Tomorrow I’ll post my favorite Christmas bread recipe! Just a few end of year thoughts for now. 

Epiphany. Stripping the house of colored lights,
Christmas tins nestled among tissue,
the last of the candy canes crushed or eaten.
Presents unwrapped and stockings folded
the past year slides off gently
the bright egg still smooth, still whole.

sometimes it’s easier to write about
the brilliance of nothing.
the missed connections
that out of the blue feel fatal.
mary oliver, send me a bright parrot
with your words held in its mouth,
write the melancholy for me
so I can speak only of the light.
Resolutions…I know we’re all familiar with writing them! What is it, an average 8% success rate or something? I definitely don’t have any claim on resolution keeping – the only one I remember from last year was a lofty (!) goal of a poem a day. That happened for January and a some random days in-between (above).

Honestly, I think often we’re too hard on ourselves. Resolutions are usually black and white always this and never that/this many times per week/overarching life changes. Embracing small is something I know I’ve struggled with this past year.

So I’m proposing life restoration practices for resolution starters this year. Just a few I'm thinking on...I want to restore my relationship with writing – restore being active more often after getting over an injury – restore and strengthen eating mindfully & restore taking more time to breathe and be slow.

Happy, happy New Year’s everyone!!


It's Almost Thanksgiving!

In the spirit of the season, here's a classic Thanksgiving dish recipe from my kitchen back at home. I could live without the turkey and mashed potatoes at the table, but not without this! Credit to my mom, who dreamed this one up.

Sweet Potato Casserole Puff 

4 medium sweet potatoes
½ cup milk/soymilk
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs. butter
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
1 Tbs. ginger (fresh grated best, worth it)
Pinch of salt

Cook sweet potatoes, diced and peeled. Quick to steam (15 or less minutes). Once done, remove from heat and mash while hot, adding milk, brown sugar, salt, butter and spices. Place in a greased casserole dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes with the lid on, should be starting to brown just a bit around the edges.

¾ cup granola (crunchy best, maple or nutty kind) - Bear Naked's my fav
½ cup pecans
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs. butter, melted

Combine all ingredients but butter. Drizzle butter over top and mix together. Layer topping over baked sweet potatoes. Bake for another 10 minutes with the lid off so topping gets nice and crunchy. Should be browned and steaming!

What's your favorite Thanksgiving dish? Do you have family tradition sides you always make?


Tomato Sauce

It's better homemade.

It was the day before I left for Bellingham, one more night before the process of moving and settling back in, then classes/homework...less time for let it simmer for a few hours kind of food projects. In my case, I decided to further stall the inevitable and pack sauce in jars rather than my clothes and books in boxes. That last night in beautiful Missoula was the perfect one for making tomato sauce from the 20 something MT homegrown tomatoes my friends gifted me with over break. Even popping them as midday snacks I still had way too many left. 

Tomato sauce sounded simple enough – the right blend of spices, garlic, onions and a hodgepodge of beautiful slightly overripe tomatoes.

Be forewarned, this is a roll up your sleeves project. Granted my general organization and tidiness tendencies don’t always extend the kitchen, I used every counter and cutting board for preparation and ended up with a few tomato juice streaks down the drawers.

A good tomato sauce is like a good bread dough, it’s awesome on its own, just tomatoes and a bit of salt. But you can really kick it up a notch with fresh herbs and not rushing the time it takes for the fruit to really simmer and break down.

Basic Tomato Sauce
25 medium sized tomatoes or a mix and match of comparable large and small
3-5 TBS of Marsala (high alcohol cooking wine) or just some leftover cheap red wine
A large onion, diced
3 cloves (or more) of garlic
2 peppers of your choice - bell, jalapenos - whatever your spice preference
pinch of salt, few grinds of pepper
A few generous handfuls of fresh basil

1) Process your tomatoes. First, slice an X in the bottom of each then blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds or until the skin peels back with your fingernail. Transfer them to a pot of ice water to cool.

2) Peel the skins off and cut your tomatoes in quarters. I decided to use a strainer over a measuring cup to drain out the seeds and reserve the juice to add back in later. It was sort of tedious, but nice to have the extra juice to add back in later once the sauce had thickened. Roughly chop up your tomatoes and transfer to a bowl.

3) Add a drizzle of olive oil, your onion and garlic to a non-aluminum pan (don't want the acids in the tomatoes to react with the metal or you'll get a funky taste). Add your peppers after a few minutes.

4) Once the onions are getting soft, add the Marsala/red wine and bring to a simmer, covering the pan.

5) Add the S&P and then your tomatoes, pushing down a bit with the spatula to break them up. You could probably use a potato masher for this to speed things up, but they will break down fine on their own too.

6) Leave the pan simmering uncovered on low heat for at least 30 minutes, checking in every now and then to make sure things are coming along. If you like a really chunky sauce like me, you might want to let it go for upwards of an hour - I promise its worth the wait! If you end up going a little overboard on thickening (which I did this time) you can add back some of your reserved sauce to reach that perfect medium. In just the last few minutes, stir in the chopped basil.

7) If you can't wait...cook some pasta and enjoy a ladle of your sauce right away. Or spoon into glass jars to use in a week in the fridge or to the freezer if you want to pull it out for a quick dinner later. The above recipe made 2 large glass jars worth of very thick sauce, you'd probably get 3 if you left it thinner.


Its Zuk Season

Hello friends! Here we go. I follow tons of recipe blogs (won’t divulge that number…I swear I do do more with my life than think about/make/consume food, but hey it’s a serious highlight). I love the idea of blogging, but haven’t been motivated to start. Since cooking and baking are something I do an awful lot of, whether its a sweet-tooth remedy or a great way to delay studying for a test....the kitchen is my happy place. Though I know my risotto may very well never quite reach Top Chef status and my cake decorating skills at this point haven’t evolved beyond edible flowers…maybe  a good cooking & baking dialogue can provide some inspiration!

So, welcome. I’ll start with a good basic cake I can’t get enough of this summer. It’s based around that favorite, abundant of summer veggies – the one where you have to keep your car windows up so neighbors don’t pile your seats with them –zucchini! Though this veggie was my childhood nemesis, I’d like to think my palate maturing has led me to a greater appreciation of it – or maybe it’s because everything is better smothered with dark chocolate or cheese (another recipe with a good dose of cheddar & zuks coming up later). This cake’s hard to beat, and adapted from Gimme Some Oven.

This recipe goes out to the friends I spent time harvesting zuks and other veggies/fruits with on Lopez Island this summer.

Ingredients for your cake
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
½ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. sea salt (Trader Joe’s makes a great one)
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
½ cup olive oil
½ cup buttermilk (if you don’t have it handy, use the same amt of milk + ½ Tbs. lemon juice or vinegar)
3 eggs
2-3 tsps. vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini, yellow or green (no need to peel, gives the cake some fun color! also, don’t drain it, good to have the extra liquid)
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts (pecans good too!)

Next, ingredients for the chocolate glaze
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (Baker’s bars)
6 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. milk
1 ½ Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. vanilla

Putting it all together
Get your oven going heating to 350 degrees. Lightly oil and flour a Bundt pan, so it looks all beautiful after your hard work.

Whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda and powder, and sea salt in a small mixing bowl.

In another larger bowl, use a mixer to combine the sugars and olive oil. Add your buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. Stir in your grated zucchini. Add your dry ingredients from above, then use a spoon to mix in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Pour the batter into your Bundt pan and bake for 35-45 minutes, depending on your oven. I’d suggest taking a look a little early, better a little bit of wet crumbs than dry, crumbly cake. Give your cake 10 or so minutes to cool in the pan, then flip it onto a wire rack. If you have any trouble – it happens, even with a good greased pan – try tapping the bottom of the pan with a spoon or even running a knife real cleanly around the outside and inner edge until you feel it give. Once your cake is well cooled, drizzle your glaze on top.

Glaze directions
Glazes are my new favorite cake topper. They’re simple, no mixer required and don’t require cups of powdered sugar. This one is good and rich, so a little goes a good way. Use a little saucepan on med-low to melt your chocolate and butter together, stirring. Take it off the heat and add in the rest of the ingredients. It’ll pour better and look smoother if you let it cool for a bit before pouring on the cake. So take this time to try some and make sure it’s good to go.

If you’re feeling adventurous and weather permits, it looks beautiful with a few edible flowers on top! I love to use nasturtiums, day lilies and pansies. I first learned this recipe this summer on Lopez Island, where it’s traditional to decorate celebratory cakes with flowers. And honestly, making a cake anytime is a celebration in itself right? What's your favorite cake to bake and share?