Monday, December 27, 2010

Quality versus Quantity

The Christmas holiday has come and gone and though I have much to say about my adventures, like, what the best thing I ate was (trying to get the recipe) and a few other little tasty life lessons one can't help but pick up when spending that much time around loved ones, one thing from my travels sticks out in my mind today - toilet paper.

First off, I must explain that I was in and out of several airports in the last two weeks.  Normally, my toilet paper consumption remains entirely loyal to the bear brand (thank you very much adorable cartoon bears for displaying just how much stronger your little quilted paper is), however, when you travel, you are at the mercy of those who buy in bulk.  And, it never seems to fail - when I fly, I find myself in an airport restroom completely baffled at the concept of cheap toilet paper.

I mean really, what is the logic behind cheap, translucent-thin toilet paper?  Please someone enlighten me.  Please!  If I had to guess, I'd say the thinking must go something like, "Yes.  This is less expensive.  Let's by it in bulk.  We'll get more for the money" and yada, yada, yada…

Okay so every time, and I mean every time, I'm there scowling at this toilet paper that is literally thinner than a rose petal thinking, "WHY?!"

I can see through it!  Instead of using say like 5 or 6 squares to take care of business, I find myself gently, gently tugging down on the paper, trying so hard NOT to have it tear off so I have to start over.  I end up having to use like 5 times more of the cheap stuff than I would any regular T.P. because it's so painfully thin!  And the time factor - It means I have to be in there longer (which, who wants to spend any more time in a public restroom then they absolutely have to?  Who?  Tell me! Who?!  No one, that's who…)  I spend so much time gingerly pulling down the delicate paper so that I can get the quantity needed to get me out of there.  It's ridiculous!  It just baffles me.  In this scenario, I always find myself thinking that, as it relates to toilet paper, quality wins out over quantity every time.

And, don't even get me started on those automatically flushing toilets.  "I'm not done!!!!" I don't know if my butt twitched or something or if the little toilet nymphs just thinks it's a hilarious joke but seriously, I don't think anybody's saving water with those things.  Then when it actually is time to flush it's like, "Nope.  Sorry.  Ain't happenin'."

I apologize.  This is probably the definition of "Unappetizing," which, for a blog about food, is probably NOT a good thing but, it just stuck out in my mind and, I thought I'd share.

Hopefully, before the week is out, I'll be able to share the recipe for what the best thing I ate was this Christmas.  Because, who doesn't love to have one more dish to add to their stellar-dish repertoire?!

Peace & Blessing & a Happy Near Year.
Affectionately,
Rachel

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cup a' Joe

Those who know me are aware - I love me a cup of coffee.

It's not about the caffeine so much as it is the entire... experience.

I love opening my little brown bag, sticking my nose in and inhaling the scent.  I take great care in setting the coffee filter into place and then scooping in several heaping spoonfuls of grounds.  Filling the canister to just the right level, pushing that wonderful button marked, "Brew" and enjoying the rumble as the water begins to drip and the warm, brown beverage trickles into the pot.  

When I can tell the percolation is almost complete, out comes the soy milk.  

Careful not to spill, I pour myself a mug full of the steaming, bold brew and with a few, "Shake-ah, Shake, Shakes," of the ol' milk carton, I get a nice layer of foam on top as I pour the milk into my coffee.


The mug warms my hands as I take the first sip, breathing in deeply the full-bodied scent; my muscles relax as the warmth travels from my tongue to my toes.

Me and coffee, we've had a long, lustrous relationship going back to sometime when I was in high school.  I think it probably all started because of early morning band practice (nerd alert!) but, I'm not certain.  

It is one of life's simple, daily pleasures for me and, as you can tell, I enjoy it immensely.

Around Christmas time, I've been known to throw half a packet of hot cocoa mix in mine to make a little cafe mocha type drink for a little something extra special.

I have had several people express how they're quite impressed with the frothy, foamy top my coffee sports in the morning.  So, I thought I would take a moment to share my secret (it's all in the shake-ah, shake, shake of the soy milk before pouring it into the coffee) and to share some of the reasons why I enjoy a cup a' joe so very much.


This Christmas mug is especially… well, um… special because, there's a little snow-guy waiting there at the bottom of the cup, holding his little package, looking up at you as if to say, "Hello!  Hi!  I'm adorable!"

Well, I like him anyway.
So, however you may enjoy a cup, I hope it brings a smile to your face.

Merry Christmas,
Rachel

Monday, December 13, 2010

ScrumDIDDLYumptious - Part II

I've heard it called "Texas Sheet Cake."  Standing in the lunch line, me and my fellow teens referred to it as, "Wacky Cake" (don't ask me why).  I've taken the liberty of dubbing this similar creation, "Hot Cocoa Cake" simply because I used a box of special dark, hot cocoa mix to make the delicious, fudge like icing that topped this chocolatey indulgence.  So, whatever you choose to call it, it's most definitely worthy of the expression, "Ummmmm…" and an eyes closed sigh of satisfaction (especially when you enjoy it fresh out of the oven when the cake is still a little hot and the icing's a tad bit gooey).

Shopping List:
non-stick cooking spray
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 c. canola oil
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1 c. strong brewed coffee or water
1/4 c. dark, unsweetened cocoa
1/2 c. buttermilk*
1 ripe banana (egg substitute)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla

Frosting:
1/3 c. canola oil
8 packets special dark, hot cocoa mix (1 box)
1/4 c. milk
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Tools:
large mixing bowl
heavy saucepan
electric mixer
11' x 17 1/2' pan (standard size cookie sheet)

Preparation:  Combine flour and sugar in large mixing bowl.  In saucepan combine oil, shortening, coffee or water (I chose a strong Kona/Columbian blend for mine that was oh so nice), and cocoa.  Stir and heat to boiling.  Pour into mixing bowl.  Add buttermilk, baking soda and vanilla.  Mash up banana and add to mixture.  Mix everything together with electric mixer on high speed.  Spray pan with non-stick cooking spray then pour batter into it.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until toothpick tested in center comes out clean.  While brownies bake, prepare frosting.  Combine canola oil, milk,  and empty all contents of hot cocoa packets into a saucepan  (I used the same saucepan as above for less clean up) and heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Mix in powdered sugar and vanilla (add more milk if needed) and stir for smooth consistency.  Pour warm frosting over brownies as soon as you take them out of the oven.

Conventional recipes will tell you to let this cool and then cut it into however many bars your little heart desires.  I am of the mindset though that there's nothing quite so wonderful as enjoying a warm piece of cake or cookie right as it's come out of the oven.

As I mentioned previously, once the icing does have a chance to fully cool, it takes on a wonderfully fudge like quality which I'm quite a fan of too.


To be honest, I don't really no how much more delicious this recipe is compared to the original which, instead of hot cocoa packets in the icing just calls for 2 Tbsp. dark, unsweetened cocoa.  But, using the hot cocoa mix felt special.  I wanted to try it.  So, I did.

The result was a pleasing little piece of heaven that seemed just that much more befitting of the Christmas season which, for me, is inextricably intertwined with Hot Cocoa consumption.

So whether you make this dish just to love on yourself or for a group of friends who are absolutely not skipping dessert, I hope this brings a smile to your face and warmth to your home.

Merry Christmas,
Rachel



*For an easy buttermilk solution, combine 1/2 c. of a milk alternative (rice, soy, or almond all do great) + 2 tsp. vinegar or lemon juice.  Combine and let stand for at least 5 minutes while you prep other ingredients.

Friday, December 10, 2010

ScrumDIDDLYumptious - Part I

Yes.  I'll say it.  These treats are totally worthy of adjectives like scrumDIDDLYumptious or fanFREAKIN'tastic or any other word that might have an added descriptor stuck in the middle to let you know they're dawg gawn good.

Now, there are a few things that prompt me to make sweets:
One -  I have a gathering or party that I need to contribute to
Two - I get an idea for something that I think would be the bomb
Or Three - I have something in my house that is either A) going to go bad or B) is unusual for me to have on hand and therefore brings me back to two, an idea I want to test.

These baked goods were inspired by both Two and Three - I had three brown bananas (Part I) and a box full of special dark, hot cocoa mix (Part II).

The bananas, well, that was a no brainer.  "I'll just make Mom's Banana Bread," I thought.  But, in one fatefully glorious accidental move, instead of adding 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice, I added 1/2 tablespoon of allspice.  I knew as soon as I dumped the seasoning that I had made a mistake.  The particularly potent scent of allspice drifted up from the mixing bowl… where my eyes had failed me in my hurried attempt to pull out all the ingredients, my nose now testified to my folly.

There was, however, no going back.

This was just going to have to become a Banana Spice Cake.  In addition to the allspice, I added half a tablespoon of nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice.  The result was a wonderfully aromatic, spicy sensation.  Just imagine... spice cake and banana bread combined!

Shopping List:
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1/2 c. clover honey
1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
3 well ripened bananas
4 Tbl. milk alternative (use to make buttermilk)

From the Pantry:
4 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. white distilled vinegar or lemon juice (use to make buttermilk)
1/2 tbl. allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Tools:
mixing bowls
electric mixer
9' x 13' baking dish


Preparation:  Combine milk and vinegar (or lemon juice) to create buttermilk and let stand while you prep other ingredients.  With an electric mixer combine sugar, shortening, honey, applesauce and three well ripened bananas until mostly smooth (you may still have a few chunks of banana but nobodies gonna be mad about that).  Combine flour, baking powder, spices, and salt in a mixing bowl.  Add baking soda to buttermilk.  Alternately add buttermilk and dry ingredients to wet ingredients until all are blended well.  Add vanilla extract.  Mix well and pour into 9' x 13' baking dish.  Cook at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until toothpick tested in middle comes out clean.


(Yes.  That is the center piece, with the little hole there where the toothpick pronounced the completion of my bread. And doesn't it just seem that just as with the central cinnamon roll,  when it comes to cookies and cakes, the center piece is always the most coveted… it seems to beckon us, like a siren seducing sailors, calling to us in a voice so sweet that sings, "I am the gooiest, yummiest, most indulgent of all the pieces."  Children have no queries making their piece preferences known.  "I want the middle," or "Give me a side piece."  It seems that it's only once we've grown older that we somehow restrain that child like impulse to call the center piece like we would call the "shot gun" seat.  Go with you're inner child on this one.  Better yet, make your own dish and don't even wait to make your way to the center.  Go right for it, first thing.  Ah the joys of baking… ummm…)


Check back for Part II for how I make use of that box of special dark, hot cocoa mix.


XO,
Rachel

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lemon, Pumpkin Muffins

Some of you may be all pumpkined out.  But, for the die hard fans who are looking for a creative way to share pumpkin cheer throughout the remaining holiday gatherings this year, try this recipe for Lemon, Pumpkin Muffins.


When you take the first bite, you're mouth and nose are immediately filled with a zesty punch of lemon that's followed by a smooth, cinnamon, pumpkin finish.

Sprinkle your cooled muffins with cinnamon laced powered sugar and savor a lip lickin' good bite of this surprisingly sweet combo.

Shopping List:
2 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. granulated sugar
15 oz. can pumpkin
1 c. applesauce
1 c. powdered sugar
zest from one large lemon

From the Pantry:
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. pumpkin spice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
topping (about 1/2 c. powdered sugar + 1/2 Tlb. cinnamon)

Tools:
Mixing Bowls
Zester
Sifter
muffin pan


Preparation:  Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and salt in large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine granulated sugar, powdered sugar, applesauce, pumpkin, lemon extract, and lemon zest.  Gradually stir wet ingredients into dry.  Pour into muffin tins and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.  Once cooled, pour cinnamon/powdered sugar mixture into sifter then tap to sprinkle evenly over top of muffins.  Makes about 2 dozen muffins.


XO,
Rachel

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Best Thing I Ate this Thanksgiving

As we all well know, Thanksgiving is a much needed time of contemplation, reflection, and introspection.  It is a time set aside for counting our blessings and taking stock of the overwhelming amount of things we have to give thanks for.

It is also the only holiday that is solely dedicated to food.

That being said, I would be remiss if I did not share the best thing that passed my lips this Thanksgiving; and, believe you me, it had a LOT of competition.

My husband and I were lucky enough to share both a Thanksgiving lunch and a Thanksgiving dinner with both sets of parents of a couple friend of ours.  As my girlfriend's mom put it, "I am thankful for friends who are like family and family who are like friends."

My feelings never mirrored those sentiments more than this Thanksgiving.

Each meal had several standouts.  At lunch it would have to be the meatless stuffing (both families were so awesome to offer less meaty options), a surprisingly delicious pineapple/ cheesy/ cinnamony oaty dish that I had never seen or heard of before and a particularly scrumptious dish of sweet potatoes.  Dinner was an ah-may-zing smorgasbord too.  There were these little, edible, baked squash things that looked like the decorative pumpkins you see everywhere this time of year.  The squash baked into beautiful little yellow bowls of tender goodness.  There were pan roasted brussels sprouts (which were the bomb!) and the turkey was the most moist and well seasoned my husband has ever had.

My favorite item though was ---- dessert.  This may seem like a no brainer but, I am not typically a huge sweets person.  Hmmm… that's kind of a lie.  I try not to be a sweets person so I usually steer pretty clear of desserts as a rule and, if I'm going to indulge I get something that I can split with several people or I steal a bite from someone's plate.  This Thanksgiving though, my strategy was to try a little bit of everything.  But, I digress…  For dinner at her parents house, my friend Amanda made Mini Honey- Almond Cranberry Crostatas for her dessert contribution.  As it turns out, every year she and her dad have a bit of a dessert rivalry and they pole the table to find out who has been victorious in creating the most delectable dessert that year.  It was extremely close but, Amanda came out the victor.

I don't know if this is the exact recipe she used but, it looks like the same ingredients and process.

Make these minis for an upcoming holiday gathering and bask in the compliments as people, with mouths still munchin', tell you how good your dessert is.  Seriously.  These are "tell it to the chef with your mouthful" good.  Amanda doubled the recipe and used almond filler since she couldn't find almond paste at the grocery store.  Uhhhh.  So good.  It was one of those desserts that you tell yourself, "Okay.  Just one more bite," until all the sudden, its gone, your dabbing up the crumbs with your finger, and your eyeballing the few that remain on the buffet.

My husband disagreed with me about the winning dessert (I guess that's allowed).  His choice, "hands down," was the home made pumpkin pie artfully crafted by Amanda's dad.  It wasn't too sweet.  It wasn't too pumpkiny.  It was Goldie Locks good with just the right pumpkin to spice ratio where the natural pumpkin flavor sings and the spices are there in the perfectly palatable measure.  I too tasted this pie and it was most definitely exactly what a pumpkin pie should be.

Well, there you have it.  My favorite from Thanksgiving 2010.
I hope your holiday was full of family, friends, and food and that it was a holiday to remember.


XO,
Rachel

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I am Thankful For:

1. the beautiful morning frost
2. the priviledge to vote
3. family
4. morning coffee
5. my husband and best friend
6. sunshine
7. friends
8. my bichon
9. rest
10. nail polish
11. kindness
12. skyping with far away family and friends
13. jamming to music in my car
14. space heaters
15. a warm bed
16. a wonderful mentor
17. joy
18. power tools
19. laughing so hard you don't make a sound
20. switching the alarm clock to "off" on Saturday
21. the word, "Marvelous"
23. having more than just what I need
24. people watching - when noses and cheeks are pink and hands are warmed around steaming cups of ciders and cocoas
25. friends that become like family





I am thankful for all the men and women in this Great Nation's history, who died to secure the freedom that I now enjoy.  I am thankful for all those who have lived before me to perpetuated the principles of freedom that grant the patriots of this country such astounding advantages.  The freedom to be free.  Hmmmm...

"Thank you" to the Good Lord and Creator for the blessings he has poured out over the history of this Great Nation, America.

"Thank you" to those who gave dearly and suffered much at Plymouth Rock so that many of us today could enjoy a life of abundance.  

"Thank you" President Abraham Lincoln for, in 1863 delivering the "Thanksgiving Proclamation" establishing this day of remembrance and Thanksgiving as a national holiday:


The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. 

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.


No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in 
anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. 

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union. 

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. 





How marvelously moving.  How magnificently American.  I am just so thankful today.  Thank you for reading this blog.  I pray that your time spent today is a gift to you and to all those with whom you may see, pass, and interact.

"May the Lord bless you and keep you; may He make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you; may He lift up His countenance (smile) on you and give you peace." - Numbers 6:22-27

Happy Thanksgiving,
Rachel





Text for Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation taken from infoplease.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Scent is So Important

Scent is such an important part of my life (as evidenced by my bank account which shows several trips to the "smellin' good" store over the last couple of months totaling… ehemX number of dollars).

Scent is such an important aspect in setting the ambience of a home.  It's also sometimes the very first impression you make when you meet someone new.  And, I think it's also one of the reasons why I've grown to love cooking so much.

When you walk in the door after a long, hard day and your house is filled with the aroma of something delicious it's like your home is saying, "I love you.  Welcome home."

I kind of think of myself as a "scent mix-master" combining different candles or scented oils to add to the feel of fall or to achieve a coziness in winter.  Food does that too as we all well know (at least in my case, I know my desire for a cup of hot chocolate or a bowl of warm soup goes up like 172% once there's twinkling lights on trees and colorful leaves on the ground).

So whether you're enjoying the smell of a roasted bird, crunchy pecan pie, or firewood drifting from your neighbors home, I encourage you to close your eyes, take a deep breath in, and savor all the smells this Thanksgiving.

XO & Sniff Sniff,
Rachel

Monday, November 22, 2010

Vegetarian Holiday Baking: Almond Bread

Here's a scrumptious dish that will satisfy any palette this Thanksgiving.




ALMOND BREAD
buttermilk (4 Tbl milk alternative + 1 Tbl vinegar)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp almond extract
2 c. whole wheat flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 c. almond butter 
2 bananas
1 c unsweetened applesauce
1 c powdered sugar
1/2 c vegetable shortening
1/2 c honey
1 c diced almonds


Preparation:  In small mixing bowl or glass, combine milk alternative and vinegar.  Let sit for at least 5 minutes (components in milk will appear to separate; it will still bake up right).  Next, combine flour, baking powder and salt in large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine almond butter vegetable shortening, honey, powdered sugar, applesauce, and bananas and beat until blended with an electric mixer. Add baking soda to buttermilk.  Add buttermilk/soda mixture and almond extract to wet ingredients.  Stir in 2/3 c. diced almonds.  Fold dry ingredients into wet mixture.    Pour dough into 9" loaf pan and sprinkle remaining 1/3 c. diced almonds on the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for an hour and 10 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

I'm telling you, the smell of almond extract is one of my absolute favorite things.  It's sweet aroma fills up your home and it's one of those wonderful little ingredients that just makes friends and family say, "Ummmmm…  What's in this?"  Great words to hear when they're accompanied by a smiling mouthful.

Post After My Own Heart

Okay.  I am so totally trying this.  The picture is making me hungry (click on the link below to see what I'm talking about) and, as you can tell from my previous posts about the S.P., I'm totally a fan of sweet potatoes so, any dish that celebrates them as a shining star is my kind of eatin'.

Click here to see a recipe for Sweet Potato, Red Onion, and Fontina Tart.

Happy Thanksgiving Shopping Everyone!

XO,
Rachel

Friday, November 19, 2010

Life Lessons from the Garden Center

On a recent trip to the home improvement store, I stopped a man working in the garden section to ask him a few questions about how to care for my potted rose bushes over the winter.  This is my first time with rose bushes and one, I don't want them to die because they weren't exactly cheap and two, I love them.  Their fragrant, creamsicle orange, pink, and lavender blooms bring me so much joy throughout the spring and summer so, I wanted to make sure I gave them the best chance of surviving the winter.

Standing in an isle now mostly dominated by Christmas greenery and other twinkling decorations I said, "I know I need to bring the pots inside but, I don't really have a clue what to do after that.  Do I need to put a bunch of mulch around the base of the bush?  Do I need to cut all the branches back?"

With green thumb assurance, he replied, "Anytime you cut something back, it guarantees more and better growth next season."

He went on to say, if I just brought them in and made sure they remained moist and got sunlight, they ought to survive just fine.

But, I wasn't really listening…

In my head I was thinking, "I feel like there are a few areas in my life that have been being 'cut back' and it hasn't exactly been a pleasant experience."

But, I believe the principle here holds true for me too.  When it comes to cutting back my plants, the things that get snipped are areas that are diseased, dead, or, they're growing in the wrong direction.  The beautiful thing is, in the spring, those areas are replaced with new, better, vibrant, blooming growth!  May the same be true for me!

Isn't it just wonderful that that's how it works?  I know it sounds silly but, I really felt good standing their next to the Garden Guy.  I've totally been in a season of pruning but, I'm excited to see what new growth the next season will bring.

XO,
Rachel

Friday, November 12, 2010

What I'm Reading

Check out this article, "8 Ways to Stay Full Longer."

I think it has some helpful insights into tricky areas like, what are "healthy fats" and how eating certain foods helps you eat less… I know that doesn't sound like it makes since but, it works!

The only thing I disagree with is number 2. which says to chew sugar free gum as an appetite suppressant.  I'm sure this does help but I think the negative effects of this approach may outweigh the possible positive.

There is enough evidence to suggest that fake sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin do a lot more harm than good to our physical and even our psychological health.  Just google "dangers of fake sweeteners" and you will think twice before reaching for that "diet" soda or before handing your 8 year old another stick of that sugar free gum.

I think when it comes to sweeteners, what's produced by nature is MUCH better for our bodies (when consumed with self control and in moderation) than the concoctions created in a lab to look and taste like the real thing but that are actually no where close to natural.  Just because it says "0 calories" does not mean is has zero net effect on your body, brain, metabolism, whatever.  Calories are about how much energy something provides.  So that soda or sugar free cookie has zero calories from fake sweeteners.  That should all the more signal to you that you might be better off eating your Post-it Notes that ingesting whatever science lab creation you're about to devour.

That's a little bit of a tangent but, I think you get the idea.  Do a little research for yourself to discover whether or not that "0 calorie" claim is worth the other short term and long term effects we know to be caused by the consumption of the various, and now widely ubiquitous forms of fake sweeteners.

A Few Articles on the Effects of Fake Sweeteners:
Study:  Artificial Sweeteners Increase Weight Gain Odds
Sugar substitues and the potential danger of Splenda
Fake Sweeteners Boost Rat's Eating
Aspartame Warning

As with everything else in life, the choice is up to you.  But, the thing I more want to get at is the fact that, if you don't know there is a potential harm in consuming all the fake sweeteners that we take for granted won't harm us just because the Food & Drug Administration says so, then maybe you need a little reminder that YOU are the only person who is really responsible for looking out for your health.  No administration is completely unbiased and you better believe the FDA is no exception.  So, do a little research and then you'll be able to make the best, educated decision for yourself.  Because, unfortunately, what you don't know, can hurt you.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Food for Thought: A Daily Difference

I recently had a conversation with a friend wherein she talked about how, after graduating college, she went through what John Mayer might call a quarter life crisis.

You've gone to school.  You've got a place to live, a car to drive.  You got a job and now, it seems… well, that's it.  What else is there once you enter this stage to… spice things up?  What is there to make life interesting, to break up the daily grind or the monotony of life as you go to work day in and day out.

Wake up.  Get ready.  Spend hours at work.  Go home and get ready to do it all over again.  

I like to call it my "disenchantment phase."  The period (which by the way, I may very well still be in) when, you realize, "Life" isn't going to be or isn't presently what you thought it was going to be like.

The question that comes out of all of this really is, how does one cope on a day-to-day basis with the realization that "this is it."  I don't say that in a bleak way but rather, a revelatory one.

As I was thinking about this, the thought occurred to me that maybe this is one of the reasons why food is such a big part of our culture.  Possibly for some, probably for each and every one of us at times, it has been perverted into an unhealthy tool used to try to combat the seeming monotony of life.

Think about it.  We look forward to meals.  It's something different to do.  It's pleasurable.  It can be social, sensual, secretive, soothing… Maybe it's just me but, it just made sense to me when I thought of food as almost being a self administered anecdote to the routine of life.

Certainly our culture has proven that it can be misused as is possible with any substance that may be intended or may possess some healthful properties but can be perverted and abused to a point where it becomes unhealthy.  Maybe that's why we seem to be less and less satisfied with what used to completely satisfy before.  Like any other drug, the more and more you use, the more and more you need to achieve the original effect.

 Clearly, I enjoy the process of cooking and eating food, as a blog dedicated to the subject would intrinsically attest.  I don't know if I really have a point here.  But, I suppose if I can wrap this up into some kind of final thought, it would be that, I want to find more than just an edible way to make a daily difference in my everyday life.

There are many other ways.  Maybe they are less developed, or, not as readily apparent.  Maybe they're more expensive or would require me to step out side of my "comfort zone."  Maybe it would just require a little more diligence on my part.  For example, instead of surfing the web mindlessly for a little 10 minute "brain break," you might make a point to seek out something enjoyable going on in your city in the evening or on the weekend.

Maybe it's something as simple as subscribing to a magazine that you've always wanted to thumb through at the end of a long day.  Maybe you need to just break down and buy something frivolous like bubble bath and treat yourself to a long soak once a week.  I mean, I don't know what it is for you but, this is an area worth exploring I think.

Life can be overwhelming and the monotony can be draining, even depressing at times but, there are many things that, if we almost… force ourselves to go and do them, we will be happier, healthier, and more whole than if we just continuously settle for substitutes to make a daily difference in our lives.

That's my (hopefully) tasty little nugget for the day anyway.

XO,
Rachel

Friday, November 5, 2010

Scenes From a Party

You've seen the recipe for the Pulled Pork.
You've seen how the Veggie Chili was done.
Now here's a few pictures from an evening of fun.

The crock pot - hardest workin' thing in my kitchen. 

Clean and ready for a plate full of pork!


Spiking Station - ready for cider and soda alike.  Yipee!


A few bright, orange pumpkins placed here and there in each room,
and I have decor to last not one month but two!
(as long as they don't go and get all mushy on me)



A few appetizers and treats to satisfy lovers of both salty and sweet.


The Grand Finale - carving craftsmanship on display at the night's end.


XO,
Rachel



Monday, November 1, 2010

Veggie Chili

I'm so excited about sharing this recipe for Veggie Chili.  It was unanimously deemed a success when served at the Pumpkin Party along side the Brown Sugar Pulled Pork.  It's hearty.  It's warm.  You can throw the ingredients in a crock pot and walk away… All in all, this is a great recipe whether you're looking for an easy dish to serve to a group, or, just making a big bowl for yourself.







Shopping List:
(many of the cans are slightly over or under)  15 oz. can 
- whole kernel corn
- lima beans
- green beans
- black eyed peas 
- garbonzo beans (a.k.a. chickpeas)
- great northern beans
- kidney beans
- garden vegetable broth 
3-4 large stalks celery
3-4 large carrots
1 med. onion
6 red potatoes
7 garlic cloves
1/2 c. water

From the Pantry:
1 Tb. cumin
1/2 heaping Tbl. paprika
1 1/2 Tbl. chili powder
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
3 solid shakes cayenne
light sprinkling, red pepper flakes
2 Tbl. vegetable oil
1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Tools:
crock pot
cutting board
knife
large saucepan
spoon


Preparation:  Drain, rinse, and place in crock pot:  corn, lima beans, green beans, black eyed peas, garbonzo beans, northern beans, and kidney beans.  Slice up celery, carrots, and onion.  Chop potatoes into bite size pieces.  Finely dice garlic cloves.  Combine with other ingredients in crock pot.  
Stir in cumin, paprika, chili powder, garlic salt, cayenne, and red pepper flakes.  

Gravy - in a large sauce pan over medium heat, combine vegetable oil and whole wheat flour.  Cook until flour is slightly browned.  Slowly pour in garden vegetable broth and allow mixture to come to slow boil.  Stirring constantly, smooth out lumps in gravy and toss in salt and pepper.  Allow to boil about 5-7 minutes or until gravy reaches creamy consistency.  Pour gravy into crock pot, add water, and stir all ingredients together.  Turn crock pot to "High" and cook for 6-8 hours.


The next time you're at the grocery store, grab the ingredients, cook em' up, and satisfy yourself with a heaping cup of this nutritious and delicious, vegetable chili.   

The First of the Month

When I walked outside this morning, I was welcomed by the site of the first, real frost.

The edges of every blade of grass and the tips of every fallen leaf lay frozen, beautifully dusted with a rim of crystal lace.


The frost served to delicately announce the beginning of November.  There are still many trees with vibrant red, yellow, and orange leaves hanging on.  But many of their fallen comrades have become a part of the ground cover that will make it possible for all sorts of lovely little things to bloom in Spring.

Ahhhh yes… the first of the month.  I don't know why but, for me, it always just seems to fill me with such a sense of... possibility.  "What all will I get done this month?  What all will I accomplish?"

You better believe I have a "To Do" list full of things I'd like to get done.  But, I think what I'm most looking forward to is the time of Thanksgiving - a day when, we all set aside our bloated "To Do" lists, make time for one another, and pause, to give thanks, be thankful, and speak words of thanks to loved ones and dear friends around us.  It is a practice that is far too infrequent in my own life. I am thankful though, for the beginning of a new month.  

So, although it is officially C-O-L-D, I go forth on the first of this month, determined to approach  everyday with Thanksgiving.  I truly have so much to be thankful for.

XO,
Rachel

Friday, October 29, 2010

Trip to Trax

The Pumpkin Party is no mere gathering.  It's an event that spans the better part of the afternoon and carries on well into the evening.  And it all starts with a trip to Trax.

Trax Farms is, as one of my friends described it, like, "the Farmer's Market and Disney World combined!"

There is literally TONS to see and do at Trax Farms.  All in all, Trax covers about 325 acres of land and boasts a sales space of about 85,000 square feet!  Under it's roof, the barn hosts a wine shop, antique loft, fresh produce, a deli, a bakery (which is always bursting with yummy delights), a HUGE gift shop with tons of wonderful seasonal flare, a greenhouse, a nursery, and a grocery section to boot!

Beautiful, purple pears

Perdy potatoes

In the grocery section, we admired the gigantic broccoli.  
It didn't take long before they became bouquets.

The grocery houses a variety of specialty coffee flavors such as "Cinna-bun" and "Pumpkin Spice," which are fun to sniff whether you're just passing through or buying some to enjoy with breakfast.  There's also a glass inclosed beehive where you can see the busy little black and yellows working away.  Their lovely, golden nectar is available for sale right there too.


This time of year, there are caramel and candy covered apples around every corner and the smell of freshly popped kettle corn, made right before your eyes in a huge drum, hits your nostrils before you make it two feet outside.

Kettle Corn:  before 
(look at the size of those bags!)

Kettle Corn:  middle

Kettle Corn:  after (Just look at em'.  They grow up so fast)


Once you cross the threshold to the outdoors, not only your sense of smell but also your site is mesmorizingly assaulted by the vision of every colored mum you could ever imagine and giant mounds of bright, orange pumpkins piled sky high with tons of kids scurrying and stumbling over their surface.


Many a family sat amongst the pumpkins posing for what would undoubtedly become a very festive, Fall card.  My friends and I were no exception.  Such ripe, picture taking opps cannot go un siezed…



Trax Farms is a wonderful way to spend a day whether you intended to do it up BIG and ride the hayride to the pumpkin patch before photos in the pumpkin piles, or just wander through with a group of friends, smelling and seeing, taking in all that Fall has to offer.


My girlfriends and I did just that.  Each woman took great care in selecting the perfect pumpkin.

The beautiful Emily with her pick.

Lucia with her lovely.

Amanda with her pumpkin that's practically as big as her.

We made our purchases (some ladies grabbed a bottle of wine, a specialty cheese, or a bag of flavored coffee) and headed back to my home for the remainder of the nights events.

All in all, Trax was the perfect destination to kick-off the Pumpkin Party.  Come back soon as, there is still tons more to share about the food and festivities of this funderful event.





Here's a few additional pics from our trip to Trax… 
because I want you to feel like you were there!


Warty pumpkins… strange… very strange


These were pretty crazy looking

Ummm… Butternut Squash!  You know I'm a fan!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unabashedly

That's right.  Unabashedly.  I will unabashedly proclaim that, "I LOVE toasted PUMPKIN SEEDS!"

It's one of the reasons I love having people over to carve up pumpkins.  These gorgeous little beauties are just waiting on the inside to fulfill their crispity, crunchity destiny.

A sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar makes for a delicious treat.
And the standard salted variety is a no brainer when it comes to pleasing a crowd.  I have been known to sprinkle a little paprika, and, even a little cayenne pepper on my little seeds when I'm feeling especially adventurous during pumpkin season.

Basically, this is one tradition that I unabashedly embrace and particularly enjoy.

I love the slippery, slimy way the seeds feel after you've rinsed as much of the gunk off as possible.  I like the way they look all spread out in my cookie sheet.  I love the way they smell as the oven roasts them up; the toasted scent that wafts from the kitchen into the rest of the house beckoning me to pinch a few right out of the pan to test and see if they are of the perfect crispiness.

Below you'll find the recipe I used to toast some of my trappings from the Pumpkin Party .


Pumpkin Seeds with Paprika, Cayenne, & Salt:
Clean crud from seeds.  Spray cookie sheet with olive oil cooking spray.  Pour a layer of pumpkin seeds to evenly cover cookie sheet.  Spray seeds with olive oil cooking spray.  Sprinkle seeds with salt, then cayenne (so you can see how much you're putting on there since paprika looks very similar), then paprika.  Toast seeds for 30-35 minutes in oven at 325.  Seeds should be crunchy and just slightly browned when they're ready.


YUM!

XO,
Rachel

Monday, October 25, 2010

Brown Sugar Pulled Pork

It's hard to know where to start when talking about The Pumpkin Party… there were so many wonderful women, tons of delicious food, and, when it was all said and done, everyone walked away with a carved pumpkin under their arm and goody bags full of the nights delights such as toasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin spiced caramel corn (recipes to come!).


But, we have to start somewhere.  So, I figured I'd start with the dish that had the most universal appeal.

That dish -  Brown Sugar Pulled Pork.

Now, if you've been following this blog at all you know I don't really eat meat.  But, when I considered my menu for the evening I knew I wanted to offer my guests a meat option.


I knew I wanted to offer a meat option at the Pumpkin Party and I also knew I wanted there to be something exciting, or, unexpected about the taste… I wanted something in the flavors to evoke and speak to the rest of the spices I was going to use in all the night's dishes.

Spices are such wonderful, transformative things and their power is not something I take lightly.  Since my cooking aptitude is the least developed in the area of animal flesh, I turned to the best source I knew to help me harness this great power for good.

Enter, the talented and endlessly fascinating, Chef Luke Cypher.
You may remember him from an earlier post, Reverse Bruschetta.  


This recipe came right from his beautiful brain and was an absolute hit!  Many ladies took home leftovers to share with their men and, while gobbling down a bit today, my husband said, "I could eat this every day."  Yep.  It's hungry man approved and hungry girl approved because there wasn't a soul present who wasn't pleased with their pulled pork portion.

So, for those of you who are meat lovers, get ready to have an affair with a guaranteed party pleaser.  An added bonus to this dish is the fact that you can put it in a crock pot and then walk away… you'll find this is something I really appreciate in my food.  The less I have to coddle it to mature it to great tasteness, the more I love it… cherish it… and enjoy it so.

So, without further adieu, I give you, courtesy of the marvelous Chef Luke Cypher, the recipe for Brown Sugar Pulled Pork:


3-5 lbs pork shoulder
salt and pepper, as needed
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
water to cover


Rub pork shoulder with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and cinnamon.  Sear in a hot skillet till all siders are brown.  Transfer pork shoulder to crock pot with brown sugar and enough water to cover roast by half.  Turn to high and cook for 6-8 hours until pork is fork tender.  Once pork is done, remove from liquid and shred the meat.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When I stored my leftovers, I poured a generous amount of the liquid over top the remaining meat so that it would still be nice and moist when I went to reheat it.  I would guess at least 3-4 cups worth of the liquid, but, this will depend on how much meat you're storing.

With so many family get togethers and holidays around the corner, I hope many of you will try this wonderful dish.  The sweetness of the brown sugar warms your home with it's delicate scent and it's just such a great way to feed many with one slab of meat.