baby food for non-babies (aka adults)

The biggest development in our small world these past days are the two stubby teeth in the mouth of our seven month old. With these tiny pearls has come the desire to ‘taste and see’ with an emphasis on the ‘tasting’ part – our son is biting everything. Everything. If it’s a thing – be it his dearest mama’s finger or the head of his beloved stuffed cow – he’s biting it.

I try to stay ahead of the game and offer a variety of baby teeth-friendly items for him to chew on and sometimes I’m even on top of it enough to give him actual foods to chew. Yes indeed, lovely readers, we have entered the bewildering world of baby food. Once upon a time I thought it was going to be rather simple – you take food, you make it into a paste, you insert it into the infant’s mouth. Rinse and repeat.  Not so. Turns out that while my little one will *bite* anything, he is a little more particular about the things he will actually eat. Go figure.  Before he was born, I stocked up on organic baby food in those adorable jars, tucking them away in the very back of the pantry, hardly believing that I might have a little person someday to eat them. When the time came and I excitedly opened one of the mini jars, warmed it to the perfect temperature and then dumped a decent-sized spoonful into Bru’s open mouth. He acted as though I had forced him to eat dirt. The gagging, the eye twitching, the entire body convulsions that followed this and subsequent organic Gerber meals convinced me that jarred baby food – no matter how lovingly gathered and hopefully offered – were not his thing. He wants Big People Food. Lesson learned. The End.

Of all the Big People Food we’ve tried since, without a doubt his favorite is stewed apples with coconut cream and exotic spices. I know, right – I’ve unwittingly produced some sort of infant gourmet. Honestly though, I can’t blame him. I tried the baby peas and the word that stuck in my mind was, “Yuck”.

If sterile, one dimensional, Little People Foods are at the far side of the infant menu, this creamy concoction has brought us up close and personal with delightful Big People Food. It’s awake, it’s alive, it’s deep and reminiscent of apple pie filling…oh, so tasty

 

Little Bear’s Big People Stewed Apples

 

4 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples of your choice (can be substituted for 3 cups of readymade, unsweetened apple sauce)

1/2 cup water (omit if using applesauce)

1/2 cup coconut cream

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp  ground cardamom

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

optional maple syrup to taste

 

In a large saucepan, stew down the apple slices with the water on low heat until they reach the desired constancy. I like mine a little chunky and it doesn’t matter for Bru because they’re going to be pureed anyway, so I usually let them cook 15-20 minutes. If you are using applesauce, simply pour into a pan and warm on medium. Once the apple slices are softened and melting, or the sauce is warm, add the coconut cream, spices and maple syrup if you want it sweetened. Stir well and let simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Serve at the perfect temperature.

There are several variations that we’ve played around with and they’ve earned a full stamp of approval from everyone who’s tasted them. The first is to add 1/2 a cup or more of fresh cranberries cut in half to the apples while they are stewing down. This adds a delightful tang that makes the little bear pucker up but come back eager for more until the bowl is empty. Something the Big People enjoy is spooning the warm, stewy goodness over ice-cream after the Little Person has gone to bed. It’s a delightful reward after the sun has set… Enjoy!

 

 

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Entertaining Angels

“Don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so some have even entertained angels without knowing it.”  Hebrews 13:2

It was actually something my husband and I discussed quite a bit before we got married – hospitality. I was raised around a table that often had guests seated at it and I wanted to continue that practice in my own home. Alex took that a step further and said that we must always have a spare bedroom for the guests who needed a place to stay the night. He lives with the assurance that we could travel nearly anywhere in the United States and have a bed waiting for us, his friends and relations are scattered across the map and would welcome us. He wanted to be such a spot on the map, a place of promised welcome.

In the almost two years of our marriage, our little home has been pressed into service more times than I can count. There is an empty bed and several empty chairs waiting for company, and that’s exactly what how we want it.  We have had the privilege of entertaining friends, family and strange angels alike and hope to do the same for many more as long as we have a roof and food to share.

The meals are often far from perfect (like my soupy lasagna, or the lemon pie with the inedible cardboard crust) and the spare room isn’t always completely free from storage (guests can go to sleep after counting boxes of diapers and spare cookbooks), but I like to think that we make up for that in warmth and good conversation!

Our little son is turning into quite the host, giving our visitors his best grins and entertaining them with long stories about his morning bath or nap time woes before demonstrating the strength of his tiny lungs or the great size or his appetite.  I think his charm is going to go a long way towards smoothing over the rough edges of imperfect cooking! This past week we had one of Alex’s childhood friends over for dinner. Mike lives in California now and was back in the area visiting his family and we asked him over for the evening. We had baked chicken, wild rice pilaf, and roasted butternut squash and then ice cream for dessert. Alex said that the squash was one of the more delicious things I’ve made to date so I thought I would share that recipe.  Squash is a perfect side dish this time of year. You can get all different varieties of squash at the local markets, but our favorites are acorn and butternut.  I have used this recipe for sweet potatoes, too and found it quite delicious!

 

Roasted Butternut Squash

1 large or 2 small butternut squash

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon poultry seasoning

1/4 cup maple syrup

13″x9″ baking dish

350 degree oven

 

Peel and dice your squash into 2-3 inch chunks – seems like a simple enough task, but I’ve been trying for years to find an easy way to go about this. So far, the most tear-free way I’ve found is thus: peeling the squash with a sturdy veggie peeler then using my Big Knife to halve it and chop it into cubes after the ‘guts’ have been scooped out with a sturdy spoon.

Toss the cubes into the waiting baking dish and add the remaining ingredients. Give it all a good toss to mix it together before popping it in the oven for about an hour. It’s ready to serve when the cubes are easily pierced with a fork or knife.

This is a good season for opening our doors to family, friends and angels, even as the windows are closing and cold weather is setting in, you never know who is going to bring an unexpected blessing with them. The food doesn’t need to be complicated as long as the hearts are warm that offer it!  Enjoy…

 

in the morning

Somehow I thought there would be more tea and cozy robes…

Welcome to 6 am on a Tuesday morning. Something has just smacked me in the chin and when I open my eyes I find myself staring into the large, brilliant and dark eyes of my two month old son. A look of victory flashes across his infant face before he dissolves into tears. Piteous, moaning, “I really mean this”, morning tears accompanied with much grabbing and banging – he’s starving, fading, waning, expiring and something must be done. I’m not quite coherent as I begin to feed him and check the time. I’ve been asleep for all of two hours. He’s been doing so well with the whole ‘sleeping’ thing, but every so often we hit a bit of a hiccup and neither of us sleeps. This was one of those hiccupy nights. I think of tea and my cozy robe and suddenly enjoy a swell of warmth as I start to fall back asleep, hoping that he will do the same. My little one coos and gurgles and I feel myself reluctantly opening my eyes again. This time he is smiling broadly. His smile has more charm and finesse than you would expect from a person who has no teeth, it’s rather irresistible. I pat his back, hoping a burp will make its way up and realize that the warmth I felt washing over me was not only the thought of tea and coziness – we are both soaking wet. Soaking, I say.

Bruin lies there, smiling his charming, gummy grin, both full and empty in all the right places. I realize at that moment that the morning will be filled with laundry and baths.

For me, breakfast is the hardest meal to deal with. I’ve spoken before about the cruelty I feel is involved with making people cook while still half-asleep, well, how about half-asleep and soaked with an infant who is also half- asleep and soaked? It’s just not going to happen! I’ve lost before I’ve even started.

Let me introduce you to my secret weapon. I actually have *two* secret weapons; the first is called a Rubber Sheet, a magnificent device which is laid down beneath the child to keep the entire bed from becoming damp and needing to be laundered (Ooooooo); the second is called Apple Crisp, a delightful dish that was once only thought of as a dessert option but is now rising with the sun into breakfast glory (Ahhhhhh).  Here’s how I do it…

Firstly, you need apples, about 6-8 cups of peeled, cored and sliced apples. As to peeling, you needn’t be too particular. I figure that as long as I get roughly 55%-67% of the peel off it’s considered good and anything that is left behind is healthful roughage. So there. Add to your apples about 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, 1/4 cup maple syrup and 3 Tablespoons flour. Mix well. Dump the lot into a deep, greased 8″x8″ pan. In your bowl put 1 1/2 cups of rolled oats, 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 2 Tablespoons whole or ground flax seed and 6 Tablespoons of butter. Mix this together until the butter has broken into bits and the texture is something like damp sand (with bits of oatmeal, of course…). Crumble this mixture onto the apples and then slide it into a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the crisp is brown and the apples are bubbling.

There are a couple of  ways you can make this an easy fix in the morning. I bake mine in the evening and serve it for dessert after dinner then simply reheat it in the morning with yogurt, or you could put it together the night before and bake it in the morning. Either way, you have an exceedingly nutritious and delicious morning meal that can be enjoyed with or without tea and a cozy robe. Enjoy!

because it’s the right thing to do

There is something so *Right* about family traditions.

Every family has its own web of traditions that is uniquely their own. No one really knows how they start but we all think that ours are the best and *most* unique and relish in the annual opportunity to drag them out, dust them off and use them as the foundation of our festivities.

Cranberry Molded Salad is such a tradition for my family. It seems a really common sort of tradition when you first look at it, but when you remember that no two families ever make their cranberry salads alike, it becomes something reminiscent of the ancient clans of Scotland with their intricate family tartans. You bind yourself to your family’s recipe with a fierce and nearly blind loyalty – nothing will EVER taste as good as what you had growing up. It’s a bit of an unspoken rule we whisper to our babies on their first Thanksgivings, cementing the truth that this is the Only Legitimate Cranberry Salad on Earth, accept no substitutes.

I’ve been at family gatherings where a tart jelly is served in a ridged roll, slid from out of a can. It’s tradition for them and their mouths water at the sight of it’s crimson self, quivering and glistening in the holiday lighting. I’ve seen it made with jello and chopped carrots and even marshmallows, I’ve seen it scoop-able and pour-able and even non-existent.

Every year I can remember, I have eaten my mother’s cranberry molded salad at Thanksgiving – not really a relish, definitely not a sauce but absolutely the perfect foil to the rich line up of foods that tradition orders on that holiday. We never vary, we never waver, we never subtract or substitute. There must be cranberry molded salad, we must all have a hand in making it and it must be eaten almost as an after thought. We eat it with seconds and for days thereafter in sandwiches and with leftovers. It is the last dish to be scraped clean, after we have been thoroughly saturated with Thanksgiving goodness.

Every year, without fail, my mother says something to the effect of, “Why don’t we ever make this any other time of the year, we like it so much…” and every year we all wonder for a minute about what would happen if one of our holiday foods were to escape and wander into July or March and we realize that it would be Wrong. We eat cranberry molded salad at Thanksgiving. It’s our tradition and it’s a good one. Let’s not tamper with it.

 

The Best Cranberry Molded Salad Ever

2 bags fresh cranberries, washed

2 whole oranges, washed

4 apples, cored

4 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup cold water

1 cup boiled water

1/4 cup lime juice

 

This makes enough to feed a small army.

We like *our* recipe because it’s actually rather healthy for you. The fruits aren’t cooked and that means they are still in possession of their enzymes, making it the perfect thing to finish that incredibly filling meal with. That’s why we eat it last. Aha.

In a food processor, you are going to grind the cranberries, apples and oranges ( skin and all, folks!) together then dump the whole lot into a big mixing bowl. In a small bowl, add the cold water to your gelatin and let it soften. Stir the sugar into the ground fruit *well*  and add the lime juice. Once the gelatin is soft, add the boiled water and dissolve completely. Add this to the fruit blend and stir again. Cover and put in the fridge to ‘set’. This can be made a day or more in advance, it will keep quite nicely!

I’m not sharing this recipe with the suggestion that anyone should try it in lieu of their own, perhaps this could be your Fourth of July side dish and it will see other parts of the year, something it never would be able to do in our house.

At any rate, enjoy your festivities this week – eat heartily and be at peace!

 

Bear Chili

They told me bear meat tastes like People – I didn’t want to ask how they knew.

My rugged hunter man went off into the woods and shot himself a decent-sized he-bear. When he came and announced the news to me I thought, “What are we going to do with all that meat?”

I’ve heard that it is a tough, sweet, oily sort of meat, not exactly everything we’ve come to love about good old Black Angus!  But, being the types to embrace adventure – culinary or otherwise – I decided to do my best to cook it into some edible form and Alex promised to eat it with an open mind.

From the various hunters and other adventurous cooks I interviewed, I realized that bear is not a distasteful meat, just a misunderstood and often poorly prepared one. It tends to be on the tough yet mild side and the fact that the animal itself lives all winter on hoarded stores of fat means that there can be quite a bit of grease, but that is easily pared off with a sharp knife, leaving you with less fat than most beef. It seems this meat wants to be spiced up and simmered long. I thought – “Chili!”

I used my crock pot and cooked the daylights out of it while I was at work and we ate it with homemade corn bread and a wild greens salad – a perfect, rustic, simple autumn meal.

Bear Chili

1 lbs lean bear meat, ground

1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes plus 1 can water

4 oz cooked black beans

4 oz sweet corn (frozen or canned or fresh)

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 onion, diced

2 Tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less, depending on how hot you want your chili to be)

1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon salt

 

The first thing is to fry up your onions, garlic and bear meat (*or* ground beef, since I suppose not everyone has a package of bear just sitting in their freezer, waiting to be used!)  Start with about a teaspoon of olive oil or butter in a hot frying pan, add your diced onions and minced garlic and cook them over medium heat until they are translucent and fragrant. Next, add the ground meat with a little water. I don’t like to add more fat to fry the meat with when a quarter cup of water will keep things from sticking just as well. Break the meat into small pieces while it is cooking. Once the meat is thoroughly browned, turn off the heat and set the pan aside.

If you are using a crock pot, now is the time to rescue it from its shelf or box. If you are going to cook your chili on the stove top, get out an eight or more quart stock pot with a thick bottom. Pour the tomatoes, water, corn, beans and spices into the cooking apparatus. If you are wondering about the cocoa powder, let me tell you – it does wonders for a chili! It does not make your meat taste chocolate-dipped, rather it adds a depth and darkness of flavor that is hard to beat. Simply trust me and add the cocoa.

Now, scoop in the meat mixture and turn on the heat! As I said before, I let the chili cook on high in my crockpot for several hours. If you are cooking on the stove, let it simmer on a lower heat for an hour or two, stirring occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom. If you need to, cover it up or add water by the cupful if it seems to be losing too much moisture. It does need to cook for some time so that all those lovely flavors get a chance to work together and make something fabulous.

It will be fabulous, let me assure you, whether you use beef, bear, moose, venison or even ground chicken. You don’t necessarily need to be a huntsman to enjoy the fruits of field and forest.  Enjoy!

 

 

dessert for the dessert-challenged

Desserts are not my specialty. Whenever I am asked to bring one to a gathering or dinner, my heart chokes on a beat a little. My favorite go-to recipe for dessert has been apple crisp or, *gasp*, boxed lemon meringue pie with a homemade cardboard crust and wilted meringue. I do brownies and the occasional cookie – but that’s about it. I admit it –  I’m a dessert disaster waiting to happen to a friendly neighborhood gathering near you.

Add the fact that Alex and I, as well as most of our friends are trying to eat healthier – less sugar, less fat and less dessert in general and you have a first-class dessert emergency.  I need something sweet and satisfying that isn’t going to kill anyone – this removes ooey-gooey brownies from the line-up  and boxed lemon pie with my special crust (which unfortunately may prove to be slightly deadly on its own).

Well, I found an answer that is going to set me up for a while and keep me in good graces for many friendly dinners to come.

Fruit Cobbler. It’s ridiculously easy, quick to make up and doesn’t have enough sugar to throw one of Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas into a coma (heaven forbid). I made it the other night to bring to a friend’s house and it was quickly consumed – always a good sign – and there were enough pleasant noises being made to satisfy my wonderings about its success.

Suddenly Fruit Cobbler

makes enough to serve a dessert-crazed crowd of 10 or so.

for the fruit:

3 – 8ounce cans of peaches (I bought the kind that is packed in 100% juice with no added sugar)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/3 cup honey or maple syrup

for the cobble:

2 cups flour (you can use whole wheat or white or a mixture of both)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 Tablespoons butter

1 cup milk and 1/2 cup plain yogurt

I know, “You’re using CANNED fruit?”

Yes I am, because this dessert is a balance between *easy* and *healthy*. This recipe was developed in desperate times for desperate situations. It’s a weapon, folks. I’ll tell you what, popping open a couple of cans of sugar-free fruit just about ended the war on time-crunches.

Alright then – on to business. Lightly grease a 13×9 inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Open the cans of fruit and gently pour them – juice and all – into a bowl. I say ‘gently’ because I recklessly dumped them in and was showered in fruit juice. Yum.

Next, add your spices and honey or maple syrup and stir it all together. This gets poured into the baking dish and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into pieces and mix with a fork, pastry blender or your fingers so that it gets blended into the flour mix. This is always my favorite part for some reason, I love cutting in butter! Your flour mix will end up the consistency of slightly damp sand, holding together when squeezed, but falling apart as soon as you tap it. Pour in the milk and yogurt and stir it all together. You should have something akin to a very thick batter. This is going to be spooned onto the fruit, creating the biscuit top.

It’s baking time! Put that lovely dish in the oven and set the timer for 20-25 minutes. Depending on your oven, it might take a little more or less than that. It’s done when the biscuit crust is well-browned and cracked in the middle, showing just a bit of its fluffy inside. You can serve it warm, in bowls with a bit of the fruit ‘syrup’ spooned over top and a dollop of whipped cream, or it is just as tasty cool.

So – I guess if you invite us for dinner and ask me to bring dessert you know what you’ll get, but that’s ok because it tastes good and until I get my dessert-making down, believe me – you won’t miss the surprise!

Autumnal Pumpkin Cookies

It’s ten o’clock at night and I should be sleeping. The morning will come quickly, I know, but I hear something outside. I hear Autumn coming. I don’t know if anyone else notices, but Fall sounds different at night than Summer. Its the leaves, I think, changing into their more festive outfits. I can hear them outside rustling and whispering and shivering in the chilly breeze and I can’t just roll over and go to sleep. Tomorrow I might wake up to find that the sound was really Summer fleeing from the cold days to come and all the trees have shed their green and blaze with Autumn color; there must be something that I, too can do to welcome the new season.

I quietly roll out of bed, careful not to wake my sleeping husband nestled deep in the quilts that have lately come out of storage, and head out to the kitchen in my pajamas.

It is cold in our dark apartment, but the windows remain open because I can’t bear to have them closed just yet. In the kitchen I can still hear the whisperings of the leaves outside while I gather up my baking supplies. The town is silent, I seem to be the only one awake in Brandon, accompanied by the small town mouse who lives beneath the cupboards. Flour, sugar, salt, spices and an egg – they all get lined up on the counter along with a big bowl and a wooden spoon. I turn on the oven and stand over it for a moment, warming my chilled fingers before I get started.

The trees are making Fall outside – I shall make it inside.

Is there a more Autumnal flavor than pumpkin? They are the choice fruit of fall adorning doorsteps, surrounded with brilliantly colored mums, and finding their way into kitchens, seasoned with cinnamon and brown sugar.

I am going to make Cake-Like Pumpkin Cookies, a slight variation of a recipe I found earlier on in the year and tucked away for such a night as this. In the morning, the mountains will greet us with dew-covered leaves in various states of Autumn dress and  I will see to it that the house is filled with the scents and tastes of Fall.

Cake Like Pumpkin Cookies

makes 2 – 2 1/2 dozen cookies

1/2 cup softened butter

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 Tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. You might want to use a mixer for this, either a stand or hand one will do. If you are doing it by hand, use a whisk and mix until the sugars and butter are completely blended and sightly ‘fluffy’ looking. Add the pumpkin puree and stir, then add the egg and stir again until everything is mixed well. Add the vanilla, spices and salt, stirring so that they are completely incorporated. Now add the flour and oatmeal and blend thoroughly. There should be no dry spots in the dough. Don’t over mix it, however, and make your cookies tough!

Get out two baking sheets and grease them lightly then drop the cookies onto the trays. They won’t expand much in baking but you don’t want them to be touching. Once you have them placed on the trays they can head into the oven for 8-10 minutes. They will be a little brown around the edges and slightly firm to the touch. Remove them from the trays and let them rest on a rack until completely cool before storing.

I think the best way to have them is while they are still slightly warm, with a glass of milk or a mug of hot tea.

Welcome Autumn!