Cooking + Baking

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Oodles of zoodles, and a few meatballs, too. Zoodles, if you don’t know, are made by spiralizing a zucchini, which is pretty darned awesome. Heat them in the oven, and they, to my mind, are the best substitute for pasta. But that isn’t really fair, because I would honestly rather eat the zoodles. Really!

Why? I have been trying, and succeeding a good 90% of the time (sweets the weightiest albatross), at eating low carb. Not to be part of a growing bandwagon, but because my body has gotten very LOUD about what constitutes its best fuel. After trying just about every food combination imaginable to keep my hormones (and dreaded endometriosis) in check, keto (low carb high fat) works THE best. I have very little pain, fewer hot flashes, better digestion, more energy and focus (I didn’t know how foggy I was until I made the change). Also, to quote my friend Chrissie, “Where did your wrinkles go?” She is exaggerating, but my skin looks and feels great for a forty-six(!) year old. So zoodles, and casseroles consisting of my favorite pizza toppings (fennel, roasted bell pepper, mushroom, & Italian sausage), salmon, hamburgers without buns, bacon, and piles and piles of green things: broccoli, asparagus, cucumber, kale, lettuce, avocado, cabbage. These are my staples. So good.

Such a sap for this sweet girl, who, even in sleep is almost always on the move, wiggling, panting, stretching, smiling, cuddling. Juniper Beulah, I love you!

And to make this post an even more odd assortment, tomorrow I am going to my grandparents house for the first time since my Grandpa died. For reasons both obvious and puzzling, I am feeling a bit wrecked at the prospect. My family, member by member, is taking furniture and knickknacks, items random and sundry, and dispersing them to the four winds and our respective homes. My list includes a ladder-back chair, a whisk, bookends, a bowl, muffin tins, and a stool. Every single item touched by my grandparents hands, well used, loved even. Soon enough the house will be empty of Lewis and Sohn and Johnstone traces. With laughter, the sound of traffic, the flutter of toilet paper by the heat register, the creak of stair to the basement, a glimpse in the mirror at the end of the hall seen and heard by other eyes, filled with other voices. More than sixty years of memories. My whole life, thus far, and I am at a loss. Say a little prayer for me…

Boozy

I’ve been steeping, marinating, concocting – what is the best word? I digress, these have been hanging out in dark spaces to come to their absolute most delicious state. Yes, that. Most delicious. The top photo is of vin d’orange and the second, Bourbon Cherries. I started each almost two months ago and kind of forgot about them until we cleaned (bye-bye dust bunnies!) and re-organized our laundry room yesterday afternoon, unearthing the vin d’orange from a crowded shelf of glassware and canning supplies waiting for our next tango. Mine is rather cloudy, little orange bits bullying their way through my strainer funnel. What is most important, however, is the flavor. Hot diggity is this stuff good! Were I not on the low carb train, I would have downed a glass, imagining myself and the hubster (Juniper, too!) lying prostrate on a picnic blanket in an Ojai orchard. Yes ma’am! Instead, I took some thoughtful sips and declared my work heartily done. Same goes for the cherries, though I would probably be in Hood River, because cherries!

Had I been a real planner, or more precisely, seen talk of this goodness before December, I might have made them earlier and given them as holiday gifts – maybe next year! Here are the recipes, should you like to get your own ball rolling…

Vin d’Orange

1 bottle rose wine

1 bottle sauvignon blanc

1 cup vodka

1 cup sugar

1 vanilla pod, split and scraped

4 navel oranges or whatever orange you prefer, just making sure you’ve got enough relative to the size

Combine wine (you could also use two rose or two white – I couldn’t decide!) vodka, and sugar in a 3 quart, wide mouth jar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add vanilla (many recipes call for a star anise or two or three, but as pretty as it looks, I don’t like the flavor) and the oranges, stir to mix. Cover tightly and store in a cool, dark place for about a month – or two if you’re forgetful! Strain as best you can into another jar and store in the refrigerator.

I think it’s great on its own, but wager it would be pretty special mixed in some bubbly (water or wine – you decide!), too, a nice orange wedge as garnish.

 

Bourbon Cherries

1 cup bourbon

1 cup pitted cherries

3 T sugar

1/2 vanilla pod, split & scraped

Combine bourbon and sugar into a jar large enough to hold all the cherries (I don’t know how big mine is – sorry!), and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add vanilla and stir. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for about a month. Eat by the spoonful (ha!), put over ice cream, vanilla cake, chocolate cake. Give your whiskey the height of splendor with the addition of one or two. Put in an Old Fashioned or a martini, you get the idea…

Enjoy!

Last night’s annual tradition, cuddling together, though this year in front of the most Christmas-y scented tree(!), and reading Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. I read aloud until emotion overwhelms and Greg must finish the story. It never disappoints.

I started the cinnamon rolls last night, a fine use of time, if ever there was, the spicy-buttery scent that filled the house this morning almost as delicious as the taste on my tongue. Later, I will make a southern-leaning feast of ham, cranberries, apple coleslaw, and cornbread.

This is Christmas for us, being alone together, two almost-hermits. We have a wealth of friends and family, engaging, lively, thoughtful, who surround themselves with well-populated groups. I find my person so different and overwhelmed in these spaces. My comfort is to find quiet, alone in observation, or to focus on a single thread or voice.

On Christmas, it is Greg’s, my favorite, without pretense or demand, guilt or obligation. These fine days punctuated by dog sighs and licks. We listen to soul-stirring music. We wear pajamas all day and glide about like the oldest of dance partners, each anticipating the other’s movement and responding in kind – cooking, baking, conversing, cleaning.

This is the great privilege of being grown. Choosing, as much as we can, how life unfolds, filled with the joys of the finest people and places, sights and sounds. It is the best life I know.

Here’s hoping for the best life you know – today and in the year to come.

My nephew was in the neighborhood to check out a car that turned out to be a lemon, but we ALL reaped the benefits! We ate, put up our first Christmas tree in twenty years, and as always, enjoyed one another’s fine company.

During our last days with my Grandpa, my adorable little cousin, who normally keeps to herself, came to visit and was positively smitten with our sweet pup. Juniper was an angel doggy, letting her pet and hug and squeeze. Good girl!

I went a little crazy (at least for me) in the holiday sweets arena – making candied orange peels, biscochitos (but you already knew that, didn’t you?), walnut fudge, salted pine nut brittle, and my peppermint yo-yos. Egads, so good!

Love that face…

In honor of my Grandpa and the last bite he ever took, my recipe for biscochitos. These are a traditional Christmas cookie of New Mexico, and in my version, are heady with anise. If you aren’t as much of a fan as I am of this delightful seed, cut the amount in half, and you’ll still have a pretty stellar cookie. Also, these are traditionally made with lard. As I find sourcing the freshest lard a bit of a challenge, I make the butter and shortening combination for what I think is the best flavor.

3 cups flour (I use half whole wheat and half all-purpose)

1 tablespoon anise seed, crushed

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup shortening (or very fresh lard)

1 egg

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons port or sweet red wine

cinnamon and sugar for sprinkling

Stir together flour, anise, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In large bowl, beat butter and shortening until fluffy. Add egg, sugar, and wine, beat until light. Stir in flour. Divide in two portions for easy rolling. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll on floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut into your favorite shape(s) and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. You can also gild the lily by adding some crushed anise seed to the mixture (I do!). Arrange on sheet pan and bake at 350 for about 9 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown. Remove and cool. Store in an airtight container.

I highly recommend eating biscochitos with a glass of the port or wine used to make them.

Enjoy!

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