June Musings

30 Thu, 2011 § 6 Comments

“Wisteria woke me this morning,
& there was all June in the garden…”

~Ann McGough, Summons

I was almost tempted to accuse June of flitting by, but it didn’t actually sweep through barely noticed.  Summer finally made herself known; in the June afternoons, we soaked her in.  When I think about how I spent these days & what they were made of, I smile.  I just love summer.  I thought I would share some of my current favorite things.

~

~ Lately I have been loving red leaf butter lettuce.  We wrap the flavorful leaves, filled with a salad of crushed chickpeas, dill relish & lemon or yellow split peas tossed with a pesto of kale, pepitas & cherry bomb peppers.

~ Speaking of kale, my newest fixation is roasting it shortly with coconut oil, just a tiny dash of toasted sesame oil & a generous sprinkle of flaked coconut.  A perfect snack that travels well enough.

~ When I’m home for lunch (or in need of a quick dinner), a favorite fix is an unda-style quesadilla with a little tarragon in a yummy, flaky rice tortilla.  I don’t miss the cheese & sometimes even throw a spoonful of toasted capers on top.

~ Summer reminds me I do enjoy oats in the morning if done right, which is simply & cold: Italian-style muesli (also known as overnight/soaked oats) softened in vanilla hemp milk.  No frills: I like simple combinations.  Currently my jar is filled with thick-rolled oats, roasted pistachios, golden raisins & maybe occasional flakes of coconut.

~ The glass carafe in the fridge is filled with thick slices of cucumbers floating in cool water.  This is so refreshing & sweet.

~ When we want a little something more than water, we fill casual scotch glasses with Tinto de Verano.  Half sparkling lemonade, half inexpensive, Spanish red wine.  I like tempranillo or a tempranillo-merlot blend.  Don’t forget a squeeze of fresh lemon — this makes it.

~ I am craving chocolate shakes & seeing too many interesting homemade ice cream pairings.  I recently borrowed my SIL’s ice cream maker, & July might be all about homemade creameries.

~ Some might find it a shame to puree beautiful, fresh produce into chilled soups, but it’s heavenly.

~ We are usually climbing to some degree throughout the year, but I feel I am finally getting my training in focus & just enjoying it.

~ Though I still have some mixed feelings, I’m really enjoying a new venture: Bikram.  I also started a glute challenge/experiment based on this simple routine.

~ I can’t stop watching this beautiful & inspiring video of Natasha Wang.

~ How did I just learn about this?  The creative (yet-everything-in-its-place) girl is having a hay day.

~ I am soaking in summer with a lot of play.  In my downtime, my head is usually in a book.  I recently finished two great novels by Margaret Atwood & thoroughly enjoyed The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.  Now I’m onto Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent.  Also on my summer reading list: The Comedians, Graham Greene & Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger.

~ I am feeling crafty.  Again, how did I not know about Pinterest?

~ I am obsessed with the vintage fade of photos.  Like this or Faith, here.

~ Also smitten with minibooks.  We are doing one for our San Francisco trip. definitely.

~

Tell me about your current obsessions & favorites.  Did June fly by or did you soak it in?

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Chilled Lemon Cucumber & Fresh Pea Soup for summer

29 Wed, 2011 § 1 Comment

“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon…the two most beautiful words in the English language.” ~Henry James

The essence of summer reveals herself in many forms:

the intoxicating sweetness of small, deeply red strawberries

pungent, smokey notes wafting from a grill

giggles & splashing rise from the pool…

the tart-yet-sweet burst of cherry tomatoes popping in my mouth…

buttery, flaky fried zucchini melting over my tongue…

floating cucumbers freshen & sweeten a cool pitcher of water…

Summer afternoons are delicious.  It is not just that I am a hot-weathered girl.  The colors, the sounds — the full sensory experience of summer it bright & alive — bringing with it pieces of nostalgia & chance to create our own stories.

Often the intense afternoon heat diminishes my appetite; but rather than forgo eating, light & cooling soups have been on my mind & just the treat my body has craved.  It is no secret I am a simple cook.  When ingredients are fresh & at their peak, there is no need for frills.  I prefer to let the food speak for itself.

I have always wanted to try a chilled cucumber soup & remembered seeing a recipe where Helene used lemon cucumbers.  Perfect, because I just happened to have a couple lovely lemon cucumbers from farmer’s market waiting in the crisper & fresh peas to shuck.

Chilled Lemon Cucumber & Fresh Pea Soup with Pistachios

lightly adapted from Tartelette

In a large pot of boiling water, blanch 1 cup fresh peas until just tender, about 6 – 8 minutes.  Drain & immediately immerse the peas in a bowl of cold water, preferably with ice, to cool & stop the cooking process.  Drain completely once they are cold.

While the peas cook, peel & chop 2 – 4 lemon cucumbers.  I did not seed mine but definitely would if I were using regular cucumbers.

Place the peas & cucumbers in a food processor & puree until smooth.  After pureeing, you might need to add water, or “milk” like I did, depending on the amount of water in your cucumbers, to reach the consistency you desire.  I added just a splash of (vanilla) hemp milk, which added a slight creaminess & sweetness to the soup.  I was afraid water would water it down & make it bland.  Add sea salt & fresh pepper to taste.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Garnish individual bowls with a couple crushed, toasted pistachios.

makes 3 – 4 appetizer servings or 1 – 2 full servings

~

What is your favorite chilled soup?  What are your current summer cravings?

My New Homemade Deodorant with Lavender & Cocoa Butter

24 Fri, 2011 § 5 Comments

Have you made your own deodorant yet?  I am still loving mine…except…occasionally, my under arms became mildly irritated & (unattractively) red, especially when heavy perspiration hits.

I researched & discovered baking soda is a common irritant for many people.  Ashley said she initially experienced irritation, but eventually it went away.  After a full batch, I still get it from time to time — strange it only happens sometimes.  For my second batch, I could have reduced the amount of baking soda, but I decided to leave it out all together.  I did not adjust any of the other ratios but simply left it out — no more rashes!  I put it to the test in Bikram & climbing over the weekend & pushing high intensity intervals this week: no irritation at all, no odor.  It might even smell better this time around…

I like the coconut scent & how the oil feels on my skin.  When I’m cooking with it (plain coconut oil, not the deodorant), I don’t even bother rinsing or wiping it (completely) off if it gets on my hands; I just rub it in & let it soften my skin.

I added another skin-nourishing ingredient to this mix of deodorant: remember the cacao butter (also known as cocoa butter) I ordered for making raw chocolate?  I added a little for its healing effects on the skin.  It adds a nice cocoa scent & feels nourishing.

Also, filling an old deodorant crank container doesn’t work; I think the homemade deodorant is too soft with the coconut oil.  If it worked for you, please share; but ours wouldn’t rise & lower after the first time.  I filled an old body butter jar with the deodorant & apply it by hand.  This works much better.

Milky with an espresso-like finish from the cacao, this looks & smells so good.

Coconut Oil Deodorant with Lavender & Cocoa Butter

perfectly fills a 6.7 oz container

  • 3/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 4 vitamin E capsules
  • ~20 drops lavender oil
  • ~5 drops tea tree oil
  • 1/2 cup arrowroot powder
  • 1 oz cacao/cocoa butter, shaved & melted

Shave & melt cacao butter using a double broiler, or in the oven on a low setting, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, combine & stir coconut oil, vitamin E (squeezed from capsules) & essential oils together.  Add arrowroot powder & stir until evenly combined & smooth.  Add the melted cacao butter & stir again.  Pour into a 6.7 oz jar or container with a wide mouth.  Refrigerate to harden.

Due to the heat of summer, we keep ours in the fridge & remove it for a few minutes to soften before applying.

~

Have you made your own deodorant yet?  How did it turn out?  

Summer Solstice & Creamy Basil Manicotti

22 Wed, 2011 § 4 Comments

Dave & I have grown fond of observing seasonal transitions, marked by particular days.  Following earth’s transitions — while it may seem “hippie” & quirky to some — is centering & meaningful to me.  We don’t chant or pray or sing; we simply embrace the moment for what it is, celebrate it in our own way & take the lessons nature willingly offers.

Yesterday was the summer solstice, the first day of summer & the longest day of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere.  Traditionally, this solstice celebrated a time of fertility, marked by outdoor festivities & gatherings.

Amidst the growing harvest season, it is easy to recognize the fertility & abundance of summer through experiencing the new foods the season brings.  We wanted to pause yesterday & take in all the sensory experiences accompanying summer — the sights, the smells — & appreciate the extra hours of sunlight.

Summer screams freshness & bounty which has the power to transcend us to our deepest childhood memories or cause a yearning to create new ones.

One of my favorite summer notes is the awakening aroma of fresh basil.

Stuffed with a sauteed clove of garlic, a small white onion, half a medium diced zucchini (remove seeds unless using young/baby zucchini) & pressed & crumbled tofu (about 10 ounces firm), I wanted our manicotti to sing basil.

Using Angela’s Creamy Avocado Sauce, I increased the fresh basil to about 1 cup, juiced a whole lemon & thinned the sauce with hemp milk to keep the creaminess of it but make it more sauce-like.  I stirred half the sauce into the sauteed vegetables, stuffed it into 6 prepared manicotti, lined them in a lightly oiled baking dish (which I had also smeared with a spoonful of extra sauce on the bottom) & poured the remaining sauce over the top.

Cover with foil & bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 350*F-oven.  Rotate pan midway if needed to ensure even baking.  Remove foil & bake another 10 – 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top.  Watch closely & don’t let it dry out.

Garnish with fresh lemon zest & oven-roasted tomatoes.  A dollop of plain Greek yogurt was also a nice, cooling accompaniment.

*There was extra stuffing mixture, which we saved to combine with leftover quinoa-millet pilaf for lunches.

To further enjoy this extra light, we picked up a few items over the weekend.

A small table, a chair, a rug, a cushion & candles created a cozy, little nook outside our french doors.

Last night, we enjoyed dinner on our little patio, which will become a more common theme around here.

An after-dinner walk in the woods behind our home would have been a perfect way to connect with nature & celebrate the extended sunlight; but as the light faded to golden shimmers & we sipped our tinto de verano, the neighborhood kids kept us entertained harassing Eisley.  Once they learned she preferred chasing sticks to being mauled, everyone seemed giddy, Eisley most of all.

Sometimes, it’s best to just take what the moment offers.

~

Did you celebrate the summer solstice? 

Where do you enjoy your meals?

Baking Quick Breads (by ratio) & Orange-Saffron Muffins [Gluten-Free]

17 Fri, 2011 § 10 Comments

Early mornings are meant for the kitchen.  Flours dust the counter tops as the sun slowly reaches its way across bowls & bamboo mixing spoons.  Sometimes, 4am (or even 5am) feels too early to be awake & baking breads; but often, I relish this unique perspective of our home as the house fills with light & sweet aromas.

While I enjoy this intimate time with myself, it’s not purely selfish.  Dave doesn’t seem to mind waking to smells of freshly baked millet muffins or Summer-infused quick breads.  I look forward to sending him to work with a scone, a fresh slice of sweet bread or a muffin.

I have taken to creating more baked goods rather than buying bread from the store, especially as I am delving into gluten-free varieties.  Baking my own is less expensive, but more than that, it’s rewarding & sparks creativity.  Experimenting with gluten-free flours is becoming more interesting than sticking to whole wheat, though I still rotate in batches made with kamut.  There is much more variance & diversity of flavors & textures when you explore what lies beyond all-purpose & wheat flour.  Corn. Oat. Rice. Buckwheat. Amaranth. Almond.  Each is distinct in its nuances & offers something different to your baking.

I am becoming very partial to the combination of almond & oat.

Orange & saffron as well.

I have just started baking with a scale & following weight ratios rather than measuring by volume (ie measuring cups), which immediately amped up my confidence in creating rather than simply following recipes.  Baked goods each have a ratio of flours to liquids to eggs to fats.  What makes bread different from pancakes — & these different from pizza dough or a croissant — is not just the ingredients, but how those ingredients work in proportion to each other.  Of course, there are still many recipes out there I have fallen in love with which need little to no adapting; but baking by ratio gives me the freedom to make these recipes my own by more easily swapping flours or the type of liquid or fat I use.

Try it.  My kitchen scale set us back only $20 & is more than worth it.

To ease you into this, I did translate my recipe back into approximate volume measurements.  These will only be useful if you use the exact ingredients I did though, because each flour, oil, etc has its own specific weight.  I’m a newby just playing around, having fun & certainly no expert.  This is a great post if you are interested in learning more about cooking with ratios.

The ratio for baking quick bread is 2 parts flour: 2 parts liquid: 1 part egg: 1 part fat.  To fill a 9 x 5 loaf pan, you would need 227 grams of flours, 227 grams of liquid of any kind, 113 grams egg (2 of them) or egg substitute & 113 grams of fats.   This ratio also works for making muffins.

Almond Meal Muffins with Orange Zest & Saffron

makes 12 muffins

or slightly fewer if you want a higher muffin top

  • 110 g almond flour (~heaping 3/4 cup)
  • 117 g oat flour (~heaping 1 cup)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 131 g orange blossom honey (~1/2 cup)
  • 63 g coconut milk (~1/4 cup)
  • 34 g fresh orange juice (4T) & zest from one orange
  • 2 eggs (113 g)
  • 113 g coconut oil, melted (~1/2 cup)
  • tiny pinch of saffron, seriously only a few strands

Preheat oven to 350*F.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients.  Combine wet ingredients separately.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients & mix.  Fold in zest & saffron.  Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling to the rim. Bake for 13 – 15 minutes until muffin tops are lightly golden & a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

These are crumby & moist, best eaten with a fork, fresh & warm from the oven.

~

Do you bake using ratios?

p.s. The first bread is my vegan variation of Marla’s Strawberry Snack Cakes.

Make Your Own Dish Washing Detergent

15 Wed, 2011 § 2 Comments

It is more rewarding to make my own anything from scratch, even if it’s just to scrub away germs.

The ingredient list is sort of scary once you start looking more closely at conventional cleaners.  The “natural” ones don’t always work as well, aren’t always as natural as they portray & can be on the expensive side.  I like how my own cleaners & detergents work, feel safer using them & am reducing our household waste even more by making my own (ie reducing the amount of packaging we consume).

Before we left Utah, my spinning instructor gave me a few recipes, one of them being for dish washing detergent.  I have been waiting for ours to run out, so I could finally give it a go.

Most of these ingredients come in large containers & can be used to make multiple batches as well as for other household cleaners, such as laundry detergent which I plan to make soon.  At the bottom, I have noted where to find the less familiar ingredients.

Dish Detergent for Machine Washing

48 Loads

~$4.37 = less than $0.10 per load

  • 1/2 citric acid
  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup Super Washing Soda
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt

Combine ingredients & store in a sealed container.  Use 1 T per load.  As a rinse aid, pour distilled vinegar into the aid dispenser.

Notes: After storing it, mine clumped together a little, but that may have been because I forgot the salt when I initially mixed it.  Either way, it still dissolved in the wash & cleaned our dishes wonderfully.  We washed & save an old, unmarked protein powder container as well as the scoop to store & measure our detergent.

A couple weeks ago, I was distracted searching store after store for the detergent ingredients & suddenly ran out of liquid dish soap.  I realized I already had nearly everything I needed on hand, so I decided to throw together this liquid soap as well.

Lavender & Lemon Liquid Dish Soap

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 3 T liquid castile soap
  • 2 tsp vegetable glycerin
  • 2 T distilled white vinegar
  • 5 drops lavender essential oil
  • 5 drops lemon essential oil
  • 5 drops tea tree oil

Combine ingredients in a bottle & shake gently.  Use about 1 T per sink full.

Notes: I used unscented castile soap because it’s what I had, but feel free to use your favorite scent.  Lavender would be nice.  This is thinner & does not sud like traditional soap, but it will still clean dishes.  It seems to do a better job at cutting through grease.  You can leave out the vegetable glycerin if you can’t find it & don’t want to order it.  The lavender, lemon & tea tree not only smell lovely but have antibacterial properties as well.

Citric Acid ~ Natural Food & Supplement Stores (most expensive here; I got it on sale $2.99/4oz), Nutsonline (best price $3.99/lb), Brewing & Wine-Making supply stores (good prices)

Borax ~ Target ~$4.00 for 76 oz (multiple batches)

Super Washing Soda ~ Ace $4.29 for 55 oz (multiple batches)

Vegetable Glycerin ~ Vitacost $3.99 for 4 oz (multiple uses)

Essential Oils ~ Natural Food & Supplement Stores – essential oils can be expensive; but because they are concentrated & you’ll only ever use a few drops at a time, they last a long time.  (multiple uses)

Liquid Castile Soap ~ This is becoming easier to find; I’ve seen it at Natural Food Stores as well as Target.  Again, it is sort of pricey, but I watch for it to go on sale & buy a large container.  I use it to make all of my cleaning products, to clean wounds & for various other uses & have yet to go through my 32-oz container.  A small amount goes a long way.  (multiple uses)

~

Do you make any of your own cleaners or detergents?

My Moments & Homemade Curry Spice

10 Fri, 2011 § 4 Comments

I may not be expressing myself here daily, but it does not mean I am without expression or depth lately.

I have been spending a lot of time in my head, twirling thoughts, opinions, ideas, emotions…around the finger of my mind.  It’s not even that I don’t know how to articulate them, though often that’s part of it.  Sometimes, we’d rather just experience the moment rather than focus on expressing — or re-expressing — it.  I guess I am just into feeling these experiences right now & sharing what might arise from them when it feels natural, rather than trying to force it.

How I have been spending my time isn’t a result of “being in my head”; it’s when I do these things that thoughts, emotions & new dimensions arise within.

Much of my days have been spent moving (meaning climbing, swimming, biking, etc), baking, grinding spices, making gifts & reading.

I am content to simply live in these moments & see what arises from them.

I hope you are also truly living just as much as you are sharing & expressing part of your life & yourself here with us.

~

Homemade Curry Powder

makes ~1/4 cup

  • 2 tsp peppercorns (I used a mix of green, pink & black)
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • seeds from 4 cardamom pods, gently crack & remove seeds from pods (save pods for flavoring tea, ice cream, pudding or yogurt)
  • 2 whole cloves

In a clean, dry pan over medium-low to medium heat, toast each spice individually until fragrant & a few wisps of smoke rise.  Gently shake the pan often (or the whole time) so the spices toast evenly & do not burn.  Each spice should only take 1 – 2 minutes to toast.  Set each spice aside to cool slightly.  Combine the toasted spices in a spice or coffee grinder (I use the chop attachment on my Magic Bullet, which works perfectly) & pulse until a fine powder forms.

Play around with the spice combination to find what you love best.  If you are not in love with fennel like I am, reduce the amount.  If you would like a hotter curry, add more cayenne.  Make it yours, & I promise,  you will love it so much more than any powdered curry you have bought from the store.

~

p.s. What is on your Summer reading list?  Suggestions please?  I am recently enamored with Margaret Atwood & just finished Oryx & Crake as well as The Year of the Flood.  I appreciate authors who use their work to make bold social statements.  I need to stop by the library again soon.

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