so many territories ready to reform

I really should not be updating - I have a million things to do.
Realizing that Sean and Ben were about to leave, and that we would be departing to the southeast for the holidays, on Tuesday I planned a spur-of-the-moment get together for Friday night - that's tonight! It's a potluck, chez moi, with a theme of winter foods. I invited 11 people. So far I know we have a vegetarian shepard's pie, a brussels sprouts dish, some other side dishes, one including potatoes I think, and I'm making bread pudding for dessert. Blake's bringing local eggnog and some rum to go with it, and Mimi and Gen are bringing red wine. We may or may not mull it. I turned a baguette into crostini slices yesterday, and whipped up a tapenade. Today I'll bring some herbed goat cheese to room temperature and mix in some dried cranberries, and voila - we'll have two crostini toppings.
I still have to vacuum the living room, sweep the kitchen floor, and scrub the toilet. It's not that I need to impress my friends with cleanliness, rather, I don't want to impress them with how dirty this place usually is. I have a reputation to maintain, see. As someone who's on top of things - i.e. the cleaning of my own place. You could say I'm pretty excited about this - it'll be the first intentional shindig at our place in Missouri. Back in Georgia I loved throwing or just planning get togethers. I love events, I love having great people gathered together with food and drink and music and lights. All that stuff just feeds me.
I'll try to remember to snap some photos tonight so I can show all you lovely people how the event turned out.

Last night I made biscotti. Lenox Almond Biscotti, a recipe by dear Dorie Greenspan, to be exact. I made it for Christmas presents - we'll give a bundle of biscotti alongside a pound of Starbucks Christmas Blend to a few couples - my mom and her husband, Scott's mom and her husband, Scott's sister and her husband, and my Aunt and Uncle, whose names we drew this year.
I'll post the recipe if anyone is interested, but otherwise, it's in Dorie's book "Baking" - the book which is quickly turning into my baking Bible. I have to admit - this is not the best biscotti I've ever made. One time I made a dark chocolate biscotti with slivered almonds and dried cherries and well, that was to die for. But almond is nice, too. Something different - this recipe had some cornmeal in it, which made the biscotti less sweet and more crumbly. I think I like it.

It's official - Bon Iver's "For Emma, Forever Ago" is the album of the winter. I can't get enough of it, and every time I'm not playing it, I'm hearing it played upstairs by the boys. It's good, it's so good.


tall tales, telltales

Make these now. Go ahead, do it. You won't be sorry.

Pistachio-Rose Water Cookies
makes about 34 cookies
(adapted from Veganomicon)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 c canola oil
3 Tbs soy milk (I used vanilla soy milk)
1 Tbs rose water
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
juice from half a lime
zest from 1 lime
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 c shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped (set aside in a shallow bowl or a on plate)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Arrange shelves to divide oven into thirds.
Grease/line two cookie sheets.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom.
In a large bowl, using your fingers, rub the lime zest into the sugar. This really brings out the aroma and flavor of the zest. Whisk in the lime juice, soy milk, vanilla, oil and rose water. Add the cornstarch and whisk until dissolved.
Isn't this fun?
Add the dry to the wet gradually, mixing well.
Roll the dough into balls about 2 tsp in size and dip the tops into the chopped pistachios. Press down a bit, so the dough ball flattens and collects nuts.
Place the cookies, nut side up, on the cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. You should be able to fit 16 on a standard size cookie sheet.
Bake for 13 minutes, rotating from top to bottom and front to back after 7 minutes.
When you take them out, they will still be soft. Place the sheets on cooling racks for 5 minutes, then transfer just the cookies to the cooling racks to continue cooling.

Okay, let's talk about this recipe. Or even the book. I checked this book out (Veganomicon, by sassy vegan ladies Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero) from the library and have been reading through it for four or five weeks. Yes, the book is overdue. I couldn't find one single recipe in this book that intrigued me enough to want to make it. I thought some of the combinations were too weird, or not weird enough. Just my opinion - I generally love the books by these authors, so maybe I'm just too familiar with their recipes already. Either way, nothing was catching my eye. But I was determined to at least make one recipe from the book, so when I spotted rose water at my grocery store, I snagged it and committed to this cookie recipe. Let me tell you, it has restored my faith in this book. I'm ready to re-read it with fresh eyes.
Cooking with so much corn starch was new for me, and I felt a bit like a mad scientist instead of a baker. I'm not sure what the cornstarch stood in for, but since it is a vegan recipe, I'm sure there's a good reason it's in there. I enjoy vegan recipes that use alternative items instead of stand-ins such as "vegan butter" or "egg replacer". I'd rather the cook just forget that route altogether and do something different. So this recipe, free of weird vegan things meant to taste like the real thing, was perfect for me. The only stand-in is soy milk, and because I accept that more readily than, say, egg replacer, I went with it.
Good thing, because these cookies are incredible. I'm already planning on making another batch on Saturday.

Then there's this. Bread pudding.

I took that picture right before I popped it into the oven. It turned out really well. Very delicious. Also a vegan recipe, so no eggs. Which means no custard, and I've never had bread pudding that didn't have custard in it, so I was curious as to how this would turn out. The soy milk mixture did not set like a custard would, but it did it's job pretty well of soaking and flavoring the bread. I think next time I'll just make regular bread pudding. This recipe, however, is easier, because you just whisk it all together. No scalding milk, no water baths.
I occasionally enjoy a fussy recipe, but most of the time I just love simple baking.

Bread Pudding
5 or 6 cups of stale bread, chopped into chunks
3 1/2 cups soy milk
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8 or 9 inch square pan. Toss in the bread cubes.
Whisk all other ingredients, pour over bread cubes.
Use a utensil (or your fingers) to push the bread down, making sure it all gets wet.
Throw on some raisins and almonds, or what have you. Drizzle the top with a touch of maple syrup.
Bake 40 minutes, until the bread is toasted in some parts and the pudding is set.


did i say you are my favorite one

Today there are fragments of stories floating around in my mind. I remember characters, or simply and beautifully worded sentences, and I struggle to recall what novel, which short story, whose poem I'm being haunted by. There's one story in particular that is on my mind, but I can't for the life of me remember where I read it, or even if it was a short story or a novel. I think it was a short story, but I constantly read volumes of collected works, and anthologies, so I don't even know where to begin looking. It was probably from a library book that's already returned. Oh, well, if the characters are still with me I suppose it doesn't really matter where they came from, but that the author did such a good job of portraying these characters that they now reside within me.

It's been a rough week. Scott has been more busy than usual (hard to imagine, I know) and the baby has been fussy all week. I don't know if it's from his shots earlier this week, if he's maybe having a growth spurt, if he's beginning to teethe, or something else altogether. Today Mimi and Gen came over, and I practically threw him at them. I just needed a break. He needed my arms all day - I couldn't put him down for long, but he was fussy when I would try to feed him, and this went on all day. Bless his little angel heart, he has no other way to tell me what he's feeling besides crying and fussing, and that's exactly what he did.

Here's my men. Scott, Finn, Rufus.

So once I finally, finally got Finn to sleep, I poured a glass of wine and began baking. I made cookies for Mimi and Gen, because they have tons of schoolwork and are feeling bogged down. I took stock of what I had in the pantry, and turned to Dorie Greenspan for some inspiration. As per usual, she had just the thing. Here's my adaptation.

Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies
makes 30 cookies, give or take
1 1/2 c old-fashioned oats
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c peanut butter, creamy or chunky
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c (packed) light brown sugar
1 egg
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks

Preheat oven to 350 F. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
Whisk together the oats, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
In a large bowl beat the butter, peanut butter and sugars together until smooth and creamy. Add the egg and beat for another minute. Slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing at a low speed, beating only until blended. Mix in the chocolate chunks.
Drop by the TBS onto the sheets, 2 inches apart.
Bake 13-15 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 6 or 7 minutes.

Somehow these turned out both crispy and chewy, how delightful.
Oh, and while I baked I had to eat two pieces of pumpkin pie. Yes, you read that right - I had to. I mean, it was still in the fridge after nearly a week of me telling Scott those two pieces were his! He snoozes, he loses. Actually, he doesn't lose, because even if he came home wanting that pie (though I'm sure he's completely forgotten about it) instead he could have popcorn balls, or whoopie pies, or these cookies. This house is abundant with sweets.
Scott also fixed the vacuum cleaner today, which made me swoon. I had no idea how to fix it - it wasn't sucking (haha, also, it sucked that it wasn't sucking). So Scott just took the panel off the bottom, pulled out the brush, cleaned out the hose, etc. until it worked again. We're dreaming of a Dyson. Good thing it's only $600. Hah.


up on the rooftop, click click click

We got the tree up. And by we I don't mean my husband and myself. He carried it from the car to the house, and he was the one to drive us to go get it in the snow, but he didn't help put it up. My friends and I put it up, and adjusted it, and strung lights on it. We would have hung ornaments but I have to get some of those hook things first. I hung old antique ornaments from the mantle, and put up some things for decoration. We won't be here Christmas day, but at least we can enjoy the decorations the rest of the month.

I admit, I've felt resentful this week as Scott's been overly busy with his end of the semester school load. He has papers, presentations, and exams. So he's been holed away studying and stressing out all week. I have been the one cleaning, cooking, tending to the baby, and decorating. Women's work, eh? Well, I love doing all these things, I just don't love feeling like no one else gives a damn about my hard work. Misunderstood houswife, eh? Not exactly. I know he appreciates me, and I know he sees my hard work, and he loves me, etc. He's just trying not to drown right now. The least I can do is take care of things on the homefront so that he doesn't have to worry about them. I keep telling myself - just get through this year - then he'll be done with school, and his time will free up, and we'll have more time together, more family time, more couple time, more relaxation time, more hobby time, more vacation time. I just pray that "just one more year" does not turn into my life-long mantra. Please God, just let things get easier in a year.
In food news, I made Whoopie Pies for the boys. That means my husband and the two bachelors upstairs. Sean especially, because Whoopie Pies are the thing I've baked and shared that he just went on and on about. I bake a lot - at least once or twice a week, so for anyone in this house to get especially excited about something I've baked means that they really, really like it. Whoopie Pies (I know the name is dumb, but I didn't make it) are like Oreos, but bigger, and softer, and creamier in the middle. They are what Oreos aspire to be.

Whoopie Pies
Makes 12 pies
Preheat oven to 350 F and grease/line two or three cookie sheets.

2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 c unsweet cocoa powder
1 c sugar
Sift all of the above together and set aside.

1 egg
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 c milk
1 oz melted bittersweet chocolate

In a large bowl mix the egg, oil, vanilla, milk, and melted chocolate together. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients.
Drop by the tablespoon onto cookie sheets. If you're aiming for 12 pies, make 24 cookies.
Bake the cookies 10-12 minutes or until firm, then remove from the oven and set the cookie sheets on cooling racks. Once they have cooled for 10 minutes or so, slide the cookies off the sheets and onto the racks to cool further.

While the cookies are baking and cooling, make the filling:
1/2 c milk
2 1/2 Tbs flour
Whisk these two ingredients together in a medium saucepan and cook, stirring, over medium high heat. Cook until the mixture thickens significantly, then remove from heat and let it cool.

1 Tbs pure vanilla extract
1/2 c shortening (I use Crisco all-vegetable shortening)
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Beat the above ingredients into submission, I mean, until well combined. Add the milk/flour mixture (also called a roux) and continue to beat for about 10 minutes. I know this sounds like a long time, and it is - especially if you're working with a hand mixer like I am, but it makes for a really fluffy filling. And fluffy is what we want here.
Once the filling is fluffy and the cookies are cool, sandwich them together and dig in! They're also very good cold, so try them refrigerated or frozen.


we have a lot to give one another

I have so much to share!
First of all, we have seen our first snow of the winter here in Missouri.

Thanksgiving was great - Jamie visited from Georgia, she learned to knit, we all cooked and ate together, we enjoyed time with my family, Finn was the center of attention, of course, and the cranberry bliss bars I made turned out okay.
Things that I am thankful for: God, my family, our health and happiness, good music, good friends, good food, simple pleasures, the beauty and glory of nature, my son's smiles, hot water, steady food supply, our apartment, strong coffee, a new president. I could easily extend this list for many paragraphs, but I'll leave it at that. In short, I can find good in almost anything, therefore I'm grateful for almost everything, ever.

In food news, I'm planning on making biscotti for family members, putting it in large beautiful jars, and sending along a pound of coffee. We don't have the money for more elaborate gifts, and honestly, I'd rather give something they will enjoy eating and drinking, instead of, say, a sweater, that they might or might not like. Everyone likes food. Some more than others (case in point) but everyone likes it. I'm going to use Dorie Greenspan's recipe for almond biscotti, and maybe add some lemon and anise. I'm not sure about the anise - because it is a unique flavor, and I'm not sure everyone would like it - but the lemon is safe, for sure.
In baby news, Finn's making more noise every day. It's so much fun. He's very expressive. Today he has his 2 month doctor's appointment, and they're going to give him some vaccinations. Oh Lord, I hope he does okay. Many babies get upset and then stay fussy for a day or two. If they ask me to hold him down to get shots - I'll refuse. I don't want to be involved, or to have him remember me being involved - it confuses his trust in me. I'm the good guy! I get to hold and comfort him after the shots are over!
Here's Finn wearing a scarf and appearing pleased.

More food news - I picked up an issue of Martha Stewart Living, and let me tell you - this woman is very creative. She also has some envious cookie recipes that I'll have to try out. Of course I'll chronicle them here.