Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Saddest Plant Ever

Recently due to family need, I was away from home for 18 days.  Now I have lots of great friends that offered to help, but the house was going to be cooler than normal and my husband would be able to water midway so I thought the plants would be fine.... and really they were.  But do your remember the below plant from the earlier, plant post?

Doesn't it look all bright and happy.  See all the new growth at the bottom, under the big stalks? 

When I got back from from this trip, this plant looked pitiful!  It was clearly crying out, "Help, I'm dying!" 

Look at how flat those stalks are on the counter and the leaves are just hanging!  I've never seen stalks flatten like this.

So, I pulled it quickly out of the cold window as we turned the heat up in the house and I gave it a glass of water.  I assured it all would be well, turned the light out and headed to bed.  Hey, our flight got in at 11 PM. 

The next morning sure enough, it was acting like a rubber plant and bouncing right back.  I tell you what, plants really should get the best actor award for "poor pitiful me" acting.  Here she is perking up after less than 24 hours.  Sure, I have some dead leaves to pull off the plants, but it looks like they have all survived the experience.

The moral of this story:  Most plants react pretty well to so-so care.  Give them water when you see them complaining and they'll come back, with that "Hah, we scared you" look.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happiness is good

Welcome to my happy world. I'm going to take a brief break from cooking to talk about a topic I've been thinking about a lot lately, happiness. I have a feeling I'll have a Happiness theme going for awhile, as I find myself with interesting happiness thoughts to share.

I recently read the book, "The Happiness Project". People ask, why would I read such a book, am I unhappy? No. But I do believe I could be happy, at peace, grateful, and joyful more hours out of the day.  I picked up the "The Happiness Project", well more like downloaded it to my Kindle, because someone suggested it.  Almost immediately I enjoyed it and from the beginning it was because Gretchen does a great job of making it ok to want to be happier, even if the world wasn't already ending around you.

I particularly liked her argument that to make happiness a practice now, when life isn't horrible, helps us to learn and embrace the things that make us happy.  The idea is when that horrible phone call does come, and in some form it will come, we have this knowledge on which to fall back.  In this Happiness Project, Gretchen focused on different areas of her life for a month at a time, for a whole year.  If interested at all I encourage you to get her book and check out her blog,   

She kept coming back to one point that I want to focus on in this posting. She had 12 Personal Commandments and the first one was "Be Gretchen".  I will admit that my struggle with how to "Be Christine", is a key issue in the times I am unhappy or frustrated.

Towards the end of the book, Gretchen states, "I realized the importance of my First Commandment, "Be Gretchen".  As great minds throughout the ages have pointed out, one of our most pressing concerns should be to discover the laws of our own nature.  I had to build my happiness on the foundation of my character; I had to acknowledge what really made me happy; not what I wished made me happy.  One of the biggest surprises of the happiness project was just how hard it was to know myself.  I'd always been slightly exasperated by philosophers' constant emphasis on what seemed to me to be a fairly obvious question, but in the end I realized that I would spend my whole life grappling with the question of how to "Be Gretchen". 

I think the key part of that statement is "...not what I wished made me happy".  Throughout the book increasing happiness meant always identifying, what does Gretchen like to do?  Not, what should she like to do because other people enjoy it.  Personally I struggle with this often.  I have a good idea of what I like to do.  But, are there other things I do, that don't add anything to my day or week, because other's want to do it?  And how much of that should we do to make other people happy?  It turns out other people's happiness has a lot of effect on our own. 

So, in the coming holiday season I am going to think about this commandment and in trying to remind myself to "Be Christine", maybe I'll learn a little more about what "Be Christine" means.

I hope you all learn how to "Be Yourselves" a little more each day and appreciate the person you are, not the person you wish to be.

Rubin, G. (2009). The happiness project: Or, why I spent a year trying to sing in the morning, clean my closets, fight right, read Aristotle, and generally have more fun. HarpersCollins Publishers, New York: NY.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Beauty of Pumpkin

Remember those beautiful pumpkins I roasted?  In addition to the Pumpkin bread on which I already reported, I've been enjoying the pumpkin almost every day. 

When I roasted these pumpkins I fully intended to freeze enough for a pie later in the year, but it's so tasty.  I've been eating a bowl every day.  Sometimes with Greek yogurt, but always sprinkled with cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg.  It's been a great snack and sometimes breakfast! 

Now my pumpkin is gone.  But before that happened I did make one pie.

Isn't the benefit of Pumpkin Pie that it's easy?  Mix the ingredients and pour them in the shell - right?  Well, maybe my cookbooks are getting more involved, but I chose a recipe for this pie that added a step of heating the filling before baking it in the pie crust.  For this pie I used Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything book.  This is like the Betty Crocker Cookbook for this generation of young cook's.  All the necessary recipes are here and it includes a lot of grains, which are old in other countries, but newly found here in the US.  This really is one of the best catch all cookbooks you could buy.

Pumpkin Pie (from How to Cook Everything)

1 pie crust of your choosing.
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch ground cloves
pinch salt
2 cups canned or fresh pumpkin puree
2 cups half and half, cream, or whole milk

  1. Prebake the pie crust.  When the oven is done turn the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Beat the eggs with the sugar, then add the spices and salt.  Stir in the pumpkin puree and then the half and half.  While the crust is baking, warm this mixture in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is hot to the touch; do not boil.
  3. Put the pie plate on a baking sheet.  Pour the pumpkin mixture into the still-hot crust and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the mixture shakes like Jell-o but is still quite moist.  Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Don't ever underestimate the power of a simple piece of pumpkin pie with a dollop of whip cream.  Perhaps it's the orange color or maybe all that vitamin A that just leads to happy feelings and thoughts.  Either way, have yourself a slice this holiday season and see for yourself.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Everything Pumpkin

Fall is one of my favorite times and part of the reason is I love pumpkin, the flavor of pumpkin that is!  I had two organic Colorado pie pumpkins sitting in the garage just waiting to be used - oh they were so patient, but it was time.

First, I roasted the pumpkins.

After they cooled,  I carefully cleaned all the pulp out and sent the skins to the compost pile.

Second, I roasted the pumpkin seeds.

I've always played with the best way to roast seeds and I think Camilla over at "Enlightened Cooking" has figured out the secret.  I followed her steps for Roasting Pumpkin Seeds, found here.  The key was to make sure they were plenty dry before hand.  More please!

Finally, well not for the pumpkin, but for this blog post, I had the dream of good Pumpkin Bread floating around in my head.  Elise at Simple Recipes, put that dream in my head with her posting for Pumpkin Gingerbread.  Unfortunately, I didn't print it out when I first saw it and on the day I was going to make it we had an Internet outage.  I'm not talking a 10 minute outage, I'm talking our Internet was out for 22 hours.  Wow, that really made me realize how much I use the Internet!  So I had to make up my own recipe, with that idea in my head.

This was a very successful recipe.  I took a recipe from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book and made some changes. This made one loaf, which is good, we did not need two of these evil and oh so yummy pumpkin bread loaves to eat!

Pumpkin Bread (Based on King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking recipe)

This recipe is typed from the book, with my changes below.
2 cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour, traditional or white whole wheat
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup (7 1/2 ounces) packed brown sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (9 1/2 ounces) canned pumpkin
3/4 cup (3 ounces) chopped nuts (optional)
3/4 cup (4 1/2 ounces) raisins, dried cranberries, or chocolate chips (optional)

Christine's Changes:
  • I amped up all the spices a bit and added 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger.
  • For the sugar, I added 1/4 cup molasses and only 2/3 cup unrefined, organic sugar.  It's brown, so that should work, right? 
  • I had a very healthy cup of pumpkin, probably closer to 1 1/4 cup.
  • I added nuts, but no chips or raisins.
  • I only had 6 tablespoons butter, so I added 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Only one more change, but how many of you are like - why bother making the recipe if she's going to change it so much?  Where's the challenge in making a recipe with no chance of failure?  :)
  • Flour - I used a mix of whole wheat, brown rice, and quinoa flour.  I've been trying to cut down on wheat to figure out if it's causing some stomach issues, but as you can tell, I'm not ready to give it up yet!
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x5 loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients, flour through spices.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.  Beat in the vanilla and pumpkin.  Add the dry ingredients, mixing until evenly moistened.  Stir in any optional ingredients.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake until a cake tester (known in my kitchen as a toothpick) comes out clean, about 1 hour.  Remove the bread from the oven and place it on a rack to cool for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, run a table knife around the edges of the pan to make sure the bread isn't sticking, turn it out of the pan, and place on the rack to finish cooling completely before slicing. 
I can verify that the world doesn't end if you slice before the bread is completely cooled.  What's the point if you don't get to enjoy a nice warm slice of bread?

 A piece of fresh Pumpkin Ginger Bread with a drizzle of honey and butter.  Yum!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Winter Arrives

Is it possible to have too many soup posts?  I don't think so! Especially on days that look like this.  It was a week where I needed the comfort of my kitchen.  And on this Tuesday, I took the weather to mean we needed soup and cornbread.  So, I randomly pulled one of my many cookbooks off the shelf and chose a lentil soup recipe.

On this day I chose The New Best Recipe cookbook from the editors of Cook's Illustrated.  They aren't kidding, I haven't had a bad recipe yet out of this book, and the Hearty Lentil Soup didn't disappoint.   The recipes often have a couple more steps, but there is usually a reason and it's fully explained.  I was able to quit work at 5PM and have this soup ready for dinner before 6:30 PM, and it tasted like it had been simmering for hours. 

I also made the Golden Northern Cornbread out of the same cookbook in that time frame, but here I will just share the lentil soup recipe.

Hearty Lentil Soup
3 sliced bacon ( I used some ham I had)
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped medium
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 can diced tomatoes, drained ( I used my own ripe tomatoes on the counter and cheated by adding 1/2 slow roasted tomatoes.)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 cup lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 teaspoon salt
   ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth ( I used the fresh chicken broth I'd just made from Sunday's roast chicken!)
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Fry the bacon in a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, 3-4 minutes.  Add the onion and carrots; cook stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant , about 30 seconds.  Stir in the lentils, salt, and pepper to taste; cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the vegetables are softened and the lentils have darkened, 8-10 minutes.

Uncover, increase the heat to high, add the wine, and bring to a simmer.  Add the chicken broth and the water; bring to a boil, cover partially, and reduce the heat to low.  Simmer until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape, 30-35 minutes; discard the bay leaf.

Puree 3 cups of the soup in a blender until smooth, then return to the pot.  Stir in the vinegar and heat the soup over medium-low until hot, about 5 minutes.  Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley and serve, garnishing each bowl with some of the remaining parsley.

I wish you a warm quiet kitchen when it's most needed and I hope it comforts you, as it does me.