when rising food prices might cause many people to gripe about the cost of food and the cost of farming. I think there's much that all of us could learn from farming about how to work in concert with the rest of nature, how to provide a little more for ourselves, and how to treat others and the earth with respect.

That's a lot of intellectual baggage to load onto a simple meal, I know, and I don't generally go around philosophizing about my cooking. This kind of supper is not fancy fare by any stretch of the imagination, but it's loaded with local ingredients (all the vegetables and herbs, the milk and most of the grains in the bread), patience, hard work, and love.

That's far and away the best kind of meal I can offer.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Many Hands Make Light Work

We're getting a glorious foretaste of late spring and early summer this week here in northern Ohio. Sunshine fills the skies, and the stunningly warm temperatures have encouraged daffodils to burst into golden bloom almost overnight.

The fresh breezes have lured me outside more often than not, and today I had an excellent excuse to run away from work at lunchtime: I called the Innkeeper and asked her to meet me at the Inn for a little garden work.

She felt the same urge to get out among the greening things, so we joined up behind the Inn and got busy. As she pruned trees and large bushes along the back fence, I waded through and tackled the compost pile, a task I've wanted to put to rest for a couple of months now.

We've both piled plenty of vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves, and eggshells on the compost heap throughout the winter, and it was definitely time to turn things over. But I took on the task with great enthusiasm, noting a scattering of tiny blue scilla over the heap (see lower right corner), and I knew I'd unearth some rich, dark soil.

A short while later, my intuition proved correct, for under that initial layer of recent additions I found some dark, moist, ideal compost, ready to be used. I scraped out a bunch, shoveled the newer scraps into the hole, and covered it back up, adding in more leaves. I set aside a small pile of compost for the Innkeeper, as she mentioned that her son would be able to use it on his lettuce bed.

The garden work also gave me the opportunity to start on a new project (not my own, for once!) that has inspired me of late. Kelly at Her Able Hands has established the Able Hands Project and invited fellow bloggers to share photos of hands at work (and at play) in order to celebrate the many things we do with our hands in our daily lives: practicing skills, making a living, constructing our homes, and shaping dreams.

It's not strictly about food or local foods, but I think the philosophy behind the project (at least for me) has a connection to how I approach cooking and preserving food and sharing it with others. Work has so often become a nasty four-letter word for many of us, but there is so much that we do with our hands to make life easier for others or to create beauty or simply to do what we each feel is needful in our own lives. Work can and should be a joy and full of meaning, and that's what I try to practice in my kitchen as well in other aspects of my life.

That's what Kelly's project calls us to document and cherish, I think, and it's an incredibly inspiring and enriching project. Just in taking a couple of photos, I'm already looking at hands and work in new ways and with new respect.

So take a look at the project on Flickr. Then take a look around you. Whether you choose to participate or not, take a look at hands at work around you and let yourself be inspired.

And give yourself a hand!


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Just Roll With It

I love it when people ask me to teach them how to make certain dishes. For one thing, I'm flattered that they find something I've made so appealing that they just have to have it for themselves, and for another, any time someone wants to learn how to become more self-sufficient in the kitchen, I am all for it.

That's why I'm so thrilled that the Renaissance Man has persisted in asking for baking lessons. (Well, it's one reason I'm thrilled.)

We started off simply, making pizza one Sunday evening. That's probably the easiest of my yeast dough recipes to handle, and it's incredibly flexible and forgiving, not to mention quick (I rarely let it rise very much).

From there, we progressed to a variation on a basic bread, incorporating local cider and rosemary as well as walnuts. He enjoyed that thoroughly, from the process itself to the final result of fragrant, steaming, flavorful bread that begged to be eaten immediately.

This weekend, since we had a relatively open social calendar, we planned to make cinnamon rolls. After all our talk of biscuits and scones and muffins (all of which we'll get around to, I'm sure), he decided that cinnamon rolls would be the perfect sweet treat for an unfettered weekend afternoon. (I think he's just sweet on my baking.)

I tend to go back and forth between the cinnamon roll recipe in the Tassajara Bread Book and Uprisings (a whole-grain baking book), but I settled on the Uprisings version this time because of the honey-butter filling. (He keeps honey around, but not sugar. I can work with that.)

Having stocked his kitchen in preparation for our baking lesson, I pulled out the ingredients and showed him how quickly the dough could be made. Admittedly, I didn't give him much of a chance to work with the dough himself, but we had a lot to do before we headed outside to play in the beautiful weather.

Once the dough had risen, we pulled out his "noodle board" -- a large wooden board that had been passed down to him for the purpose of making pasta, something we will definitely try sometime -- and he took photos while I rolled out the dough.

I always forget two things about the filling for this version of cinnamon rolls: there's never enough cinnamon, and though it's wonderful to cream together the butter and the honey for a more even spread, there's never quite enough for a substantially cinnamony filling. (I've tried doubling the filling, and that's just messy... but luscious!)

With great care, I rolled up the dough, scraping the dough from the board in places where it got stuck.

It's always tricky to keep the rolls neat and round when cutting them and transferring them to a greased baking pan, but today they behaved reasonably well. (And oh, yes, they were smelling awfully good by this point.)

After they'd had a chance to rise again, the rolls filled the pan more thoroughly, smoothing out some of the crumpled edges that had occurred in the transfer to the pan. Already they looked good enough to eat! (Almost...)

We slid the rolls into the oven and proceeded to spend a little time doing some research on the computer, but it wasn't long before the fragrance lured me back into the kitchen just before the timer went off. And as I think you can see, it was worth the wait!

I really don't often like to add the typical glaze to cinnamon rolls (though I really should try the honey-butter-cinnamon spread on top sometime) as I don't want the rolls to be too sweet. Happily, the Renaissance Man agreed with my decision and enjoyed the fresh yeasty flavor without an excess of sugar. We split what was on this plate for afternoon tea, but I think he would have been perfectly happy to have another one or two on top of that!

I really have to learn to relinquish a little control in the kitchen -- if the Renaissance Man really wants to learn how to make these breads, I need to let him get his own hands all floured up and sticky more often. But I won't mind repeating the lessons, or even adding on new ones with new recipes (he's asked for sticky buns next).

I'm enjoying the lessons as much as he is, so we'll just keep rolling along...

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Heckuva Brownie!

This is the first weekend in I don't know how long (weeks? a month?) when I've had a sizable chunk of time unscheduled. What an amazing gift!

So what did I do? I decided to stay home and be domestic.

I know that might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I always have so many "projects" going on at home that I never really feel like I have enough time to devote to them. I'm not complaining, mind you. The social whirl that has swept me up of late has been utterly delightful -- with company worth cherishing -- and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

But it's time to get back to my little projects and to catch up with the rest of my life, even if only for a day or so.

Most of the cooking I've done so far this weekend has been very basic stuff: a pot of vegetable stock to have on hand for spring soups, a broccoli pizza for lunch today, and lavender-blueberry streusel muffins to share with friends and to welcome spring. You've seen them all before, so I won't dwell on them here.

But while the pizza was baking, I decided my sweet tooth needed to be satisfied with something chocolate. I'm out of unsweetened baking chocolate and regular cocoa powder, but I thought that a recipe modified to include a little hit of black cocoa would suit me just fine.

Dear Reader Tina introduced me to a fantastic candied ginger-cardamom bar recipe a few years ago, and I have modified it all up and down, mainly to use as a base for date bars. But this was the first time I ventured to the dark side with it.

I kept almost everything the same, save for replacing 1/4 c of flour with the black cocoa and adding 1/4 c roasted cacao nibs along with the candied ginger bits. I like spices with my chocolate on occasion, and the combination of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and chocolate had me swooning even before the pan came out of the oven.

The squares turned out darkly rich and buttery but not too sweet, with a perfect blend of spices and crunch. They're dense, chewy, and a little hearty, reflecting the whole wheat flour added to the recipe... but wow, they're good!

They made an ideal finish to a pizza lunch and helped rev me up for the rest of today's "projects" (which involve me sitting back down at the sewing machine and getting busy!). In short, they did the job I wanted them to do.

And that's a heckuva good thing!