Monthly Archives: July 2015

Pumpkin Minimuffins

My little girl got her first vaccines yesterday, so we stuck close to home afterward, just the two of us.  We cuddled and she napped a lot.  Fittingly, the day was as rainy and chilled as my mood.  While she napped I decided to make something “back-to-school”ish, to prepare for easy meals when I go back to work in a few weeks.

I LOVE homemade muffins.  I like to freeze them fresh and defrost a few in the microwave for breakfasts for me and the toddler.  He gobbles them up and begs for more!

One of my students in my public speaking class four years ago gave a memorable speech on making muffins, showing how easy it truly was to give up the box mix.  I’ve never looked back.  The biggest secret she shared was not over-stirring.  You want a slightly lumpy batter.

These muffins were based on a recipe from Libby’s Pumpkin, but the original recipe called for 3 cups of flour to 3 cups of sugar.  I had to reread that… 3 cups of sugar? This recipe includes whole wheat flour and a lot less sugar.  Feel free to double the spices, or even add in a teaspoon or two of vanilla extract.  These would be less healthy (but even more delicious) with cream cheese frosting.  If you add frosting, make sure to freeze them “naked” and add it when you defrost the muffin.

Enjoy! Get ready for fall and make some tasty muffins:

“Better for You” Pumpkin Mini-Muffins
(Adapted heavily from Nestle)

Yield: About 60 minimuffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 can (15 ounces) Pure Pumpkin Purée
4 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil or applesauce
1/2 cup orange juice

Preheat to 350° F. Paper-line or grease minimuffin cups.

COMBINE flour, spices, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Combine sugar, maple syrup, pumpkin, eggs, oil/applesauce, and juice in large mixing bowl; beat until just blended. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture. Stir just until moistened… (see pictures below) There will be lumps! Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling 3/4 full.

BAKE for 15-17 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Store muffins in covered container or resealable plastic bags. Can freeze for up to three months. Great reheated!

step one
Always add the dry ingredients to the wet
step two
Mix slowly
Step Three
There will be lumps. Don’t over beat!

BLTs that are Built Lovingly Tall

To me, the tastes of summer have always included watermelon and peaches and corn… But the thing that speaks summer to me the most is the good old-fashioned tomato. Whenever I tell my husband that tomatoes are ripening in my garden, he gets disappointed when I bring in a handful of cherry tomatoes. When the big guys start getting ripe, that’s when the real fun begins.

One of the foods that I hated as a child but love now would be the BLT sandwich. I’m not a big bacon person, which puts me at odds with the rest of Iowa. We Iowans have the blue ribbon bacon festival every year, which sports everything from bacon-flavored beer to bacon-flavored ice cream, not counting bacon-wrapped everything.

This version of the old classic includes some elements which really highlight the tomato and lettuce aspects of this dish. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did last night…

World’s Best BLT (adapted from MarieRnyr)

  • 1 good quality fresh baguette, split lengthwise in half, but not separated, soft centers removed
  • 5 tablespoons mayo
  • 3 tablespoons basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)
  • 10 slices bacon
  • 2 large good quality tomatoes or 4 small good quality tomatoes
  • 1 head red leaf lettuce, leaves separated, washed, and dried

HOUSE DRESSING use 3 to 4 Tablespoons

  • 14 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 12 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 12 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Make your bacon by your preferred method. I like to do it this way:

Line a baking pan with aluminum foil, and place raw bacon down directly on the foil (not on a rack). Put pan in a cold oven and set for 400. Bake bacon for 20 minutes, or until reaches your desired level of crispiness. Remove pan from oven and transfer bacon to paper towels to remove extra oil.

  1. Next, make the house dressing, by combining all ingredients in a mason jar. Shake thoroughly.
  2. Under a broiler or on a griddle, lightly toast the inside of the baguette.
  1. Combine the mayonnaise and pesto.
  2. Spread the pesto mayonnaise all over the inside of both halves of the baguette.
  3. Lay the bacon along the length of the bottom half of the bread.
  4. Lay the tomato slices on top of the bacon and drizzle with the house dressing.
  5. Fill the remaining cavity with the lettuce leaves.
  6. Close the sandwich tightly.
  7. Cut on the diagonal with a sharp serrated knife into 2 to 4 pieces, depending on your hunger level. You may need a toothpick to hold the sandwich together.
  8. Pig out. (Quite fittingly.)
bacon layout
Before baking
lettuce
Lettuce share this sandwich… it’s really too much for one person.
bacon
Perfect bacon.
BLT
The finished product!

My husband re-proposed after taking a bite.  Hope you have a similarly good experience!

What is 2 AM good for?

As I mentioned last week, I’ve finished my first novel and have been shopping it around to agents.  The whole business of writing query letters and finding representation was entirely new to me.  I turned to The Writer’s Market and Your Novel Proposal for help and then began the mad process.

Finding an agent feels like online dating, and I’ve had so many crushes.  Oh, look at their favorite authors, I gush internally.  They’ve represented THEM?  Is it creepy to follow them on Twitter?  The question of When do I follow up my query? makes me feel like an anxious high school girl again.  I’ve had a few interested agents; none interested enough to take on the project, but a few interested enough to read and give feedback.  From those, and from my helpful beta readers (aka, very good and patient friends), I’ve changed the novel so much from the finished draft I was sending out in January.

The biggest change happened just two days ago, thanks to my daughter and Peter Hedges.  I’ve been reading many of Hedges’ books lately (he’s an Iowa author, most famously of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and An Ocean in Iowa).  In What’s Eating, a character makes the choice early in the novel to run over the lawn chair that his sister had recently been tanning herself in.  The action so surprised me that I had to put the book down.  It was such a cinematic moment (and it’s no wonder that Hedges focuses mainly on screenplays now).  I realized that my main character wasn’t making enough choices, and no real choice was made at the end of the novel.

Two AM two nights ago, my daughter called out from her crib for some food, and while feeding her, the idea came to me.  A big decision that would tie together the entire novel.  I don’t often feel grateful for my daughter’s multiple wakings, but this time I couldn’t have been happier (even if I had been more well rested).

The point of this musing is to commiserate with current writers, out there in the midst of agent-hunting.  Hopefully our novels find literary homes.

Potato Salad…. on the Go

I have a wandering (and wondering?) (and wonderful) toddler.  The above picture was taken on a recent outing to the park, where, luckily, he has little trouble to get into if he scurries a bit out of reach.  More troubling is when he gets loose at the gym while I’m trying to wrangle his sister into the car seat, and he runs into the gym where some boys are trying to play a game of basketball. Or most frighteningly of all, when he took his little hand out of mine in the parking lot and started to run towards the car. We had a big talk after that one. The truth about all of these runnings is that he knows he’s not supposed to run too far ahead of us. He looks back at us and gives us a devilish smile as if to say, “Come and get me!” It makes it hard to get mad at the situation for too long.

In our back yard, his favorite game is to go to the only place I tell him to keep out of: my garden. Just like Peter Rabbit.  Once he shimmies down the back stairs, he’s off and running to the edge of my garden, which wouldn’t matter except that I mulch the entire bed with grass clippings and he’s likely to roll around in it if not watched… His dad does the vacuuming and doesn’t appreciate these escapades.  Soon, he’ll be old enough to help me dig and pick, but this summer is all about damage control.  I can’t wait until he understands how his food comes from these plants.

2015/07/img_4254.jpg
Potatoes boiling!

One plant currently overgrown in our garden is the dill, which is so fragrant that if the wind blows you can catch a whiff from the other side of the lawn. Dill belongs in potato salad, in my opinion, and so we’ve been chowing down on this recipe all summer. Don’t leave out the relish! It makes it something special.

 

Amazing Dill and Relish Potato Salad

Base Ingredients

  • 3 large yellow potatoes, cubed and peeled (though I didn’t peel this time)
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

Dressing

  • 2 heaping tablespoons sweet pickle relish, with liquid
  • 1/2 cup Miracle Whip (mine was the low-fat, olive oil version)
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill (or more, to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • Salt (to taste)

Directions

Boil cubed potatoes until they are tender, about ten minutes. Transfer to a colander and rinse with cold water. In a large bowl add celery, onion, eggs, and cooled potatoes.

In a separate bowl, mix dressing ingredients. Add dressing to base, and let potato salad chill for at least 2 hours. Salt to taste before serving.

Dill flower
Dill flower

Blueberry Peach Crisp

My toddler, newborn, and I went blueberry picking yesterday at a local patch.  Here’s where I would insert a quaint picture of this “family first” if such a picture existed. Sadly, it does not! I had the newborn in the Moby in front of me, the toddler rolling in the mud, and me, the only one intent on squatting precariously in the muck to pick ripe berries.  The temperature was already almost 90 at 9 AM, and I had to move fast.  Eventually the toddler got interested in picking, but he was more interested in picking the berries from the mud.  I had to take them from his hands before they landed in the bucket.

I had been aiming for a blueberry pie, but with only twenty minutes of newborn’s patience, I got about a cup and a half out of the four I would need… Thank goodness it’s also peach season!

Peach and Blueberry Crumble

(very slightly edited from Ina Garten)

Ingredients

For the fruit:
2 pounds firm, ripe peaches (6 to 8 peaches)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar (less if your peaches are very sweet)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 ½ cups fresh blueberries
For the crumble:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Immerse the peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until their skins peel off easily. Place them immediately in cold water. Peel the peaches, slice them into thick wedges, and place them in a large bowl. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla extract, granulated sugar, and cornstarch. Toss well. Gently mix in the blueberries. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. Spoon the a 7×11 glass pan or small ramekins.

For the topping, combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. Rub the mixture with your fingertips until it’s in big crumbles, then sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake for 40 to 45 minutes for ramekins, about 45-50 for a glass pan, or until the tops are browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you want to make these early, store the unbaked crisp in the refrigerator and bake before dinner.

lemons
I love fruit photography

I went searching for a delectable peach-blueberry crisp and broke the sacred rule of hot Julys— I turned on my oven! (gasp!). I hope I can tempt you to do the same.

berries and peaches
Another close up of the stars
batter
The topping ingredients
Blueberry Peach Cobbler
The finished, buttery product

Snow Peas

This week marked the end of our snow pea season (well, the early one… I always put in a late crop in the fall).  I love snow peas.  I love the way the vines creep upward, even unsupported, and the little tendrils the vines send out looking for something to climb.  It reminds me of putting a cautious foot out while walking down the hallway in the dark… now that my son is of matchbox car age, no one is safe.

Last weekend we had our first dinner party post-baby.  I was feeling cramped up and needed adult contact, so we had a few couples over for grilled steaks, drinks, and conversation.  Even with juggling bedtime routines for two kiddos, we still managed to have a wonderful night, and the salad recipe that follows was one of the hits of the evening.

And so, if you’re lucky enough to still be in snow pea heaven in your garden (or if you’ve bought some from the grocery store or farmer’s market), here’s a quick summer recipe for you:

Snow Pea and Ginger Sesame Dressing Salad (dressing adapted from AllRecipes)

Ingredients:

For the salad:

8 c mixed greens

1 carrot, shredded

2 cups snow peas, cut on the bias every two inches

2 green onions (greens only), chopped

1/2 cup sliced almonds

For the dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon honey

2 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger

1 clove of minced fresh garlic

  1. Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Combine dressing ingredients in a pint glass jar (mason works well) or microwave-safe plastic container– either should have a lid available.  Microwave the dressing uncovered for one minute to incorporate the honey.  Cover container and shake dressing vigorously.
  3. Toss salad with dressing, or offer on the side.

Salad is all that sounds good to me on busy, hot days… hope you enjoy it!

Back after a long hiatus…

The current situation at my house:

  • garden, and weeds, in full bloom
  • trying to find a home for a recently-written novel
  • son learning how to walk, talk, talk back, and be a cute/wonderful little person
  • new daughter joining our family last month

But now I’m back and needing an outlet for my home-y, mom-ly, writer-ly, reader-ly thoughts.  Though sleep has been slight these past few weeks, ideas haven’t been and I’m anxious to put pen to paper (or rather, cursor to screen?) again.  Welcome back readers! What’s new with you?