Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve Blueberry Muffins

It is 6 o’clock on this Tuesday morning, the very last morning of the year, and I am sitting at my cold, semi-dark kitchen counter. I have in front of me a mug filled with a minty blend of warm herbal tea and my laptop. The kids are snug between their soft flannel sheets and thick down comforters sleeping peacefully; the dogs are curled up into tight balls on the couch; the cat is running around like a crazy person through the living room, into the hall, and back trying to communicate to me that I need to drop everything I’m doing and fill her food bowl to the rim immediately . . . again.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting

The weeks before Christmas are pretty eventful in my circle of family and friends. There are birthdays and anniversaries galore. In fact, in the stretch from December 12th through the 20th there is at least one birthday every day. I used to find this fun but this year my birthday-Scrooge side took over and I felt like it's just another thing to have to deal with. I say this because my birthday falls on one of those days.

As a child I loved that my birthday was so close to Christmas. It was just a part of the holiday season. My birthday gifts were placed under the Christmas tree alongside the rest of the family’s presents but mine were the ones in the colorful birthday wrap (my mom was good about not using anything with a holiday theme for my birthday). While kids my age had to hide in their bedrooms while their parents had co-workers over for cocktails and hor d’oeuvres, I got to invite all my friends over for cake and ice cream and a spirited round of musical chairs. It made the merriment of the holidays last even longer. And then I met Colin and found out his birthday was the day after mine. A one-day birthday celebration stretched into two!

But this year I dreaded the whole scene. I told everyone (including myself) that it was because it was so close to Christmas and it was just one more thing to deal with but I don’t think I was being honest.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jam Thumbprint Cookies

As you may have noticed, we've been doing some baking around here. After all, nothing helps you make it through the last week until Christmas like making cookies. Today we made jam thumbprint cookies. I'm not sure where this recipe originally came from. I've been making these cookies every year for Christmas for over ten years from a recipe that was handwritten on a now much abused index card.

Jam thumbprint cookies are wonderful little things: crumbly, buttery shortbread cookies coated in sweet, toasted coconut and topped with a jewel of fruity jam. Not only are they tasty but they look too beautiful to resist. And they are fun to make as is demonstrated here by my wonderful hand model Mina.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Peppermint Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

I saw a bottle of peppermint extract at the store a few weeks ago and I was so excited that I bought it. However, when I got home I realized I already had a full bottle. So I've been trying to find ways to use it. Luckily, it's almost Christmas and when it comes to Christmas chocolate and peppermint go hand in hand.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Persimmon Butter

I went to pick up produce from Skarsgard Farms (a local CSA) last Monday and saw a box of persimmons with a sign that read, "Take 5, free." I asked about them and was told that they were slightly bruised, enough so that the farm didn't feel comfortable charging people for them but not so much that they were inedible.

Persimmons are an orange-skinned fall fruit (actually, they are technically a berry) with a jelly-like flesh that are the size of a medium tomato. They come in many varieties including Fuyu and Hachyia When ripe they have a sweet, delicate flavor. When under ripe they are extremely bitter and chalky.

Admittedly, persimmons and I get along well enough, but we are more acquaintances than close friends. We really only see each other from time to time and stop to chat when we do cross paths but don't really know much about each other lives. And so, with visions of persimmon bread and broiled persimmons dancing through my head, I placed five plump persimmons in my bag, took them home, a put them in the fruit and vegetable crisper.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pho Soup

The last few weeks of the year are feeling more like, I imagine, the last few miles of a marathon (I've never actually run a marathon, mind you). Christmas makes life crazy enough and then add on the kids' concerts, holiday shows, and class and club celebrations, and then throw Colin and my birthdays into the mix and our days (particularly our weekends) are sheer pandemonium.

This December chaos makes me crave a nice grounding soup. You know, something that helps me feel settled and soothed. One of my favorite soups is this pho. It's warming, nourishing, flavorful, and easy to make. This version is a simple soup: tofu, and soba noodles garnished with fresh cilantro, basil, green onions, sliced jalapenos, and a squirt of lime juice. The flavor, however, comes from an amazingly flavorful broth that is infused with coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and bonito flakes.  This is my go-to lunch when I want a warm, healthy meal but it would also make a great light dinner.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Café au lait

I would like to state for the record that caffeine is not my friend. I know that aside from being a mild stimulant it has many medical uses. Caffeine is believed to lower a persons risk for cardiovascular disease, Parkinson disease, the development of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. It aids in the treatment of migraines and ADHD. And with coffee in particular, is a good source of antioxidants. 

And people love the stuff. I am not one of those people.