I’m grateful for the States Project. Their motto is “EVERYTHING WE CARE ABOUT STARTS IN THE STATES.” We tend to think that policies and laws that affects our daily lives happen in the federal government, but it’s just not true. The most important policies and laws are enacted at the state level, and the States Project works effectively to get candidates elected in critical state legislatures to protect human rights, the environment, and democracy. I was grateful tonight to zoom with my goddaughter Melody and her mother, one of my oldest friends, and the States Project came up in our conversation. Mel’s good friend Melissa Walker, a children’s book author, leads the Giving Circle arm of the group, and their data-based strategy successfully held or flipped several state legislatures in favor of the people of those states rather than rightwing extremists and conspiracy theorists. I was glad to be reminded of this powerful tool at our disposal going into the next election cycle, and encourage everyone to check out and contribute to their proven winning strategy.
It’s taken a long time for me to learn to settle into a routine that includes meal planning. Now that I have a regularly scheduled grocery day once a week, and a world of recipes at my fingertips, and time and inclination to eat better than ever, I’ve started saving a few key recipes each week and going through them on Tuesday to make my grocery list. First, and again and again, I’m grateful to my Personal Shoppers who give me this gift each week. Far more than the protective convenience it began as, it’s contributed to my personal transformation. Even if covid ever goes away, or I ever decide I’m game to get back to going out in public, I’ll keep the rhythm this pattern has created. On my list this week was chickpea-mushroom veggie burgers.
Naturally I wanted to make the buns as well. All parts of this meal freeze well for future use, and I gave some away too. These 30-minute buns take a little longer than that, but are quick and easy and really good. Here they are after their warm-oven rise–I don’t have an oven light, and the lowest my oven will go was a little warm for a rise. Next time I’ll just leave them out for awhile before baking, and also use a little less yeast at this altitude than I did this time. I think they didn’t puff enough because the yeast moved too fast. But what do I know? I’m still figuring out this baking world. I’m grateful I’m not attached to the outcomes of the recipes I try out. As long as they’re edible I’m happy; and even if they’re not, I’m grateful I’ve got a compost bin. No waste.
Toasted chickpeas with garlic powder and smoked paprika get mashed with chopped mushrooms, miso, tahini, and a well-cooked grain. I thought I had quinoa in the pantry but did not, so used farro instead. Mixed, mashed, and formed into patties, then frozen until ready to cook.
In this interesting Kentucky butter cake, it seems all the ingredients go in at once. Then the batter is beaten and poured in the pan, and came out as the most beautiful cake. As soon as it’s out you poke it full of holes and pour over a vanilla butter syrup, which soaks through. I’m grateful that it has to cool at least three hours before coming out of the pan. It’s better if I wait til morning to eat some instead of right before bed. I’m grateful for the transformation of simple ingredients into something spectacularly different. I’m grateful for the transformation I’ve undergone in the past few years of living with mindfulness.
We started off with a salty dog in our RBG glasses that Amy had provided. That’s her refrigerator covered in pictures in the background, and the lights over my living room window above that. Our dish for tonight was Carrot Button Noodles, which Amy found online. I was grateful I had just enough carrots left from the garden to make the dish.
Chopped, cooked til tender–but not quite tender enough–and drained, then into the food processor to puree until smooth–but not quite smooth enough.
I ended up with little bits of carrot in the dough but so what. The recipe calls for potato starch, which wasn’t to be found in the valley, and I’m just as glad. I used half cornstarch and half wheat flour, and liked the consistency of mine. Amy found potato starch, and said hers were really chewy. I went back to the website just now to get the link, and read “When used in doughs, potato starch, when cooked, gives a chewy, translucent, and glossy end-result. They have a silkier mouthfeel than using wheat flour….I like to use potato starch because it’s a little chewier than cornstarch. You cannot use any other flours or starches as the texture will be completely different.” Oh yes I can!
After kneading til it was smooth, we pinched off small bits and rolled into balls, then poked with our pinkies. It said to use a half teaspoon to roll each ball but we both thought that was way too small. I supposed Amy might have enjoyed her chewy buttons better if they were smaller, and I would have appreciated a higher sauce to noodle ratio on mine which a smaller button would have achieved. So now we know that for next time, if there is one.
Boiled about five minutes and drained…
Then topped with the garlic-soy-vinegar sauce. Amy had scallions which would have added nice color and crunch; I did not so I used some finely chopped shallots. Then another fun part, pouring boiling hot vegetable oil over the top, which sizzled, and sprinkling with sesame seeds. Equally fun was eating them. The little button holes caught and held the sauce. Smaller buttons, more buttonholes, more sauce per bite. Which may be the whole point of these noodles. Neither of us tasted a bit of carrot in them, though they were half carrot. But it was so simple, and so delicious. I’ll definitely be making more vegetable noodles this way in the future, if I live long enough. I’m always grateful for zoom cooking with Amy.
Further research, which I wish I had done before we made them, reveals a Chinese video with a different and even more delicious-looking sauce, and slightly different steps. I believe I will make them again, with potato starch. Even if I don’t make the exact noodles, I am definitely going to try this sauce.
I’m grateful that I’ve finally perfected the no-knead sourdough bread; with the caveat that external conditions are always different so I can’t be sure I’ll get it quite so perfect next time, but at least I’ve got the mixing, rising, and baking down pretty well. I love that it looks like a shaggy mess when I’m done mixing, and with ten hours and a few stretches of the dough, it turns into this:
And this: I made two small loaves this time, so I can give one to my Personal Shoppers. Naturally, I sliced into one as soon as it was cool enough, and enjoyed a crusty piece that melted butter.
I’m grateful, too, that just before the last bite, I felt an anomalously hard chunk and did not bite down on it, but spit it into my hand. I pondered it as I continued to chew, sensing nothing amiss in my mouth, until–uh-oh! I felt a big hole in a back molar. Sigh. I’m so grateful for mindfulness practice. I was able to accept this minor misfortune in stride, and enjoy the last few bites of bread, instead of panicking and fretting. I won’t think about it tonight; I’ll think about it tomorrow! I am really grateful for the good luck that there is no slicing-sharp edge (as long as I’m careful) and no pain. To think, I warned everyone about breaking a tooth on the biscotti, and went and broke one on a slice of bread! I’m grateful for irony. I’m grateful there are some dental care options I can call around for tomorrow, and still be able to eat if it takes a few days to get in. I expect I’ll lose the tooth, but that’s ok, it’s one less mercury filling in my mouth. We’ll know more later. It could have been a lot worse.
I was so grateful when I first learned that relaxation is a skill that we need to practice. I’m grateful to have various means available to facilitate my relaxation practice, including a gentle chiropractor with a magic touch.
I’m grateful I could come home and relax with a quick pizza, small homemade crust from the freezer and some random toppings. I cooked down a dollop of plain sauce with a mix of dried herbs and garlic slices, sliced some red onion, martini olives, and the last of the summer’s spicy dill pickles, and topped with shredded mozzarella. Baked to perfection! After lunch I enjoyed a nearly perfect homemade creme brûlée, relaxing with a sense of great satisfaction that I finally ticked that recipe off my bucket list.
I spent a little time relaxing outside with the cameraphone, finally managing to get the moon halfway decently with iPhone alone. I’ve figured out the technique, and identified a challenge with rural living. I’m supposed to focus the camera first on a streetlamp, that’s what the tutorial said. My patio light isn’t bright enough or far enough away to lock the exposure and focus accurately to capture the moon when the lens is turned on it. There was a light cloud cover, which helped; the other night it was so bright the camera captured only a blinding white circle. I’m grateful I get to relax both outside and inside my house.
I’m so grateful to readers who want to know more about something I’ve cooked or baked. I love sharing recipes, both directions. A couple of friends wrote to me after receiving their holiday biscottis, saying almost word for word the same thing: “I love biscotti. And this is by far the best I’ve ever had.” One of them added, “Give a woman biscotti and she enjoys bliss for 3 days. Teach a woman to make biscotti and she will have a lifetime of bliss!” I immediately set out to create a biscotti tutorial, and here it is.
First, hightail it to King Arthur and get a biscotti pan. You might find one elsewhere but why not get the best. This takes all the suffering out of forming the initial loaf for baking. Then make sure you have a couple of not-so-usual ingredients, espresso baking powder and candied ginger. Here are the two I use.
I think it’s best to buy espresso powder rather than try to grind your own beans down small enough. This is made from organic beans powdered so finely that they readily dissolve, but if you like a bit of extra crunch you could grind your own.
Here’s my recipe, modified slightly from the original. For one thing, I put all spices in order of amount so that I can just set them all on the counter and run through my measuring spoons, saving the liquids for last of course. It’s simple because you just put all ingredients except the last three into the mixing bowl, mix on low til incorporated, and then whip on high for 90 seconds, which is just enough time to weigh out the flour. I do start by chopping the candied ginger smaller so I have that ready when it’s time to add flour and ginger to the ribbony batter.
Mix in the flour and chopped ginger on low until the flour is just barely incorporated, don’t overmix. The texture is like damp sand, but sticky. Here’s where that biscotti pan pays off. The original directions call for gathering it together with your hands and forming it into a loaf on parchment paper. In my experience with this dough, there is no gathering possible. I line the pan with a sheet of 9×13 parchment paper (and an aside, I used to think it wasteful to pay a little more for pre-cut parchment paper instead of the roll, but it is such a time and frustration saver). Then evenly dump the mixture into the pan…
…and gently press flat with your fingers or a spatula.
Bake in preheated 325℉ oven–and make sure that it’s been preheating through your whole mixing process–for 40-45 minutes. For me perfect is somewhere around 43. If you bake it too long or not long enough it makes it harder to cut later. Don’t turn off the oven! Once the pan is out of the oven, I lift the loaf out of the pan with the paper handles and let it cool on a rack for ten minutes.
Then you slice the loaf diagonally with a serrated knife into ¾” slices. I think it slices easier if you flip the loaf over onto the cutting board and cut across the smooth bottom rather than try to cut across the textured top. See what works for you. You’ll be making this more than once!
Slice slowly, smoothly, gently, don’t saw it like you might bread or pieces will break off. If the knife gets sticky from the ginger pieces, you can rinse and dry it partway through. No need to be too precise about the width of the slices, you’ll get about a dozen, plus a few shorter pieces from the diagonals at each end. Naturally, these are too small to give away so you must eat them yourself.
Lay out all your pieces on their sides, on a cookie sheet lined with 12×16″ parchment paper and put them in the oven. They won’t spread any more, so you don’t need to worry about spacing. I like to set the rack one notch above middle. Bake for 7-8 minutes then remove the pan, flip each biscotti onto its other side (except the corners, no need), and bake another 7-10 minutes. The longer these bake here, the crunchier the cookie. During this last bake, I melt the chocolate, but you can do it later. I’ve tried microwaving but did not get the consistency I wanted, so I do as the recipe suggests and melt in a stoneware bowl over simmering water–not boiling, and not touching the bottom of the bowl. You can use any kind of chocolate, but I prefer extra dark; it both melts better and tastes better than semi-sweet chips. Break it into bits and melt til it’s smooth and runny. Once the biscotti are out of the oven you can ice them any time.
Turn the biscotti rightside up on the cooling rack over the parchment paper they cooked on. (This is important, because once the chocolate sets and you put away the biscotti and the rack, you’ll have a bunch of chocolate drops on the paper that you’ll need to clean up. And by clean up, I mean eat.)
Using a teaspoon–the kind you stir ice-tea with–I drip one spoonful over the top of each cookie and let it drip down the sides here and there. Nothing fancy. You can use more or less chocolate than called for. Then, patience. Wait til the chocolate sets solid before doing anything else. This can take some hours, and will depend on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen. I’ve tried setting these out in the cold mudroom to speed up the set, but don’t like the result. You’ll know they’re set when the shine is gone. Best to leave them even longer before boxing, bagging, or tinning them, but certainly you ought to try one with a cuppa something hot at this point. And that, my dear, is how you make the best biscotti ever.
And now, Sandra, here’s the answer to your question, which motivated me to post the biscotti recipe today. Here’s how I made the fried grits.
I tweaked the basic recipe above, incorporating elements from the variations. I used 2 cups water and 1 cup milk, a large pat of butter, salt, and less than a cup of grits but not as little as ¾ cup. I poured the grits in slowly, stirring steadily, before the liquid boiled and stirred constantly after it boiled, for… awhile. More than five minutes, less than 15, until it was thick and smooth. Near the end I stirred in about a quarter cup of broken up white cheddar and cooked a bit longer til there was no crunch left. It was thick but pourable, and I poured out most of it into a glass container a couple inches thick, let it cool to room temp, and put it in the fridge. To fry, I melted butter in a small, non-stick Greenpan skillet, sliced the cold grits ⅝” thick, and fried on both sides til crispy. So simple, so delicious! I use only silicone tools on these expensive-but-worthit pans. Enjoy!
A new friend asked my forgiveness this morning after she forgot our zoom-coffee date. That was easy–it happens, I’ve done it myself–and I was grateful for her ask because forgiveness is something I need more practice with. But then I got given forgiveness, unexpectedly, and after a long time, and that really made my day. A year ago, I left a message on a phone number I’d been trying to get for several years. An old friend from college whom I haven’t seen for about forty years, and whom I’ve been apologizing to in my head for decades, for several offenses.
It was complicated. I made a few selfish choices through the years of our friendship, and only later came to realize how hurtful they must have been to her. If I remember correctly, I’d made a half-assed apology for the last of them in a letter a few years afterward but hadn’t heard back. Then a decade or so ago I received a cryptic card with no return address and was too confused to pursue it. But I had a connection with a couple of her family members and eventually started trying to track her down, resulting ultimately in this phone number that may or may not have been hers. I left a heartfelt voicemail asking her to call me back because I wanted to apologize. When I didn’t hear for a few weeks, I texted. And left it at that. Writing several more apologies in my head since then. I was thrilled to see a response from her this afternoon. It was nothing more than a note that she’d be in Colorado this spring, maybe we could meet, it would be great to see me. Forgiveness was implicit; relief washed over me.
In the same way that it feels better to give than to receive, maybe it feels better to be forgiven than to forgive. It did in this case, anyway. But I’m eager for the opportunity to tell her in person what I’ve thought about writing for all these years: I’m sorry about the dog. I’m sorry about the car. I’m sorry about the trip.
The good-luck peas were delicious, the best I’ve ever eaten. I started with a simple recipe from Chili Pepper Madness but made some changes. First, I only had half a pound of peas, soaked them for most of the day. Chopped half an onion, half an orange jalapeño and a handful of Blot peppers from the freezer, one clove garlic, sautéed them with some Penzeys celery flakes since I didn’t have fresh (look at the little piece in the top of the bowl above), and their Cajun seasoning, kosher salt, a small lamb bone from the freezer, two cups of broth, and the peas in their soaking water. After a long simmer, with the lid on for about 40 minutes then without for as long, I threw in chopped young kale, and squeezed in a little fresh lime juice (thanks, Pamela!), cooking til the kale was soft. So simple, so delicious! I look forward to my year of good luck.
The comb was due before Christmas, but the package came ripped open and it had fallen out somewhere in transit. I called to get it replaced, and had the most delightful chat with Ibra, in India. She was helpful as could be, sorry it wouldn’t come til Friday, and I laughed and said that was ok, I’d just be patient and so would my cat. She asked what breed of cat I had, and thus ensued one of those ‘only connect‘ conversations between two cat-loving strangers that left us both happier than we’d been before the call.
I’m grateful for bright, healthy greens in deep winter. GB showed me a farm stand on Lost Mesa the other day, where I purchased a bag of beautiful mesclun mix, and another of healthy young kale. Unlike most farm markets, Flipside Farm closes in April and opens in late fall, providing tunnel-grown greens through the winter at a self-serve roadside stand. Picked fresh daily! I used the first of mine on the last tortilla, topped with (home-mixed) Penzeys ranch dressing, an egg scrambled with cream cheese, homemade B&B pickles, and homemade salsa. Because why not throw anything in the fridge into a tortilla and wrap it up for lunch? Fresh, mostly organic, vegetarian, and delicious.
I spent the day cooking. I’m grateful for the strength and energy to cook all day. I cooked down black beans with roasted tomatoes and onions left from the garden, and some oregano from the sunroom. Then rolled up a bean and cheese burrito with sour cream and fermented hot sauce for lunch. For dinner, Amy and I made Bello’s cheesy potato bread, and loaded sweet potatoes.
While the sweet potatoes were baking, we chopped red cabbage, drained garbanzo beans, tossed in some spices, then roasted that mix too. Toward the end of cooking we mixed in some chopped pecans. I forgot the dried cranberries! They were sitting on the counter but I glanced right past them. A tahini dressing with balsamic, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, and garlic powder topped the plate. Pretty easy. So delicious. A successful Instagram recipe. And lots of leftovers!
But the day began and ended with bread. This sourdough is so simple, so delicious! Mix a shaggy dough first thing in the morning, let it rise an hour, fold it four times, let it rise eight-ten hours, then four-fold it again and shape into loaves. Another hour and a half rise under a flour-dusted tea towel, and into the oven at 450℉. I’m grateful for all the delicious food I concocted today, for the kitchen, tools, fuel, and time to do so; and for Amy and our time together. I’m grateful for the contentment that settles over me more completely as time goes by: for the dawning recognition that I am enough, just the way I am. It’s taken a long, long time to get here. Some people are just born with it, but for others of us it takes a lifetime of letting go to finally arrive at peace with who we are.