Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Cookies That May Be Better For You

Flourless choco-nut gems are not sugar-free but using a sugar substitute cuts the carbs and doesn't wreck the flavor.
This recipe came from the For the Love of Food blog.
I miss the carb-bomb labors of love Christmas treats my mom used to send every year all the way from South Dakota in TWO large batches: frosted melt-in-the-mouth sugar cookies in cut-out shapes; ginger and peanut butter cookies; Russian tea cakes; Chex mix, and the family favorite—Special K Bars which, in addition to the highly processed cereal, included peanut butter, a load of the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup, and a bag of chocolate chips melted on top.

Alas, over the past decade, I've become a serious carb-avoider. During my most dedicated periods, I try to limit myself to fewer than 30 unrefined carbs a day, which equals around two slices of bread. Notice I said "try." My intentions are noble but I often fail. Like at a party the other night. I won't go into details, but some failures are massive. Even a couple days of eating like a stereotypical overweight American makes me cringe at the scale, sending me straight into carb-correction mode.

I guess it's worked; I am not skinny, but my weight has fluctuated only a few pounds, up or down, from the day it dawned on me that refined carb reduction was my best bet for combatting creeping weight gain.

Still, I miss the cookies and went on a hunt for lower-carb alternatives. This post is sorta late to do any good for this holiday season, but I think these two recipes are transferrable to various celebrations throughout the year, and maybe even for lunchbox treats.
I have to admit I also reverting to one of my mom's type cookies, the nut-and-butter-rich Russian tea cakes, to bring to a post Christmas visit to our son and family. I know somebody there who loves them!

On to the goods!
As you can see, this oft-repeated recipe has gone through some revisions since my sister first sent it to me a few years ago.  These are really really good, even with substitutions.

Flourless Espresso Chocolate and Nut Gems
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (or semisweet if you can't find bittersweet) chopped into medium chunks
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar, Splenda, or another sugar substitute. I get 22 rather than 24 mini-cupcakes using Splenda.
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (sub instant coffee if you must)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup ground walnuts or other nuts. Optional.
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar. Optional.
Preheat oven to 375. Coat mini-muffin tin, or tins, with cooking spray. I used coconut spray, even though my 24-c tin is supposedly non stick. Combine the chopped chocolate and butter in a microwave-proof glass bowl and heat for two minutes, then one minute at a time, stirring after each minute until melted. Alternatively, use a double-boiler. Whisk in sugar or Splenda, vanilla and espresso powder, then whisk in eggs until well combined. Sift cocoa powder over the top and whisk until smooth. Stir in the ground nuts. Spoon mixture into mini-muffin tins, filling nearly to the top. Bake until cookies have risen, 8-10 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then carefully remove from tin to a cooling rack. Sift powdered sugar lightly over the "gems."

I was able to find a 24-mini muffin tin; two 12-ers will also do the trick. Note
 two empty spaces due to using Splenda.
Walnuts ground up in a food processor. Discovery! When processing walnuts
in my Cuisinart, most of the bitter membranes in the nuts ended up on the
sides of the bowl and were easy to wipe out. 
    Lemon coconut cookies are lemon heaven, according to, where this recipe originated.
Lemon Coconut Cookies
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons lemon zest
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter or ghee, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup raw honey
Cool the dough for a half hour in the refrigerator. (My addition to the recipe!)
Preheat oven  to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (Do not skip this step!)
Mix all ingredients until well blended. Place one tablespoons of batter at a time on the baking sheet about two inches apart. Place another piece of parchment paper, or wax paper,  over each mound of batter in turn, pressing with the bottom of a glass to flatten to about 1/8 inch thickness. Bake for 12 minutes. Let cool for five minutes then transfer carefully to a cooling rack. Cookies that aren't immediately consumed should be stored in the freezer.

Note: These cookies are a bit fragile. Handle with care. They're great eaten right out of the freezer.

Other lower carb, may-be-better-for-you desserts

Berries Crisp - you'd have to use frozen this time of year, but still great!
Avocado, chocolate and peanut butter pudding or pie. Fantastic. You have to try to believe. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dialing Back Christmas

The swaddled trees symbolize, sorta, what I've done with Christmas; wrapped it up. But wait! There's hope.

Soon after the Halloween pumpkins disappear, the Thanksgiving turkeys have been devoured, and Black Friday has sucked in an army of discount-sock buyers, I curl into an inert lump with a sign on my butt saying, "Wake me when it's over."

I am so done with Christmas, which, of course, is an unacceptable noun in our Happy Holidays culture. This national vocabulary revision occurred over decades, during which I morphed from a child bedazzled by Santa, Jesus, Christmas trees, and sugar cookies, to a 30-something mother successfully replicating the elaborate Christmases provided by my cookie-baking, gift-making, party-giving, decorating-dervish mother, into an, ahem, older woman, adverse to most things Christmas.
It wasn't always thus.

For about a dozen years, PK and I hosted a Christmas Eve celebration with numerous local families whose close relatives lived far away, as did ours. Visits from Santa and the elves—who arrived atop the local fire department's truck—loud off-key carol singing, extra special recipes, outrageous feasting, funky family performances, and delighted young children, made Christmas eve a memory-making fun fest.

Then the kids grew up, and when teen eye-rolling occurred, it wasn't quite as much fun. Our tradition faded over a few transitional years, as things do, when their time passes. As our annual party gradually faded away, so did my enthusiasm for decorating, baking, hosting, and for damn sure, gift giving.

Decades ago, my one and only sibling and I agreed to a binding no-gift policy, although we fretted together annually over gift options to honor our parents, who never indicated they weren't interested. My mom decorated for Christmas, and she sent cards, with my help, through age 98. She died before she turned 99, but I'm sure, that had she lived, we would have continued to consult her ever-dwindling card list, write greetings,  and slap stamps onto festive envelopes.

As for gifts, I can't remember the last time PK and I exchanged them. We don't need or want anything except to travel, and to spend time with our grandchildren, so what's the point of buying something that the other person doesn't need and likely doesn't want, and can certainly do without? And forgets? Giving out of obligation isn't really "giving." What's the point?

Exactly. There is no point, except to buy into the crazy shopping culture built up around the season.
Over the past 30-some years, my attitude about the "season" has deteriorated to nearly complete rejection, especially for most of the trappings and expected behaviors. The season of obligation? Of credit-card maxing, terrible sweaters, sugar bombs, pajama overload, nauseating Muzak carols, and plastic toys? No, thank you! I know I'm not alone.

An aging relative said in a recent email:
Christmas is coming so fast and I am not ready and have no excuse. It is a lot of work for one day. I think we need to go back to the true meaning of Christmas instead of making it a season.   

A long-time friend announced:
We're getting out of town, out of the country, away from all this craziness.

Another, whose house is usually ablaze with lights:
I can't do it anymore. It's too much work and my electric bill goes way up.

On the other hand, I got a "holiday letter" this week from a longtime friend, JoAnne Heron, who said this:
It will take an extra dose of intention to make holiness a part of the season, knowing that there is so much desperation and environmental degradation in this world. One has to work hard to be positive and have perspective in this blessed time of year… diligent, to absorb and live the lessons of the Child for whom this season was named. And really, the only way I can deal with it is to take responsibility for myself, to love fully, to create beauty, tread lightly on the earth, and be as kind of possible to all. 

Her words gave me pause, and I reviewed the decades to see what Christmas behaviors/traditions I might resurrect, what made a difference to others and also made me feel good and right with the world. And, what I can once and for all shed.

What I'm Over 

Obligatory gift giving 
I make exception for the grandchildren, who have no unmet needs except, perhaps, the continuing adoration of their grandparents made manifest in wrapped packages. We must do our part. It is our privilege to spoil them.

Shopping of almost any kind, (except at local family businesses and for groceries and gas) between Black Friday and December 26 because the traffic is crazy, parking lots are ram fests, people are stressed and cranky, the piped in Christmas music is nauseating, and it's all so outside of what the pure Christmas spirit is all about.

Christmas trees.  No more for us. Our property is already festooned with at least 30 now-mature former live trees. We've never purchased a harvested tree, but applaud friends who've made hunting down their own tree in the forest a family tradition. The fake tree doesn't cut it, either.
We've taken the past couple years to decorating house foliage, this year, a snake plant.
A  house plant doubling as Christmas tree.

Christmas music.  I once loved traditional Christmas carols. Years ago I bought a used piano so I could play carols for our Christmas Eve party, but sold it about 10 years ago. Carols piped into nearly every shopping space has ruined them for me. Last year I attended a sing-along Handel's Messiah concert, and even that didn't induce the Christmas spirit, although I'll always love the Hallelujah chorus. In closing, I have one thing to say about commercial Christmas music: Alvin and the Chipmunks.  Go ahead and click. I dare you!

Christmas cards and letters. I gave up the card business years ago, although I assisted my elderly mother for the last seven Christmases of her life in writing notes on cards and addressing envelopes. She loved getting cards. I still love getting Christmas letters, even if they're smarmy or bragging. Every single one, whether emailed, snail-mailed, or delivered in person, is read and read again.

However, I may have written my last one. Here's the deal. I write this blog and also post umpteen photos of our travels on Facebook. I don't need to do any more communicating. Life has been good, and our sons and grandchildren are spectacular, and even though I don't mind if others boast, I need to get over it myself. My past holiday letters have too much family chest thumping, although innocent. If I were to write a letter this year, I'd mention that PK did require a hip replacement, but it went so well, it's hardly worth mentioning. Especially if your hip replacement wasn't the best, as his was. And if your children and grandchildren aren't as magnificent as ours are, well, what the hell's wrong with you? See what I mean?

What I'm Keeping

Charitable giving.  Non profits want to take advantage of the holiday spirit, plus tax time is coming up for those charitable gift deductions. Be generous. Local non profits desperately need your support.

Giving out of pocket to homeless and others.  Bedraggled people begging at freeway ramps or around shopping centers are people just like us, but whose stories we probably can't fathom or know. A woman near a shopping center last week displayed a sign saying something like, "I'm not trash. I am down on my luck." I rolled down the window and handed her a bill. She cried as she thanked me.

At any point in most of our lives, it could have been us not being "trash".  Give, give, give. Street corners, soup kitchens, school backpack drives, gift trees, toy drives, food collection points, gifts for nursing home residents, for housebound people, for families living in cars or people sleeping on cardboard over heating vents. At no time of the year is the disparity between what "we" have and what "they" have more apparent or sobering. Hand a $20 bill to a downtrodden somebody standing with a sign in the cold rain or snow and see how that makes you feel. You won't miss the $20, but you'll make his or her day and provide a meal or two. Or maybe a beer or two? Not for us to judge.

Baking - I made sugar cookies decorated with colored frosting for years. Baked Mexican wedding "cakes" and stirred up rich dark chocolate fudge. The grandchildren don't know this, but their parents do. And the parents say no to sweets. But I decided to defy them. My wonderful mother, every Christmas, sent boxes of homemade treats. I still have some of her packing tins. We're all trying to escape sugar and flour, but I'm going to search for healthier treats and our grandchildren may someday remember their Christmas treat-providing grandma!

Countering evil in the world. That's a formidable job, given the vitriol and fear that's surging in the global consciousness, but if millions take it on, maybe a vibe will gather in the ether and a giant tuning fork in the unending universe will vibrate waves of harmony toward earth. Part of contributing to this harmony is being a good friend, a loving partner, parent, and grand parent. It's also about being non judgmental, forgiving, generous and remembering, even if you are without religious faith, to love your neighbor as yourself, to be kind and tenderhearted. As John Lennon sang,  Imagine.  We can live as one.

Lights!  Nothing to argue with there. Put 'em up, even if you believe in nothing but the flickering human spirit. Light up the winter darkness, illuminate your living room or kitchen or bedroom or yard. Combat the gloom with brightness and color. If you admire Jesus, remember what he said about forgiveness and loving your enemies. Carry the light.

And hey, have yourself a merry little Christmas!

This is it! Christmas at our house 2015. One room decked out in lights. A houseplant serving as a "tree", a few candles, some incense, fresh greens, and blues, jazz and rock n' roll on the sound system.  And in our hearts, perhaps more kindness, more understanding, more forgiveness, more tuning into universal goodness because we know it exists, call it what you will.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Spiralized Sweet Potato Fries and How to Use A lot of Zucchini

                           Spiralized sweet potato "fries" roasted at 425. Recipe below. 
I rarely get so excited about a kitchen gadget that I promote it. I'm not saying that just because I'm smitten with the spiralizer, you should run right out and buy one. It took me a year to respond, with my credit card, to a friend who alerted me to this clever device that is now my second best friend in the kitchen, my bestie being my food processor,which happens to be a Cuisinart.

My friend even loaned me her spiralizer because she was certain that if I used it, I would rush forth with the plastic card. I  admit I didn't even try the damn thing before returning it to her. Why? I was attempting to purge possessions, not accumulate them. Also, as I saw it, the spiralizer would hog a significant chunk of kitchen storage and be just another piece of plastic about which to feel guilt and remorse. So I returned it to my friend saying, thanks, but no thanks. 

Then zucchini season reared up. As usual, I gave away or tossed into the compost an embarrassing poundage of zucchini flesh. (Somehow, we always have way too much zucchini, even when we limit ourselves to two or three plants.) Then I remembered the spiralizer, and in desperation, used Amazon Prime to have one delivered within a couple days. And then the fun began! The poor neighbors, and others upon whom I'd foisted excess produce, no longer had to feign enthusiasm for zucchini; I actually was able to use most of it. Yes. We ate a TON of zucchini, but as noodles, and somehow, that makes a difference.
This is my Padrone spiralizer with a perfect zucchini transformed into noodles. You don't think zucchini noodles will cut the mustard? I was worried, as PK is a skinny bastard who doesn't need to cut carbs or calories and is sorta turned off by veggie noodles, and I am a hanging on for-dear-life-to a-reasonable-weight-70-year-old-size 12. Fortunately, I'm, not yet in a vegetative state. We reached a compromise with a 2/3 zuke and 1/3 "real" pasta blend. I later got rid of the "real"pasta, and he failed to notice.
Zucchini noodles quick frying in a little olive oil and salt.
Zuke noodles are joined by cooked "real" noodles. The zuke noodles came from a large zucchini while the pasta was a scant handful before it was boiled. Obviously, the pasta swells and the zucchini shrinks. This is indicative of what happens when we eat pasta (swell) and when we eat zucchini (shrink.)
The real pasta boils on the back burner as I test the zucchini noodles for "al dente" with  a hand which appears to be on loan from a wax museum, 

Obviously, the pasta swells and the zucchini shrinks. This is indicative of what happens when we eat pasta (swell) and when we eat zucchini (shrink.)

Zucchini was the obvious first choice for veggie noodles, but once the zucchini plants up and died, I moved on to potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets. And according to food bloggers, I'm just getting started. For recipes and in-depth info, check out this blog and get a steady stream of recipes and ways to use the spiralizer. In addition to noodles, it can also slice veggies into thin rounds.

The sweet potato fries are great! Easy, tasty, nutritious. Here they are with a salmon patty sandwich and a green salad with avocado. Recipe below.
The spiralizer seems to work best with firm veggies 3-4 inches in diameter. Cut them into lengths of six or seven inches, or more, depending upon your model. The Paderno is good and costs around $35. I like it because it has super good suction to hold it in place while processing, comes with three interchangeable blades, and is easy to use and to clean. 
The object in the forefront is what's left of a sweet potato after spiralizing—a stump and a core. The pile of noodles is atop parchment paper on a baking sheet almost ready to pop into the oven. All it needs is a couple tablespoons of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. 

For two hungry people
  • 1 large sweet potato. Choose one that is relatively straight and about 3 to 3.5 inches in diameter.
  • olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pepper flakes, optional


Preheat the oven to 425.
Spiralize the sweet potato. You will need to cut it to fit for spiralizing.
Snip the noodles into lengths of your choice, or not.(Some people love long curly fries, but they take longer to roast and may not cook as evenly as snipped noodles.)

Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the oiled noodles over the paper and salt and pepper to taste. Add pepper flakes if you like them. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes, then check for doneness. Use tongs to turn, and roast another 10 minutes, watching closely so they don't burn.

The sweet potatoes may also be fried, preferably in a cast-iron skillet. But this requires closer attention and more oil. However, the fries will be crunchier.

Ready to try a spiralizer? You can't go wrong.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Pot Grow Next Door

Marijuana farmers don't claim to have a farm, but a "grow." We know about this because one, we share a fence with a "grow" and two, Southern Oregon and Northern California - the State of Jefferson - is a premier pot-growing region.

This guy, part of the pot-grower-next-door group, is surrounded by mature marijuana plants,. He looks kinda gnarly, but he doesn't give off bad-guy vibes at all. He's a friendly smiley local who went to high school with our oldest son and now makes a living from one of the Northwest's most sought-after legal products. The money and the goods are in the buds, easily visible at the top of the stalks.
In case you don't keep up with marijuana laws, it is legal to grow and possess pot in Oregon for recreational or medicinal purposes.We're not alone, with Colorado, Washington and Alaska joining the pot renegade movement. But the trend has not exactly resulted in a national change of heart.

Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana while 23 other states have eased restrictions, but federal agents are still arresting people caught with the drug in record numbers. During 2014, marijuana arrests skyrocketed with someone being charged with possession every 45 seconds, the FBI announced last week. That’s 1,700 people a day.... Read more » Legalize It: Marijuana ...

So despite the fact that pot is a fact of life here in Oregon, pot is still contraband in much of the USA. I'm sad that taxpayer dollars continue to be spent to catch, prosecute and imprison US citizens who grow or use pot. What a horrific and stupid waste of resources, human and otherwise.  The only threat legal marijuana growers pose is to the Mexican drug cartels, representatives of which I guess are now skipping Oregon, at least for marijuana sales.

We've had a  pot grow next door for going on four years, and it hasn't made a bit of difference to us, except the, uh, aromas, at harvest time. Which is as we speak are wafting my way in great drifts of fragrance. Some would say "blasts of skunk spray." 

It isn't as if we're buddies with the growers. We actually just went over there for the first time a couple days ago.

The fence had held us back. As Robert Frost noted in his beloved poem, Mending Wall, about fences;  Something there is that doesn't love a wall.  Fences are all about barriers.

Those tall solid pot-grow fences did the trick for us. We sometimes parked the tractor near the fence and climbed up on the seat to peek over the fence, curious, but reluctant to intrude, thinking the pot growers next door were secretive and somehow nefarious. We could hear their music and their voices, but without eye contact, we had little to go on.

There's no way to accidentally see a marijuana grow in Oregon because laws insist that all evidence that a grow exists must be hidden behind a tall solid fence. No way to hide the tippy-top buds this time of year, however. So even though you can't see the actual plants most of the growing season, you know the pot is there because of the fences. They are everywhere in southwestern Oregon, which with our Mediterranean climate, is ideal pot cultivation terrain. 

When we visited, I learned that our neighbors started their operation three years ago with medicinal plants and continue to grow for medical marijuana cardholders. By "neighbors" I mean the ones with whom we share a fence, not our other "neighbors" on our one-mile dusty and rutted country road where the "grow" count ranges from five to fifteen, depending upon whom you ask. One tweaker sort of gal who lives near the end of the road, says she thinks there are 17 grows along our road, most of them hidden in the forest.

(I picked her up hitchhiking a few days ago when we had this conversation. She had a day off from cleaning motel rooms. She'd asked to work, but got her day off anyway. What was she going to do? "I have nothing to do," she confessed. " I'll drink my beer (which she'd walked two miles into town to buy) and go to bed." It was before noon. I realize it  seems judgmental to tell that story. But I'm not judging, just feeling sad for a person, who, if she isn't cleaning motel rooms, has nothing to look forward to.)

Mid-October is prime pot harvest and also means "cleaners" are coming from hither and yon to meticulously separate the chaff from the grain, the leaves from the buds. It's only the buds, baby. Everything else is compost. 
Snip, snip, snip. Hours upon hours. Lots of labor goes into producing pot.
We can see the tallest plants and their burgeoning buds from our side of the fence. Smell em, too. 
Control central for watering and fertilziing an estimated three dozen extravagant pot plants exuding a heady, so to speak, aroma that some neighbors complain is skunky. I like the smell. It's rich and earthy. Not unlike strong coffee or diesel fumes.
This year our neighbors grew several varieties in order to avoid having to harvest and clean them all at the same time, which last year drove them to the brink, The colorful names include Blue City Diesel(??), Reserve? I should go over there and look again. Purple Dream, Monkey Balls and several more. The various strains produce a staggered harvest, so to speak.The different varieties are also said to have different medicinal benefits. 

This variety may have a pep-up effect? Or perhaps the name refers to the shape of the buds? 
Or the smell?

They're growing big and they ARE home. Our neighbors. We're OK with them.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Salmon patties with dill sauce

PK went to Alaska for six days earlier this month and returned triumphant with close to 75 (!!) pounds of fish, about two-thirds salmon and the rest, halibut. He wasn't beating his chest in the least. Except for the day he and his buddies fished for halibut on the open ocean amidst 18-foot swells in a small boat, he claims catching fish was easy. Even I could do it!
Salmon patties are a tasty use for leftover salmon.
Figuring all his costs, including his wading outfit and fishing gear, flight, lodging, and strong drink, the fish now filling our freezer cost about $40 a pound. Not counting the fun he had catching it.

He's been home a couple weeks now,  and we've barbecued salmon on the Traeger twice, and also smoked a couple of fillets. Both times I've made salmon cakes or patties or burgers or croquettes or whatever you want to call them, with the leftovers. They were a hit with guests, and we liked them, too.

I bet I read 20 recipes before one landed fortuitously in my day's email via the Inspiralized blog. My recipe is based on that one, but borrows bits and pieces from numerous other sources and ingredients that seemed like they'd fit. I was cooking for four, but this amount made six generous patties. The recipe can be scaled back for smaller amounts of fish.

The second batch included a salmon fillet that PK brined and smoked in the Traeger. Somehow the proportions of salt vs. sugar for the brine got reversed and the "smoked salmon" was salty enough to melt road ice. It worked well, however, mixed with plain grilled salmon for salmon patties made without additional salt.

In addition to the cooked fish, the recipe includes celery, garlic, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, bread crumbs, scallions,  jalapeno pepper, an egg, and celery salt  or smoked salt.

Whirr up most of the ingredients in a food processor before adding the salmon.
Flaked salmon ready to mix in.

Process the salmon it in pulses to make sure it doesn't get mushy.

Fry in olive or other oil. A cast iron pan works better for me than non stick.

Cooling on a wire rack, salmon patties may be eaten cold or hot. They can also be frozen, but put waxed paper or foil between the patties. 

Simple early fall supper- salmon patties and Caprese salad. 

Salmon patties

1 1/2 pound of cooked salmon, skin, bones and dark stuff removed
4 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp celery salt, or to taste
4 -5 finely chopped garlic cloves
2-3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh dill
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 stalk celery, finely chopped (use the leafy end)
1/2 cup dried sprouted grain bread crumbs (or any other bread crumbs)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large egg or 2 medium
1 tablespoon lemon zest
chili pepper flakes to taste
4 or 5 scallions, chopped, including the green part

Roughly chop or tear apart the cleaned-up salmon. Chop the scallions, including some of the green part. Set aside.
Process the dill weed and the garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the other ingredients, except the salmon and the scallions, and process. Add the salmon and pulse until well mixed but not into a slurry.

Mix in the chopped scallions by hand.

Form patties and fry in olive oil (or other oil) until cooked through slightly browned. Serve hot or cold with dill sauce.

Amped-up Caprese salad.

Got a great salmon or halibut recipe? PLEASE send it either via comments or email me: Thanks!

Amped-up Caprese Salad

There's no such thing as a bad Caprese salad, unless, of course, the tomatoes are mealy out-of-season gagging units purchased at the supermarket. So the first ingredient is great tomatoes.

After that, there are a couple of things that can levitate your Caprese: smoked salt and balsamic glaze.
This salad fills a dinner plate and is ample for two people. It occupied about half a plate in a recent supper for two that featured only Caprese  salad and salmon patties. At our house, that''s plenty.

A huge Brandywine was enough for a Caprese salad for two.
Amped-up Caprese Salad

1 huge or 2 large-medium fresh garden tomatoes, sliced
fresh mozzarella
balsamic glaze*
olive oil
fresh basil leaves
smoked salt* (or not)

Slice tomatoes and arrange on a plate. Tip plate to drain before proceeding. Slice cheese and place a slice or two on each tomato. Salt with smoked salt, or regular salt if you lack smoked. Tear the basil, slice into strips, or apply as whole leaves atop the tomatoes. Drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil. Then top with a drizzle of balsamic glaze (the most important part!) 

*Smoked salt can be purchased in bulk in rural southern Oregon grocery stores so I imagine it's available most anywhere. 
*Balsamic glaze can be purchased at Trader Joe's and likely elsewhere.

Salmon patties with dill sauce

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Best Damn Salsa!

Revised September 23, 2017
Here's PK a few years back with a great pepper harvest. For salsa, we use the mixed color sweet peppers on the right combined with lots of the red hot peppers. 

I'm on a roll here with recipies to use up gargantuan garden harvests Here's one for a great salsa. If you don't have a garden bordering on obscene, then head to the nearest farmers' market. You can halve the recipe to make about 8 pints. Otherwise, clear your shelves for 16 - 17 pints.
Just out of the canning pot, 2015's salsa. I love the brilliant color and the crisp pops of sealing jars and the promise of easy tangy salsa throughout  the winter. 
Roma-type tomatoes are best for making canned salsa.
We have a half dozen salsa recipes in our canning binder, but this is the one that keeps stocking our pantry, year after year. We've tweaked it many times. It's hot, but not too hot. Sweet, but not too sweet. We've named it after the people who passed it along, Jack and Lois Harris. With numerous refinements over the years we call it:

Jack and Lois Salsa Suprema
16 cups cored and diced  Roma-type tomatoes (you can remove skins first by dipping tomatoes in boiling water, letting them cool and slipping off the skins. We no longer bother doing this.)
3-4 cups chopped green peppers (8-12 medium peppers)
8 cups chopped onions, not sweet
8 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped. A few habaneros and other peppers may be added to spice it up
11/2 cups tomato paste (2 small cans)
15 oz can tomato soup (no water)
2 cans whole kernel corn, drained
1 or 2 can black beans, rinsed and drained (we use 1 can)
6 T garlic chili sauce
6 T serrano sauce (or Sriracha sauce)
1.5 cups white vinegar
4 T sugar
4 T salt
8 tsp garlic powder
2 T cayenne pepper

Note: This recipe requires two large soup-type pots. Measure the ingredients and divide between the pots. After simmering for an hour or more, you will be able to combine the two batches for canning.

Rinse the tomatoes, remove core, cut into large chunks and drain in a colander for a few minutes. Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor or blender until roughly chopped, then dump into your two pots.  Divide and add the other ingredients.

Cook uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring frequently. Can in a water bath canner for 15 minutes, timing after water reaches a rolling boil. Or use a pressure cooker, which is what we do.
With a pressure cooker, you can stack the pints and get it all done in one batch. Follow the directions provided for your pressure cooker. (After venting steam for 10 minutes after the pressure gauge pops up, place the weight over the steam vent and process until the pressure comes up to 10. Turn off heat and leave it alone until the pressure gauge falls down.)
Seventeen pints came from this recipe. Yowsers! Lots of work, lots of love. Lots of chips.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Rosemary Ratatouille, Roasted not Fried

            Roasted ratatouille requires less toil than frying each ingredient separately. 
I wrote this post in 2009 when the idea of cutting way back on gardening had not yet occurred to me.(It was updated in 2015 and again today.) Those were the days! Now I'm in the throes of weaning myself away from a prodigious garden. I'll miss this ratatouille. But I hear they sell eggplant at growers' markets?

Ratatouille is one of the best possible ways for turning a garden bonanza into flavorful freezable gold bricks to mine during the bleak winter. In August and September, we have so much garden glory that I have actually chased people down the road, waving zucchini and cucumbers. I leave produce in the mailbox for our rural mail carrier, and deliver cukes and zukes to the community center's "free food" area. Someone came to buy a vacuum I advertised on Craigs List, and she went home with tomatoes, cucumbers, and a spaghetti squash. Anyway. ratatouille is a wonderful way to use up a lot of summer produce all at once. 

About Rosemary Ratatouille

Rosemary isn't a huge ingredient in this recipe, but the fact that it's there to the exclusion of all other herbs is key. Ratatouille has been a favorite way to use summer bounty for years, but I usually included handfuls of fresh basil and sprigs of oregano and never even considered rosemary. I also fried each ingredient in separate batches to develop individual flavors, then combined to blend. Big pain in the arse!

But a recipe I discovered in 2009 at makes the BEST ratatouille ever. I would link to the recipe, but it no longer exists at that site, or at least I couldn't find it. This recipe is a lot less work than frying, and high temp roasting boosts the flavors. The four teaspoons of chopped fresh rosemary are key to the deliciousness of this heavenly dish.

This recipe requires 15-20 minutes of prep and 45 minutes to 65 or 70 minutes of roasting time, depending upon the pan size and the volume of vegetables. You'll need two large rimmed baking sheets or shallow roasting or broiling pans, and parchment paper to make clean-up easier.

Rosemary Ratatouille, Roasted 

2-3 large eggplants, 1-11/2 pounds
2 sweet red peppers
2 yellow peppers
3 small/medium zucchini
2 medium/large onions (not sweet onions)
4-6 cloves garlic
6-8 tablespoons olive oil, or more
4 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
6-8 large tomatoes, more if small
kosher, sea, or smoked salt to taste (smoked salt is divine!)

Preheat oven to 400
Cut eggplant, peppers, squash, and onion into roughly 1 inch chunks. Peel garlic and slice lengthwise 3 or 4 times. Combine and toss with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and the chopped rosemary. Salt lightly. Oil a rimmed baking sheet or other large shallow pan and spread the vegetables into a single layer and place in preheated oven. If you have too many for a single layer, don't sweat it. After they've roasted for 20-25 minutes you should be able to spread them out.

Line the second rimmed pan with parchment paper making sure that the paper is larger than the pan. You don't want the juices to get underneath the paper. Cut tomatoes into halves or quarters depending on size and arrange them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and salt lightly. Put in preheated oven.

Roast vegetables, turning with a spatula once or twice.

Tomatoes don't need to be turned, and they roast faster than the other veggies. When roasted, they should be soft enough so they go flat when pressed lightly. The juices may brown, and that's good. If you put tomatoes and the other veggies into the oven at the same time, the tomatoes will be ready as  much as a half hour before earlier than the veggie mixture.

This is an extra-large load  for a double recipe and required about 90 minutes of roasting at 400.  
Remove veggies when roasted. You'll know they're roasted when they're beginning to brown and are soft.
These tomatoes could have  roasted another 5-10 minutes. This batch made a good puddle of juice, which when mixed with the brown bits, was added to the other veggies.
Let the tomatoes cool. Turn each tomato half or quarter over and pinch the skin; it will come right off.  Place the pan with the roasted veggies next to the tomatoes. Carefully lift the parchment paper and pool juices and tomatoes in the center, then slide it all into the  roasted veggies to mix. Alternatively, you could use a spatula to transfer the tomatoes then pour the juices. Mix thoroughly. May be served hot, warm or room temperature.

Ratatouille freezes beautifully and is a wonderful reminder of benevolent summer during winter's churlish days.

Other ways to use the harvest

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

North Cascades National Park with guilt, bone spurs, and a bad hip

Email subscribers, please click on the post's headline to get to the website. Everything looks better there and text is easier to read. 
When I think about our three camping trips to Washington's North Cascades over four decades, spectacular peaks come to mind. And also rushing turquoise rivers, glaciers hanging on for dear life, old growth forests, profuse wildflowers in mountain meadows, and campgrounds draped in the lush foliage of the mountainous Pacific Northwest. I also remember guilt. And pain.
2014 Guilt Trip. With turquoise river. Thunder Creek Trail.
Unwelcome "peaks" in my foot are bone spurs, which I recently had removed. They'd plagued me
for years and finally got bad enough that I chose surgery over letting them take charge of my mobility. They're the reason that I wore Birkenstocks almost exclusively as described in an earlier post, Beloved Birkenstocks Bite the Dust. I've worn sandals year round for dancing, biking, and, yes, hiking mountain trails. Plus ordinary everyday life. It has not been ideal. I'm hobbling around now in an orthopedic post-surgery "shoe" hoping and praying the surgery works for the long haul. Bone spurs have been known to grow back. Mine recurred with a vengeance after an earlier surgery.
The mountains are little changed since we first visited in 1978. The Cascades is a youngish range, only 200 million years old. Eons and ages will likely pass before it starts going downhill, so to speak. The peaks won't be so pointy in a zillion years after wind and water, quakes, shakes  and glaciers have their relentless way. This is a stretch, but in 1978 we were sorta like the North Cascades—we'd been around for awhile but were still youngish, vigorous, pointy, and, well, pretty. We fit right in.

Diablo Lake is a reservoir and a major feature in the North Cascade's alpine landscape.

Family history as measured by North Cascades National Park visits

August 1978 - Poor Young Family Trip

PK and I fired up our orange and white Volkswagen pop-top van and, with our one-year-old baby boy, Quinn, headed to the North Cascades to camp and hike before veering west to visit my Grandmother Dorothea, now long gone, but who then lived in Everett, Washington.

Those were the days.  So young! I was 32 and PK, like now, was 4.5 years younger. I know. Thirty-two does not seem young. I didn't think 32 was young until I was that age and glorying in every new day. Now any time between 30 and 45 seems a wonderful age. Not that I don't like being 70, and that I don't relish life, but there is a lot less to look forward to. And there are bone spurs. And other things.

It rained. No problem! We erected the portable playpen we'd squeezed into the van, and set the kid out there in the drizzle to gurgle and coo. We have some old-fashioned photos in which little Quinn is delighted in his enclosure and kept warm by a hand-knitted blue and white cap. In another photo PK poses on a steep trail with Quinn in a funky baby backpack that would  certainly not meet the standards of finicky modern-day parents. Remember. This was 1978, long before child safety restraints were required in vehicles and child backpacks became wonders of safety and convenience. Not that we could have afforded one if they existed.

In those days we lived paycheck to paycheck, made do in a tin-can trailer where, for a time,  you could see the ground  between the metal siding and flooring. I discovered Diet for a Small Planet, which offered a sane and frugal way to eat. We  consumed countless meals based on combining beans and rice into complete proteins. I sometimes had to return cans and bottles to buy food or gas. We had trouble keeping the lights on, but we somehow smiled a lot. We had love and a beautiful baby, if not a lot of groceries.
The North Cascades are part of a young mountain range whose peaks are still pointy and whose glaciers, while diminished , continue to gouge and scour.
Then, all of a sudden, it was 1989. Hooray! We'd survived the leanest years. PK ascended the ladder at his job, and continued to do so until his retirement in 2007.
I progressed from unemployment to teaching English to newspaper journalism. I still reported and made photos for the Grant Pass Daily Courier in 1986, when, shockingly, we had another baby! I was 41. This was appalling, even to me.

 But at the same time, I felt a stirring about this child, prompted in part by a vivid dream. In the dream, before I knew I was pregnant, a magnificent but fearsome tiger was stalking around the house, trying to get in. I was curious but afraid. I awoke with a start and couldn't get back to sleep, thinking about the tiger dream.

Quinn and Chris Korbulic, June 1986

A week or so later, I bought the drugstore pregnancy test, and there it was— a little red circle closing around my future. When baby Christopher turned three, I quit the newspaper and substitute taught while developing  a writing and editing business. This turned out to be a great decision, and I enjoyed more mothering time and greater income  while serving numerous wonderful clients until I retired fully in 2013.
During our lean child-rearing years, our family recreation centered not too far from home, the Rogue River and the many beautiful outdoor opportunities afforded by Southern Oregon.
It took us a few decades to return to the North Cascades, one of the West's most beautiful and dramatic parks.

Flash! What was that!? Life blazing past like a freaking comet

August 2014 - The Guilt Trip

Fast forward. A lot forward, to August 2014. PK and I, empty-nesters for years, retired, and solidly in the elder demographic, traveled to the North Cascades for the second time. Quinn was, and is, a grown man with a quirky little family and a doctorate degree. Son Chris travels the world as a professional kayaker with various accolades including being recognized as one of the World's Most Adventurous Men. (A tiger!) My mother, LaVone, was then 98.5 and lived a mile away. I was her touchstone and only family member close by. I was the light in her increasingly dim world. Thus guilt cast a pallor on my emotional landscape.
One of numerous glaciers in the North Cascades, this one viewed from The Cascade Pass trail in 2014.  Our hike was only 3.7 miles one way, but 3 miles with 31 switchbacks was a bit daunting for one just shy of 70 whose foot harbored peaks that look something like the mountains.  Along the way we saw marmots, butterflies, wildflowers, glaciers, and a handful of hikers. The air was hazy from the 2014 wildfires in Washington. The fires are even worse this year, and a few days ago, the North Cascades Park was closed due to fires and smoke..
It gets worse. When we left for the North Cascades and to visit relatives in Bellingham, my mom was in hospice. I didn't understand exactly why. She was 98, but I somehow believed she would live to 100 because there was nothing wrong with her. She did not have cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer's, COPD, pneumonia or any of the other afflictions that kill so many elderly. Her innards were just fine. Her doctor shook his head in disbelief at her great labs.
The Cascade Pass trail with sandals, bone spurs, and guilt 2014.
However. She did have disabilities. She could barely see or hear and was unable to walk without assistance. She needed help with every physical task. Her muscles had turned to mush. Hospice provided an extra level of attention and care, for which I was grateful. But I secretly doubted she was near death.

What does my mother have to do with a vacation to the North Cascades?
Everything. This is complicated, as are all situations that force people to decide between what they want to do and what think they should do. I struggled whether to stay close to mom or go with my mate, PK, to revisit the North Cascades. I wanted desperately to go.

Seven years earlier, PK had retired the very month that we traveled to Minnesota to relocate my then lively 93-year-old mom to Oregon. Since then, many a trip had been deferred or shortened because I felt I needed to be nearby. To his credit, he went to Spain without me. Also to his credit, he never failed me.

And so, despite the fact that my mother was in what turned out to be her final decline, PK and headed to the North Cascades. This was just over a year ago. We spent a few glorious days that included a seriously steep and beautiful hike. I only thought about my mother every other minute.
PK hiking the Cascade Pass trail in 2014, before his hip went straight to hell.
Awesome views in every direction along the Cascades Pass Trail.
So fun to see butterflies near tree line.
Columbine along the trail.

June 2015 - Bad Hip and Bone Spurs Trip

My mother passed away September 7, 2014, about two weeks after our return from the Guilt Trip. I was able to spend time with her and assuage my misgivings about having been absent for a time before her end arrived.

In late May this year, we headed out for a month-long road trip that included a family reunion in Minnesota and a return trip via Canada to the North Cascades. We were fortunate to be there in June, long before fires closed roads, obscured views, and recently, closed the park. Our journey across the USA to Minnesota and back West via Canada and the Canadian Rockies was great. Only a couple little things....PK's hip was giving him major grief and my bone spur was testing my endurance. It's not that we can't handle a little discomfort. But.....the things we're accustomed to doing, like hiking five or six miles on mountain trails, well, that wasn't going to happen. And it didn't.

View from our bad hip and bone spurs hike in the North Cascades.
We managed several short walks, and even a couple hikes that included a four-mile round trip in the North Cascades on a clear, cool and beautiful morning, a gift from the universe.

Now I am gimping around with an awkward orthopedic shoe hoping that this procedure will leave me without  peaks in my foot and pain in my step
 PK? He's  awaiting a surgery date for a hip replacement. People are always saying,  Do what you can while you're still able. Yes, do it.

There's no more identifying with the North Cascades for us. They're as young and beautiful and thrilling  as ever. We're not. Plus we're going downhill fast. No more guilt, as my mom was released from her decaying physical body a year ago. (Not that guilt can't be called into play for a number of other reasons, and I wasn't even brought up Catholic.)
Resignation has now entered the aging vocabulary. Maybe reality is a better word? If I live as long as my mom did, and I'm not sure I want to, I hope to get  another crack at the North Cascades' hundreds of miles of hiking trails.
And  also trails into other parts of a full life that are without physical landscapes.

Gotta get to it because, as we know, no matter now long you live, life is short.

Earlier posts about 2015 road trips

After Banff and Jasper, Canada has More

Banff and Jasper

Road Notes, first couple days across the Great Plains of Canada

Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Changing Times in North Dakota

Getting Along on the road, and Yellowstone Park

Riding the Trail of the Couer d' Alenes

Road tripping in the Four-Wheel Camper