Place Value

My late winter/early spring project is taming our basement. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again, I’m sure, but I’m attacking it a little bit differently this time.

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I was thinking¬† about mise en place, like you do, and was inspired to think of the storage in the basement in a similar way. How can I best arrange things so that when Andrew wants to do woodworking, everything is handily available for him? When I want to can, all of my tools are quickly accessible? When it’s time to paint the hallway, supplies are ready to go? I know the value of this kind of thinking in our living spaces. It’s time to bring it to our dank and dusty spaces too.

A Watched Pot

Every morning we set a giant pot of sap on the burner. It boils and roils and creates its own damp weather system above the stove. At the end of the day, we are left with golden sweet syrup.

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Unless, of course, we mistake the amount of time left to boil and step away from the kitchen, as I did today. Then we are left with billows of smoke and a pot lined with foul-smelling ash. Can’t say I recommend it on pancakes.

Milk It

Knowing we’d be entertaining vegan guests, Rowan and I spent some time tweaking and testing cupcake recipes before her birthday party. The one we settled on makes a rich, dense, chocolately cupcake that impressed even the vegan-skeptics among us.

rowan is 16 brownie cupcakes

Whether you prefer your milk come from cows, goats, almonds, soy, or rice, I’d recommend having a tall glass handy.

Vegan Brownie Cupcakes with Cacao Cookie Dough Frosting

2 cups sugar

1 cup brown sugar

Rounded cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups margarine, melted

4 Tablespoons ground flax seed

12 Tablespoons water

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 Tablespoons almond milk

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Before you begin mixing up the batter, you’ll need to prepare your flax egg-replacer. Mix flax with water and let sit in fridge for at least 30 minutes. An hour’s better.

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine sugar, brown sugar, and cocoa powder.

Add melted margarine.

Add flax mixture, vanilla, and almond milk.

Add dry ingredients.

Stir til just combined.

Fill cupcake cups completely. (Don’t fill three quarters of the way as you often do for muffins and cupcakes.)

Bake for 20 minutes.

Yield: 14 cupcakes

Vegan Cacao Nib Cookie Dough Frosting

10 Tablespoons margarine

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon molasses

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 Tablespoons almond milk

Cacao nibs (We love Taza Chocolate’s nibs. We took a free tour on a cold winter day a few years ago, and have been hooked on their bars and their baking and chocolate-covered nibs ever since. Well-played, Taza.)

Cream margarine.

Add brown sugar.

Add flour.

Add powdered sugar.

Add molasses, vanilla, and almond milk.

Add cacao nibs.

Pipe or spread on cupcakes. If piping, use a very large tip to avoid clogging. If it does clog, insert a chopstick into the tip and wiggle it around a bit.

Sprinkle with cacao nibs.

(Photo by Dagny.)

Calm Before the Storm

My younger sister makes incredible oatmeal cookies. Each bite crunches and chews and melts all at once. Every few years I would try to bake them myself according to the recipe she gave me, but my cookies were always a disappointment – cakey and soft and wrong. I tried every variation of the recipe I could think of. Cold butter, warm butter, light brown sugar, dark brown, longer cooking times, shorter cooking times. Each variation left me with a pile of cookies I didn’t particularly want to eat.

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I resigned myself to the fact that I would only have a truly good oatmeal cookie when Jeanne felt like making them for me. Then Dagny paid a visit to my older sister, Anna, and came home with a recipe Anna has apparently been using since high school that had somehow passed me by.  Finally, finally, I can make my own crunchy, chewy, melty oatmeal cookies.

If you’re on the east coast, you should have time to whip these up before the power goes out.

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Or am I the only one who equates storm prep with a marathon baking session?

Anna’s Oatmeal Cookies

Preheat oven to 350.

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups flour

2 1/2 cups oats

6 oz chocolate chips

Cream butter.

Add sugars.

Add eggs and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Anna’s instructions are to bake for 5-7 minutes. I think I make my cookies bigger than she does, but mine bake for 9-12 minutes. They’re ready when they’re golden and the edges are lightly browned.

Selective Hearing

My mother-in-law says the perfect Hamantaschen recipe is her legacy to my children.

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She also says something about only making them once a year, at Purim, but we’re a little hazy on that part.

One Potato, Two Potato

One of the foods I was most surprised by when we starting growing more of our own and shopping at local farms was the potato. I figured a potato was a potato. Ends up there’s a whole world of varieties, and, like many foods, a whole world of difference between what you buy in most grocery stores and what you’ll find at a farm. We’ve only grown potatoes one year ourselves, but I expect we’ll do it again. In the meantime, I’m happy to buy potatoes from the farmstand.

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Potatoes are a great food to buy in bulk if you’ve got the space for them. I picked up a 50 pound bag of creamy winter white potatoes today for less than half of what the same would cost at the grocery store. Kept cool and very dark, they should keep us in french fries for quite a while.

Pie Pusher

In our family, pies are not just for holidays. Just about anything might inspire a pie craving, but by far the most reliable craving-inducer is to watch an episode (or two…) of Pushing Daisies. When the characters are not talking about pie they’re rolling dough or mixing pie filling or adding secret ingredients or making deliveries of pie in the most picturesque of wooden boxes. You might think the murder central to each episode would dull your appetite, but, no. The creators of the show managed to turn dead bodies into just one more layer of creativity and visual deliciousness that leaves you hungry for the next episode. It’s like pie for your eyes, and it’s guaranteed to make us want pie in our mouths.

Apple Pie

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

7 cups apples, peeled if you like, and sliced or chopped

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 Tablespoons butter

1 egg yolk

1 Tablespoon water

Grated sharp cheddar cheese

Pastry crust (We like this recipe.)

Combine apples, lemon juice, sugars, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Lay pastry in bottom of pie pan.

Fill with apple mixture.

Dot with pieces of butter.

Cover with top pastry, poke steam holes, and crimp edges.

Whisk egg and water, and brush on top crust.

Cover edges of crust with tin foil.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes.

Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 20 minutes

Remove tin foil and sprinkle top of pie liberally with grated sharp cheddar cheese, then bake for a final 20 minutes.

Keeping Score

In the beginning we count weeks, “I’m 30 weeks pregnant.” Later we count months, “She’s 15 months old.” We ease into the idea of years, as if that will slow a score of them from suddenly passing by. The me who counted weeks and months made a decision and a promise. If time was going to pass as quickly as everyone said, if children grow in the blink of an eye, she was going to do her best to truly experience it. She would be with her kids. She would pay attention.

Dagny turned 20 years old this week. We started the day with pumpkin waffles, ended it with chocolate cake, and spent the day between together. I was there. I paid attention.

Pumpkin Waffles

1/2 cup brown sugar

6 Tablespoons cornstarch

2 1/2 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

4 teaspoons ginger

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

4 eggs, separated

2 cups milk

2 cups pumpkin puree

8 Tablespoons melted butter

Break up cornstarch with a whisk.

Add dry ingredients.

Separate eggs.

Add pumpkin and milk to yolks and set aside.

Whip eggs whites til stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Pour melted butter into the pumpkin mixture and whisk together.

Mix wet and dry ingredients til just combined.

Fold in eggs whites.

This recipe makes 9 waffles, and can be cut in half.

(Cake photo stolen from Dagny’s instagram.)

Seed of an Idea

So you’ve got yourself a pumpkin and you’re going to make a pie. You scoop out all the goop, and then what? Throw it on the compost pile? Not a bad idea, but you can do better.

Why not rinse the seeds and lay them out to dry so you can plant your own pumpkins next year?

Maybe you’re more an instant gratification kind of person? Try this.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Preheat oven to 400.

Rinse seeds.

For every 1/2 cup of seeds, mix 2 cups water with 1 Tablespoon salt.

Boil the seeds in the salt water.

Remove from water, spread on cookie sheets, and bake for 10-20 minutes, til crunchy.

Sprinkle with salt, cayenne, cinnamon and sugar, whatever you like.