Two-bottle gingerbread

I've lived here long enough to learn where the afternoon sun hangs this time of year. So does the cat, and she has her seasonal spots by the front window. Right now, she likes the seat of the big green chair. In a few months, she'll migrate to the corner of the rug, unless the dog got there first.

We've been having the best weather. Each day calls for several versions of one outfit - early morning, mid-morning, and afternoon styles. The colors around the neighborhood are warm, the air grips my nose, and the crunch of leaves is still catching me off-guard on my daily walks. I just picked the last of the tomatoes the other day, and just in time: the lightest whisper of frost settled on my windshield the next morning.

And thus, I knew it was time for me to put away my most obvious summer clothes this weekend - the summery dresses that don't transition well to colder months, anything that has eyelet lace, or any item that looks like something I'd wear on a yacht. In my mind, that means thin fabric with stripes, though I'm guessing, since don't have any personal experience on a yacht.

It still may hit 80 degrees these afternoons, but on Saturday I found myself singing, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," switching out the word "look" with "smell," because I made gingerbread. The warm spices bloomed in the oven and I convinced myself that it is fall, because dang it, I just reacquainted myself with the sweaters I'd buried and now want to wear again.

This is gingerbread in a bundt pan, gingerbread that is so rich it calls for a pound of butter, and two bottles of molasses.

Seriously, two! I almost thought it was a mistake. But it was so good and tender that if it was indeed a mistake, I don't want to correct it. So just note that if you want to make this as written, make sure you have two bottles or one giant jar of the thick dark stuff.

One particularly spicy and welcome addition is chopped candied ginger. It's mixed into the batter so you get these nice little hot, chewy bits every once in awhile.

The jury's out on the lemon glaze for me. It's a welcome palate cleanser of sorts, something that cuts through the richness, but it was almost too lemony. A simple sprinkle of powdered sugar would be just as nice, though not as pretty as a glaze on a ridgy bundt, which of course you can make without the lemon.

But enough with the notes. Make this and feel good about life.

Two Bottle Gingerbread with Candied Ginger and Lemon Glaze
Adapted from Marie's (Simmons, of Bon Appetit) Rich Gingerbread in Classic Home Desserts

1 T. unsalted butter, softened, for the pan, plus a little flour
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 3/4 to 2 c. dark molasses
3 1/2 c. flour
2 T. ground ginger
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. minced candied (crystalized) ginger, chopped fine
1 c. boiling water

Lemon glaze
1 c. powdered sugar
1-2 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. lemon zest

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a standard-sized bundt or tube pan and tap out the excess flour. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer at medium-high speed, until light and fluffy - about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until evenly combined and smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in the molasses with a slow, steady stream, as is its nature, until evenly blended.

3. Sift together the remaining dry ingredients in a separate bowl, and stir in the candied ginger. Gradually add in the dry ingredients to the wet, just until blended with no visible flour pockets. Remove bowl from mixer and with a good rubber spatula, fold in the boiling water in 1/3 c. increments, until all is thoroughly and evenly incorporated. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

4. Bake for about an hour, until the sides begin to pull away from the pan. Cool the cake in the pan on a cooling rack for a half hour (it's okay if it falls a little bit). Run a knife around the edges if necessary and invert the cake onto a serving plate.

5. Combine the lemon glaze ingredients - the glaze should trail from the spoon like molasses - slow, but not painfully slow. If it's too thick, add more lemon juice; if it's too runny, add more sugar. With a spoon, gently ladle the glaze over the top and let it trickle down the sides to your liking. Serve warm if possible, or let the glaze set a while and eat it at room temperature. With tea, of course.


These beans

When I was 5 or 6, my sister and her friend rewrote the lyrics to Top 40 hits of the day and recorded them on cassette tape. They were hilarious. I loved it because it was humor I could understand at that young age. I remember them spending more than one occasion turning songs like Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love" into a song about a sandbox romance called "Saving All My Mud," and, as pertains to this post, Heart's "These Dreams" into "These Beans." The lyric "White skin...in linen..." became "Green beans...on china..." and to this day, the rewritten chorus gets stuck in my head: "These beans go on when I close my eyes..."

Which brings me to yet another post about beans. These beans are not the most attractive. But I will say they are among the best I've made. I did not plan ahead but I did have a free Saturday morning to quick-soak them (bring beans to boil in plenty of water, boil for a minute, then cover and leave off heat for an hour), as opposed to soaking them overnight. These beans turned out just as tender and creamy, and were ready by lunchtime. While they cooked, I washed windows. Several days later, as we ate the last serving of the beans, a bird had pooped on those windows. Seriously. Do shiny surfaces just encourage avian relief? "White poop...on window..."

Anyway, these beans are good. I'm trying to eat fewer carbs these days (greetings, My 30s Metabolism), but beans, these or otherwise, are simply part of a well-balanced diet. Take or leave the bread - I would be happy to add a bit more liquid and just call it soup. The roasted garlic makes it rich and sweet. The thyme adds a tingle. Just close your eyes and you will see, truly, that these beans do go on, as the reimagined song goes.

Here's the recipe:

These Smothered Beans (adapted from Food 52)
serves 4

1/2 lb. dried white beans (cannellini or Great Northern), pre-soaked
1 T. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 bay leaves
1 head of garlic, top cut off to expose cloves
olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or to taste)

Preheat oven to 400F. Place garlic on a small sheet of foil and drizzle with enough olive oil to coat the tops of the cloves. Wrap the foil around it completely and set on a baking sheet. When oven is preheated, bake for 35-40 minutes, until the garlic is tender. Unwrap and let cool.

Meanwhile, saute celery and onion in a large pot in the olive oil over medium heat. Once the vegetables become translucent and tender (7-10 minutes), add in the bay leaves and beans and enough water so it is about an inch over the beans. Stir, bring to a boil, then back down to a simmer. Cover and cook 50 minutes, or until the beans are becoming tender. Simmer uncovered for another 10-15 minutes. Skim most of water off the top and then add the salt, pepper and thyme. Squeeze the garlic cloves into the pot and mash bean mixture with a potato masher to your desired consistency. This mixture will thicken with time, and it stores well in the fridge for a few days. Serve warm with toast!


Everydayness and enjoyment

Sometimes I listen to Gretchen Rubin's podcast "Happier." I find some of her suggestions helpful in building my days with moments of joy, reflection, and choices that positively affect my mood. In one of the episodes she spoke about taking photos of everyday things. I caught onto that concept long ago with my photo-a-day blog, and years later it's such a treasure. It's a different feeling than looking at photos from a wonderful vacation or other big events. It's the everyday things you usually forget, but when you document them, it's surprising how much joy it brings, because that's how life actually was. At the time it may have seemed like nothing special, but years later, it sometimes has more meaning.

I found these first two photos on my camera, which I'd normally think are completely deletable - I think I was just testing exposure. But it truly doesn't get more everyday than this, so I'm including them along with the more thoughtful everyday photos I usually try to post here. Just for fun.

My craft/piano room. It needs work but it still gets good use and is a nice place to be because it gets so much morning and afternoon light, and I love the lamplight in here in the evening. We plan to do something about that wallpaper...
Cookies on a cooling rack with more in the oven in the middle of the afternoon. (Look to the right - they're hard to see.) I'd just made another great recipe from Flourless - oat-maple cookies with apricots and ginger. Oh my word. These flavors belong together.
I did not do anything to this sky photo. It was actually like this and I was in complete awe.
Luna loves to sit out here with us when we're out working. It's our happy place (until the dogs next door start barking).
More smoke, more gorgeous red suns.
Different exposure, same sunset.
It's been such a dry summer. The things that normally dry up each year around this time feel especially dry and I find it strangely beautiful, if a little scary.

A few other things I've been enjoying lately:

[PODCAST] Case #3: Belt Buckle by Mystery Show - This podcast is all about solving everyday mysteries, mostly without the help of the internet. This particular episode is the best yet of the few I've listened to. Years ago a kid found a really cool belt buckle, and the kid, now an adult, puts host Starlee Kine on the case to find its owner. The resolution nearly made me cry.

[ALBUM] A Date with the Everly Brothers - I'm not sure why I but I love these crystal clear young-man voices, slightly twangy in their swells, so in tune throughout. I really wanted to hear "Cathy's Clown" the other night but ended up listening to this whole thing to get there. The album is on Amazon Prime, if you do that sort of thing.

[TV SERIES] Catastrophe - I fell in love with this paranoid/risky/risque/hilarious couple after one episode.

[FOOD] Shrimp on the barbie. True confession: I had never ever cooked shrimp until 2 weeks ago. I put a handful in a foil packet with melted butter, lemon and garlic, sealed it up and put it on the grill. It's a big-time treat for me. But I'm still trying to figure out what deveining is all about. I quickly learned I had to peel them, but the veins are still a mystery to me. Perhaps I'll look it up on the internet.

[READING MATERIAL] The New Yorker. Finally re-subscribed after continually reaching my monthly online limit. Coincidentally, this article is in the latest issue.


It's not summer until...

The annual trip to Priest Lake. Last summer was the first in seven that I had to miss it, due to obligations that come with a new dog and not knowing what to do with her when you go away for a weekend. Fortunately, we've since worked that out, and last weekend was a glorious return to the place that has been so kindly shared with us by our hosts, the Phillips.

You can see by the color of the sky that it was a tad smoky this year from Washington fires. While it made for not-so-great air quality, it did contribute to beautiful sunsets. It was so nice to sleep in (i.e., anytime later than 5:45 a.m.) and spend most of the day in my swimsuit. It always makes me feel like a kid again.


Community cookbook recipe test: Isabelle Jones' Zucchini Lasagne

I brought home a 4-pound zucchini that was abandoned by some gardener I work with (who knows who it was - people leave things they don't want on the break room table). I knew that I could get a few meals out of this thing, so rather than just bake a bazillion loaves of zucchini bread, as is my tradition, I checked out a P.E.O. cookbook for inspiration. I found it in a recipe for lasagne, which today might be billed as gluten-free, but for me, all that mattered was that it featured my cast-off squash as the star. Best of all, it was a recipe from a member of my home chapter, Chapter BN in Boise.

Long strips of zucchini replace the pasta noodles, which already gives it the simplicity of no-boil noodles. This recipe calls for a meat sauce that you cook down with wine for an hour and a half, and then there's gobs of cheese.

Lasagne is not a particularly inspirational dish. It's more of a hearty family meal, a meal you throw in the freezer for when unexpected company arrives, something that's hard to mess up and sure to please anyone who's not on a strict diet. And let's not forget it was the favorite of Garfield the cat. I've never had bad lasagne, but still, it's never been something I dream about or order off a menu; I certainly never think to make it for a casual dinner at home, let alone eat the day it's made, with sauce that didn't come out of a can. So now I will admit that this was a fun treat, and the zucchini made it fancy. No, it won't go into a regular rotation, but I will gladly add it to my "what the heck to do with all this zucchini" file.

Zucchini Lasagne
Recipe adapted from Isabelle Jones, found in Kitchen Treasures: A collection of recipes from Idaho's 50+ year P.E.O. members

4 large zucchini (or, in my case, half a big honkin' one)
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 lb. ground beef or turkey (I used turkey)
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1 4-oz. can sliced mushrooms (I used a big handful of fresh)
3/4 c. dry red wine
1 1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. basil
salt and pepper to taste
8 oz. mozzarella, thinly sliced (I used part-skim)
8 oz. ricotta cheese (again, part-skim)
1/2. grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and ground meat. Cook until tender but not brown, stirring to keep meat crumbly (if using fresh mushrooms, add now). Add tomatoes, tomato paste, mushrooms (if using the canned variety), and spices and salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350. Oil a casserole dish (I used a 9x13 pan). Cut zucchini lengthwise into strips 1/4 inch thick and place half of them in the bottom of the dish to cover. Top with one half the mozzarella and one half the ricotta. Add half the meat sauce. Repeat the layering. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes. Serves 4-6.


Scenes from the weekend: July 25

At home: Got up early both Saturday and Sunday mornings to watch the final stages of the Tour de France, baked bread, made our very favorite pork tenderloin recipe on Friday night, mixed cocktails, tired my back out on yard work and washing the wood floors, played Mille Bornes while watching a Paul Simon concert and waiting for lasagne to cook.

Out and about: Sunday lunch at Veraci, ice cream at Brain Freeze Creamery and a walk with Luna on the Centennial Trail; Friday night drive (Joel was scouting out a bike ride for the next day) and froyo. We went to the movies and saw Mr. Holmes - I just want to give Ian McKellan a big hug. It was a sweet story, if at times a bit slow-moving.

Reading (trying, at least): Truth Like the Sun by Jim Lynch.

Making: I started on the Moss Landing hat from the Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders book, continuing on the Using Up My Stash quest.

This weekend felt a little too much like fall for my taste. I can already feel these days getting shorter - the sunrise feels a bit lazy and our evening walks have been cooler. And rain! What? Still, you should see my tomatoes. I can't get over how much they've taken over the garden. And this next weekend - at the lake! - should be hotter and remind me that it is still most definitely summertime.


Saturday Sentimentalist: Things I Learned After Watching "Good News" a Million Times

Beginning in junior high, I developed a love for - nay, an obsession with - a lesser-known 1947 movie musical called Good News. It stars June Allyson and Peter Lawford on the campus of the fictitious Tait College in 1927, a year that many pop culture enthusiasts claim to be one of the best (Bill Bryson wrote a whole book on the marvelous events that happened just during that summer; worth a summer read). It's in Technicolor. There are lively, coordinated dance numbers. Mel Torme's vocals cast a velvety glow on the whole thing.

What I loved about it, especially in my teenage, boyfriendless years, was the portrayal of college, and of how a pretty but humble student librarian could win the heart of the most popular and attractive guy on campus, the star of the football team. I mean, young Peter Lawford, people.

Oh, but I also loved the idea of studying in old brick buildings, living in the grand mansions of sorority life, cheering with the crowd at a football game, and wearing cardigans with pearl buttons just like June Allyson's character, Connie. In my mind, I too could attend such a college, and with a big intellect and small waistline, surely I could just be myself and inadvertently woo a ladies' man to change his ways and devote himself to me. 

While I did go to college and owned two soft cardigans with precious little buttons, and though I lived in a dorm built coincidentally in 1927, in a room that overlooked the cheering crowds at the football field, I graduated without a jock hanging on my arm. By that time, I'd realized that most athletes I'd met weren't usually as eager to nerd out on indie music as I was, which was my primary extracurricular interest and the basis for most of my crushes. Needless to say, Good News was not my college story. But after watching this feel-good musical again recently for the first time in years, it became clear just how many of those things I internalized in some way, whether I intended them to or not. Here are the strange ways this movie has permeated my life:

1. A college campus makes me happy. My whole growing up life, I loved imagining that I was in the midst of a musical. Being on a college campus is the perfect place to feel as though a musical is about to happen, where you have hundreds of characters around you, witness dozens of impromptu interactions on a daily basis, and a beautiful setting for it all to take place. As a student, I loved being able to say that I lived in all of it, and as an employee, I love watching the predictable energy at various points of the year. 

2. Respecting my independent self. What I loved about the character of Connie was that she was a do-it-yourselfer. She could fix a sink, sew a dress, and work her way through college. And she had a healthy amount of pride: When asked to go to the dance by Tommy (Peter Lawford) after he was turned down by his first choice (the evil, gold-digger Patricia McClellan), she resisted because she knew that it would make her "second fiddle." But, of course those P-Law puppy-dog eyes convinced her otherwise. Like Connie, I worked in the library through my college years. I had financial aid and lots of help from my parents, but I also knew I needed to work and get started on my own. And I've also appreciated any chance I've gotten to learn how to do things myself. Because as long as I was single, it was fun to pine, but it wasn't fun to mope. Better to figure out what you really love and enjoy doing, regardless of your relationship status, and develop yourself.

3. Appreciating high brow AND low brow. The closing scene is a shocker when intellectual Connie attends the homecoming dance and leads Tommy and everybody else in the latest dance craze, the Varsity Drag. A delightful surprise to all! And maybe that's why on my Friday commute, I often turn the dial from NPR to the Top 40 station. Because in case people think I'm a total bore with all of my book knowledge, they'll change their mind and nod with approval when I recite all the lines to "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift. It's about balance.

4. Learning French. Is it just a coincidence that, like the "French Lesson" scene (which, if you watch nothing else of this movie, you must at least watch this much) between Connie and Tommy that launched their romance, one of the first activities Joel and I enjoyed together was learning French?

5. Money can't buy happiness. "The Best Things In Life Are Free" is the anchor theme of this musical, and the song gets sweeter and truer as the years go by. People who chase money, like the aforementioned debutante character Patricia McClellan, are not worth investing your time in. Those who find joy in what's already around them will be set for life. I try to remember this every day.

You want to watch it, don't you?