Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The waiting is the hardest part

It’s cold and dreary here today.  We were promised rain, but it doesn’t look like the sky is going to deliver on the weatherman’s pledge.  Three days ago I woke up to snow on my outside deck.  I wish it would drizzle; at least that would be something reminiscent of spring.  At the moment it’s just gray and yucky.  The conditions outside are painting the atmosphere indoors.

I’m trying to appreciate the difference between waiting and being patient for things.  To wait is defined as “to stay in place in expectation of,” and Neil Gaiman wrote that “[waiting is] a sin; … a sin against both the time that was still to come and the moments one was currently disregarding.”  Patience, on the other hand, does not mean you are disregarding the moment you are in, or that you are merely staying in place until something happens.  Being patient means that you are taking the moment in stride, experiencing it calmly and without complaint.  I wait too much.  I’m waiting until I have more time, more space, more money; notions that are in no way guaranteed.  And I do feel that it is a transgression against my family and myself.  I wait too much; I must learn to be patient.

But I will be ready for some warmth and sun.  Cold, grey days make me want to bake.  I’m trying to get healthy and fit and this weather is really working against me.  Today, for example, I made some cookies - coffee and cream cookies.  They’re that great combination of crisp and chewy, with cocoa and chocolate and nuts, and the coffee flavor makes them a special treat for grown-ups.

It did start raining after all.

Coffee and Cream Cookies adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

 2 T instant coffee crystals
3 T light cream or half-and-half
1 cup butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl, dissolve the instant coffee in one tablespoon of the cream.  Stir until well mixed.  Put aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium high, beat butter for 30 seconds.  Add the sugars, baking soda, and salt, and beat until well combined.

Beat in egg, vanilla, and coffee mixture until dough is uniform in color.  Add flour a little at a time.  Beat as much as you can with the mixer, mixing the rest with a wooden spoon.  Dough will be very stiff.

Divide dough in half.  In one half, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream, cocoa, and chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts).  Stir until well combined.  Add chocolate chips to the other half of the dough.

Drop 1 teaspoon of each dough side by side on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Press the two halves together.  Bake for 8-9 minutes.  Cool on the cookie sheet for 1 minute, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields about 48 cookies.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Coming back

Last week, I went down to Florida to see my grandparents, who I haven’t visited for about three years.  I drove down with my two boys and my mother; my husband unable to get off work.  There are smells that will take me to their home outside of Jacksonville in an instant.  Sulfur, from the water there; the smell of pine trees when you walk out the door on a humid morning; dried eucalyptus; and now Tide detergent.  I know that Tide isn’t an obscure brand or anything, but for the past year, I’ve been making my own laundry detergent which is mainly scentless.  I used my grandmother’s washing machine to wash all the dirty clothes before packing to come back, and when I unpacked at home, the scent of Tide washed over me, bringing a little of my grandparents’ house with it.

Now I am home, and it’s officially spring.  In Florida, it was between 80 and 85 degrees the whole time we were there.  I felt like we just skipped a whole season.  Once back in Virginia, though, things were put right.  The high today is 61 degrees, and tomorrow it’s expected to be 49.  We celebrated the coming of spring by flying a kite.  Kite flying apparently takes some skill, a skill which I do not possess.  My husband does.  Lucky for me and Max, watching someone fly a kite can be almost as exhilarating.  Watching it struggle against the wind reminded me of carrying a child in the midst of a temper tantrum. First, they stiffen all their muscles, fighting you as you hold them.  When that tactic doesn’t work, out of nowhere they go completely limp, throwing off your balance as you struggle to keep them from falling through your arms.

When Ed flies the kite
When I fly the kite

The changing of the seasons does something to me, and the trip down to Florida is magnifying the effects.  The daffodils and forsythia are blooming, and all around there is new life.  Forward thinking predominates.  But, when the weather changes, nostalgia fills me like a consumption.  I am torn between elation from the amazing, beautiful way Nature works, and a crippling sadness.  Down in Florida, being with my kids in the place I spent summers when I was a child, it was strange.  I felt like I was remembering things that haven’t happened yet. 

I just made a pie that didn’t turn out, and that is bothering me much more than it should. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011


For the past few days I've been thinking, as much of the world has been, of the people in Japan.  It's strange that this natural disaster has occurred, destroying towns, ending lives, changing the coastline of a country and the tilt of the Earth on its axis, and yet, here, my life is going on the same as it was Thursday.  I don't know what can really be said.  I just know that I will sit in traffic for hours, I will pay almost $4.00 a gallon for gas, my dogs will bark at the neighbors and my son will cry inconsolably at 2 am, and tonight, I will go to sleep counting my blessings.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Recipes on Tape

A few days ago I invited my youngest sister, Tess, over for dinner.  I was making Belgian-style spaghetti, or "Domus Spaghetti" as my family refers to it  Domus is a wonderful little tavern just down the street from the town hall in Leuven, Belgium.  I'm sure that it served many different dishes, but in the eight years I live in Belgium I only ever ordered two, and the spaghetti the majority of the time.  

Let me say, that my knife skills are fairly poor.  But, I've been reading a little about technique, and practicing, so I was feeling pretty confident. I started on the onion for the sauce, chopping away as quickly as I am capable.  I know that most everyone who cooks knows this, but, it is very, very important to use sharp knives.  I was forcing my knife through half an onion, it slipped, and I sliced my thumb open.  Running my thumb under cold water, I quickly made two phone calls.  One to my husband, just to vent a little of my hysteria, and the other to Tess to tell her, please, come over now!  I pressed a cloth filled with ice against my bleeding digit,  trying to push thoughts of a permanently misshapen thumb out of my mind while I sang silly songs to Sam, crying in his Bumbo-style seat.  When Tess came over, she helped me get Sam into the front pack (the only thing that would soothe him) and she made dinner.  So I win!  I guess...

Tess is the youngest in my family, and my mother and my other sister and I like to tease her about her cooking.  She eats a lot of cereal and barely cooked Ramen.  The thing is, Tess likes cooking.  She is blown away by the fact that you can take several separate elements and combine them in a way that makes it one complete dish.  What Tess does not like, is reading.  I don't believe she looked at the recipe more than once or twice as she prepared dinner. I nervously watched as she finished the onion I had started, reaching under the raised knife to pick up scraps for the garbage.  
"What next?" she asked. 
 "Chop up the carrot." 
"Okay, now what?" 
"The bell pepper,"  
"Okay, what's next?" and on it went through the entire list of ingredients and the rest of the recipe.  We decided that what she needs are recipes on tape.  Do they make such things?

In the end, dinner was excellent, and the two glasses of Pinot Noir helped dull any residual pain I was feeling in my thumb.

Domus Spaghetti or "Belgian Spaghetti, Student-Style" adapted from Ruth Van Waerebeek's Everybody Eats Well in Belgium (If you can find this book, buy it!  It is full of mouthwatering dishes, from simple recipes like how to make perfect Belgian fries to ways to prepare wild game.)

This spaghetti is delicious and filling.  It's a meat based sauce, full of tomatoes and vegetables.The tomatoes are chopped instead of pureed, and the sauce is a little brothy instead of being thick and sweet.  The best thing about this recipe is that you can use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Don't worry if you are missing anything.  In Belgium it's served with mounds of Gruy√®re cheese an a bottle of hot sauce.

3 T olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 lb white mushrooms, sliced
1 large carrot, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb lean ground beef (I used ground turkey)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 T minced fresh parsley
1 can (14 oz) peeled whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 T tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb thin spaghetti

Over medium heat, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven.  Add the onion, pepper, carrot, and mushrooms; cook until soft, about 5-8 minutes.

Next, add half the garlic and the ground beef.  Break up the beef with a wooden spoon and cook over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink.

Add the sugar, spices, and herbs.  Next add the tomatoes and their juice, the red wine, and the tomato paste. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 35 minutes.

Add the rest of the garlic.  Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper, if needed.  Cook the spaghetti according to package directions.  When done, portion the spaghetti into bowls, and spoon the sauce over it.  Serve with cheese and hot sauce.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Up and Running

Okay, I've decided to start a blog.  And just like every writing assignment I've ever been given, I am having trouble knowing where to begin.  How is this for an itemized exposition:
  • I like food.  I like eating food, sharing food, making food.  I also love to read about eating, sharing, and making food, and I thought I might enjoying writing about the same. 
  • I love to read, and for me, that typically leads to thinking.  Sometimes I read something so profoundly sad, or funny, or meaningful (at least to me) that I want to share.
  • I have two sons, a three-year-old and a seven-month old, two cats, and two dogs.  I feel like I am in constant physical contact with another living thing 24 hours a day.  My plan is to use my blogging time as my alone time.  Not sure how that's going to work because even now my oldest son is telling me that he needs to use the computer to check his e-mail.
So that's mainly it.  All the while trying not to sound whiny and self-deprecating as I've done in my journals of the past.  And since you have been kind enough to visit, I would like to offer you a treat.  I would never invite guests over without offering some sort of refreshment.  And so, I present to you: 

This is a Peanut Butter Mousse Tart from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Pie and Pastry Bible.  It is a peanut butter cookie crust, with a light peanut butter mousse inside, topped off with chocolate ganache.  It's  fun and easy to make, and so delicious.  I allowed my son to lick the beater after I whipped up the mousse.  It took him about five minutes, but he got every last bit off.

Peanut Butter Mousse Tart (adapted from The Pie and Pastry Bible)

For the crust:
 1/2 cup - all purpose flour
1/2 tsp - baking soda
1/16 tsp - salt
1/4 cup packed - light brown sugar
2 T - sugar
4 T - unsalted butter (cold, cut into cubes)
1/2 cup - creamy peanut butter
1/2 large egg (beat before measuring,  it should be about 1.5 tablespoons or .8 oz)
1/4 tsp - vanilla

You can make the crust in a food processor, or with an electric mixer.  Both ways follow the same basic steps, the difference being that you will want to soften the butter if using a mixer.  

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together.  Whisk to combine.

In your food processor or in a bowl with your mixer, beat the sugars to combine.  Add the butter and peanut butter and mix until smooth.  Next, add the egg and vanilla.  Gradually add the flour mixture and beat until just incorporated.  You then need to chill the dough for at least an hour.  

Press into a 9.5 " tart pan (I used a 9" pan).  She is amazing and is able to roll the dough evenly and then lay it into the pan.  I am less amazing, so I used the press method.  The dough is fairly sticky.  Once you have it evenly pressed into the pan, cover it and chill it for another hour.  Then, bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.  Allow to cool on a wire rack.

for the mousse:
7 T - cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup - creamy peanut butter
1 tsp - vanilla
3/4 cup - heavy cream, softly whipped (I whipped it with a wire whisk just until soft peaks started to form)

Once the crust is cool, go ahead and make the mousse.  Beat the cream cheese, peanut butter, and sugar together until well mixed.  Add the vanilla.  Beat in, on low speed, 1/4 cup of the whipped cream.  Then, with a rubber spatula, fold in the rest of the cream until the mixture is blended, but still airy.  Spoon your mousse into the crust and smooth.  Refrigerate while you make the ganache.

for the ganache:
3 oz  - milk chocolate (finely chopped)
2 oz - bittersweet chocolate (finely chopped)
1/3 cup - heavy cream
1/8 tsp - vanilla

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until just below the simmering point.  Remove from heat.  Add all of the chocolate and then stir constantly until all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.  Stir in vanilla.  Allow to come to room temperature.  Once cooled, pour the ganache over the mousse and smooth to the edge of the crust.  Refrigerate for two hours to set.  Before serving, let the tart sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.