Sunday, November 22

Good Morning, Sunshine! {Baked Eggs with Brown Butter, Sage & Nutmeg}

The fact that Thanksgiving is just around the corner didn't even occur to me until last Friday.  I'd left early in the morning to drive to Denver to spend the weekend at the Food Allergy Bloggers' Conference with freedible.  That day I decided to take a different route - a winding, narrow two lane highway that leads into Denver from the East.  I thought perhaps the traffic would be lighter, a less stressful, more scenic drive, because for as much as I love the city, I don't like the traffic!  I'd never actually taken that road before, but that morning I was up for adventure.  The road led through a forest just outside of town.  The forest floor was blanketed in fresh snow and the rising sun's long rays stretched through the branches in such a way that the snow shimmered like diamonds in spots.  I thought to myself, look what you've been missing by taking the interstate to Denver all these years!

Tuesday, November 3

In Dreams {Savory Pumpkin Tart & Poached Pears with Cardamom Cream}

Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy. -Sigmund Freud

I really can't complain.  It's the first week of November and there are still tomatoes ripening on the vines in the garden.  Can you believe it?!  And just this morning when I walked out there to pick a few, I found a brand new blanket of tender, baby arugula, planted by the seeds of last spring's plants!  Naively, they bask in the sunshine, oblivious of what's to come.  Yet, the trees - wisest in the botanical kingdom - know it's fall, even if the temperatures say it's still summer.  Their golden leaves cling to the branches, knowing these pleasant days won't last.

I've lived in Colorado long enough to know that when summer stretches late into fall, winter will be fierce and spring, cold and damp.  So I tell myself to savour each and every warm day.  But deep inside I'm longing for the cool, crisp days of fall - for apple cider, for sweaters and boots and scarves, for late nights with friends around the fireplace, and for early mornings when the trees are frosted in fine, powdery snow.  In fact, I want it so badly I've been dreaming of it.  Strange & wild dreams.  Like that old Christmas song - it will be fall, "if only in my dreams."

Thursday, October 22

The Pumpkin Patch {Maple Roasted Pumpkin & Pumpkin Scones}

"In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy." -William Blake

It all started last fall.  I had all these brilliant cravings for pumpkin dishes floating around in my head.  Unfortunately I didn't have enough pumpkins to make them all a reality and the pumpkins in the markets left much to be desired.  I vowed that in the spring I would plant enough pumpkins in the garden to make all those dreams come true.  One thing led to another and as winter dragged on, plans began to take shape, growing larger and larger as my desire for the warmth of summer grew stronger.  Promises in winter are easy to make, but hard to keep.  

Then, one cold-but-not-too-cold day in February, we moved the garden fence across a barren plot of yard that would become our pumpkin patch.  There was life in that frozen soil, I just knew it.

But spring came late and often I found myself gazing out the frosted window at the garden, covered in silver snow, still sleeping when I was ready to run out there and yell, 'Wake up! Wake up!"

Tuesday, October 6

Meringue Mushroom Cookies

 "Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."
-Roald Dahl

To do or not to do?

That's the question I so often ask myself when it comes to this little space here on the Internet.   Most often the answer is, not to do.  My own perfectionist tendencies hold me back.  "The photos aren't good enough." I tell myself - or, "There's no story to tell."  But when it comes down to it, isn't life made up of a big, messy series of imperfect events?  In fact it's within the imperfections that magic happens.  It was in the meatballs that I threw together on a Monday night when the house was full of chaotic clamor - children fighting, dogs barking, and the neighbors chickens had gotten loose and were running around our yard.  I'd spent an hour trying to catch them all and propel them back over the fence.  So dinner was late, but when we all sat down at the table a sudden peace fell over us.  Like magic.  The kids were calm, the dog waited quietly under the table. 

It was in the cookies I baked one night to bring a little happiness when Eve had a rough day at school.  When she opened her lunchbox she found a smiling chocolate face looking back at her.  The chocolate was smeared, the eyes uneven.  Not photo-worthy, but if everything were perfect there would be no room for magic.

Sunday, August 2

Things Remembered {Chilled Pea Pod Soup + Goat Cheese Gougères}

Isn't it funny how some memories fade as we grow older, while others continue to grow stronger as the years go by?  

Let me illustrate.

They tell me I was a bit of a trouble-maker growing up.  But in my defense, as a child of an artist, rules are meant to be broken.  We used to visit my grandparent's old house on the edge of town every Sunday.  I've written about those visits often.  There were three of us kids- my brother, my cousin and myself.  The Three Amigos.  I was the oldest and therefore the ringleader.  We would run like wild animals through the woods to the north, and though we were warned not to, we'd climb to the tops of the huge pine trees that grew there, sap sticking to our hands like burnt caramel.  They tell me I once fell from one of those trees.  I have a long scar on my right forearm to prove it.  But I don't remember.

There was a loft in that old house, 16 feet above the living room.  Building codes didn't exist when the house was built, and the banisters were placed just far enough apart for a child to easily fall through.  The three of us would hang like monkeys from the banisters and swing to the winding staircase below.  They tell me that my cousin once broke her arm in an ill-fated swing from too far away.  But I don't remember.

Just past that treacherous staircase, at the end of a dimly lit hall, stood a closed door.  I knew I shouldn't, but when my grandmother was busy in the kitchen (which she always was) and my grandfather was working in the garden (which he always was), I would creep down that hall, quiet as a mouse, crack open that door and slip inside...

Monday, June 15

Timeless {Cherry Swirl Ice Cream}

"I went away next year-
Spent a season in Kashmir-
Came back thinner, rather poor,
But richer by a cherry tree at my door."
- Cherry Tree by Ruskin Bond

I used to love it when my kids would bring me the Book of Verse by Ruskin Bond.  You know how young children become enamored with adult books.  They settle themselves comfortably on the sofa, flipping through the pages as if they're reading, so grown-up.  Never mind that the book is upside-down, or that they're reading from back to front.  The important thing is that they're acting just like an adult; just like Mommy.  There they'd sit for a while, flipping the pages every few seconds, until they'd find their favourite poem, tucked among the children's verses in back.  Then they'd place the open book on my lap...

"Please read the one about the window," Connor would implore.

"Can we read the one about the cherry tree instead?"  I'd ask.  Then quickly add, "We can read them both!"

Eve, night-owl as she's always been, preferred me to read about the dark.  It starts "Little one, don't be afraid..."

"Can we read the one about the cherry tree, too?"  I'd ask.  Shameless!  I know. 

"OK, Mamma!"

That seems like just yesterday, though it was years ago.  A lifetime to them; a mere moment to me.  They can both read on their own, now.  Great literary works like Captain Underpants and the American Girl Doll series.  And they almost never ask me to read to them.  I guess I'm feeling rather nostalgic these days.  Missing the times when they were happy to listen to what I wanted to read.  But things change.  Time moves on.

I haven't thought of that poem about the cherry tree for a while.  Things have been so busy around here these days.  The book sits on the shelf gathering dust - waiting, along with all the other books I promised myself I'd read again.  Someday.  Time ticks on, and still they sit.  Patient.  Unopened.  Sleeping.

I know it's been a while since I wrote my last blog post.  In the spring when it was raining and still cool enough for soup.  Again, time escapes me.  I grasp at it, but it's always just beyond my reach.  But today I found something in the yard that changed all that.  Something that surprised me, though it shouldn't have, and reminded me of those sweet poems we used to read together at night.

Monday, May 4

Good Luck Chuck {Sriracha Sunflower Soup and Sunflower & Honey Swirl Ice Cream}

When a story begins, "It was a dark and stormy night. . . " you know it's going to be good.

We were looking over the menu at The Kitchen in downtown Denver after a brief and rather bumpy round of introductions.   I could see the passion in his eyes as he started to tell me the tale.  I'd been looking forward to hearing the story of Chuck for weeks.

"I was driving down on a south Florida highway in the pouring rain..." he went on.  Having lived in Florida myself for several years, I knew just the kind of rain he was talking about.  Rain that comes down in volatile, horizontal waves, like sheets on a clothesline, thrashing in the wind.

 Our drinks arrived and he paused briefly to marvel at the colour of the Chardonnay.  It was a stunning shade of coral. 

"It was a busy highway, and there was a lot of traffic going both directions," he continued, "but out of the corner of my eye I saw a man on the side of the highway.  I glanced in the rear view mirror as I sped past and saw that the man was pushing an empty baby stroller and cradling something under his sopping trench coat..."

Most of us would have driven on by with little more than a passing thought... "better him than me."  But not my new friend.  I was discovering, through that first conversation, the  principals on which he's built his life.  One is:  if there's a way to change the world for the better, go for it.  As such, when he glanced again at the man growing smaller in his rear view mirror, he knew he had to do something.  So he pulled a U-turn and circled back around, pulling off the highway to help.

"...I heard the crying as soon as I opened the door.  The man was cradling a tiny baby girl, trying his best to shelter her from the pounding rain within the folds of his soaking coat.  She was inconsolable, and having just become a new father myself, my heart went out to these two strangers."

Monday, April 20

Birthdays & Buttercream {Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Fresh Strawberry Buttercream}

"Cinderella, dressed in yella, went up stairs to kiss a fella.  Made a mistake and kissed a snake!  How many doctors did it take?"

It all started two months ago.  I was picking the kids up from school on an icy February afternoon.  The kind of day when the wind whips in biting gusts between the buildings and razor-sharp bits of snow sting your face.  I can't even call them "snowflakes" because "knives" are a much more accurate description.  I wrapped my scarf around my chin as I walked the block and a half from where I'd parked the car to their schoolhouse.  I was eager to get home, turn on the stove and start a pot of mushroom risotto for dinner.  As we drove home, she told me that she wanted to have her birthday party at a certain pizza place.  You, no doubt, know the one - singing robots, silly music,  flashing lights & the electronic hum of enough arcade games to make you half crazy, and mediocre pizza at best.  I think every town must have one and there's nothing wrong with this restaurant, once or twice in a blue moon.  But we've celebrated more than our fair share of birthdays there.   And in any case, I had other plans in mind.

She planted a seed that February afternoon and I began dreaming of April!  Dreaming of the promise of warmer weather (though no less temperamental, I must say).  Of planting the first pea and lettuce seeds in the garden, of cutting the first lilacs for the dining room table and watching the irises open-wide their bright faces to the sun.  Of cherry blossoms, green grass, and rain instead of needle-like snow!  I'd been planning a garden tea party for months, since her last birthday party, in fact, though in Colorado, the garden is only just awakening from it's winter slumber in mid-April and the weather is still quite cool.  So we'd bring the garden into the kitchen.  We'd tape flowers to the walls and butterflies to the ceiling.  And there would be vases of flowers of all sorts.  The only requirement being that they are all pink, naturally.  We sent Grandma out on a special mission to scour all the second hand stores and antique shops in town for just the right China tea cups with matching saucers.  A fun job it you ask me!  Each cup would be different and unique like the guests themselves, but each would have a pretty floral design that would fit beautifully in to the garden that our kitchen would become!

Wednesday, March 25

Forbidden Love {Vanilla Bean Pavlova with Strawberries & Cream}

"Some of the greatest stories ever told were never meant to be told at all . . . "

Stop me if you've heard this one. . .

Long ago there was a young girl named Xanat.  She lived with her parents on the sugar-sandy beaches of what is now eastern Mexico.  She played in the warm Mexican sunshine and ran free with childish abandon amongst the flowers & trees of the nearby forest.  She would frequently come home with an orchid, her favorite, tucked behind her ear.  She was a pearl in her mother's eye; a thorn in her father's side.

As she grew older her beauty blossomed like the flowers of the forest.  Fine features, long hair, soft as silk and black as the rarest pearl in the sea, and eyes so dark you became lost just staring into them.  But her most beguiling feature could not be seen, but rather felt.  For from within she radiated a sense of headstrong independence that both terrified and captivated all those around her.  Naturally, she took after her father.

She fascinated the young men of the village and soon they began vying for her attention.  One look in her eternal eyes and they were just as lost as a leaf floating on the vast, rolling waves of the ocean.  There were many suitors, but one young man won her heart and stole her soul.  Together they approached her father to ask for his blessing on their marriage.

Her father became enraged at their request.  "My daughter has hair of ebony, skin of gold, and eyes of the darkest roasted cacao!" he thundered.   "She will never marry a town peasant!  I forbid her to marry any mortal.  She is meant for a god!"

The young man cowered beneath his rage, but Xanat stood tall and faced her father with a stubbornness just as fierce.  "I will marry whom I will."  She proclaimed, anger rising like the swell of the sea just before a hurricane.

Saturday, March 7

Morning ~ A Soliloquy {Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake & Spiced Coffee}

"The fire is dying, the lamp is growing dim, the shades of night are lifting.  The morning light steals across my window pane, where webs of snow are drifting..."-Gordon Lightfoot

Rituals.  They're what hold my life together.  Tiny moments throughout the day.  Strung together like drops of dew on a spider's web.  Each one, on its own, insignificant, but when laced together they form the framework on which I've built a life.  These rituals.  From the time I wake until I finally drift off.  They're sacred.

Rising from bed, bleary-eyed, shuffling down the dark hallway to the kitchen. (Was it Longfellow who said, "The nearer the dawn, the darker the night?")   Pouring fresh water into the kettle and putting it on the stove.  Sliding back the blinds from the large kitchen window.  Each day begins the same.  And if for some reason these rituals don't happen - a child is sick, I've overslept - then I'm quite lost for hours.

The kettle begins to whistle.  I hurry to turn it off before it wakes my sleeping family.  These treasured moments alone are not to be interrupted.  Mixing mahogany coffee grounds with rich spices in the bottom of the coffee press.  Watching the steam rise in soft, muslin clouds as I pour water over top.  These rituals start each day anew and bespeak the opportunities that await.

Standing in front of that kitchen window (it's my favourite spot in the house).  Watching the dawn break on the horizon.  I've said this before, but I had never actually seen a sunrise until my children were born.  It's true!  I never had a reason to rise while it was still dark.  Never craved the absolute peace of having the quiet, sleeping house to myself.  Never knew the bliss of listening to my children softly snore as I cradle that first cup of coffee in my hands.  I let the warmth seep into my palms, up my arms, into my soul.  I breath in the steam from my cup as the first rays of sunlight stretch through that window and across the kitchen floor, bathing me in golden warmth.  These morning rituals are the ones I cherish most.

Saturday, February 21

Train of Thought {Chicken Saltimbocca with Wine Braised Celery}

When we first moved to this house I found the sounds of the passing trains very unsettling and quite irritating. 
We'd never lived so close to a busy rail road track before.  Freight trains were something that my son would play with on the living room floor, the wooden tracks snaking under the legs of the coffee table and over a sleeping dog.  These days, freight trains thunder by, just beyond the back garden fence.

I would get so angry when the train horn would shatter the silence as I sat in the garden at twilight with a glass of wine.  More than once I wanted to yell, "Shut up!"  as if that would help.  I was often startled awake in the middle of the night by the sound - no, more like vibration - of a stopping train.  The sheer force of each coal-filled car was enough to send shock waves through our already creaky, old house.  I used to hate the way my pans would rattle in the cupboards as a train sped by; the deafening squeal of the wheels on the tracks, like fingernails on a chalkboard.

I used to think we made a mistake, buying this house so close to those dreadful tracks. . .

But as the years go by, I'm surprised to find that I've actually grown to like the sounds of the passing trains.  The horn blasts are not so much an invasion anymore but rather like a friendly wave from a stranger passing ever so briefly through our little corner of the world.  I'm no longer startled awake at night, but am reassured by the vibrations of the trains outside.  Much like a reminder that, in the dark of night, though I can't see them, I'm not alone.  A reminder that the world is so much larger than what lies inside these four walls.  And that, strangely, is a very comforting thought.

I wonder - when my kids are grown and leave home will they miss the sounds of the train with the same passion as I once hated them?  Will they be startled awake at night by the silence?  Will they become lonely and long for that friendly wave?  Because to them, these are the sounds of home.

Friday, January 23

Warmth {Beef Bone Broth, Pasta e Fagioli, Rustic Onion Soup}

"I love you with my heart and I love you with my liver, if I had you in my mouth I'd spit you in the river..."

She'd always chant this little rhyme as she bundled us up to go outside in the cold. Crooked fingers fumbling with the zipper pulls on our jackets, always zipping them up a little too high and wrapping our scarves just a little too tight, before planting a wet kiss on our cheeks and giving us a gentle shove out the door into the snow.

I don't know why, but I woke up this morning with this little poem in my head.  I may have dreamt of her last night.  If so, the dream is lost in that black hole that separates sleep from reality.  Perhaps it will return tonight.  In any case, the sky was grey, the fog so thick that the sun barely made it through the bedroom window.  I had gotten a text from the kids' school hours earlier announcing a snow day, so I slept much later than I should have.

With the little verse still playing over and over in my head, I pulled myself from the warmth of my bed and crept down the hall to the kitchen to put the kettle on the stove.  Everything was perfectly still, the floor beneath the window was cold as ice...

I've thought of her every day since she died, but this morning especially, she was on my mind.  Always so concerned that we were warm and comfortable.  Her house was a temple of warmth - from the various throws and blankets folded neatly on the love seat, to the space heater on the floor by her feet, to the chunky, mustard-coloured cardigan she wore over a turtle neck every single day (a Kleenex rolled tightly into the fold of her sleeve), to the wall of west-facing windows that let in the winter sunlight.  And there was always a pot of soup kept hot on the back burner of the stove.  When we'd come in, rosy cheeked, with frozen hair, chattering teeth and icicles dangling from our noses, she sit us down at the table, wrap one of those warm blankets around our shoulders, crank up the space heater, and ladle us a steaming bowl of soup.  Always made with her meaty, gelatinous bone broth.

Saturday, December 27

Marshmallow Winter {Peppermint Bonbon Tart and Toasted Coconut & Marshmallow Blondies}

I meant to share these recipes before Christmas, but as always happens, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and the meal planning, cooking and clean-up that goes with it, took top priority... 

I'm very good at over-booking my time.  I'm sure you were just as busy as I was, and it's just as well because these desserts are much more suited to make after Christmas, when, if your house is like ours, candy canes drip from the Christmas tree, marshmallows (for the marshmallow shooter my son unwrapped Christmas morning) are sitting around getting hard, and any number of Christmas candies are cluttering up the kitchen counters waiting to be eaten, or turned into a dreamy, wintery dessert.

December began in a flurry of icing sugar, snowy marshmallow fluff, winter-white whipped cream and cool peppermint candy canes.  It was my mother's birthday and I made her a peppermint bonbon tart.  It's a recipe that's been in our family for years, my grandmother used to make it for her when she was just a girl.  It's been passed down through the generations, and over time, forgotten.  I pulled out the time-worn card, made a few modern adjustments (like removing the shortening in favor of cream), and resurrected this family favourite for my mother's birthday.  This really is a candy tart through and through, from the solid chocolate crust to the candy cane laced filling.  And it's a perfect way to use all those Christmas candy canes!  Just be sure to use the red and white ones to get that gorgeous pink colour.  If you use the red and green ones your tart will turn out brown (though if you can find green and white candy canes that would be just as pretty!)  I had both so I used the green & red ones to garnish.

The candy-filled confections didn't end there.  A few days later there were the toasted marshmallow and coconut blondies that I whipped up after a chilly winter walk.  We live near a small wood with a stream that snakes through the trees.  It's a magical area just off the main road to our house.  If you make a right instead of a left you'll find yourself on a dirt road that leads to several little fishing holes among the trees.  I often see fishermen there, baiting their lines early in the morning when driving the kids into town to school every day.  On frosty winter mornings wisps of steam rise from the surface of the water and a cloud of fog hangs low over the trees.  As the sun rises, the fog melts away, leaving the bare tree branches frosted like sugar plums, and sparkling in the sun.  Tempted by the icy glazed wonderland and the sugar-fine snow, we felt a little like Hansel & Gretel as I turned right instead of left on that cold afternoon, drawn to the confectionery world deep in the forest.  It was going to be a short walk.  Just long enough to circle the largest pond.  But the sky was grey, the wind angry, and the snow was not soft or fluffy, but pierced like knives in the wind's sudden outbursts.  Not nearly the friendly world we saw from the car window, and our walk ended quickly.  We decided that on those days it's better to just stay inside and indulge our sweet tooth in front of the kitchen window.

Saturday, December 13

Comfort & Home {Chicken & Caramelized Mushroom Fricassée}

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand, and for a talk beside the fire; it is the time for home.
Edith Sitwell

When it comes to comfort food I always think of Chicken Fricassée.  It reminds me of home, of hiking through a Colorado pine forest in winter.  Quiet.  The woodsy smell of thyme, the earthy aroma of mushrooms rise from the pot like mist from the forest floor.  Growing up in Colorado, these winter moments are what I miss most when I'm away.  The perfect stillness of a snowy morning.  The way the pine trees smell like toasted marshmallows and the way the air glistens with millions of microscopic snowflakes hanging suspended as if time itself has paused to take in the wonder of it all.  These simple experiences are what say "home" to me.  Which brings me back to Chicken  Fricassée.  It was one of the very first dishes I learned to cook from memory - and thank goodness, because I relied on it time and time again during my homesick years living abroad without a cookbook on the shelf.  It's a dish that encompasses every aspect of home - like the warmth that radiates from the kitchen stove on a quiet winter night.  I love to make a  big batch and share with family and friends!

This is a dish that, though it's one of my favourites, I often forget about it, in favour of trying something more modern and ultimately less satisfying.  What is it about Chicken Fricassee that I like so much?  I ask myself.  Then I make it and remember.  The slow-cooked chicken melts in your mouth.  The mushrooms are meaty and full of flavour.  The luscious sauce coats every morsel and is the perfect pool in which to dunk a big, crusty piece of bread. Yes, it's comfort food at its best!

Saturday, November 15

Stone Spirits {Chicken & Rice Soup with Lemon & Thyme}

It was once thought that echos were the voices of spirits calling to the living from within the rocks... 

Some Native American cultures believed that a Shaman could visit with these spirits in stone, or manitous, as they were called, by leaving his body and passing through the solid surface of the stone.  Once inside he could trade with the spirits for tobacco, herbs, paint and medicine.  It was risky business - communicating with the stone spirits.  For if the shaman failed to carry out the ceremony correctly he'd become trapped in a prison of stone, leaving the shell of his lifeless body outside.

A few weeks ago we found ourselves here, among the spirits of the stones.  It's a little know place, off a dusty dirt road, about 25 miles outside of Colorado Springs.  Locals call it The Paint Mines.  It's a fascinating study in geology.  In a depression on the plains at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, richly coloured clay spires, capped with rugged sandstone hats, create a labyrinth of gullies and gulches.  Archaeological evidence suggests that humans have inhabited the Paint Mines for over 9000 years!  Striations of vividly coloured clay stretch across the stone pillars in layers- ochre, aubergine, and rose.  They were used to make ceremonial paint and to create and paint pottery, hence the name The Paint Mines.

Sunday, November 9

Strawberries Forever {Easy Strawberry Muffins & Organic Strawberry Ice Cream}

It's early Sunday morning.  I'm in that hazy place where sleep is fading with the morning dawn when I hear her slipper-clad feet shuffling down the hall.  She pushes my bedroom door open.  It creaks on its hinges...

"Mommy?"  she says softly, barely a whisper.  I can feel her breath on my ear.

Relishing the warmth of the bed, I don't open my eyes.  The disheveled blankets envelope me like a cloud, the sheets are cool when I move my feet.  She persists.

"Mommy," she says again, brushing my cheek tenderly, the very same way I stroke hers when checking for a fever when she's feeling unwell.  "Mommy, I'm hungry."

I open my eyes just a bit.  Her face is three inches from mine.  Her hair smells like strawberry shortcake from the shampoo we used in the bath last night.  Even her little fingernails are painted strawberry to match mine.  The paint is chipped and peeling, but she still thinks they look beautiful, and so do I.  In one hand she clutches the leg of a pink, rubber monster - a prize from Halloween.  In the crook of her elbow she cradles a worn pink bunny the way all children tuck away their most loved objects when they need to use both hands.  It's her Velveteen Rabbit.

"Can we have strawberry muffins for breakfast?"

It's her second request for strawberries in as many days.  I've told her countless times that strawberries aren't in season this time of year.  Anywhere.  And that makes them all the more desirable.  Which is why I always keep bags of organic strawberries stashed away in the freezer.  You never know when the cravings will strike.

Yesterday it was strawberry ice cream made with organic cream and milk, smooth Madagascar vanilla, and frozen strawberries.  Because she's allergic to peanuts, nearly all brands of ice cream are out.  So I make it at home.  If ever I were to have a love affair with a kitchen appliance it would be with my ice cream maker.  Life would be dreadfully dull without it!  But I'm drifting off again . . .

Wednesday, October 22

Something in October {Carnival Squash Soup with Maple}

There's an old poem by Bliss Carman called A Vagabond Song.  The first stanza goes like this...

There is something in the Autumn that is native to my blood-
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.

I must have first read this poem years ago as an English major in college.  I think of it often, walking down the tree lined streets; crimson, purple, and yellow in all their autumn splendor, leaves drifting, soft as feathers, to land on the curb below.

But it's not the first stanza of that poem that's resonated within me all these years.  It's the last...

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir-
We must rise and follow her;
When from every hill a flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.

I've always felt that I have a bit of gypsy blood flowing through my veins, passed down from my father, no doubt, an author and artist by nature.  The blood of an artist is never satisfied.  There's always that deep pulling, that ever distant calling to go somewhere different, to wander, to explore, to look beyond the veil that separates reality from the imaginary, to stretch the limits and to reach for more.  All the while nurturing this thing within.  This thing that will eventually be called ART, if it doesn't drive you mad first. For me this feeling is especially persistent in October, when change buzzes like electricity through the chill fall air.

Sunday, October 12

From A to Z . . . {Shredded Zucchini & Beef Burritos, Pickled Red Onions, & a Fall Apple Tart}

. . . or from Apples to Zucchini.

As fall begins, I feel like I'm holding on to summer for dear life!  I love fall, it's my favorite season, but summer went by far too quickly and I'm not ready to let it go!  The garden is dying but my counters are overflowing with courgettes and zucchini, and baby green tomatoes waiting to ripen.

My work schedule has been intense but extremely gratifying!  In fact, I just returned from an outstanding weekend in Las Vegas at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference, where freedible was a sponsor!  With all that's been happening these days, it almost feels as if I've missed out on an entire season!  Consequently, I've had little time to write (as you've probably noticed and which I truly regret -- I have an ever expanding collection of recipes that, like cheerful stories told around the warmth of a fireplace, must be shared!) and even less time to tackle the growing mounds of produce that cover nearly every surface in the kitchen.  The time I do have is packed full of the adventures we should have had in summer, before school started.  To tell you the truth, it's rather nice to get out early on a cool fall morning and explore this beautiful region of Colorado.  Hikes, day trips to ski resorts, a drive in the mountains.  And of course, apple picking in the country.

Of all the perks living in Colorado offers, I think the one I enjoy the most is visiting these orchards which are just an hour away.  We drive out here every year, usually to the same orchard, on the same dusty dirt road, in the same sleepy town.  This year I was in the mood for change.  A friend mentioned that we should try an orchard in Penrose called 3rd Street Apples.  Through I'd never been there, the name sounded warm and familiar enough that I had to check it out.

Friday, August 22

An Abbey, Abandoned {Cardamom Carrot Muffins & Roast Chicken}

About an hour away, on the banks of the Arkansas river, is the small, agricultural town of Canon City.  The road is lined with apple orchards, pastures, vast fields of alfalfa, a derelict collection of buildings with faded facades and wind-torn signs, and a vineyard...

If there's any indication that this place is more than just a small country farming town, it's this vineyard.  Off the road, down a narrow drive, nestled among ancient oak and hawthorn trees, there is an old neogothic-style abbey.  A hidden gem in this rugged land of cactus and cowboys.  Its spires are barely visible above the trees, which is probably why I've driven past it with out even noticing for so many years. It's surrounded by vineyards, thriving in the rocky soil and intense Colorado sunshine.  Though the abbey was built in the early 1920's, it reminds me of something much older.  Like some of the grand churches in Europe perhaps, which is why I feel at home here.  It was used as a boarding house and school for many decades, and the vineyards were planted by the Benedictine Fathers in the hopes of establishing a world-class winery here in the heart of Colorado.  That never happened, and in the name of Progress, the abbey was eventually closed and abandoned.

There's something to be said about progress, but that will have to wait for another day.  Perhaps there's more to be said about the past.  About ways that are lost and dreams that are forgotten.  Recently the abbey was revived and restored by the historical society; the wild, rocky vineyards have been tamed and tended - and, better late than never, a winery was finally established in the out buildings behind the chapel.  Using grapes from the vineyards as well as other varieties grown locally, these days the abbey produces some of Colorado's finest, most treasured wines.

Sunday, August 10

There's a worm in my dirt cake! {Dirt Cake from scratch}

Ever since I can remember, dirt cake has been a birthday tradition... 

I was never a big fan, but my mother used to make it for my brother every year.  Even now, we're well into our 30s, and my brother still requests it.  I've always joked that dirt cake was just an excuse to cram as many unwholesome ingredients as possible into one bowl and call it "cake."  Still, due in no small part to the prodding of his uncle, now Connor requests it every year for his birthday, as well.  This means that instead of having it just once a year in February, we now have it in August, too.  The tradition lives on.

As with any tradition, gradual change is inevitable.  My mother's recipe - made with Oreos, instant pudding, and cool whip - has been steadily evolving since falling into my hands.  The cool whip was the first to go.  Replaced by real whipped cream, flavoured with pure vanilla and stabilized with powdered sugar.  Next I banished the pudding, so sickeningly sweet, artificial flavours and all.  It was replaced by a simple, creamy, old-fashioned vanilla custard.  Last weekend we celebrated Connor's birthday, and I made one final change.  I swapped out the Oreos (now questionable for those with peanut allergies) for rich, homemade chocolate cookies.  Now, I dare say, I'm happy with how far this recipe has come.  Like a ungainly child with a greedy sweet tooth, the cake has matured into a sophisticated adult, balanced, not overly sweet.   Okay maybe that's a stretch...  Can anything that's garnished with gummy worms be legitimately called "adult?"

I served to to the boys, and waited for the verdict.  Granted the cookies are not as dark as Oreos; however, they both agreed that my homemade cake looks more realistic, which is important where dirt is concerned.  After the third helping it was clear that the latest version hit the mark.  In fact, even I loved it!  And that's saying a lot!

This recipe may look daunting, but I promise if you take it in steps, it's easy.  The cookies and custard can be made in advance and then it's just a matter of assembling the cake a few hours before serving.