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December 4, 2017

Gingerbread Bar Cookies with Eggnog Buttercreme Piped Icing


Do you have a group gathering that symbolizes the holiday season to you?  For me, its the yearly Food Bloggers Los Angeles cookie exchange and holiday party.  We had nearly twenty bloggers and bakers contribute their homemade goods.  The smells, warm ambiance and welcoming conversation, of this event makes the season special to me, especially on the years I don't get to travel back to be with family. 
FBLA's 2017 Cookie Exchange Table
My plate for the 2017 FBLA cookie exchange
I try to do something different for my cookie exchanges every year; this year, the recipe was new, but it was also the first time I made buttercreme icing, and tried a piping bag.

I was inspired to try a gingerbread bar cookie this year by one that was sold at a fundraiser, but I wasn't able to meet the baker to ask for the recipe.  So I turned online and searched.  I was looking for the gingerbread flavor, but neither a rock-hard version, nor a cake.  I was attracted to the recipe I chose because it called for no eggs, so I thought it might make a denser, less cake-like bar cookie.  As it turned out I was right.  This recipe makes dense but not hard cookies.  It's almost a shortbread, so I cut the portions small.


Gingerbread Bars

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup molasses  


1.  Mix brown sugar and butter together till creamed, scraping down the sides of the bowl well.
2.  Add spices: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt and beat to combine.  
3.  Gradually add the flour and baking soda while mixing.  Mixture will be dry.
4.  Add the molasses and beat to combine.
5.  Prepare an 8x8 pan by lining with aluminum foil and spraying with cooking spray.  
6.  Pour dough into pan and pat down to hard-pack it.  It will be crumbly but bakes together much like a shortbread.  
7.  Bake at preheated 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Center will be set and edges will be pulling away slightly from pan when done.  Bars firm up as they cool.  Store in airtight container or freeze.  

Eggnog Buttercreme Frosting

Approx 4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 Tbsp Eggnog

To softened butter in a stand mixer, slowly add powdered sugar, blending well.  Scrape down sides completely and blend again.  Add eggnog one tablespoon at a time as mixer is running till combined, observing the consistency.  For maximum eggnog flavor, add the full four tablespoons, but if you prefer a stiffer icing, use less liquid.  Load icing into ziploc piping bag with tip, and pipe as desired.  Let stand 10-15 minutes for icing to set, or refrigerate to set. 

My Notes:  I was out of cloves, and didn't miss them in the dough.  The original recipe said not to use blackstrap molasses in the dough as it would be too heavy, but it was all I had in the pantry, so I went with it and again, I liked the results, though I haven't tried it with the lighter version to see if it would come out better.  This really was like a gingerbread-flavored shortbread--high butterfat--so cut the cookie portions small.  Dust icing lightly with nutmeg if desired. 
Original recipes for bars and frosting credited to Averie Cooks and Two Sisters Crafting, respectively. 

September 12, 2017

Everything to Each Other: My Parents' Golden Wedding Anniversary


My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary just a couple years ago.  They held an open house to mark the occasion, and each of us kids helped in some way to make it a memorable event.  It was a fun but somewhat informal affair at my mom's choosing; I made a photo slideshow that played on a side table, but there were no formal speeches.  Recently, I tried my hand at writing a toast.  Though this occasion had passed, the speech assignment was my opportunity to express what my parents have meant to me as role models, so I wrote a theoretical toast that I would have given had I been asked to speak at their golden anniversary celebration.  The parameter for the assignment was that the speech be no more than 4-6 minutes aloud, so I was practicing brevity even as my heart was full with all that I've learned from my folks.

Thank you all for being here tonight as we celebrate Jane & Curt's Golden Anniversary.  A wedding anniversary is the culmination of love, trust, partnership, tolerance, and tenacity, in no particular order - but most of all a celebration of laughter.  I'd like to tell you how my folks' marriage influenced their work, community life, and above all, their primary emphasis on family.

My mom, Jane, followed my dad, Curt, through three states and back as he was promoted and transferred up the corporate ladder in Human Resources at a large grocery chain.  We moved about every two years, from Chicago, IL, to Salt Lake City, UT, to Orange County, CA, and back to Utah.  They met at the University of Illinois, where their first date was to a St. Patrick's Day dance.  Jane supported Curt as he pursued an MBA, and in turn he supported her through nursing school, while raising three children.  I recall learning to count to a hundred in kindergarten by counting out a package of paper lunch sacks (which came in a pack of 100) in my parent's bedroom while mom was studying for nursing school.  I had the pleasure of taking a few courses with my mom, when she went back to school to get a bachelors at the same time I was in college.  Jane had her own career as a NICU nurse and grief counselor, always growing her skill set as she became a hospice chaplain.  We were never more proud of my dad than when he reinvented himself to head the local Catholic cemetery for the last chapter of his professional career.  My parents taught me to continue to reach for new boundaries in personal and professional growth and set the stage for me to follow my dreams.  

Community has always been central to my parent's way of life.  Their faith sustains their relationship.  Always active in their Catholic church parish, whether it be couples club, ladies' guild or Knights of Columbus, most of their friends have come from their church activities.  When they retired and moved to Nashville, they gave service to their new community by volunteering at the local hospital.  These activities showed me how to make friends, how to give back, and how to find a sense of belonging. 

But always, nothing has been more important to Curt or Jane than family.  There's a greeting card in my baby book, signed by my brother Gregg, that says "Welcome to the family, Eric."  Apparently my brother and sister had a bit of a betting war when I was in the womb.  My brother, having lost, thought he might change the outcome before "it" came home from the hospital if he addressed his card to a boy.  I like to think my folks taught him to love me.  As this story shows, our home has always been filled with humor.  Christmases have always been a huge deal in our house.  My mom loves to decorate and to entertain, and that holiday is one where she goes all-out.  Perhaps the greatest sign of love for their family was Jane and Curt's decision to return closer to their extended family after retirement by moving to Tennessee, where they could easily and regularly visit their siblings in Southern Illinois.  My parents' treatment of each other is the embodiment of the word "family."  Their devotion to each other continues to grow, as they've seen each other through health issues.  The way they cherish their relationships continues to instill their values in me and my siblings.

My parents have been my central role models throughout every stage of my life.  They continue to give me hope that the right match is out there for each of us.  Their work, community focus, and devotion to family have laid the groundwork for all of us to share in their happiness.  Please join me in a toast to their next decades of love and life together.  To Curt and Jane!

August 30, 2017

Culture and Education in Modern Art at the Broad Museum

Angry Because its Plaster Not Milk, 1965, Edward Ruscha

What do you do at a museum when you know you've only got an hour to cover the whole facility?  Take lots of pictures and read the signs at home in your photos....What do you do when the subject is one you're not entirely familiar with?  Take selfies for your facebook profile. 

The Broad Museum downtown Los Angeles is one of the newest cultural establishments that are free and open to the public.  It's been around long enough to gnaw at me that I haven't been, so I finally went online for tickets, thinking I would go in six or eight weeks.  To my surprise, I got a four pack of tickets for the following Saturday at 7pm!  Less than a week to wait.  Later I realized the museum closed at eight, so I might rather have waited a month or so for available tickets that were earlier in the day.  But we had the tickets, so my friends and I went, thinking we'd get an overview and learn how to schedule a repeat trip. 

To my surprise, I did make it around to all the exhibits, though I probably would have lingered longer if I were not concerned about the closing time.  My favorite, of course, was the Jeff Koons, both the Balloon Dog and the Tulips, but there were so many great installations.  Most of what spoke to me came from their permanent collection.  The lower floor was a temporary exhibit called "Oracle," about the complexity of the systems that underlie our world.  The middle floor of the Broad is composed of their vault, where they store the collections not on view.  Interestingly, this area is exposed through a glass elevator and portals in the wall of the stairwell, so that the public can see how their operations work.  The upper 3rd level houses the permanent collection on view.

Oracle Exhibit Summary
Review, 2016, Andreas Gursky, part of "Oracle" exhibit
Untitled (You are a Very Special Person), 1995, Barbara Kruger
Why?, 1990, Christopher Wool
Untitled (Men in the Cities Ellen), 1981, Robert Longo
Balloon Dog Blue, 1994-2000, Jeff Koons
Balloon Dog Blue, 1994-2000, Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons Artist Statement
Tulips, 1995-2004, Jeff Koons
Black Flowers, 1961, Roy Lichtenstein
Mirror No. 1, 1969, Roy Lichtenstein
Green Blue Red, 1963, Ellsworth Kelly
Hustle n Punch by Kaikai and Kiki, 2009, Takashi Murakami
Untitled (Your Body is A Battleground), 1989, Barbara Kruger
Campbell's Soup Can (Clam Chowder Manhattan Style), 1962, Andy Warhol
Two Marilyns, 1962, Andy Warhol
Under the Table, 1994, Robert Therrien
Artist Statement of Under the Table, 1994, Robert Therrien
Angry Because its Plaster Not Milk, 1965, Edward Ruscha
Broad Museum Vault, portal in staircase

August 29, 2017

Lemon Curd & Nutmeg Acorn Squash


Last week, the temperatures were in the high seventies and low eighties.  Today, we topped 108 degrees, according to the thermostat in my car.  I could taste fall last week, and imagined all the wonderful flavors coming so soon.  So I picked up an acorn squash at the grocery.  

Easy to make and lovely in presentation, this dish is so aromatic it will catch your attention long before it reaches the table.  It's a great side for a special occasion like Thanksgiving, but need not be saved for company. 


Lemon Curd & Nutmeg Acorn Squash

Cook the squash as you normally would - I typically slice lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, then invert into an 8x10 inch pyrex pan with about a quarter inch of water in the bottom.  I then bake at 325 degrees for about forty minutes. 

Once cooked, take the squash halves out of the water bath, turning them right-side up.  Add a pat or two of butter, a generous tablespoon of lemon curd, and a sprinkling of nutmeg.  Broil for 5 minutes until bubbly.  Top with toasted hazelnuts or pine nuts for extra decadence.

August 15, 2017

{Vegan} Bacon-Roasted Chickpea Snacks


Confession:  I don't love popcorn.  It gets stuck in my teeth.  It has little flavor, unless doused in butter.  I'd prefer to eat my butter straight, by the stick.  So I've been looking for a healthy movie snack.  And I think I might have found it:  Bacon-Roasted Chickpeas. 

I adapted a recipe from CoinnisseurusVeg.  Which is to say, I added Trader Joe's "Everything but the Bagel" seasoning because, Why not?  Seriously, don't you like your weekend breakfast bacon on an everything bagel?  The flavors are naturally complementary.  Although I don't eat meat, I've been growing accustomed to the umami flavoring of smoke.  This recipe utilizes it to its best effect.  I can absolutely see serving these as an appetizer on the back patio alongside a good Merlot and the traditional cheese and dried apricot tray. 


Another thing I love about this homemade snack is the scale.  One can of chickpeas makes just enough for one person to graze upon.  If you're making this for a family movie night, I definitely suggest tripling the recipe.  Or quadrupling it.  Or even just for yourself.  The original recipe suggested using a 9x13 baking pan or jelly roll sheet pan, but I found my small plate and toaster oven perfectly sized.  I first made the marinade/brine in a bowl large enough hold the beans.  As I rinsed the canned chickpeas and removed the coating, I dropped them into the brine, whisking every once in a while.  It took ten or fifteen minutes to de-hull the entire can, so by the time I'd finished, most of the chickpeas had been marinating for a while.  I think this "soaking time" made the snack extra flavorful.  My addition of bagel seasoning was mildly successful -- the sesames and chunky herbs didn't stick to the beans, but I do think they flavored them.  And the seasonings will be in the handful at the bottom of the bowl.  Next time I may add the bagel seasoning after the chickpeas are roasted so that they don't get burned. 

One final note:  I think this is the type of recipe that takes repeat practice to know your own oven and the level of crunchiness you like in your snack.  I don't like overly dry, hard nuts, so I tended towards under-baking these for the first time around.  Also, I thought they might (air) dry out a little more in the few days before I take them to the movie theater.  Having experimented, I think I'll roast them a little longer next time around.  But you may feel differently.  And you may be working with a regular oven, rather than my toaster version. 


Bacon-Roasted Chickpeas


1 Can Chickpeas, rinsed and drained 
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1 Tsp Liquid Smoke
1 Tsp Maple Syrup
1 Tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tbsp TJ's Everything But the Bagel Seasoning

Mix all liquids in a bowl big enough to hold the beans.  Remove the hulls from the chickpeas after rinsing them, placing the beans in the marinade, and whisk occasionally.  Lastly, add the bagel seasoning.  Mix all to coat.  Dump the beans in a pan or plate with a lip.  Pour any remaining liquid over the beans.  Spread flat as possible.  Roast at 350 for about 40 minutes, stirring every ten minutes for the first half hour.  After 30 minutes stir at five minute intervals.  Let cool before storing in tupperware or glass jar. 

August 14, 2017

Cooking with Teens from The Fitness Gourmet and Melissa's Produce


Patricia Greenberg, known as The Fitness Gourmet, has co-authored a new cookbook with her daughter, Gabriella Grunfeld, that reminds us how easy it is for teens to navigate the kitchen in a healthy and scrumptious way.  Patricia came to present her cookbook, "Scrumptious Sandwiches, Salads, and Snacks," with a food demo at Melissa's Produce that included a sampling of the recipes, a signing, and talk of nutrition and of self-publishing.  The fifty recipes in the book stress using ingredients you already have in your kitchen.


Our tasting prepared by the wonderful Melissa's staff included a Mustard Egg Salad served on toast.  It was later demonstrated by Patrica and a couple of tween/teens from the audience.  The Sauteed Corn and Blueberry Salad featured a combination of bursting flavors that I would never have thought to pair.  It was a delicious surprise!  But my favorite recipe in the cookbook is by far the Chocolate Carrot Truffle.  Filled with cocoa, the hidden nutrition of the carrot is completely sublimated.  

Sauteed Corn and Blueberry Salad
Patricia was gracious and transparently open with her audience, sharing the story of the book's family publication, with a brother designing the graphics.  Her multi-generational home is kosher and often used for entertaining; spanning such a wide variety of situations has provided Patricia with a wealth of ideas.  As a nutritionist, Patricia stressed the flexibility of her recipes, which often re-used ingredients in new flavor profiles. 

Vegetable Quinoa Salad

Chocolate Carrot Truffle
One great feature of "Scrumptious Sandwiches..." is the nutrition profiles of each recipe.  Patricia explained that the FDA is revising food label requirements as of 2018.  The changes are meant to bring to the forefront the serving size for each portion, as well as the calorie count.  Patricia worked with a company to formulate labels for each of her recipes in accordance with the new standards far in advance of the requirement. 


This cookbook is one that will encourage a teen who might already be comfortable in the kitchen to widen their scope and hold healthy eating standards.  It's also a great going away gift for a college student moving into their first apartment. 

July 31, 2017

Everything Bagel Seasoned Roasted Cauliflower


I love trimmed and prepared veggies for the ease of convenience.  It's not a lot of work to cut up a head of cauliflower, but having prepped veggies at my fingertips may mean the difference between my eating vegetables or grabbing quick junk food.  In that case, the extra money spent is worth it.  I used Melissa's sweet Fioretto Cauliflower to make a roasted cauliflower that was delicious.  

I've fallen in love with Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel Seasoning.  I use it on tomatoes in my grilled cheese sandwich, on popcorn as a snack, and now wanted to see what it could do for roasted vegetables. 


Everything Bagel Seasoned Roasted Cauliflower

10 oz. Cauliflower Florets
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
2 Tbsp Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel Seasoning

Shake the veggies, oil and spices in a ziploc bag till well coated.  Place on a plate and sprinkle with shredded Parmesean.  Roast at 375 for 25 minutes, covering with foil halfway thru.

Ready to go into the oven

July 30, 2017

Cacao-Rum-Nectarine Smoothie


I've been avoiding turning on the air conditioning in my house this summer, and trying to deal with the heat through lots of cool liquids.  An overabundance of fruit from a friend who works farmers markets has really come in handy!  My latest smoothie is a rum-coconut-chocolate concoction that allows me to close my eyes and envision a tropical destination.   

I cut the fruit into halves and froze in gallon bags.  I prep a smoothie each morning and leave it in the refrigerator.  When the heat gets to me a couple hours later, all I have to do is add milk and blend.  The slightly frozen fruit gives my smoothie a shake like consistency and keeps the drink cold as I sip. 


Rum-Cacao Nectarine Smoothie

Fill up canning jar with frozen Nectarine halves (for me that's about three or four)
3 Tbsp finely ground unsweetened Coconut
1 Tbsp Cacao Powder
1 Tbsp Hemp
1 Tbsp Flax Seed
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp imitation Rum Flavoring
Almond Milk to fill glass

Blend all with stick blender.  Drink while semi-frozen for a slurry-like consistency. 

July 15, 2017

Food 52's Easy Bulk Bin Snack Bars


It used to be common to bring a baked good when visiting a friend or neighbor.  These days, its an unusual treat when someone puts thought into a hostess gift.  A friend brought me a wonderful homemade granola bar when she came to stay overnight for a charity fundraiser that I had set up.  And even better, she included the recipe!  I've finally gotten around to making it myself, with my own adaptations. 

These granola bars are no-bake, which is a huge bonus in Southern California's hot summers.  They are easy to substitute in whatever is in your pantry, following the basic ratio of nuts and seeds to dried fruit, with oats, peanut butter, honey, and applesauce as binders (to veganize, replace the honey with maple syrup).  Making them at home ensures control of the quality of ingredients, without any of the chemicals added to commercial snack bars.  Using tart pans makes them easy to remove and controls portions, though I could still cut my bars in half because I made them especially thick.  I love the flavor pairing of dried apricots, and keep them in my pantry, so that's what I used here.  I can't wait to incorporate other ingredients, like matcha or ground cacao powder, dried apples, cherries, and other nuts like hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts....it's a great way to use up leftover ingredients!

Do you have a favorite bar or granola recipe?  Do share!


Bulk Bin Snack Bars

1 1/2 C. Oats
3/4 C. Whole Almonds
1/2 C. Dried Apricots
1/3 C. Chopped Pecans
1/3 C. Pepitas
1/2 C. Shredded Unsweetened Coconut
1/4 C. Sunflower Seeds
1/3 C. Flax Seed
1/3 C. Honey
1 C. Almond Butter
1/4 C. Unsweetened Applesauce

Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add nut butter, applesauce, and honey.  Use hands to mix thoroughly to combine.  Use tart pans, or alternately line a baking tin or dish with wax paper.  Pack granola mixture into pan and push down with the back of a spoon.  Refrigerate or freeze overnight or until solid.  Store in the fridge in a tupperware between layers of wax paper. 

June 20, 2017

Pasadena Chalk Festival 2017


 


I took my little pup Caitie to explore the Pasadena Chalk Fest, which takes place annually over Father's Day weekend. Unfortunately the heat wave limited our stay so we weren't able to cover the whole event. For the good of the artists, there were lots of shade umbrellas, but they made photographing the work quite difficult.

This event is just so much more striking in person.  If you're in the area, make it a priority to go--and take your dad!



  
a tribute to Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher.








Frida Kahlo as Rosie the Riveter
A little bit of fantasy

Caitie posing with our favorite of the year!

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