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.

Sunday, July 27

Tomato Caprese Pie


Of all the fresh produce that drip from the market stands this time of year, I think tomatoes are the ones I love best...  

I adore the smell of the tomato vine when you walk through the stalls at the farmers' market. Like a summer rain storm, I can smell the tomatoes long before I see them.

When I was a kid, my brother and I loved to scour our mother's garden, looking for green-horned tomato worms.  We'd hunt through the tomato plants first thing in the morning while it was still cool and the plump caterpillars were inching their way through the green tomatoes.  Thinking we were saving them from certain doom, we'd collect them in old glass pickle jars, adding sand and sticks and fuzzy tomato leaves for them to munch on.  You see, after the breakfast dishes were washed, my mother would put on her sun hat and go out to the garden, and if she found a green-horned tomato worm feasting on her plants, she'd certainly smash it.  Heroically, we'd pull the worms from the vines, and place them safely in their new homes.  In protest the worms would spit-up on us, a sticky green mess that smelled of tomato vine.  By lunchtime we'd smell like tomatoes from head to toe.


Okay, not a very appetizing memory, I have to admit.  But the point is that just the smell of tomatoes on the vine brings me right back to these moments as a child in the garden.

Tomatoes are everywhere these days, and I can't help but buy them every chance I get.  The kids eat them like apples, juice running down their chins, and I've been known to add them to just about anything.  Someone once said: Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom is adding it to your fruit salad.  Well, I haven't yet added them to a fruit salad (it's coming), but I did make a pie with them last weekend.  This Caprese pie is everything we love about Caprese salad, baked into a tender crust.  Finished with a sweet drizzle of balsamic sauce, I can almost imagine I'm back in that garden.  The tomatoes are ripe, and there's not a sticky, green worm to be found.

Monday, July 14

Caramel Bean Truffles with Fleur De Sel


"What's a caramel bean?" you ask.  Let me explain...

Last month I was invited by Snack Out Loud to participate in a recipe showdown with two other Colorado based food bloggers.  Snack Out Loud would provide their Crunchy Bean Snacks and I would "reinvent" a recipe using one of their five flavours.

Never one to pass up a good challenge, I said "Bring it on!"

A day later a huge box landed on my doorstep.  Inside were several boxes of Snack Out Loud's Crunchy Bean Snacks.  The kids wanted to dig right in, but I needed to do a little research.  So we lined the five different flavours up on the dining room table and I started reading down the list of virtues on each package.

Gluten Free
Non-GMO
Vegan
All Natural
Packed with fiber and protein (7g per package!)
Made using 100% wind power (cool!)
Produced in my home-state of Colorado (local!)
and (most important to me!) Nut-Free

I was getting excited already, but I still hadn't tasted them.  So we ditched our typical afternoon snack (bread and fruit) and dove into the boxes on the table.

I went for Ranch first.  The beans were light, airy and crunchy and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were slightly spicy!  This isn't your run of the mill potato chip ranch flavour!  It had a kick to it!  I closed my eyes and recipes flooded my mind.  These would be perfect sprinkled over a salad . . . like croutons . . . but perhaps that was a little too simple.

Next I grabbed a bag of Jalapeno Cheddar.  Whoa!  My tongue was on fire!  Immediately I thought of breading a chicken cutlet with these, serving it along side a spicy mango black bean salad with a cool margarita to wash it all down.  I got out a notebook and began jotting down recipe ideas.

Eve, meanwhile, was very happily munching away on a package of Tomato Basil bean snacks.  I took a few and thought of pesto.   Could I replace the pine nuts in traditional pesto with these?  A nut-free pesto served over pasta!  I wrote it down in my notebook.

Connor grabbed a bag of Smokey Chipotle BBQ.  A few seconds later he was panting and fanning his mouth with his hand!  These were a little sweet and a lot spicy!  I finished off his bag and got him a big glass of milk.  They reminded me of a sweet, smokey chili.  Something we'd eat on the camping trips of my childhood.  The kind of chili you sop up with hearty cornbread muffins . . . I scribbled "bake into cornbread" in my notebook.

Alas, it was getting late and we were all quite full (7 g of protein, remember) but there was still one flavor that no one had tried.  Lightly Salted.  I picked up a bag and popped a few in my mouth.  Crunchy.  Salty.  Mild.  Then it hit me: This was the perfect "blank canvas" on which to create a work of art.  Something unusual, out of the box.  Something decadent and sweet and unexpected.  The recipes poured in faster than I could write them all down.  In the end, when I finished the package, one word was written on the bottom on the notebook page: "Caramel."


And so, after a few days of playing in the kitchen with melted sugar, chocolate, ice cream and even a little spiced rum, the recipe was finally born.  I was inspired by the crunchy texture to create a candy that was deep, rich and salty.  I tossed the beans in a little homemade caramel and sprinkled them with cinnamon and sea salt.  They were amazing just like this - like caramel corn (I even sprinkled a few on my ice cream that evening).  I was tempted to eat the whole batch but held out.  I had bigger plans for these crunchy little caramel beans.  I made an easy chocolate ganache which I formed into little balls around the caramel beans.  I put the remaining beans in a plastic bag, handed Connor a meat mallet and let him go to town.  When the beans were crushed,  we rolled the truffles in them, pressing all that caramel-y, salty goodness into the sides of the candy.  Et voilà!  A nut-free caramel bean truffle was born - crunchy on the outside; rich and smooth on the inside.

And now you know what a caramel bean is.

Check out the recipe on SnackOutLoud.com and visit their facebook page to see what my competitors came up with.  Then vote for your favourite!  You can vote once a day and be entered to win a carton of your favorite Snack Out Loud flavor.
 CLICK HERE TO VOTE!

Wednesday, June 25

Bishop Castle, Rumors of Ghosts & a Picnic in the Woods


It's like something out of a dream... or a nightmare, depending on how you look at it...

Driving down an obscure road, winding like a snake in the grass through the Colorado mountains, its towers rise above the trees, capped by gold mosque-style minarets that catch the sun.  Like a Gothic castle out of Game of Thrones, it's nestled among the pines and aspen trees on the mountain side.  An empty moat stretches out in front, and a gatehouse and drawbridge stand open to greet visitors. 


Since mid-February, the kids have been hinting that they want to go back to Bishop Castle.  Finally here, they run under the iron gate and across the bridge, paying no attention to the silver-headed dragon that emerges over the castle walls.  This dragon (with the help of a hot air balloon burner and two redirected chimneys) actually breathes fire!

Hiking up the eroded mountainside, the castle walls loom before us like a sleeping stone giant, at once both threatening and enticing.  Legend has it that a ghost wanders these halls at night, slipping through the rock walls and keeping watch from the towers high above.  A vapor in the form of a small child with the voice of a man, he disappears like a wisp of smoke into the cool mountain air.  He draws us in.  Beckoning in the softest whisper, "Come in.  If you dare."  Or perhaps that's just the wind, moaning through the open windows.


But where rumors of ghosts are concerned, it's always a good idea to start at the beginning.  So let me take you back 45 years, when a man by the name of J. Bishop began collecting the pink granite rock, carving out a hillside, and building the foundation of a cabin.  As the cabin grew, passers-by began asking if he was building a castle.  He soon decided that's exactly what he'd do.   By hand, stone by stone, without a single blueprint or plan, the castle began to come to life.

Wednesday, June 11

Welcome Summer

Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.
-from Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Breezy sundresses, hanging lifeless in my closet for far too long.  Lazy weekends at the pond.  Sun hats, bare feet, pedicures.  Farm stands and fresh herbs from the garden.  Popsicle stains on t-shirts and sticky little faces.  The open window above my bed, the breeze that smells of Russian olives and stirs the curtain while I sleep.  Chilled Pinot Grigio on the patio as the sun sets and a garden of stars blossom one by one.  Fresh, easy meals, laced with laughter and garnished with smiles.  Food that's just as good cold, served straight from the refrigerator. 


It finally feels like summer has arrived in Colorado.  We're soaking in every drop and falling back into the summer routine.  Which means our largest meal is lunch, served outside on the patio in the shade of a huge elm tree.  The same tree that lost two branches in February under the weight of winter snow.  I worried that we wouldn't have the shade we used to, but the other branches compensate and it's just as comfortable there as always.  It doesn't matter that the tree drops leaves into our wine and sticks into our food.  We love it anyway.

In the evening, when the sun is low, the kids ride their bikes to the park.  I tag behind, watching them weave and wobble down the bumpy sidewalk, enjoying the sun on my back and the breeze in my hair.

 
We can't get enough cool soups, pasta salads and fresh garnishes these days.  Today's lunch was no different.  A vichyssoise which I made last night.  This leek and potato soup gets better with age!  I served it cold, along with a cool stelline pasta salad.  I'm in love this little star shaped pasta!  So festive and fun for summer parties or the Fourth of July!  The pièce de résistance was a garlic marinated lamb steak with a basil-mint gremolata.  The kids picked the herbs from the garden this morning as I was putting the steaks in the marinade.  I cooked the steaks on the grill for just a few minutes when we were ready to eat.  It couldn't be simpler than that.  Food that's ready when I am.  The perfect summer lunch!

Monday, June 2

Not Your Grandmother's Beanie Weenies



Beanie Weenies.  Not the most glamourous of meals by any stretch of the imagination.  It's one of those kitchy old dishes that grandmother's always loved to serve to their grandchildren.  Or at least mine did.  Often - when we spent the night and felt oddly grown-up sleeping in the dusty room which we knew was haunted, under the covers in the creaky old iron bed - there were beanie weenies for dinner.  Am I the only one with memories like this?

I don't know why I was craving them last week.  I haven't had them in ages.  Except that I was going through an old box of black and white photos and came across a portrait of my very young grandmother.  The same portrait that hung in that room, just above that old bed.


Being the foodie that she was, I'm pretty sure my grandmother's beanie weenies never saw the inside of a can, but hard as I try, I haven't been able to recreate her recipe.  I just can't get it right.  So I came up with my own.  With souped-up ingredients like caramelized onion, spicy jalapeno, smokey molasses, pepper bacon, and uncured beef hotdogs.  It's something that the foodie in me can appreciate just as much as my children appreciate the sticky, sweet and smokey flavor.  It's like a sophisticated cross between Boston baked beans and beanie weenies.  Here's my pimped-out version.  These are definitely not your grandmother's beanie weenies.