29 July 2010

Neighborly thanks

My mom called me yesterday and said that since I hadn't updated my blog, she just wanted to make sure everything was OK.

Yep, everything is just fine. We're just easing back into our routine after a week on the road in Oklahoma visiting family. We had a great time seeing babies, cousins, parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and, of course, that flat landscape dotted with oak trees and oil pumpers.

While we were away, we needed someone to check in on our chickens. Our three hens just started laying eggs a few weeks ago, so while they don't need their feed and water refilled every day, we did need someone to collect eggs. Our neighbors Mike and Diane offered to help, and I readily accepted. While they don't have chickens, they hardly think it's a novelty raising hens. They've lived on a farm, grew up with livestock and have children whose own hens provide most of the eggs they eat. They live in a house that's been in their family for more than 60 years, and they keep close tabs on what goes on in our little corner of the world.

Just before leaving and upon returning, we visited them several times, and Jasper was introduced to their fish aquarium and allowed to play with dolls in their living room. These grandparents know how to treat a little boy, and Jasper's no dummy when it comes to people doting on him. The last time we stopped by, he walked in like he owned the place.

As a thank you, I baked them a loaf of Whole Wheat and Molasses Quick Bread. It's from Mark Bittman, also known as The Minimalist, cookbook author and New York Times columnists. His recipes are always great, and I was introduced to this one by my friend Erin.

This bread is a cousin to that beer bread I love in that it is so easy to make that you think surely you must be missing a step. The molasses gives this bread a subtle sweetness, and the whole wheat flour and corn meal make it a dense loaf, perfect for thick slices.

Erin brought some to my house for dinner recently, and I toasted the leftovers the next morning. While I loved the bread the night before with just a smidge of butter, it was even better warmed with melting butter and a spread of raspberry jam made the week before by my neighbor Mike.

The Minimalist's Quick Whole Wheat and Molasses Bread
By Mark Bittman

1 hour 15 minutes

* Oil or butter for greasing pan
* 1 2/3 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt, or 1 1/2 cups milk and 2
tablespoons white vinegar (see Step 2)
* 2 1/2 cups (about 12 ounces) whole wheat flour
* 1/2 cup cornmeal
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 cup molasses


1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-by-4-inch or 9-by 5-inch
loaf pan, preferably nonstick.
2. If using buttermilk or yogurt, ignore this step. Make soured milk:
warm milk gently -- 1 minute in the microwave is sufficient, just
enough to take the chill off -- and add vinegar. Set aside.
3. Mix together dry ingredients. Stir molasses into buttermilk,
yogurt or soured milk. Stir liquid into dry ingredients (just enough
to combine) then pour into loaf pan. Bake until firm and a toothpick
inserted into center comes out clean, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cool on a
rack for 15 minutes before removing from pan.

1 loaf

Lighter Whole Wheat Quick Bread: Use 11/2 cups whole wheat and
11/2 cups all-purpose flour; omit cornmeal. Substitute honey for
molasses. Beat 1 egg into wet ingredients in Step 3. Proceed with

12 July 2010

The heat is on

Rice Salad with Mango & Avocado. Combine cooked white rice with cubed mango, avocado, thinly sliced red onion, green onion, salt, pepper, and a vinaigrette made of olive oil and red wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar. Serve cold.

Growing up, I don't ever recall the heat of an Oklahoma summer dictating too much of my life. It's possible that it did, and I just don't remember such things because I was too caught up the joys of summer.

When I was in elementary school, I remember thinking how amazing it would be if we had a Slip 'n' Slide, but somehow I still had a ton of fun running the neighborhood with Teddy, Talia, and, sometimes, my older sister's friends. I spent my middle school summers hanging with my BFFs Jenny and Lisa. We camped in Jenny's back pasture, stuffed Cheez Balls in our mouths until we could no longer laugh and took a few middle-of-the-night walks to meet up with boys. In high school I put my swimsuit on and mowed the yard, went fishing with my boyfriend and took the kids I babysat to the pool. Life, I'd say, was pretty good, not to mention air conditioned.

The climate in the Northwest is generally mild, so complaining about the heat seems silly. There's not much humidity, and even when the days warm up, the nights typically cool everything back down. That's why it seems unreasonable to have central air installed in our 100-year-old home. So, we install window units in the bedrooms to run just while we sleep. And the rest of the day, we spend rotating from one level of our home to the next, searching for the coolest spot. Sometimes it's cooler outside than inside, and sometimes you simply can't get an ounce of relief.

Watermelon Lemonade: Combine one quarter of a medium watermelon, in chunks, with a half gallon of lemonade. Puree in a blender or directly in the serving pitcher with an immersion blender. Strain through a cheesecloth or sieve if you want the pulp removed. Serve over ice.

That's how I felt last week, when, for three days in a row, the temperature climbed above 90 degrees. Yes, I know. I feel ashamed of my Plains State roots, complaining about a summer day in the 90s. But the thing you don't know, and couldn't know unless you lived it, is that when the nights don't cool off enough to really drop the temperature in your house, it begins to get like an oven, just slowly rising hotter and hotter each day. This is fine if you dart off to sit in an air-conditioned office all day, but we're just here. At home, in the heat. When the thermometer inside your house reads 80 degrees at 7:30 a.m., it's going to be bad.

So, hot, and pregnant, I went about my days last week keeping the heat in mind with everything from the clothes I put on to the way I'd do my hair (or not, as it turns out when I don't blow dry it) to the meals I'd make.

We ate rice salads, quinoa salads and pasta salads for dinner. I made no-bake cookies for our afternoon snacks, and, looking for a way to finally finished off a huge watermelon, I made watermelon lemonade to slurp through a straw while I watched Jasper play in the kiddie pool.

I'm fairly certain we haven't seen the last of the heat, and I am sure to be even more pregnant when the next heat wave strikes. I'll put another ban on using the oven. My opinions about the usefulness of bras will change, and I may even have to pull out the swimsuit (heaven help us all). But if I can find a shady spot to drink some watermelon lemonade and fill the pool for the boy, things will all right, heat and all.

06 July 2010


About this time last week, I was wasting some time on the computer when I remembered I was to take a dessert for four to a girlfriend's house that evening. I finally had my energy back after a miserable cold, but I just didn't feel like a baking spree.

I was, however, willing to drive to the grocery store to pick up a few things, and that's just what I did. I feel a little like Sandra Lee and her Semi-Homemade shtick telling you this, but I'll go ahead anyways.

I remembered I had some whipping cream in the fridge that needed to be put to use. And with beautiful strawberries and raspberries in season, I figured I needed to find a use for the ruby jewels. And lastly, I had to consider my hostess, who is not big on chocolate.

Somehow, I came up with trifle, that English dessert that's layers of cake and cream packed into a bowl. It's such a special dessert, there's literally a dish named after it, a trifle bowl, of which I do not own. And therein came problem no. 2.

Although my hair is not nearly as blond nor coiffed as Sandra's, and I seldom pose for photos with a piping bag in my hand, I thought of nothing but her as I shoved cubes of angel food cake into wine glasses. It really was perfect, really, given that I wasn't so much as making trifle, I was just borrowing it's layered presentation. I suppose you could make yours a bit more trifle-like by soaking your cake in some brandy or rum if you weren't already running late to your dinner party.

The most refreshing part of this dessert was that it didn't take long for my daydream of Sandra's test kitchen to burst. Once I said the word "cake," Jasper pulled a stool up and thought I'd finally gotten it right by serving bite-size pieces of cake. As the boy tried to ask for more with his mouth stuffed, crumbs flying everywhere and sticky little fingers all over the counter, I realized that this is exactly the kind of moment that would give Sandra's world a real homemade touch!

Individual Raspberry Trifles

1 angel food cake, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 8 oz package of cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 to 3 cups of raspberries, divided
1/2 cup + sugar
Zest of one lemon
Mint leaves for garnish

Puree one cup of raspberries and set aside. In a stand mixer, whip the whipping cream until it develops soft peaks. Transfer to another bowl and place in the refrigerator. With a whisk attachment, whip the cream cheese and sugar in the stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add raspberry puree and lemon zest and whip until well blended and smooth. Remove the mixing bowl from the stand and fold in, by hand, the whip cream to the cream cheese mixture. Set aside.

In wine glasses, make a layer of angel food cake cubes, then top with a layer of the whipping cream. Then, arrange a few whole berries near the outside of the glass, so they are visible. Then repeat steps of layering cake and cream filling until the glass is full. Top with more of the whipping cream and a raspberry and mint leaf for garnish.

Transport tip: I had to carry these glasses to my friend's house, and couldn't quite figure out how to make it work until I remembered I still had the box my wine glasses came in. I just popped the filled glassed in the box and didn't worry a bit about them traveling in the car.