Thanksgiving Traditions and Pumpkin Seeds!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions recently. Highlights of childhood that still exist in yearly practice, and others that have faded into distant memory. For me, the holidays seem to harness the most abundant traditions, particularly as a child. Gathering at church to sing carols on Christmas eve, then getting to open one present under the tree before bed; the large juicy orange we always found at the bottom of our stockings on Christmas morning; running around the neighborhood banging wooden spoons against pots and pans to ring in the new year with a loud ruckus; huge Easter egg hunts in frilly dresses with all of my siblings and friends. Our traditions were about celebration. Family time, connection, silliness. These days, in addition to the connection and silly time, the traditions that permeate my life tend to revolve around food. Food is a part of me. It’s how I express my love and creativity. How I lose and then rediscover myself. How I connect to the seasons.

There’s the 3-day, completely from scratch, cherry pie for Katie’s birthday in July; the autumn trip to the pumpkin patch to pick out pumpkins, carve them, then roast the seeds (This is a newer one, but it counts.); and the yearly Thanksgiving feast at the Boys Haus. This will be the 11th year our little chosen family has celebrated the holidays in this special home. The core group of us have all lived there or at least stayed for a length of time over the years. For me, it was for several months when I moved back from California in 2003, then again in 2007 when returning from travelling in Southeast Asia. These days Jasson and Titus are the main inhabitants of the Boys Haus, with Katie and I visiting most weekends. We all have our stories and our personal connection to this little yellow house, and our years of Thanksgivings are among my warmest and fondest memories. The love and intention everyone puts into the dishes they bring to share, the collaboration of all of the conscious kitchens in our friend circle. Our largest attendance was 30 people one year, tomorrow I’m expecting a more modest 15 or so. I will head north and join Katie in the kitchen tonight. I’ll prepare the turkey fixins, get the bird brining for at least 8-10  hours and get the kitchen ready for tomorrow’s full house. She’ll make pies and we’ll prep several of the dishes to make room for turkey to be in the oven all day tomorrow. We’ll laugh and make a schedule for kitchen use and will most likely open a bottle of wine and really dive in. With so much to be thankful for, I love spreading our celebration into 2 days! I hope that you will be sharing Thanksgiving with your most favorite people, nourishing yourselves with the best foods available and honoring all that there is in life to truly have gratitude for!

As there will most certainly be pumpkin pie from scratch, here’s what I’ll be doing with those fresh seeds we dig out! Injoy!

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 Roasted Pumpkin Seeds With a Kick

       Ingredients 

One medium sized pumpkin

Salt

Olive oil

–Variations–

1. Season to taste with Cinnamon, a tiny bit of maple syrup, a pinch of sea salt and cayenne pepper

2. Season to taste with cumin, turmeric and sea salt

3. Season to taste with rosemary, garlic and sea salt

Instructions

1 Cut open the pumpkin by cutting a circle around the stem end with a sharp knife (knife blade angled in), and pulling off the top. Use a strong metal spoon to scrape the insides of the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and strings. Place the mass of pumpkin seeds in a colander and run under water to rinse and separate the seeds from everything else.

2 Measure the pumpkin seeds in a cup measure. Place the seeds in a medium saucepan. Add 2 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to the pan for every half cup of pumpkin seeds. Add more salt if you would like your seeds to be saltier. Bring the salted water and pumpkin seeds to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

3 Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat the bottom of a roasting pan or thick baking sheet with olive oil, about a tablespoon. Spread the seeds out over the roasting pan in a single layer, and toss them a bit to coat them with the oil on the pan. Season with one of the spice blend variations. Bake on the top rack until the seeds begin to brown, 5-20 minutes, depending on the size of the seeds. Small pumpkin seeds may toast in around 5 minutes or so, large pumpkin seeds may take up to 20 minutes. Keep an eye on the pumpkin seeds so they don’t get over toasted. When lightly browned, remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a rack. Let the pumpkin seeds cool all the way down before eating.

Either crack to remove the inner seed (a lot of work and in my opinion, unnecessary) or eat whole.

**Also check out this recipe for cilantro and pumpkin seed pesto!

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Split Pea and Ham Soup from Scratch

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I Love Autumn! It is by far my favorite season. So much so that I like to think the 3+ weeks I held out on being born was in order to celebrate the big day on Autumnal equinox. Yup, September 22nd was a splendid day to come into the world! (And ya gotta love the early 80’s. They would never let you choose your birthday nearly a month past your due date these days!)

I love the changing colors of fall, the rusty oranges, bright golds and fiery reds. I love the fashion of the cooler sunny months, too. Tall boots and tights, layers of sweaters and scarves. And boy do I love the autumn foods! The warming quality of root vegetables, hearty greens and savory baked goods fresh from the oven.

This particular Sunday I was aching to try out a split pea and ham soup from scratch. One of the special treats of my childhood in northern California was when my family would drive the 6 or so hours down to LA to visit my oldest brother, Steve. Just my dad and I on a couple of occasions, my two sisters and I a few times. As I got older, I visited with my high school boyfriend once or twice as well. The highlight of every single drive down was our tradition of stopping at Pea Soup Anderson’s in Santa Nella. The best split pea soup around! It is perfectly seasoned, delicate and hearty, creamy and layered with rich flavors. And it is served with the most delicious warm pumpernickel bread and onion rolls, plus a small plate of all sorts of toppings… minced onion, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese. Perfect!

The unfortunate part of growing up with an exquisite memory of a certain food is that it is nearly impossible to recreate such perfection. Particularly when it comes to something as simple yet easily underwhelming as pea soup. You know what I’m talking about if you have ever ordered a bowl of the green pasty stuff served in pretty much any chain restaurant anywhere.

So there I was, a lovely autumn Sunday at the Boyz Haus, ready to dedicate the better part of my afternoon to manifesting divinity in a bowl. Or at least something tasty I could dish up for lunch during the football game.

Success!! It barely seems right to call this a soup, however. The rustic blend of potatoes, carrots, celery and roughly shredded ham serves more like a stew. And you could use a knife to ration the refrigerated leftovers.

Also, just a side note, this is the perfect project for a chilly, rainy autumn day when all you want to do is be inside anyway. This hearty and wholesome kitchen creation truly does take about 4 hours, so get into it! I don’t recommend shortcuts on this one. The layers of flavor and the way they develop really does take time. Enjoy!

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Serves 6

Use a small 2 1/2-pound smoked picnic portion ham if you can find one. (I went to Bill the Butcher for mine.) Otherwise, buy a half-picnic ham and remove some meat, which you can save for use in sandwiches, salads, or omelets. The finished soup will continue to thicken as it stands but can be thinned with some water when reheated. To cut 45 minutes off the cooking time of the soup, simmer the ham 1 1/2 hours, then add the split peas to the pot. When the ham is tender, after about 45 minutes more of simmering, remove it and shred.

 

INGREDIENTS

            1
 smoked bone-in picnic ham (about 2 1/2 pounds)

4-6 
bay leaves

1 
pound split peas (2 1/2 cups), rinsed and picked through

1 
teaspoon dried thyme

2
 tablespoons olive oil

2 
medium onions, chopped

2
 medium carrots, chopped

2
 medium stalks celery, chopped

1 
tablespoon unsalted butter

2
 medium cloves garlic, minced

5
 small new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into medium dice

Ground black pepper

Minced red onion (optional)

Balsamic vinegar (recommended)

 

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Bring 3 quarts water, ham, and bay leaves to boil, covered, over medium-high heat in large soup kettle. Reduce heat to low and simmer until meat is tender and pulls away from bone, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove ham meat and bone from broth; add split peas and thyme and simmer until peas are tender but not dissolved, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, when ham is cool enough to handle, shred meat into bite-sized pieces (see illustration below) and set aside. Discard rind and bone.

2. While ham is simmering, heat oil in large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add onions, carrots, and celery; sauté, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low; add butter and garlic. Cook vegetables, stirring frequently, until deeply browned, 30 to 35 minutes; set aside.

3. Add sautéed vegetables, potatoes, and shredded ham to soup; simmer until potatoes are tender and peas dissolve and thicken soup to the consistency of light cream, about 20 minutes more. Season with ground black pepper. Ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with red onion, if using, and serve, passing balsamic vinegar separately.

Birthday Cake(s)!!

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Usually by this time of year I am completely sick of birthday cake. Blasphemy, I know. It starts with Katie’s birthday mid July, in peak cherry season and our tradition of the homemade, from scratch, lattice top cherry pie. I call it the 3-day cherry pie since the cherries get picked and pitted one day, the dough gets made and put in the fridge in hard little butter lumps on the second day, and on the third the dough gets rolled out and the pie gets baked to perfection. I guess I could call it 4-day pie since we always save a slice for breakfast the next day. It’s a wonderful tradition and kicks birthday season off just right!

After that is my nephew Teagan’s birthday, Jasson’s is August 22nd, Titus’ starts off September, my nephew Gavin’s is a week later, then my brother-in-law’s and a few other extended friends celebrate over the next couple of weeks. So, by the end of September (especially if I’ve been in California with family) I’ve pretty much made or at least consumed more variations of cake, pie and other elaborate desserts over the previous 2 months than one should for the whole year. And it’s not even the holiday season yet! You’d be surprised how ready for a sugar detox I usually feel right about now.

This year has been different, however, for a variety of reasons. Some birthdays were missed. Friends were out of town. There were dual celebrations so the desserts were consolidated. I had all sorts of cake recipes saved up, excited to try them out, and birthday season was flying by without my test kitchen getting any consistent action. And then my birthday came along. Having just finished reading my favorite book for the third time (Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table) I couldn’t resist the temptation to make 2 cakes. That’s right! Her recipes for French Style Lemon Cake (to which she credits meeting her husband and kicking of their culinary love story) and Pistachio Cake (in which she cleverly hides ripe apricots and honey in her original version) both sounded so completely delectable I just couldn’t exclude either one from my birthday invitation. Since the flavors were complimentary, I doubled it into a 2-layer cake and it came out truly fantastic! Made with completely gluten-free ingredients, complete with a layer of lemon drizzle between the two moist crumply cakes, and topped with a cashew date frosting, it blew the original plan of chocolate cupcakes right out of the water! Good thing there was a smaller group than I had expected. There was plenty left over for breakfast! Enjoy!

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** I do realize that last picture could be much more aesthetically pleasing. It’s hideous really, but I like the two-toned cake presentation and wanted to share it with you. In my defense, I had about 20 hungry friends and children waiting to dig in and that’s the one photo I could capture before it got swept up for serving. Okay, carry on.**

—French Style Lemon Yogurt Cake—

1 ½ cups gluten-free all purpose flour (I like Bob’s Red Mill)

2 tsp. baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 tsp. grated lemon zest

½ cup full fat/ Greek yogurt

¾ cup sugar

3 large eggs

½ cup coconut oil

Lemon Drizzle

½ cup powdered sugar, sifted

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

Instructions

1) Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9” round cake pan with coconut oil

2) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add lemon zest and mix thoroughly.

3) In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar and eggs, stirring to mix well. Add the flour mixture and stir just to combine. Add the oil and stir well.

4) Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 25-35 minutes until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

5) Let cool for 15 minutes, then invert onto a cake plate.

6) In a small bowl, combine the syrup ingredients. Drizzle over the cake.

—Pistachio Cake—

¾ cup shelled raw pistachios

1 cup gluten-free all purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. ground nutmeg

¼ tsp. salt

½ cup coconut milk

¼ tsp. vanilla extract

1 stick of butter at room temperature

½ cup sugar

3 large eggs

Instructions

1) Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9” round cake pan with coconut oil

2) In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the pistachios until finely ground. Add the flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt, pulse once or twice to mix

3) In a measuring cup, combine the coconut milk and vanilla

4) In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

5) Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk, mixing at low speed to just combine.

6) Pour the batter into the cake pan. Bake 35-40 minutes

Cashew Date Frosting

1 ½ cups raw cashews

½ medjool dates, pitted

¾ cup water

¾ cup melted coconut oil

1 Tbls vanilla extract

pinch of sea salt

1) Soak cashews and dates in water for 3 hours

2) Blend on high until very smooth. Add melted coconut oil, vanilla and salt. Blend for another 20-30 seconds to incorporate.

3) Smooth over yummy cake! (Or dip fresh strawberries into it.)

Love and Marinara Sauce

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Taking the last swig of wine from my glass, I sit motionless at the kitchen table completely blissed out by the marinara sauce I just made from scratch. The aroma of basil and garlic linger heavy in the air. I strait up rocked those heirloom tomatoes and I’m feeling pretty accomplished!

It struck me some time ago, while having dinner with my good friend Mandy that I had never attempted to make tomato sauce from fresh whole tomatoes. We were standing at the stove of her new apartment catching up after a long stint away. Too long. Until recently she would spend months at a time travelling with her British beau. Three months here, three months in London, Six months in Thailand… chasing visas and loving love. Now they were newlyweds and settling in on American soil. I was thrilled. And I love calling them newlyweds, by the way! Mostly because not too long before the globetrotting, Mandy and I lived just a few blocks away from each other and spent many a single girl nights being silly 20-somethings. Pulling all-nighters to finish various deadlines, drinking French press coffee through the night, painting our nails black, laughing uncontrollably, and talking about boys. Mostly about how we would have gay boyfriends to take us out on the town and be super clean roommates and never marry. Well, times change, and we get swept up in the beauty and joy that comes into our lives. And when you’re living on a tropical island in the gulf of Thailand and fall in love with a truly wonderful yoga teacher with a sexy accent, you marry that boy!

So there we were, neighbors once again, a little more grown up and getting ready to sit down to a meal. I was extra impressed by the homemade tomato sauce she had just whipped up and trying to remember if I had ever seen anything come from her kitchen in the past besides granola and yogurt. I loved the domestic edge she had going on and I was truly inspired! This was the first thing Mandy had learned to make from her beloved and swore it was so easy, there would never be reason to purchase the jarred stuff ever again. And she was right. It was so much better than the store bought variety and from what I could tell, really just involved chopping a simmering. The wheels began to turn.

Back in my kitchen, I sit appreciating how many amazing people come into my life and inspire me to try all kinds of new things. And in this moment, I feel big gratitude for learning to love openly and blissfully, and to make marinara sauce from scratch.

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For this recipe I had a basket of gnarly, colorful, beautiful heirloom tomatoes from the farmers market. I also made this a veggie version (dedicated to Mandy and Harry, my vegetarian loves), but you can add any sort of meat and other varieties of vegetables also. The recipe below is how I made it but create your own, play with the flavors and seasonings. And lastly, I don’t eat pasta much. I will attempt zucchini pasta next time, but this go ‘round I used Trader Joe’s gluten-free, organic brown rice and quinoa pasta. It turned out really well! If you’re looking for a gluten free pasta, I’d give it a try. It kept its shape without getting mushy and had a really nice flavor.

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Fresh Marinara Sauce

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups brown rice/ quinoa pasta

1 Tbls. coarse salt

1 Tbls. olive oil

1/2 medium yellow onion

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

About 12 ounces tomatoes, chopped

2 medium zucchini

8 oz fresh crimini mushrooms

1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Pinch or 2 of hot chili flakes

1/2 cup chopped basil

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Prepare pasta according to package, adding at least 1 Tbls. of salt. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water after cooking.

2. Meanwhile, add the olive oil to a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, then garlic one minute later.

3. Add the tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini, or any other vegetables being used. Cook until softened. 5-8 minutes.

4. Add the reserved pasta water and cook until the sauce is reduced slightly and the veggies begin to break down. Another 3-5 minutes.

5. Remove from the heat, add the cheese (optional), red chili flakes, basil and black pepper. Add salt if needed.

Consider adding the following:

Splash of cream at the end for a creamier version

Asparagus, artichokes, olives, leeks, summer squash etc.

Cooked shrimp, chicken, lamp or beef

Thyme, bay leaf, extra garlic or other Italian seasonings to taste

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Peach Perfect Cobbler

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It was one of those peach perfect Saturday mornings. The sun was bright and hot over the California valley by 8am, though none of us had changed from our pajamas and it was nearing 11. I sat with my nieces and nephews at the dining table flipping through recipes. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I have made it my Auntie mission to expose them to the beauty and pleasure of simple, homemade food. Or at the very least, make them yummy treats that don’t come from a box.

I was visiting the bay area from Seattle, and as usual, there would be a feast. My six siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews, Dad and his fiancé, Mom and her boyfriend, the whole clan in other words, would gather that evening. We would eat and drink, catch up, eat more, laugh, talk about our lives, drink, eat. It was our thing when I visited and worth the travel every time. I wanted to prepare a desert to share. Homemade and delicious, fresh, simple and decadent. Gluten-free was also a goal.

As I pondered, I walked outside into the backyard. Feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin and the cool grass beneath my toes, it hit me. Literally. A plump, fuzzy little peach, right on the shoulder. And there it was, the peach tree bursting in every direction with huge, juicy peaches ripe and ready for the picking! Peach cobbler it is! The first dessert to pop into my head and the only trigger I needed to start salivating.

I called the Littles to help me pick and wash the peaches, kitchen collaboration adding to my excitement! The process that began next was equal parts teaching and learning, endearing enthusiasm, humor and disaster.

There are so many things I love about sharing the kitchen with children. Their utter wonder at simple ingredients and how it all comes together. The fascination with texture and colors. The ease and playfulness they bring to the process. Having their watchful and curious eyes nearby gives me the opportunity to slow down and take advantage of the teachable moments. To appreciate each movement of the spatula scraping the bowl and ingredients folding into one another. I learn that not every little thing has to be perfect. Sometimes, it just needs to be fun and yummy and made with love.

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Back at the tree, the two youngest Gavin aged 4, and Alyssa almost 2 (who has to do everything big brother does), began to help me pluck the peaches and place them in a bucket. We got as many as we could reach from the low hanging branches, then grabbed the long-handled picker to reach the others nestled high in the crown of the tree. According to the Littles and their eagerness (Alyssa: “emmy alp yoooou, emmy alp yoooou”), we had to pick every peach we could see. After an hour of climbing, laughing, getting dirty and gathering yummy fruits, we took stock of our bounty. Of course, we had waaaaay more peaches than needed for one cobbler. After cleaning and freezing the rest of our treasure for smoothies and future peachy desserts, we were ready for the baking!

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In the kitchen, my eldest niece, Madison age 13, helped by filling the largest pot we could find with water and bringing it to a boil. Quickly blanching the peaches followed by dunking them in an ice bath makes for easy skin removal. 8 large peaches, skinless, pitted and waiting in a bowl. The rest of the cobbler making was a messy, lovely breeze of mixing and measuring gluten-free flours, slicing peaches, and melting butter. At one point, the entire 3lb. bag of GF flour was dumped into the bowl of dry ingredients followed by a huge white plume that filled the air, mesmerizing the Littles and nearly turning into a flour fight, if only to see the magic happen again and again! This brought up one very fond childhood memory, but fortunately did not turn into the catastrophe that my siblings and I had caused. We’ll save it until they’re a little older and can remember vividly.

Enjoy!

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Ingredients

8 ripe peaches

½ cup brown sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 stick of butter, melted

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ cup milk at room temperature

1 egg

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil.
  3. Add peaches for 1 minute.
  4. Place peaches in a bowl of ice cold water and let sit for 3 minutes
  5. Peel off skin.
  6. Slice peaches and place in a bowl along with ½ cup of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  7. Stir peaches and let sit.
  8. Pour melted butter into a 9×13 baking dish.
  9. In a seperate bowl, mix Gluten free flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, baking powder, and salt together.
  10. Stir in milk and egg.
  11. Pour mixture over butter.
  12. Pour peaches over mixture.
  13. Bake for 35 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Serve warm.