Inspired By

Happy Valentine's Day from this little mouse (and me).

My inspiration levels have not been overflowing lately. Shocking, I know. I have had only just enough spark to take someone else's work and riff on it.

This hat is a good example. I loved Bristol Ivy's Peace de Resistance Mittens pattern, but I hardly ever wear mittens. Hats, on the other hand, I wear all the time. So, I turned the mitten pattern into a hat.

I finished the hat on Sunday, and I have posted my project notes on Ravelry in case you would also like to make a hat like this one. I like mine so much I almost slept in it Sunday night.

I then turned to knitting a gift for Wyatt for Valentine's Day. For the last two years, I have knitted him a little Valentine's present. The first year was a red heart pillow (that I scented with lavender flowers and is now worn and pilled from love) and the second year was a bouquet of lavender flowers (that sit on his nightstand).

Last week, Wyatt reminded me that Valentine's Day was coming and asked if I had already started working on his present. (I do love how there is no chance my child will wait and wonder whether I will meet his expectation for a present. I mean, why hope quietly, count on mind reading, and risk disappointment when you can SPECIFICALLY ASK?) I hadn't, so I looked through Hansi Singh's book of Amigurumi Knits, and I opted to make him a banana slug, inspired by the snail in her book, the endless amount of rain we have been getting this winter, and my lack of lovely yarn for a shell. But, the problem was three-quarters of the way through the body, the slug looked a lot like a gangrenous-colored peen warmer (as my friend Sarah correctly observed).

So Monday afternoon, I bought the pattern I had found last week before I talked myself into making that stripped-down snail. I knitted furiously from when Wyatt went to bed until the wee hours of Valentine's Day morning, knitting, embroidering, and assembling a Valentine's Mouse. The mouse is adorable, and way more time-consuming than I had anticipated.

And for dinner? Inspiration has been lagging a bit there, too. We had lots of soup last week. But this Saturday, after another afternoon volunteering at the Presidio Nursery (weeding this week!), I tried making Cabbage Pad Thai for the first time. I know, I know. The rallying cries of "Zucchini noodles!" or "Cauliflower rice!" followed by, "You won't even notice the difference!" is utter nonsense. Of COURSE you will notice a difference. If you don't, you're not paying enough attention to your food. The question should be whether you like the substitution, not whether there's a difference. Sometimes I like the swap, and sometimes I don't. Same goes for Wyatt. He actually scowled when I said it was Pad Thai made with cabbage, and said, "WHAT? NO NOODLES?" And he wasn't wrong--we all really do love cabbage in many forms, but cabbage is not noodles. So I made the recipe as written but added a two bricks of brown rice noodles I had just pre-cooked (mixed them in with the cabbage at the end). We also added a sprinkle of mung bean sprouts, too. We had just enough for the three of us for dinner.

Christmas Breakfast

IMG_4070.jpg

We started planning this year's Christmas breakfast around the time we started planning Thanksgiving dinner.

During one dinner planning conversation, I told Wyatt the story of the year I joined my best friend, Debbie, and her parents in Palm Desert for Thanksgiving. We had such a fun holiday weekend, and I made a peanut butter pie. That pie was so deliciously memorable that for the next several Thanksgivings, when Debbie and I would phone each other to trade "Happy Thanksgiving!" greetings, I would hear her dad's voice call from the background, "Ask her where my peanut butter pie is!" And Debbie would repeat into the phone, "My dad wants to know where his peanut butter pie is."

Wyatt found that story very, very funny. "Where's my peanut butter pie!" he shouted over and over, and then dissolved into giggles. Suddenly, he stopped, and said, "What IS peanut butter pie? It sounds DELICIOUS. I love peanut butter. And pie! I KNOW! We should have peanut butter pie for Christmas breakfast."

I don't remember how the tradition started, but this year will be our fourth Christmas where we have "Whatever We Want" for breakfast. So far, "Whatever We Want" has translated into "Dessert." Dessert for breakfast is basically forbidden, so it's an awfully special annual experience. In addition, there's something spectacularly satisfying about responding to a sullen child who says, "I want candy/cake/pie for breakfast!" on any other day of the year by saying, "Oh dear. Let me check the calendar. Nope! It's not Christmas."

Because we're us, it's not like dessert means a break from cooking or baking. We make all of our Christmas breakfast treats. Last year, we baked gluten-free Florentine cookies and served them with sweet potato ice cream. If you're ever at Mitchell's Ice Cream in San Francisco, try the purple yam ice cream and you'll understand why we went with David Lebovitz's sweet potato ice cream recipe. For the two Christmas breakfasts before that, we made apple crisp and vanilla ice cream.

This year, we are planning on peanut butter pie and ice cream. The ice cream flavor will probably be chocolate. I've found a four-fork-rated peanut butter pie recipe on Epicurious, and I have the already proven Joy of Cooking recipe. Whichever recipe we choose (Joy of Cooking), we will need to make some gluten-free graham crackers so that we can have a graham cracker crust. Wyatt just informed me he cannot wait to smash the crackers into bits with a mallet.

Christmas Eve is slated to be our cooking day. We will make the pie crust and the pie, and prepare the ice cream batter, which we will freeze in the ice cream maker on Christmas morning. We will also make Christmas Eve dinner, which will be latkes, recipe courtesy of Debbie's mom, of course.

Between now and Christmas Eve, we will be busying ourselves with activities, because it is Christmas Break. We're planning to head downtown to ride a cable car and see the giant gingerbread houses at the Fairmont Hotel one day. We've got years of experience building our own little houses thanks to kits and extra candy that Wyatt's grandparents send:

Another day, we'll head to the Exploratorium. And if it's not too rainy, perhaps we can fit in some ice skating at some point.

Just a few days left of the crescendo of Christmas excitement. And then, maybe we can relax? Wishful thinking, I'm sure.

Holiday Treats

"Mom. I love Christmas carols. And Christmas trees. And presents! The only thing I don't love about Christmas is waiting for it to come."

Christmas is coming! Wyatt reminds us about it every day.

Before Wyatt was born, our house was not usually very Christmas-y around the holidays. Sometimes we got a tree, and when we did, it was usually a very manageable car-trunk-size. The years we decorated a little tree, our other Christmas decorations would stay boxed away because one of the worst parts of Christmas decorating is putting it all away for next year. In fact, the Christmas a few months before Wyatt was born, we consciously opted out of getting a tree or decorating our home in any way. We figured it would be our last chance for awhile to get away with such a stripped-down holiday.

Our instincts about holiday decorations were absolutely correct. Like every child I've ever met, Wyatt loves holiday lights, decorated trees, treats, and of course, presents. So we're now five Christmas seasons into CHRISTMAS!

And having CHRISTMAS! while striving for "less is more" in our lives can get tricky. Acquiring only great items we know we need or will really use and enjoy has helped make our home livable, our lives less cluttered, and, with any luck, the earth a tiny bit less of a waste dump. Of course Wyatt disagrees 100% with this approach to consumerism and complains bitterly every time we tell him, "No, we are not buying that."

Some of the best gifts we have received over the years have been memberships to museums or gift certificates to favorite restaurants. These types of outings have helped us create connections in a way that unwrapping a thing, no matter how thoughtfully chosen, doesn't. It's tough to beat having a terrific time on a loved one's dime while you recount fun (and funny) stories about times you have all spent together.

And while Wyatt would swear he absolutely prefers toys over fun excursions, there is a small chance that on a given day he would choose a day of ice skating or a dinner out over a toy truck. Not a fire truck or anything fancy, mind you, just a frills-free one. So we do our best to strike a balance for him between experiences and things. We try to minimize overlap with toys he already owns, choose things we think he will use a lot in a variety of ways, and include items like art and craft supplies that will spark creativity and get consumed.

Let's face it: Gift giving is challenging. Most adults we know would prefer less stuff in their lives. But I've noticed that almost everyone welcomes a homemade, edible holiday gift. So, like any good urban homesteading family, we started working on certain gifts awhile ago.

In mid-November, we started a giant jar of preserved lemons with rosemary. My friend, Maja, shared the idea with me, and the lemons were easy and fun to make.

The only issue we had was that salty, juicy lemons can make your hands sting like crazy if you have even the tiniest "owie," as Wyatt always does. Using disposable food service gloves helped keep his little hands sting-free. We checked on the lemons every few days to see and smell how they changed with time. They were a bright and sunny addition to our fermentation corner.

Yesterday, we repackaged the giant jar into two smaller gift-sized Fido jars for Wyatt's teachers. And thanks to Marc, who commented, "Wow. If someone gave me that, I would have no idea what to do with it," I included some recipe ideas in the card.

In the just-in-time edible gift department, we made four batches of caramel popcorn clusters. We made three batches with peanuts and one without, because as Wyatt pointed out, "Some friends might be allergic to peanuts." Wyatt assisted with some measuring, stirring, and of course he carefully tasted every batch. I packaged the popcorn clusters into treat bags.

Once Wyatt had tasted our caramel popcorn, he found it very difficult to give it away, or even look at it in the pantry without complaining that he wanted to eat all of it. But giving it away is becoming easier for him. The other day, he happily presented our most favorite Recology driver with some gift cards and a bag of caramel popcorn. Wyatt informed him, "I helped make this popcorn. It's really good. You'll want to eat all of it all the time, but it's only a sometimes food."

The recipe we used for our caramel popcorn clusters is here. We have a hot-air popcorn popper, so we use it for this recipe and skip the first paragraph of instructions. Lately, I substitute brown rice syrup in an equal amount for corn syrup. Having made the recipe over the years with corn syrup and other years with brown rice syrup, I can honestly say that the substitution doesn't seem to affect the recipe or outcome at all. I seriously doubt that the substitution makes the popcorn healthier. But it does make me giggle to think that, thanks to my careful shopping this year, I could honestly slap an "Organic, Gluten-Free and Corn Syrup Free" label on our treat, and still send someone into orbit on a sugar high.

And finally, we did some unexpected baking this weekend because Wyatt's classmates will be working on "gluten sugar cookies" at school this week. Thanks to Molly, my friend of a quarter-century or so, who is an extraordinary cook and baker with years of gluten-free experience, Wyatt and I made our first batch of gluten-free roll-out sugar cookies. At Molly's suggestion, we used this recipe, and substituted Cup 4 Cup gluten free flour, used only 6 tablespoons of butter (1/4 less butter than the recipe says), and added some lemon zest. Yum.

 

Gooey Food and Gratitude

"Mom. I'm hiding my eyes because when I look at that gooey food on my plate, it makes my body feel weird."

I wasn't planning to write a post about our Thanksgiving. But on Wednesday, a lovely friend of mine texted that she was looking forward to reading about what we had for Thanksgiving dinner. I thought to myself, why not write about it? It was going to be an amazing meal; I had already spent hours working on it.

For years, our traditional Thanksgiving meal has centered around Dungeness crab. But this year, crabbing season has been postponed because "potentially deadly levels of domoic acid have been found in Dungeness crab."  We needed a new plan, and we decided to go with Winter Vegetable Pie from the Fields Of Greens Cookbook. I had never made the recipe before, but it was the reason for adding the cookbook to my Christmas wish list last year. A vegetarian foodie friend had told me that this time-intensive pot pie was the ultimate in delicious, vegetarian comfort food. The recipe suggests that a salad of bitter greens, pears and walnuts is great with it, so I planned to make that salad. I decided we should also make some gluten-free sourdough bread to eat with our homemade cultured maple butter. And Wyatt requested crème brûlée for dessert because "we always have that." I think we may have only had it last Thanksgiving, but who was I to argue where a cooking torch was involved.

On Tuesday, I spent the entire day cooking while Wyatt played astronaut (and other wonderfully imaginative games that I don't recall) at the other end of the kitchen. I began by making crème brûlée. Next, I simmered mushrooms and other vegetables into stock for over three hours. Finally, I made the dough of my first ever gluten-free pie crust.

On Wednesday, we took a break from cooking and went to the Exploratorium.

Thursday morning arrived, and it was time to bake and cook again. Wyatt and I started the bread on its final rise around 7:30 before I headed out for a class at the gym.

When I got home from the gym, I found Marc and Wyatt just hanging out, and I felt myself getting really annoyed. With just the three of us having Thanksgiving together, it felt like a regular weekend day, only with a whole lot more preparation and cooking than I wanted to do. But instead of expressing those thoughts directly, I demanded that we clean up our messy house. Marc, suddenly irritated himself, pressed me as to why I was "leveling edicts" about tidying-up when no guests were coming over. I am pretty sure I responded that I had been planning for days and cooking for hours, and I would really prefer that today, Thanksgiving, which he didn't seem to care much about, be different from all the other days when I plan and cook all by myself and we eat surrounded by clutter. I like to imagine the wonderfully evolved adult I would be if I had said all of that in a calm, eloquent and loving way. But as the person I am today, I remain grateful to Marc for quickly understanding my point of view, forgiving me for "leveling edicts" before explaining where I was coming from, and immediately getting on-task after our discussion.

I baked the bread while we ate a light lunch, and after lunch, it was time to start cooking the pie. I assembled the many vegetables we had gotten from our farm share box, the additional vegetables I had bought from Rainbow Grocery, as well as herbs and one little carrot from our garden. I then realized I had miscalculated how many pounds of mushrooms we needed, and Marc dashed out to the supermarket to get some more.

I started rolling the pie crust.

Next, Wyatt and I started chopping. Soon, Marc returned with more mushrooms and joined the prep party.

I made an actual gravy out of a roux of homemade mushroom stock and gluten-free flour. I could hardly believe the gravy worked, never mind its hearty flavor and smooth texture. I assembled the pie, and while it baked, we enjoyed cocktails, washed the various salad greens, burned the walnuts, substituted sliced almonds, and crumbled some bleu cheese into the salad. When the pie was finished baking, our dinner looked like this.

When the pie was cut, our dinner looked like this.

And the verdict? Well, our 10-hour Winter Vegetable Pie was met with mixed reviews. Marc thought it was fantastic. I thought it was fine, but I was expecting something more amazing for the time spent on it. Wyatt hated it. I hadn't realized until we sat down to dinner and he said, "looking at that gooey food makes my body feel weird" that we never, ever cook gravy or classic American comfort food. Wyatt never got past the gooey brown factor. Instead, he ate bread with maple butter, some salad, and he asked every three minutes whether it was time for crème brûlée yet.

The crème brûlée was perfect, thank goodness.

And even though Wyatt didn't say it, it was pretty obvious that he was grateful we had stuck with tradition for dessert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So Much Pumpkin

Did you know that the warty pumpkins are supposedly the sweetest ones? With that trivia nugget in mind, Wyatt and I set about finding the biggest, wartiest pumpkin in the store. And then we roasted it whole for over an hour in a 400 degree oven. 

I didn't weigh this beast, but I should have. From this one big, warty pumpkin, we made pumpkin custard (which took about two cups of pumpkin), pumpkin bread (another cup), pumpkin soup (five cups), pumpkin muffins (one cup), and we still have have one cup of pumpkin purée left in the freezer.

After roasting the pumpkin, we quartered it, scooped out the seeds and strings, and then removed the flesh from the skin. We then puréed the pumpkin in the Vitamix until it was smooth.

To make the pumpkin custard, I followed Against All Grain's Maple Pumpkin Custard recipe. My only recipe changes were to use cream instead of coconut milk, and to bake the custard in one 9 inch x 12 inch glass pan instead of in individual servings. Using the larger pan nearly doubled the recipe's estimated baking time for me. And no surprise, pumpkin custard baked in such a casual way is not very photogenic, so there are no photos of our final product. But I promise that we ate it the first night with whipped cream on top, and later in the week, we enjoyed it plain.

Wyatt insisted on wearing his chef's hat to mix the custard. The hat seems to give him focus and determination while cooking or baking. He keeps telling me I should get one so that I can be a real chef, like him.  

Our pumpkin bread recipe came from Elana's Pantry: Easy Paleo Pumpkin Bread. We used the Cuisinart for this recipe. 

I made several changes to the original recipe. The volume of spices for this recipe sounded heavy for our taste, and I don't have a tiny loaf pan. So I doubled all the ingredients except for the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. I omitted the stevia because I can't stand the taste of stevia. And I baked the bread in a regular sized loaf pan. Baking a larger recipe in a larger pan extended the baking time. The bread was done after about an hour in the oven, and it was delicious.

Our last pumpkin product (before deciding to freeze the rest lest we overdose and never willingly eat pumpkin ever again) was pumpkin soup. I followed the spirit of my Really Good Butternut Squash Soup recipe. Because we had already processed the pumpkin, I didn't have any strings or seeds to brown in the pan for flavor this time. But I did a really good job browning the onion. The soup was great, and we garnished it with sprouted pumpkin seeds.

We then took a pumpkin breather for a couple of weeks. 

Next, with an eye towards baking some gluten-free Smitten Kitchen pumpkin muffins, I defrosted one of the remaining cups of pumpkin purée.

Keeping in mind some of the lessons from America's Test Kitchen's cookbook, How Can It Be Gluten Free, I substituted, in a ratio of 1:1, my current favorite gluten-free flour blend (I mix it at home, but you can also buy it pre-mixed) for the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe. I also used a full tablespoon of baking powder, and I allowed the batter to rest at room temperature for a half-hour before baking.

I've been calling these muffins "cupcakes." Their snickerdoodle tops certainly elevate them over any regular muffin. But the real reason for my sleight of language is that they'll be Wyatt's treat at an upcoming birthday party. Because this recipe made a dozen muffin-cupcakes, I have also tucked several away in the freezer for another day.