"Things won are done,
Joy's Soul lies in the Doing."
- William Shakespeare

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Diggable Roots

Let me begin by giving a little nod of acknowledgement to all the men and women who cook for their families.  Particularly those who were mucking about in the kitchen before the internet made it so incredibly easy to find new and innovative recipes.  I've been thinking about this a bit lately, since the Thanksgiving meal planning and purchasing commenced.  And it occurred to me, in the midst of searching for a new and exciting ways of preparing the very traditional (and dare I say, to me, verging on boring?) turkey, stuffing, mash, cranberries...You know the drill.  So, it occurred to me that these cornerstone dishes, while perhaps not breaking new ground in the culinary realm, are about satisfying the soul, as much as the belly. 

I don't feel very rooted in tradition, myself.  I dig the idea of cultural institutions, of a heritage passed down from one generation to the next, that the descendants of those who began, ever so long ago, to feast on a particular day, in honor of a particular cause, may identify more closely with who they are, and where they come from.  But I can't say that I've ever seen myself as especially tied to a specific place, or culture.  The ease with which we are able to traverse the globe, or even to pull up information on a faraway land (or a recipe from abroad), perhaps has weakened our sense of identity, at least in regards to a food culture.

It's very easy for me to revere other cultures for their strongly rooted food traditions.  India for its overwhelming, heady spices...Italy for beautiful and straightforward cucina povera...France for its sophisticated simplicity...Thailand for intense heat and color.  You get my drift.  For better or for worse, I don't really identify with my own homeland's cuisine so much, though.

But here I sit, in all my aspiring to Laura Ingalls-ness, thinking about what it all means.  Are we better off now, where we can hop on the computer, type in a few ingredients that we have in our internationally stocked pantries, and pull up a recipe from across the world?  Or, were folks from 100, 50, or even 20 years ago, more blessed to have their own signature dish, passed down from one cook to another, generationally?

Me?  I don't have a signature dish.  In fact, much of the time I forget what I've made altogether.  (This does to make it tricky to remember if I enjoyed something or if it was a dismal failure...but on the positive side, every meal is a new one!  This wee blog does help with the sieve of a memory I possess.)

So, having just finished the day of feasting that is Turkey Day, I found myself thinking about all this.  I didn't come up with a definitive answer.  I don't really think one exists.  We live in the here and now, we have access to an astoundingly overwhelming number of recipes, and also perhaps some traditional ones from the past...let's go with it, best of both worlds, really.

I realize I'm getting somewhat long-winded here, but I haven't had this much access to the computer in weeks, so bear with me.  Just one more wee story...

Back when the Mister and I were dating, and living in Portugal, I was first introduced to the rather modest dish of roast potatoes.  So very strange that I'd never eaten these, in all my 25 years of life, up to that point.  I actually thought they were quite exotic, to be perfectly honest.  (Yep, dumb American overseas, I know.)  Anyway, the Mister took me to a dinner over at some fellow surf lovelies' flat, where they were making a traditional English roast dinner.  (Not all that different from Thanksgiving, in essence.)  These guys, while somewhat inept in the kitchen, having eaten their mums' roast dinner every Sunday for their entire lives, knew the basics of how it was done.  I can't recall which kind of meat they served (I was a vegetarian at the time), but I will never forget those potatoes.  For themselves they tossed halved or quartered potatoes in the juices released from the meat, and roasted them to perfection:  browned and crispy on the outside, fluffy and soft on the inside.  They even put up with my odd herbivorous self, by tossing some potatoes in olive oil, and sweetly (though perhaps rather ineffectively) dividing them from the meat with a little roll of aluminum foil.  I didn't care.  These were a revelation!

To this day, we eat roast potatoes with some regularity.  And truly, they are soul food at its finest.  Simple, quick to prep, and ever-so-satisfying when they grace the table.  So, when I stumbled upon this recipe for mustard-roasted potatoes, on smitten kitchen, I could not have been more excited.  And ready to get some going for dinner.  Except that I didn't have enough potatoes...

Never fear!  I did have the next best, or perhaps even better, thing:  a humble, but lovely bunch of root veg.  A rutabaga, a giant sweet potato, and some gorgeous blue potatoes (the last from our CSA box).  And here's my adaptation of smitten kitchen's gorgeous recipe.  If I may say so, these are some seriously diggable roots.

Mustard-Roasted Root Vegetables - adapted from smitten kitchen
- serves four as a side

Ingredients (amounts of roots are approximate)
1 large sweet potato, about a pound or so
1 small to medium rutabaga
about 1/2 a pound of blue potatoes (or any smallish variety you like)
1/4 cup grainy dijon mustard
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs melted butter
1/2 to 1 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 large, or 2 small, garlic cloves, minced
1/2 Tbs dried oregano
1/2 tsp coarse kosher, or sea salt

Note:  The original recipe calls for spraying a baking sheet with cooking spray, which I did, but to warn you, it does make a bit of scrubbing afterward, for clean up.  You could also put foil or parchment paper atop a baking sheet, I think, for less elbow grease afterward.

Preheat oven to 425 deg F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine mustard, butter, olive oil, and well, everything but the roots, and give a whisk until thoroughly combined.

Chop the roots in approximately even-sized pieces, keeping in mind that rutabagas tend to take a wee bit longer than the others, so keep them a bit smaller.  Halve or quarter the potatoes, and roughly base the sizes of the rest of your cuts from there.

Add the root veg to the mustard sauce, and give it a toss.  Spread the veg onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving any remaining clumps of sauce in the mixing bowl.  (They will burn in the oven.)  Bake for 20 minutes, then give a toss around on the pan, and rotate pan front to back, and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, or until browned and crisp on the outside, and easily pierced with a fork.

We served ours up with a runny fried egg atop them, and a side of steamed broccoli.  Yum.

When asked the usual question of a meal, "Is it blog-worthy?" the kiddos and I resoundingly said Yes!  The Mister, down with a cold, couldn't taste much.  Which seems a shame.  But I do believe these will become part of my repertoire, maybe a little dish that graces our table from time to time, woven into the tapestry of our family's food culture.  I think I'll teach the Boy and the Girl to make these too.  Keep it in the family, you know.

I hope you enjoy!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Handmade Christmas - Lavender & Tea Tree Spray

Seeing as how I'm having a mighty struggle getting recipes on this here blog, at the moment...and seeing as how I'm immersed in making handmade Christmas prezzies...well, it naturally followed that I share a few ideas with you fine people.

So...drum roll...today we have a little special something-something.  Lavender and Tea Tree Spray.  My dear friend, Jamie, the maven of all things herbal and beautiful, first gifted a Lavender Spray to me, a few years ago.  I fell in love with the idea of this gift, and have had plans, since I received it, to learn the recipe and share the love.  So, finally, at long last, here's my wee adaptation of Jamie's recipe for room and linen spray.

Jamie's Lavender and Tea Tree Spray - makes 4 oz

4 oz distilled or purified water
1 tsp pure essential lavender oil (do use a good quality oil, it's worth it)
8-10 drops tea tree oil
2 tsp vodka

Pour each ingredient into a spray bottle, mine was about a 6 oz bottle, shake, and there you are!  Lovely to freshen a room, or spray onto your linens.  Also, this is perfect to mist about when you've got people down with a bug, both tea tree and lavender have antiseptic qualities.  Might I also add, should you suffer from a bit of uptightness from time to time...lavender is very calming.  Just saying.

Now that I've got the recipe, I just need to find some pretty bottles, and make up some labels.  I do believe how about orange would be a good place to visit for label ideas...

Happy Handmade Gifting!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Two Down

I guess I've been a little absent of late.  From the blog anyway.  I am more than present in the day to day stuff of Life.  So, for the moment, computer and camera time have taken a back seat to everything else going on.  Cooking I still manage to make time for, I mean, a girl's gotta eat, right?  (Not to mention a girl's hungry Kiddos and Mister.)  I will have a recipe, or several, for you very soon.  But for now, a quickie.

Christmas is on its way!  And knitting is another activity which I am managing to squeeze into any spare moment, here and there.  Christmas prezzies...Two Down...lots more to go!

A finished pair of mittens (pattern here) for the Girl.  Which she thinks are for her cousin, because I knitted them in front of her, and they turned out way to big for the cuzzie.  A lavender hat for said cuzzie, work in progress, pattern available here, on SouleMama.  And a grown-up hat, nearly finished, just need to weave in the ends.  (That counts as one of the Two Down, people!)

And here and there, a row or two on my Genevieve pullover:

The body is complete, working on the arms now.  Good stuff.

I hope you are all blessed with a lovely Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Toast

Here's to Getting Things Done!  To Working Hard for Weeks on End, and To Finally Being Able to Sit Down, with a Nice Glass of Spiced Wine.  That's the Stuff.

The Weekend went a little something like this:

The Boy in a fundraising run...


Check out that sweet move his buddy's doing!

And back to the cabin for some snow...

Guess who took a snowball hit here?

While the Mister and I raced to (finally) finish painting and millwork...

Who works in conditions like these?  Crazy!

And by the end of the weekend, we were more than a little tired, but oh-so-proud (relieved) to have finished.  Freaking FINALLY.  

It's time for a toast.  Invite your favorite neighbors over, get out a cheap and cheerful bottle (or two) of red wine, some spices...because what's life without a little spice?...and put your feet up.

Mama Nécole's Spiced Wine - makes one 750 ml bottle (easily doubles...or more!)

1 bottle red wine, whatever you prefer (Chuck is perfectly swell, or you can be a little swankier)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
2 or 3 cloves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 Tbs allspice berries
3 or 4 strips orange peel, as much white pith removed as possible

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, and set over medium low heat.  As soon as the mixture becomes hot (just a few minutes, five or so), turn the heat to low, and let steep for 15 minutes.  DO NOT let it boil, you'll lose that lovely alcohol, and then what would be the point?

Pour the spiced wine through a small sieve, as you serve each glass, then throw the spices (if you're frugal like me) back in the saucepan with the remaining wine, to continue infusing with their flavor.  You can keep the wine over low heat, as you're serving it, so long as it doesn't boil.

This recipe doubles easily, just double all the ingredient amounts, although one cinnamon stick is plenty for two bottles of wine.  Perfectly spiced, perfectly celebratory, and perfectly deserved.

Cheers, Me Dears!  Job well done!

Guess who was enjoying her spiced wine so much, she forgot to get a photo of it?

That's right.  I imagine that you know what wine looks like, though.

Have a lovely day!

Friday, November 11, 2011


I had a bit of a moment this morning, involving our cat, Vincent.  Who happens to be in my black books now.  This creature, while absolutely gorgeous and incredibly affectionate, not to mention a hell of a mouser, did something very naughty, which I discovered first thing this morning.  That something might be completely unforgivable, were he not so darn cute

Yeah, he looks all precious and innocent, doesn't he?  But check out that cheeky smirk, which I know says:  "That's for kicking me out of your room last night!"  (Cue me, shaking my fist, while muttering:  "You're bloody lucky you're so cute, cat.")

The back story:  You know I've been a little busy lately.  And you also know I need to find a wee moment of peace, often in the kitchen, in order to breeeeeeeathe...  Last night was no exception.  The Kiddos in bed, the Mister recovering from a cold, I retreated to my favorite place with a yen for something sweet. 

And the Halloween candy is now untouchable.

Another back story:  After sharing this bit with the Mister and the Kiddos, from Jimmy Kimmel, where he charges parents with the undeniably cruel, yet hilarious task of pretending to have eaten all their kids' candy... and after the four of us bust several ribs laughing hysterically... AFTER all that, the Girl looks at me, deadly serious, glowering, and warns:  "You better not touch my candy."  I have to say, I was a little frightened.  Mainly because I caught a glimpse of a face with which I'm sure to become all too familiar in  say, oh, the dreaded teenage years.  (Cue shudder of fear, and worries that karmic law will apply.)

So yes, we often sneak a piece or two of that candy after the Kiddos are asleep.  What?  Like you don't!  I'm just watching out for childhood obesity.  Dental bills.  Come on, people.  Who walked those kids around the neighborhood in the cold?  And who made those costumes, anyway?  Yeah, that's what I thought.

But alas, the first evidence of my child not trusting her parents (perhaps deservedly so) has asserted itself.  The candy now abides downstairs, in their bedrooms.  (Note:  Do I trust them not to eat it on the sly, at all hours?  Hm.)  And I had an ache in my sweet tooth, that longed to be satisfied.  (And I could hear the Kiddos chatting across their rooms, so sneaking in and snatching a piece was not an option.)

Cue this recipe, for Snickerdoodle Brownies, that appeared the other day, on a friend to knit with.  It looked simple enough, quick to prepare, and obviously, super tasty.  After a little time bustling about in the kitchen, the Mister and I sat down to sample those babies, at about 9:30, which I hear the experts say is the best time to eat sweets.  We went to bed a while later (which I also hear, is a good move, you know, lay down while you digest, right?).  Since the brownies were still warm (Leslie's right, in her post she alludes to the impossibility of waiting til they cool to consume), I covered them with a tea towel, and left them on the counter.

Cue photo of what I woke up to this morning: 

Oh, did you not get that?  Here's another:

Hm.  One...two...three...PAW PRINTS!  Seriously?!  Why, that little bastard.  (It's true, I'm not swearing.  Vincent is a bastard.  His mama was a bit of a slapper, and his paternity is in question.  It's probably the alley cat, though.)

Thank goodness I put that tea towel over them, I suppose.

And that, my friends, is the convoluted story of how Snickerdoodle Brownies came to be desired, to be made, and ultimately, to be walked on.  By my cat.

They are damn tasty though, paw prints or no.  Go make some, here.  But perhaps store them in a cupboard, out of the cat's reach.

Monday, November 7, 2011


This time of year always sneaks up on a person, don't you think?  One minute we're barefoot, enjoying the sunny outdoors, and the next we're stacking firewood, and layering on hats, scarves, and mittens.  I always feel rather taken by surprise when November rolls around, and this year, it has hit me even harder.

It's a doozy of a busy time right now, what with finally getting around to finishing renovations, and trying to wrap our heads around a move.  Add to that a realtor, kids in school, after-school activities, work, and well, Life.  I get it.  It's just Life.  It's the way it goes.  Being a Grown-up does get rather complicated once in a while, though.

I know many people who positively thrive in an all-action sort of lifestyle.  They love keeping busy, going at things with a frenetic pace, and never seem to need to sit down to take a breath, and recoup.  I am most emphatically not one of those people.  I admire them.  I don't get them, but hey, more power to you, if you are one of those.

I am one of those who needs more of a manageable pace, to feel comfortable. Slow and steady wins the race, in my world.  I'm the tortoise, I guess.  I can handle a lot, don't get me wrong.  But I do get to a point, which I refer to as a Constant State of Overwhelm, where things are moving too quickly to enjoy them, let alone make sense of them.  When this State comes up, I have to have myself a wee time out.  I can usually tell when I'm teetering on the precipice of a meltdown.  (Snap at anyone in striking distance...Crackle, the state of my nerves...Pop!  She's about to blow!)  The Mister can always tell when I'm about to lose my cookies, bless him.  I don't know how he keeps keepin' on, that guy's a trooper, I tell you.  When he sees me getting close to that dangerous edge, he always gives me a little space to take a moment, to center myself.


That was a close one.

One of the very best things for me to get back to a good place (aside from a good night's sleep), is to head to the kitchen.  A little chopping, a little seasoning, a little stirring...and time to breathe, while making a good meal. That's the ticket.

Here's what I came up with last night:

A very simple, delicious soup of beautiful butternut squash, a bit of sweet potato (just ask any Kiwi mama, she'll assure you it's good for your soul), a little quinoa, and a few warming spices thrown in.  Gently sweet, eminently satisfying, and just the thing to feel nurtured in the midst of chaos.  This is quick and easy enough to prepare in a time when you can't possibly have all your wits about you, and just methodical enough to bring anyone back to a happy, centered place.  I hope you enjoy.

Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato, and Quinoa Soup - makes 4 to 6 main course servings

Half a large, or one whole small butternut squash - approx 3 to 4 cups, cut into half-inch cubes
1 smallish sweet potato, about 1 to 1 1/2 cups, cut into half-inch cubes
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 cup chopped sweet or bell peppers, any color (I had yellow sweet peppers)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
5 or 6 cups chicken or veg stock (less if you prefer it to be more stew-like, more if you like a soup)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp paprika
small bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Optional Garnish:  grated sharp cheddar, hot chili sauce, sour cream

Warm the oil in a large stockpot, over medium-low heat, then add the onions, and gently cook until softened and translucent, about 8 minutes.  Do not  brown.  Next add in the peppers, squash, and garlic, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, then add in the spices, and stir continuously for one minute, to toast the spices and enhance their flavor.  Pour in the stock, and throw in the sweet potato, and check again for seasoning.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer, and add the quinoa.  Allow to cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened, and the quinoa is cooked through.

Toss in the cilantro, taste once more for seasoning, and adjust if necessary.  Serve in bowls, garnished with a nice sharp cheddar, and hot sauce, if you like.  (Sour cream for the kiddos.)

Wee Disclaimer:  I realize my photos are utter rubbish.  While I did enjoy the respite afforded by cooking, I couldn't quite spare the patience to try harder with the camera.  Oh well.  It is really lovely soup, I promise.