Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ginger Molasses Cookies

I love these cookies' soft texture and bright spice flavor. They are so perfect for this time of year either as a gift or at a cookie swap. I found this recipe back in 2006 in Sunset magazine. The original recipe is called Frosted Ginger Cookies. But, I've changed the name and I don't include the frosting in my version. Of course, you can make a little frosting to drizzle over  these with powdered sugar and some lemon juice. However, I've always found these to be perfect without the frosting. They are sweet enough since they're rolled in sugar. And, though I normally love the combination of ginger and lemon, I'm not a fan of the lemon frosting on these. Frosted or unfrosted is your choice...regardless, you'll be happy you made these.

Ginger Molasses Cookies
(adapted from Sunset Magazine,  December 2006 issue)

Makes approximately 36 cookies

1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for rolling cookies
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg
3 tablespoons molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1) Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream 1 cup granulated sugar with butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg and molasses.
2) In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and spices. Add to butter mixture and blend well.
3) Fill a shallow bowl with granulated sugar. Break off walnut-size pieces of dough and roll into balls; roll balls in sugar. Arrange on greased cookie sheets or ones lined with parchment and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks and enjoy.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

(by poet Annie Finch, 1997)

In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.

Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil

that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.

I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother's mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings

arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
"Carry me." She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

My Leaf Obsession

I admit it, I have a leaf problem. I've become obsessed by them. After spending much of my life living in Los Angeles where autumn is some what ho-hum at best, I now find myself overcome with the beauty of autumn in the Pacific Northwest and Portland, OR in particular. In spring and summer, I am in love with the glorious colors and varieties of the flowers and other plants around me. Now, that fall is here, I  am again in love but with the visual feast that this season offers. Though taking images of the trees in their fiery, fall finest is what we think of when having an image of this time of year, I prefer to look down and see the fallen beauty at my feet. It is everywhere, if only we would look down and appreciate it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Apple Crisp

Autumn finally arrived last week with the October rains. And, to celebrate the change of seasons I decided to make an apple crisp. I have been playing around with the recipe off-and-on for a couple of years but I feel that I have finally gotten it right. 

Some apple varieties are better than others for baking. You want to find ones that will hold their shape and not inadvertently turn into apple sauce. I'm a big fan of Fuji apples for baking. But, for traditionalists, you can always use Granny Smiths. I did have the good fortune of making this latest version with an heirloom variety called Orleans Reinette and it was amazing. If you have access to heirloom apples either through a farmers market or your local grocery store or food co-op, I suggest giving them a try. You might be very pleasantly surprised.

I certainly hope you enjoy this recipe. Let me know.

(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

Prep: Approx. 25-30 minutes
Cook: Approx. 55 minutes
Equipment: 2-quart earthenware or glass baking dish, 2” deep.

¾ cup of all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup of  brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground powdered ginger
8 tablespoons (1 stick) of cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

8 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced (about 6 cups)
Juice of 1 orange
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground powdered ginger
¼ cup of granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of cornstarch

Preheat oven to 375°. Position rack in the lower third of the oven. Have an unbuttered 2-quart baking dish ready.

For the filling, place your apples in a large mixing bowl. Add the rest of the filling ingredients to the bowl and toss together. Then spread mixture on the bottom of the baking dish.

For the topping, combine all of the ingredients together into a mixing bowl. Then use a pastry blender, 2 knives or your fingers, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Scatter the topping evenly over the fillling.  Gently tap the topping down on top the filling.

Bake until the topping is golden brown and the juices are bubbling. Approximately 50 to 55 minutes.

When done remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Tips & Suggestions:
  • Serve with either fresh whipped cream or ice cream. I think that ice cream is the best and vanilla is a reliable choice. But, if you can find it or want to make it yourself, this would be delicious with salted caramel ice cream.
  • Make Ahead Tip:  Make the topping and filling ahead of time and store separately in the refrigerator until ready to assemble.
  • You can add ½ cup of coarsely chopped and toasted walnuts, hazelnuts or pecans to the topping.
  • Can make individual crisps using oven-safe ramekins or other earthenware dishes. This takes this homey dessert and elevates it to something more sophisticated.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Longing for Fall

Today is the last day of September and I am longing for autumn. The calendar says it is fall. The autumnal equinox occurred last week on the 22nd. And, the harvest moon was last night and then again tonight. The days are getting shorter. But, it still doesn't feel like fall to me. There have been too many sunny days and warm temperatures. Portland has seen barely any rain since July. The only measurable rain in September was 0.04 inch, which came earlier in the month. That makes this is the fourth driest September on record. But, this is Portland, Oregon...the Pacific Northwest. There should be rain. I know I will probably regret writing this sometime in February when there have been some many grey and drizzly days that I have lost count, but I miss the rain. I want that lovely balance of drizzly, grey mornings with the sun breaking through in the afternoon (charmingly referred to as sunbreaks in this part of the Lower 48). And, then there is the smell that fall has here. A deep and earthy scent of turning leaves with a touch of decay and change that the brisk air enhances. I hope autumn arrives soon. My soul is craving it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Apple Season

Autumn is here and that means apples. Lots of apples. Dan and I headed out the weekend before last to the Hood River Valley area known as the Fruit Loop. It's a gorgeous part of the state that is filled with farms and farm stands, plus wineries (that's a whole other post). The Saturday that we visited was part of the annual Pear Celebration weekend. And, we did indulge in pears. But, I was focused on apples. Why? Because I wanted to make more apple preserves. It's not a fancy recipe, just one from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. However, it is a really tasty recipe that Dan and I discovered a couple of years ago when some friends gifted us about 10 lbs. of Gravenstein apples. We needed to do something with all of them and there are only so many crisps and pies that you can make and eat before they go bad. Plus, we did not have enough room to properly store them for any length of time. So, since we had just started learning to can, we decided to make preserves. Much to our delight, this recipe turned out to be a keeper. It is not a preserve that is great on toast. But, it is fantastic with pork and even better with cheese. Wonderful to add to a cheese board when you have guests over. Needless to say, we picked up a few pounds of Gravenstein apples and I made a batch of preserves earlier this week. Last year, we made a batch of this preserve with some Tokyo Rose apples. It was good but not as good as with the Gravensteins. We might give another variety of apples a try for second batch just see which we like better. It is fun to experiment with the different varieties of apples. 

Our next project involving apples is making hard cider. More on that to come...

Winter Squash

It's hard to believe that back in May, I planted several, tiny winter squash plant starters and I have ended up with actual squash. This is the first time that I have had any success growing them. Given the size and the huge growth of all of the vines, I thought for sure that I would be harvesting dozens of squashes but that was not the case. A number of them literally died on the vine. And, though, it was not a large haul, it has been gratifying nonetheless. I am looking forward to using some of them for autumn and Halloween decorations. And, a few, like the Baby Blue Hubbards and Sweet Dumplings, I look forward to eating. I cannot wait to grow more next year.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Blackberry Jam

It's canning time. Dan and I, finally, made our first batch of jam this past Sunday from some gorgeous  blackberries that we got at our local farmers market. Unfortunately, we're a bit late this year with our jam making.  So, we are going to try and catch-up over the next few weekends. The berries have been unbelievable and we are hoping for one more batch of blackberry jam and then at least one batch of raspberry...if we're lucky. Oh, and let's not forget peach. Gotta have some peach jam to bright up a cold, rainy northwest winter day.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

You Win Some...You Lose More Than a Couple Dozen

Anyone who has ever gardened knows that not every plant grows as expected. And, certainly, not everything survives. So it is with our San Marzano tomatoes. The cherry tomatoes are flourishing. The heirlooms are doing far. But, our paste tomatoes seem to be plagued with blossom end rot. That photo is only a small sampling of the ones that we have lost so far. We have only harvested four that were okay. There will be more that don't rot. However, my dreams of having a large harvest of these beauties, that I could can have been dashed for this year. Well, there's always next year.

An Uninvited...but Most Welcome Guest

Back in May, when I was planting veggies for our summer garden,  I had no idea that we had a guest hiding under the soil. Then, back in late June, I noticed that something was growing next to one of our zucchinis. I just ignored it, and thought that it was a weed and  I would pull it the next time I was at the garden. But, I didn't visit for a couple of weeks and had a pleasant surprise when I returned. Much to my delight, I realized that the weed was actually a sunflower. How, it got there...I don't know. We did not plant it but it was there none the less. And, since they are my favorite flower, there was no way I was taking it out. So, time has gone by and this week that lone sunflower bloomed into the beauty that you see above. I feel blessed that it is there. Sunflowers always make me smile.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Berries, Berries...and More Berries

It is berry season in the Northwest and I could not be more thrilled. After a long winter and early spring that felt like it consisted of way too many apples, pears and citrus, it is now time for a little fruit fun. Don't get me wrong, I like apples, pears and citrus. But, after several months of the same thing, one does start to dream of the fruits of spring and summer. And, since Dan and I like to eat seasonally and locally as much as possible, we will be making the most of this summer's fruit bounty. I have already baked a couple of buckle cakes. One was a mix of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries and the other was strawberry rhubarb. So far, I have only baked one berry crisp but I am sure that there will be a few more. One of the things that I am most looking forward to, is trying out some of jam recipes from a new cookbook that I picked up last month called The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders. Before strawberry season is over (which probably just has another couple of weeks), I want to make a batch of the Strawberry Jam with Aged Balsamic & Black Pepper recipe. It will be a lovely way to preserve the flavor of summer so that it can be savored in the depths of a cold and wet Portland winter.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spring Planting

Portland's spring weather has really warmed up a bit in the last few weeks, so it was finally time to get around to planting our veggie garden for summer and beyond. We were really fortunate this year to not only get our same raised bed over at Project Grow's North Portland Farm, but they also offered us two more beds. So, with a total of three raised beds, we can grow a lot more produce this summer. And, we even have room to grow some winter squashes for fall harvest. Plus, our two additional beds came with a surprise, a whole bunch of Fava bean plants and some garlic...not a bad surprise at all.

With three beds, we could get a little crazy this season about what to plant. Dan and I ended up spending some quality time over at our local nursery, Garden Fever, buying a lot of starter plants to transplant to the beds. And, yes, we buy starters. We have tried growing our own from seeds but we have had zero luck with that method. So, except for those veggies that we can directly sow from seed (greens, radishes, beets and carrots) with some success, we buy starter plants.

We picked the following to plant for summer harvest:
  • Black Cherry Tomato (cherry variety)
  • Gold Nugget Tomato (cherry variety)
  • San Marzano Tomato (paste variety)
  • Vorlon Tomato (heirloom variety)
  • Black Krim Tomato (heirloom variety)
  • Zucchini
  • Black Beauty Egglant
  • Rosa Bianco Eggplant
  • Blue Lake Beans (bush variety)
  • New Queen Watermelon

 And, since we planted 3 San Marzano Tomato plants, we are hoping to have enough to can this year. The watermelon is an experiment since we never had any luck growing them in Los Angeles. They would just grow to the size of a golf ball and then die. May be we will have better success here.

And, then for fall harvest:
  • Cinderella Pumpkin (AKA Rouge vif D'Etampes)
  • Baby Blue Hubbard Squash
  • Lunch Lady Gourds
  • Sweet Dumpling Squash

I am very excited about the prospect of growing my own pumpkins since I am overly fond of them. We tried growing pumpkins and gourds in Los Angeles but with zero success. So again, hoping for better luck here in Portland. Of course, there are no guarantees what will grow and thrive and what will not. But, that is the fun of gardening.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gnocchi, Sweet Corn & Arugula in Cream Sauce

I tried this recipe from Better Homes and Gardens magazine on a lark and was pleasantly surprised at how easy and tasty it was. Definitely a great recipe for when you're short on time. The recipe said it would take 20 minutes to prepare and it really did. 

Of course, I had to change a few little things from the original. And, we have declared this a "keeper" recipe so I will definitely be making this again soon. 

Gnocchi, Sweet Corn & Arugula in Cream Sauce

(adapted from the May 2012 issue of Better Homes and Gardens)

Serves 4
Approximate cooking time is 20 minutes

 2 cups of fresh or frozen whole kernel corn
1 pound shelf-stable potato gnocchi
 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup 2% milk
4 oz of packaged or whipped cream cheese (I used a reduced-fat version)
teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
cups torn fresh arugula
Crushed red pepper (optional)

 1) In Dutch oven cook gnocchi according to package directions, adding corn the last 5 minutes of cooking time. Drain gnocchi and corn kernels, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Do not rinse.

2) Meanwhile, for cream sauce, in medium saucepan combine half-and-half, cream cheese, salt, garlic powder, dried herbs, and pepper. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently using a whisk. Stir in reserved pasta water.

3) Return cooked pasta to Dutch oven. Pour cream sauce over pasta; heat through, if necessary. Stir in arugula. Serve in bowls. Sprinkle with additional salt, pepper, dried herbs, and crushed red pepper.

Notes and Variations: If you don’t love the peppery taste of arugula, you could easily substitute fresh spinach. I also think that you could add in a cup of shredded roast chicken for a more robust meal. And, I am sure that shrimp would be tasty as well. In other words, play around this recipe, it is very forgiving.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Kale Chips

Kale chips are my new friends. They are delicious and really easy to make. Sure, there is olive oil involved so they aren't exactly fat-free but they are still more nutritious than potato chips. Even kids and normally kale-adverse adults like them. 

This is just a really basic recipe. But, you can certainly add more than salt to the chips. I have see recipes that include curry powder or chili powder and even those that are tossed with grated parmesan cheese. So please feel free to get creative and let me know what your favorite way to make these is.

And, yes, that really is supposed to be a low temperature setting on the oven. Remember, you are baking a leafy green and not a hearty root vegetable that contains sugars. If the temperature setting is too high, you'll probably end up with kale ash instead of chips.


Serves 4 (snack-sized servings)
Time: 20 minutes prep and approximately 1 hour cook time


1 bunch of kale, washed and dried
2 tbs. olive oil
¼ tsp. kosher or sea salt


1) Preheat the oven to 200°F.

2) Set out two baking sheets.

3) Remove the ribs from the kale and cut or tear into 1 ½ - inch pieces.

4) Put kale into a bowl and toss with the olive and salt. Make sure that all of the leaves are coated with oil.

5) Arrange the kale on the baking sheets in a single layer. Bake until crisp. Rotating the sheets half-way through the cooking time. Bake for approximately 1 hour till the kale is crispy and the edges are beginning to brown. Remove from oven and let cool for a couple of minutes on the baking sheets. Then place in a bowl and enjoy. Try not to eat them all by your self.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Neighborhood Curiosities

Portland is wonderfully quirky. And, I have found a number of examples of quirk on my walks with Ella, our dog. We live in the Sabin neighborhood and are bordered by Irvington, Alameda, King and Alberta Arts District neighborhoods. The eastside of the city is a bit more quirky than the westside of town. And, you can definitely see that as you walk around and see how your neighbors decorate their homes and gardens. 

Since the one year anniversary of our move to the Pacific Northwest is coming up next month. I thought I would post a collection of some of the photos I have taken over the last year of what I like to refer to as "neighborhood curiosities."

I love the poetry posts. There are a number of them
throughout our neighborhood. And, I love them best when
someone posts a poem by Mary Oliver.

It's a fairy house. I love that it is handmade and not some
prefab thing from garden catalog. 

This is my favorite sign. It says it all...perfectly.

A community chalkboard on the front of a house.

A garage that has been converted to a guesthouse with a great
mural on, what I believe used to be, the garage doors.

I think these are the same Breyer horses of my youth but 
someone has used them as little statues in one 
of their garden beds. So cute.

Another toy horse but this one is attached to an old horse ring. 
This is part of The Horse Project that was started in 2005 by
an artist in The Pearl District but has slowly expanded to
other neighborhoods throughout the city. 

Praying figures in front of a home. Definitely one of the more
unusual things that I have seen on my walks.

This wonderfully disturbing use of mannequin arms probably takes
the top honor of being the most unusual "curiosity" that I have seen.
But, what else are you going to do with an extra set of those things?
Planting them in the garden so they look like their 
crawling out of a grave is so cliche.