»
S
I
D
E
B
A
R
«
Can't Buy Me Love
Feb 14th, 2012 by Chris

cupid1With quiver loaded, Cupid is taking careful aim, but don’t let the barrage of blush-shaded marketing prompts caress you into breaking your heart-shaped budget.  Valentine’s Day has, like so many holidays, evolved into a manufactured excuse to consume more stuff in greater quantities.  We are encouraged by smiling, hugging and kissing couples to purchase jewelry, flowers, candies and all manner of amorous enticement.  It is suggested that we solidify and reaffirm our affections by opening our wallets, yet I maintain that an expression of love need not come with a price-tag attached.

If your sweetheart requires an emailed reminder from FTD to say “I love you” and that sentiment is shared only once a year, your relationship is no bouquet of roses.  The real currency of love is sincerity, shared not on single, date-book occasions but always, and mostly without sparkling accoutrement.  True expressions of devotion are rarely found on racks of greeting cards.  Affection is displayed in showy flourishes, but love distinguishes itself steadily, in all seasons.

I’m not totally frowning on gifts—if you’re feeling flush, by all means, share the wealth.  But you don’t have to buy-buy-buy just because a cut-out Cupid offers alluring promises at 20% off.  No perfume, trinket or charm can adequately prove love (though many jewelers will swear a diamond comes close).  If you want to impress your feelings upon someone special, carefully consider what they might actually need before bringing out the bankcard.  Caring means providing what your significant other really wants without them ever requesting it.  Most importantly, remember that your sentiments are more sincere when accompanied by acts of kindness.

Of course, Lunchsense suggests…lunch.  Perhaps a Chicken Caesar Salad, wedge of French bread, orange slices and chocolate truffle.  Make it any day, include a sweet note and you’re positively proving how much someone is loved.

Foodie Tuesday: Lavender Tuiles
Feb 10th, 2012 by Nancy

7-LavenderTuiles_400

I know, it’s not Tuesday, it’s Friday.  ‘Sorry ’bout that, I got busy.

As promised, here’s my favorite cookie from the Advent Cookie Calendar I wrote about last week.

Tuiles (’tweeluhs’, French for ’tile’) are thin, crisp wafer cookies.  Popular and versatile, this version is a complete sensory experience: delicate and curved like a roof tile, pale in the center and flecked with brown and green, then golden around the perimeter; scented like a garden in summer; crisp and crumbly at first bite and tenderly chewy  towards the center, with a heavenly, buttery, herbal flavor.

Thankfully, they are not only easy to create, they convert to gluten-free with ease.  Here’s the recipe:

Lavender Tuiles, as offered by Saveur.com

3/4 C sugar

1/4 t salt (Saveur specifies kosher; I used table salt)

4 egg whites, lightly beaten

1/4 C dried lavender (I used fresh, and about half that much, and straight out of the garden, and I chopped it finely. It worked well.)

4 T unsalted butter, melted

3 T flour (converted: I used a gluten-free flour mix, and added 1/4 t xanthan gum.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl whisk together sugar, salt and egg whites until smooth. Add lavender, butter and flour and mix until evenly combined.  If using GF flour, allow the batter to rest a few minutes to allow the xanthan gum to absorb some of the moisture and do its stretchy thing.

Drop tablespoonfuls of batter onto a silicon mat-lined baking sheet, and using the back of the spoon spread batter into very thin 4″ rounds.  Bake until golden brown at the edges, about 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven, and using an offset spatula or butter knife, gently lift the hot cookies off the baking sheet and drape them over a rolling pin or other curved surface and allow them to cool there.

A few more tips of my own:

- I don’t have a silicone baking mat, so I used parchment paper which worked reasonably well – I had to peel the cookies off very carefully, but they didn’t disintegrate (which is noteworthy for GF cookies).

- It’s slow going, but I suggest cooking only one tray of cookies at a time unless you have an abundance of surfaces onto which you can drape cooling cookies. The upside to this batter is that without a leavening agent it will hold well for quite awhile.

- I hear tell you can also drape the cookies into muffin tins and create bowls that would be heavenly filled with custard, fruit, whipped cream, or other filling.

- They’re wonderful in a lunchbox!

Give them a try, and let me know how they turn out for you!

Foodie Tuesday: 24 Days, 24 Cookie recipes
Jan 31st, 2012 by Nancy

1, 2, 3...23, 24 different Christmas cookies

I was looking for something different for the Christmas season last year.

Inspiration struck in the form of the Cookie Advent Calendar provided to me by Saveur magazine. Yes, it really was just that: 24 days and 24 cookie recipes.  And we made every single recipe.*

As if baking a new batch of cookies every day for 3 1/2 weeks (or just HAVING that many cookies in harm’s way) wasn’t foolish enough, I also converted them to gluten-free versions (my husband is gluten intolerant).  If you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, no, I don’t have too much time on my hands.  I DO have a splendid assistant in the person of my 13 year old daughter-with-aspirations-to-be-a-chef, so between the two of us:

  • she filled in on the days I was just tapped out;
  • I admit that we both bailed out on a couple of days, which we made up on the weekend;
  • we often cut recipes in half or even in thirds, with the goal being no more than 24 cookies in a day (or no more than two trays, so we could get them all in and out of the oven in one pass).

And the effort, while significant, was manageable.

Without a doubt best part – really truly even better than eating them – was the immense pleasure I found in knowing that at some point in the day, every day, we’d be dropping everything…and baking cookies.

Another treat:  Each recipe would be posted at midnight, but as the mag is in Eastern Standard Time my girl and I would check every evening at 9 pm here on the West Coast and find our next day’s offering ready and waiting.

All the cookies were good, but there was indeed a range of results that traveled from, “hmm, tasty sand, that one,” to “wow! oh wow! greatgreatgreat!”  Many (though not all) were of a European lineage, and they were the most interesting.  We all agreed that traditionally American cookies, while good, are by comparison pretty bland, generally being dominated by one flavor: peanut butter, or cinnamon, or chocolate, for example.

The down sides:

We did our best to be true to the original recipe (gluten-free conversions notwithstanding), but at times the ingredients were challenging.  Among other things I now have all but a few ounces of a rather expensive, very strong, very weird liqeuer which as far as I can tell will only go for future batches of those specific cookies they’re used in…which is, thankfully, a pretty darn good cookie.  If you’re in the Eugene area and want to give them a try, call me.  I’ll share.  I also bailed out when the recipe called for a cookie mold that I could only find on eBay for $40.  THAT crossed deep into “well this is just silly” territory.

There were too dang many versions of shortbread cookies.  How may riffs on a theme can there be for butter, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla? Quite a few, we found.  On that note, and on the upside…

Converting all the recipes to gluten free might be considered ‘above and beyond the call’ but it wasn’t impossible, and I’d been on the hunt for a really great shortbread cookie that worked in GF flour.  I’m pleased to report that I found one!  Mention in the comments if you’d like to know how I converted it. It turned out crisp, tasty, and didn’t spread a whit, which had been the recurring issue with all the other GF cookie-cutter cookies I’d tried.

After the best part, above, the next best part was that we always had something to bring to friends’ houses all month long: “What’s that you say? Laura’s having a few people over tonight? Hey, we’ll bring cookies!!”  In fact, I think that’s where most of them went, in the final tally.

The last best part: We still have a freezer full of cookies.  Only a few remain of each of maybe half the cookie recipes, but it’s enough to know that a sweet treat – not much, but just enough – is only a few steps away.

Stay tuned: Next Tuesday I’ll post the hands-down favorite cookie of the whole season.

*Disclaimer: Okay, fine.  There were actually 25 recipes.  We didn’t make the last one.  It was yet another shortbread cookie, and we didn’t have the right ingredients, and it was CHRISTMAS DAY, for cryin’ out loud.  We all agreed that all the Advent Calendars we knew had 24 days, not 25, so we called it a wrap at 9:15pm on Christmas Eve.  Mea culpa.

The absolutely true story of a nine year old and his lunch
Sep 21st, 2011 by Nancy

iStock_000013297428SmallI scored big on the lunch-making front today.

I was prepping bits and pieces of lunch for my nine year old as I passed through the kitchen – mixing leftover turkey soup from last night with the last half cup of noodles from a few days back, getting it started in the microwave, locating the wide mouth thermos in the cabinet, that sort of thing.  I checked with Evan about the rest of the lunch as we passed in the hall:

“Do you want watermelon?”

“Nah.  Do we have any peaches?”

“I don’t think so, but I’ll check.  Plums…and yes! A peach.”

“Yay! I’ll have peach. And carrots too.”

In the medium (and large) lunchbox, the thermos fits nicely to one side, which leaves room for three side-dish-sized containers, or two containers and a drink.  I don’t put the ice pack in the lunchbox when I use the thermos – they sort of compete with each other, leaving us with cool-ish soup and warm-ish milk by lunchtime – so I don’t pack milk on thermos days either, and I let Evan either buy milk at school or carry water.

I chopped up a carrot (Insider’s tip: the most nutritional value is in the peel, so cut the carrot into many thin slivers and they won’t notice you didn’t peel it)(better yet, for boys chop them into arrowheads – they love that) and put it and half a peach into two little containers. I popped these into the lunchbox next to the thermos, and tossed in one of the unmatched spoons from the silverware drawer that I really hope he loses at school someday.

Evan noticed the empty spot and said, “hey, there’s room for one more thing.”

I never pack a treat in my kids’ lunches.  Have you ever emptied out a lunchbox at the end of the day to find that your child didn’t eat anything…except the cookie?  And you wondered why that kid was cranky and whiny after school?  Our house rule is this: eat your lunch, and you can have a treat when you get home.

So I was surprised and a little horrified to hear these words coming out of my mouth: “How ’bout a cookie?”

I guess I figured that homemade turkey soup, a peach and carrots was certainly a good enough meal to justify a cookie, but I was breaking my own house rule which every parent knows is a sure-fire way to lose all pretense of authority forever and ever.  I waited for Evan’s response.

“Okay!”

No surprise there.  But then the kicker:

“Oh, but wait, there’s no water.”

Trying really hard to mask my shock, I said as casually as I could muster, “You want water instead of a cookie???”

MAMA’S BIG WIN FOR THE DAY: “Yeah, water.”

And he trotted out the door to get his bike out of the garage.

HALLELUJAH! AND AMEN!

Foodie Tuesday: smoothie livin'
Jun 14th, 2011 by Nancy

kfc-mugDistressing news today:

Kentucky Fried Chicken is running a promotion that, when you buy a half gallon of soda, will donate a buck to Juvenile Diabetes research.

Anyone for a big side order of irony with that?

Granted, sugary drinks are not contributors to type I diabetes (the focus of this research) but the plea to drink a hurking half gallon of soda in front of a diabetic kid who can’t have any, then toss a buck in their direction, is just too awkward to contemplate.  Without a doubt the sugar overload DOES contribute to type II diabetes, which although preventable is reaching epidemic levels, with the CDC predicting one third of the US population having diabetes by 2050.

Perhaps that buck can be considered prepaid health insurance.

Hence the smoothie today.   Every lunchbox has an 8 oz. drink bottle, and while water works just fine, a liquid treat really hits the spot sometimes and this has ample nutritional benefit to be a snack-unto-itself. It obviously isn’t sugar-free but it is vastly lower in sugar (in relative and absolute terms) than 64 ounces of carbonated sugar water.

Really, 8 ounces is enough.

SMOOTHIE FOR ONE

1/4 C plain yogurt (nonfat, lowfat, regular – it’s personal preference)

1/3 C fresh or frozen mixed berries (OR 1/4 fresh or frozen peach with skin + 6-12 berries)

1/4 C orange juice (OR pineapple, or whatever strikes your fancy)

If you’re drinking this goodness right away, add

a handful of ice cubes

If you’re packing this for a lunchtime treat, add

1/4 C milk

Toss it all in a blender and hit go.  Enjoy now, or save it for later – if you happen to pack the smoothie in a drink bottle, be sure to use an ice pack in your lunchbox, and give the bottle a good shake before you drink up!

Foodie Tuesday: gluten-free "granola" bars
May 3rd, 2011 by Nancy

IMG00283-20110503-1225My husband was diagnosed as gluten intolerant about 11 years ago, which means that he is allergic to wheat, oats, barley, rye and spelt.

Naturally, this topic often comes up when we’re dining with new acquaintances (as all our old ones already know), and we’ve found that it gets, um, awkward when they start asking about the symptoms of gluten intolerance.

The awkward part is that the symptoms of gluten intolerance aren’t something anyone would like to discuss over a meal with friends (much less new acquaintances), so we’ve come up with a few code words. 

When asked “what happens if you do eat gluten by accident?”, we reply,

“Intestinal distress. Sudden, acute, intestinal distress.”

Forks pause (if only briefly) as our new acquaintances grasp our meaning, and also grasp that they probably didn’t want to know that over a plate of something yummy.

Anyway, the up side to gluten intolerance (in our household, anyway) is that I can probably attribute to it my love and appreciation of all things food.  I’ve found a world of great recipes, tricks, and substitutions I never would have otherwise, and this week’s Foodie Tuesday is one of those finds.

Until recently, finding gluten free options in a regular grocery store was challenging.  It’s thankfully much easier now as food manufacturers are creating and releasing new GF products all the time, but we always return to this basic tenet:

Homemade

Tastes

Better.

In a pinch, we’ll get the packaged goods; our earthquake kit has lots of cans and boxes that we rarely see in the regular mealtime rotation.  The rest of the time, we start from scratch.

This “granola” bar is a riff off a no-bake peanut butter bar we found in a gluten-free cookbook that was, in the early days of gluten-free living, our bible: Gluten Free Gourmet, by Bette Hagman. 

the original recipe goes like this:

Combine and heat in a saucepan until bubbly:

1 C dark corn syrup

1 C chunky peanut butter

1 C sugar

Combine in a large bowl:

6 C gluten free puffed or crisped rice cereal

1 C raisins

Pour the hot mixture over the dry, combine thoroughly, and press into a greased 9 x 13 pan.  Allow to cool, and cut into bars.

Simple, yes?  The base of the recipe looks just like a Rice Krispie square, i.e. sticky goo poured over dry cereal.  To turn this into “granola” bars, all you need to remember is the proportions, thusly:

3 C goo to 7 C dry

 

The goo:

1 C peanut, almond, or other nut butter   This is for protein, substance, heft, flavor, etc. for the finished bar.

1 C corn syrup   Light or dark, per your preference or your current inventory.

1 C sugar

Combine these three in a saucepan, and heat until bubbly.  You may add, if it works for you, seasonings:

1 t cinnamon,

1/2 t nutmeg,

1/4 t allspice, cloves, etc.

1/2 t vanilla, almond extract, maple flavoring, etc.

The dry stuff:

4 1/2 to 5 C cereal   We usually use a combination of Mesa Sunrise cereal (which I crush lightly so the flakes are about the size of dry oatmeal flakes), and Crispy Rice, a gluten free dry rice ceral.  Corn or Rice Chex also work.  The goal here is something dry with a nice crunch, as it will soften somewhat when combined with the goo.

2 to 2 1/2 C “add-ins”   This is entirely up to you and your cupboards.  I usually use about one to 1 1/2 cups dried fruit, cut into raisin-sized bits if necessary – raisins, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, banana, apple, mango, whatever suits your tastes.  The rest of the add-ins can be seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin), any nuts you like, coconut, chocolate chips (mini work well here).

Mix the dry and the add-ins, pour the goo over the dry mix and combine (it will get stiff pretty quickly), and press the mixture into a greased 9 by 13″ pan.  Allow it to cool to room temperature and slice into bars.

These travel like champs (especially in lunchboxes), will keep for ages in the freezer, and are a marvelous treat for the celiacs in your life, but I love most that this recipe allows me to use up the last of many things that lurk in little bags in the back of the kitchen cabinets.   I mean to try a few “thematic” combinations:

Dried mango, pineapple, and coconut, with pecans (a tropical bar) (Hey! how ’bout rum extract in this one!)

Chocolate chips, almonds, coconut (sounds like a familiar candy bar….)

cinnamon, nutmeg, dried apple, cranberry, walnut (autumn special)

Throw some suggestions on the wall (also known as “comments”) below!

 

p.s. Thanks, Mike.  You’re my inspiration.

Foodie Tuesday: Dulce de Leche Brownies
Apr 5th, 2011 by Nancy

Dulce-Brownies-300x275Oh, there’s so much to share, and Tuesday comes but once a week!

Chocolate. Butter. Sugar. Nuts, or no nuts. Finger food, and two-bite sized.  Honest, sublime, homey, decadent, simple, sophisticated: brownies may be the all-time perfect treat.

Besides, Foodie Tuesday was due for a sugar fix.

Here’s an offering for Foodie Tuesday that may actually improve upon perfection: chocolate brownies with a sweet gooey layer of dulce de leche in the middle.  This brownie recipe is a time-honored classic that I’ve made dozens of times (even in gluten-free flour; all I add is a little xanthan gum to keep them from falling apart in my hands), and thanks to David Lebovitz and brought to my attention at babble.com, the addition of dulce de leche is simple and effective. Best of all, for those of you in the lunch-carrying corps, these are eminently packable and sure to draw longing stares from your coworkers.

dulce brownies 2

If you like that kind of thing.  It’s your call.

Unfamiliar with dulce de leche?  Here’s another link from David with the recipe.  Easy as can be: one ingredient, a can of sweetened condensed milk.

Enjoy!

Instant Karma
Feb 9th, 2010 by Chris

nirvana1With the New Year well underway, it seems like a good time to do a little accounting. No, I don’t mean finally opening the credit card bills you’ve been hiding for the last several weeks (though you should at least take a peek before attempting your next purchase). I’m talking about considering your Karma account. “Karma account?” you might ask. Yes, that’s right, and we all have one. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, in my world I have my own version: “It takes a bunch of friendly neighbors to get me through my to-do list.” Sure, some of you (those without children, of course) might be more independent than that, but honestly, don’t we all get by “With a Little Help from Our Friends?” Where would any of us be without an occasional favor? The luckiest among us live in vibrant communities full of helpful neighbors, and the best way to keep ourselves on the right side of this vital group is to pay attention to our Karma accounts. If yours is anything like mine, it looks a lot like the check-book after Christmas . . . “I owe, I owe, I owe.”

Okay, so we’ve all been getting, and it is our turn to do a little giving. What do we do? Obviously, there is the ever popular returned favor, like for like: you picked-up my boys from school last week when my washer exploded and flooded our house, so I’ll get your daughter this week while you are waiting for your son’s broken arm to be set. It’s all nice and tidy, Karma in/Karma out. But, perhaps you are few favors down. Or, you really want to gift a close friend. Maybe you want to get the attention of a new friend or co-worker who (if you are single) also happens to be very cute. I’d like to suggest that timeless Karma classic: treating someone to lunch. This might seem like an obvious choice to some, but before you make those reservations at the swankest hip spot in town (remember those credit card bills), or (Heaven forbid) start jotting down orders for the nearest drive-through, consider the word: “treat.” Yes, it implies you’re paying, but what else?

To treat also means things like to care for, to entertain, or more suggestively, to heal (as in, what ails you). Synonyms for a treat include delicacy, ambrosia, or the simple, charming goody. Any sandwich that starts with the word “Big” and ends with a trademark symbol hardly fits this description. Even that $12 Club with the awesome cup of French Onion that’s available at Swanky Swanks falls short of truly caring for someone.

Consider this alternative: taking a few moments to thoughtfully prepare a healthy, lunchtime snack that you can serve to your friend and enjoy on the fly. Treat inherently implies something special, so be creative and add a personal touch. Cut your carrot chips into stars, whisk up your famous vinaigrette, or maybe a little spinach dip. Include that awesome ginseng tea, or a fresh berry smoothie, and don’t forget the homemade oatmeal-raisin cookie because for many (all the kids in my house) treat means something yummy and sweet. Stack them all neatly into your Lunchsense lunchbox and find a special spot, preferably outdoors, but anywhere quietly adjacent to the beaten path should do. Invite a friend and celebrate your greenness (more Karma points) with a trash-free treat while sharing an appreciative smile. If you use your Lunchsense wisely, your Karma account could overflow.

»  Substance: WordPress   »  Style: Ahren Ahimsa