Pumpkin Bread with Golden Raisins and Dried Cranberries

Just when I thought this week was going to be easy to write up about, the desire to procrastinate was incredibly strong.

Today felt like as if everyone I ran into was on edge. It was as if the immense emotion from the September 11th anniversary had carried on from the weekend and took a giant dump on my Tuesday. It wasn’t exactly how I wanted to start my work week. Nor did it set me in the right mood to start writing up about the friends I love.

But promises are well…promises, and instead of procrastinating by creeping on Facebook and Twitter (hey, at least I admit it), and dreaming up all of the things I’d love to buy on Amazon….

Sorry, I got distracted again, by boots.

I have a problem.

Anyway, let me tell you about my best friend E.

E and I met in sophomore year of undergrad at polo team tryouts.  I can’t say I really remember my first impression (it was over 10 years ago), as most of the afternoon was filled with anxiety; wanting to know if I had made the cut.  However, I do remember after a couple of practices, scrubbing our tack with Murphy’s Oil Soap and talking about our individual plans for the night, that she was someone that I wanted to hang out with.  Immediately.

E is a person that will always put you at ease.  Extremely open and always one to smile at a joke that may not be the funniest, she always makes you feel comfortable with who you are.  She was a great friend to have at the start of my undergrad career because I was at that age where I was trying to figure out that very exact thing.

I came from an almost all-white town in suburbia, where I spent every afternoon at an equestrian facility.  There, along with two other girls, we practically ran the place.  And we knew it.  Suffice it to say, it was not a childhood experience I think I’d want for my future daughter.  The three of us grew up a little too fast, and got away with a little too much.

I am so grateful I at 18 I at least had the common sense to a giant state school.

Coming out of high school I was a selfish, arrogant, and somewhat slutty (I said it) “big fish” in the equestrian facility pond.  I desperately needed to be “thrown to the sharks.”

For those who had the small college experience, freshman year at a school that has on average 30,000 people walking around on campus everyday, is a bit overwhelming.  I thought I would love molding myself into who I wanted to be.  I believed that I could make myself queen of whatever flock I chose, and that I didn’t need the equestrian community anymore.

I got so lost.

During freshman orientation, I chose to live in the known “diversity dorm,” on campus because I thought being half-asian was super ethnic and that would be my launching pad for queen.

It’s not.

I went from picking up a smoking habit of Marlboro Ultra Menthol Lights (so gross), finding myself at frat house basement parties, betting on who’s house shirt I could steal as a souvenir (who. was. I?!?), and keeping lookout as one of my hall-mates stole a giant vat of ice cream from the dining hall, to running…Directly back to another equestrian facility.

When I saw the flyer posted randomly in the campus center, next to a Cannabis Club meeting time (oh yes), at first I dismissed the idea of trying out.  I had never played polo before, so why bother.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

And I’m thankful I did.  Because instead of being caught up in the drama of “women hating women,” I found a truly great friend.

One of the best memories I have is when I showed up to her dorm room for a Halloween party.  I arrived in jeans and a t-shirt.  Maybe flip flops?  She was horrified.  How did I not know what Halloween meant in “girl world?”

In a whirlwind of clothes and face paint, she dressed me in jeans spray painted with dashes of gold, a mesh shirt (it’s as bad as it sounds), and drew a lunar eclipse on my forehead.  She wore something of the like, and drew a sun on her forehead.  How we explained that our “costumes” went together, I can’t remember.  And I’m kind of glad I don’t!

With that memory in mind, and in celebration of her recent birthday (in which she insists every year she’s “25”), I made her pumpkin bread.  If I could write a crash-test guide on E, the first page would list three things: She loves the color orange, pumpkin is her favorite type of pie, and she hates, hates nuts in brownies.

Thankfully pumpkin bread is (theoretically) orange and in this version, without nuts.  I love stuffing breads like banana or zucchini with as many dried fruits as possible.  And in this loaf, I added handfuls of golden raisins and dried cranberries.  Having them plump up, and enveloped by a spice filled batter, makes it a quintessential fall treat.  Perfect with a mug of earl grey tea, sitting with your legs curled up under yourself, and maybe with a cat in your lap, it’s a slice that I especially love to have on a rainy September afternoon.  With E’s birthday being yesterday, I can only hope that this will make the perfect belated birthday gift.

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Adapted from Orangette

Makes 2 Loaves (Recipe Can Be Easily Halved)

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Ingredients

2 cups of pumpkin puree

1 cup of olive oil

4 egg whites

Half cup of water

3 cups of white whole wheat flour (if you only have all purpose flour, feel free to use it)

One and a half cups of sugar (this yields a not so sweet bread, if you like a very sweet pumpkin bread, go with 2 cups)

2 teaspoons of baking soda

Half teaspoon of salt

Half teaspoon of ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Three quarters of a cup of dried cranberries (I love a lot of “things” in my cake, so if you’d like it to be less intense, use less)

Three quarters of a cup of golden raisins

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Equipment

1 large mixing bowl

1 medium mixing bowl

A whisk

A spatula

A loaf pan (I used a 9×5 pan) (Two if you’re lucky to have them around and can bake both loaves at the same time)

Parchment paper (optional) or butter and flour to coat your loaf pan (or even baking spray)

Cooling rack (if you have one)

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Move the oven rack to the middle position in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Line the loaf pan with parchment paper, or butter and flour the pan, or coat the pan well with baking spray. I prefer parchment paper because I’m incredibly lazy and can’t bear the thought of cleaning another dish after baking.

Add the pumpkin puree, olive oil, water, and egg whites to your large mixing bowl. Mix till combined. At first it’ll look like an oily mess, but keep going, and it’ll all incorporate together.

In the medium mixing bowl, add the white whole wheat flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk till combined.

Add the dried cranberries and golden raisins to the wet mixture. Stir till just combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet, in multiple increments, adding a bit of dry to the wet, stirring till just combined, then adding more dry to wet, until everything is just combined.

With you spatula, scrape the bottom of the bowl, folding from the bottom up to the top, making sure that everything is combined.

Split your batter into two loaf pans, or, split the batter in half, and work on the first loaf.

Throw the loaf pan(s) into the oven. Bake 50 – 60 minutes or until a cake tester (like a toothpick) pulls out clean from the center of the loaf.

Let the loaf cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before taking it out of the pan to cool on a cooling rack (if you have one).

September 12th

As of late I’ve been trapped in a ‘moment of pause;’  what I can only describe as a tar-pit of writer’s block. Ideas about what I should write, what recipes I should share, has kept me up at night. Well, keeping me up in that I wake up around 3 a.m., with a supposedly great idea, only to have it leave me when it’s actually time to sit in front of my laptop.

It’s annoying.

And with this past weekend being the tenth anniversary of September 11, I was especially “stuck.”

So I waited.

I waited to see what others would write about.  Most wrote where they were when it happened.  Some wrote how they were personally affected: loved ones lost, friends of friends who were lost and those who were lucky to not lose anyone.  One wrote how because of September 11th, she met her now husband.

I especially loved that piece, because after all the sadness, anger, basically experiencing almost all the emotions one can feel on that day, she was able to talk about something so positive.

It was a piece that got me off my couch, and back into the kitchen; to our banged up, wobbly oak table.   It’s where I go to sit, watch the squirrels hop on and off our back porch, and write.

I became inspired to write about those who I have in my life and am so thankful that they’re still with me.  If I can get my act together, I hope to have one friend written about for each day this week.

While I respect that each person spends September 11th differently, each on an individual basis, (eg whether remembering those that they lost, reflecting on their own life and how we are all fragile creatures) I hope that others respect that I’d like to spend my week being thankful.

Yum Yum Soup

It feels like Roo and I have been traveling practically every weekend this past month.

We went to a wedding in Maine, Roo tagged along with me to Virginia for work, and now I’m due to go back to my parents’ house to deal with the car that I “dropped off.”

Parents are smart.

They know when you’re trying to dump stuff at their place for “storage.”

They especially don’t like it when their retirement nirvana is no longer, due to a rusted, three-wheeled, no longer smells of Teen Spirit Outback station wagon that has been parked outside their house for months.

When I dropped it off I told them it’d be taken away by <insert charity I’m donating it to> in a week.

Whoops.

Yes, I’m far from perfect.

Dare I say they raised me, so they should have known it was bad news when the tow truck dropped off the car while they were away on vacation?

What, I forgot to mention that?

Procrastination.  Yes, my parents may have dropped the ball about setting me right with that one.

Being obsessed with spices?  My mother can take the credit for instilling that in me.

Growing up, it was like being audience to an at-home cooking show (but faster, almost manic, fueled by “wine spritzers” and laughs…I should call her…).

My mother’s constant chatter while cooking (she called it “creating”) was informative as any Food Network Star’s dream pilot.  She’d tell me what she loved about that dish, why, how the ingredients all worked together, and demanded that I taste.

Everything.

And when I was flipping through one of my newly acquired cookbooks (for fun, I have a problem) today, I spotted a flavor combination that I knew I’d like, and probably love, with a couple adjustments.

Cumin, garam masala, curry powder.

In a soup?  With peanut butter?

Uh, and coconut milk?

No really, it works.

It has heat, it’s full of body from the coconut milk, and the peanut butter adds a little “something,” that makes the soup quite complex for one that’s whipped up within an hour.

As for what the heck to call it, yes, I really was waving my hands up in the air, not wanting to list every ingredient in the soup to make sense as to what it is.

I stand by the name.

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Yum Yum Soup, Adapted from Peas and Thank You Cookbook

Serves Four Generously

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Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

One and a half teaspoons curry powder

Three quarter teaspoons garam masala

1 teaspoon cumin

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 fifteen ounce diced tomatoes (with juice)

Two and a half cups low sodium sodium broth (vegetable or chicken)

1 half can (fourteen ounce) of light coconut milk

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

1 cup potato, diced or sliced thinly (size depending on what you like in your soup, and how quickly you’d like it to cook)

Half cup of red lentils, drained and rinsed

1 fourteen ounce can Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed

Salt to taste

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Equipment

A sharp knife

A large pot with a lid

A colander

A spatula

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Place the large pot with olive oil on an oven burner over medium high heat.  When the oil starts to shimmer, add the diced onion.  Stir occasionally with a spatula till the onions are translucent.  Add the garlic.  Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Push aside the onions and garlic, to make a bare spot for your spices to be added.  Add the spices (curry powder, garam masala, cumin and ginger).  Let sit until fragrant (about 30 seconds).  Stir the spices into the onions and garlic.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot.  Stir to combine.

Bring the soup to a simmer.

Simmer on low heat for thirty minutes slightly covered, or until potatoes are tender (if they were cut small, they should cook quickly) and the lentils are soft.

Add salt to taste.

Wheatberry, Corn, Red Onion, Tomato and Arugula Salad

If you’re like me, this may be one of the first times you’ve heard of wheatberries.

It’s ok.  It’s not your fault.

If I repeat that ten more times will we have a moment?

I just don’t want to be Robin Williams.  The body hair alone will give me a complex.

Body hair aside (gross), I’ve never heard of wheatberries until I started perusing creeping the aisles of Whole Foods.

It’s becoming an odd hobby of mine, looking at items in a store that I can afford little in.  And when I got to the “whole grains,” section I learned that I also didn’t know about the majority of what they had in stock.

Spelt. (That just sounds wrong.)

Kamut. (What?)

Millet. (Isn’t that for birds?)

Teff. (No seriously, this one sounds the worst of them all)

You get the point.

I honestly have never seen some of the items, nor knew how to use them in dishes.  I’ve dabbled with quinoa, and I love white whole wheat flour, but actual, “ancient grains?” Clueless.

So I got brave. I grabbed the most innocent sounding of them all: wheatberries.

What, that doesn’t sound innocent to you?

Perv.

I kid, I kid.

What I was actually going to do with the wheatberries, kind of threw me for a loop.

I thought about it on the drive home.  Nothing.

I thought about it while I brushed our cats. Again, nothing. And, I got clawed.

I thought about it while prepping for an experiment, and realized, I shouldn’t be doing that.

So last night, I decided I should just go for it.

I made a salad.  (How anti-climactic.)

The wheatberries soaked up the lovely lime and balsamic dressing, and added an interesting, but welcomed chewy texture.  Raw, fresh picked corn, sweet red onion and juicy, almost bursting with ripeness, tomatoes are some of my favorite components of a “summer salad.”  And with it still being summer (although lately it hasn’t felt like it), I figured why not celebrate these flavors before winter comes with its sad sad warehouse veg that makes me wonder why supermarkets even supply produce that tastes like that.  Paired with a peppery bite from arugula, this dish made me incredibly happy to welcome Roo back from 8th Grade Parent/Teacher night with something refreshing and somewhat hearty.

Serves Two Generously

Adapted from Oh She Glows

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Ingredients

For the salad

Half cup wheatberries, cooked according to package’s instructions

One ear of raw fresh sweet corn, with the kernels cut off (you can use grilled, or boiled corn, if the corn in your area isn’t very sweet)

One large beefsteak tomato, cut in half, then into quarter slices (or whatever fresh tomatoes you have on hand)

Half a large red onion, sliced thinly

Two to three big handfuls of arugula, washed and dried well

For the Dressing

Juice from 2 limes

2 tablespoons of good balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1 teaspoon agave (or maple syrup)

1 large garlic clove, minced

3 tablespoons good olive oil (I used extra virgin)

Salt and pepper to taste

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Equipment

A salad spinner (if you have it)

A sharp knife

A small mixing bowl (to whisk your dressing)

A whisk (or a fork will do)

Two plates (to plate your salad with)

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Cook your wheatberries according to directions on the package.

While they’re cooking, take your washed and dried arugula and create the first layer of your salad on the two plates.  Scatter the tomatoes, slices of red onion and kernels of corn about on top.

When the wheatberries have finished cooking, drain them, and allow them to cool.

While they cool, add all the ingredients of the dressing in a small mixing bowl.  Whisk them together until combined.

By now your wheatberries have hopefully cooled.  Add a quarter to one third of a cup of wheatberries on top of the arugula, per person.

Dress the salad and serve.

Grilled Eggplant and Pesto Pizza with Cherry Tomatoes Marinated in Balsamic Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I am not going to lie to you.

This may change the way you feel about eggplant.

You may even actually love it.

And maybe you’ll even have the urge to fist bump me, because yes, I knew all along that eggplant is absolutely delicious when grilled.

While this pizza (as most things written about on LLN) is easy to assemble, it does take a bit time to prep the ingredients; especially when you don’t own an outdoor grill.

If you do own an outdoor grill, I implore you to invite me over so I can steal borrow it, because my stove top grill pan makes me suffer my own shining half way through the process.

But back to speaking truths.

Roo hates eggplant. Or supposedly hated it because he loves this pizza. He even stated yesterday it might be one of his favorites.

<insert surprised Scooby Doo noise>

But Roo never stood a chance. It’s composed of some of his favorite things: 1) pizza, 2) pesto, 3) cheese, 4) pizza

The boy loves pizza, true story.

And until last night, he did not love eggplant.

When I’ve previously mentioned my feelings for the bulbous purple plant, he would counter that it was mooshy and flavorless. I would say it was prepared wrong, but he would just shake his head, refusing to let it cross our threshold. Tofu was the only other food he hated more.  And peas. Sad.

I couldn’t really relate to Roo’s hatred for eggplant. I’ve always liked it, and maybe because I grew up eating it, I’ve never had a chance to dislike it.

I remember several fall nights where my mom would roast it in the oven, only to toss it with a bit of soy sauce and serve it as a side to salmon. Eggplant is one of her favorites, and when I told her Roo hated eggplant, she questioned my choice in men.  But this isn’t news. She’s always questioned my choice in men (my ex lived on a diet of Cheez-it Party Mix).

This week though, we received an eggplant almost the size of Evil Monkey,

from our CSA, and I knew we had no choice but to have it for dinner.

And how was I going to introduce eggplant to Roo?

The gateway meal: pizza.  (And in case you wanted to know, the gateway meat for vegetarians is bacon. Fact.)

With fall around the corner, I’ve been craving nothing but carbs.  Perhaps it’s my body wanting to prepare for winter hibernation, but all I can think about is bread. Warm bread.

A crusty pizza with silky eggplant, deep in flavor from the char from the grill, only to be countered by a bite from pesto, was exactly what I needed.  And now that I’ve “ripped off the band aid,” that is conquering Roo’s dislike for one of the “No no no I don’t like it!” list, I’m a little bit more confident in convincing him that tofu isn’t all that bad.  Somehow I don’t think telling him it’s “cheese” is going to be the way.

This is definitely a make-it-as-you-go kind of pizza. I haven’t listed the exact quantities of the ingredients, because maybe you like a super cheesy pizza compared to me. Or, you want a super thin layer of pesto because you want to really taste the grilled eggplant. Have some fun with it and make this dish your’s!

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Ingredients

Store bought frozen pizza dough from Whole Foods (it’s surprisingly good!), or the no-knead dough recipe I always go to

Flour (to roll out you dough with)

Store bought pesto, or the basil pesto recipe that I like (pesto freezes wonderfully so if you have leftovers, freeze it for later!)

One eggplant, sliced thinly (I slice it about a quarter inch thick)

Olive oil

Sea salt

Fresh mozzarella

Goat cheese (optional, but so so good)

*The cherry tomatoes on the side/piled on top of the pizza upon serving is also optional, but Roo and I really enjoyed this “hey these are about to go bad, let’s use them!” ingredient

Cherry tomatoes, cut in half

A good balsamic vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil, if you have it, or just use a good mild tasting olive oil

More sea salt

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Equipment

Two medium sized mixing bowls (One if you’re not making the cherry tomatoes marinated in balsamic vinegar and olive oil)

A spatula (a spoon will also work)

Tongs (to flip your grilled eggplant with)

A plate (to set your grilled eggplant aside on)

A grill (and I’m jealous of you if you have it) or a stove top grill pan (that I have and secretly loathe)

A pizza stone (if you have it) or a baking sheet that can withstand the heat of a 475F oven

A rolling pin (if you have it) or a wine bottle will also work

Parchment paper (not really necessary if you own a pizza peel, but I don’t, so that’s how I slide the pizza onto the stone), or a pizza peel

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Place your oven rack to the middle position in the oven. Place your pizza stone on the oven rack and preheat the oven to 475F.

If you’re going to use your cherry tomatoes, put them in one of your mixing bowls and sprinkle with a bit of salt.  Add a couple tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.  Toss to combine (I used my hands).  Set aside to marinate.  (Trust me, the longer you let them sit, the better!)

Turn on your grill and set to “medium.” If you don’t have a grill like me, place your grill pan on your burner over medium high heat.

Throw the thinly sliced pieces of eggplant into a medium sized mixing bowl. Throw a good pinch of salt in there and a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Toss the ingredients with your hands (or a spatula). When all the eggplant is coated, start grilling.

Grill the eggplant slices until they are tender and have grill marks on both sides.  Set the grilled eggplant aside.

Roll out the pizza dough on a floured surface, to your desired thickness. I like a super thin crust, but if you’re a thick crust person, work away.

Spread the pesto on top of the pizza dough with your spatula (or a spoon if you don’t have one).

Lay the slices of grilled eggplant on top.

Shred pieces of fresh mozzarella up and scatter over the pizza. I like to make it so that at least every slice has one bite of mozzarella.

When the pizza is arranged to your liking, bake in the oven (on your baking sheet or pizza stone) for about ten to fifteen minutes, until the crust is golden brown (or deeply browned if that’s your thing) and the cheese is bubbling (and hopefully also a bit browned).

Remove the pizza from the oven and crumble bits of goat cheese on top (optional).

Upon serving, spoon a couple of marinated cherry tomatoes on top, for a delicious, juicy bite! (Also optional)