30 October 2010

This and that.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
-Psalm 92:12-15


Just rediscovered The Valley Song by Jars of Clay. Love.


Such a fan of this style of cheese slicer. And while we're at it, this style of cheese . . .


If you like Jane Austen you should give this Kipling short story a look. "The Janeites," from the volume Debits and Credits. It's quite charming.

28 October 2010

Sometimes I get a little excited.

Okay, my husband would probably disagree with that post title and revise it to "Most of the time I am really super excited and the rest of the time I am really super despairing because all of the time I am really super dramatic and ahhh look!!! What is that beautiful shiny thing???"

And as usual, he would be right. There are days when I can pull off the refined and dignified schtick, but that usually disappears faster than banana bread cooling on the counter.


What's more, my excitement usually stems from small things. It doesn't take much, people. Puffy down vests. Sales on KAF flour. Funky mushrooms sprouting in the yard. Neatly folded towels. A student who remembers to email me ahead of time when he will need an extension. Yellow leaves down the driveway. Seeing the sunrise. Wireless printers. A new Jars of Clay album. Pilates on the living room floor. Finding produce bags at Target. Making good omelets for once. Mums in giant pots. When my yogurt sets and my mayonnaise gets creamy and my biscuits rise.

And yes, those last three delight me every single time. Why are you looking at me like that?

Here I present the latest in the continuous parade of Stuff That Makes Rebekah All Happy. Coffee cake has to do with breakfast, which as you know, only doubles its appeal. :) The interior is moist, crust crunchy, filling luscious. Bonus points: looks fancy, but isn't.

So . . . it is a great cake and you should make it this weekend. The end.

Completely Delicious Yet Suspiciously Healthy Coffee Cake
(Original from King Arthur, but I've taken considerable liberties. Also, I am not a sponsored affiliate of KAF though I may as well be for all the mention and praise I give them.)

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raw or light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
1/4 cup ground flax seed (or not)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup softened butter
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup raw or granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs at room temperature

1 cup whole milk yogurt or sour cream

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter, spray, or otherwise de-stickify a 10- to 12-cup bundt pan. You could use a large tube pan if you'd rather; I like the pretty pattern of a bundt. (I really need to use mine more often. I tend to forget about it.) And all else failing, use a 9x13.
2) Stir together walnuts, 1/2 cup sugar, and cinnamon in small bowl and set aside. Stir together flours, flax seed, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl and set that aside too.
3) Beat butter, oil, 1/3 cup sugar, and vanilla until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, alternating with yogurt and beating after each addition. Don't overdo it though.
4) Pour half of this gloriously moist and vanilla'd batter (um, not that I taste while cooking) into your well-greased bundt pan. Sprinkle the filling on top and add the rest of the batter.
5) Bake for 45-55 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife very gently along the sides and flip it out onto a wire rack.

It's a pretty little thing, with that golden crust and crunchy ribbon of sugared filling (of which my husband says: "This is my favorite part. Could it be . . . bigger?"). Serve with scrambled eggs and fresh fruit for a wonderful weekend breakfast.

Or you could just eat some cake. All by itself. Nobody's stopping you.

27 October 2010

Consolation in a sugar bowl

"I think anxiety is very interesting," observed Amy, eating sugar pensively.

The girls couldn't help laughing, and felt better for it, though Meg shook her head at the young lady who could find consolation in a sugar bowl.

-Little Women, chapter XVI


Alas. Too many of us (particularly women methinks?) can "find consolation in a sugar bowl." My sugar bowl usually consists of chocolate-covered espresso beans, ice cream, and jelly. Yes, jelly.

Such consolation doesn't last long though.

This is much more effective:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
-Psalm 46


Not that a bit of sugar is out of place. Oh no. Just not as a source of consolation!

Love. Hate.

You know those "love x, hate y" advertisements for low-carb energy bars? They go something like this: "Love running. Hate hills. Love chocolate. Hate carbs." And then they offer a particular brand of energy bar as the solution for your carb-hating dilemma.

Relax, I'm not going on my anti-powerbar rant... about how they are overprocessed and overpriced, add nutrients in forms less easily received by the body, cater to the "good food must be insanely sweet" lie, and so prevalently rely on soy... oh.



Anyway, the love-hate relationship holds true in many areas of life. Powerbars or no powerbars.* For example:

1. Love wicker laundry baskets. Hate when they contract mold.
2. Love semi-colons. Hate their misuse.
3. Love tulips and poppies. Hate their fragility.
4. Love Garnier Fructis products. Hate that they are so unnatural.**
5. Love my students. Hate that I never meet them.
6. Love the chiropractor. Hate driving 40 minutes to get there.
7. Love Willa Cather. Hate... um, nothing actually.
8. Love clean bathrooms. Hate cleaning them.
9. Love Ann Taylor. Hate the expense.
10. Love avocados. Hate the expense. Again.


*If I'm going to be all down on mainline energy bars, I should probably be constructive and tell you some of my preferences for quick, nutritious food. Right then: fresh fruit and almond butter, fresh fruit all by itself, yogurt and banana smoothie, mixed nuts, homemade Larabars, leftover pancakes and more almond butter, hardboiled eggs, yogurt sprinkled with a bit of granola, simple crackers like Wasa with thickly sliced cheese, just the cheese sans crackers, banana chips or dried dates, carrot sticks and pita chips with hummus, whole-grain bread and (surprise!) more almond butter. Okay, so I kind of like almond butter.

**Can't find a natural product that 1) works and 2) will not force us to eat beans and rice all month. Suggestions welcome.

26 October 2010

You're in the right place. Really.

It's just that the blog name changed. In honor of children's literature,* literature in general, tea and the things accompanying, and all the whimsical madness of life, this snippet of cyberspace shall henceforth be known as . . . A Mad Tea Party.

If you've never read Alice in Wonderland go read this chapter, at least.

*And ::cough:: my senior thesis, which focused on said children's literature.

In which I cook with fungi and bacteria (and live to tell the tale)

When my sister was very young, she was informed (probably by a helpful older sibling) that the yeast in Mom's wonderful homemade bread was a living organism. A fungus, to be exact.

Talk about mind-blowing. Kind of like the moment you realize that adults still feel pain or that your parents sin. She was wary of eating bread for days afterwards.

Then once she'd recovered from the fungus shock, another helpful older sibling informed her that yogurt was populated by bacteria. Poor girl. Who knew that food was so . . . alive?

Anyway, here are two great ways to use freaky little organisms in your kitchen. I have been very pleased with the results.

Delicious Burger Buns
(a slight variation on this KAF recipe)

3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups unbleached white flour
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons raw sugar or white sugar
1 tablespoon instant (rapid-rise) yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1) Combine all ingredients in the bowl of your mixer, or in a large bowl if you are doing it by hand. Knead together to form a soft, smooth dough, about 5 minutes. You may need a bit more flour or water depending on how humid it is in your kitchen.
2) Cover the dough and let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until doubled. Deflate it gently and divide into 8 pieces, shaping each into a round bun and flattening to desired diameter; I make mine about 4 inches across. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and let rise, covered, for 1 hour or until rounded and slightly puffy.
3) Preheat the oven to 375. (At this point, I like to brush some beaten egg white on top of the risen buns and sprinkle them with sesame seeds, but that is of course optional.) Either way, bake for 13 to 15 minutes, until golden.
4) Let cool on a wire rack and use for hamburgers, sloppy joes, or whatever you like. You could also shape them into "logs" rather than "rounds" to use for sausage or meatball sandwiches.

Homemade Yogurt
(with help from here, here, here, here, my dad, and good old trial-and-error)

2 quarts whole milk
1/4 to 1/3 cup yogurt with live and active cultures*
2 tablespoons dry powdered milk**

Special equipment: a trustworthy thermometer, several clean towels, and a pot big enough to hold all that milk-- and depending on your chosen method, either an empty oven or a heating pad

1) Heat milk to above 185 degrees, so that it is very hot and bubbling. You can do this in a big pot on the stove if you stir it frequently to keep it from burning at the bottom. I do it in my crockpot because I would be sure to burn it on the stove; if I turn it on high for two hours the milk is hot enough at the end. This step kills any "bad" bacteria that may be lurking in your milk.
2) Turn off the stove or crockpot, and let milk cool to between 100 and 115 degrees. For me, this takes about two more hours. You do not want the milk above 115 or the yogurt cultures will die, and you don't want it below 100 or they will clam up and go to sleep again.
3) Dump your starter and powdered milk into a large glass liquid measuring cup. Once the heated milk has cooled to the right temperature, skim off and discard the skin that has formed on top. (Don't freak out. It looks strange, but that is just what happens to scalded milk.) Ladle out a cup or two of the warm milk into the measuring cup, and whisk it with the starter. Pour it back into the pot and whisk well.
4) Now comes incubation, that your yogurt bacteria may be fruitful and multiply. I take out my crockpot insert and put on the lid, then wrap it up in several towels and put it into a slightly warmed oven. The oven should not be on anymore, just retaining the heat. Then I turn on the oven light and stick in some jars of very hot water to keep the yogurt company. Another way to incubate is to wrap the covered pot in towels and put it on a heating pad, set to the very lowest setting. I haven't tried that but have heard that it works. Or you can do what my dad does: incubate it in a cooler, surrounded with towels and with the heating pad on top. Whatever you do, the idea is to keep it toasty for at least 7 hours, up to 12 hours depending on how tangy you like it. I find that 7-8 hours is perfect for us, as far as texture and taste go.
5) After the incubation period is over, unwrap your pot of yogurt. Whisk it up again to insure a smooth texture. Ladle it into jars and chill; this step will thicken it even more. Voila, yogurt!

If your yogurt does not thicken the first time, don't worry. You can still put it in smoothies and bake with it! It should still taste fine. I am happy to help troubleshoot. :)

Speaking of kitchen organisms, I still need to get on that Alaskan sourdough starter. Simply haven't had time yet . . . it is patiently hanging out in the freezer until I can wake it up. Soon I hope!

*The very first time, I used organic whole milk yogurt from Stonyfield Farm. It has a variety of good strong cultures. It was pricey, but ever since then I simply use yogurt from the last homemade batch. And my homemade yogurt only costs 70 cents a quart, so it was completely worthwhile to get the cultures off to a good start.
**It helps to thicken the yogurt. Try it without, if you want, and see what happens.

25 October 2010

Our Lord is above all gods

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.

The Lord preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, He saved me.

Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

-Psalm 116

I know that the Lord is great,
and that our Lord is above all gods.

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.

He it is who make the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
who makes lightnings for the rain
and brings for the wind from His storehouses.

-Psalm 135

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
He gives to all of them their names.

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
His understanding is beyond measure.

-Psalm 147

23 October 2010

Homemade pizza [plus a few random notes]

Does yeast baking make you skittish? Do you only have an hour to make dinner? Are you attempting to avoid takeout? Most importantly, do you love pizza?

Then please try this. Homemade pizza is cheap and easy and healthy and infinitely adaptable. Your troubles will melt into thin air . . . at least the yeast-fearing, time-crunching, takeout-avoiding kind of troubles.

Rapid Rise Pizza Dough
(recipe originally from my mom)

1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup stoneground cormeal (or more whole wheat flour)
1 tablespoon instant (rapid rise) yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water (not steaming hot, but very warm)
2 tablespoons olive oil

1) Combine all ingredients in your mixer, fitted with a dough hook, or in a large bowl if you are doing it by hand. Knead for 5 minutes and check to see if it needs a tablespoon or two more of flour. It should be neither extremely sticky nor extremely dry; just "handleable."
2) Shape dough into a ball. Let rise for 25 minutes, covered with a lint-free towel, either in a greased bowl or on a greased countertop. (Note: if you have more time, let it rise for 1 hour, punch it down, and let it rise for 25-30 minutes again. We think it tastes better than way. But if you are in a hurry, proceed without the lengthy rising. It still works fine.)
3) While the dough rises, preheat the oven (and your pizza stone if that's what you use) to 400 degrees. Fry up your sausage and mushrooms. Slice your olives and artichokes. Grate your cheese. Get out your pizza sauce, or pesto if you want to mix things up a bit. Usually I just go searching through the fridge for possible toppings, coming up with anything from roasted broccoli to leftover steak to sundried tomatoes.
4) After dough has risen, roll it out on a lightly sprayed pizza stone or baking sheet. Add toppings. Stick the whole thing in the oven and bake for 15-17 minutes. I like to let it rest for a few minutes before cutting, so it isn't piping hot and so the cheese isn't stringing all over the place.

Random Note Section
'Tis the season for pumpkin. But did you know that butternut squash works exactly the same as pumpkin? Actually, I think it is even sweeter and orange-er, and it boasts the same health benefits. So if you're going to roast a pumpkin for pie, bread, or whatever, use a squash!

For those of you who use Pandora (and gosh it has gotten so much better than its early days), try the Kate Rusby station. Rather fabulous.

I am trying to grow herbs indoors over the winter. Our house doesn't have an abundance of sunlight (its one flaw) but my little pots of sage and oregano are making a valiant attempt to survive on the windowsills. Has anyone done this, and if so, have you any tips for a rookie gardener?

Also on flowers. I really want to plant bulbs this fall, so they can bloom in the spring. I've heard that groundhogs nibble some bulbs and avoid others. Is this true? If yes, which ones are groundhog-proof?

21 October 2010

A song that expresses my feelings about breakfast

For serious. My morning thought process goes something like this:

Alarm clock off and slippers on, I go to rustle up some breakfast. Most of the time it's yogurt* with fruit and granola, or fried eggs on toast. Sometimes it's more elaborate leftovers from the weekend, like baked oatmeal** or pancakes or coffee cake. There is always tea (or if Jared is home, coffee).

And . . . sometimes I just have really weird leftovers, like lasagna or chicken pot pie. ::shrug:: Don't act all surprised. You already knew I ate strange things.

*Which reminds me, I figured out how to do it well. Should post on that.
**Should also post this recipe.

20 October 2010

Homemade (delicious easy addictive) Larabars

If you have ever bought a Larabar, you know this brand offers good simple nutrition in a package. No additives, just fruit and nuts. That is certainly hard to find. However, Larabars are pretty high up there on the price scale. Thankfully you can make your own if you have a food processor and five minutes . . . and the self-control not to devour the whole mixture before you're through.

Homemade Larabars
(inspired by recipes here, here, and here)

1 heaping cup dried whole dates (nice big soft ones, not little flour-coated pieces)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut

1. Put the dates into your food processor. I have a little weensy one, and it even works in there. I'm in the market for a bigger one though, meaning that I haunt Craigslist. Anywho, small or large, blend those babies up until they're in a pretty smooth paste, clumping into two or three balls.
2. Dump the date paste balls (and doesn't that sound appetizing? okay, bear with me here) into a medium bowl. Now put the walnuts and coconut into your food processor and whiz that for 3-5 seconds to make a really fine powder. This page has great pictures of each step.
3. Dump the walnuts and coconut into the bowl with the dates. Take off any rings you may be wearing, and get ready to knead some fruit. (Or you could leave your jewelry on. But then you will have dates stuck in your engagement ring and that is kind of gross.) Knead it all up really well, until everything is fully incorporated in a ball. Now shape the ball into a rectangle, approximately 3x6 inches. Cut it into three bars, and either wrap them individually in plastic wrap or just throw them in a container in the fridge. Whatever you do, keep them chilled.

Tada! Three Larabars. You can mix up the recipe with substitutions. Almonds or any other kind of nut can fill in for the walnuts; or omit the coconut and add something else, like flax seed or wheat germ, or just more nuts. The dates are pretty important beacuse they are so sticky, but you could replace some of them with raisins or craisins or dried apricots, any soft dried fruit.

Beautiful they are not. Delicious they most certainly are.

Homemade Larabars still aren't extraordinarily cheap. I'm sure granola bars are more frugal if you are just looking at the penny count. But these are certainly cheaper than the store version-- and you know what? These are more filling than a granola bar anyway. So I think you get more bang for your buck in the end. They definitely work for me!

"Herbal Nurturing" ebook giveaway at Keeper of the Home

If you are interested in natural remedies for your family, you'll want to check out this giveaway over at Keeper of the Home. In my experience, herbs and other natural materials from zinc to garlic can do an amazing job of combating illness . . . in a frugal, safe, and simple way.

19 October 2010

On uncharted seas

"With a new sense of awe he looked at the frank forehead, serious eyes and gay innocent mouth of the young creature whose soul's custodian he was to be . . . and once more it was borne in on him that marriage was not the safe voyage he had been taught to think, but a voyage on uncharted seas."
-Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

In which we have a beautiful weekend

On Friday afternoon, Jared and I drove down to Annapolis to visit some wonderful friends-- originally fellow Hillsdaleans, but now much more than that. I like watching these friendships grow post-college and widen to include new experiences, jobs, and spouses. Lucky for us that several such friends live in Annapolis. (Sailboats! History! Harbor! Brick! Wrought iron!)

Highlights from the weekend:

1. Sailing. On Friday night, our friend Hannah finagled us a sailboat trip into the Annapolis waterways. So cool. Fortunately, neither Jared nor I tend towards motion sickness; it's actually pretty fun to go tilting over every time the boat tacks. We got to see the harbor both in daylight and darkness, when the only illumination is from the moon and from the colorful lights on buoys and boats.

2. Bricks and wrought iron, as mentioned above, as I adore colonial architecture. The brick-paved streets, brick walls in the government buildings, brick retaining walls on the Capitol lawn, and wrought iron everywhere were heavenly.

3. The used bookstore. On Saturday we were introduced to a lovely local bookstore, where I found John Hersey's The Wall, which is out of print and frustratingly unavailable through my usual book sources. Also O Pioneers! and Love in the Time of Cholera.

4. Lots of pancakes. You can't have too many pancakes. We feasted on Alaskan sourdough on Friday, buckwheat on Sunday (this, after I had made the oatmeal variety on Friday. Too funny).

5. Me getting some of that Alaska sourdough. Our excellent hostess, Laura, is engaged to an excellent Alaskan, through which connection Laura now possesses some sourdough descended from start brought during the Yukon Gold Rush. Yes, I think that is awesome and am geeked out about the combination of New Culinary Adventure and Historical Connection.

6. The Naval Academy. We went to church in the chapel, which offers a impressively solid service for a non-denominational-therefore-we-must-please-everyone-in-our-perpetually-changing-congregation affair. Afterwards we took ourselves on a tour of the Academy. Dang. It's sweet. Copper roofs, fountains, neoclassical architecture, tidy landscaping. Jared remarked that it has a very peaceful aura for a war college-- only broken by the occasional uniformed midshipman strolling across the lawn. I appreciated the atmosphere of honor and responsibility. Statues of legendary naval figures dot the campus, and Bancroft Hall is a memorial to Academy graduates killed in action.

7. Trader Joe's. I'm sorry, to most people a grocery store is not a highlight, but I just love that place!

18 October 2010

Sticky chicken (the fun stuff)

Here is the sticky honey-ginger chicken I mentioned in this post. The original recipe came from my friend and former caregroup leader Kristin Bunting (thank you Kristin!). Everyone who eats it loves it . . .

Honey Ginger Chicken

4-5 pounds chicken pieces (thighs and drumsticks)
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup tamari or soy sauce
1/3 cup chili sauce
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger root (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put olive oil in a large roasting pan, and heat in the oven until melted.
Stir together flour and black pepper. Toss chicken pieces in flour mixture. Remove pan with butter from oven, and arrange chicken in pan. Bake 25 minutes, then turn and bake 10 minutes more. Remove from oven.
Whisk together honey, tamari, chili sauce, and ginger. Pour sauce over chicken pieces and return to oven. Bake 15 minutes more, spooning sauce over chicken once or twice. When done, chicken juices will run clear and sauce will be thickened.
This is good with rice or couscous and a green salad.

15 October 2010

If you are guaranteed heaven

Now suppose both death and hell were utterly defeated. Suppose the fight was fixed. Suppose God took you on a crystal ball trip into your future and you saw with indubitable certainty that despite everything — your sin, your smallness, your stupidity — you could have free for the asking your whole crazy heart’s deepest desire: heaven, eternal joy. Would you not return fearless and singing? What can earth do to you if you are guaranteed heaven? To fear the worst earthly loss would be like a millionaire fearing the loss of a penny — less, a scratch on a penny.
-Peter Kreeft

HT: Ray Ortlund

13 October 2010

Freeze them bananas.

And then, of course, make banana bread. A lot of it.

If you have way too many (over)ripe bananas and the fruit flies are congregating, get out a large plastic bag or freezer-safe container. Peel your mushy bananas and stick them into the container. Do NOT freeze them with the peels on: when they thaw, they will be a disgusting and impossible-to-work-with mess. I definitely speak from experience here.

You can keep your container of peeled and bread-ready bananas in the freezer for quite a while, and add more over time (this is why you need a large container). Never worry about fruit flies again, and build up a supply perfect for large quantities of banana bread. Because really, if you are going to bake, why not get your money's worth? I'm going to dirty the Kitchen-Aid and spread flour over the counter anyway, so I might as well produce a lot of food while I'm at it; I always at least double the recipe, usually triple, and freeze anything we won't eat right away.

Once you are ready to bake, get out your container and let the bananas thaw in the sink for a while. They will look very strange and unappetizing as they defrost (my youngest brother calls them slugs) but the flavor is amazing. You'll notice a lot of liquid thawing out of them: I think that whatever "juice" they have is removed by freezing and defrosting, which concentrates the banana flavor. Seriously, bread made with frozen bananas is better. Once they are mostly thawed, drain off the liquid and mash them up. Now get to baking. It definitely works for me!

Anyway, about that banana bread.

I'm surprised that I have not shared this recipe before. It was one of the first things I learned how to make, one of the first I was brave enough to "tweak," and one of the most popular baked goods I have ever turned out (well, maybe a tie with these chocolatey bars and this enormous pie). It rarely lasts for more than a few days, or even hours, depending on who is around. It freezes, travels, and pairs with anything from cream cheese to almond butter. It has been sent in the mail and entered in the fair. And despite the fact that it is 100% whole wheat and sweetened with honey, not one person has ever looked at me suspiciously and said "Okay, what's in this?"

It's good stuff, ya'll. I have three loaves in the oven as I type this, and nothing says home to me like the aroma of banana bread.

So . . . here you go.

My Banana Bread
(original recipe from here, the cookbook with possibly the weirdest cover ever, but this version is different enough to call my own)

1/2 cup olive oil, coconut oil, or softened butter
1/3 cup liquid honey
2 eggs, lightly beaten with fork
1 cup mashed banana
1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup hot water

1)Preheat oven to 325 (375 if you want to make muffins).
2) In large bowl, beat** oil and honey together thoroughly. Add eggs, and beat to combine. Whisk in mashed banana.
3) In medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add dry ingredients to banana mixture, alternating with hot water and stirring well after each addition.
4) Pour into a well-greased loaf pan or 12 greased muffin cups.
5) For bread, bake for 50 minutes; cover with foil and bake for 15-20 minutes more, until it tests done in the middle. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges and invert onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Or you could slice into it right away, if warm, aromatic, tender banana bread is your thing.
6) For muffins, bake 15-18 minutes, until firm in the middle. Remove from oven, run a knife around the edges, and pop them out to cool on a wire rack.

*Just use regular whole wheat if that's what you have.
**If you have a Kitchen-Aid, use it here. Everything gets incorporated so well, and with this recipe you don't have to worry much about overmixing, unlike muffins or biscuits. Besides, if you plan to make an enormous batch like me, it is way more efficient to let a machine do the work while you run around greasing pans and finding the flax seed in the back of the refrigerator.

11 October 2010

More than conquerors

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died-- more than that, who was raised-- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . .

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
-Romans 8:31-39

More than conquerors. What a strange phrase! When I read this over the weekend, I wondered what Paul could possibly mean here. How can you be better off than the best? Then two truths hit me. First, no human is a conqueror 100% of the time. We all have failures, and usually more failures than successes. But in Christ we are always victors; He has achieved the ultimate success on our behalf, and once in Him, we can lay claim to His righteousness forever. And second, a conqueror only succeeds when he gets what he wants. A Christian, however, is well off no matter what. Tribulation, famine, sword, and death can all easily get in the way of a conqueror's agenda, yet they pose no threat whatsoever to a Christian's peace.

Today I give thanks for the blessing of being "more than a conqueror."

08 October 2010

Query. Foaming soap?

Recently I have been making a slow switch from antibacterial soap to Dr. Bronner's.

(Partially because of these and these anti-antibacterial remarks. Partially because Dr. Bronner's soap is so simple and gentle, and not too pricey if you get the big bottles. And partially because the Dr. B labels crack me up. They sound like Ralph Waldo Emerson on crack. Come to think of it, Ralph Waldo Emerson always sounds like he's on crack. Hmm.)

In any case . . . castile soap is thinner than your average bottle of Dial. It tends to squirt everywhere in normal dispensers. However, I heard a brilliant suggestion. Use a foaming dispenser!

Hurrah. Now the question is, where does one find a good foaming dispenser? Amazon's offerings have neither stellar reviews nor appealing prices. Input please.

Of cast-iron, cornbread, and anniversaries

Tuesday was my parents' 25th wedding anniversary.

Now that I have some marriage experience of my own, I know that it's a miracle when anyone stays married for more than a month, let alone does it happily. And once children arrive, the miracle is compounded. Why would two people stick together for so long? What is the glue between them? It's certainly more than lovey dovey feelings. You need more than that to make you do something painful, awkward, confusing, and inconvenient-- which marriage is. (Not all the time, mind you, nor even most of the time, but often enough to give anyone second thoughts.)

Well, the glue is grace. Grace and a covenant. Without God's help, a pair of sinners could never enjoy a thriving marriage for 25 years. Without a binding covenant, they could never convince themselves to stay when things get hard. So I am thankful for grace and covenants, because they have upheld my parents for a quarter of a century, and now they promise to uphold my own marriage for "as long as we both shall live."

Anyway, my miraculously married parents took the day to themselves (as well they should, after giving every day for the past 23 years to their all-too-demanding children) and I kept an eye on the siblings still at home. Combined, we eat a lot. For the six of us at dinner, I made a big pot of my favorite chili and a big skillet of cornbread.

I'm still working on using cast-iron. Any tips? It's definitely not nonstick, even after seasoning and multiple uses, and I am not sure if it will ever get there.

Cast-Iron Cornbread
(adapted from More With Less)

6 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups stone-ground cornmeal, white or yellow
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 eggs, beaten with a fork

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. While it heats, stick in your skillet (I think mine is 8 inches across the bottom) along with the butter.
2. Stir together cornmeal, flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Once the butter has melted in the oven, whisk together butter, milk, and eggs. Pour wet ingredients into dry and whisk just until combined. You might have some lumps or streaks left. It's okay.
3. Coat the skillet with nonstick spray for good measure (unless you are confident in the nonstickiness of your pan. I'm not.) and pour in the batter. There will still be a trace of melted butter left in the pan, and it will rise up around the edges of the batter. Deliciousness.
4. Stick the skillet back in that oven, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove, cool slightly, and cut into golden-brown wedges of heaven. Contrary to its name, this is tender, delicious cornbread. Oh, and it makes a lot. Just saying.

06 October 2010

How to take advantage of cheap tomatoes

These days, you can find a lot of late-season tomatoes hanging around. They don’t have the luscious appeal of July tomatoes—alas, they’re edging toward pink—but they sure are cheap. What to do? Roast them.

This method concentrates and sweetens the tomatoes’ flavor. Obviously they taste even better when they’re delicious to start with, but roasting makes even iffy tomatoes taste good. It is also extremely easy.

So if you will be in the house for about three hours at a time, give roasting a try. Do a lot, and freeze them for use throughout the dreary winter. Hurrah!

Roasted Tomatoes
(taken from here)

a passel of tomatoes
olive oil
garlic, black pepper, and whatever else you want

1) Preheat the oven to 325. Wash tomatoes and slice in half lengthwise. You don’t need to make the pieces small. I suppose if you have absolutely enormous tomatoes you’ll want to quarter them. (I had half a bushel of irregular Romas: go for those, or maybe plum, because they have the highest flesh-to-juice ratio.)

2) In a very large bowl, toss halved tomatoes with some olive oil, just enough to coat lightly. Arrange them in a single layer, skin side down, in a big roasting pan coated with nonstick spray. Sprinkle with salt; if you want, add garlic cloves and other fun stuff. I didn’t add any extras because they will be going into a range of recipes.* I’ll add seasoning when I use them.

3) Roast for two hours, then check to see how they’re doing. They will probably need more time, maybe up to another hour. But check them fairly frequently so they don’t burn.** Burnt tomato is nasty. (Do I speak from experience? Guess.) Your roasted tomatoes are done when they’re nicely blistered, not browned, and shriveling up into little parcels of goodness. Go ahead, taste them. See if you want more roasting: nobody’s stopping you. Just please avoid that burning part.

4) Let tomatoes cool and then either refrigerate or freeze them. This is the first year I roasted tomatoes, and it worked for me!

*Spanish rice. Stromboli (already did this, was fantastic). Couscous salad. Chicken cacciatore. Chili. Spaghetti sauce. Tomato soup. Hummus. I packed some in a tall glass jar with garlic cloves and olive oil, and I have a feeling I’ll be eating those chopped, on a thick piece of sourdough bread.

**If you do them on both oven racks, as I did because I had so many tomatoes, you will want to switch racks halfway through. (Actually I had to roast them in two installments, on two different days. Because I’m crazy and always do things in huge batches. Whee.)

05 October 2010

That I may rise and stand

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

-John Donne

04 October 2010

Food that is fun

I like eating . . . pretty much all the time. That's no surprise to anyone who has spent more than five minutes in my company. But some foods are just extraordinarily fun.

. So messy, you just have to embrace it. There is no elegant way to eat a mango. Scraping the last delicious bits of golden-orange pulp off that obnoxiously large seed, with juice running down your chin and probably your elbows: now that's living.

Cupcakes. My favorite way to eat a cupcake is to split it horizontally and make it into a sandwich, with the icing in the middle. It just always makes me giggle to see the icing squishing out the sides.

Chicken legs. Like mangoes, there is not an elegant way to do this. Ever. Even more fun when the chicken drips with a sticky honey-ginger sauce . . . the recipe for which I'll have to post soon.

Ice cream cones. First you have a mountain of melting, creamy goodness. And then you have a crackly cone that ends up cracking or leaking. And at the very bottom it's a mess all over your fingers. Oh, it's fabulous.

Chocolate covered raisins. I don't know why I get a kick out of these. I think it's the "something hidden inside" factor. Same goes for chocolate covered almonds, yogurt covered craisins, and Ferrero Rocher.

Waffles. All the little compartments! So perfect for butter, blueberries, syrup, or what have you. I always try to eat it so as NOT to disturb the cell walls and spill topping all over the place.

Grilled cheese. Especially with mozzarella, gouda, or some equally meltalicious cheese. Please tell me that you, too, have had contests to see how long your cheese strings would stretch.

Mashed potatoes. Make a heap of potatoes. Create a lake in the middle with your fork. Pour in gravy. Proceed to play with your food . . .

Fettuccini. Twirl. Slurp. Enough said.

01 October 2010

Book Review: Anne Bradstreet

Recently, I signed up for the BookSneeze program. It's sweet. You request a new book, read it, post a few reviews . . . and keep the book.

Yeah. I'm all about free books.

Booksneeze does not always offer a huge selection of review-able books, but I think it's worthwhile to have an account. It's free, after all. (There I go with that "free" word again. I must be my father's daughter.)

So this is my first BookSneeze review. It's for Anne Bradstreet by D.B. Kellogg, a little volume in the Christian Encounters series put out by Thomas Nelson. I liked this biography, with some caveats.


I am a fan of Bradstreet's poetry. I thought this book did a good job of setting the stage, so to speak-- peaking interest in people who might not know much about Anne Bradstreet, or about the Mass Bay Colony for that matter. I did wish it had gone into more detail about her life. However, maybe there isn't really that much to know: not everyone leaves a detailed paper trail for future biographers!

I really appreciated that Kellogg didn't give too much credence to her own suppositions. She was careful to say "maybe" and "possibly" when describing events that we have no hard evidence to prove. (For example, that Bradstreet "probably" felt a certain way about Anne Hutchinson . . . not that she definitely "did.")

The writing was pleasant to read overall. Sometimes the transitions felt jerky, mostly between paragraphs, and the chapters didn't really build on one another in a continuous whole. They were related, but seemed to be a collection of snapshots, with the links left up to the reader.

So yes, I'd recommend reading this. It was packed with interesting facts and gave a helpful general outline of Bradstreet's life. It is definitely a BRIEF biography though, so don't expect an in-depth treatment of the inner workings of Anne Bradstreet's mind!

To Iceland we [should] go

If you're a beach person, ignore this post.

But if you love the north . . . if you would rather hike among maples and moss than sunbathe with the seagulls . . .

Then geez Louise. Check out this beautiful blog for stunning pictures and tantalizing descriptions of one family's trip to Iceland. The photo above is just one example.

HT: the little red house

If we spent a bit more

We only spend 9 percent of our (per capita) income on food. When I was a kid, in 1960, we only spent 18 percent on food. It’s fallen in half in those past 45 years. In that same period, the amount of money we spent on health care has gone from 5 percent to 16 percent of our income. I can’t help but think that if we spent a bit more money on food, we might spend less on health care.
-Michael Pollan