A cabin in the snow and baked oatmeal.

 

Every year around this time, we have the fortunate opportunity to head our butts up to Big Bend, California, where there’s a cabin just waiting for us to snuggle into. Near Lake Tahoe, Big Bend is just as good without all of the snowbirds. We are not snowbirds. We are from Louisiana, where snow is as common as low humidity and cool summers. We’re always with other friends, and to keep things manageable, the ladies share dinner cooking duties. This year, I whipped up something ahead of time: Baked Oatmeal from Super Natural Every Day. I totally lied all weekend – unknowingly – telling everyone it was a Donna Hay recipe. Not so. It’s a Heidi Swanson recipe – whoever you are Heidi, this oatmeal rocks it.

This recipe serves 6, but I doubled it without a problem.

Baked Oatmeal

  • 2  c. rolled oats (I used old fashioned oats, not the instant kind.)
  • 1/2 c. walnut pieces (I also used pecans, because I didn’t have enough walnuts. I think you could substitute however you want here.)
  • 1/3 c. natural cane sugar or maple syrup (I used honey, because I seriously do not like maple syrup.)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 TB. unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 bananas
  • 1 1/2 c. huckleberries, blueberries or mixed berries (I used blueberries because I had a ton of them, but I think you can use just about whatever berry you want. I also think that dried fruit would do really well, like cherries or strawberries.)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375, placing the rack in the top third of the oven. Generously butter the inside of an 8 inch square baking dish. (Note – I didn’t “butter”, I “Pammed” the dish.)
  2. In one bowl, mix together the oats, half the walnuts, the sugar (if you’re using sugar instead of syrup), baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  3. In another bowl, mix together the maple syrup (if you’re using syrup instead of sugar), milk, egg, half of the butter and the vanilla. (Oops – I just realized I used all of the butter in this step. Whatever. It was wonderful.)
  4. Cut up the bananas and arrange them in a single layer in the bottom of the baking dish, sprinkle 2/3 of the berries over the bananas.
  5. Cover the fruit with the oat mixture.
  6. Slowly pour the milk mixture over the oats. Gently shake the dish to make sure the milk is spread throughout the oats.
  7. Scatter the remaining berries and walnuts on top.
  8. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and the oat mixture has set. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Drizzle the remaining melted butter on the top and serve.

One thing to note, on top of everything else I’ve mentioned, is that this keeps pretty well overnight. In fact, it keeps pretty well stored in the back of a 1989 Wagoneer overnight when it’s 40 degrees outside. Just heat it through before you serve it.

Want a print-friendly version of this recipe? Just click here.

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Food bites.

 

I’m aware that I was supposed to write up my Roadtrip Day 2 blog post, like, three weeks ago. I’m also aware that I haven’t done that. What I’m not aware of? Where the hell the time went (scratches head). Three weeks just gone. Like that. Poof. I’ve no idea what happened. I wish I could blame the weather – but………I can’t. I live in the Bay Area, where it is shamelessly sunny. I also wish I could blame work – but………….I can’t. I’ve been busy, but not that busy. So I’ve got no reasonable explanation for not doing what I said I would. None. 

However, I’m pretty sure none of you were waiting with bated breath. 

So. In the meantime, while I figure out what I’ve been doing, exactly, for the last three weeks, here are some wonderful recipes I’ve found that I will be trying very soon (and if you happen to try them first, let me know how they turned out!):

  • Cherry Pie from Dinner: A Love Story
  • Pull Apart Lemon Coffee Cake by Clockwork Lemon. I saw this and my mouth watered. No lie.
  • Roasted Red Onions with Pomegranate, Orange and Parsley Gremolata by The Bitten Word. Note here, this blog is incredibly fun and has a ton of inspiring recipes and food stories. It’s one of my newfound favorites. As if I needed another newfound favorite.
  • Potato Gratin with Rosemary Crust (also) by The Bitten Word. This one I liked immediately, because it wasn’t asking me to roll out a pie crust. Ugh. As if I have time for that at the end of the day. But you tell me I can use a refrigerated pie crust, and I’m yours.
  • Bacon Caramels by Not Without Salt. Yes, you heard correctly my friend. The caramels actually look pretty gross – like leftover grease that’s hardened – but I say give the bacon a chance.
  • Brown Butter, Bacon and Chocolate Chip Cookies by Mouth from the South. First, I love the name of this blog, because my stepdad is always saying this at get-togethers to whichever kid is being overly rambunctious and talking too much. Second, bacon and chocolate!

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Roadtrip: Part 1/Oakland, California to Fortuna, California

It’s been a couple of weeks, and so much has happened. I feel tired just thinking about it. Here are some highlights:

  • I flew back home to Alexandria to help my Mom recover from surgery. There is nothing like having your parents going through months of tests and a serious medical procedure to scare the living shit out of you, so I was relieved to be home, to see her with my own eyes. She also called me the drill sergeant, which, with my need for control in all situations was quite fitting. She is doing better week by week, and I know that she’ll fully recover. If she can just take it easy.
  • I flew home for one night, and then………..
  • B. and I were off on our week-long roadtrip through the Pacific Northwest.

The roadtrip. There was no plan, no hotel reservations, no specific points to stop, just 2,037 miles of road. I had my trusty 2007 atlas, Brandon had his not-so-trusty Garmin (it failed around Seattle), and we were off like a couple of prom dresses. It was one of the most wonderful trips we’ve taken. And here’s part 1 just for you.

We started by driving through San Francisco, across the Golden Gate and up the 101. The weather was perfect. After lunch in Mill Valley, we made our way to Highway1 through Sebastopol/Guerneville/Jenner. We stopped  in Duncan Mills to go to an antique shop where we’d bought a piece of furniture on our honeymoon. We were sad to see that it was closed, and that the shop had been taken over by some completely inane store that sold plastic picture frames and ugly t-shirts that no one should wear. So we moved on. We were trying to end up in Jenner at a reasonable time so that we could eat at the River’s End, but no such luck. Three o’clock just isn’t the time for lunch or dinner. We decided to just keep driving…

Our first real stop was right after Jenner, when we stopped at one of the many vista points on Highway 1. We couldn’t help ourselves,  because this is what we saw. And this. And it was just plain beautiful.

Moving on. Have you driven up Highway 1? If not, let me give you some friendly advice: don’t eat before you go, make sure your driver is completely lucid and not too high on caffeine, and don’t – under any circumstances – shout out a little when said driver is going slightly too fast on the hairpin curves because he thinks he totally has it. Instead, ask politely for said driver to slow it down so you can take in all the scenery. This does not always work like a charm, since said driver knows you like the back of his hand and knows you are just wanting him to slow down, because you can see the scenery just fine at the speed you’re going. I’m just saying, you may need to take part of the drive with a Xanax and a couple throwbacks of whatever hard alcohol takes you down a notch.

So moving on…from the views of the ocean, to farms, rolling hills, eucalyptus trees shaped by the wind, curves and winding roads, it was beautiful. We watched the fog roll in from the Pacific, saw cows sunning themselves perilously close to the road where there was no fence to protect them (or us), came upon an old, beautiful cemetary where the fog continued to blanket us and we saw this, this and this. It was getting dark, so we decided to head inland to Ukiah to eat and regroup. We took another long and winding road, Highway 253, that took us through a scattering of small towns before we hit the 101 North. We landed at Subway in Ukiah, where the guy making our sandwiches was too cool for school. We figured out we would continue on, even though it was already pitch black out. We got back on the road after a quick Safeway pit stop where I had to gently talk Brandon out of the large container of spice drops. That man is a fool for spice drops. At 10:00 that night, we decided to call it a day and ended up in Fortuna. 

And that was only day 1, my friends. Stay tuned for day 2, including an oversized Paul Bunyan, his blue ox, and magical trees. 

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Just because.

With the Leica in hand, I took a walk in downtown Oakland (no need to gasp). It’s beautiful now; I can only imagine the bustling beauty 30, 40, 50 years ago, when dressing up to go shopping was the right thing to do. When dates were brought to the Fox Theatre, and the Cathedral Building was still the Federal Realty Building. It was incredible to me that day, and maybe it will be to you, to know that all of the pictures below were taken within just a few blocks of each other.

           

         

       

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Checking in 2011…

Every year my friend, Dave, has a…………a theme to his New Year’s resolutions. The first year I knew him, it was “more pizazz” (or maybe it was “more fun” – I don’t quite remember.). No details, he just wanted more pizazz/fun in his life.

This was promptly followed up the next year with “safety first”. It seemed appropriate, really.

But the lesson is that he didn’t say that this particular broken habit or that particular new habit would be the measure of success or failure. Lots of things can be considered “more fun” when you think about it – having a whole milk latte over regular coffee, buying a dress instead of just eyeing it, writing a love note with silly song quotes – all considered more fun than the alternative (by me at least), and all within the realm of achieving a yearly resolution of “more fun”.

So, in the spirit of my friend, Dave, I’ve got my own theme this year. It’s kind of corny, but I really feel like it’s something I want to do. Here goes:

Disconnect to do, to see, to make, to bake, cook, read and be more.

What does it mean? From computers and cell phones and iPads and iPods and iTouches and i-(know I’m forgetting other stuff) we’re always connected to – I feel like I am living in an alternative reality sometimes. I also know that those tools keep me in touch with the people I love and like (like you!), so I can’t blame them for this feeling. It’s the whole they know not what they do and all. I blame me.

So how to solve it and keep it simple? Here are some of the things I’ve come up with (but am certainly not limited to):

  • Less time on my phone.
  • Less time on my computer.

What to do with all this time that I’ll hopefully get back?

  • More hand holding with B. Yep, that’s it. This is what can happen when you’re not holding your phone or typing away on your computer.
  • Fewer emails and more real mail. I can’t tell you how often I’ve looked through the box of letters I wrote to my Mom in college. There’s a point when I stopped writing – when emailing became the thing. And I have to tell you, printing out emails just isn’t the same.
  • More baking. I’d especially like to get over my fear of the dreaded pie dough.
  • More cooking. I love to cook, but I hate to cook during the week. I’m thankful that B. will eat cereal with a smile just about any day or time of the week. But I’d like to cook more (really!).
  • More volunteering. This is worthy of a whole other blog post, but more to come on that at the right time.
  • More picture taking. Easy. B. just bought the Leica for me, and I’m so thrilled I carry it around with me everywhere like Linus with his blanket.
  • More making/sewing/creating. I just started a pretty big quilt project, and I’m excited about it. The holidays, and all of the paper cutting and painting and light stringing kind of wore me out on the imagination front, so I’m happy to get back to my regular sewing. Reorganizing my craft room didn’t hurt either.

So that’s it. That’s my hope for 2011. I hope you all had a very nice and happy New Year celebration. My new year was spent sick and napping. Fun times. But things are definitely looking up.

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Orange juice and olive oil cake with pine nuts.

Last night, we were lucky enough to spend New Year’s Eve with our good buddies, Ed and Natalie. This has been our third year in a row partying it up – and by partying it up, I mean sparklers and a nice spiral ham. We tried watching Dick Clark on television, but it was awfully heartbreaking, so Natalie ended up showing me her new Kindle instead. Yes, it was a totally wild night, and we’re just lucky things didn’t spiral out of control.

So Natalie asked me to bring dessert, which you know I’m more than happy to oblige – and to make it better, I used a recipe from the cookbook she gave me for Christmas. A beautiful book, it’s called Apples for Jam. Every recipe has a picture to go along with it, and throughout the book are scattered little drawings that her children have done and stories of how the recipes came to be. Anyway, this is the first recipe I’ve made, and it was very straightforward and didn’t have a lot of ingredients.

Orange juice and olive oil cake with pine nuts

Makes 2 8 1/2″ round cakes.

What you need:

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 c. superfine sugar*
  • 1/4 c.firmlypacked light brown sugar
  • 3/4 c. olive oil
  • 3 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 heaping tsp. baking powder
  • finely grated rind of 1 orange**
  • 1 c.freshly squeezed orange juice (juice of about 4 oranges)***
  • 1/2 c. pine nuts ****

* Don’t have superfine sugar on hand?  No worries. It’s not like we don’t already have enough going on that we need to remember to pick up superfine sugar on top of everytthing else. Just take your regular granulated sugar, throw it in a food processor for 15 seconds, and voila – it’s superfine!

** If you don’t have a zester, just use a smalll cheese grater.

*** I DID NOT use fresh orange juice. For me, that would just take this recipe to a place called Extra Work that  I don’t want to be. I used regular, pulp-free orange juice.

**** Pine nuts. I’m not sure if you’ve priced pine nuts lately, but when I saw them, I seriously considered scrapping this recipe altogether. But. I decided to just pay it up. However, after tasting the cake, if you want to use another mild nut I think it would be just fine.

What you need to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush 2 81/2″ springform pans with olive oil and dust with flour.
  2. Whip the egg whites in a large bowl until they are firm and snowy white. Set aside.
  3. Whip the yolks with the vanilla until they bulk up and become foamy.
  4. Whisk the superfine and brown sugars into the yolks; then add the olive oil, bit by bit, mixing well after each addition.
  5. Add the flour, baking powder, rind and orange juice. Beat until you have a smooth batter.
  6. Gently fold in the egg whites.
  7. Scrape the batter out, evenly divided between the two pans. Sprinkle each cake with pine nuts (I also added a bit more orange rind here).
  8. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the tops are golden and crusty and a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean.
  9. This will keep well in sealed container for 4-5 days.

Okay, let me just tell you right now that my initial run on this cake was a wee bit of a baking disaster. I missed step number 2, because it didn’t actually say to set aside the egg whites (and precisely why I added that direction here). And…..because I didn’t read the directions carefully enough. So. I ended up doing all of the steps until I got to the end and saw step number 6 – at which point I let out a slew of – ahem – commentary that could only be described as “Mad Sailor”. I decided I would just throw in the egg yolks and hope for the best (this is why I’m not showing you the finished cake – the picture below is right before it hit the oven). The cake was fine, albeit very dense and dry – but you could tell it had a lot of potential for goodness. I’ll be making it again – and next time? It’ll be right.

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    Lunch time.

    Open-faced egg white, chicken, spinach and tomato sandwich

    Open-faced egg white, chicken, spinach and tomato sandwich

    My newest, fondest, bestest,easiest lunch recipe? An open-faced, egg white, chicken, tomato and spinach sandwich. I really love chicken, and I had a mess of leftover cheese-plate cheese that I didn’t want to waste. On top of that, I’m terrible about buying salad mixes and tomatoes and only using half of them before I forget they exist in my refrigerator. This sandwich sort of answers all of those issues. It’s high protein, low-fat and seriously effing good.  One thing to know before you make this – I said it’s good, I didn’t say it wasn’t a little messy.

    What you need:

    • Egg whites, beaten, with a pinch of salt (I use two or three egg whites, or 1/3 cup from one of those egg white cartons)
    • Grilled chicken (Mine was leftover paillard-style balsamic chicken. Whatever meat you’re going to use, just make sure it’s easy to eat on top of a sandwich. You can also give turkey, pork or some other lean meat a try).
    • A handful of spinach or herb salad mix
    • Tomatoes (I used baby heirloom tomatoes)
    • One slice of any kind of bread you like the most
    • Cheese, too, if you want (I used smoked-something-and-onion, but I’m sure anything will work here).

    What you need to do:

    • Spray a small skillet with Pam (or here’s a genius idea, use butter!) and pour in your egg whites. At this point, you can also add a few bits of your spinach/herb salad mix to the eggs.
    • While your omelet is cooking away, toast your bread to perfection and cut up your tomatoes. Cut them up tiny, cut them up in chunks – doesn’t matter – however you like them is best.
    • Once your omelet is done, place it right on top of the toast (one quick note here: I added a bit of sweet and spicy mustard to the bread, just to give it a kick).
    • Add your chicken to the skillet on medium-high heat, along with your tomatoes, more of the spinach/herb salad mix and a splash of balsamic vinegar and a just a bit of olive oil. Give that a a couple stirs and few minutes to heat up, and then pour it on top of your egg whites.
    • If you want, add a bit of cheese – or go without, because it’s still just as good.
    • As B. would say in Julia Child’s voice: Bon appetit!

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    Checking out 2010…

    Oh goody, I was able to find that list of 2010 resolutions I blogged about as I started the new year. As I begin to think about my 2011 resolutions, I wanted to check out how I did in 2010.

  • lose 10-15 pounds (this really won’t happen, since I’m already in pretty good shape and have weighed the same for almost ten years – but I just like to put the dream out there in the universe) ……….I was dead on. Nothing lost. But nothing gained, either, so really it’s a win-win.
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  • start sewing more and making homemade gifts (love this one, and it’s something I may actually be able to stick to now that I have my craft room)………….So, I don’t think I crafted as much as I wanted to, but I definitely made some things that I loved and gave them to friends.
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  • reel in my spending (damn you, Starbucks, and your awesome awesomeness) – and therefore save more……..I did, in fact, give up my morning Starbucks.
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  • keep up my monthly anniversary cards to my husband (easy – I love to write them – he loves to read them)………Check! Done! Except for December, which I’m totally blaming on Christmas.
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  • start carrying around my camera more often and taking more video with the flip – these are the days we’ll want those future kids of ours to see – when we were young and hip (or something like that)…………..I could’ve been better at this, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. One, B. just gave me a Leica for Christmas (I wanna do a little dance just thinking about it), and two, I actually filmed us opening our presents this year. It’s so funny and nice – there’s a point where B. is having trouble reading my handwriting on the card I gave him, and you can just see the wheels turning before he finally looks at me to ask me what the first word says.
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  • watch less tv and read more……….I don’t know if I watch tv less, but I definitely read more. Even if I’m not updating my Books page, I promise, there’s reading going on.
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  • plan our big trip to who-knows-where (any suggestions?)…………..Geographically, we didn’t go anywhere new. But we did take a big trip when flew home to New Orleans to help build a house with Habitat for Humanity. Sun, sweat, and long-felt exhaustion never felt so good.
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  • keep up this dang blog of mine……………….Well, it’s sort of like the tv thing. And the camera thing. And the spending thing. It’s not that I failed miserably, but I could’ve done better.
  • All in all, not a total loss, right? Come back for Checking in 2011 in the next couple of days.

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    And life is but…ter cream.

    I have to admit I get a lot of joy out of cooking and baking for other people. Although this holiday season hasn’t felt as busy as it has in the past – no big Christmas dinner to plan or party to host  – I was still able to find myself in the kitchen, trying out new things. A few of the new recipes I’ll be adding to my permanent collection are below. Just click on the pictures for the link to the recipe.

    As for Christmas, it was nice and quiet – and our sushi was just fine, thank you. The best part? Someone else cleaned up.

    Two quick notes about these recipes…
     
    The Cream Puffs recipe – it wasn’t available online (dang you, Martha), so I had to route you to another blog that had the recipe laid out. This particular recipe has you making a fancy raspberry cream – scratch that, it’s made with cream cheese and Cool Whip for god’s sake, so I shouldn’t pretend that it’s that special. I will say that you can’t go wrong with those two ingredients, though, so if you want to make yourself a raspberry cream, go right on ahead and whip away. For me, I didn’t make this particular recipe – I decided on two other versions:
    • Cream puffs with buttercream on the inside and bittersweet melted chocolate on the outside
    • Cream puffs with whipped meringue and lemon curd on the inside and powdered sugar on the outside (Try not to eat the lemon curd before you actually use it. In fact, I suggest not opening the jar until the very last minute before you have to add it to the meringue. I’m just saying, there are some things that are really good on a spoon, and lemon curd is one of them.)

    After getting a call from my friend, Natalie, at 9:00 in the morning (hello, Natalie!) asking me why the *bleep* didn’t her cream puffs look like mine, I realize that I should give you the same reassuring news I gave her: these are cream puffs, and no matter what size they are, if they’re all the same size or not, people will eat them. It also doesn’t hurt if you have a mechanical pastry bag, which I use all the time. It really helps give you control over what you’re doing. The one from William’s Sonoma is easy to use, and it comes with everything you need to be fancy when the occasion calls for it.

    As for the Chocolate Stout Bundt Cake, it was really easy to make. To kind of tone down the chocolate-yness, I added slivered almonds and a bit of sea salt. B. said it was even better the next day, and you can take that to the bank, because his second job is the Official House Cake Taster.

    Everyday Food: Cream Puffs

    Everyday Food: Cream Puffs

    Real Simple Magazine: Chocolate Stout Bundt Cake

    Real Simple Magazine: Chocolate Stout Bundt Cake

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    A whole punch of fun.

      

    How many of you saw that edition of Ready Made where they had the Paint Chip Orbs as one of their craft projects? It really was a neat little project. Now, how many of you looked at that and thought to yourself – Wow. That’s amazing. Let me get on that, like, asap.

    Anyone?

    (*Crickets*)

    I thought so. Me either. 

    Here’s the thing – my friend, Dolores? Well, she’s the one person I know that did see it, loved it, and made it – and she was nice and patient enough to show me how to make them, too. Once you figure out how to keep your fingers from sticking to the paper, or to each other, and your husband smartly suggests using clothespins to keep the whole dang thing together, creating your very own orb/snowflake/snowball will be incredibly easy. And to show you just how easy, I’ve created a tutorial for you right here.

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