Friday, February 28, 2014

Smoked beet salad

Today’s packed lunch fits the occasion of last packed lunch for 2 weeks: a smoked beet salad with sheep milk’s feta from the farmers market and a slice of home-baked bread.


For bread, you can use these recipes:

The smoked beets are based on a recipe from Jamie Oliver: place beets in a aluminum foil tent (just fold the sides shut) with a spring of rosemary and back at 450F in the oven for 45-60min (or in charcoals, same amount of time).


To round out the salad I added feta, and a sliced calamondin for some citrus flavor, all served with the best balsamic vinaigrette ever.



Time for lunch!


No end in sight

It is finally spring break. Due to a super-packed schedule over the last X (10?) months I am more to ready to just drop everything for 1-2 days and just linger. Hopefully, that’ll recharge me. No work and no housework allowed. Just linger. Read a book. Be completely ‘unproductive’. Sometimes that is really hard for me. There are always these endless to-do lists.

The weather forecast predicts plenty of sunshine but the temperatures are still in a state of deep freeze.


Neighbors’ kitty, I call him Fluffy, came over yesterday and was shivering while he chowed down on the second breakfast he ordered. Whenever I went back in the house, he ran back to my front door, sitting in front of it, really close, looking up. I locked up my cats, and thought, ok, let’s invite him in for 15min to warm up, poor little buggar. When I opened the front door he sniffed the door entrance cautiously, and his cat intelligence told him “This is a home of other cats. They might not like me, come out racing and pounce on me.” Despite shivering, he turned around. Good try. Today, he will probably sit next to the fireplace and decide ‘taking next sample of trying to sneak out and reassert myself as free outdoor cat in a week. Won’t be fooled again by sunny day’.

It is Friday, sunny, very cold. I still have meetings and leftover work to clear up, no impeding deadlines for a while. I feel like baking bread or a comforting pound cake with pistachios, shutting off the internet and email, and just kick up my heels. Simplicity.


Wait a minute. Baking a cake is not on the ‘be absolutely unproductive’ list. But it does look good.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Back to normal

It’s back to normal around here. One week until spring break. Yesterday, I called off the deadline. There was no way we would get done with a reasonable result in that short amount of time. For a day I chilled. Today I realized my urgency for coffee consumption is reduced back to a normal amount, my fascination with heart-shape donuts has dissipated, and I look forward to normalcy, salads and being immune to any blog induced shopping bonanza.

It is sunny outside, not too cold. The days are longer and in 2 weeks with daylight savings, they will be even longer. Without much fanfare, spring will eventually arrive.


On Saturday I snug in to the farmers market about 10 minutes before closing time. There was meat, eggs, beans, chicken, and….. an inventive farmeress who brought out the crepe iron. Banana, nutella, maple syrups crepes, anyone?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Deadline champions

It is Sunday, overcast, the temperatures change from mild and spring-like slowly back to frigid. Maybe, more snow. The weather models can’t decide yet. I am on my last leg because of this deadline tomorrow which has not granted any time off for a while now while juggling everything else in life. Waking up tired and exhausted, and the day starts with coffee. And these beauties.


Yes, they are still available at Dunkin Donuts while Valentine’s day is long gone. I guess this is a hers and his version ? They are filled with nutella spread and despite their alluring appearance are really just 100% pure refined sugar.

A sugar rush fits well with this.


The breakfast of deadline champions.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The call of spring

It is Saturday, beautifully sunny and warm (6C). For at least a few days it will feel like spring is coming, the snow is melting and the spring flowers will burst through the soil. Not so fast, next week the arctic cold is back (-13C). I managed to snap up a nice down coat during the end of winter sales for a really good price and so I still have plenty of opportunity to wear it this winter (aren’t new clothes always the most interesting? I am kind of glued to new jeans).

It might be a day to seek out the winter farmers market. There might be eggs, organic chicken, scones and some winter ‘vegetables’. Like beets? Potatoes? I am always amazed that they still have vegetables to sell.

Otherwise, we are all feeling the call of spring.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Lazy day vegan tempeh chili

Yesterday, during my social media marketing attack, I also found a nice looking tempeh chili recipe. I realized I did not even have half of the ingredients handy so I improvised with my own ‘vision’ of it (“Tempeh in chili!”). As said, I was really lazy (and tired) so shortcuts were ok. Store-bought pasta sauce? Yep. BBQ sauce? Definitely. A can of beans instead of dried beans cooked from scratch? Had to be good enough. The result, on the other hand, is fabulous. And not just because I was hungry and tired.


Lazy day vegan tempeh chili (2-3 portions)

  • 1 medium sized sweet or regular onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 TB canola oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • half regular sized can of navy beans, rinsed thoroughly
  • half jar of your favorite store-bought tomato sauce  (I like Prego light) or a half can of Amy’s chunky tomato soup
  • 1/2 block of tempeh
  • 1/2 TB ground cumin
  • 12 TB chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 ts smoked paprika
  • 1 TB light agave
  • 1-2 TB bbq sauce
  • a few dashes of hot sauce
  • If you use a can of regular beans they are so salty you don’t need any other salt; if using low-sodium beans, add salt to taste
  1. In a 2 quart bottom heavy sauce pan with a lid, heat the oil and saute the onion until browned. Once browned, add a 1/4 cup of water (or broth) to loosen the (tasty) brown bits from the pot bottom and scrap them off (into the onions).
  2. Add the beans,tomato sauce, spices, agave and sauces, and grate in (or crumble in, more realistic) the tempeh.
  3. Stir, and simmer on medium heat with closed lid for about 20-30min. Stir occasionally.
  4. Serve!


The perils of social marketing

Yesterday, I came home from work, quite late, like 7pm. I was wiped out from a week of one deadline chasing the next. Now, there is only one deadline left. All I was able to do is cook a quick dinner, turn on the TV, and read through some blogs.

Then, this happened.


You probably know what this means. You read one of your favorite blogs. And “she” LOVES something. Like Jaden loves her electric Imusa espresso maker. You are ready to head to Target tomorrow and check it out, too. Since it is only 29.99, you might pick one up, too.


Then, you read another blog  and it deals with the problem you’ve been faced with yourself, and still don’t get a handle on. Cast iron pans! I’ve tried, but never went beyond an initial seasoning of a new pan, using it, the food sticking in it, and struggling to keep it clean, and putting it back into storage.


So, this article came really handy. What if there is something I still miss (and admire some great photos of 100-year-old –smooth- as-a-baby’s-bottom-seasoned-pride-of-my-kitchen/life cast iron pans)?


There were links to excellent articles that hit the spot:
  • A comprehensive guide to caring for your cast iron. (Serious Eats.) Note to self, yes, you need plenty of oil to fill the gaps in fresh cast iron, because it heats and polymerized and builds a non-stick surface on top of the rough cast iron surface. Use plenty of oil!
  • Make sure to avoid these 3 deadly cast iron sins. (Huffington Post.) No scrubbing, no soap, no chemicals. At most use coarse salt, water and a soft sponge.
  • Watch this video for a primer on all things cast iron. (America's Test Kitchen.) Have not watched it yet, feel already like an expert.
And then, there was this link. How to find your perfect cast iron pan.


After reading it, I became re-convinced that my best bet might still be the expensive life-time seasoned le creuset skillet. 

And this brings in the next icon from the first picture above.


“Amazon thanks you.”

Yes, I bought a new le creuset skillet then and there. Not in red, but in a caribbean ocean blue to match my 2 other le creusets that are permanently parked on my stovetop. Exactly like this, besides that the skillet is round. And 9 inch.

To my excuse, it was on sale and cheaper than anywhere else. And only one left. So, I had to act fast.
Also, I plan to take a closer look to the cast iron skillets of which are more than plenty in the ‘antique’ stores along Rt. 1 in the summer. I might be able to rescue them, and get 50-100 years ahead.

And this, my friends, is how social marketing works. Fortunately, I no longer fall prey to the social advertising of running socks, rebook shoes, and under armour tops. Lululemon is a different story.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lunch in a jar

Today, the home-brought work lunch changed from a fresh salad to warm food in a (mason)  jar ---- a first layer of sauted roasted bell peppers, an second layer of creamy polenta, and concluding with freshly sauted cauliflower and broccoli in garlic, breadcrumbs, olive oil and almonds.


The cauliflower idea stems from this wonderful recipe which was dinner last night, slightly changed, with mushroom but without bacon.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Back to it

Today I woke  up and wondered why my blog reading list was empty and my mailbox full. Ah, a holiday. Everyone (but me) still enjoying a day (or even a week school vacay) off and using it (as the stores hope) for shopping, reeling in the deals. For me, it was full-on work again with an interlude of skiing. Always make time for skiing when there is winter wonderland to be had. Tomorrow, we get more snow. Then it will warm up and rain. Then, more snow again. It will never end with the snow this year. But all is good as long as the days get longer, the sky is blue and the sun shines.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

18 Minutes

The day proceeded almost as planned: with skiing and donuts. However, it took a slight right turn after I found a set of pristine donut pans in my pantry when I was looking for something else. Donuts!  Baked donuts! Exactly during the time they baked in the oven (18 min) I cleared the entire driveway of its 10 inches snow layer. Without a snow blower, it would take me about 2 hours.

My reward was a freshly baked, delicious donut, with glaze and still warm, a cup of coffee and the prospect of skiing in winter wonderland for the rest of the afternoon. Not bad.


Baked chocolate donuts (GF, vegan)
  • 1 cup all-purpose GF flour/baking mix (Bob Mill)
  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/4 cup Dagoba cocoa powder
  • 2 TB almond meal
  • 2 TB fine coconut flakes
  • 2 TB ground flax meal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3 TB grapeseed oil (or organic canola oil)
Chocolate glaze:
  • 2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons earth balance buttery spread
  • 2 TB almond milk
  • 1/4 ts rum extract
  • 1/2 ts instant espresso powder
  • Preheat oven to 350F and grease a donut pan.
  • For the donuts: Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir until combined. Make sure to remove all clumps with a sieve. In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Let batter sit for 5 minutes for the flax seed to plump up and bind the dough.
  • Spoon the batter into the donut pan, filling each mold about a little bit more than half (I definitely overfilled mine). Smooth out the top of the batter with a spoon. The batter should be enough for 2 of these pans, not just 1 plus one extra donut.
  • Bake for 18-24 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Use a fork to remove the donuts and place on a cooling rack and allow to fully cool before adding glaze.
  • For the frosting: Add the frosting ingredients into a medium bowl and beat with electric mixer until smooth. Apply with large spoon.
  • Enjoy!

Snow up the whazoo

We got snow but not as much as expected. Maybe, 8 inches, not 15inches which means “can’t get out of my house and once I do I am wading hip-deep in snow”. Still, the umbrella stand measure says, plenty of new snow.


It’s time to blow it all to the sides, see if Dunkin Donuts still sells heart shaped donuts or else get a chicken sandwich and head to the slopes. Sunday!



Saturday, February 15, 2014

Snow, snow, and more snow

It was snow blowing time at 10pm on Thursday and then slushy slashing on Friday morning. Luis is doing well as slushy slayer, too, but the machine clean up takes longer than the driveway cleanup. We are not done yet, another potentially 10 inches of simple snow overnight on Saturday. That will make it a foot, foot and a half overall since Thursday.  Phil, the ground hog predicts: “Skiing conditions are undiminished for February. Everyone ready for spring, please fly to Caribbean. “ The bath in champagne while eating chocolates and reading romance novels is finally over, and we can prepare for pastel colored little bunnies.  Two more weeks til spring break.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Calamondin Jam

The Calamondins in my potted indoor plant have been plentiful in their first season. Suddenly, they seemed to all be ripe, too many to add to salads. --- Time to cook citrus jam.

Calamondin are similar to kumquats, however, they lack the bitter quality of kumquats although they are about the same size. They just throw a puckery punch of orange flavor, and can be eaten with skin and flesh. They are so puckery that the best way to use them is… in a jam. A calamondin infused vodka would rival a limoncello.


I plucked them, washed them with a bit of baking soda and hot water, rinsed them, and sliced them up, removing the seeds and making sure to preserve all the juice they’d loose when cut up. They are cooked barely covered with water ‘until soft’.  In my case, I cooked them about 20 min, and then let them chill overnight. Since the calamondin membranes are a natural pectin and marmelade thickener, this ‘gel-ing’ happens in the wait period. Today, I measure the amount of base jam I had, equaled it with sugar, and cooked it for another 20 min.  Many tiny mason jars were filled (great gifts!) and 2 large ones for me. The cooking spoon taste taste says: insanely good! ---

They would be fabulous with raincoast crackers and soft goat cheese.


How to make calamondin jam?
  1. one pound of calamondin
  2. water
  3. large bottom heavy pot
  4. 3-4 cups sugar
  5. 1/2 cup orange juice
For preparation, sprinkle the calamondin with about 1 TB of baking soda, and cover with boiling water for about 3 min. Wash thoroughly under warm, then cold water.

With a sharp knife, slice calamondin into small slivers, and removed the seeds. Cut on a plate to make sure to capture the juice (if this is taking too long, you can also chop them in a food processor and work with the pulb, however, the thin slivers of calamondin skin look a lot prettier).


Place all the sliced calamondin in a large, bottom heavy pot, and cover barely with water.


Simmer under gentle heat until calamondin are soft (ca. 15 min). Remove from heat, and chill in fridge for 24h (I did about 18h).


The pectin in the calamondin develops, and thickens the jam.

Add the orange juice, stir, and measure the amount of base jam you have (I had exactly 4 cups). Then, add that much sugar.


Under much stirring and gentle heat do simmer for another 20 min (max). The jam changes its consistency, the sugar melts and the mixtures becomes dark and candy like.


Prepare mason jars by sterilizing them (and the lids) in boiling water for 10min.

Fill mason jar with jam, close the lids, and turn jars on their head to make sure they are sealed through the hot jam.


After 10 min, turn mason jar around. Let cool and set.  Enjoy!


Thursday, February 13, 2014

One woman army

Yesterday, when I was trying on new athletic wear at Dick’s Sport, I found this sweatshirt already hanging in the changing room. “One woman army”. That is how I often feel myself but would I wear it as a badge on my sleeve? But it looks like I am not the only one. It rang a bell. It made me think of women who are single mothers holding down jobs and raising kids, and women who take care of their family while their husbands are overseas deployed, it made me think of women battling breast cancer (and other cancer), and all those one woman armies out there. This one is for you.