July 24, 2007

"...tastes like summer, and death."

On her blog, "Lo" recently wrote about summers on the lake and making artichoke-stuffed French bread, which she says "tastes like summer, and death."

And that got me thinking.

Every year, I am so excited for summer break. This summer, though, I taught Writing Camp (creative writing for middle school & high school kids) all day for 4 weeks, taught college classes 4 nights a week for 8 weeks, and worked at the winery every weekend. Not much of a break.

Like every year, I get nostalgic right after July 4th about how the summer is almost over, how I didn't get to do all that I had planned for the "break." Last summer, I wrote: "And now that July is here, I can glimpse the summer's end and feel my dreams of Summer Fun fading. I already mourn the sun. [...] The Fourth of July always signifies the midsummer mark for me...the beginning of the end, so to speak."

So, I can understand Lo's comparison of summer and death.

I remember visiting my uncle's farm during summer break. It was a quiet place, named the Blue Goose Farm, tucked into the hills of Alderson, West Virginia. He had cattle, chickens, and horses. I spent the days lounging, reading, walking around the property, enjoying lazy meals. Everything was handmade. I remember watching my British aunt making chicken and spicy peanut sauce. I had never eaten like this before. She sauteed chopped garlic until it browned, then added peanut butter and spices. I was amazed. I couldn't, however, bring myself to enjoy the meal, because I was convinced that they had slaughtered one of their chickens for it...one of the chickens I had fed that afternoon. (I didn't realize then that those were chickens for eggs, not for meat.)

One night I stirred a scoop of thick vanilla ice cream, one spoonful at a time, into a huge mug of hot coffee. I drank it once all the ice cream had melted. THAT'S the kind of lazy eating I am talking about.

More than anything, though, I remember picking wild blueberries in their backyard. There was always a big colander full in the sink . I ate blueberries all day long...in cereal at breakfast, handfuls for an afternoon snack, with ice cream for dessert.

When I think of summer, I think of those bittersweet berries. Bittersweet...in so many ways...like summer, and death.

My aunt & uncle no longer live on that farm. They are no longer married. I don't get to spend a lazy summer week with either of them. I've never eaten blueberries fresh off the bush since then.

In honor of those lazy summer vacations, I made blueberry muffins this weekend...during a lazy Sunday morning.

Blueberry Almond Muffins
slightly adapted from Cooking Light

makes about 30 muffins

For the muffins:

1 1/2  cups all-purpose flour, divided
1  cup whole wheat flour
1  cup quick-cooking oats
1  cup sugar
1  tablespoon baking powder
1  teaspoon baking soda
1/4  teaspoon salt
2  cups vanilla yogurt
1/2  cup milk
3  tablespoons canola oil
2  teaspoons vanilla extract
1  large egg
1 1/2  cups fresh blueberries

For the topping:

1/4  cup all-purpose flour
1/4  cup slivered almond
1  tablespoon light brown sugar
1  tablespoon butter, melted
  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • To make the muffins, combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. 
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, oil, vanilla, and egg. 
  • Add the yogurt mixture to flour mixture; stir just until moist. 
  • Fold in the blueberries. 
  • Spoon 2 rounded tablespoons batter into muffin cups coated with cooking spray.
  • To make the topping, combine 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, almonds, brown sugar, and butter. Sprinkle evenly over batter. 
  • Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. 
  • Cool in the pans for 10 minutes on a wire rack; then remove the muffins from the pans.

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Digital pics coming soon!

July 15, 2007

Bad Boozey Brownies

We sell a hellava lot of sweet wine at the winery where I work on the weekends (check out that alliteration, y'all!). A. Lot.

"Hi there, Folks. Would you like to sample some wine?"


"Ok, what kind of wine do you like?"

"We like it all." Har-dee-har-har.

Contemptuous chuckle. "Well, what kind would you like to try today?"


Right. "Well, according to state law, we can offer 3 ounces of free samples. So, let me know what kind of wine you prefer so that I know where to start you." (This is known in the biz as "evoking the 3 oz. rule.")

"Anything sweet."

Of course. "I'll start you with our Illini White then; it's our best seller."

"Is it sweet?"

"Yes, it's our sweetest white wine."

"What about this one? Is it sweet?" Points to the chardonnay on counter.

"That's a dry white."

"It's dry?"

"Yep. Dry." Like your leathery skin. Use some sunscreen. Seriously. And wear some pants that fit your fat ass.

"Got anything sweeter?"

I think I can find a bottle of maple syrup lying around, if you'd like to guzzle that this afternoon. "Do you like chocolate-covered cherries?"

As if I even need to ask.

So, we have this Danish cherry wine called Kijafa that we pull out in emergencies such as that. It tastes just like a bottle of melted chocolate cherry cordials... It's gross, actually (though I was able once to stomach a shot of it in coffee, and I bet it wouldn't be half-bad over vanilla ice cream). People love it. They buy the shit out of it; they drink the shit out of it....then they get sloppy drunk (it's 16% alcohol) and go refill their insulin prescription.

Recently, a sampler bottle came adorned with a little "Taste the Possibilities" recipe booklet: Imported Kijafa, which is made with orchard-sweet cherries and European-style chocolate, makes martinis magnificent. Adds verve to vodka drinks. Compliments cocktails. And dresses up desserts.

Now, THAT's some alliteration!

In a fit of period-induced baking anxiety (and because I've been wondering if they are any good), I made a pan of Kijafa brownies this morning:

Combine 2 cups AP flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, & 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan, melt 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate with 2/3 cup butter over low heat. Cool slightly; stir in 1 1/2 cups sugar, 7 tbsp Kijafa chocolate cherry (from that half-empty sampler bottle you borrowed from the winery the night before), & 3 slightly beaten eggs.

Stir chocolate mixture into dry ingredients. Fold in 3/4 cups coarsely chopped walnuts (if you're a sadist instead of a brownie purist).

Pour into greased pan. Bake @ 350 for 25 minutes.

Perform culinary cunnilingus on the mixing bowl and spoon. She's special, so take your time. It's not all about you.

Cool brownies in pan. Mix 3 tbsp Kijafa with 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar. Gross out at the pale pinkish beige color; think about how it reminds you of puke. Add a drop or two of red food coloring and stir until the somersaults in your stomach subside (alliteration!).

Drizzle the brownies with the now shockingly psychedelic pink glaze. Cut into squares. Take to the winery to give away because they are really not all that good...too dense and cakey with no distinguishable chocolate-covered cherry flavor.

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I really need to get a digital camera. Like now.

July 12, 2007

Some fava beans and a nice chianti....well, a nice zin actually

I was browsing around a bunch of food blogs this afternoon, came across this picture on Bake & Shake (my new favorite thing to read online; she's hilarious), and actually drooled. It just looks so refreshing and satisfying.

So, I made a trip to Dierberg's after camp today to purchase random food for my supper. I decided I would get whatever looked good, limiting my shopping to the produce, cheese, organic, and bakery sections.

I ended up with almost $50 worth of goodies in my grocery bag.

I bought fresh fava beans in the pods, which I had to shell, boil, then peel. I ate them drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt & cracked pepper.

I also ate three small heirloom tomatoes--a firm green & white striped one, a juicy red & yellow striped one, and a yummy purpley one--sliced and salted.

Then there was olive tapenade with endive, little balsamic roasted onions, and crusty sourdough rolls with a small wedge of creamy brie. Oh, and a bottle of Bogle Old Vine Zin.

I made a few finger sandwiches--tapenade & tomato, butter & favas--and took my time eating everything with my fingers, sipping wine, & reading.

July 9, 2007

Fish en Papillote & Salad w/Green Goddess Dressing

While I ate a lot of veggies last week and not much junk food, I am still feeling a bit squishy this week. So, I decided to bake some fish en papillote...that is, fish wrapped in parchment paper. I drizzled the fillet with a couple tablespoons of white wine, sprinkled salt, pepper, garlic, & rosemary, then topped it with a few capers, a pat of butter, & a couple thin slices of lemon.

The fish was moist and flaky, but surprisingly there wasn't much flavor. And I was worried about overpowering the meat with everything. Still it was pretty good....with no fishy smell in the house and easy clean up!

I ate the fish along side a green salad (lettuce, asparagus, green pepper, avocado, & edamame) with homemade Green Goddess Dressing (mayo, sour cream, anchovy paste, green onion, parsley, garlic, & lemon juice).

The dressing was good, but a little too creamy for my taste (I would add a bit of white wine or even water to thin it out). I think it would be better if it had time to sit and let the flavor meld. I am going to try it again on leftover salad tomorrow. I think it would be good, though, as a dip for veggies or grilled shrimp.

July 8, 2007

Eat, Pray, Love

I was leery of this book when I started reading it. The author, having just gone though a grueling divorce, decides she needs to go on a spiritual journey...four months in Italy learning about pleasure, four months in India learning about devotion, and four months in Indonesia learning to balance the two. However, she can't afford a year of travel. So, she pitches her trip as a memoir idea to her publisher who then buys the rights to the future book. And, well, that rubbed me the wrong way. Because, wouldn't that pervert what she did on her trip...because she needed fodder for her book?

Anyway, I liked reading about her time in Italy (all the food!) but the India part with all the "godness" was a bit much. Still, her fairy tale ending was inspiring.

July 5, 2007

Fireworks Feast

Marinated Shrimp
I wanted to make some food to take to the winery for the fireworks on the 4th and remembered seeing a recipe a while ago on Food Network for shrimp that looked mighty tasty. I looked up the recipe and made it the night before, but it just didn't seem right...more mayonnaisey than I remembered. I didn't feel comfortable taking mayo-soaked seafood to sit outside for a few hours, so I did another recipe search and discovered that I made the wrong one. I should have made Pickled Shrimp. Oh well, the shrimp were still good for an after-class snack that night.

Instead, I made roasted asparagus wrapped with prosciutto, tomato/basil/mozzarella skewers, & marinated zucchini with green olives.

Cheddar Ale Spread
This is shown with rosemary flatbread, which I intended to make. But I did so much cooking this week that I simply didn't have enough time to put it together. Still, this tangy cheese spread was great on rosemary Triscuits. I did change the recipe a bit, substituting garden-fresh rosemary for the parsley, Newcastle Brown Ale for the beer, & sliced almonds for the hazelnuts.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
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I'd been wanting to make cupcakes from scratch for a while and was inspired by these delicious looking treats, but I used this recipe instead.

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The batter called for 2 tablespoons of red coloring, so it was really red. I got it all over my hands, the countertop, the sink...red everywhere. It looked like something died in my kitchen.

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However, I managed to fill the cupcake pans pretty darn neatly.

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I was pretty happy with the results, especially since I don't usually do well with baking.

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I used silver liners like the others, but I didn't pipe the icing on.

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Still, they looked festive (topped with blueberries) & everyone liked them!

July 3, 2007

I have zucchini coming out my ears!

A friend of mine has been giving me stuff from the garden every week. I love all the fresh veggies and herbs, but right now I have more zucchini (and basil) than I know what to do with. I used a humongous zuc for the soup yesterday, but I still have another huge one, a medium one, and three small ones to use up. So....

....I made zucchini bread this afternoon.

I was surprised that the dough was very dense, more like cookie dough than bread or cake dough. And, honestly, I don't quite get the appeal of zucchini bread. Don't get me wrong; it tastes good, all cinnamony and walnutty, but you can't decipher the vegetables at all. So, what's the point?

Still, I might make another loaf this weekend just to get rid of more zucchini, and so that I will have something to eat for a quick breakfast next week.

Gifts from the Garden

Breakfast: Tomato & Basil Pie
It's from Paula Deen, so you know it's gonna be good. I mean, ANYTHING with 1 cup of mayo and 2 cups of cheese baked into a buttery crust is good. I think this would be good with bacon, too; I can't believe Paula didn't think of that herself.

I'll probably try it again with spinach, ham, olives, & feta.

Lunch: Fried Green Tomatoes
I did a little experiment with this one...cooked some dipped in egg then coated in seasoned semolina. They were really crunchy and firm. It worked well with thicker slices of tomato.

Cooked another batch without the egg. These were not as crunchy, but I could taste the tomato flavor better. This worked well for the thin slices.

Dinner: Zucchini Soup

This is pretty much the same as the potato/leek soup I made a few months ago, but with zucchini added. It was good, but I couldn't really taste the zucchini at all. I have another big zucchini, so I might try a "truer" soup next week sans potatoes.

July 2, 2007


I have been wanting to make homemade ice cream lately but not wanting to spend $50+ on an ice cream machine.

Then, I came across a recipe for pistachio semifreddo. It's an Italian "semi-frozen" custard. And it looked pretty simple, just 5 ingredients (egg whites, heavy cream, sugar, nuts, & vanilla) that you pour into a dish and freeze for a few hours.

I should have read the recipe a little closer. You have to whip the egg whites & cream into stiff peaks, separately. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem...but I don't have the whisk attachment to my Kitchenaid mixer, so I had to do all that whipping by hand.

Still, I did it.

I used a mixture of pistachios & almonds, then added lemon zest and chopped fresh basil. I ate it over strawberries macerated with lemon juice & sugar.

It's good...very thick & creamy, not as frozen as ice cream, more like gelato.