Softball Muffins

img_20190421_080832When you think of signature morning rituals in New York, bagels are what most often come to mind. But within every bagel and coffee shop, there are the others — the softball sized muffins that can be found nowhere else I’ve traveled. While these muffins rival the Costco version — these bagel-shop muffins are most often right out of the oven and lack (for the good) the Costco mass-production taste and squishy feel.

This carrot raisin muffin from H & H Bagels on 2nd Avenue is gloriously NY. It’s sturdy, carrots but not too many (as with the raisins), and a little bit spicy much like 2nd Avenue itself — a working muffin for a working avenue of uptown/downtown traffic that wakes slowly…then bam we’re off and running headlong into the day. If you get in early enough, you’ll find no lines and you can breeze in and out of H & H — much like just about any place in the City; wait too long and the line is out to the winter-weather vestibule or beyond.

The beauty of the NY muffin carries into the future — smart shoppers will pick up a weekend’s supply so that sleeping late on day two is possible. Never flat, and resistant to the deflation many baked goods suffer during a microwave spin, the NY muffin continues to stand tall like many beloved buildings that surround H & H. Perhaps this is due to the careful brown paper wrapping each muffin receives before heading out into all kinds of weather that the City dishes up, and perhaps it’s just resilience in a munchable form. Whatever the reason, the NY muffin offers a slightly sweet and textured way to start the day — while I love a hot bagel, the muffin is not just an “also there” of the bagel shop — it’s a full-fledged member of the bagel shop team.

Snow Scones

For the last several Januaries, my daughter and I have made a list of items to conquer in the kitchen over the next year — our list is not long, and it often includes basic items that had elluded us in the past (okay, mostly me, she’s too young to have a long list of kitchen failures). This year scones and flaky (not hockey puck) biscuits are tops on the list. With our weekend snow storm, and a new pastry blender, time was on our side to dive into blueberry scones.

As an English teacher, part of what I help students to understand, I hope, is that writing is 50% process and 50% action and that actual writing takes up only 20-30% of that action time. So, this is my new approach to cooking — goal, objective, method. The idea of making a homemade scone, with the merging of the butter to flour for the perfect crumble was a real stumbling block because the “idea” of it was daunting. I’ve made scone for years from using Fisher Scone Mix, that of my childhood and the Puyallup Fair — this mix only requires water. So the resolution? Spend the most time finding a recipe that is not overwhelming, easy to follow steps that actually make sense, and no rushing. Using my 50% process, 50% action scenario I assumed the most time would be spent on finding the recipe and securing a non-wimpy pastry blender, and ingredient gathering is easy (we take an elevator downstairs to the grocery, which helps with the amount of time spent on action items). The real boon of this project — a snowstorm — and I’d already gathered the critical items of blender and recipe.

After scouring around the internet, I went to my go-to baking site King Arthur and located a blueberry scone recipe. Now if you follow this link, be sure to compare their photo and my non-stylized photo — I think we ended up with a pretty good match and really, I was convinced this was the right recipe based on one line of the instructions, “Use a muffin scoop, jumbo cookie scoop, or 1/4-cup measure to scoop the dough onto the prepared sheet in scant 1/4-cupfuls, leaving about 2″ between each.” Muffin scoop! No needing on a floured surface, folding or cutting in perfect angles. And if no muffin scoop is available, two other regular cooking utensil items are offered as alternatives. Looping back to my goal/objective/method process — here we have a method for scone prep that is accessible and understandable that accommodates just about any home baker. Breaking down any project into digestible and accomplishable bits rests solely on methods that make sense and lead to results that the writer/baker/plumber/painter can parlay into results that lead a reader/eater/viewer/person with clogged pipes to understanding. 

For this scone experiment — the results are gone. Our little family devoured nine scones (that may sound like excess, but reminder: snow day) by mid-morning. Taste — just like the photo in the recipe — a slight crunch on the outside, soft inside, blueberries in-tact, just enough butter for a smooth crumb, the salt rises to meet the outside crunch. There is still snow, loads of it, so today may lead to a blackberry or raspberry version. Thank you King Arthur Flour!

One last gingerbread…

img_20190104_055100It is the last day of Winter Break…one of the saddest days of the year, to me. Yes, we’re only several days into the year — but the return to routine, is a bit like a door closing on a season that is all too short; we are urged from every direction whether our faith community or the news — to slow down, be mindful, take more time with loved ones, focus on what is really important…yet there is always a reckoning day – the day we must face the reality of routine and accomplishing tasks and we march toward a myriad a goals to be realized.

My answer: one last gingerbread breakfast.

This may not seem like a solution to most folks that see cake for breakfast as a bad thing — I however celebrate cake for breakfast in its many forms. As a person that has worked through numerous nutrition scenarios over my now 50 years (I have the privilege and anguish to have the rarest of all U.S. birthdays, January 1), I can say that cake for breakfast has provided the mental buoy that I have needed to glide into many challenging days. For those that find themselves agape, with the horrified hand to cover their wide open mouths (the sugar! the lack of protein!), I’ll tell you this — the serotonin boost from the anticipation of a spicy, dark cake breakfast soothes even the dreariest day and does more to combat the cloying grayness than any protein-infused breakfast.

While I often make gingerbread from scratch, Trader Joe’s is the best mix available — as soon as you open the bag, the ginger symphony wafts upwards to greet you, and an immediate calm covers you. Now, I do make an alteration to the prescribed mixing instructions substituting apple sauce for oil, which adds nutrients and subtracts calories. At the beginning of the season, we anxiously await the release of this mix and this year stopped by several TJ locations (thankfully we now live in an area with many) to see which days the stocking of the mix would commence — and yes, we went on day one. Four boxes pretty much sees us through the season and so as not to take any risks, we buy all four on our “fist day on the shelf” shopping trip.

Gingerbread, and all its delicious glory and grace is to me, metaphorical for how this year will go — layered flavors, spice, savory but sweet, a respite. Gingerbread rallies our little team, its packable and mobile (unless you put cream on top), and it is the pause before a flurry of snow or activity. It requires that you slow down — there is no way to eat gingerbread fast. It is quiet, rich, comforting when all else seems to be speeding away and out of control. As light begins to creep into the day, it seems clear that rain is not so far away — again. But for today, we’ll start with cake to trick our brains away from the desolate color, the fact that the routine is about the begin in earnest, and make small plans to enjoy this last morning of freedom.

Fondue: Before and After

On the left, our Christmas Day fondue spread and on the right, our Boxing Day brunch casserole — made with the leftover bits from the fondue spread. First, the list of fondue items included: sourdough cubes, baked french fries (Trader Joe’s), cornichons, honey crisp apples, ham cubes and broccoli. My interest in fondue came from three distinct directions: 1) I am a child of the 1970s, therefore in some way fondue must be in my soul. 2) Every night, my daughter and I listen to Flat Stanley which has a reference to fondue (and poutine at some point) and 3) I found this lovely Swiss Emmi cheese in the market just downstairs — a fortuitous find in my quest to have an easy but fun Christmas meal for our small family (it’s our day to read and go to the movies, and we’re anti-travel on any major holiday).

The best part of the fondue journey was our trip to Target to find the pot — though my husband insisted that from his memory you could make melty cheese in any regular sauce pan (because melty cheese is pretty much sauce anyway), but I wanted the full-in 1970 experience including matching skewers. We arrive at Target, and because we didn’t see any pots near the regular crock-pot type area (which I assumed to be a close match) I ventured to ask the first associate I found. First, he kindly explained he only worked nights and then offered to help us find someone with the right scanner for electronic searching. On our walk towards this new person, he wanted to know what fondue was — so I quickly explained. Then he relayed this to our new person, associate #2 — who looked at my like I was nuts. A pot for melting cheese? She decided we better get associate #3 involved who quickly proceeded to start typing into his handheld device – but on second thought, asked me how to spell fondue. And, key the Property Brothers “aha lights” and we have a match in the Target database! And there is one, or several in the store, on the aisle directly across from where we are standing! Now, all five of us — me, my daughter and three Target associates are going to see the magical fondue pots. As we get closer, I pick up the pace a little because it’s at the end of the row and the shelf looks pretty bare except for a display model (with skewers) — now I can show everyone how fondue works, right here in aisle 29! And snag the very last one (boxed) from the shelf for our little celebration of melty cheese. I am pretty sure we still left our three associates a bit befuddled…I really thought fondue was making a come back.

First, fondue is easy. Second, the leftovers make this great casserole for brunch the next day along with four eggs, some milk and a little mozzerella for the top at 350 for 30-40 minutes. If there is left over Emmi or other fondue cheese (who ever has left over cheese?) that would work for the topping as well. There’s been a lot of coverage in the news recently about “adulting” classes — and I like to think of breakfast casserole as one of those essential adulting meals — you just know what to throw together, from what leftover, that will melt well together into a one-dish meal. Easy, breezy and I don’t know why schools obliterated home economics — I know it doesn’t meet an AP standard or raise SAT scores, but really it should be mandatory learning for all high school students to understand how to turn fondue into casserole. As a teacher myself, any student that can write out the instructions on this conversion will show me not only creativity, but the fact that they can survive on their own, and that will always garner a gold star from me.

It’s Never too Late for Gingerbread


Somehow 2018 has vanished, but when I found myself on the eve of Christmas eve with a bit of stamina left (everyone else passed out on the couch or with earphones on), I decided it’s just never too late for gingerbread. And maybe this will be my mantra for the year going forward. I went with the simple method on this batch, no rolling/cutting/decorating — so these look a little more like peanut butter cookies in traditional shape but with the distinct taste of ginger and cloves — with just the right amount of satisfying crisp around the edges with smooth centers. Recipe courtesy of my favorite flour, King Author.

I think of gingerbread cookies as the hardest working cookie on the Christmas platter: it’s sturdy, spicy and substantial. On the nutrition side, these cookies actually come in quite well: using my method these come in at 69 calories a cookie (60 cookies per the King Author recipe, using a 1/2 tablespoon + a smidge as a size guide). This recipe also includes a bit of iron, potassium and Vitamin D — anytime you can pick up Vitamin D in the winter, from a cookie no less, is an excellent use of calories. Analyzing recipes may not sound glamorous, but this one from verywell fit is excellent, easy and now I know about the Vitamin D, which I didn’t know before. Of further note on gingerbread — these are excellent for hikes, breakfast nearly year-round, with tea or coffee, though probably not with chai — that’s maybe too much spice?

Hygge, Hearts and the Solstice

IMG_20171205_131721.jpgLast year the New Yorker named 2016 as the year of hygge — the Danish tradition of “getting cozy” during the winter months; for those of us with Danish and other Nordic roots, hygge — and open faced sandwiches are routine parts of the winter holidays and that the New Yorker, is sort of way behind. Candles and wool socks, warm rice pudding and pea soup are not a new things, and in fact, many of us grew up this way — along with grandparents with accents from all of the Scandinavian countries (hygge is not limited to Denmark). The idea of hygge is one of comfort — in both the environment around us, and in our own skin — which sometimes craves wool, snowflakes and soup. Hygge is not a fad, but an emphasis on the beauty of the soul and our relationship to nature; there is never bad weather, but there can be the wrong outerwear.

So to kick the hygge season off, here are a few of my favorite things:

Danish Sandwiches or Smorrebrod : during cozy times, it’s important to eat well — sandwiches offer creativity, variety and fresh flavors — and the opportunity to gather friends and family to partake in preparation. More on sandwiches from Serious Eats for further ideas on how to concoct delicious creations. Of note: if you’re looking for an excellent, and easier-than-roasting-a-20-pound-bird Thanksgiving, consider smorrebrod with a turky-ish and cranberry flair. We went this route this year, and a total success — amongst our variety we included a turkey (chicken works well) salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, honey and mustard resting atop a rustic sourdough cranberry bread, lightly toasted, with plenty of Finlandia butter as a base. Always open-faced, always use a knife and fork.

Juleharter = Danish woven hearts: a quick tutorial and template from the site Bits of Ivory. Red and white are the traditional color scheme, but going a little rogue is okay. Scandinavian holiday decorations lean towards the natural with use of materials such as wood, wheat, wool and of course these hearts which may adorn trees filled with treats or as a simple exchange with a friend. Legend has it that Hans Christian Andersen invented this simple woven treasure — like Santa, this is a legend I think is worth embracing.

Aebelskiver – round, ball-like pancakey donuts: a little trickier than sandwiches and a special pan is needed to create these treats, or a weeknight dinner or brunch in the winter months depending on how you choose to fill them. This recipe is excellent, but I simply use pancake mix and modify — whether with jam filling, ricotta, bacon or really any ingredient that is choppable and droppable into the batter in the aebelskiver pan. Tip: us a wooden skewer (kabob) stick to turn the sometimes wiley rounds of batter — this will take practice, and is totally worthwhile once you’ve conquered the pan and there is no smoke simmering from your stove. Do not use any cooking spray on this pan, unless a black tinge is something you crave with pancakes.

Bokaflod or Julebokaflod: book flood i.e. buy books and read books for the holiday season. This is an Icelandic tradition and most publishers there issue all their new releases in November to get folks ready to celebrate; and if you’re going to pursue hygge — a stash of books purchased for or during the holiday season, then you’re half-way to sandwich making. Think — a mug of strong coffee, a few butter (spritz) cookies, a few candles (pine or balsam scent) your brand new woolen socks and perhaps a high-performance fleece — a fire and now your stack of reading material. You’ve now achieved hygge nirvana.

As the solstice approaches — remember the outerwear — get yourself outside and enjoy the natural world, as there is no better way to begin to understand the majesty and wonder that abounds when darkness merges to light.

Happy Hygge!

p.s. don’t forget to post a few gnomes!




Krumkake Victory!

IMG_20171012_095428.jpgBecause we currently live where Nordic treats do not abound, we must import. Or tackle solo, because no one knows what we’re talking about when we say, “Hey, where’s the best spot to pick-up lefse?” Let alone krumkake, sprtiz, fatigman or Snofrisk. The first year we lived in the South, I ordered spritz (and julekake) from our most favorite bakery, Larsen’s, in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood; alas, it appears they’ve cesased delivering what we consider to be lifesaving buttery, melt-in-your-mount cookies (although they do still have other, limited items for sale online). For my daughter’s recent birthday, she requested — deep breath, krummake, homemade, from me to her class. Now, this crispy rolled cookie is not one to be taken lightly if it looks like you’re going to be on your own, at home, in the middle of the day (not grading papers like you should be) with only the blue birds outside to hear your anguised cries when your fingers are burnt to a nubbins — as in no feeling left in your finger tips.

So the day before her birthday arrives, and while I’ve searched exhastively around the internet’s Scandia food related shops, and considered a trip to NYC to find krummake — I buckle down with my coffee, put the butter on the counter and plug in my double-wide iron. To note, my iron is non-stick; I do have the over-the-burner iron, but given that we have a glasstop stove currently, this could easily lead to burned hair and gutted kitchen from the butter drips in addition to the no-feeling-left fingers.

It takes just one whiff from the cardamom jar, and I am there — as in, anywhere but here. I’m at my grandmother’s house on her 1950s kitchen stool, itching to get my fingers in the batter; I’m in my great grandmother’s kitchen with her indoor wood stove (something like this) in her tiny Tacoma house — or I’m in our old Seattle condo, rain pelting the windows, with friends gathered for our annual krumkake bake. Wherever my head is, my nose led me there and I am about 3,000 miles from my current kitchen — this is indeed the moment where food and memory collide.

I mix up a double batch, because not only will curious kids be eating this for the first time, but it’s also a good idea to allow for “flubs” which must be eaten by the family (and me) for testing purposes. I dollop in my batter for the first two cookies, close the lid and wait…butter is slowly starting to expel from the press and coagulate in a tiny pool on the counter — clearly I need to grab a cookie sheet to catch this before the butter melts my contact-paper covered counters (yes, it’s a thing and yes it works when you have 1965 ugly yellow formica countertops). Cookie sheet in place, I slowly prop open the lid — to see two golden yellow embossed circles — carefully I extract these delicacies, one at a time from press to towel and begin to roll cookie number one. Hold in place. Let go and sproing! Cookie one is loose and unrolling fast, so I hastily spatula cookie number two out for rolling, fingers not crossed because I can’t, otherwise I’ll drop and shatter this cookie. Cookie two — yep, hold breath…holds; my thumb didn’t quite leave a print on its now round shape, but I’m getting the idea that doing this solo, requires a distinct combination of pressure — and stamina (because now I’m hot, as in sweat on forehead).

At the end of this more than 60 minute baking session standing over the steamy, buttery press — I am thrilled that I’ve learned at my advanced age, that indeed I can climb Mt. Krumkake myself and succeed. But I’m left with one question, “Is there every really enough cardamom?” Answer: no — we all need a little cardamom, or comfort, wherever we can get it — and for me, it’s somewhere contained in that little spice jar.

325 Degrees?

IMG_20171102_063511.jpgIt’s 3:30 am, you can’t sleep, it’s pitch-black dark outside, the leaves are nearly ground-cover and your best early-morning alarm — the mad train driver with incessant pull on the horn is chugging past the ragged edge of the neighborhood; what’s your first thought? Mine today, was zuchini bread. In sort-of planning ahead for baking this at some point today, I’d printed out the recipe last night for morning prep. I did not however, note the temperature the author listed — at the moment of printing I was most concerned about ingredients and oil substitutions. I make certain assumptions with quick bread and muffin recipes, which considering how much we’re talking about first impressions at Girl Scout meetings, I should probably reconsider.

The problem with baking at 3:30 am, is that once you read the recipe — the details don’t always sink in. I managed to pull all the dry ingredients together, the slurry of zuchini, butter, honey and eggs — and even preheat the oven to the suggested 325 degrees. I fire up the Keurig, for my first cup of coffee and cream, then coat the bread pan with a flourish of spray and hooray, we’re in the oven about 4:30. Because our oven is so small (24″) and so old (1980) and the controls (all manual, including a pre-led clock), I’m forced to use the alarm on my phone as a timer for any sense of an accurate passge of time. Even as I sit down to read the mornings disturbances via the world of internet news, I am braced for the jangle of the power-alarm my phone dish-out; calling it a buzzer is too kind — it is a nerve jangling rat-tat-tat that picks up speeed and sounds more like our tornado alarm than our tornado alarm.

After I finally settle on looking at Etsy instead of the WaPo and my coffee has cooled to the tepid chalky flavor I’ve grown to love — the nerve jiggering alarm goes off and I slurp my way to the kitchen. It’s a small house (with a small oven), so it’s not as if this takes me more than 20 seconds…I open the tiny door, pull out the rack and insert a paring knife deep into the zucchini core and not suprisingly, goo is returned to me on both sides of my blade. Okay, no problem, how about 5 more minutes — good rise so far, starting on a nice color, but we don’t want to get too crazy. Retrace steps to chair, laptop and Etsy screen where I’m pretty sure I’ve located my grandmother’s original Nordic Ware dishes that I broke when I was 11. More nerve splitting beeping, 5 minutes has passed already…open oven, insert knife again, and yes — still some goo. Deep breath and set alarm yet again; it is at this point that I realize just how tired and sleep deprived I am — and how, there is no way I can keep this up — back and forth: chair, small oven, knife, back to chair, back to small oven, back to knife.

And then, I know what the problem is — 325 degrees must be the absolute dumbest temperature ever for baked goods. Why not 350 and just get the job done? I understand the science of a slow-bake — the beauty that transpires when gluten, butter, sugar, baking powder all gloriously come together for the perfect bread-sponge. But the difference of 25 degrees, on a 3:30 am morning — would’ve made a world of difference; limiting my barefoot shuffle-slurps across the floor to perhaps two, instead of four. Note to self, note on recipe: no more 325. Ever.

Result: the team enjoyed warm zuchini (walnut, raisin, applesauce) bread for breakfast. And lunch, and possibly dinner unless there is a nap somewhere, sometime today.