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2018-01-21T10:27:18.279Z
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Months ago, I may have mentioned that Hugh was doing the ketogenic diet? Surely you've heard of it. Most of the cookbooks at my local Costco are keto books so you know it's mainstream. He humored me and went off it for the holidays and is back to it these days. I refuse to make a third version of whatever I'm cooking, but I will compromise. How saintly of me, right? I have my current granola recipe pretty nailed down, but I gave it a spin with less sweetener and replaced the oats with more nuts. It replaces the carbohydrates with more fat, so I don't know where your nutrition paradigms lie, but it tastes good either way. You can use this as a topping for plain yogurt, oatmeal, as a snack or I used it as a crunchy bit for a green salad with arugula, red onion, and roasted butternut chunks and thought it worked perfect. I made a few notes below on seasoning options. 

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He made me cry the first day I got there. I had been on crowded planes with long layovers, crossed time changes and spent the night in some run down hostel with way too much luggage to be schlepping between all modes of public transportation that take you between small Italian towns. I was tired and emotional and I run shy-ish/self-conscious in meeting new people so when George was yelling at me over how stupid it was to be a vegetarian, I cried right there at the table. 

After I graduated college, I made up my own internship of sorts to work at a Bed and Breakfast in Italy. It was run by a couple who used to own an Italian restaurant in my hometown. Lucy, the wife, had a full Italian mother but she lived most of her life in America. Lucy and George owned the place. She was a super friendly, petite, hard working, full of energy, warm and spunky woman. George was there for her. He was along for her golden years dream project and drug his feet and rolled his eyes often along the way. He was a retired surgeon; very smart and attracted to controversial conversations. He hated waste, he hated it before it was part of the green movement to hate waste, and although he scared me most of the time I lived there, I am a more careful consumer because of his staunch stance on the issue. A solid fellow, a great cook,...

I'm currently on my third double chocolate cookie despite having all sorts of  recipe testing leftovers in the fridge I could cobble into a more nutritious lunch. Can cookies be lunch? I could swipe almond butter on top for protein. Why didn't I give these away like I said I would? 'Tis the season I suppose; always makes me feel like baking, it's getting the baked goods out the door that appears to be the challenge. So in between, there are easy dinners. I have been asked three times for a butternut squash soup recipe by different friends or readers and I realize we only have this stew to reference. I generally prefer my soups chunky, but let's add a pureed one to the archives for good measure. I saw this one while flipping through Melissa Clarks' recent book and it sounded too perfectly simple and spiced not to try. Plus, I had all the ingredients. I swapped in a little curry powder for some of the cumin, added ginger at the end and garnished it with a bit...

I know they get overdone but I love a good gift guide. I think I end up buying more things for myself than I do for other people, but they serve their purpose for sure. You get new ideas from sites and brands you otherwise may not have heard of and I just like them. So in no particular order, are a few things we've either really enjoyed this year, or wish we can enjoy in the future or will be gifting to someone else. Hugh's recommendations are marked with an (H). Thanks!


Donations

We hosted a few dinners this year to benefit the International Rescue Committee. You can read more about them on their site. If you are looking to make some year end donations yourself, or give on behalf of someone else as a gift. We have done some research (Charity Watch helps you look further into the details of specific charities) and are also giving to International Justice Mission and A21.


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We've talked potatoes and pumpkin pie to death so let's move on to solving dinner problems for all other days of the year. I would take one of these lasagna squashes over a majorly brown thanksgiving plate any day. Sorry, bah humbug. Last year, I had dinner with some of my dearest college girlfriends at Malibu Farms (have you seen their cookbook? It's beautiful and casual and colorful) and I still think of this spaghetti squash dish we shared. It was creamy, but not overly so, could be ordered vegetarian or not, tasted like comfort food but didn't sit in your gut as such. I know in the season of cooking and romantically long prep time with your glass of wine and holiday tunes, this recipe may come off as old news, but a simple dinner is what I am more interested in in the long term. I made four, and my kids mostly poked at it. They saves well and can handle a reheat the following day or perhaps you have another couple over to share. I made...

Salad lady. There are a handful of dinners we have coming up and lo and behold, my assignment is consistent. We often do a quicky weeknight warm kale salad with a roasted squash, pom seed, pepita combo, so I was going for something different here. Light but not lacking, something that would welcome leftover chicken or steak for Hugh and a couple fried eggs for me. A base salad if you will? It is perfectly crunchy to go along with the warmer, richer foods that are more common this time of year. I like raw shaved fennel personally, but Hugh said it feels like eating shoelaces, so I roasted the bits this time. Fennel has some natural sweetness that comes out in a quick roast and he's right, they are a little nicer to eat this way. I made a few notes below in the recipe but if you're bringing green salad to your holiday table, this one is worth considering. 

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More cauliflower! Oops. But I do love it and it didn't cross my mind we had cauliflower on here for the last post as I was thumbing through Laura's new book. I have dozens of recipes bookmarked but I am looking for new veg mains in our rotation lately and this one popped out at me. I was shocked at how short the ingredient list was and how quickly it came together given how beautiful it looked. I'm an easy sell on pretty food. Especially quick, pretty food. Next up is her homemade coconut creamer with dates, a warm balsamic mushroom salad, and a second round of those brownies I made months ago when I first saw the pdf draft of this book.

I've been a long time fan of Laura's, both for her easy going disposition and plant-based food that is magically wholesome, creative, all while still being something you can whip up easily for dinner. I don't always see those things going hand in hand but she is extremely good at what she does. She's...

I don't always love cooking. I have my moments; usually when it's quiet or late at night, but some days I just have to get people nourished and it doesn't need to be beautiful. I've started working as a personal chef for a family, am teaching a few private cooking classes and picked up a couple recipe development jobs this month so there has just been a lot of food. I'm on the brink of too much of a good thing. Prior to my babies there was more free time, more quiet, no picky eaters, a looser grocery budget, fewer interruptions. We had to eat, I was still always around food for work and I'd use all the white space of my thoughts thinking of something different I could create. Cooking as a passion was approached differently because it wasn't sharing the space with my beloved wee people. I am not the same person or cook I was 3, 4 or 5 years ago when I started our first book for a plethora of reasons, but I see glimpses of the catalyst that...

So this started as a ripped page from Food&Wine. The piece was called All Well & Good, covering Sakara, the fancy plant-based meal delivery service popular in the Los Angeles area. The ladies who own it contributed a few recipes and their Kale-and-Brussels Sprout Caesar Salad intrigued me, so I kept the page in the side pocket of my car (where all keepsakes and important paperwork are best stored). Caesar is the historical origin of my love of salads. As a teenager, my Dad and I used to go on dates to the Chart House solely for a visit to their salad bar with freshly tossed Caesar and a slice of Key Lime Pie. So I got to it the other day. The only way to purge torn out recipes is to try them and eliminate I suppose. I started tinkering as soon as I made their crumble (the gluten free / dairy free sub for croutons in the classic). They called for sweet paprika, I stock smoked. The crumble seemed a little dry, so I added a drizzle of oil to help it...

My oven currently smells like it's burning off oil that had dripped to the bottom at some point. I should clean it; it really does interrupt the beautiful waft that comes from a springy cake in the oven. I have a handful of prospective projects I am back and forth about between two email addresses that while made with good intentions to keep personal and work separate, have done no such thing. There are threads regarding a potential cookbook, a recipe and article assignment about avocados, a menu card for our fundraiser dinner and open items to finish filing our taxes. Woven in between are emails about Curran's first (overdue apparently, oops) dentist appointment, follow up on invoices and the receipt for that weird oversized shirt I ordered from Nordstrom that I keep there to remind myself to return it some night after the kids are down. I never feel like doing that once the kids are down... but I also don't like going to the mall with two spirited toddlers so you may find me in a terribly unflattering oversized shirt....

Per request, I am including a recipe for these broccoli balls I've been making for the kids. I love hearing that you guys actually make the things in this series and find it helpful. I know this kind of stuff is for a niche handful of you, but I get a lot of messages for these posts so I hope it's a another tool for getting a few more servings of vegetables into your kids. I think I've mentioned before that neither of my kids are ones to go after a crudite platter, so I have to get creative. Veggie burgers and balls and vegetables packed into frittatas or smoothies are my best bet. Cleo (1) can't use a utensil and Curran (almost 3) prefers not to anyway, so anything I can make hand-held is best for everyone. These nuggets have become my answer to breakfast, lunch, dinner, or in a rush because they have protein, fat, veggies, carbs. Think frittata with extra broccoli. They can be whatever you need them to be. Even if you don't have kids, I still think these...

I was chatting with a reader a few weeks ago about making swaps in one of the older pumpkin recipes on this site and I realized we have a shortage in that category. I love pumpkin things, but am a little too cynical towards how overdone it can be this time of year. I've been baking with more almond meal lately, in the name of lower carbohydrate treats, and while it doesn't yield something nearly as light and fluffy as a "regular" baked good, I like how tender and rich things turn out. Hugh actually makes this rosemary bread better than I do now and we're ordering the stuff in 4 lb. increments so it won't stop here. We may be a little short on holiday sides in the index too now that I think of it so I'll work on a few of those. Anyway, it's food season! I'm here for you.
Until then, I don't like hard selling you on the recipes here BUT if you need a super easy, one bowl, dairy free, gluten free, maple sweetened...

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

Our list is fairly short. We revisited places a few times and we struck out a few times but hopefully this is helpful. We poached most of these from David and Luise who live there. Stockholm is made of 14 islands, we spent a couple days in Norrmalm and the...

 I am comfortable here in Southern California. We have pretty moderate temperatures, the air smells clean from the coastal breeze, we have family close, friends around we've had for decades, we live in a safe area and have jobs we like which support the life we've built in this place (it's a privilege to write things like that, that is not lost on me, especially these days). There is traffic and smog, and property is stupid expensive, but the positives keep us here and hustling. Sometimes being comfortable feels stale and stagnant, and stagnancy does not breed creativity or action or new ideas or a life that feels lived in. Whenever I feel like I have nothing to write or nothing to cook, I need to leave. I need to learn something new, meet new people, eat somewhere I've never been. Travel has always shaken up my routine and paradigms in the best way. So when I landed in both Boulder, CO and Vietnam this past August, I felt ready to learn and absorb a process that was new to me....

My sister in law made these for a family picnic last weekend and Hugh hasn't stopped talking about them. You know how Lara bars taste reminiscent of real food but they are just too sweet? Personal opinion. Too many dates! Dates are cheaper than nuts per volume, it's business, I digress. For maximum snack staying power we want fat and protein, less sugar, so these are basically a mash of nuts, coconut, coconut oil, and the teensiest bit of maple to gild the lily. Yes, these are super high fat but it's good fat and we got mixed messages about all that too many years ago. Especially if you're active or nursing or in school or diabetic or vegetarian or alive! You need good fats! Speaking of health, the chocolate here is very optional, but I was aiming to make them more attractive for a photo and use them as currency to get my children to eat vegetables. I know you're not supposed to do that, negotiate with toddlers, but I can't help myself sometimes. It seems the only way some nights. ANYWAY. So easy....

I'm doing what I swore I would never do and cooking three versions of one meal. Hugh has been doing a super zero sugar/carb/happiness diet and my kids already require limitations because, well, they're toddlery, so cooking has not been that fun lately. I don't have a big enough ego to keep from you that I've actually been angry about it at times. Angry because the three of them have made this task complicated and also because I've been jealous of Hugh's self control. I have pretty good eating habits, but have never been one to stick to a diet, so WHO was going to eat ice cream on the couch with me after the kids went to bed?! I was mad that now I'd be accountable for my late night sweet tooth. Collectively, they had morphed cooking into a chore, something I had to do as opposed to the way I get to nourish and serve them. I know a lot of people who are really burdened by the task of cooking and I had never quite felt that, until recently. 
And...

Curran (3) starts preschool next week and I know some of you have been in a few weeks or are approaching your start as well. I will be honest with you, I get stuck on kid lunches. A sunflower butter and banana sandwich on repeat seems the simplest way out but I'd rather save that for days when I have no minutes to prepare something. Generally speaking, I try to get some protein, fat and fiber in there to keep his energy up and stable. I recognize the sugar will get in there naturally via fruit, crackers, bread etc. and believe me, I don't always get this right, but I try to keep in mind that kids' blood sugar is even more sensitive than ours. If it's a nut butter and fruit sandwich, the side is leftover roasted chicken or a hard boiled egg or string cheese. I'm not a nutritionist, but I read a lot, and there is a plethora of research explaining the short and long term benefits of not having huge spikes in blood sugar throughout the day, and that...

Are you summering well? I see you people who make summer bucket lists and I imagine that helps one to optimize their time this season. I have an unacceptable amount of sand in my car, I am eating lots of tomatoes and fruit crisps and we cleaned up the front porch so we can sit out there at dusk with a glass of wine and watch the kids run around in the grass so I do feel in it. We didn't plan a big trip, I need more long afternoons at the beach and I haven't had friends over for dinner as often as I'd like but I believe summer lasts through September so there is still time. Sounds like perhaps I need a list. 

I am going to Vietnam on Friday, so there's that. It is sort of last minute and part of a campaign I am working on with Celestial Seasonings. We're going to a cinnamon farm to see the process of harvesting, drying, grinding the cinnamon that is then used for teas or cooking and such and I can't...

My bounty of summer zucchini has regrettably not been very exciting lately. I have been grilling it or grating it into the kids morning muffins, neither of which has been particularly tasty. I do like zucchini noodles and I've been picking up those pre-zoodled ones from Target to saute with the pesto I always have on hands along with tomatoes and white beans and dinner in done in 10 minutes. So how else can we jazz it up? Amidst pasta and cheese of course! If you have other zucchini recipes you love, please point me towards them in the comments. I told you I would try to get more easy weeknight dinner options going on here and this one is not to be overlooked. 

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There was a recent article in Bon Appetite with some recipes for making perfect cookies for ice cream sams. They were thin and crisp, one of which read a bit overly fussy to me, but I can appreciate the extra effort to get something just right. That is not my life right now, I'm more about ease and speed, but I appreciate it. They looked pretty and would undoubtedly be delicious, but I'm quite happy with our current "house cookie" acting as book ends to a creamy scoop of ice cream... or as a skillet cookie, I'll put those notes below. The recipe started at Tara O'Brady's chocolate chip cookies but they're looking pretty far from her original at this point, so I'll leave you her words here. I replace some of the flour with oats and reduce the leaveners for this reason (and also because I don't want a poofy cookie for an ice cream sam). I skip browning the butter out of sheer laziness, though I assume you could handle that step if you wish. I...