Summer Journal: holding on

Summer 2014 is closing in on me. I know it when the fields start turning golden. I've fallen a bit behind here, which I've often found to be a good sign. Here are a few photos from the last couple weeks anyway.

That weekend when I made those chickpea cakes and the jam? I also made this, my Opa's German Cream Coffee Cake. When I'm alone, I am in the kitchen. One of these days I'd like to tell you more about this special treat. It's a pull-apart cake and boy, is it ever good.
This summer has been unusual in that we've not been able to vacation much, and when we have, it's been separately. But this past weekend it was us, and Luna, and the winding, ever-beautiful drive through Idaho to Boise.

We stop more often with our furry friend and thank her for being so accommodating in the backseat. She was a real trooper.
It was good for us to stretch our legs, too, even if it was along the stinky banks of the Clearwater River in Lewiston.
 I love the varied landscape of Idaho: wheat fields, desert canyons, prairies, and river rapids.
Monday, Monday. Our annual summer parting shot. We bring the color.


Chickpea cakes: when your food could be a petname

I had the whole place to myself on Saturday night (plus the dog and cat), and when that happens, I usually fix a meatless dinner. So it was me and chickpea cakes in a nice romantic setting, with a bright little tomato salad and mini bottle of Prosecco. Because why not?

And several episodes of Mad About You. I just can't help it.

The recipe is from America's Test Kitchen's The Best Simple Recipes magazine (they call it a bookazine, apparently), which promises "foolproof recipes that cook in 30 minutes or less." That's only true for about half of those I've made (quicker the second time around, usually), but regardless, they are simple, and they are reasonably quick, for ATK.

Chickpea cakes with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce
adapted from America's Test Kitchen: The Best Simple Recipes bookazine

For the chickpea cakes:
2 slices hearty sandwich bread, torn into pieces
2 large eggs
2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. 2-percent Greek yogurt (you'll need more for the sauce - see below)
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp. garam masala
1/8 tsp. cayenne
3 T. scallions, thinly sliced (slice more for the sauce - see below)
1/4 c. olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and adjust oven rack to middle position. Process the bread pieces in a food processor until course crumbs, about 10-12 pulses. Spread crumbs on a rimmed baking sheet and bak 10-12 minutes. Cool completely. Make yogurt sauce while bread crumbs bake (below).

Whisk eggs, 2 T. oil, garam masala, cayenne and 1/4 tsp. salt in a medium bowl. In a separate large bowl, mash chickpeas with a potato masher, or by hand if it's easier (it was for me). Pour egg mixture in  with the chickpeas and add the shallot, bread crumbs and 1/2 c. yogurt (not the sauce you just made), and scallions, and mix well. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes to firm up a bit.

Form the mixture into 6 to 8 1-inch cakes.

Heat up 1 T. oil (or more, if you're not using nonstick skillet) in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add 3 cakes and cook until well browned, 4-5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and tent loosely with foil. Repeat with remaining cakes.

Serve with cucumber-yogurt sauce

For the cucumber-yogurt sauce:
1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and shredded
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
Pepper to taste
3/4 c. 2-percent Greek yogurt
2 T. scallions, thinly sliced
1 T. cilantro (I didn't have this and it tasted just fine without)
1 tsp. (or more) freshly squeezed lemon juice


Apricot Peach Orange-Flower Jam

Jam is a great way to deal with things. I had five nearly overripe apricots and a beautiful peach sitting on the counter. I didn't want to go to the trouble to make dough for a tart, nor did I think I had enough fruit to make such a thing worth it. So I set out to make a quick apricot jam, and at the last minute, I threw the peach in as the apricots and sugar were already boiling. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, I decided to add a few drops of orange flower water, just for fanciness. It really worked!
I used an Alice Waters recipe as a starting point, but this is a scaled down version with my additions. When I'm in the mood to make my next orange or lemon tart, I would love to glaze it with this stuff. If it lasts, of course. It probably won't.

Apricot Peach Orange-Flower Jam

10 oz. apricots, pitted and diced
1 large peach, pitted and diced
1/2 c. sugar
A few strips of lemon rind, with the white pith
1/8 tsp. orange flower water

Bring the fruit and sugar to boil, then reduce to medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir frequently. Add the lemon rind and continue simmering for another 10 minutes, adding in the orange flower water in during the last 5 minutes. Mash the fruit, a bit, if needed (the apricots break down easily enough, but depending on the ripeness of your fruit, it may need a little help). When the mixture is thick enough and leaves a path when you run a spoon through the middle, remove from heat and cool completely. Place the cooled jam into a clean jar and refrigerate for up to a year.


Hippie laundry detergent

I hopped on the DIY wagon about a decade ago when I started living by myself and had taken to extreme budgeting techniques. It wasn't that I was living on pennies - I just liked to see how far I could go before people thought I was a little nuts. Usually, it was about making food from scratch, and it ultimately meant that I wasn't saving all that much money, but I was eating food that was much better for me and so I splurged on the good ingredients. I often find myself spending too much time in the grocery store pondering whether to go home and make granola, or English muffins, or pita bread, or....just buy the packaged stuff. Probably half the time I ending going the DIY route, but the other half of the time I tell myself to get a life.

With cleaning products, DIY has been hit-or-miss with me, causing me to wonder if it's really worth it because you can buy some decent stuff without all the harsh chemicals. But, for once, this is an opportunity to save money because as millions of people know, you can do pretty much anything with baking soda and vinegar.  I've used baking soda and vinegar with a variety of other ingredients like Borax and essential oils for a couple years now for sinks, toilets, showers and whatever else, and find that while it does take a little more work, not having to smell ammonia or bleach makes it worth it.

My latest DIY project was laundry detergent. I didn't think it would work that well, but I knew it would be cheap, so I didn't have much to lose. Except for the clothes I could potentially ruin. There was that. So I started by laundering my cleaning rags. Those came out smelling pepperminty and fresh, so I kept going and washed my next loads. I'm now a hippie-laundry-detergent believer.

In case you're interested in creating your own mixture, the one I use is simple, which you can double, triple, or open up a factory and quadruple:

1 5-oz. bar of castille soap (I love Dr. Bronner's peppermint and/or lavender - or a combo of both)
4 c. baking soda
3 c. washing soda (I find this at Ace Hardware store in the laundry section)

Grate the bar of soap with a box grater. This is fun because it feels wrong. But then you can just wash it quickly under warm water because there's already soap on it! Genius.

Once the soap is grated, find a large container and dump everything in. Stir it, shake it, dance with it, whatever you need to do to get it well mixed.

I use 2 T. per load. Doesn't matter if you're washing with hot or cold, or with a front- or top-loading washing machine.

Enjoy your clean clothes, you hippie!

(In case you need that recipe again...I usually do)


Summer Journal: Week 5

Morning is the only time of day when it is cool around here. And even then, sometimes it's still 70 degrees. I relish it as much as I can.
I've enjoyed watching the campus transform over the summer during a major underground construction project. Students will never know how much earth was moved around while they were gone.
Joel grabbed this photo last Friday night when we were looking for an open winery and instead spent a bit of time at the grounds of the Hutton Settlement. This place is beautiful and has an interesting history.
Look out, world. I'm sewing something. I hope it's successful so I can tell you about it later.
The pinolate I blogged about in the last post.
My three little fuschia plants are ready to pop all over the place.
I can't tell you how happy it makes me to be successful at growing tomatoes.
Joel is really good at making drinks. Have I ever mentioned this? This one was a classic combo of gin, Campari and lime.
I got to pet baby wolves! They showed up on campus for a kids camp on Thursday.


Pinolate | Pine Nut Cookies

I'm always looking to expand my tiny-cookie repertoire, as well as to use up stuff that goes rancid in the pantry if I don't act fast. This time I had a nice stash of pine nuts from a pesto dinner, and they came pre-toasted (thanks, Trader Joe's).

These pinolate are naturally gluten free, in the same way that broccoli and rice are gluten free. They never started out with gluten in them in a former life. You need nothing else but nuts, egg white, sugar and lemon zest. It's a celebration of the pine nut, not the fact that it doesn't have flour. And, because they're so rich, a little cookie goes a long way.

adapted slightly from Biscotti
makes about 20 small cookies

7 oz. pine nuts (if they're pre-toasted, you can skip the first step)
3 oz. almond meal
1/4 c. + 3 T sugar
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg white, lightly beaten until barely frothy

Toast the pine nuts: preheat oven to 300 F. Spread the pine nuts evenly on a cookie sheet and toast for about 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Let cool before using.

Pulse the almonds with the sugar and 1/3 c. of the total pine nuts in a food processor to create a sandy texture. Transfer the nut mixture to a small mixing bowl. Add the lemon zest, vanilla and egg white and mix well. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the dough into cherry-size balls and roll each ball in the remainder of the pine nuts, pressing them gently into the dough.

Space the balls 1.5" apart on the sheet and bake 9-11 (or 13 for me) minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 15 minutes on the baking sheet.

Store what you don't eat right away in a sealed container for up to a week.


Saturday Sentimentalist: wanderlust

When I look back on the influential moments of my life thus far, so many of them are tied to places I've visited. Memories from these trips sneak up on me every so often, years or even decades later. The other morning I was standing at the drinking fountain at work and got a faint whiff of something - imagine something similar to the smell of new IKEA furniture - and I was transported back to the bedroom where I stayed in high school during my first trip to Germany. I hadn't thought of that bedroom in years, but suddenly I was remembering the layout, the confusing way the bed was made and its uncomfortable metal frame, the way the carpet met the tile in the hallway, and how my host mom used to put an assortment of snacks and mineral water on the bedroom floor for me when I got home from school each day.

Of course, I didn't think just of those mental snapshots. I thought about the feelings of being there, as a 16-year-old, awkward yet mature, very conscious of how much baggier my jeans looked compared to those worn by German girls my age, worried about my German pronunciation of everything, but willing to give it a shot. I am so glad I did.

Looking back on this stuff, I'm even more convicted to live in each moment. But, because I'm me, I still can't help but hang onto those things that help me briefly return to that time and place. I've since thrown away many ticket stubs, travel brochures and various tchotchkes, but if there's anything I know I'll hang onto as long as humanly possible, it's these things.

1. Travel journals. If I can be disciplined to at least write a list of places I go each day during my travels, I know that decades later I will be grateful. I can't tell you how glad I am to have kept a thorough journal of that first trip to Germany when I was 16. Not only does it provide a funny portrait of myself that I'll never see in the photos of me from that trip, it shows how I took in the whole experience. It also reminds me that not all travel is glamorous, despite my memories of it being wonderful all the time. It's exhausting, emotional, and disappointing sometimes. I kept other journals during my study abroad trip in college and on our first trip to Paris. Though those aren't nearly as robust as my first one, it's nice to read about what stood out to me and to be reminded of what we did. It's amazing to realize how much I might have otherwise forgotten.

2. Mixtapes. Or in my case, burned CDs. I still have the CD entitled "Spring Break 3!" - third in a series, of course - from a roadtrip I took with my friend Crystal during our junior year of college. I listen to it every once in awhile and can still recall those feelings of freedom mixed with feelings of stress and crushing on boys. Music has the ability to return you to a time and a place, and it's the same with the tunes that carry you through hours in the air or on the road. It's the reason John Coltrane's "In a Sentimental Mood" takes me to London Heathrow, where I sat for hours in a plane on the tarmac, in a snowstorm, waiting to take off, only to deplane and book a flight the next morning. Which sounds kind of miserable, but it was actually one of the rare occasions I got to spend quality time with my brother, and for that reason, a pretty meaningful moment in time. 

3. Photos. Obviously. I don't need to elaborate much here. Except to say that in some ways, I think digital photography has made this area easier but also more complicated. We can take waaaaay more photos with our digital cameras, and we know instantly whether they turned out, but on the other side of that, I wonder if we lose meaning in having so many to sort through later. I'm always struck at landmarks when I look around at everyone taking pretty much the same photo, and I start to realize how much we're experiencing all this glorious stuff in front of us through such tiny screens (except for those nerds who take photos with their tablets. wow.). These photos prove we're there, of course, and who can't resist snapping our very own shot of it? But still I try to challenge myself to find other ways of documenting my experience. Though the end results may be boring to everyone else, it's something special for me.

As an example, during my last trip to Rome, I found it more fun to document the hundreds of people trying to nail that perfect nighttime Trevi Fountain shot than trying to do so myself. 

4. Personal epiphanies. I feel like the movie Paris, Je T'aime is always on when we're flipping channels. It is filmed as a series of vignettes by different directors, each a tribute to a different arrondessement in Paris. I've seen it just once in its entirety. Since then, though, I've watched this particular vignette multiple times. Upon first viewing, I laughed as soon as the woman began to speak. Her American accent was a stark change from the graceful, sophisticated French we'd heard in all the other scenes. She's Carol, from Denver, and she is reading a report she wrote for her French class about her trip to Paris. As the scene unfolds with her walking around with her fanny pack, you feel her loneliness and even her disappointment in Paris. It is the perfect illustration how travel can be a let-down after romanticizing it for so long (there is such a thing as Paris Syndrome, I've since learned). And also of how what we tell others when we return are often rosier versions of what we actually experienced. But what I love most about this scene is the beautiful, intangible moment she describes at the end of her report. Having been a solo traveler before, and as someone whose love of Paris has gone through a similar awakening, this final scene gives me a lump in my throat each time I watch it. While good food and beautiful views and historical landmarks will likely be catalysts to push you to get out into the world, if that's all you get out of travel, you're missing the point. If you have 6 minutes, take a look. I need not say more. (Watch it here if you don't see the video below.)