August 10, 2009

Stop and Smell the Marigolds

I'm working on a new pixelated project with a jewelry-studded, harmonium-playing, Tarot-reading friend. More news coming soon as, well, the news develops.

Hold tight to your peaches, darlings.

June 30, 2009

Strawberry Chamomile Quick Bread

And as I looked a quickening gust
Of wind blew up to me and thrust
Into my face a miracle
Of orchard-breath, and with the smell,--
I know not how such things can be!--
I breathed my soul back into me.

--from "Renascence" by Edna St. Vincent Millay


As some of you know, I am a sucker for floral and herbal infusion. Adding a base of lavender or a hue of thyme to a regular bread, jelly, or creme brulee can turn the everyday into a knee-trembling experience. Even before the dessert reaches your lips, your nose informs you that a new jewel awaits. Each time I pass a wildflower, or notice that my neighbor's violets have suddenly blossomed overnight, I can't help but wonder: how would that flower taste in my next batch of _______?

This obsession, I fear, might soon turn me into the village outcast. For example, each time I overhear people speaking about their flower gardens, I always jump into the conversation and ask, a little too overzealously, "Are any of your flowers edible?" Usually they don't know how to respond to this question, and the conversation awkwardly fizzles. I fear that soon everyone around town will be bordering their flower gardens with chicken wire to ward off any nightly raids from the freaky flower-eating girl.

Some bloggers out there, like Conscious Kitchen and Tartelette, to name a few, would understand this urgency to discover new possibilities in the art of herbal and floral infusion. If you visit their pages, you will will discover them adding notes of various flowers, herbs, barks, and leaves to their delicious chocolates and baked goods. Here is a brief list of ingredients they have recently infused into sweet treats: lemongrass, rose, black tea, pink peppercorn, cucumber-scented green tea, violet, saffron and cherry blossom. These blogs obviously give me much to live up to, and in the past year they've inspired me to take my infusion skillz to some pretty fabulous places.

(However, some of these places were more nasty than fabulous. Like the sugar cookies I tried to infuse with yerba mate' tea a few months ago. Blech! Do NOT try that combination in your own kitchen unless you hate everything that is pure and delicious in this world. And please do not tell any gauchos what I did with their sacred tea.)
Don't let this pretty dough fool you.
Sure, the Moody Kitchen has endured some lackluster--and sometimes downright sh***y--experiments throughout my research in the Infusion Arts. After one of these experiments, my cat even threatened to move out of the house. His suitcase was packed and everything.

Despite the occasional culinary failure (and near woman-cat divorce), some combinations have managed to win over my heart and tongue. A few months back, I stumbled upon one such dessert: strawberry chamomile quick bread. Since I had never baked with chamomile before, I thought it would be fun to test out its potential. I mean, how can one go wrong with strawberries or chamomile? I would eat a ball of mud were it stuffed with these two ingredients.

Chamomile buds infusing in coconut milk

And, let me tell you: this combination was as pretty-on-the-tongue as it gets. After I made this bread, my cat was finally able to unpack his suitcase full of berets, cigars and miniature wigs. It's that delicious.

How have you been eating your flowers this summer? Let me know!

Strawberry Chamomile Quick Bread
(makes 1 loaf)

2 cups flour
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tbs. dry chamomile buds
2 tsp. vinegar
1.5-2 cups mashed strawberries
1/3 cup olive oil

1. Bring the coconut milk to a boil, and then remove from heat. Stir in the chamomile buds, and allow mixture to sit and infuse for 30 minutes to 1 hour (or more for a stronger flavor).

2. Once flowers have infused into the milk, strain buds and pour milk into a small bowl. Add vinegar to the milk, and stir. Allow vinegar-milk mixture to sit for 5 minutes. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk your dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk the sugar with the olive oil until well blended. Then add the remaining wet ingredients, and stir. Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients, and stir JUST until combined. About 10 stirs oughtta do 'er. Batter should be lumpy. Pour batter into a well-greased bread pan, and bake for 45-50 minutes at 350.

April 29, 2009

Black Cherry and Thyme Jelly from the Red Dimension

I heard a knock at the door. No, not a knock--more like the rasp of a brush against a snare drum. It was the sound of 10 cats licking the 10 toes of an infant. Of 10 baby bats sucking obsessively at a peach. Yes, this sound was more tongue than fist. A hiss. A feather tickling your wrist. Eyelashes against a pillow.

I opened the door, and in swarmed a red cloud dusted with silver. Had I not been wearing my cowboy boots, this cloud would have, no doubt, knocked me over. This red was alive--but not "alive" in the same way that you and I and all 7 billion of us are alive. No, this red was life. It carried the lives of everything living and everything that has lived. It exhaled a Jurassic breath and inhaled a Cambrian sigh. In its blur and static I could hear the patient shifting of tectonic plates. I heard the fluttering of aquatic tails in shallow waters. I heard reptilian roars and insectual hums and the skeletal barking of dogs. The first fire. The first human yawn. I heard all of this, and I felt it, too.

As this cloud swirled and pulsated around my ankles and calves, I felt the way people feel after waking up from a dream where they are falling off the side of a cliff. Except I didn't want to wake up. I wanted to fall and fall and fall. I wanted this cloud to take me in and send me flailing into the universe like a curly-headed crab nebula. I wanted this thing to take me out of time and body and aluminum siding completely. I was willing to sacrifice everything to keep falling out into a sky of black holes.

"Thank you for opening the door," the cloud whispered as it wound its way around my thighs and waist. It was both cumulus and the deep inhale of a black hole--at once both a sprawl and a contraction. A small town on the verge of greatness. Her velocity, something I felt more than witnessed, moved in all directions at once. It sent my skirt into a flowering halo about my waist. My shirt began to unthread itself as it circled its way around my torso and chest and neck. The beads of my necklace tore from the chain and ricocheted off the walls like BBs or catapulting squirrel teeth. My hair sprayed outward like the branches of an ancient tree. Black cherries sprouted from the tip of each curl.

This cloud made every part of me move and grow and redden. My ears extended into great rouge satellites while, simultaneously, they grew inward like ruby snails. I heard, at once, the red electricity of my brain. It sounded like a thousand eels winding around the peach of their beginning.

My lips and skin and fingertips and toes bouqueted into red carnations; their roots flowered into me, tasting and licking and tickling the grapefruit layer beneath my skin.

The scent of cherry pie and cherry candy and cherry lip balm suddenly filled my nostrils. Like a dog, I could smell each scent individually: the pie, the candy, the balm. Then, as if someone flipped on a switch in my cerebral cortex, every distinction of fragrance blurred and I could only smell "red." No longer was there pastry, candy, or lip gloss--there was only red, and, oddly enough, I could smell it. I could smell the color red.

This synaesthetic transformation occurred not only to my sense of smell, but to my other senses as well. Suddenly, all that I could see, feel, smell, hear, and taste was Red. I felt like I had been thrown into a universe of red jelly and was clumsily slicking toward the heart of it. The red cloud, sighing now as it took over every part of my apartment & soul, had somehow opened up a new dimension and thrown me into it. In this new dimension there were no jobs, cats or cell phones. Nor were there any blogs. (Yikes!) Heck, people didn't even exist in this realm! All that existed was Red--all shades of Red.

I sensed that this world, this Red dimension, was the world from which the red cloud was born. No, it was more than that--this new dimension was the birthplace of Red. All things Red came from this realm. But why did this cloud choose me to be the witness of this crimson genesis? So I asked it, and this was its response:

"Do not be afraid, girl. Give yourself to Red, and you will be rewarded."

Give myself to red? Huh? What does that even mean? And does that really answer my question?

"Do not resist. Turn off your brain. Slide into it."

Not knowing what any of this meant, I tried doing what the voice of the red cloud had ordered. I allowed my body to go limp, closed my eyes, and switched off my thoughts. For a moment, I felt as if I no longer existed. I could feel every coral molecule of my body fluttering like a fruit fly, trying hard to stay aligned with the others in the flock. Slowly, though, each molecule dissolved into the red surroundings, and I (or at least my physical form) no longer existed.
My body dissolving in the Red Realm

All that remained was thought, and even that was dissolving into cellular pomegranates. So this is what if feels like to be Red, I thought. I was a chunk of coal, ignited. I was the reddest eye of a photograph. I was the lips of the prettiest girl in the class. I understood Red because, at that moment, I became that bloodiest and lipstickiest of colors.

The red cloud witnessed my progress approvingly:

"Good, yes. Very good. Now you know. Mmmm hmmmmm. You are now ready, girl."

As quickly as my body dissolved into Red, my form was reconstituted into human-woman form. First my feet, then my calves-and-knees-and-thighs. The hips next, then the torso-chest-shoulders-and-neck. Finally, the molecules of my head and its bushy, ratty hair vacuumed into themselves, and I was once again a whole human.

A little stunned, I asked the cloud what had just happened. Why was I chosen to witness, uh...whatever I had just witnessed?!

"You were invited to witness the core of Red. We wanted you to understand our place of origin, which, in a sense, is your origin, too. After all, all of you--all humans--survive because of us. Everything inside of you is red--your blood, your heart, your brain, your love, your embarrassment. Oh, yes. We are in all of you. We, those of the Red World, give you life. However, you are on the verge of forgetting us. Each day you dream dreams made of metal and plastic. You speak in pixels. You speak words that are fractions of what you actually mean. You think in decimals and apologies. And when you hug, your arms are like wires stripped of muscle and skin. You are turning away from us."

This message was confusing, especially since I was receiving it from a red cloud. I wasn't quite sure what I was being asked to do. But then my mission was made more clear:

"In your very own kitchen, you have the tools with which to reveal the Red dimension to other humans. By denying the Red World, you deny your Red Blood, which will only distance you from your body and make you ill. Here: takes these ingredients and make something wholly Red."

The cloud whirred through my kitchen, flinging open cupboards and drawers. A jar of cherry juice suddenly appeared on the kitchen counter, as did measuring spoons, bowls, and a bag of sugar.

"Take these, and remake what you just experienced in the Red World. Remind humans that we of the Red World still exist. Remind them that we course through their veins!"

And, with those last words, the cloud tornadoed toward my door like, well, a tornado. In what seemed like one, fluid motion, the door flew open and slammed shut, leaving me standing in the middle of my kitchen without any clothes on. (The cloud unraveled my threads, remember?)

So, I approached my pile of ingredients and set to work on what would be the purest, most gelatinous tribute to the Red World ever created: Black Cherry & Thyme Jelly. (Despite their name, black cherries are really a deep, rich, almost-purple hue of red.) This carmine jelly is velvety, prehistoric, and sophisticated; after all, it represents all life on earth from the beginning of time to infinity. Man, a lot of knowledge can be packed into that lifespan, you know?

Since I'm supposed to spread the word about your ruby-red origins and all, the jelly recipe is outlined for you below. As you prepare it in your own kitchen, think of your veins and your heart and your red, red thoughts. (Then think of all the tasty crepes you'll be able to yield from this sweet batch of jelly!)

Black Cherry and Thyme Jelly
(This recipe is adapted from this site.)

1 cup sugar
1 cup black cherry juice
3 sprigs of thyme
1/2 packet of pectin (a plant-derived gelling agent you can find in most grocery stores near the canning supplies)

1. Bring your black cherry juice to a boil in a large saucepan, and then take it off the heat. Add the sprigs of thyme, stir, and allow flavor to infuse for 30 minutes.

2. Once mixture has cooled, extract the sprigs of thyme, and add the pectin to the juice. Stir until fully combined, and then return the saucepan to the stove. Bring mixture to a boil.

3. When juice is once again at a boil, add sugar and stir continuously until the jelly slithers all snail-like off of your mixing spoon. This took me about 20-25 minutes.

4. Remove from heat, and allow jelly to slightly cool. Pour jelly into jars, and store in the fridge. I didn't mess around with proper sealing and such, which would make this jelly last until the end of time. Instead, I just used small screw-cap glass jars, which should preserve this jelly for a good 2-3 weeks.

April 22, 2009

All is Right in the Head (of Cauliflower)

Oh Moody Kitchen, you were not meant to be abandoned. As I peek my head above my stack of to-be-graded essays, I see you growling at me contemptuously with your pixelated teeth. But, please know this: I still want you madly. I want you like a hungry dog wants an uncooked steak, or like a chipmunk wants an M&M. Really, I do. But you must wait for just a few more days, baby. I’ve gotta get my s**t together first. Before these essays were submitted, I was a real woman—a woman with hopes, dreams, and cauliflowery ambitions. I need to find that woman—that woman I was before this red pen was placed in my hand.

Until my identity is once again exhumed, allow me to share some of my latest cauliflower research with you. As some of you know, cauliflower and I go way back. We were buddies in high school. Cauliflower braided my hair and did my homework, and I ate her head—you know, normal BFF stuff.

Anyhow, my hard-hitting, finger-on-the-pulse research has proven that my awkward, clumsy best friend (who suffered from “other child” syndrome during her formative years—her older sister was, after all, broccoli (that bitch!)) has, through much hardship, become an inspiration to many. Sure, broccoli had thin legs and softer hair, but as cauliflower budded (haha) into a young woman, her brainy (haha) nature proved to be much more seductive. While broccoli lies wilting in the fridge of her past (sucka!), cauliflower matures into deeper constellations of deliciousness.

Here’s what some well-respected people of letters have said of cauliflower’s splendor:

“Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.” –Mark Twain (Hmmm…this quote may not work to support my research thesis. *Highlight, right click, DELETE!*) Twain eating a cigar (which is nothing but a cigarette with a college education)

“Come forth with a cauliflower who will plunk herself down beside Him and worry like a white brain.” –Anne Sexton (I like Ms. Sexton’s use of the word “plunk”—yes, yes, that is very caulifloweresque. Unlike insensible Mr. Twain, Ms. Sexton seems to understand the sacred nature of cauliflower. However, I find myself grappling with the same academic dilemma as before: how the hell will I use this as support of my thesis? It ain't exactly logical and scholarly. Save it for the epigraph, you suggest? Perfect! An epigraph is a storage unit for the "useless but beautiful.")

Nothing about Sexton is "plunk"

Sadly, I must put my questionable cauliflower research on hold until I find more logos-driven, pro-cauliflower source information. And until I finish grading my students’ essays. And until I find a way to reconfigure the pieces of my lost identity. Until then, I will be raging against the page with my red pen while munching on the crisp and flowery head of my old best friend: cauliflower.

Here is a simple recipe to hold you over until our next not-quite-sane session. Well, it’s less a recipe and more a pile of random ingredients that, together, make for a tasty, textured meal. This is a cheap, quick-fix meal to make when time becomes an engine that refuses to die.

Getting A-head Brain Food

4-5 cauliflower florets, chopped finely
2 Tbs. horseradish sauce
A few smashed crackers of your preference
Juice of ¼ a lemon
Loads of black pepper and a dash of salt

Toss in bowl, stir, and eat away to your head’s content!

April 14, 2009

Eat Your To-Do List

My Summer To-Do List

When I started my first teaching job after finishing my undergraduate degree, I had the pleasure of working side-by-side with a master To-Do lister. Steve, a teacher of 20 years, was the real deal when it came to managing life via Post-It notes. He came to work each day with not just one To-Do list, but with a whole collection of To-Do lists. These small pieces of paper would be neatly folded and stuffed into his back pocket for safe-keeping.

Steve's lists seemed to break from chronological time and enter the cosmological, the eternal. How could one person complete that many tasks per day? The challenge seemed impossible to my lazy, 22-year-old self. No one could conquer that many errands and events and activities in one day without somehow stopping the flow of time--or leaving the temporal plane altogether. No one, that is, except for Steve, armed with his list-making pencil.

Steve's To-Do lists ranged from the short-term (hourly, daily), to the long-term (weekly, monthly, etc.) Throughout the day errands would be marked off with the authoritative line of a pencil, and, without hesitation, new errands and events would be included.

Without a doubt, Steve got things done. And I didn't. Go figure.

Steve's organizational methods seemed somewhat appealing to me, but at the ripe and hippied age of 22, I hesitated to manage my own life in such a manner. I shuddered to think of what these Post-It notes would do to my image. (Is not washing your hair and wearing hole-in-the-knee jeans an image? Maybe. Is it one that should be upheld in the workplace? Probably not, but the 22-year-old version of me paid no mind to values like "professionalism in the workplace." Instead, she lived by this value: "Why the hell not?!")

The 22-year-old me also thought the President was part-lizard, part-alien. As you can see, she was clearly not ready for To-Do lists.

Steve and I worked at a small charter high school south of Tucson. I was an assistant teacher, and Steve was the lead instructor. Aside from occasional visits from case managers and other school administrators, Steve and I were pretty much alone. Well, except for our students--our creative, rambunctious, and, at times, angsty students.

I guess you could say that all 30 of us were alone...in a together sort of way. I mean, this wasn't your traditional busting-at-the-seams high school with cheerleaders and cafeterias and Save the Saguaro clubs and locker-sniffing police dogs. No, this school was small. Very, very small. In fact, the entire school occupied one room (yes, just one room) in a three-room adobe building in the middle of the Sonora Desert.

Yes, the 30 of us were very alone together. And when the occasional dust storm would roll through and turn our entire universe red, we felt like we might be the only people alive in the world. Alive and alone, together.

As a result of this shared isolation, none of us could keep many secrets. We all knew who Margarita was dating. Victor's efforts to win back an old girlfriend went unnoticed by few. And if Veronica was tired of doing work, not a soul was left unawares...mostly because she would sigh, dramatically close her book, then yell, "Uh, I'm tired of doing work!" Nope, nothing in our one-room school remained a secret for long.

As much as I loved these cozy quarters, our own batch of problems arose from time to time. Aside from the normal issues one would expect from enclosing a large group of teenagers in a small room for hours on end, some of the problems--or, I guess you could say my problems--were To-Do list related. Try as I might to ignore Steve's perfect Post-Its, there were days when I just couldn't. The minute I turned away from one pink and perfect list, my eyes would fall upon an even pinker and more perfect list. I felt like "the other child"--the one who is forced to stare for eternity at the "much better child's" Nobel Peace Prize trophy sitting proudly on the mantle of a one-room cabin. Day in day out, she (your humble, disheveled, and hippied "other child") must sit and confront that symbol of "betterness," unable to escape its glare.

One night I decided to take matters into my own hands. If Steve could organize his life with a few strokes of a pencil, then maybe I could, too. So, I went home, and I created my own To-Do list. And I failed at it. Horribly. As much as I want to share with you here some of the goals I listed on that piece of paper, I realize now that I had better not. That list is embarrassing. I have an image to uphold, after all. (Even though I fear it's the same unwashed, hole-in-the-jeans image I struggled to uphold at the age of 22. With a few hints of wrinkles. And cowboy boots instead of soiled tennis shoes. Otherwise, same old pseudo-hippie!)

That first To-Do list was hard. I couldn't come up with any specific and practical tasks in need of completion, so I resorted to the abstract. In other words, my To-Do list became a sort of personal manifesto, wrought with new agey statements like "live free, love free!" and "carry your roots with you!" The page was littered with enthusiasm (as evidenced by the army of exclamation marks), and I'm sure the word "transcendental" probably made a few appearances.

Oh, to be 22 again. No, I wasn't yet ready for To-Do lists at that age. Give a freshly educated 22-year-old the task of developing a To-Do list, and he/she will inevitably turn it into a manifesto. Especially if that 22-year-old graduated with a degree in English.

Surprisingly, though, I now find To-Do lists a little more appealing. In fact, now that I'm a proud card-carrying member of the late-20s demographic, To-Do listing seem pretty necessary. A To-Do list represents logic and structure, a 22-year-old's two worst enemies. But at 28, logic (in small doses) becomes a somewhat cozy idea. It's sort of like a calculator on tax day: you don't really want to use it, but if it wasn't there to support your crappy math skills, you would be left to do battle with the government all alone. In this light, logic is a both a friend and a radical. Logic is a comrade. (Man, I'm getting old!)

Since things are a little chaotic around these parts at the moment--tax preparation, grading, nail-biting, etc.--I thought I'd try my hand at a little Summer To-Do Listing. With Summer Break just 4 weeks away, I find myself full of hope: hope for warmth, relaxation, mimosas, and mangoes. And, when you really think about it, what is a To-Do list but a documentation of our day-t0-day hope? Even if what appears on that list seems a burden at first, we can look forward to the satisfaction of its completion. Once we finish doing the laundry or dying our mustaches--or whatever might appear on our lists--we achieve the freedom to move onto the lists that matter. My lists below fit into this latter category: what to do when the To-Do list has been eradicated!

To do this summer:
1. Buy a silk robe
2. Buy slippers made of feathers
3. Wear silk robe and feather slippers
4. Find a palm tree
5. Drink mimosas under said palm tree while wearing said robe and slippers
6. Uh, what else do you want from me? The list ended at #5, dude.

Hmmm. Okay, here are some more lists...only because you insisted. (Didn't you? Hello?) Let's move on to some food-related To-Do lists. Yay!

To prepare:
1. Lots of stuff with fresh, Carolina-grown berries. Like these:
And these: 2. Green corn tamales
3. Black cherry jelly [check! I completed this while compiling my list. Man, Steve would be proud! I'll be blogging about this yummy concoction soon.]
4. Juices and licuados infused with chiles
5. Cherry corn scones (using Sweet Amandine's recipe)
6. Jewelry tarts (using Hadley Gets Crafty's recipe)
7. Millions of batches of sorbets infused with the likes of thyme, basil, lavender, etc.
8. Red wine (using my brother's awesome wine-making apparatus)
9. Homemade pizza
10. Pickled hot peppers
11. Mole sauce (if I can get my hands on the 7,000 ingredients)
12. As many purple foods as I can handle!
13. Muscadine grape jam
15. Many raw goodies inspired by Bridget at Perpetually Creating

To read:
1.
David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris (which comes out in May!):
2. Finish Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life

To do with friends and family:
1. Cook with Emily, Jack and Hazel before they move to the Old World
2. Bake some mystical bread with Jaime in the New World
3. Feast on some vegan goodness with Estacia in the West
4. Help my brother start up his own bee colony...for the love of honey!!! And beekeeper suits!

Misc. food to-do stuff:
1. Blog, blog, blog away! I hope to catch up on some old posts and develop some new beauties. If you're interested in writing a guest post (please? pretty please?), email me your ideas at themoodykitchen@hotmail.com
2. Take more blurry pictures of grapefruit, like this one:
To waste:
1. Nothing. Not an ounce of this summer shall be wasted.

What are you including in your own culinary To-Do list for the summer? What 3 recipes or experiments do you wish to conquer in these sunniest of months?

April 8, 2009

Shag Carpet Salad

I was born in 1980. This was the year when everyone in the world breathed a sigh of relief and asked, with voices emitting shoulder-padded strength and precision, "What the hell just happened?"

Well, I'll tell you what just happened--the 1970s had just happened. Out of the daze & haze we marched forward into a new decade, struggling to put together the pieces of our civilized selves. This process of "re-civilizing" involved toting around leather briefcases, tucking our jeans delicately into our socks, and ironing.

When the clocks struck midnight on January 1, 1980, everyone suddenly became aware that their walls were painted pea-green and orange, colors they didn't really like at all. They looked at themselves in the mirror and tried hard to remember where the uneven rainbow tattoo on their foreheads had come from. And why did that rainbow consist of only two colors: pea-green and orange? And why was it resting on a deflated lavender cloud?

As if in unison, people all across this great nation began to cringe upon noticing the freaky knick-knacks scattered about their living rooms:

Crocheted clowns?


Pancreatic ashtrays?

Owls floating on magic sticks?

How had American human beings allowed things to get this bad--and this trippy?

In the wake of that strange decade, we were left with something else--something one can only describe as part-jungle/part-freaky. That something was shag carpet, and my childhood home was full of it!

Our shag carpet was a thing of nightmares: mom's high heels would get stuck in it; my toys would get lost in it; stains would never come out of it; dad's spare change was always sucked into it. Many earrings, paperclips, and Barbie shoes fell into the carpet and never returned. If an item dropped from a table to the floor, you might as well consider it lost for good. Little could survive in a field of shag--except more shag.

Like a drunk uncle at an Amish wedding, our shag carpet seemed to suffocate the sober life around it to fuel its own clumsy and tangled ways. Sometimes it felt like our shag was reproducing right before our eyes! It grew up the walls and up the tables and up the legs of my parents. It grew and pulsated and expanded, stretching out the door and into the yard. It sprawled into the cornfield and under the bridges and over the Quaker meeting houses. Last I heard our shag was crossing county lines!

Just as you can't avoid the drunk uncle at a proper Amish wedding, our shag was, likewise, inescapable. Try ignoring it all you want--that's not going to stop it from throwing baby carrots at the groom while incomprehensibly slurring, "Amish, Schmamish! Where's the ranch dressing? And, where am I?"

Our house had two shades of shag: vomit-green and vomit-orange. (What a surprise, eh? It complimented our mustard-yellow & goldleaf wallpaper just beautifully!) When I think back on my childhood, these two shaggy colors come to mind first before any other colors. My memories of childhood seem to crop forth from these vomit-hued fields. And, you know what? Now that I've put about 20 years between myself and that carpet, I find I kind of love it--sort of like a button learns to love the ugly sweater onto which it was sewn. As ratty and nasty as that carpet was, it was also soft and forgiving; even if it did catch hold of your stiletto and toss you bum-first to the floor, at least it gave you a nappy nest upon which to land.

I aptly named the salad below "Shag Carpet Salad" due to its vomit-green and vomit-orange color palette. (Appetizing, eh?)

I wasn't quite sure what to make of this salad at first. Is it delicious? Yes. Does it include some of my favorite vegetables? Mos' def'. Is it pretty enough for a blog? Probably not. But, if there's one thing I've learned from my shag carpet experience, it's that even the ugly and painful things can become pretty when channeled through the processes of memory. And will. A very, very strong will. Even the drunk uncle at an Amish wedding can be pretty in his own goofy and stuttering way. And the baby carrots he's slinging? Absolutely gorgeous!

Shag Carpet Salad
(serves 2-4)

1 large sweet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
10-12 Brussels sprouts, halved
3 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4-6 cauliflower florets, chopped
juice from half an orange
2-3 tbs. sunflower seeds
salt and pepper to taste

Roasting Your Veggies

1. Toss your cubed sweet potatoes and halved Brussels sprouts into a bowl. Throw in the olive oil, cumin, salt, and pepper, and stir until the potatoes and sprouts are coated. Pour the veggies onto a cookie sheet or large casserole dish, and spread them all out to ensure they roast evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 400. You will probably want to flip the veggies once in the middle of roasting.

Preparing Salad

1. Once your sweet potatoes and sprouts have cooled a bit, chop the Brussels halves in half. Spoon these roasted veggies into a large bowl, and then toss in your chopped cauliflower and sunflower seeds. Finally, you can squeeze the juice of 1/2 an orange into the bowl. Stir until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.

This salad tastes complex and delicious right away, but it's even better after chilling in the fridge overnight. Enjoy these beautiful shag carpet vittles!

March 28, 2009

"Whatta Man" Peanut Butter Muffins

Man. Man, oh man, oh man. Words cannot express how utterly exciting it is to find the bold (yet sensitive) flavor of peanut butter in something as normal, as Plain Shane, as a muffin. I know what you're thinking: Dude, peanut butter is normal, too. Yes, this is true. (It's also true that you're a downer who always makes me feel stupid.) But, when peanut butter arrives on your tongue out of nowhere like some sort of mystical, tongue-kissing Zeus, the sensation is one that could change your day--no, your life. Eat this muffin and, I guarantee, something sexy and magical will happen to you soon thereafter. Do you need evidence with which to support this claim? I thought you'd ask. Here's your (weak & imaginary) evidence, Sherlock.

Imagine this: You are in your car. A cat darts out in front of you. To avoid hitting the cat, you swerve slightly to the right and drive onto the curb. Rattled and out of breath, you decide to wait for the wave of adrenaline to hush. This might take a while. So, you exhale, unbuckle your seatbelt and turn on the radio. "Whatta Man," by Salt 'N' Pepa (featuring En Vogue), just happens to be playing on your favorite station. The familiar lyrics and beats allow you to relax, and even dance a little, in your seat.

It's then you see him walking down the sidewalk. A supernova of a man. A whole galaxy, even. Something about the shape of his head and the curve of his neck tells you, without a doubt, that the two of you are supposed to spend the rest of your lives together. He seems to be heading in the direction of your car
with much urgency. His eyes dart from left to right to left to right and even up a few times. He must be looking for something, so you roll down the window and ask him if he needs some help. ("Whatta Man" is still bellowing out of your speakers, in case you were wondering.) "Is everything OK?" you ask.

"No," he says, "I've lost my cat. She ran out of my apartment 5 minutes ago. Have you seen a cat roaming around? She's, uh, brown."

"Yes--yes I have," you say with all the confidence of Hillary Clinton. It's like she's living in your throat, power suit and all.

"I think I saved your cat's life," you say to this crab nebula in cargo pants. "Look, there she is."

The two of you gaze across the street and see Tina--your soon-to-be lover's cat, the cat you almost killed--rolling in a bed of purple flowers. Sunshine rays down on Tina, and in that collage of an instant, her fur appears to be emitting sparks of electricity. Tina is a collection of electrons, and the two of you--you and the man--whisper in unison, "She's alive."


Some of Tina's magical electrons must have made their way into the air and into your nose and into your brain cells and heart cells because before you know what you're doing you get out of your car and approach the man and the two of you embrace and before you even know his name and before he knows yours you kiss each other and know then that this is it. This is the electron in which you have been destined to live. This is the moment Tina had been directing you towards when she darted across the street and sent you swerving, safely, onto the curb. Tina, precious Tina, gave you this man. Tina changed your life.


[Cough, cough. Ready to transition back to reality, folks?]

Remember the peanut butter muffin from paragraph 1? Remember when I said that that muffin "could change your day--no, your life?" That muffin is Tina. (OK, so the story about the cat and the hot dude isn't really evidence, per se, as I suggested earlier; it is only an allegory. Once again, you have spotted one of my "pervasive and asinine" logical fallacies, as you like to call them. Aren't you a brilliant downer?)

Despite this alleged rhetorical weakness, I'm going to stick to the promise I made to you in paragraph 1: eat this muffin and hot things will happen. Just as Tina led the hypothetical you to the love of your life, this muffin just might be able to lead the real you to something sexy and special--maybe to a man with a soft spot for brown cats made of magical electrons? Who knows. If nothing else, the silky surprise of peanut butter in these muffins might be all the surprising love you need in this world. Go ahead--open your car door! Something, or someone, might be there waiting for you...

*Disclaimer 1: Author is not responsible for any mixed, weak, or corny metaphors in this post.

*Disclaimer 2: Remember "Whatta Man"? I love that song.

"Whatta Man" Peanut Butter Muffins
(makes 12)
The images above are from my first batch of "Whatta Man" muffins. In this batch I forgot to add the chocolate chips to the batter before spooning them into the muffin tins, so I merely sprinkled a few on top before baking. In the second batch, I stirred about 1/2 cup of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips into the batter before baking. I also used whole wheat flour instead of white flour the second time around. The second batch was far more desirable in my opinion. However, are mini chocolate chips manly? Is wheat flour manly? I say "yes," but I'm not a downer like you.

1 3/4 cup flour (white or wheat)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs. agave or honey
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 cup rice milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. In a small bowl, mix rice milk with cider vinegar. Allow mixture to sit for at least 5 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, agave, and oil. Whisk until well combined. Add your peanut butter, rice milk, and vanilla extract to the whipped sugar. Whisk wet ingredients until well combined.

3. Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients, and with a wooden spoon stir just until combined. Fold in your chocolate chips.

4. Spoon dough into greased muffin tins, and bake for 12-15 minutes at 350. When a toothpick comes out clean, pull these babies out of the oven and indulge!

March 24, 2009

B(re)aking Bread with Friends

Let me first begin by saying that I am VERY proud of my title for this post. I guess I did learn something from all the feminist theory essays I had to read in college; these essays encouraged me to "(re-)create my inn(her) voice--a voice that is w(holy) womyn." Or sometimes they just wanted me to "de-/re-construct my post-9/11 gendered identity." Are you confused? Because I am--and so is one of my "inn(her)" selves. I'm not sure which of my selves is confused, but as soon as I identify that zone of instability, I'll let you know. If you're still reading, that is...

Hello?

OK. Welcome to this post, everyone. This entry will happily skip across a meadow filled with bread, friends, and Spring Break cheer. Try and find a better combination of topics--I dare you! (And while I'm at it, I'll dare all of your fragmented inn(her) selves, too!)

My Spring Break was spent baking and breaking bread with two lovely ladies: Bridget from Perpetually Creating and Jaime from Chicago. Lovely Bridget and I got together early on in the break to engage in some yeast bread action. She invited me to her home, fed me, let me pet her dogs, and sat me in front of piles of awesome raw food books while our dough was rising. Let the music commence: These are a few of my faavooriite thiiiings... (Thanks, Bridget!)

I had a great time baking bread with Bridget. I'm new to the yeast bread scene, and as a beginner, I approach yeast bread recipes with care--so many things can go wrong! My brain floods with hundreds of questions and doubts: Is the yeast any good? Why isn't the yeast proofing? Did I add too much salt? Will my bread rise in this temperature? Why isn't it rising?! Why am I an imperfect womyn?! Bridget has way more experience with yeast breads than I, and I took plenty of mental notes as we waited for our ingredients to work their magic.

Bridget's wheat buns (and a bun in the oven!)

Our yeast was a little cranky, indignantly refusing to rise to its full baby-bum potential. However, when it was all said and done, we ended up with some tasty bread! Bridget made whole wheat rolls, and I made two loaves of spelt/whole wheat bread.
Me (re-)negotiating the feminist identity of my spelt bread (robbed from Bridget's blog)

Bridget has some special dough rising in her womb, and it made me happy to know that the little peanut got to feast on our yeasty efforts! It's never too early to introduce a baby to the intoxicating splendors of spelt flour. Sadly, this last sentence will probably never make it into a parenting manual. People jus' don' know...

Then, later in the week, my beautiful & bejeweled friend, Jaime, came to visit from the windy hinterlands of Chicago.
Feather-eared, widgeting womyn

Jaime had a birthday this month, so I bought her Molly Wizenberg's new food memoir, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. Isn't the cover pretty?Visits from Jaime are always inspiring, and it seems that no matter how much time has passed, she and I find new and magical ways to gel together--like water to flour. Jaime doesn't cook or bake as much as some, but I had to--just HAD to--give her Molly's dream-of-a-book. (Some of you might be familiar with Molly's blog, Orangette. It's a delight!) Jaime's voice and style remind me so much of Molly's: dreamy, poetic, and infused with clouds and cream. Both of them have such a way of making little things--like crystallized ginger, or feather earrings--into the ecstatic monumental, and I admire them for that.

Jaime and I ended up baking Molly's Ginger, Banana & Chocolate Quick Bread together. Bananas? Ginger? Chocolate? How could a womyn resist? We certaintly couldn't. It was fun getting into the quick bread baking zone with a close friend. Quick breads don't elevate your neuroses in the same way that yeast breads do; they're not as sensitive as their yeasty brethren, and thus demand less of your attention. The process of measuring, stirring, whisking, and combining can be rather calming and meditative.

Jaime whisking the dry ingredients--with rad purple nails!

After popping our silky, ginger-studded dough into the oven, we laid back and admired Mr. Mushroom and Bella, a married troll couple from the village of Trolldom.
Lovers

We bought these creatures from U.S. Trolls, a magical troll boutique in the heart of Wilmington. The Finnish woman who runs this troll operation out of the front room of her home sprinkled magic dust on our heads and everything! If you ever visit Southeastern North Carolina, please make U.S. Trolls your #1 stop.

A visit from Jaime was just what I needed to re-energize myself for the final stretch of the semester. No matter how many piles of essays I find myself treading through these last couple of weeks, I can rest assured knowing that I am protected by Finnish magic dust. And Molly's magic bread. And the love of new friends and old friends.
Molly's Amazing Banana Bread
(if I wouldn't have taken it out of the oven a few minutes too soon)

I wouldn't leave you without a recipe, dear souls. Before Jaime arrived, I baked her this 3-way lavender infused quick bread. This bread is SURE to get your innards ready for all the troll-inspired joy this new season has to offer!

Lavender Tea Bread
(1 loaf)

See this post for directions on how to make lavender sugar, lavender milk, and lavender extract. This recipe calls for all three. However, if you are stretched for time and need this bread NOW, you can still get a flowery bread by using only lavender milk. Lavender milk only takes about 30-45 minutes for the flavors to really take hold.

2 cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp. salt
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1 cup lavender sugar
1 cup lavender rice milk
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp. lavender extract
1 tsp. dried culinary lavender buds

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a small bowl, add the vinegar to the lavender rice milk, and let sit for 5 minutes.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients until combined. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir just until combined. Fold in the dried lavender buds.

3. Pour dough into a greased bread loaf, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. After 10 minutes, remove from the bread pan, and allow to cool until you can't wait any longer!

March 20, 2009

Apple Butter Scones for Bertha

Every brawny woman has a little softness at her core, a little feather from which all the bones and muscles and metals spring forth. Some might even call that soft spot a "heart." For Bertha, this feather was revealed through the magic of apple butter. Apple butter?! Yes, apple butter--creamy, meditative, and sexy (in a 19th century, woodsy way) apple butter.

But, let me back up a bit. I have not yet properly introduced you to steely-and-stoic Bertha, and here I am speaking already of her "soft core." Bertha (or "Bertha Butts," as my brother and I referred to her), was our summertime babysitter. Every summer morning before work, my mother would drop me and my brother off at Bertha's back door. As soon as our car wove its way around her gravel driveway, Bertha's shadow-of-a-dog would race out of his doggy door like a deranged mop and greet us with a few snotty sniffs and growls. I was sure he was a gremlin disguised in a suit of black curls.

Slowly but surely, Bertha would arrive at the screen door, unsmiling. Her thighs were thick tree trunks made of living steel; they rooted firmly out of her home-sewn shorts like whole, muscular bodies of NFL players."Well, guys...I'll see you in a few hours," mom would say nervously, trying to act as though all of this--Bertha, the rat-dog, Bertha's garrison-like legs--were normal. Mom's eyes darted back and forth between my worried face and the stern woman at the door. Eventually, Bertha would welcome me and my brother indoors with a hushed and indifferent "hello" that sounded more like a breath, a sigh, than a greeting.

Bertha's home was just as inviting as her daily "hello" through the screen door. The stench of fermenting cabbage was the first thing one would notice upon entering her house. You see, Bertha was obsessed with sauerkraut, and she would stir excessive piles of it into almost every dish. To fuel her obsession, Bertha fermented her own sauerkraut in not one, but two wooden barrels; as a result, the acidic, nose-burning scent of vinegar was ever-present in her home. In Bertha's kitchen, macaroni-and-cheese became macaroni-and-cheese-with-pickled-cabbage casserole. Likewise, a simple grilled cheese sandwich--a kid's dream lunch, right?--became so heavily doused with sauerkraut that it transformed from dream to dirty sock right before our eyes. And, come on--we were too young to witness first-hand the dissolution of sandwichy dreams!

If Bertha was in a good mood, and if the weather was just right, some days we'd be able to go run around in her backyard--or, better yet, in her garden! Even though I was too scared of spiders at that age to journey into the heart of this living feast, I was at least brave enough to graze around its perimeters. And, oh--the joys that could be found there! On one edge of the garden Bertha and her husband planted raspberry bushes, and when the berries had finally plumped to their full potential near the end of the summer, my brother and I would do battle with the bees and butterflies for our own juicy sector. Even though Bertha Butts limited our serving to "just a handful," we sometimes (er, always) pilfered just a few (er, many) berries more. If we were to return to the Queen of Vinegar, we needed to arm our stomachs with as much berry-sweetness as possible!

Upon returning indoors from playing in her backyard one afternoon, I remember a smell that seemed to mellow out, if only a tiny bit, the bitterness emitted by the vats of sauerkraut. Looking for the source of this new smell, I saw Bertha hovering over a large pot on the stove. She was stirring something with much concentration, her wooden spoon moving methodically around and around and around the circumference of the pot. The light above the stove shone down on her creation, and for a millisecond--I didn't just eat a poisonous berry, did I?--I saw Bertha smile. Just then she heard me approach, and even though I don't think she liked me that much, she asked me if I wanted a "taste of something sweet." Something sweet? Say wha'?

"Hold your finger out," she said.

Since I was never brave enough to disobey Bertha's orders, I gave her my index finger. She took the wooden spoon and smudged a dab of warm, brown sludge onto my finger. Thinking that the substance on my finger was probably one of Bertha's new sauerkraut experiments--maybe sauerkraut pudding?--I prepared for the worst.

"Go ahead, try it!"

The smile was back on her face. Who the hell was this new woman wearing Bertha's homemade shorts?! Was this Bertha before me, or was it a gremlin disguised as Bertha?

Gremlin or not, I knew I had no choice: I closed my eyes and licked the mud off my finger...and liked it. No, loved it! Bertha Butts--Purveyor of Drab, Duchess of All Things Fermented--had somehow made something sweet! This sweet sludge was apple butter, a combination of stewed apples and apple cider....and no sauerkraut. Thank our German-God in Heaven!

Having grown up in the Midwest, apple butter was a spread I would not be made to do without. After this first encounter, apple butter seemed to be everywhere. However, as time passed and my homes changed in latitude and longitude, I admit that I almost forgot about apple butter. A month ago, however, I ran into an unsweetened variety, and, being driven forcefully by nostalgia, I bought it. And, you know what? It wasn't a gremlin disguised as apple butter...this spread was the real deal: sweet, creamy, and lusciously Midwestern. One whif, and I was brought back to Bertha's stove where, if only for a second, I saw the feather behind the steel.
Apple Butter Scones
(makes 6)

1 cup spelt flour (or other whole grain flour)
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 cup apple butter (preferably unsweetened)
1/2 cup milk (I used rice milk)
1 tsp. almond extract
1 dried date, chopped (or raisins)
1/4 cup almonds, chopped
2 Tbs. brown sugar

1. In a large bowl, mix together your dry ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk your oil, apple butter, milk, and almond extract.

2. Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon just until combined. Fold in your chopped date and almonds.

3. Drop 1/4 cup spoonfuls of your dough onto a greased baking sheet, and sprinkle the tops with brown sugar. Bake scones for 10-12 minutes, or until the bottom edges begin to brown.
My gremlin (disguised as a cat) praying over the fallen scones. RIP.

March 14, 2009

3-Way Lavender Infusion and a Love Letter

Dear Lavender,

Let there be a god as large as the purple moon so he can reflect his love onto you.

Let there be a banjo that plays purple Appalachian chords.

Let all women wear purple tights and all men walk their purple poodles to the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Let the girl who just lost her first tooth sprout a purple one in the empty place.

Let there be a garrison of purple tutus pirouetting erratically in your direction.

Let there be a drought that ends with purple floods.

Let your arm be coated in naked lady tattoos. Let holy purple spray from their ribs.

Let gray winter end and purple spring begin.

Let us spring perpetually into purple fountains like muskrats made of liquid silver.

Let every supermodel in my country wear purple lipstick on the pages of fashion magazines. Let them kiss us in purple.

Let us be thankful that your love is purple and that my love is purple. Let it spread thick and iridescent into this future like a Pacific oil spill. Let it give back a million moons.

Love,

J. Violet Shadows
********** ********** **********

3-Way Lavender Infusion

Below you will find three magical ways to infuse shadows of lavender into everyday baking ingredients: vodka, sugar, and milk. (I know vodka isn't necessarily an "everyday baking ingredient," but once infused with lavender it becomes lavender extract--a supersonic baking necessity.) Once married with the flavor of lavender, these ingredients can be used in many traditional recipes that call for extract, sugar and milk. A regular quick bread can become a spectacular quick bread when infused with this lovely floral flavor! What's even better is that mastering the art of infusion is a cheap way to make the same-ol'-recipe taste like a different princess entirely! My bag of culinary lavender buds--nearly 6 cups!--cost me a mere $4. That's one cheap princess!

While not all grocery stores carry culinary lavender buds, some apothecaries, aromatherapy joints, tea shops, natural food stores, and flower shops do. If it is not readily available in your area, you can order it online for super-cheap. Or, consider other edible & infusible delights: vanilla beans, jasmine, ginger root, loose tea, etc. The possibilities are endless when it comes to infusion! When hunting for lavender buds, however, make sure they were grown pesticide-free.


1. Lavender ExtractSummary: While extracts take only seconds to blend, you will have to wait at least a month for them to reach their full flavors. An extract is created by combining alcohol (usually whiskey, rum or vodka) with another substance--namely, a substance whose flavors you want to "extract." Nuts, fruits, and flowers are common items used in culinary extractions. When building a lavender extract, I use 2 tsp. lavender buds for every cup of alcohol. So far I have only used vodka, but I imagine rum would give the extract a sweet & yummy base.

Process: Using a jar or other airtight container, combine your dried lavender buds with your alcohol of choice. Shake the container for a couple of minutes, and then set aside. Make sure to shake the container once every couple of days to strengthen the flavor of your extract. Once a month has passed, strain the lavender buds from the liquid. Your extract can now be used to add a punch of purple to any sweet!

Suggestions: Often I use lavender extract in place of vanilla extract. Consider using a tsp. of lavender extract in pancakes, quick breads, lemonades, sorbets, cupcakes, whipped cream, cheesecakes, scones, etc.

2. Lavender SugarSummary: Lavender sugar is a fabulous ingredient to have on hand! As lavender infuses with sugar, its flavor becomes subtle, gentle, and light--the perfect addition to spring and summer desserts!

Process: Depending on how strong you'd like your lavender flavor to be, you can use 2-4 Tbs. of lavender buds per 1 cup of sugar. Layer your sugar and lavender, and then set aside for future use. After about 2 weeks, the lavender oils will have lovingly anointed the sugar crystals. If you are wanting a stronger flavor, then let the flavors meld for up to a month. If you are looking for a quick floral fix, however, you can flavor your sugar much more quickly. Simply combine your buds and sugar in a bowl, and macerate with the backside of a spoon for 5 minutes. This method will not result in as strong of a flavor, but it will still be noticeable.

Suggestions: This sugar works great in berry- and citrus-based desserts, such as sorbets, pie fillings, and muffins. Imagine using lavender sugar in your next creme brulee recipe!

3. Lavender MilkSummary: Milks and creams are a wonderful base for the flavor of lavender, as they tame the sometimes bitter & perfumey taste of lavender. Milk is like a thick fog that settles over the glassy terrain of lavender, making the landscape appear softer and less threatening. (Not to mention delicious!)

Process: I use 2 tsp. of lavender to flavor 1 cup of milk. Bring milk to a boil, and then quickly remove from heat. Add the lavender buds and stir. Allow mixture to cool for 30-45 minutes. The longer you let the milk sit, the stronger the flavor! Strain buds from milk before using. Use instantly, as the lavender flavor can become a little bitter if you allow it to sit for more than a couple of hours.

Suggestions: Can you imagine using lavender milk as the base for your next ice cream recipe?! It tastes fantastic in cupcake recipes, quick breads, milkshakes, and pancakes.

Have you ever used lavender in a recipe? How did you like it? Where would you use this extract, sugar or milk?!

March 6, 2009

Cowgirl Cupcakes

"Sometimes the best cowboys ain't cowboys at all."
from "American Cowgirl"

I want to be a cowgirl. I want to be a cowgirl so badly, in fact, that not a day has gone by this semester when I have NOT worn my cowboy boots to work. Last week one of my students actually said to me, "Miss Jada, you need some new shoes!" Fashion faux pas aside, I can't help my obsession. Nor do I want to. These boots are staying right where they belong: on my gnarled and tired feet!

I love to daydream about my life as a cowgirl. These daydreams usually consist of pretty sunsets, encounters with rugged men on horseback, scandalous fireside tales, rambling brooks, and spectacular views of Moenave formations from the cliff's edge. I even daydream about the nightly can of beans. I mean, I love beans! (And so does the rugged man with whom I would share my nightly can.) Ah, daydreams...

"Cowgirl" has not always been at the top of my career list, and probably for good reason:

1. I have no ranching experience.
2. I don't like riding horses.
3. I like regular showers--sometimes two a day.
4. I am easily scared by spiders
5. And wolves
6. And bears
7. And mountain lions.
8. I don't eat meat. (Although, I might make an exception for mountain lion meat.)
9. I become paralyzed with fear when in the presence of guns.
10. I like cupcakes (which are probably hard to transport via horse).
11. And on a final note, it is not yet clear to me what a real cowgirl actually does on a daily basis. I know a horse is involved, but beyond that things get a little cloudy. Whatever she does, I'm sure it's cool.

Even though I might be a little out of touch with real cowgirl values, I still hold onto my leathery dream of a fenceless world where the desert perpetually unfurls into limitless galaxies of sand. Granted, I'm sure cowboy/cowgirl freedom goes hand-in-hand with a little prairie-induced lunacy, but whatevs: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I'm sure there's a good cowgirl fireside song out there that ruminates mighty fine on this adage in a much cooler way than I could ever express--after all, the cowgirl song would (of course!) be sung in a badass cowgirl dialect. Which reminds me...I guess I should add a #12 to my list above: I don't speak (or sing) in the cowgirl dialect.

Since I might not become a real cowgirl in this lifetime, I can at least make these cowgirl inspired cupcakes to satisfy my need for leather, horse manes, and sand. Don't worry--you will not find leather, hair, or sand in this cupcake; what you will find, however, is the essence of cowgirl. These cupcakes are sturdy (like a cowgirl's thighs), brown (like dirt, horse poop, or leather boots), and cute (in a rugged, Annie Oakley sort of way).They are also full of flavor. Taste them and you will become free and courageous, ready to enter the wild, open spaces of your local park. (These cupcakes are vegan, too. Shhhh! It might be wise to keep this a secret when in the presence of real cowgirls. Cowgirls don't take too kindly to veganized pastries!)

Cowgirl cupcake dominating my backyard fence: "Don't fence me in!"

Cowgirl Cupcakes
(makes 1 dozen--adapted from Taste Buddies)

1 cup of unsweetened rice milk
1 tsp of apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup of turbinado sugar
1/3 cup of olive oil
1 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. powdered ginger
3/4 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp of baking powder
1/4 tsp of salt

1. Combine rice milk and vinegar in a small bowl, and set aside for 5 minutes. This mixture will act as a binder since no egg is called for in this recipe.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Once you have given your milk and vinegar the chance to activate, add the sugar, olive oil, and vanilla extract. Whisk until sugar is noticeably dissolved.

3. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in two batches. Whisk until well combined, and then pour into prepared baking cups. No more than 3/4 of the cup should be filled.

4. Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool before topping with frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting
(enough for spreading generously on 12 cupcakes)

1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-2 tbs. rice milk

Whisk ingredients together until they well combined. If frosting is too wet, add more sugar. If it appears to be more dry, add more rice milk.

March 1, 2009

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

What's better than a potato fry?

If your answer is "100 potato fries," or "a new car," or "a date with Kirk Cameron in 1988," then you are clearly putting too much thought into my question.

Let me bring you back to earth--and to the year 2009, you Growing Pains junkies!--by answering my question in clear and simple terms: the only thing better than a potato fry is a sweet potato fry. (Obviously!)

Luckily, I live in Sweet Potato Country! In the U.S., North Carolina leads all other states in sweet potato production. In 2007, nearly 40% of the nation's sweet potatoes were grown in this fair state. California, often considered the country's agricultural nexus, came in a distant second with 23%. Eat it, California! (No, really--eat a North Carolina sweet potato, California. It's sure to be tasty!)

Ugly, but delicious, local sweet potato

I was lucky enough to snag some ugly spuds over the weekend, and as a person who is usually turned off by sweet potatoes in their candied form (but not Bridget's yummy quick bread form), I found these spuds to be irresistible when prepared as a savory dish. Sweet potato fries are the perfect blend of salty and sweet. Their texture reminds me more of fried cassava than a fried potato. These fries are a little fluffier, creamier and less dense than their Russet brothers.

And, boy, are these fries easy to make! They are so easy, in fact, that this dish could become dangerous for the ol' waistline. I have one more sweetie in my kitchen waiting to be peeled, chopped, spiced and baked. Its chirpy little voice, which sounds oddly similar to Kirk Cameron's voice circa 1988, fills my ears with pink clouds of desire each time I spy into its cabinety lair. This spud, with a flesh that's marbled like some ancient salmon goddess, is damn seductive.

How do you like your sweet potatoes? What spices do you add when baking/roasting them?

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Ingredients:

2 sweet potatoes
1 tsp. salt
2 tbs. olive oil
1/4 tsp. ginger powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven at 400. Wash and peel potatoes, and then cut into strips. Toss potatoes on a cookie sheet, and coat with the oil and spices. When potatoes are evenly coated, roast for 30-35 minutes. In the middle of cooking, flip potatoes so that both sides get evenly roasted. They should have lovely caramelized edges when ready!

Before:

After: