31 January 2011

Adding to the arsenal

Slowly and steadily, during college and over the past year of marriage, I have been adding to my breakfast arsenal. Such an important meal deserves attention, says I.* And I've never lacked willing guinea pigs. So . . . I've worked my way through eggs of all kinds, biscuits and scones, French toast, baked oatmeal, coffee cake and fried potatoes and bread. We are also big pancake fans, and when I make something on a weekly basis, I like to have several varieties up my sleeve. More reasons for maple syrup are always welcome!

But oatmeal pancakes have confounded me; they never come out right. No matter what recipe I try, they are too dense, sticky, sloppy, flat, and boring. I have been trying to find a good way to make oatmeal pancakes for a long time. Like, a year. Failure.

But victory is at hand! I've conquered the oatmeal pancake thanks to this delightful cooking blog that I just discovered. (The author, Bridget, also has a wonderful pizza dough recipe. I'd actually recommend it above what I posted earlier.)

Here is my slight adaptation of her oatmeal pancakes, which in turn are an adaptation of another recipe that I tried and discarded months ago; Bridget fixed the problems with that recipe and voila! Perfection. They were pretty simple to make. Jared gave them his stamp of approval ("THESE are GOOD"), and the leftovers were delicious toasted. What more could I ask?


Oatmeal Pancakes
(originally from The Way the Cookie Crumbles)

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 cups milk, divided
1/2 cup oat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten with fork
4 tablespoons melted butter

1. In large bowl stir together oats, yogurt, and 1 cup milk. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let soak 12-24 hours. I just leave it on the counter, but refrigeration works if your counter space is lacking.
2. In the morning, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Pour remaining 1/2 cup milk, beaten eggs, and melted butter into oat mixture, and whisk well. Fold in flour mixture.
3. Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat. I have an electric griddle and set it to 325, which was perfect. Usually I set it to 375 but a dense batter like this requires a lower heat. Also, my griddle needs no greasing, but yours might,
4. Use about 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. Cook first side until golden brown on the bottom and set around the edges, then flip and cook until golden brown on the second side; you may need to adjust heat or cooking time after the first batch. Remove to platter or to wire rack. Serve with whatever you want, as long as it involves butter.

*Yes. I KNOW that's the improper form of the verb. Don't give me your silly English major jokes.

{image: the annual Pancake Race in Olney, a town in Buckinghamshire, England}

27 January 2011

Storm and mist fulfilling His word

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war? What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt . . . From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the frost of heaven? The waters become hard like stone, and the face of the deep is frozen. -Job 38

Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.
You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter. -Psalm 74

He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? -Psalm 147

Praise the
Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! -Psalm 148

{photos: our backyard and driveway today; the third picture was taken through a second story window, so the first bank of snow you see is actually piled up on the roof of the addition}

24 January 2011

It's a funny time to be doing this

Rachel and I made applesauce today. Fifteen quarts of it. Yes, applesauce in January! When Cherry Hill has seconds for $17 a bushel, and your husband would eat applesauce with every meal if you let him, and it's been too long since you made food in vast quantities, and you miss your little sister and like finding excuses to spend the afternoon with her, and you have freezer space again because you've eaten half of the corn and most of the blueberries and quite a few of the peaches too . . .

Why not?

I don't usually cook with applesauce. We tend to eat it straight. Sometimes with cinnamon. Sometimes with a dollop of Greek yogurt and (if you're Jared) a sprinkling of brown sugar. But mostly straight.

With the other apples I got at Cherry Hill, however, I made this cake. Half went into our bellies, half went to my starving-college-student brother in Grove City, and all were pleased.

Roman Apple Cake
(originally from More with Less, but I rearranged the instructions)

2/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar (I used raw sugar)
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
2 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3-4 cups chopped apples (I never peel them)

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 teaspoons cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a 9x13 pan.
2. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Pour in milk and stir thoroughly.
3. In medium bowl stir together remaining "cake" ingredients, except apples. Add to butter mixture and stir thoroughly to combine. (Confession: I just dumped it all straight into the butter mixture without combining it separately first. I'm a naughty baker. If you do this, make sure there are NO baking powder streaks in the batter!)
4. Stir in chopped apple. Spread batter in prepared pan.
5. Combine topping ingredients in small bowl (or the saucepan in which you melted the butter). Sprinkle evenly over cake batter.
6. Bake cake for 35-40 minutes, until tests done in center. Let cool, at least a little bit, on a wire rack. Richly delicious by itself, or with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

I have no idea why this is called "Roman" apple cake. I've been equally puzzled about the name of "Jewish" apple cake. Are Romans partial to cloves? Jews to oranges? This makes no sense. Someone please do the research legwork and then enlighten me.

{photo credit: Imapix on Flickr}

23 January 2011

ahoy, discoveries! vol. 3

1. Mumford & Sons. Yes, I know, all you cool people are already well acquainted with this band. So you can ignore this part of the post. But have patience with those of us less musically chic . . . I just discovered Mumford & Sons, and I love them. (Folk rock and a British accent, what's not to love?)

2. Spider plants. Here's the mama plant.

And here's what I did with a cutting I snipped a week ago. (The bottle has water in it, which I change every 10 days or so.)

And this is what it looks like after about a week of water and sunlight.
Well, a little bit of sunlight. Mostly just water. See those baby roots? Soon it will be ready for its own pot! If you want a cutting from my mama plant, let me know . . . I would be happy to start you one.

3. Nutmeg, oatmeal, and yogurt. I don't mean eating them, either. I get crunchier with every breath . . .

4. Here's a picture of the amaryllis that I mentioned a while ago. It's not this pretty anymore; only two flowers left and they're withering. But it was one of the coolest things I've ever grown.

5. The Full House blog. I'm always stumbling across neato blogs, food and decor generally, and trying to determine if they're worthy of joining the feed list. This one was.

6. Putting walnuts (three-quarter cup), cinnamon (one teaspoon), and vanilla (one teaspoon) in your baked oatmeal.

7. Listening to the live opera broadcast from the Met on Saturday afternoons. (One o' clock on WITF, if you live around here.) I know next to nothing about opera, but have come to enjoy it in recent years. Watching the opera workshop performances at Hillsdale changed my mind about this particular form of music; I realized that, much like Shakespeare, it's intended to be performed in front of your very eyes. Thus, simply listening to it like a classical symphony didn't do it justice. It had a story and required imagination. So that's what I like about the Met broadcast: the commentators tell the story before each scene. They also analyze the music, particularly its thematic elements, which this English major loves. :)

20 January 2011

In which I provide pictures

The other day I told Jared that my new mission in life was to convince people that they could make bread. Simple, good, wholesome bread. He said that sounded like a worthy mission . . .

Anywho. In furtherance of that goal, I have already posted KAF's Wonderful Bread Recipe (which convinced me that breadmaking was possible for ordinary people like myself). Now I bring you Visual Illustration of Said Recipe, and also Evidence of How You Can Make Mistakes and Everything Will Still Be Fine.

Ready? Here we go.

Here is everything you need for this recipe, including utensils. Ingredients from left to right: nonstick spray, canola oil, white whole wheat flour, sea salt (in a big jar because I get it in bulk), potato flakes, raw sugar, yeast (um, it's actually hiding behind the whey), and whey (also in a jar, which is where I store it once I drain it from my yogurt).

After dumping all the dry ingredients into the Kitchen-Aid, I stir them up with a spatula. This is my favorite spatula and it's probably going to die soon. I'm sad.

Now the wet ingredients go in, and we start to knead. It's pretty soupy at first . . .

But then that handy dough hook incorporates the dry ingredients from the bottom. Remember to scrape down the sides well once or twice, so no streaks show up later.

This is about done, maybe a touch more flour. See how stretchy it's gotten? That is the gluten protein getting worked up by kneading.

Finished kneading. It is soft but not sticky: you can see that it's trying to fall off my hand here, but it holds its shape pretty well.

Into the greased bowl it goes. I cover it for an hour and go do something else . . .

. . . then I come back and lo! It has grown!

I make a double recipe, so at this point I plop the risen dough onto a lightly greased counter and slice it in half, as accurately as I can. (Someday I'll get a scale.) Each half is one loaf. If you are only making a single recipe, of course, skip this.

Roll your dough out into a long rectangle, like this. (It's better to go long than to go wide, because it will spread out wider once you roll it up.) Using a bench knife or large spatula if necessary, roll the rectangle up tightly and tuck the ends underneath . . .

Then pop it into your greased pan. Rolling helps to eliminate air bubbles.

I let the loaves rise in a slightly warmed oven now. Here is what they look like at the beginning.

And here they are, crowned about 3/4 inch at the middle. Now take them out, preheat the oven to 350, and stick them back in for 20 minutes.

Foil for another 20 minutes, to avoid burning.

Tada! Bread!

Here's one of my mistakes. I think I didn't grease this loaf pan properly, and as a reward for my carelessness, one side got torn up as I slipped it out of the pan.

Oh well. This side is lovely. And it tasted great-- except that this time around, I forgot to double the salt! Oh well times two. It was fine.

See? Not too hard, right?

19 January 2011

And there was much tastiness

My cooking tends to be a potpourri of classic comfort food, exotic experiments, and whatever we have in the freezer. Sometimes it gets boring. Sometimes it's a little TOO exotic. But most of the time, I can strike a pleasing balance, and we fight* over the leftovers.

So there's chicken and rice casserole. Talk about classic comfort food. But most recipes call for cream-of-something soup; I'm not a fan. I did want to get a good recipe in my repertoire, though, and hallelujah! I found it.

Chicken Divan
(original from Passionate Homemaking)

White Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/4 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken stock
2 teaspoons dried herbs (rosemary and thyme are good)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/4 teaspoons salt (or more. I use a bit more.)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups cooked brown rice
2-3 cups cubed cooked chicken
2 small or 1 large head broccoli
1/2 cup grated sharp cheese
3/4 cup breadcrumbs (make your own out of stale bread!)

1. Cut broccoli into large florets, steam just until crisp-tender, and chop.
2. Heat olive oil and butter in small saucepan; add onion and saute over medium-low heat until soft. Add flour and whisk briskly to make a roux. Slowly add milk and broth (a few tablespoons at first, whisking well to avoid lumps, and then another quarter cup with more whisking, and then half a cup, so on until you've put in all the liquid). Raise the heat to medium-high and cook, whisking occasionally, until thick and bubbly. Stir in herbs, cayenne, and salt. Tada: white sauce.
3. Take the sauce off the burner so it can cool a little bit. Once it isn't steaming hot anymore, combine white sauce with mayonnaise and lemon juice.
4. In sprayed/greased 9x13 pan layer rice, chicken, and broccoli. (I think tidy layers are nicer then jumbling it all together.) Pour sauce mixture evenly over top. Sprinkle with cheese and top everything with the breadcrumbs.
5. At this point you can either refrigerate the casserole, freeze it, or bake it immediately. Once you do bake it, put it in for 25-45 minutes at 350. The wide time range depends on its being chilled or not; I refrigerated mine for six hours before baking, and since the casserole was cold it took about 40 minutes to get bubbly and crispy. (I baked it with foil for 25 minutes and then uncovered it for the rest of the time.)


*By "fight" I mean one of us asks "Are you going to eat this?" in a wistful tone and the other says "Well, yeah . . . but you can have it" and the first one either says "Sweet, thanks!" (if it's me) or "Oh no, you can have some too" (if it's Jared). My husband is so much nicer than I am.

18 January 2011

Persian edicts and cauliflower

I dislike resolutions. Maybe because they are too lofty for me to keep, and then I just get frustrated when I fail. Or maybe it's just the word: resolution. That sounds so marble-engraved, so legally binding, as if it were an edict of the Medes and the Persians and woe to the one who breaks it. Well acquainted with idealism and its evil twin, discouragement, I hardly need to load myself with more marble. Legalism dogs my steps closely enough already.

Yet I believe that goals are important. A clear vision for my day, not to mention my year, not to mention my life can make such a difference both in attitude and result. Thus, I ponder the upcoming year every January, trying to organize my desires according to what is essential and what is additional. What is God calling me to do? How can I better love and serve Him? How can I better love and serve my husband, my family, my community? Are there things I should stop or start? Then I set some goals, and am delighted when with the Lord's help, I can fulfill them.

So I don't make resolutions. I do try to have a vision. A grace-filled one.


A couple of weeks ago Jared and I discussed several goals that we have as a couple. How convenient that a new calendar year and a new year of marriage start at the same time; it's a perfect moment to take stock of our lives. In addition to those goals, however, I also have personal desires for the year. Here are mine:

1. Take pictures! What's the use of having a camera if I never use it? Not that I have an excellent camera, but it works fine for simply documenting life, which is what I want to do. I love images and don't want to rely on my memory alone . . . so the camera will get some exercise this year.

2. Read more theology. My soul needs nourishment and I often neglect it. As noted in an earlier post, I have begun nibbling away at Calvin's Institutes. It is wonderful, just four or five pages each morning. Admittedly, I have taken a short detour into Lloyd-Jones' Spiritual Depression, but as the goal was to "read more theology" and not "finish the Institutes in a year," I am fine with that.

3. Banish fear in the kitchen. Last year I learned that bread was not scary, and that yeast is much more friendly than I had assumed. I also conquered yogurt, biscuits, roast chicken, mayonnaise, crepes, and omelets (all things that had terrified me because of their supposed difficulty). So this year I am determined not to shrink back from any flop-prone recipe or unfamiliar ingredient. "Just buy the lemongrass and have at it" shall be my motto.

Speaking of which, I tried two new things last night: pan-seared tuna steaks and spicy Indian cauliflower. I had never intentionally served raw meat before, but being assured that it was the way to do tuna, sear it I did. Success! Well, the tuna was too salty, but at least it wasn't dry. I have more in the freezer (yay seafood sales) so next time I'll use a different sauce. As for the cauliflower . . . ohmygoodness it was the best thing I've put in my mouth for a long time, and it's not like we usually eat banana peels. Making again. Soon.

17 January 2011

Ogden Nash strikes again

Some ladies smoke too much and some ladies drink too much and some ladies pray too much,
But all ladies think that they weigh too much.
They may be as slender as a sylph or a dryad,
But just let them get on the scales and they embark on a doleful jeremiad:
No matter how low the figure the needle happens to touch,
They always claim it is at least five pounds to much;
To the world she may appear slinky and feline,
But she inspects herself in the mirror and cries, Oh, I look like a sea lion.
Yes, she tells you she is growing into the shape of a sea cow or manatee,
And if you say No, my dear, she says you are just lying to make her feel better, and if you say Yes, my dear, you injure her vanity.

Once upon a time there was a girl more beautiful and witty and charming than tongue can tell,
And she is now a dangerous raving maniac in a padded cell,
And the first indication her friends and relatives had that she was mentally overwrought
Was one day when she said, I weigh a hundred and twenty-seven, which is exactly what I ought.

Oh, often I am haunted
By the thought that somebody might someday discover a diet that would let ladies reduce just as much as they wanted,
Because I wonder if there is a woman in the world strong-minded enough to shed ten pounds or twenty,
And say There now, that’s plenty;
And I fear me one ten-pound loss would only arouse the craving for another,
So it wouldn’t do any good for ladies to get their ambition and look like somebody’s fourteen-year-old brother,
Because, having accomplished this with ease,
They would next want to look like somebody’s fourteen-year-old brother in the final stages of some obscure disease,
And the more success you have the more you want to get of it,
So then their goal would be to look like somebody’s fourteen-year-old brother’s ghost, or rather not the ghost itself, which is fairly solid, but a silhouette of it.

So I think it is very nice for ladies to be lithe and lissome.
But not so much so that you cut yourself if you happen to embrace or kissome.

Ogden Nash, "Curl Up and Diet"

Nothing so uncomfortable

"I think [certain people] object to clarity of thought and definition because of its demands. The most comfortable type of religion is always a vague religion, nebulous and uncertain, cluttered up with forms and ritual . . . There is nothing so uncomfortable as clear-cut Biblical truths that demand decisions."

-D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression

11 January 2011


Planting an amaryllis. This probably comes too late for this year, but ours is in full bloom and it's just gorgeous-- I will definitely get one again next fall. Actually, I'm going to try to keep this one alive for next year, as supposedly it's a perennial. We shall see.

Reading Calvin's Institutes one chapter at a time. That's one of my plans for the new year. So far so good. I love reading not only straight Scripture, but the meditations of godly men and women on that Scripture. The first section of the Institutes is incredibly rich, and I'm only a few chapters in. Calvin starts with how humans are barred from knowing God rightly because of their sin; in that state, then, we are completely dependent on the Lord Himself (through His Word and the help of the Holy Spirit) if we are to know God at all, let alone come into full fellowship with Him. It's a wondrous thing that we even have the Scriptures . . . this passage of the Institutes is definitely rekindling my love for the Word.

Drinking Swiss Vervaine Melange from Teavana. With a bit of raw honey. Delicious.

Using Goo Gone to remove pine sap from Christmas tree stands, labels from jars, and almost any gummy residue you can think of. I love it, and have found many more uses than I expected for it.

Corralling clutter . . . in baskets, on platters, in jars. My salt and pepper, butter, and garlic used to be independent little objects sliding about the kitchen counter. Now I have them all on a white ceramic plate. So I know exactly where they are, and it just looks nicer (like how a picture looks better in a frame). And even though my hairdryer, curling iron, and straightener still make a tangled mess, they are contained in a nice wooden crate rather than falling out of the cabinet when I open the door!

Experimenting with spices. It's really easy for me to get stuck in a rut, and just swapping out a few spices can completely change a dish. Dill in quiche? Paprika and allspice on baked chicken? Let's try. Nothing revolutionary, but tweaks like that make dinner different and interesting, and that is important to me.

Browsing Remodelista and Jamie Oliver's website. Er, maybe I shouldn't take my own advice on this quite so often . . .

09 January 2011

As per request

Several people have asked for this recipe. Vox populi, vox dei, so without any further delay . . .

Cranberry Crumb Bars
(a festive riff on this Smitten Kitchen recipe)

4-5 cups whole cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter
1 large egg

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and lightly coat a 9x13 pan with nonstick spray.
2) Toss filling ingredients together in medium bowl, making sure berries are nicely coated.
3) Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt for crust in another bowl. Cut in butter and egg till crumbly.
4) Dump half of the crust mixture into prepared pan, and press down tightly. (I do a bit more than half, actually, because I like a lighter layer on top so you can see the beautiful red berries showing through.) Pour filling mixture across bottom crust, and shake pan to spread the cranberries evenly. Sprinkle remaining crust mixture over berries.
5) Bake for 45 minutes, or until fairly firm in the center and slightly brown on top. Cool on rack, and chill before slicing. Can serve chilled or at room temperature; these freeze well. Keep any leftovers in the refrigerator.

I really love these. The tart pop of cranberry and lemon against a buttery, sweet crust is fantastic. Perfect for parties . . . or lunchboxes.

01 January 2011

Last year, this year, next year

One year ago: I was ironing tablecloths for our wedding reception, packing up for our honeymoon, and getting ready to drive off to the rehearsal. Weird.

This year: I am ironing my husband's shirts, packing pots and pans into my own dishwasher, and getting ready to celebrate our first anniversary. Weirder.

Next year: Only God knows. I think it'll be good.