After reading What Alice Forgot a few weeks ago, I decided to catch up on Liane Moriarty’s other books. I read Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret one after the other, but they both pale in comparison to What Alice Forgot and I don’t really recommend either of them. Moriarty knows how to set down a good plot and mix in some really great characters, but the language gets a lot rougher in her latest two books. There are some great themes that add some redeeming value to these books, like working hard on making a good marriage and eschewing busyness and the performance driven life, but usually the conclusions drawn by the end of the book don’t line up with my values. Good discussion can come of it, though I wouldn’t say that redeems it enough for me to recommend these books to friends.
But I would recommend something else from Moriarty and that is this: make some banana muffins. They are mentioned in every single book I’ve read by her, and especially focused on in What Alice Forgot as the pinnacle of comfort food. When I saw some nearly rotten bananas in my kitchen last week, I decided to make banana muffins without even realizing why I wanted to until later. But really, it’s perfect because it takes so much less time than banana bread, which is my go-to course of action when I have expiring bananas.
If you decide to make some, this is the recipe you should make. It is delicious. It’s not a low fat recipe, though, so you may want to make some tweaks if you’re going for a healthified muffin. I followed the recipe exactly except for changing out the white flour for whole wheat and leaving out the nuts because half of our family would rather starve than eat a walnut. I think next time I’ll use less sugar. And by next time, I mean tomorrow. They are so good.
On a gloomy December morning, I enjoy the rare treat of sitting alone at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee, a toasted English muffin slathered in blueberry preserves, and a book. I wouldn’t choose this type of morning every day–I love the chaos and energy, the blue eyes and burnished blonde hair usually flying around the circle from living room, dining room, kitchen, at 8:00 a.m. on any given morning–but as a once in a while thing, this morning alone is heavenly.
What book am I reading? Funny you should ask. It’s kind of a cookbook, kind of a memoir. It’s Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, a book I wouldn’t have picked up on my own whim in a million years. But I heard Shauna speak twice in the last year, and then a speaker at MOPS said Bread and Wine was pivotal in helping her become the cook she always wanted to be, so I ordered it from my library and here it sits in front of me. I’m not a cookbook reader. I struggle with even wanting to cook, and much more with the actual cooking. When the whole Julie and Julia book and movie were crazy popular, I just shook my head and said, “Why? Why would I put myself through a year of making complicated, French recipes?” I wouldn’t.
And I still wouldn’t. But when the every day need to feed and nourish my family collides with the stress of planning and prepping and shopping so often that it just drives me crazy, I know this whole cooking thing is something I need to figure out. Add Bread and Wine to the mix, and it suddenly becomes something I really, really want to figure out and just might enjoy. Niequist says, “I believe every person should be able to make the simple foods that nourish them, that feel familiar and comforting, that tell the story of who they are….And the only way to get there is to start where you are.”
I’m teetering dangerously on the edge of declaring 2015 the year I begin to truly learn to cook. It’s quotes like this that make me brave:
“We’ve been told that cooking and baking and entertaining are specialized skills that only some people possess, and that without a culinary degree or a lifestyle brand we can’t be expected to do anything but buy prepared food. Marketing and advertising campaigns urging us to eat out or buy already prepared foods want us to think that plain old cooking is difficult and not worth learning. This trend began in the 1950s after factories that used to make ammunition had to make something else. So they started making shelf-stable food in cans and boxes, similar to what soldiers had been eating but unfamiliar to the average American family. In order to sell canned food and cake mixes, advertisers had to convince American women that cooking is too hard and troublesome for our modern world. But it wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now.” (Bread and Wine, p. 41, emphasis mine)
Quotes like that, Niequist’s skillful and passionate writing on the glories of food and love around the table, and my 100% confidence that my husband will totally back me up in this even though I haven’t asked him yet (he will) urge me on into this scary thing of picking up a cast iron skillet, crushing some peppercorns with it, and then attempting to make Stake au Poivre. I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds ah-mazing. I’m kind of worried I’m going to waste a lot of money on food that turns out badly, but then I read this:
“It takes some time to learn, to try and fail and make a mess and try again…But it’s a lovely process, with not a minute wasted. If you put in the time, the learning, the trying, the mess, and the failure, at the end you will have learned to feed yourself and the people you love, and that’s a skill for life–like tennis or piano but yummier and far less expensive.”
Yeah, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of money on learning golf and I’m still not even close to good at it. I guess it’ll be more worthwhile to try and do something well that I have to do every day anyway.
I guess I’ll take a deep breathe and let myself dive over the edge.
2015, I doubt I’ll be a Foodie when I’m through with you, but I plan to make a mean Steak au Poivre with Cognac Pan Sauce before you’re over.
Whether you consider yourself a Foodie or not, Bread and Wine is a delightful, insightful read that pretty much anyone can enjoy. I highly recommend it. But be forewarned– you may find yourself searching for Sriracha sauce in the grocery store before you’re through. Or maybe you already know what aisle that’s on. If so, call me. I need help. =)
Fall is technically here, though our only clue in these parts is the temps below 70 degrees at night. So it’s time for my three favorite fall recipes.
First, I gotta say, I had no idea that the ENTIRE AMERICAN POPULATION loved all things pumpkin. I mean, I’ve noticed the Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks in the last few years. But then the recipes started popping up everywhere on Facebook and Pinterest and all the cooking shows and websites. Pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin cookies, even pumpkin brownies (!)(I’m sorry, but if you handed me a brownie without chocolate in it, I would probably not hand it back to you because my parents raised me right, but I would shed a few secret tears).
Pumpkin, you are the darling of the season. How sweet.
If only I liked you.
Recipe 1: Cranberry Bread
I had someone ask me recently after learning I don’t like pumpkin all that much, “So, what flavor do you love in the Fall?” I can’t say I’ve ever considered that question before. I didn’t know Favorite Fall Flavors were a requirement. But I have lately been encouraged to “embrace autumn” and I thought it was good advice. So I gave it some thought and here’s the answer: cranberry. I love cranberry. Cranberry bread, cranberry muffins, cranberry juice, all of it. Well, not so much the cranberry sauce from a can. Ick. But all other things cranberry, I love.
It so happens that my favorite cranberry recipe is from a book. It’s called Cranberry Thanksgiving, and the story is great, but the recipe at the back for “Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread” is even better. I can’t give it to you here because that would be copyright infringement, but you should definitely make it! Just be sure to label it if you give it to someone or else that someone might thank you for “the fruitcake,” which is just a big insult to any bread, especially one this good.
Recipe 2: Apple Dumplings
A close runner up to cranberry goods in my Fall Flavor Guide is apple. (I am having way too much fun here). My favorite apple recipe is absolutely dripping with butter and even contains a can of Mountain Dew. It’s definitely a once a year treat. The Pioneer Woman recommends serving it with ice cream, but I find it challenging to actually get the stuff on a plate. Ijustwanttoeatit! Now. Straight out of the pan. So yeah, it’s kind of good. [….goes to kitchen and starts slicing apples…]
Recipe 3: Butternut Squash Soup
Finally, if there’s one recipe I only make in Fall, it’s Butternut Squash Soup. Oh, it is divine. Unfortunately, my entire family hates it. I plan to make a batch and eat it for lunch for an entire week. Once the midday temps are below 80 degrees. For now, we’re still enjoying our afternoon popsicles on the porch.
It’s June. It’s 100 degrees. You walk in from the sweltering parking lot to the coolness of your local grocery store. You were only in the car for three minutes, but your back is sweaty, your flip flops are like hot tin shingles on your feet, and you wish to plunge your entire self into a mountain river. You grab a cart, pull out your list, and suddenly stop. Because there, right in front of you, practically blocking the whole produce aisle, is a giant cardboard box brimming over with ripe, juicy watermelons. You think, “Mmmm, what could be better than watermelon today?” Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s $6.99 per watermelon, so you pick the biggest one you can find and heave-ho it into your cart. You take it home, get out your biggest knife, slice into it, and eat it. For three days. And then you still have half of it left. Your family will have nothing more to do with it. You even take it to a cookout; you and three other women bring watermelon to the cookout.
Let’s face it: watermelons are just too big. They are tempting and delicious and bring summer to our mouths, but they are huge. So what do you do with all that leftover watermelon? Here are my discoveries from the last two weeks.
First, put on some music. Then, chop up all that watermelon into chunks and get rid of the seeds. Next, find a good watermelon popsicle recipe. I used this recipe and it was delicious. I didn’t have the light corn syrup it called for, so I used honey instead. Also, I only used 2 Tablespoons of sugar instead of the six it called for, because good grief, people, it’s already sweet. My husband said he didn’t enjoy the slight honey flavor, but my son and I loved the taste. My daughter isn’t a big watermelon fan, so I just discounted her vote entirely. I think next time I’ll substitute lime juice for lemon juice just because I like the lime flavor better. Also, the recipe could do with more strawberries. But that’s my philosophy on life in general.
Next, you’ll probably still have some watermelon left over after you make your popsicles. Making sure it’s all de-seeded, throw it in the food processor or blender pulse it a few times. Then, pour your pureed watermelon into an ice cube tray or two. Cover them with plastic wrap, stick them in the freezer, and pull out as many as you need at a time to make fruit smoothies on those hot summer days when the thought of actual food is unbearable. (Note: make sure you add some yogurt to your smoothie, or you’ll be hungry within minutes of consuming it).
Finally, if you still have watermelon, dice it up even smaller than you did before and sprinkle it with a tiny bit of sugar. Put it in an airtight container and the next time you hear that guilty voice in your mind saying “You should really be buying plain Greek yogurt instead of that sweetened stuff,” you can say, “Yes, you’re right!” Then you can go home and mix your sweet watermelon and watermelon juice (thank you, tiny bit of sugar) into your yogurt and you actually enjoy that yogurt. Can you tell I’m not a big fan of Greek yogurt? But I know it’s extra good for me, so I put in smoothies and other stuff whenever I can bring myself to buy it at the store. Seriously, the watermelon helps.
There are also lots of recipes for Watermelon Gazpacho/Cold Soup out there. I am not very fond of foods that have no crunch or chew to them (exception: ice cream), so that watermelon food idea doesn’t appeal to me. But if you find a good recipe for it, let me know; I might be brave enough to try it!
So, now you can go to the grocery store and wrangle that watermelon into your shopping cart with the peace of mind that you will actually use the entire thing. Pick one up for me while you’re at it.
I like cookbooks. I know that the convenience of online recipes is staggeringly in favor of never opening a real cook book again, but I still have a shelf full of them. The fact that I am not a foodie is something my husband discovered PWD (post wedding day) and he is still getting over his disappointment. No, not really. But it is a distinct difference between us. I have come a long way in the cooking realm, but I don’t view dinner time as this wonderful opportunity to make something new and breathtakingly delicious. On his part, he’s come a long way in appreciating the fine qualities of granola. Because I don’t have ideas for dinner just fly into my head at random, I like to have a physical book to flip through and follow. I have to admit, though, I use allrecipes.com as much as anyone. So here are two cookbooks and two online recipes to whet your appetite and maybe give you a few menu ideas for the summer months:
Monday to Friday Cookbook: My MOPS group had the privilege of having a guest speaker who both loves food and understands the crazy busyness of life. She shared some recipes and also told us about this cookbook. It has so many great ideas for quick meals! I have this on my “to buy” list, but for now, the library copy is great.
The online recipes:
Baked Pesto Chicken: The other day I planned on leftovers for dinner but found out my husband was coming home instead of working late at the last minute. He had already had leftovers for lunch, so it was time to think of a plan B fast. I opened the fridge and for once in my life, saw a potential meal instead of a bunch of food items. If you have chicken, a jar of pesto, parmesan or mozarella cheese, you can make this main dish in minutes. It’s supposed to be low carb recipe, but I served it over pasta. I really love carbs. My kids still ate leftovers because “that chicken is green!” but my husband and I have added it to our top 20 recipe list.
Strawberry Bread: This is what you do when you go strawberry picking and your eyes are bigger than a strawberry’s expiration date. I made it with frozen sliced berries as well as fresh berries, and it was great both times. (Thanks, Janice, for introducing me to this now staple of spring baking in our house!)
Cooked anything good recently? Share it with me in the comments!