Monthly Archives: December 2011

Fizzy and Festive

At the beginning of every year I jot down some goals.  Not resolutions, mind you. Goals.  Places I’d like to go, things I’d like to try for the first time, or do more of, or learn.  I never accomplish them all (“win lottery” keeps getting moved forward from year to year), and some of them I even forget all about–but lean in close and I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t really care.  I like dreaming big and committing it to paper.  Sometimes I’m surprised when I check off an item that felt like a stretch when I wrote it.  Other times I forget why I ever wanted to do something in the first place.  I find out what matters as I go.

Yesterday I pulled my 2011 list out for a last look.  I’d accomplished some good ones, like “Host a really big party” and “Eat more chocolate”, but “Saber top off champagne bottle” was still unchecked.  I have Tara from Tea & Cookies to thank for that particular goal.  When I read this blog post last January, I instantly recognized that sabering open champagne was a skill I wanted in my repertoire and it went on the list.  It looked a little scary and a whole lot of fun.  And that, my friends, is the very definition of an excellent goal.

Finally, with the clock running out on 2011, I knew it was go time.  I reviewed the how-to video, bought a couple of bottles of very cheap sparkling wine, and got out my second-best knife.

I found the seam on the bottle, lined up my knife, and pictured the knife slicing straight through the top of the bottle.  It took a few tries before I hit it just right, but when I did…oh, when I did!

The top of the bottle flew off and I laughed, filled with triumph as fizzy and heady as the champagne bubbling and foaming everywhere.

Mission accomplished!

New Year’s Eve is upon us, and I’m ready to ring out a wonderful 2011 and look forward to 2012.   May it be full of big dreams!

If you need a little inspiration in the cocktail department, try this champagne cocktail.  It’s fizzy and festive, with just enough of an edge to open your eyes and make your cheeks glow with anticipation for the fresh New Year.

Kir Royale de Crazy

  • ½ oz Crème de Cassis
  • ½ oz Absinthe
  • 4 oz Prosecco or Champagne
  • Maraschino Cherry (optional, but highly recommended)

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Make Merry

I got the very last Meyer lemon at the grocery store last night.  That was a close one!  But when I left, clutching my precious lemon, that was the moment when all of the shopping was done and the holiday really commenced.

Soon the festive part of Christmas Eve will start—we’ll dig deep into stockings full of candy, and tear paper off presents, and eat and drink and make merry in front of the roaring fire with loved ones.

But in the quiet of this afternoon, just past the dark of the solstice and just before the lights of Christmas Day, I put this cake in the oven to bake, and it filled the still peaceful house with the mingled scents of lemon, vanilla, and almonds.  As the weak winter light faded outside the kitchen window I drizzled icing over it, then licked the spoon.

If I could I would offer each of you a piece of this cake, but will have to settle for offering you my best wishes for a wonderful holiday filled with loved ones, laughter, light, and good food.

Merry Christmas!


Meyer Lemon-Yogurt Cake

(slightly adapted from Whole Living Magazine)

  • 2 Meyer lemons
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup almond flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tsp Meyer lemon zest
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped


  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ Meyer lemon, seeds removed, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 tsp bourbon
  • 1 tbsp plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp water

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease and flour an 8-inch Bundt pan.  In a medium bowl, combine flours, baking powder, and salt.  In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs.  Add oil, yogurt, lemon zest, and vanilla seeds and whisk until combined.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until incorporated.  Pour the batter into prepared pan.  Bake about 45 minutes—until golden brown and tester comes out clean.  Let cake cool completely before unmolding.

In a small saucepan, bring sugar and ½ cup water to a boil.  Add lemon slices and gently simmer until rind is translucent, about 7-10 minutes.  Remove from heat, drain, and let cool.  Blot lemon slices gently to remove excess water.

For the icing: In a small bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, oil, yogurt, bourbon, and water until smooth.  Spoon over cake.

Top cake with lemon slices.

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Tortilla Soup

Book club was at my house last week.  The book: Sugar in my Bowl by Erica Jong.  Book club just happened to land smack dab in the middle of the busiest week of the year for me, the week before the SVDP Christmas Baskets go out.

Thanksgiving Baskets are no cakewalk, don’t get me wrong.  But at Christmas, everything is bigger.  More dinners needed for more needy families.  More phone calls, more spreadsheets…Oh yes, and the presents.  Hundreds of presents to be gathered and sorted and tagged and bagged.

I’ve been coordinating this basket project long enough to know that I should probably think twice about scheduling anything else in the week running up to Christmas delivery day.  But I love having book club at my house and there’s nothing like an evening of friends and laughter to get one through a stressful time.  One book club meeting is nearly as potent as a good night’s sleep in its restorative powers.

Of course, I didn’t have time to cook anything elaborate.  So I fell back on one of my simplest but tastiest recipes: Tortilla Soup.  This soup can actually be assembled the night before, in about 15 minutes, and then refrigerated until morning, at which time the crockpot is set to low and forgotten about until evening.  A quick squeeze of lime juice, a handful of quickly crisped tortilla strips, and dinner is served.

This recipe originally came from my friend Denise, who has a demanding full-time job, four kids, and at least eight million other responsibilities.  So she knows fast.  And while I don’t normally cook recipes that are all from cans, this one is truly a keeper that belongs in everyone’s crockpot repertoire.  I’ve never had anything but sighs of pleasure and requests for the recipe from anyone I’ve served it to.  It fairly tingles with bright flavors and pleasing textures.  It’s a party recipe.

The Christmas baskets went out today,  A record eighty-three familes got Christmas groceries and presents for the kids, and in record time, too–all wrapped up by 10:30 in the morning.  And tortilla soup helped get me through the week and across the finish line.  Not bad for a recipe mostly from cans.

Tortilla Soup

  • 1 diced zucchini
  • ½ onion, diced
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-12 oz can of chicken
  • 1-15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2-15 oz cans black beans, drained
  • 2 cans broth
  • 1-15 oz can corn, drained
  • 2 cups salsa
  • juice from 2 limes
  • corn tortillas
  • shredded cheese
  • 1 avacado, diced

Whiz zucchini, onion, cilantro, and olive oil briefly in food processor or in bottom of crock pot with immersion blender, until somewhere between blended and pureed.  Add all remaining ingredients and a bit of water if needed to bring the soup up to 1 inch from top of crockpot.  Cook on low for 8-10 hours.  Before serving, add lime juice and stir.

Cut tortillas into approximately  ½ inch-wide strips and place under broiler for a few minutes, stirring as necessary, until lightly crisped.

Serve soup topped with tortilla strips, shredded cheese, and diced avocado.

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Top Ten Food Gifts 2011

Tis the season to give gifts–to family, friends, neighbors, coworkers–the list starts close to home and can spread, like ripples on a pond, to the far reaches of your social circle.  This year, rather than braving the crowded malls, why not stop at the grocery store for some extra flour, butter, and sugar instead?

Maybe you have a helper or two.  Maybe you prefer to put on some Christmas music, pour yourself a glass of wine, and spend some quality time alone  in the kitchen.  Either way, there is something special about giving food that you made yourself as holiday gifts.

There are lots of good ideas here to choose from, whether you are making a plate of cookies to take to work, or wrapping packages to send across the country.   A few of these are my recipes, others are from some wonderful fellow-food bloggers.

1.  Rosewater Pistachio Biscotti are easy to make, store well, and ship well.  Imagine the happy recipient dunking one into a steaming mug of coffee and thinking of you.

Rosewater Pistachio Biscotti

2. Tomato Chutney is a jar of spicy heat in the middle of winter.  Even if prime tomato season is past, this is a forgiving recipe and you can still whip up a batch with hothouse tomatoes.

3.  Jam–this one admittedly requires some forethought.  If you, like me, stored a surplus of jam in your pantry this summer, now is the time to distribute the bounty.


4. Hannah’s spiced curry cocoa mix will put a smile on anyone’s face who is lucky enough to find this in their stocking, and her chocolate bark would be a great treat to take to the office.

5. This Dark Chocolate and Ginger Flatbread from Sprouted Kitchen is a sophisticated variation on classic Christmas flavors.  You could build yourself a little gingerbread house from them, or just eat them.

6. Nothing says I love you quite like a package of  Chocolate Almond Buttercrunch Toffee at this time of year.  Or any time of year.

7. Jenny’s Lovage Salt will satisfy the most discriminating savory tooth on your list.  There are so many delicious ways to use this flavored salt.

8. Monet’s Cranberry Poppyseed Bread  is the perfect breakfast for Christmas morning.  Make a few extra loaves for yourself so that you can part with the ones you plan to give away.

9.  Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies  I’m pretty sure the name says it all.   Crunched-up candycanes=holiday goodness.

Chocolate Peppermint Bark

10. Amber’s Honey Whole Wheat Microbrew Bread would even make the Grinch smile a little.  Less cranky recipients will be thrilled!  You get the bonus of a kitchen filled with the incomparable scent of baking bread.


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I’ve been waking up to a black and white world this week.  Pre-dawn, frozen fog hovers and drifts in front of my headlights like pale will-o’-the-wisps.  I imagine they want to lure me off the road–into the moors–because isn’t that what they do?  Even after the sun comes up, there is an absence of color, the frost-bleached leaves and grass monochrome.  It is strangely silent.  Inside, with the furnace purring, I sense that I am within a fragile bubble of warmth and light, with the thinnest of membranes holding back the cold.  The occasional shiver down the back of my neck reminds me of that tension.

This is the time of year for steamy soups and warm, hearty, unabashedly filling meals.  When I was growing up, the winters were so much colder–all snow shovels and ice, frozen mittens and steamy breath, and stamping feet inside the back door before pulling off heavy boots.  My mother didn’t cook fancy meals, but rather the kind of simple, plentiful food that warmed the kitchen and filled kid’s cold, growly bellies, night after night.

One of her winter standbys was a square pan of cornbread.  Whisked from the oven, the golden top was lifted and slightly cracked in a distinctive square, like clerestory windows rising from a building.   She cut it into tall, hot squares which we would split and fill with butter, to accompany bowls of brothy beans.  The salty butter and just slightly sweet cornbread melded into a very satisfying whole.  I could eat piece after piece.  And if a few chunks fell into the bowl of beans, all the better.

Inevitably, there are things you lose along the way in life–people and places and states of mind you cannot return to that you miss occasionally or dreadfully or with all your heart.  But this is one of the things I love so much about food. These little gifts–a flavor, a scent, a memory, that you can return to over and over, and they are just as vivid and just as sweet as they ever were.

I tend to use a coarser cornmeal than my mother did, resulting in a slightly denser cornbread with a bit more texture.  But it is just as satisfying as the light, sweet cornbread I remember.  Either way, serve it alongside a bowl of spicy chili, chicken soup, or slathered with butter and drizzled with honey for breakfast.

Classic Cornbread

(adapted from a really old Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook)

  • 1 cup yellow corn meal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch square pan.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  Add eggs, milk and oil.  Beat just until smooth. Do not overmix. Pour into pan. Cook 20 to 22 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

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