Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve, 2013

I'm sitting on our couch at home, sipping hot honeyed milk and licking cookie crumbs from my lips. The dog and one of the cats are asleep at my feet. I'm on a break from work. The kitchen's a mess, the tree is up, and I'm mostly done with Christmas shopping. My mom's present is simply going to have to be an epiphany gift.
Santa's cookies this year are old fashioned gingers- if I leave any for him, that is. The flavor and texture remind me of pfefernusse, a German spiced cookie and my favorite holiday treat. In past years, I've thrown a bag (or three) into my parents' grocery cart when we do our Christmas stocking-up, but I didn't find any this year.
Pfefernusse are round, domed cookies coated in white icing. The icing is crisp when you bite into it, giving way to soft cookie underneath. I missed them when our grocery stores failed me.
Fortunately, I still have these Old Fashioned Ginger Cookies.
My mom's go-to recipe collection for cookies has been The Great Big Cookie Book by Hilaire Walden. The page with the ginger cookies is the most batter-spattered page in the whole book. She used to make it exactly as written, but she made some adjustments this time. With two brothers needed extra dietary restrictions and her desire for general well-being for the whole house, sugar was cut (for the most part) and replaced with coconut sugar.
I usually shy away from coconut sugar. It looks funny. It's different from what I'm used to. And it's healthy sugar, which is bizarre. Those hang-ups aside, I liked working with it here. It has a warmer, earthier, spicier scent that is ever so subtle when added to baked goods. It's sweet, but not saccharine- like other sugars and non-sugar sweeteners.
It really is a wonderful substitute for the ol' granulated white stuff and, in our house, necessary. Cancer cells feed on sugar, and thrive on the processed white sugar from sugar cane. The white stuff also reeks absolute havoc on a body's glycemic index. One brother has leukemia, and the other has blood sugar issues. Exit white sugar, enter coconut sugar.
Another change made was the addition of chopped candied ginger. The flavor was so bright and warm. I can't think well of making these cookies the old way- now it's strictly coconut sugar and ginger-bits forever.
We didn't ice these like my dear pfefernusse, but otherwise they were spot-on twins. If you take the time to ice your Old-fashioned Gingers, comment and tell me how it went.

Old Fashioned Gingers
Adapted from The Great Big Cookie Book by Hilaire Walden

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup coconut sugar
1 egg
4 Tbsp black molasses
1/2 tsp concentrated lemon juice or 1 tsp fresh
1/3 cup candied ginger
1/4 cup granulated sugar (for garnish. If you're icing your cookies, you might want to skip this ingredient.)

Preheat oven to 325 and chop ginger into tiny bits.

Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Cream butter and coconut sugar together with an electric beater or mixer, then add egg and mix well.

Stir in molasses and lemon juice. Add dry ingredients, a third or so at a time, mixing well. Then stir in the ginger bits.

Shape the dough into tiny balls, about a 1/4 inch wide. Roll the balls in granulated sugar (if you'll be icing your cookies, skip the sugar roll).

Place them about two inches apart on a baking stone or greased cookie tray, lightly smoosh with a flat-bottomed glass, and bake for 10-13 minutes for soft cookies, or 14-17 minutes for harder, snap-like cookies.

Remove from trays and let cool completely before storing. Or eat right off the counter while still warm. Both are great ideas.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Eat, Drink, Be Merry - the reason I bake

I write here about food and about my life. So far the posts about food have been lacking in the pretty-department, which I see lavished so extravagantly on food blogs by more devoted bloggers. The allusions to my life have been half shadowed and I present no validation for what little I do say, unlike the gut-busting and heart-wrenching (or soothing) expositions from writers more nimble than I. So far, this blog has been rather spartan, hasn't it?
But, I'm learning. Slowly but surely, I'm learning.
I'm dealing with post traumatic stress (I'm told that's a pretty good phrase for it) and emotional repression (...sounds right, come to think of it). More on that as I may. For now, I'm wrapping myself in mystery as a shock patient in a blanket.

So, my blanket is mystery and my teddy bear is cooking.
I cook dinner Monday through Thursday and I'm loving it. I pick meals, ingredients, and I take care of prep, mixing, cooking, and serving. The kitchen is a sanctuary where I make my own choices and I am in control. My Nanny-Family trusts my skills and tastes, and they have granted me a wonderful freedom for that trust.
I take my skills and my materials, I make something good and useful, I offer it to others and they take health and pleasure from it. I create, I give, I am thanked.
It is good.

I cook and bake to have a reprieve from the world, other people, and myself. When I'm working with flour and butter, I'm in my element. I know what to do- vaguely, at least- and I can do it. My arena is peaceful, despite the noise and commotion around me, because I am at peace with myself. I am in full control of my own body and my own brain. My thoughts are directed towards a concrete, definite task. My hands are busy and productive. The kitchen releases me from the pressure of being controlled by someone else, from wonton and useless activity, and from idle thoughts that devolve into brain-spirals of doom. I am refreshed. I am secure. I am covered in flour and I am happy.

I make food to nourish and please. I want to live a life of generous hospitality, and I feel most accomplished in that way when I'm feeding a hungry someone.
I don't even have to have made the food to be happy to share it. An extra pear in my groceries for an old man with a card-board sign and a crippled arm, and I've given something good to one who needed it. The best lunch I've ever had was a box of crackers with cheese, a bunch of grapes, and Italian soda partaken with my best girl on a grassy curb in the city.

Food is simply pleasurable. The sight, the scent, the taste, the feel can fill the mind for one moment with pleasure. Food both sustains our life and makes us more aware of life's beauty.

Sharing pleasure and a source of health is the basis of camaraderie. It's the affirmation of our shared humanity and our friendship. Food is a way I can most clearly give that affirmation- to myself as well as to others. I'm frequently cranky and judgmental, and often socially awkward to boot, so sometimes the nicest thing I am capable of doing is keeping quiet and feeding people. I like how simple that is.

I am a cook. I am a baker. I am a fledgling in my kitchen, but I love it there already.

Monday, October 21, 2013


I discovered Cardamom this past August.
I spent a week at the apartment of one of my dearhearts that month and brought a sweet potato, red onion, and brown rice for an easy, fuss free roast root dinner.
I chopped the sweet potato in quarters and the red onion into eighths, drizzled them with olive oil in a glass baking dish, and began hunting down seasonings.
My friend keeps an assortment of spices that I'm not used to using, such as cardamom pods. It may seem strange to you that I haven't used cardamom before, but there it is. Cardamom just wasn't in my mom's spice rack.
I looked at the cardamom in the cupboard, considered it, then passed it by to look for the salt and pepper. Salt- ground both coarsely and finely for texture- and pepper were sprinkled generously on the potatoes. Beyond that, I wasn't sure, so I gave the cardamom a second look. I cracked a few pods and spread the dark seeds around the dish, then chucked the whole thing in the oven to roast.
The flavor and the aroma when I pulled the dish out of the oven were so very good. It was sweet, cozy, warm, and rich.

More recently, I made Cardamom Chicken and Rice for my Nanny Family. I found the recipe through pinterest from a Jewish Italian Blog. The original post is in Italian, so I needed to head to Google Translate before I was able to start on it. We already had most of the ingredients on hand, so choosing the recipe was a no-brainer.

Here's the original:
Look! A picture! Haven't seen one of those around here for a while, now.

Here's my adaptation.

2-4 chicken breasts cut into pieces about the width and length of your three middle fingers (or two fingers, if you have big hands)
1 cup or so of rice - any kind or a mix. I mixed the last of a couple bags
1 yellow onion, sliced thin
A handful of cranberries or so
10 or so cardamom pods
5 or so cloves
Parsley or spring onion greens for garnish
Salt and Pepper
A pan big enough to hold everything with a lid

Soak the cranberries in water to soften them, and set aside.
Smash the cardamom pods and save the seeds inside. Crush the cloves to release their flavour.
Rub the chicken with oil salt, pepper, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, and cloves.
Cook the onion slices in a little oil until soft and golden.
Set the chicken in the pan with the onions and brown them on both sides. Use patience here. To get a good colour and richer flavour it took between 5 and 7 minutes on each side for me. Play the radio and don't flip the chicken until two songs have passed.
Set the chicken aside.
Use the cranberry water to loosen the scapings at the bottom of the pan, then add the rice and cranberries and stir.
Place your cooked chicken right on top of the dry, uncooked rice.
Pour water over rice around the chicken (or use stock, if you want to be rich and fancy). Use enough to cover the rice and get the chicken wet, but not so much as to drown the chicken.
Cover and let sit over low heat for about a half hour, or until the water is gone and the rice is fluffy and tender.
Top with garnish and serve in pan.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Surprise

There's a pit that a few bloggers fall into- making their blog the best way for close friends to keep abreast of their lives. Events, emotions, opinions, developments all go on the blog. Friends become readers, then fans, then just another face in the crowd.
Real, meaningful friendships can develop through blogs. People who have never met in person find kinship in the souls each one bares to the ocean-vast internet. But too many folks have made it so that the friends they already had need to become blog-friends in order to maintain their relationships.
I decided not to do that. I have a couple people who are close to me as flesh, and I had to tell them this news in person first- which is why it's been so long since I've written.
My nanny-family has confirmed my position with them until January 2015!
I will remain as a live-in at my current rate, free from rent, utilities, or trying to muster up the motivation to cook dinner for one on late and lonely evenings.
This means no apartment, which means no dinner parties or game challenges. But it does mean a stable job for the next year with guaranteed pay.
It also means that I'm welcome, accepted, and appreciated. Keeping me as a nanny meant they recognized that I'm skilled in my job. Keeping me as a live-in means they like me as a person.
Thinking of that gives me a little piece of joy- one that I'm always surprised to receive.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Few Weeks In

I've been a nanny now for a few weeks and everything has gone swimmingly! The week starts with planning meals and grocery shopping, and then I'll nanny and cook until Friday evening. I write in my downtime (and wander pinterest [for hours] and play on neopets [here's my BD pet] but that's okay because I'm still adult-like no matter how many times I click refresh on my habitarium). I've actually gotten some work done on my writing projects- including story planning, world mapping, character developing, and even writing the story itself. That makes me pretty happy when I reflect on it.

So far, I've made Colorado Burritos, Apricot Curry Chicken, Hummus ChickenBrined Pork Chops with Creamed Onions, Chicken Kale Lasagna, Shrimp Gyoza, and Mughlai Chicken with lentils. I've also made Shepard's Pie without a recipe, using my secret beef spice. This coming week will see Cardamom chicken on rice and hamburgers using Eland meat.

I'm looking for apartments in my new area, re-budgeting my budget, and attempting to convince myself that adult-like is like enough unto adulthood. I'm not entirely fooled, but it means so much to me that I try not to disillusion myself too harshly. I catch myself daydreaming about biking to work like a good little urbanite and then biking back to my own, empty home at the end of every day. Do you know how good that sounds to me? Quiet solitude? It sounds beautiful, my friend.
I think I've found an apartment that's run-down enough for a first-time, adult-like abode (meaning cheap enough) but still secure enough and structurally stable enough to live in and even invite other adult-likes to movie marathons and Jak and Daxter play offs (with pie). I will, of course, let you know how that progresses. Not like I could keep it to myself if I do have the good fortune to be able to move.

The same old struggles go on in my head. I'm figuring out my various relationships, future, and self- or floundering to. Self-doubt and general distrust oxidize my soul daily. I'm piecing together what it means to be angry.

One of these days I will qualify my shadowed allusions to some dark secret. One of these days I will give the context for my fear. This is not that day. I'll let you know when it is. Until then, find me on Pinterest or Neopets. I'll be there!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Baby Face

Today was my first day of work at my new job.
I'd like to pause a moment to let the splendor of this occasion sink in.
I will also take this moment to imagine myself standing proudly on a summit, arms akimbo and head thrust back, cutting a romantic and heroic silhouette.
I have a blue collar on now, folks! Check it out!

So, obviously, I've taken the nanny position. I am currently living with a wonderful family and caring for their littlest member. Baby is precious as any baby and my mothering instinct is in serious danger of kicking in- permanently.

Part of the agreement is that I plan and execute dinners throughout the week for the family. Yesterday evening the Missus and I perused my boards on pinterest for recipes and found a few to try out.

For tonight, we selected Hummus Crusted Chicken, which I made. It turned out really well and all enjoyed it.
I used this recipe [] though I didn't measure much of anything and used only three chicken breasts.
I halved the chicken breasts and scored them. Then I rubbed them with chile powder, fresh ground pepper, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil before setting them on the bed of vegetables.
The hummus I made by blending a can of chick peas with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and garlic. I omitted the tahini, simple because none was on hand. I ended up using the whole amount on the chicken.
It was incredible.
I was afraid that the hummus would dry out, or just fall off during cooking. But that didn't happen. It looked beautiful, it tasted good, the texture of the chicken and hummus was great, and the squash and onions were perfect.

Sorry! I don't have any pictures to prove my endeavors. You'll just have to trust me.

I am still on edge, ready at any moment to fail in some small way and be fired for it, tossed out with some scathing remarks. However, this frightening scenario seems reasonably unlikely. I enjoy this. I'm good at this. And these are easy going people who have their feet decently firmly on the ground. Everything seems very good.

Monday, August 26, 2013

This is Silly

Honestly, this is ridiculous. I've considered myself an aspiring writer since I was nine, but in that entire space I've not kept up with a single writing project to completion- this blog included. I've rarely outright quit a project, but I've let things sit on back burners for months (even years) at a time.
I could say I've been busy, but I've not been so busy that I couldn't write.
I could say I've had no computer with which to type, but that's not strictly true.
There are library computers, there are spare moments. I'm lazy and refuse motivation. My absence from this blog is as simple as that.

I've been baking. I've been hopping between odd jobs. I've been dealing with family upheaval. I've been wading through a romantic quagmire. I've been practicing Jujitsu. I've not been writing. Shame on me.

I had an interview this past weekend for a steady nanny position and the employees have made me an offer. I'm currently looking it over and I think I'm going to take it.

I would be moving in with them while I get an apartment set up in their area. The job itself would include care of their infant for 7 hours a day, five days a week, general house upkeep like laundry and dishes, and cooking a couple meals a week. It pays, it's steady, I would be a fool to not take it.

We shall see.

I'd love to move. That would really be the biggest perk of this position. But that is also scary. Independence and attachment are scary to me. Being responsible to others means I can't just disappear when I need a break or when I want to avoid certain people. I will be tracked, watched, and needed. I don't actually like being needed.

I'd rather be a hobo, roving from spot to spot, my banjo banging on my hip and a back pack on my back. Maybe I'd truck along, my clothes and banjo tossed in the back seat. I'd be a gypsy, one of the great American nomads.
I wouldn't last a week.

These dreams are my silly escapism, my way of pretending for half a moment that I can exist outside the system of money and people. You see, I'm ridiculously introverted.

But even us introverts need to eat. I'd like to have air conditioning, and I'd pine away for a gas stove and a reliable oven.

And, even as much as I need my space and autonomy, one of my greatest joys is welcoming my dear hearts to break my bread with me.
All that requires a regular in-flow of money to support, and that requires interaction with people.

I'm taking the job.
And I'll totally write about it soon.