July 27, 2014

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.

July 14, 2014

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!

June 25, 2014

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


It's like something out of a dream....

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.

June 11, 2014

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!

June 2, 2014

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.

May 27, 2014

Orange Vanilla Cake


Several years ago we lived on the gulf coast of Florida.  I remember hunkering down in the living room while Hurricane Katrina raged outside.  Despite the evacuation order issued for our neighbourhood, I was pregnant with Connor and couldn't bear to leave home.  How the wind ripped the branches from the trees, the shingles from our roof, and the shutters from our windows (later found bobbing in the neighbour's pond)!  The sound of the rain as it battered our house, the wind hurling things at us from every direction!  Smash! - on the back of the house!  Crash! - on the roof!  Wham! - on the shuttered front window!  Yet, amid the chaos and confusion the air tingled with the strange energy of life at its most real and raw. 

Is it wrong to compare the end of the school year to a hurricane?  Probably, but that's how I've been feeling lately.  The flood of activity, the tingling, electric sense of change that hovers in the air.  When you have a food allergic child and all the school parties seem to revolve around food, it can feel as if you're being hit from every direction.  A cupcake party one day, a popsicle party the next, summer birthday celebrations, field day.  And then, late last week, there was a very special poetry tea.  The kids had worked so hard throughout the year.  Memorizing classics from Robert Lewis Stevenson, Aileen Fisher, Eloise Greenfield, HW Longfellow.  This year Connor had a solo speaking part, and I didn't dare miss it!


Knowing full well that a poetry tea means food, my mind was elsewhere as I rushed out the door without a safe treat for Eve.  It hit me like a tidal wave as we walked into the classroom.  I saw the look of longing in her eyes when she spied the long table in the back of the room.  Decorated with a colourful table cloth, over flowing with trays of cookies, chocolates, and ice cream bars.  There in the middle was a huge cake decorated with the class picture.  And she knew that nothing was safe for her to eat.  Or perhaps what I saw reflected in her eyes was the sudden, overwhelming feelings of shortcoming and failure on my part.  How did I not think ahead and bring something safe for her?

May 16, 2014

Pancakes for Dinner



The air is soft and light, like a cashmere sweater, just warm enough to be comfortable.  The birds are singing, the garden is turning green and weeds are popping up like - well, weeds.  And our world is awash in purple.

Warm spring days like these stir up the fondest memories of when I was a girl.  My grandmother would fill her house with fresh cut flowers from the garden.  She couldn't get enough.  A kaleidoscope of flowers in every room, eclectically arranged in old jam jars and chipped tea cups.  Lilacs, irises, tulips, cherry blossoms, and wild flowers which I'd gathered from the hills behind her house.  On May Day she would help me weave them into a crown to pin in my hair.  Throughout the summer months the sweetest, most intoxicating aroma would waft through her rooms, carried on the gentle breeze which rustled her embroidered curtains.  When she died and the house was sold, I transplanted some of her lilac bushes into my own garden.  These days, her lilacs grace my kitchen table.


On warm spring days like these, I throw open the windows and doors, and let the dog come and go as she pleases. You have no idea how happy this makes her.  She bounds in and out, relishing the new-found sense of freedom.  Finally she settles in the sunbeam that stretches through the open door and across the kitchen floor, only to pounce back out if a squirrel or bird ventures too close.  I love the sense of openness in the house, too.  The sun is brighter, the air is fresher and smells of rain and, like my grandmother's house, my rooms are dressed in royal shades of purple - irises, lilacs, lavender, and chive blossoms, all in bloom right now.

May 11, 2014

A Place to Rest


I'm taking a break from food today to write about something that's been heavy on my heart recently.  Something that's deeply personal and intensely private, but something with which I believe all allergy moms struggle.  The endless questions, fears, self-doubt, and monsters-in-the-closet that come along with raising a child with severe food allergies.  And the search for a place to rest.  Check out the full post on Freedible.

May 3, 2014

Red Wine & Balsamic Pot Roast with Polenta


There are times when writing this blog that I find myself at a loss for words.  I don't have a fabulous story to go along with my recipes.  I can't even come up with a fancy quote to go under the picture, and I'm just too exhausted to Google one.  Times when my thoughts are as scattered as the golden flecks of polenta that spilled from my trembling hands onto the black stove top last night.  If I could just manage to process them, refine them, maybe even add a little butter and salt, I'd have something amazing to say.  But I just can't fit the pieces together.  There are times, in fact, when all I have is a recipe.  Simple as that.  A recipe that's so deceptively easy, yet so luscious, rich and luxurious, that it would be a crime not to share it with you.

This is that recipe.  The meal I made last night. Or rather, it made itself in the crock pot and was waiting for me to stumble through the door, weary and drained.  Can you ever have too many crock pot recipes?  Or, for that matter, too many pot roast recipes?  I say, no.  However far too often crock pot roasts all begin to taste the same.  Have you noticed that?  So when I bought yet another roast, I knew I wanted something different.  Something rich and spicy and slightly sweet.  I began combining flavors as I pushed the cart up and down the supermarket aisles - tangy balsamic, woodsy rosemary, zesty red pepper, voluptuous honey...


This roast is fork-tender with a velvety, meaty sauce.  And if there's ever a perfect sponge for absorbing a sauce of this caliber it has to be polenta.   Polenta was made for meat sauce.  Of course, last night I used instant polenta, which took all of 3 minutes to prepare.  Because, as brain-dead as I was, that's about all I could handle.   So there you have it.  Me being honest with you at 11:30 at night, while my eyelids fight to close, and I'm hitting spell-check one last time.

This is a recipe for days when your thoughts are farthest from the kitchen, because we all have them...

April 24, 2014

Crossing Paths


 Do not go where the path may lead.  Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

There's a wild and wooded area not far from our house.  A series of paths loop and crisscross like shoelaces through the trees.  The kids love to run ahead, looking for smaller paths that intersect with the main ones.  They know these narrow paths are sure to lead to something amazing.  Isn't that always the case?  Some of the best opportunities are found only when you leave the smooth, straight path and venture deep into the forest. 


The path I was on runs parallel to another larger path, however the two rarely connect.  Occasionally, through the tree branches (still bare from winter) and the dense undergrowth (just beginning to turn green), I would see a jogger or a mother pushing a stroller.  Perhaps they saw me too, headed the same direction, on a different path, though we never met.  Our paths never crossed.  If I were to get to the larger path I must step off my well worn trail and navigate one of those rocky footpaths through brambles and wild bushes.  This is exactly what I did, without even knowing it, when I boarded a plane to Las Vegas last November to speak at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference.

April 18, 2014

Apple Trees and Asparagus



The apple tree is beginning to bloom and that means I'm craving asparagus.

When I was a child, my favourite story began like this: Once upon a time there was a little house way out in the country . . . There's a reason why The Little House has always fascinated me.  You see, as a girl my aunt and uncle owned an apple orchard way out in the country and I thought this story was about them.

We used to visit every Sunday when the weather was warm.  If you've ever read this story you can envision exactly how the place looked.  The house was up on a hill and out back stretched row upon row of trees fanning out from the house like the tail of a peacock.  In the springtime the trees were covered in pearly white blossoms and the orchard buzzed with a million bees.  When the weather got warmer we'd watch as the tiny green apples swelled and turned as rosy as our cheeks in the summer sun.  In the fall, when the leaves began to change and a cool breeze rustled the heavy branches, the kids would each be handed a paper sack into which we'd gather the fruit that had fallen to the ground.  The best apples were sold at the fruit stand down the road, but the ones on the ground were ours for the keeping, as long as we could wrestle them away from the wasps.  My grandmother would carefully select the apples that were salvageable and cook them down into apple jelly, and jam, and butter, and sauce to eat all winter long.


Along the back fence meandered a tiny stream.  An irrigation ditch, really, but to a city girl like me it was a wonderland, full of adventure and magic.  Bullfrogs hid in the tall, cool grass and garter snakes basked in the sunshine by the water.  Iridescent dragonflies swooped in and out of the cattails as I walked along the edge.  Here and there were placed rickety old boards to act as makeshift bridges.  A parent's nightmare; a kid's dream come true!  They would wobble, creak and crack as my brother and I raced across those boards into patches of white dandelion fluff on the other side.  More than a few times the bridges would tip us into the muddy water below.  I used to daydream under those apple trees, and I promised myself that someday I would live in the country.

But here's the best part.  The part that's not in the story book.  Along with the tall grass, the dandelions, the bullfrogs and snakes grew the most tender, sweetest, most delectable wild asparagus!  In spring, when the trees were in full bloom, the entire family would comb through the grass looking for the thick green spears.  You had to really search, like finding a needle in a haystack, they were well hidden.  But when we found one we'd cut it at the base and stash it in our bag.  We spent hours searching the orchard floor.  "I found one!"  my mother would yell from a few rows away.  "Here are three!" exclaimed my brother near the water where the grass was moist. . .  Like a treasure hunt, we'd filled up bags and bags of wild asparagus to eat throughout the week, and every Sunday there was more to be found.

April 10, 2014

A Million Flowers, Sugar Glass, and an Improvised Cake



"There are a million flowers in here!" Eve exclaimed when she woke up Saturday morning.  Her sleepy eyes began to sparkle as she took in the sea of flowers that covered the kitchen table.  She was right, maybe not a million, but that morning the table was buried in flowers.  Why?  Because in just a few short hours 8 five-year-olds would head through our door to celebrate Eve's birthday.

Last month, when asked what type of party she wanted, she looked up at me with those big brown eyes and said, in her most persuasive voice, "A Frozen party, of course....with lots of pink roses."  I know you're saying "Not another Frozen party!" because if you have children between the ages of 3 and 16 you've probably had enough of talking snowmen and that song you just can't get out of your head.  And you most certainly know that the store shelves are bare when it comes to Frozen merchandise, whether it's birthday decorations, books, or toys.  So I won't bore you with yet another Frozen birthday party post, because there are about 8,000 of them out there.  (I know, I Googled it.)


No, this post is about a party that didn't exactly happen the way I planned, and it turned out better than I could have ever imagined.  You see, when your daughter gazes up at you with a wisp of bangs in her chocolate eyes, and says "Please, Mommy, can I have a Frozen party?  Pretty please??"  Well, at least you try.  I scrolled through Pinterest and began envisioning a grand, three-tiered cake decorated like Elsa's ice castle and adorned with the Frozen characters.  I think I was more excited about that cake than Eve was.  I ordered the over-priced Frozen play set that is so popular right now (this one) at the beginning of March and congratulated myself for actually planning ahead for once.  Then I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  With the day of the party closing in and the cake decorations glaringly absent, I began to panic.

March 23, 2014

Pizza Party


Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.
Anna Quindlen

We had company for dinner this weekend and, as I've been so consumed by various projects at work, I didn't have time to plan until Thursday.  When I finally sat down to write out the menu, I drew a blank.  My pen tapped hollowly on the table. Tap, tap, tap...  "What should we have for dinner this weekend?" I muttered more to myself than to anyone else.

"Pizza!" yelled Eve from her bedroom.  She has the ears of a bat!  Of course.  Pizza is always the answer, isn't it?  That got me thinking.  Everyone likes pizza, right?
 
I remembered the Ratatouille pizza I made back in January with leftovers.  Hearty chucks of eggplant and zucchini, delicate shreds of sweet basil.  I've been meaning to make it again, with a topping that's not too wet, designed specifically for pizza.   And so I began planning a causal, relaxed pizza party.  Don't get me wrong; this is not you kid's standard, classroom pizza party.  I wanted a grown-up party with intense, grown-up flavours.  A party where my guests are laid back but the pizza is anything but.  Where the laughter flows as freely as the wine; where we eat with our hands, with our elbows on the table, and the conversation stretches long into the night.  That's my kind of party!


And so I started tossing various combinations of cheese and toppings around in my mind.  It had to be something that was a bit unexpected, a bit gourmet.  Something that my guests wouldn't soon forget because, let's face it, pizza parties are a dime a dozen.  I wanted to make an impression.  It wasn't until I finally went to the market Friday morning, and strolled through my favourite section of gourmet cheeses and charcuterie, that the menu became clear in my mind.  The ratatouille pizza would have a Parmesan and black pepper crust and would be dripping in tangy Asiago cheese.  Oh course, when I'm making pizza I cannot forget the salami one that my kids just adore.  Like pepperoni only smokier, without as much heat, with a sweet, homemade sauce and chunks of tangy Feta, I know that's what Eve had in mind when she made the suggestion.

March 16, 2014

Spellbound


If magic exists it lives in a pot of chocolate.  Like a cauldron of witches brew, the more I stir the more it bewitches me.  The aroma, rising in rivulets like ghostly fingers, grips and pulls me in, deeper and deeper I fall under its spell.  Hypnotic.  Watching my spoon trace endless circles round and round the pot.  And the colour!  The deepest, richest, darkest brown.  The very same, intoxicating colour of my daughter's eyes.  It draws me in, beguiling, ensnaring.  She has yet to learn the power she holds in those chocolate eyes.  My daughter, in fact, has chocolate running through her veins.  She was, after all, named after chocolate.  Vianne, her middle name, after Vianne Rocher, the enchanting owner of the chocolaterie in Joanne Harris' novel, and my very favourite movie, Chocolat.  And how very appropriate.  It was for my daughter that I created this pie.


As I sat at my computer last Friday, I was inundated with tantalizing photos of pie in my twitter stream and on facebook.  They were, of course, in honour of National Pi Day (that mysterious number that defines the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of each and every pie plate, large or small.)  As I scrolled through the recipes I realized, in horror, that I hadn't yet created a peanut-free, peanut butter pie for my chocolate girl!  The tragedy!  I had to come up with something immediately! 

So with all these glorious images at my fingertips, I scrolled through the peanut butter pies, picking and choosing only the very best elements from each to go into my salted double chocolate sunflower pie.  An Oreo crust - because Oreos are one of the few grocery store cookies she can eat and I wanted to indulge.  Sure they aren't the purest of ingredients, but for allergic individuals, if there's a food that's safe to eat, then it must be celebrated in all its unwholesome glory.  And celebrate we did, with 20 of them as the foundation of the pie.  The sunflower butter - it's beaten with tangy cream cheese and a good dose of vanilla.  Clouds of freshly whipped cream are carefully folded in, creating the most heavenly, pillowly texture.  If this filling was a bed, I'd sleep forever!  And the topping, the part I find most irresistible - pure, rich chocolate, gently melted into luscious cream and unapologetically smeared over the filling.  And as if three truly decadent layers were not enough,  let's not forget the sea salt.  The finest French fleur de sel, still moist, sprinkled liberally over the warm chocolate like diamonds embedded into the darkest mahogany.  Need I say more?  Or are you as spellbound as I am?

March 7, 2014

A Tale of Three Oranges




Long ago, in a palace on a hill, there lived a young prince who was very unhappy; he neither laughed nor smiled.  One day, a cunning witch set out to make him laugh.  For she was intent on marrying the stoic prince and becoming queen.  She dressed in her finest gown - a robe as colourful as the wildflowers in April.  Tiny bells, sewn into the lining of her skirt, chimed in rhythm with the sway of her hips.  In the palace courtyard, when the sun at its highest, the beautiful witch began to dance.  Upon hearing the bells and seeing the flashing colours of her dress in the sunlight, the prince came to his window to watch.  But, with each twirl, a silver thread which held one of the bells began to unravel and soon the bell came loose and fell to the ground.  The witch didn't notice and slipped on the bell, tumbling to the ground in a heap, her rainbow skirts billowing up around her like a cloud.  The prince, having never seen anything so funny in all his life, burst into laughter.  He laughed so hard that tears streamed down his face.  In amazement, the people of the palace stared out their windows and doorways at the witch.  For they had never heard their prince laugh.

The witch, quickly becoming enraged, stood and yelled in anger to the prince, who was still giggling in the most childish of ways, "Because you have laughed at me, I place a curse over you!"  Suddenly the prince felt a heavy sadness sink into the very depths of his heart.  "You will never again laugh... unless you find the three oranges,"  In a swirl of light and color she marched out of the courtyard, the bells tinkling behind her in the most melancholy way...

It's a bedtime story I heard many times as a child.  Like a pot of soup made with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, it's based on the classic French tale, Les Trois Oranges d’Amour by Alfred de Musset, with elements of various other fairy tales stirred into the pot.  My mother and grandmother each told it a little differently, and I'm sure I'm leaving something out.  I'd nearly forgotten the story; I haven't heard it in over 25 years!  And when I tell you what finally drew it from the deep recesses of my mind, you'll laugh.  You see, I bought a new bottle of hand soap for the guest bathroom several weeks ago.  Honey Citrus and Shea Butter.  Sounds innocent enough, right?  But, every time I wash my hands, a spell comes over me.  It has such a dreamy, intoxicating aroma that makes me so hungry.  "I must make something that smells this good!"  I tell myself, then quickly forget as I go about my day.



But let me get back to our tale.  My mother would tell it while I lay in bed at night, talking in a quiet voice while she swooped around the room, gathering up toys and clothes and blankets to be put away.  


Feeling so overwhelmed with sadness, the prince left immediately on a quest to find these mysterious three oranges.  He searched the countryside far and wide, under every rock and every tree.  He even climbed into the branches, searching for oranges among the leaves.  But alas, oranges didn't grow in this part of the kingdom, and his search with fruitless. (Pun intended.)  Soon he came to the seashore.  Dark clouds hung low in the sky as immense waves violently raked the sand and threatened to wash him out to sea.  Quickly he took shelter in a nearby cave.  It was so very dark that he could barely see his hand in front of his face, but in a flash of lightening he noticed something in the corner.  As he fumbled in the darkness, his hands came to rest on three small boxes.  They were cool to the touch and he quickly stashed them in his bag.

February 26, 2014

The Sunrise



 I’ll tell you how the sun rose, -
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.
The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
"That must have been the sun!"

A Day by Emily Dickinson

I must say, we've had more than our fair share of breathtaking sunrises this winter!

I experienced my first sunrise just a few years ago when my son started school.  As a night owl by nature, I rarely, if ever, saw the sunrise.  Sure, I must have seen it.  Perhaps in my college days, stumbling home from a night-long party.  Or maybe on a long, red-eye flight to London, trying to snuggle into a stiff airline seat to catch a few moments of sleep.  But had I ever actually experienced a sunrise in all its splendor?  On that day, when Connor started kindergarten, I rose early, before the sun and, by chance, found myself standing at the kitchen door as the sun was just beginning to rise.  It was still and very dark; the moon was a fine crescent hanging low over the mountains in the west.  Across the sky I watched as ribbons of violet, magenta, orange and amber slowly pushed away the darkness.  It was then that I realized, in sudden horror, what I had been missing.   Funny, but I always imagined that the sunrise would look much like the sunset - pastel hues of pink and orange that slowly fade to grey -  but this was entirely different.  Untamed, raw and powerful.  In that moment I thought, What have I missed all these years?!  Perhaps dawn is the one time when mere humans can catch a small glimpse of the sheer radiance of God. 


These days I have a favourite morning ritual.  I rise before the break of dawn, wrap my warm robe around my shoulders and slide into my slippers.  In the kitchen I put the kettle on for coffee, being very quiet so as not to wake the kids.  This is my time, not to be interrupted.  I pour coffee into my favourite mug with just a splash of cream and stand in the kitchen doorway.  The steam rises from the mug in my hands as I let the warm, gemstone colors of dawn wash over me until, at last, the sun breaks the horizon with such brilliance I have to turn away.  Then I can start my day.

February 16, 2014

Of War and Cabbage Leaves


There once was a young man who went off to war.  At just 20 years old, with tears in his eyes, he kissed the girl he loved and left Chicago, destined for the shores of Europe and a battle so fierce it left him with wounds that cut to the bone and scars that forever changed his life.  He spoke fluent German and was made an officer, leading his troops through tangled webs of barbed wire and across the dark and desolate battlefields, sodden with the blood of fallen soldiers.  Whether from friend or foe, blood is blood.  It congeals just the same, oozing into the muddy ground only to be picked up by the boots of the living, marching steadily toward their own graves.

So is the saga of war.  Menacing, like the black storm clouds that roll in quickly over the mountains.  Suffocating, like the fog that envelopes the trees leaving only vague impressions of branches that sway in an unseen wind.  In Italy, near the shores of Lago di Bolsena, he was captured.  A prisoner for years, he was transferred from camp to camp across Europe, until, in Poland, he escaped.  He traveled through the night, and desperately sought refuge with a sympathetic Polish farmer and his wife during day.  He hid among the turnips and carrots in their root cellar as enemy soldiers searched the farm house for escaped prisoners.  One day they found him, beat him, and left him in a prison cell to die.


But, lest you think this just a tragic tale of war, let me assure you that it is so much more.  It's a story of courage and survival and of the food that connects the two.  You see, human kindness stretches far beyond political ties, and this man was strong.  Stronger than anyone imagined.  He didn't die.  And as the years stretched on, he befriended the prison guards, speaking to them in their native language and repairing their watches when they stopped working.  In return, they brought him cigarettes and covertly slipped parcels of cabbage leaves tied with string through the cell bars.  Like little presents, these cabbage leaves held a sweet surprise.  Tiny bits of dark chocolate were hidden inside!  On these he survived, and eventually the war came to an end.  He was shipped back to America where he received a hero's welcome and a purple heart for his injuries.  His wounds began to heal, but the scars ran deep, as all scars of war do.  He was deaf in one ear from a muzzle blast that killed the man next to him, and the shrapnel in his leg was encased in bone, forever sealing it in a tomb of his own flesh and blood.  He married that girl he loved.  And life went on much as it did before the war.


Like all soldiers, he carried the horrors deep within, though his gentle hands and soft voice concealed the constant pain.  I never knew his story.  He spoke of it to no one.   Instead he made jewelry.  Elaborate pieces of twisted metal and stone.  Broaches, and pendants, and rings, engraved by hand in script so beautiful that you'd swear it was etched by the hands of angels.  He liked his mashed potatoes lumpy and his coffee black.  He made his own horseradish, so spicy it burned your sinuses and made you cry in both pleasure and pain.  In the summer he'd tend his garden where, in neat rows grew cabbage, turnips, carrots, onions, and corn, so high we kids would get lost among the leafy stalks.  On rainy days he'd pretend to be a pony, and hoist me onto his strong back, galloping on all fours around the house.  He drove fast, smoked cigarettes behind the house, and was always one for a good joke.  He'd slap his knee as he laughed and his eyes crinkled almost shut.  Some called him "Hero," others called him "Sir," many called him "Lieutenant," I liked to call him "Grandpa."

February 6, 2014

Winter boots and a hat in the snow



Don't try to buy snow boots in February ... when it's snowing ... in Colorado.  Don't even go looking for rain boots.  You won't find any.  We're caught in the midst of a relentless winter, yet all anyone wants are strappy sandals and flip-flops.  At least that's what you'd think if you visited one of the many shoe stores that I did last Monday, in search of some kind (any kind) of warm boots for my kids.  Like little lumps of bread dough rising in a hot kitchen, I swear their feet have doubled in size over the weekend!

We did finally discover some cold weather boots tucked in the back clearance section of one store.  In tattered boxes with missing lids, we found exactly two pairs.

"Do these look cowgirl-ish?" Eve asked, admiring her feet in the mirror.

"Umm..." I hesitated, "are they supposed to look cowgirl-ish?"

"Yes!" she replied.  I was becoming frazzled.

"Then, yes."  I assured her.  "They look just like what a cowgirl would wear in the winter - a princess cowgirl." I added just in case.

"Then let's get them!"   She jumped up and down in excitement.  Guess she takes after me.

They're not what I would have chosen if I'd had a choice, but I was happy we found some at all. Just in time, too, as another wave of snow arrived early Tuesday morning, and it hasn't stopped since.


The schools are closed and Eve would love nothing more than to gallop through the back yard in her new boots on her hobby horse named Chocolat, but her breath freezes in the icy air and the fierce wind blows her hat into the snow, and she begins to cry.

January 31, 2014

Orange and Blue, Through and Through



My grandmother always made these wings for special occasions.  Birthdays, holidays, parties, or just because.  In our house, the Super Bowl is a pretty special occasion.  And since I live with just about the biggest Denver Broncos fan ever, Sunday's game is nothing short of monumental!  I mean, more important than my birthday, and much bigger than Christmas.  My husband is orange and blue, through and through!  There will be a lot of cheering, a whole lot of screaming, and an embarrassing amount of testosterone fueled fist-pumping and couch-punching.  Despite what my family may think, I'm not a huge football fan (but don't tell them that!).  I'd much rather don my apron and take cover in the kitchen.  Planning a Super Bowl party is always fun.  This is the one and only time that the kids are allowed to eat in front of the TV, and that makes it even more exciting.  This year, I'm turning our Super Bowl spread orange and blue, in honor of our hometown team.


My husband has taken to calling these wings, Seahawk wings . . . and then, with a threatening growl, he devours them in one bite.  They're sweet, salty and sticky.  Have plenty of napkins on hand.  I marinate them in soy sauce and brown sugar for several hours, and then bake them to sticky perfection.  With the wings, I decided to serve these adorable baby bell peppers which I found in the market a few days ago, stuffed with blue cheese.  Blue and orange peppers, how fun is that?  Of course, every Super Bowl party needs a super cool treat, so I'm making these Orange Creamsicle Sandwich Cookies.  Sprinkled with orange and blue sugar, naturally, and filled with creamy frosting to match. You could, in fact, make them any color you like (even navy and green, I won't tell).  Sweet orange and creamy vanilla, they remind me of the orange creamsicles I used to love as a child.

January 28, 2014

The Bleak Mid-Winter


There are several small ponds that connect with the river that runs behind our house.  In the winter, they're a haven for thousands of geese which fly down from Canada.  In the summertime, we like to walk there late in the afternoon when it's cool and the sun is low. The kids splash in the water at the edge of one pond and chase huge bullfrogs into its murky depths.  The fishy smell of algae and vegetation envelope us and, though it's strong, it's not a bad smell.  In flashes of turquoise, sapphire and topaz, dragonflies dart between the cattails growing tall along the shore.  Turtles sun themselves on a rotting branch caught among some stones and ducks paddle leisurely through the still water, occasionally dunking their emerald heads beneath the surface for a tasty bite of something floating by.  The whole place buzzes with energy, vitality, and life.  


In winter, when cabin fever sets in, we bundle up in our heaviest jackets, scarves, and rain boots and drive to our favourite pond; it's much too cold to walk.  Just a quick visit.  How different she looks in the winter!  The muddy ground is hard as iron, the water is still as stone.  It's as if our pond is sleeping, peaceful under her pearly blanket of snow.  I get the eerie feeling that we are eavesdropping on a friend.  She doesn't know we're there, and we feel we must tip-toe so as not to wake her.  The stillness is overwhelming, the only sound we hear is the rustle of wind through the bare tree branches and, from somewhere unseen, the haunting call of geese.  The bitter wind stings our noses as we say goodbye to our sleeping friend and trudge back through the snow to the car.  On the way home I hear the words of this song deep in the back of my mind:
 
In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.
-Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894)


Bleak is a very good word to describe this winter.  I think most of us would agree, all this snow and cold has us longing for spring.  It's a long way off, I know.  In Colorado the heaviest snow falls in March and April.  Thick, wet blankets of spring snow that break tree limbs and paralyze the city.  So I must devise ways to bring the happy, sunny flavors of spring inside.  As I write this, our boots sit in a puddle by the back door, the icicles on our coats are melting, and the bright smell of lemon and thyme permeate every corner of my kitchen.  It smells like spring!