Monday, January 31

A really tasty meal

Sometimes (this must happen to everyone) I find that I am in a food rut. I would define a food rut as:

food rut; n. A period of time in which you are eating but you forget what you are eating, and then you realize that you cannot recall what you have eaten for an extended period of time. This is a very bad thing.

Some common symptoms and tell-tale signs:
-Upset stomach (this may be caused by the fact that the food you are eating is really yucky and your body is trying to tell you something)
-Headache (probably from trying to remember what you have eaten lately)
-Boredom (probably because you have been eating the same thing over and over and over again)

Well, lately all signs would point to the fact that I have been in a minor food rut. It hasn't been to the extent that is possible, and I am thankful for that. It seems that this happens every time my schedule is adjusting: currently, this is because of the beginning of the semester.

Today, I took deliberate action to get out of the rut, and it was successful! So perhaps you are wondering what to do in order to in order to get out of a food rut. As your food doctor (this is not an official title I have earned, but it seems suitable at this instance), I would recommend starting in the kitchen. Locate all of your favorite ingredients and then take a minute to think about how you can put them all together in a tasty little dish. Here is my cure for the night:
Vegesproutagrain Stir-fry
A couple of carrots (from the locally owned grocery store)
1/2 of an onion (from the locally owned grocery store)
1 cup of sprouted mung beans (sprouted in a jar)
Pad thai sauce (left over from your former roommate)

1 cup of pearled barley, cooked* (from the local co-op)

1. In a stir-fry pan, put cut carrots in a little water and heat over medium heat until the water is nearly gone and the carrots are starting to get soft. Toss in your onion, mung bean sprouts and pad thai sauce and simmer for about 5 minutes.

2. Add in the cooked barley and sauté until most of the liquid is completely cooked off. Serve hot!

* How to cook pearled barley: This is really simple!
Combine uncooked, pearled barley and water at about a 1:3 ratio, in a sauce pan. Drop in a bullion cube (or some olive oil and spices, its up to you!). Over medium-low heat, simmer uncovered for about 40 minutes, or until the barley is tender but not mushy. You should monitor the barley to make sure the water does not cook entirely off, before the barley is cooked fully. You may need to add some water. Also, stir about every 10 minutes. Cooked barley is really a treat! It has a rice-like texture, but is a bit sweeter and nuttier.

I hope this helps you prevent of future food ruts. If symptoms last for longer than 4 days, you may be in a severe food rut, and should seek help immediately! Remember, at the first signs of a food rut, seek the nearest kitchen and cook yourself up something tasty. Its a sure cure.

Happy, happy eating!

Friday, January 21

A hankering for baking

I have lately had quite the hankering for baking: I can't seem to stop! Yesterday, it was gingerbread cookies. The other day it was scones and cupcakes. Today, it is brownies. There is something so comforting about spending time in the kitchen and being warmed by freshly baked goods and a hot oven, especially in the winter time. And it is always so rewarding to share these baked goods with others. It is as though homemade baked goods embody the ultimate warmth: that is, love. At least personally, when I bake, I love.

This is not to say that baking is a breeze; in fact, baking is quite a challenge for me.

I have reflected greatly on this, and I predict that such challenge sources from my reluctancy to follow a recipe as is. While with cooking you can alter nearly any ingredient to suit your personal preferences, baking is quite the different story. Because I do not fully understand the chemistry behind baking, often times my alterations in baking yield a less-than-desirable final product (cookies that taste like biscuits, scones that look like pancakes, etc.).

However, it seems that by embracing rather than avoiding this challenge, I am becoming a stronger baker. I am continuously noticing subtle things, like how certain flours affect the final baked good, or what happens when you use butter as opposed to shortening. Baking forces me to slow down and pay attention to little details that I might otherwise miss. Though I truly appreciate the spontaneity that is permissible in cooking, the particular attention to details that is required for baking is a test to myself; a test of my patience. Fortunately, the rewards to such attention are often great.

As I continue to practice baking, I find myself becoming more aware of how ingredients work together; this is really quite a beautiful thing to witness. I can only hope that one day I will have such a relationship with the ingredients in my pantry, that I will be able to create my own baking recipes. Until then, I feel comfortable following in the footsteps of those who have forged before me, to understand these relationships in a way that has allowed them to create beautiful baking recipes. Perhaps you will join in the journey that is baking?

These brownies are a wonderful place to start, if you have not already started baking. Though there are a few steps, they are quite simple, and not too particular. In fact, this recipe, originally from the Spice House, has been modified with a few ingredients of my own!
Brownies for chocolate lovers
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 1/4 cups of butter
1/2 cup of cocoa powder
3 eggs, slightly beaten
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups of white flour
1/8 teaspoon of baking soda
A pinch of salt
1 generous dash of cinnamon (This is my little addition)
A little chocolate bar, chopped (This too!) 

1. In a medium sized sauce pan, heat the sugar and butter over medium heat until the butter is fully melted and the sugar begins to dissolve. Add the cocoa powder and remove from heat. Stir to reduce the temperature until the eggs can be added. Add the eggs and vanilla extract.

2. In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add this mixture to the wet mix, in the saucepan. Mix until this is thoroughly mixed. Stir in chocolate

3. Butter and flour-coat a 9 inch by 9 inch baking pan. Pour your batter in, and bake for 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees, or until a knife inserted into the center is clean when removed.
Happy baking!

Thursday, January 20

negative 1 degrees

Q: What do you do when it is negative 1 degrees outside?
(this is not a trick question, it is actually negative 1!)

A: You go to the grocery store after work and fight the cold to bring home milk, in hopes that your wonderful roommate might make up a batch of her delicious hot cocoa. This is sure to warm even the coldest of hands!
In case your roommate doesn't make hot cocoa for you on freezing cold nights (yet), here is Kelsey's recipe:

Kelsey's hot cocoa
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of cocoa powder
A dash of salt
A generous dash of cinnamon
1/3 cup of hot water
4 cups of milk

1. Stir together the sugar, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Stir in water and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil and stir for 2 minutes. Add milk, stirring constantly and heat till serving temperature. Don't boil!

2. Serve in a nice mug with a homemade marshmallow on top.

Guaranteed to warm your heart and soul.
Happy sipping!


This has been a long time coming, but I am finally sprouting grains (thank you, dear Liza, for my very own sprouting kit!!). As winter is fully here, and we continue to eat non-packaged foods (though this was a little funny over the last month, since I was traveling and sharing meals prepared by others: which was wonderful, though sometimes contained packaged foods) I am seeking ways to remain nourished. Sprouting seeds and grains is a wonderful and simple way to spruce any meal while nourishing your body. Also, it is so exciting to watch your little seeds grow into sprouts!
My first seeds I am sprouting are broccoli seeds and mung beans. Liza gifted the broccoli seeds to me for Christmas, and I found the mung beans for a really good deal, at our local Indian grocery store. Liza made my kit for sprouting, which you can make too! It is composed of: Two large ball jars, a small piece of screen to cover each jar's mouth and a rubber band to hold the screen in place. That's it! Here is what to do:
That is:
1. Put one tablespoon of seeds in each jar.
2. Fill with water.
3. Soak overnight.
4. The next day, pour out the water, rinse and leave inverted to dry. Make sure the jar has suitable drainage, and the seeds are not setting in standing water: otherwise they may rot! Yuck!
5. Rinse again later that day.
6. Do that again everyday, twice a day for 4 to 5 days.
7. Eat.

Will keep in the refrigerator for about one week.
My sprouts are starting to sprout!

You can experiment with a large variety of seeds, beans and grains. Here is a really great site I found with ideas, recipes, supplies and facts. There are so many possibilities! And it is so fun!

Happy sprouting!


Recall when I mentioned that I was "harvesting" yarn from old sweaters, to make new knits?
Well, here is an update from little miss Liza:
"Harvesting yarn is called 'Froggingdue to the sound of 'rip it, rip it, rip it' as is rips off za sweater."
Just thought you might like to know :)

Tuesday, January 18

Vanilla bean

It seems that vanilla extract is about as common in baking as flour. Just about every recipe contains a splash of vanilla; and it is no wonder, because of its rich flavor. It is no wonder, since vanilla seems to bring out the best flavors in baking, while subtly adding a flavor of its own.

Back in September, on one of my Spice House adventures, I explored the possibility of creating my own "homemade" vanilla extract. And much to my delight, the process was as simple as could be! In fact, the woman I was speaking with at the Spice House that day had been making her own vanilla extract for years. It was then, that my vanilla-making began; and I must say, I doubt I will ever go back to store bought vanilla extract again. Not only is this method cost efficient, but you get the delight of watching your vanilla beans flavor your extract while having the opportunity to create an extract to your taste. While you may like a stronger, richer flavor, others may prefer a more delicate vanilla flavor. Luckily for you, you can customize yours any way you would like!

Homemade vanilla extract
1 bottle of hard alcohol (I used vodka, though you may experiment with different types of rum or any other alcohol, really!)
6 vanilla beans

That's it! So simple:
1. Cut your vanilla beans length wise. Using the edge of your knife, scrape the small seeds out of the center of the beans. Drop the beans and seeds into your bottle of hard alcohol.

2. Every day, gently shake the bottle. Do not place the bottle in direct sunlight. After about 6-8 weeks, you should have a suitable batch of homemade extract! However, you can adjust this time to your liking: just watch the color and check the smell every so often, and remove the beans when it has reached a flavor of your liking.

3. Strain the beans from the extract and replace the extract in a glass bottle. It is advisable to store your extract in a dark-glass bottle. I simply wrapped my clear glass bottle in a piece of fabric and store it out of direct sunlight. This helps to preserve the flavor of your extract. Though the extract has an indefinite shelf life, if not stored properly, the extract will lose flavor.

Also: no need to purchase top-shelf alcohol. Really, any quality of alcohol will do! However, higher proof of alcohol will yield a stronger extract.

It is important to select a vanilla bean that is of your liking. At the Spice House, there were several varieties of vanilla beans. While selecting them, I focused on the smell. I finally selected the Madagascar vanilla beans, as they were a tad sweeter smelling than the other options.

Happy eating!

Friday, January 14

From the land of cranberries

Let me just say, I have had my fair share of cranberry scones this year. You may not believe me, but at one potluck alone there were two people who brought cranberry scones... But it seems (no offense to those who have made cranberry scones lately) that I have found the ultimate cranberry scone recipe. This is not to say that the other recipes were not delicious; it is just to say that this recipe is one thousand times better.

I am certain I have mentioned this earlier, but it is worth repeating: Wisconsin is the top producer of cranberries in the US. And luckily for me, I love cranberries (and cheese and beer and brats and all things Wisconsin). This recipe for cranberry scones comes to me from my mom's best friend's son's friend's (who happened to be the Cranberry Queen of the Warrens Wisconsin Cranfest of 2008-2009) mom. Need I say more?
Anita's Cranberry Scones with Almond glaze
For the scones:
2 1/2 cups of flour
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
3/4 cups of butter, chilled and in slices
1 cup of cranberries, either frozen or fresh; halved
1/3 cup of sugar
3/4 cup of buttermilk*

1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Then, cut in the butter until it forms small pea-sized pieces. Add cranberries and sugar and mix well. Gradually add the buttermilk and mix well. If it is too sticky, add a bit of flour. It should not be too dry, but shouldn't stick to you fingers.

2. Split the batter into two equal parts and flatten into an 8 inch round, about 1 inch thick. Cut into six wedges and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for about 12 to 15 minutes.

*If you do not have buttermilk, you can substitute this with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar plus milk to equal 3/4 cup. Allow this to set for 5 minutes before adding to the recipe.
a little piece of heaven
For the glaze:
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring
1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
3 tablespoons of milk

1. Using an electric mixer, blend together the butter and almond flavoring until well blended. Then, add powdered sugar and milk.

2. Spoon about one dollop of glaze on each scone, when they are still quite warm. The glaze should melt deliciously over the entire top, dripping off the edges ever so delicately.

3. Sink your teeth into one of these babies, and fall into a deep state of bliss.

4. Only after you have eaten all that you can, share the leftovers with your friends (this step is optional; otherwise, repeat step 3).

Happy eating, from the land of cranberries!

Tuesday, January 11

New year, new ideas

Project Sweater-to-Sweater: Complete
Recall my sweater project that I began a few weeks earlier? Well, by golly, it's complete! And it fits like a glove.
Today, I am trying my hand at homemade knitting needles. For those of you who know me, surely you have heard me talk of my best friend (and soul sister) Liza. Let me tell you about Liza: she is a gem, to say the least. Liza and I have been friends since we were in diapers, and I predict we will be friends until the end. I am so lucky to have Liza in my life, because it seems that she is always doing the most wonderful things and has all the best ideas. And the nice thing is that we are always doing the same wonderful things. Sometimes, we will go a month without seeing or talking with each other, and then when we reunite, we have both been reading the same book or starting the same new adventure. It is perfect.
Liza and I, happy as could be
Well, lately, I have been knitting up a storm (a common theme for my wintertimes). Luckily for me, Liza has also been knitting this winter. This year however, I have been expanding my horizons with knitting. While for some, this may mean spending a pretty penny on yarns and needles, I have taken deliberate action to knit frugally. For instance, most of my yarn as of late has been "harvested" from old sweaters. Not only does this yield plenty of yarn, but you are able to feel how the yarn feels when knit and you are saving loads of money. My next step, as I mentioned previously, is to make homemade knitting needles. This idea came from Liza, who has been making needles for years. She started making homemade knitting needles at the Waldorf school she attended as a kid. Making them is really quite simple, and very cost efficient!
Homemade knitting needles
All you need is:
1 wooden dowel (depending on the size needle your pattern requires, this will vary; you can also use chopsticks!)
1 pencil sharpener
Sandpaper, 220 grit
Boiled linseed oil (you can find this at any hardware store, in the paint section)

1. Go to the hardware store, and buy: a wooden dowel, some fine grit sand paper, a pencil sharpener, and boiled linseed oil.

2. Go home, sharpen the end of your dowels (I made double pointed needles, but if you're not making them double pointed, then glue something on one end! You can use modeling clay or a bead to cap the ends). Then, sand them down really well. This is important, because otherwise your yarn will get snagged on the wood. I had to sand them a bit after I started knitting with them, because little splinters happened, but that stopped after a little while. Then, rub them with linseed oil and let set for about 10 minutes. Then, wipe off the extra oil and ta-da! you have knitting needles! 

3. Knit knit knit knit knit knit knit :) 

Also (I have been crafting a lot lately) today I made homemade candles! So simple and resourceful. Here is what to do:

Homemade candles
Left over wax from burnt out candles
Wick (which you can find at any craft store)
Chopsticks, pencils or any other item to hold the wick in place, over your container of choice
Something to pour your candle into (Careful with glass, some glass may shatter with heat; canning jars are a perfect solution!)
A saucepan (I recommend buying one at a thrift store and dedicating it to candle making)
Something to protect your counter tops (I used paper plates and a flattened cereal box)

1. Sort your left over wax by color and melt similar colors in your saucepan over low heat. Candle wax is highly flammable (hence, it is used to burn candles) so BE CAREFUL! :)

2. Prepare your candle containers: Cut a piece of wick that is a little longer than the depth of your container. Tie the wick around a chopstick and rest it over the mouth of your container. Trim the wick so it just barely touches the bottom of your container. Having a straight wick is important so that when burning the candle, the wick doesn't drown in candle wax. Place the containers on your protective surfaces (i.e. your paper plate, cardboard, whatever you choose).

3. Carefully pour the wax into the containers. Reserve a bit of wax. Allow the candles to cool completely. As the wax cools, the center of the candle tends to "fall". Use the reserved wax to fill this hole once the candle has cooled.

4. Once you have burned through the wick of these candles, repeat!
Happy New Year, and I look forward to sharing many new ideas.