Serendipitous Spring

“If you have a garden and a library,
you have everything you need.”
~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

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Spring has sprung, the grass is riz… and now we know where all the flowers iz…volunteering in our front yard! We were a little shocked a few days ago when we discovered that the greenery we thought were perennial Agapanthus that never sent up flowers are, in fact, irises. We oohed and ahhed like… well, like eejits, really. Our neighbors must think we’ve never seen a flower before.

Of course, the neighbors are probably used to the madness by now. The noise level outdoors has risen, as T’s been crowing her victory over Sidney and …Sonia Squirrel. (Oh, yes. The squirrels are multiplying. We now have four, but at least two of them, probably Boris and Natasha, haven’t hung around long enough for their names to be screamed in fury… “Bad squirrel! No! Stop digging!” – As if that helps. They’re as bad as really smart, tree-climbing dogs…). The feeder has been moved now TWICE, because little rodent brains work feverishly, and they’ve managed to outsmart the humans three times, but this time it looks like the opposable digits crew won. We know we’ve won because, at long last, we’ve seen ACTUAL BIRDS visiting the feeder, as opposed to large hanging rodents… We’ve identified Nuttall’s Woodpeckers (or Downy’s — it’s hard to tell, and they won’t sit still for photographic proof just yet) and a pair of Lesser OR American goldfinches — once again, they’re not quite comfortable enough with us not to bolt every time they hear us moving toward a camera. The combination of bird baths and bird feeders has proven to be irresistible — and we really thought the birdbaths would be just something the sparrows enjoyed. Who knew we even had goldfinch in the neighborhood?

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(We’ve amused ourselves with the realization that our birdbaths look a great deal like a pair of poppies we admired earlier in the Spring. Weird synchronicity, that.)

Meanwhile, the roses are blooming their hearts out, surprising us with a few blooms from the rootstock, even – fully different colors and sizes that expected. Even a tiny, dry set of twigs in the back that didn’t produce before has sprouted a single, brilliant peach rose. This year, the yard seems to provide a little surprise around every corner… fortunately all nice surprises thus far. (We’re looking at you, Boris and Natasha. What else have you buried in the yard??)

D always jokes that T. has a natural taste for “nuts and twigs,” based on how she was raised (Shout-out to the vegetarian-vegan-wheat-grass-drinking, alfalfa-pill-providing ::shudder:: tofu-touting parenti!), so it’s no wonder that she actually likes rye bread, despite the fact that for many people it’s kind of …on the Bleh And Avoid list. Much to her unbridled glee, she’s now supported in that “like” by a nod from various nutritional reports. The Whole Grain council has rounded up the lot here, but the bottom line is that rye bread can really help support the cellular work in the endocrine system, and if you’re pre-diabetic or suffering from an inflammatory disorder, whole-grain rye can help.

(There are a LOT of people who preach the gospel of “reversing” diabetes, and “curing” yourselves with rye, and we’d like to just duck, so our endocrinologist can give those people a big dose of stink-eye without us in the line of fire. *ducks* Thank you.)

Look: we have no idea about that – and don’t send us argumentative email about it, either. We’re not saying that rye cures anything, nor are we touting any particular Huffington-post-quoted doctors, or Dr. Oz (please not Dr. Oz!). We’re just saying that rye has been shown, over time, to enhance insulin secretion, indicating a possible improvement of β cell function, which is saying that your pancreas is doing more of its job making insulin.

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The irony was discovering this AFTER starting a rye sourdough starter. (Which, in its earliest stages, smells …floral. Not sour. Floral. While this is weird, it’s …kind of nice, because sometimes a starter crock can have quite a pungent smell.) Our local bakery has quit carrying the sourdough rye we liked, so we’d decided to do our best to recreate it — so far, we’re working on getting the bread to RISE properly. While our first loaves were not pretty in terms of “traditional” bread, they were beautiful bannocks! A little more work with dough conditioner and gluten, possibly some oat bran, and we’ll see ourselves to rights. Eventually. At least it’s delicious whether it’s pretty or not.

One rainy afternoon, T. decided to start the garden… early. She may yet repent of this notion, as the kitchen sunroom floor is hosting a great many seedlings which may need to be repotted before finally being put outside. We were happy to find a really good use for the plastic “clamshell” packaging on the apples from Costco; they make nice little greenhouses with their plastic lids, and are quite reusable. Now that many groceries are switching to plastic egg cartons, they also make a nicely reusable starter for small seeds.

The gooseberries and Alpine strawberries have miniseeds, which have produced equally teensy seedlings, so staying indoors for awhile longer might be just fine for them. We’ve never grown either, and have a lot of hopes for them — the poha berries, or cape gooseberry, is allegedly a very simple plant to grow, and Alpine strawberries grow wild in Northern Italy — in the cold, in the dry, and in the wet. T. is sure she’s going to kill something so has planted nearly all of her seeds of each plant… which means that we may, in fact, soon have WAY TOO MUCH of everything. Isn’t that the way it goes, though? Ah, well; better too many gooseberries than too many zucchini… although, that’s probably going to happen, too.

The kale and jicama have produced surprisingly hearty, thick-leafed seedlings, and of course, the cucumbers and birdhouse gourds are making a break for freedom already and trying to vine, even with only two leaves… thing just might get interesting, here…

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“Every flower must grow through dirt.”
May you ignore the fertilizer, put down roots, and thrive.
Happy Spring!

Posted in California, Gardening | 1 Comment

Squirrels, 1; Birds, 0; Humans, Peeved

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“So, the steel mesh bit…”

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“…is just for me to hold onto.”

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Super convenient restaurant, bro.”

Dear Sidney Squirrel.
– The Humans

Posted in California, Life | 3 Comments

[in just]/spring

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With apologies to e.e., around here, the world is not mud-luscious. It is buzzing, and if you go out the front door, the greedy, tiny, flying pigs will not whistle far and wee, but will divebomb your innocent head and make rude and aggressive “move along” noises at you.

Ah, well. Mud-lusciousness will revisit briefly at the end of the month, according to the long term forecast, as March is almost required to come in like a lion, and then calm the heck down. We’ll see. The last week of the month always throws us a weather curve ball this time of year (and, since Virginia got snow on St. Patrick’s Day, East Coast, we are feeling your pain. Metaphorically, at least.) Meanwhile, while we contemplate perfect sunshine, floods, or thunderstorms, we picked up some super-early strawberries because that chia is still calling us. (And thanks to all the people who have emailed to say they’re trying and liking this mix. It is really good, super quick, and opens itself up to many interpretations.) Imagining making a quick-set jam with it — all those lovely nutrients giving you an additional excuse to spoon it… a jam to which you don’t need to add extra sugar to make it gel… But first, T went off on another experimental tangent.

Our friend L., known to two very short, tiny, opinionated ladies now simply as “Poppy,” has tons of good stories about “back in the day.” We tend to enjoy those “back in the day” tales about food – our Uncle P., may his memory be a blessing, was full of those, and it led to many a happy Sunday recreating recipes from the 1940′s. Last weekend’s “back in the day” tale had to do with teacakes.

Teacakes (variation, “tea cakes”) are A Southern Thang, that is, one of those things which a.) originally didn’t have a recipe (no matter how Ms. P. Deen wants to tell it), and b.) was invented out of necessity – either scarcity, or some useful cause that has been lost to time. T’s father, once upon a time, used to make teacakes, and they were, unlike the sugar cookie varieties that one sees all over the web under the same name, rolled yellow cake, sometimes fragrant with vanilla, leavened with baking soda, and about the size and thickness of a halved English muffin. They were sweet, with a slightly soda-tang, and the tops would sometimes slightly brown and dimple.

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T’s father usually made these beauties annually on the 12th of Never, so T. can only recall having them once or twice in her childhood, despite begging … and now, after years of nudges and suggestions for her father to recreate the dish, he can’t remember the recipe. Oh, the wailing! (T. feels it important to point out that she believes his coyness to produce the Super Seekret recipe all those years has returned karmically to bite him in the backside.) Fortunately, there are other less coy members of his generation who do remember.

Though T’s father grew up in the panhandle of Florida, and Poppy was at least a part-time resident of Oklahoma, their variation on tea cakes are close to the same. Poppy’s grandmother’s teacakes were really test cakes for her oven, which was wood-fired and probably didn’t really heat evenly until it got going. She took cake batter – yellow cake batter – and made small, palm-sized test cakes, which an adoring grandbaby was only too happy to test for her.

As others have said, variations abound in the teacake country, not to mention the world. Originally, teacakes were measured with tea cups – actual, bone-china tea cups. Many old recipes use those measurements, which is where our plain old “cup” measure originated. T opted against using her antique (mismatched and beloved) china for this! Of course, any teacake coming from The T&D Test Kitchen will be not “authentic” Southern at all, despite D. having been born and living for ten minutes Murfreesboro as a teeny-tiny infant (apparently “Southern” doesn’t count if you can’t focus or speak). To add further to the “inauthenticity,” we introduced the abomination of chocolate chips!! But the teacakes themselves were tender and tasty and, piled with strawberries, a harbinger of things to come.

Chocolate Chip Teacakes

Preheat oven 350°F/170°F

  • 2/3 C. almond flour
  • 1/3 C vital wheat gluten
  • 1/2 C of shortening, butter, or margarine
  • Chocolate Chip Teacakes 1

  • 1/4 C sweetener – “Fake” or sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp. vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp. chocolate extract
  • 1/4 C chocolate chips, optional*
  • 2 Tbsp. almond or coconut milk, (opt)

As always, begin by greasing your pan, and turning on the oven. You’ll need a sturdy spatula to blend your ingredients. This dough comes together like a shortbread and/or pie crust – the liquid is only there if you really, really need it – we didn’t, but it’s an option. It’s important to combine your dry ingredients – flours, gluten, salt, sweetener, cornstarch – before you add shortening, or it may combine unevenly. T. started with a spatula, but gave up in the end, and just used her hands.

Chocolate Chip Teacakes 3

Add your chocolate chips LAST. We used Barry Callebaut’s Sugar Free 52% semisweet from King Arthur Flour, but it’s really easy to make your own sugar free chocolate morsels, and you SHOULD. These bad boys are expensive. Our only excuse at this point was a lack of time. You’ll also note we used chocolate extract. An extract of chocolate is made the same way vanilla extract is made – alcohol infused through cocoa beans. It’s got a fairly strong alcohol note, and it can be as overwhelming as too much vanilla – moreso, really. BE CAREFUL and MEASURE. Like liquid smoke, too much extract is not one of those things you can take back.

One of the great things about this is if you’re a chocolate chip cookie dough eater – there’s nothing in here you can’t eat raw. Don’t, though, because that’s gross. You can opt out of rolling this cake and bodge the whole thing in a cast iron skillet. Bake it for forty-five minutes, check its progress, and tack on another fifteen minutes, with checks at five minute intervals. You’ll want it a lovely golden brown, but don’t let it go too far! Note that D. wedged it into servings before baking. This really helps in the quest to get it out of the pan!

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In case someone wants to argue with us and call these shortbread… Mmmm, okay. Chocolate chip shortbread, whatever. Traditional Scottish shortbread doesn’t contain baking powder, but you can call them what you want. The “cornflour” or cornstarch will help give the nut flour a velvety mouth feel and a richness typical for shortbread, but you can leave it out, if you choose, or substitute the same amount of rice flour, which is what commercial shortbread bakeries use.

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The important thing is to imagine how you’ll eat them.

Happy Spring,


P.S. – We tried that soy whipped cream, which we found at our Raley’s, on a whim – it’s vegan and though it contains sugar, it hadn’t got much. It’s not half bad at all.

Posted in Baking, California, Food, Life, Recipe | 1 Comment

C-Ch-Chi-Chia, or, Breakfast Without Frog Spawn

Chia-Flax Cereal 1

(Okay, this is the last time we’re going to mention the frog thing, but seriously. Pille’s distaste still makes us laugh.)

As we mentioned last post, people in need of lowering their carb intake for whatever reason generally find out that their days of buttery toast, hot cereal – granola – etc., are mostly over. Cereal grains and cereal itself can be a fairly high carb entry into the list of foods, and the fact that many of the “best” ones are sweetened… well. And, after our horrifying experience with TVP, we weren’t any too eager to repeat any strange breakfast substitutions, but because we are intrepid food explorers, we… couldn’t help ourselves. Everyone is still talking about how great chia is supposed to be, so…

Symptomatic of a wonky endocrine system is oddly high blood sugar in the morning — and a pre-breakfast morning run or, in our case, slow uphill slog can drive blood sugar into the stratosphere, and then plunge it right down, abruptly, into the basement. It’s one of those things that T’s endocrinologist just says happens – but it means that exercise can be a little more exciting than one expects, what with the sweating, dizziness, and shaking and all. A box of raisins eaten halfway through a hike really helps as does a breakfast with just enough carbohydrate to give you fuel, and just enough fiber to give your body something to work on long enough so you don’t pass out. Runner, writer, and blogger Carolyn Ketchum eats this mix of flax and chia before long runs, and finds it gets her energy to get all the way home for Second Breakfast. (Life should provide two breakfasts, shouldn’t it? Sounds good to us!)

Hot Chia Flax Cereal

  • 2 tbsp chia seed
  • 2 tbsp flax seed meal
  • 2 tsp sweetener
  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 2 tbsp cream (optional)
  • 2 tbsp nut butter (optional)
  • fresh berries(optional)

Chia-Flax Cereal 2

In a small bowl, stir together chia seed, flax seed meal, and sweetener. Add hot water, stir and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Please do time yourself, and DO NOT go unload the dishwasher, run out and water the plants, or talk to the neighbor; by the time you return, your cereal will have solidified. Stir in cream or butter, sprinkle with a little cinnamon, nut butter, berries, raisins, cracked pumpkin seeds…you name it (in the low carb food arena) you can add it.

Makes 1 serving, and, sans optional ingredients, contains a total of 18 g of carbohydrate and 18 g of fiber.

This was surprisingly tasty! T decided against grinding the chia this time, simply because she’s afraid of its gelling properties, and didn’t want to it to act on the flax and water before she was ready. (And, since she wandered off, it did that anyway, without being ground.) Despite our COMPLETE incredulity and expectation that it would be disgusting, we were happily disappointed. It was really good – crunchy and hot and tasty. We kept it vegan, using the So Delicious Coconut Creamer for our cream, and a sprinkle of the lovely King Arthur Vietnamese cinnamon (we got it as a gift from our friend K., and have become addicted) for flavor. Really filling and tasty, and perfect for a hot, sweet, nutty cereal …

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But, D. took it a step further. In his quest for polenta/grits, he took a tablespoon of chia seed, a tablespoon of cornmeal grits, three quarters of a cup of almond flour. Together with a two cups of water – one cold, the other, boiling hot and added while cooking – he boiled the heck out of this mixture and served it with a little salt, butter, eggs and sausage. The texture isn’t quite right yet – too much water made it weirdly fluffy, instead of the dense, slightly gritty, slightly gelatinous mix that is polenta/grits/Romanian Mămăligă, like we ate with our friend Axel, but we’re moving in the right direction. Progress! Until next time…

Posted in California, Recipe | 2 Comments

The Fine Print

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(Is it me, or does anyone else expect a M*A*S*H helicopter in this shot? Okay, maybe it’s just me.)

Much reading is taking place as the winds whip the dull, dim days. The weather about which we usually whine has crouched down over our little valley to stay for some time – the long term forecast for this month calls for rain at least two days a week until April, which is good news for the many pre-gardening chores which remain undone. But, for now, we’re courting laziness and enjoying our books…well, mostly…

T. remarked to D. that she has read two books – by different authors – this weekend alone which contained descriptions of “the type of town where a person could go next door to borrow a cup of sugar.” She would like to, at this time, challenge the assumption that this sugar-borrowing town nonsense is a good thing. To wit, WHO DOES THAT? A scoop of coffee/beans, okay – sometimes you run out without realizing it, and if you’re an addict — you’re an addict, and a morning DP won’t do. (Looking at you, Jules.) A cup of cream – okay, you might need some milk from next door to put in that last cup of coffee (good luck, they’re vegan and a little concerned for your dairy consumption. They have a website to show you… [Okay, sorry.]). But …a cup of sugar? Really? A whole CUP? What, you’re making cookies, but not only failed to read the recipe before you started breaking eggs, but failed to have sugar in the house? Maybe instead of walking next door, you might take your imprudent and foresight-lacking self to the grocery store, and leave your neighbors alone???

(We note that T. probably is not a resident of that “type of town.” She would probably also like those gol-darned kids to get off her lawn…)

In all seriousness, how funny that the weather has increased the number of conversations had with random strangers about it. “Goodness this wind!” is a common one, and “Boy, we really needed the rain, eh?” is the next. Maybe bonding over banal conversation has taken the place of borrowing sugar for the tea these days?

How has this winter – mild, not-obviously wintry/endless icebound horror – affected your baking? Do you suppose those on the West Coast will all end up longing for toast this Spring, instead of greens and fruit, as we usually do? Or, those in the Polar Vortex regions will end up like bears come spring, shaking off a long winter’s hibernation fueled by baked mac-and-cheese and lots of crusty bread? Man, the things we do to stay warm. Better baking than burning endless candles, like we did in our very first apartment( We’re pretty sure the walls were a shade darker when we left). At least baking can be shared.

Well… it could be. But, it hasn’t been. We’re still in the testing stages *cough* so we have an excuse. Of sorts. We’re also sad to report a lack of photographic evidence of our continuing pastry trials, as the one with the double-bergamont tea pastry and marmalade filling was, regrettably, consumed. (To clarify: we don’t regret the consumption – just the lack of photography. Eh, the pastry twist/braid went weird anyway, never mind. You’re not missing much not seeing it. *cough*)

The Foodie Experiment has covered two areas lately, one, TVP Oatmeal, the other Chia. Both of these experiments have, so far, been dreadful. When you’re told to cut your carb intake, one of the hardest things for people to lose is stuff like breakfast cereal, toasts, oatmeal — well, those are all good things in moderation, but T. read somewhere (dicey) about how people have been enjoying unflavored TVP – textured vegetable protein, a soy flour byproduct usually used commercially to stretch meats and chilli – seasoned with cream and cinnamon and slow-cooked. Dubious, T&D purchased a small amount and — NO. Just, no. EVER. It was disgusting, and T. couldn’t even finish it. (D., who tends to be more pragmatic, finished his bowl, and then threw out the rest of the pot.)

As for the chia pudding, our friend Pille tried it out first. She said it looked like frogspawn – and it does – but she’s a brave woman. T’s plan was to grind it up to avoid the frogspawn effect, but did a bit more reading. While the seeds are indeed high in omega 3′s and fabulous for so much, there’s a bit of a drawback. It’s in the fine print that most people don’t read, and that few aficionados are eager to say, chia has a certain laxative effect, not to put too fine a point on it. We’ve decided to table our experiment just now, and go on with tea…

In attempting to turn T’s tea obsession into more than poaching pears in Earl Grey and trying to make Green Tea everything as some people seem to do, we have taken *the basic pastry recipe and added to it the zest of one lemon, and a packet of lemongrass tea. This makes a wonderfully fragrant and amazing crust for a blueberry pie – and we swear we’ll share photographic evidence with you before it’s gone. PROMISE.

Spring Vegetable Fritata

Our frittata had a faux bacon bowl effect in the cast iron skillet.
Next time we’ll use a crust, but this was fun.

*And, in case you’ve forgotten the basic baking recipe:

2 C. blanched almond flour.
1 C vital wheat gluten
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 c. plain yogurt
1/4 c. creamed cheese or 4 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp. oil

OR, for a thinner, crisper, vegan crust, perfect for a veggie quiche:

1 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup olive oil

Part of our experimenting has been with blind-baking an almond meal crust. Now, technically, blind baking is supposed to prevent your crust from getting gummy by giving it a little defensive layer, but T. thought blind-baking was unnecessary, and sogginess wouldn’t happen with almond meal. Au contraire! Tender and lovely as it is, the almond meal pastry crust does indeed become a little gooey after long exposure to fruit and vegetable juices. Additionally, because the flour is already somewhat lightly tan, it’s easy – too easy – to find it burnt-ish looking. Now, in the Skyway Test Kitchen, we hardly care about those sorts of things, as we’ve been known to eat pastry first thing in the morning with eyes barely open – and croon to ourselves, spewing crumbs. Too dark of edges? Who cares? We’re not even awake. But, for those classier, more discerning home chefs, prior to your fifteen minute blind bake at 350°F/175°C, tent your fluted edges with foil. You’ll be glad you did.

Tune in later for T. to dig out and dust off her shortbread pan… the lemon tree is loaded right now, and lemon bars with a gorgeous shortbread crust sound just the thing…

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Sausage Inna Bun: Savo(u)ry Pastry

Well, thank the Lord.

We got some rain, which immediately flipped the baking switch back on.

Once upon a time, just about everybody had one of those cookbooks that come from home cooking magazines. Ours is a Wilton’s “Celebrate,” from Wilton’s heyday in the nineties, and it has all sorts of ridiculous recipes in it which one must use for St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl — you know, all the important national holidays. The recipes are kind of like circus acts – you look at them and wince and then think, “But, they’re just people… I should be able to do that”. Um, right. Fiddly, fiddly, fiddly recipes, with tons of steps, and dubious results. Ah, well. The folks have good intentions, anyway.

Many, many, many years ago, we tried Wilton’s Beer Batter Rolls, which were fat and squodgy, and which we were supposed to have hollowed out and served with chili or a cream-of-something soup – for the Super Bowl, no doubt, but they were just too soft. Though otherwise useless except as a vehicle for butter, the beer battered rolls had a very specific, tangy flavor, which we quite enjoyed. The problem with these recipes which call for beer is that they generally call for a cup out of can — and there’s usually much more in the can, especially because we’ve used European beers like Guinness for cakes and such, and they have those great big cans. It’s really not fair to make slug traps out of the rest when we’re not actively trying to garden and the slugs aren’t really bothering us. (But, not gonna lie, beer traps traps catch earwigs, too. It’s not Zen, or kind, but we can call it Early Garden Maintenance, yes?) Either way, our days of carefree make-whatever-rolls are mostly over, though we still eat lots of homemade rye bread (and, oh, the twenty-five pound bag of rye in the entryway is a Whole ‘Nother Story which has much in common with T’s inability to spot the difference between 3 POUNDS and 3 KILOGRAMS, ::sigh::), but T inadvertently found a way to make a tasty pastry that is low carb and flavor reminiscent, to her, anyway, like the tang of a beer-battered dough. The trick is both seasoning – and hydration.

We haven’t previously given much thought to how almond flour is made. I mean, you grind some almonds, and voilà, right? Well, no. Blanched almond flour is made of blanched almonds – and blanching is a high pressure steam/water treatment, yes? So, though the almonds may have been already silo dry, the resulting flour has to be dried, in a kiln. The lesson we learned about British flour – kiln dried – is that it has to be more hydrated than silo-dried American flour – if your flour isn’t fully hydrated, your dough just isn’t what it should be. So, our rule of thumb with almond flour now is to let the dough sit for an additional thirty minutes or so before baking, and, when baked, make sure it is 98% cooled before cutting or moving it. (We rarely manage that last one, but…) These are two simple rules which help to make your low carb baking more satisfying.

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One of the classic Glaswegian bakery goods is Sausage Rolls. HR Bradfords bakery on Sauchiehall Street even had vegetarian ones, and you’d see people rushing in and out during the lunch hour and long lines just before tea. People would emerge with grease spotted bags and trot off down the street juggling briefcases, backpacks, cake boxes and the ubiquitous sausage roll. Like the humble Hand pie, the Sausage Roll is prized because it’s something you can eat on the go, and it’s quick, and good hot or cold – if you go to a good bakery which doesn’t use too much shortening and lets the pastry get soggy as it cools. (And, you know how T. is about pastry, She Who Eats The Middles Out Of Pies And Leaves The Crust.)

Our Sausage Inna Bun might have been at home hawked on the fictional streets of Ankh-Morpork, but unlike C.M.O.T. Dibbler’s, you have our solemn promise that ours is actually edible…

Sausage Inna Bun

  • 12 hot dogs – we used Linkettes
  • 2 C. almond flour.
  • 1 C vital wheat gluten
  • 1/4 c. plain yogurt
  • 1/4 c. creamed cheese or 4 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 1/4 c. flax or linseeds, mortar and pestle crushed
  • 2 Tbsp. dried thyme, crushed
  • 1 Tbsp. onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • scant freshly ground pepper
  • OPTIONAL: 3/4 c. shredded cheese you have sitting around

In your mortar and pestle bowl, place your salt, your pepper, thyme, onion powder and flax seeds. Grind until the thyme is a fine green powder, and add to your medium sized bowl. Combine your additional dry ingredients, including your vital wheat gluten. Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients, and add your wet. This is gonig to be a sticky and thick dough, but don’t despair. If you feel you absolutely need to, you may add two tablespoons of milk, but patience might be a better option. Really: it’s going to be thick, but once you combine your ingredients, it will come together in a ball.

Low-Carb Pigs in a Blanket

And for me, leaving it alone is the hardest part! However, you can Preheat the oven to about 350°F/175°C, and prep your filling at this point. (We didn’t have to do anything to our hot dogs, as they’re vegetarian, and regular hot dogs from a package don’t have to be cooked either. If you use anything else like an actual sausage or whatnot, pay attention to the cooking instructions, s’il vous plait!) We sliced twelve pieces of cheese to go into our “buns” and prepped the baking sheet with non-stick parchment paper (which is not the same thing as baker’s paper or greaseproof paper!).

After 30 minutes – or longer, it won’t hurt – place your dough ball between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out your dough until it is 1/4″ thick. Using a pizza slicer, we cut our dough into 12 rectangles, added a hot dog and a piece of cheese, and then just rolled them up, making sure to seal them as well as possible. You’ll need to bake these for 20 minutes, or until they appear golden brown and delicious.

While we used dairy products, this is easy enough to make this vegan – Daiya and Tofutti make a reasonable tofu creamed cheese, and Daiya even has some chive or garlic flavored, to spice thigns up. Since there aren’t eggs, you don’t even have to worry about a flax-water ration – you could substitute any nut or seed, be it pepitas or pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds or poppy.

There was some small misadventure in our bakery *cough* and we ended up with only eleven of these for the oven, but even if you run out of dough, these turn out beautifully. The hot dough will seem like it’s a little underdone, but it isn’t. As it cools, it sort of finds its shape. The thyme is key to flavoring this dish – delicate and adding an unexpected tang that is reminiscent of the beer batter. Well hydrated, the dough is tender and rich – and when it’s cooled enough for you to eat it without scalding your mouth, it sets up nicely. D. fortunately took a picture which lets you see the crumb – not exactly flaky pastry layers, but rich and tasty looking.

T’s next project is to adapt this pastry for sweetness. One of the things we noticed about pastry in Europe is that it’s not all that sweet – sometimes the filling is a bit sweet, but it’s mostly rich. We think we can find a happy medium between not-at-all-sweet and ridiculously-sugary. We’re imagining creating a vanilla-bean speckled dough, rich and fragrant, slicing a banana in half and then again horizontally so we’ve got just a little piece, grating a fine shower of dark chocolate atop it, settling it into its doughy bed and sprinkling the top dough casing with a tiny bit of granulated sweetness… Or, maybe a sweetly spiced dough, filled mostly with chopped cinnamon apple and a combination of dried and fresh cranberry filling… or chopped walnuts and maple syrup, dusted with just the tiniest bit of anise, or a fresh and zingy citrus-zested dough, with a gingery pear filling…

Well, we’ll let you know how it goes.



Posted in Baking, Food, Recipe | 1 Comment

“Come, Friends Who Plough the Sea…” The BBC Penzance Vid, aka, “The Wayback Machine Produces The D. Show”

Way back in 2011, we sang along with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. At the time, we didn’t post this, because there was no way for friends and fam in the U.S. to view the video unless you were in the UK. NOW, though, if you install a browser plug-in called Media Hint you’ll be able to watch the video embedded below (or on the BBC at! Of course, with that plug-in you’ll also be able to watch BBC’s iPlayer and Channel 4 and ITV without any troubles.

D. has, of course, rewatched this, and asked himself why he ever cut his hair. BE AFRAID.

If one has forty minutes to spare, one can view and hear this entire epic …rehearsal/performance; those with less time should pause at 13.28, and through the entire song “With Catlike Tread” (tarantara tarantara…) at 21.00 to see D. bellowing away in true pirate style. T. is only visible briefly as a speck around 21.47, because she sat as far away from cameras as possible — even without knowing where they were. (One simply must admire such mad camera avoidance skills as these.) D. dominates the video, as he sat fourth row, smack dab in the middle — if one doesn’t see his earnest, shining face and stripey shirt, one sees the back of his head and his ponytail. Yes, our D. has broken into show business. At least, on the BBC website…

Unfortunate microphone pick-up brings us some incredibly enthused, yet off-key tenors, and it was funny for us to see microphones, since none of our performances — in four years — have included them. NONE. However, since we were the backup, it was nice to hear the soloists!

-D & T

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It’s been a busy month – and a strange one. T. is gathering elastic, dye, and fabric glue, and eying her increasingly baggy wardrobe (-3 stone and counting) closely, as she’s become obsessed with the New Dress A Day website. (Yes, be afraid.) D. is prepping the curriculum to teach his first online course, which requires a lot of time ignoring the computer and a critical reading various 80′s novels which have nothing to do with anything, but which nonetheless make him happier than prepping his curricula. As the rest of the country wallows in snow drifts, the West Coast reprises The Great Dust Bowl Drought of Epic Proportions. No, really. Pretty soon there will be a name for it, like Polar Vortex or something. We would give a lot to have some of the East Coast’s snow melting over our parched lawns here, but as it’s currently snowing in TEXAS, maybe we’d better be careful what we wish for…


At the beginning of the year, there’s often an uptick of “Three Ingredient X,” or “Almost No-Fat Y” recipes that come up on food blogger blogs, as everyone frantically pretends to be virtuous and conventional-wisdom-on-diets compliant. We’ve avoided that trend entirely by making Tri-Sugar Tropical Banana Cake. It’s not just ONE kind of sugar, it’s THREE. Beat that, non-fat people! Of course, it’s three sugars, but three natural sugars, in reasonable small amounts, which makes it lower carb, and a reasonable snack. This was a “dump” recipe that T dreamed up because she wanted banana bread cake and was tired of *cough* waiting for other people to make it for her. And for the people who whined that they, too, had blackened bananas sitting in their fruit bowls at home, and why couldn’t T come over and help them – well. This is why God gave you exchange students and an oven, right? Here we go:


Tropical Spiced Banana Cake

And, note, it’s not banana bread. Like our Scottish friends, we’ve decided to call it as we see it. If there’s more than a couple tablespoons of sugar in there, it’s CAKE.


  • 1 C Whole Wheat Flour
  • 2 C Almond Meal
  • 3/4 C Muesli (we used Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 12 Dates Chopped
  • 4 Very Ripe Bananas, Mashed
  • 2 Tbsp. Honey
  • 2 Tbsp. Truvia
  • 2/4 C pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 3 Eggs (we used chicken, but *flax also works)
  • 1/4 C Coconut oil
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp freshly ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • Hearty pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C. Oil or parchment line a 9″ cake pan or two 9×5″ loaf pans, to have one to freeze. This is one of those recipes where you can truly just assemble the ingredients in order, dump them in the bowl, and get on with things. The batter is a muffin batter, meant to be chunky, so while you want your flour to be fully hydrated, don’t worry about mashing your bananas to more than chunks – you don’t have to puree them. Bake your cake for fifty-five minutes, or, in the separate pans, bake for forty minutes ’til golden brown and an inserted bamboo skewer comes out clean. (DO test with a skewer every ten minutes after the first thirty-five – depending on if your flour was kiln-dried or not, your mix may need more or less time.)

The riper your fruit, the sweeter your cake, so be sure they’re really well freckled and fragrant. Be sure of your honey! The stuff that comes in the squeeze-y bear often has sugar added – you want real, plain honey. For your health, make sure it’s from a safe, local source. You can also use maple syrup or agave.

The pistachios were a last-minute addition. They’re so plentiful this time of year, and less expensive than usual, and made a nice change from walnuts. The shocking glimpses of green in the bread also had their own appeal. Small children may turn up their noses at this – which is crucial in the More For You category.

Carb Counters:343 carbs for the whole. 171.5. per 9×5 loaf. 21.4 g carb per slice when said loaf is divided into 8 equal pieces.

Sadly, what with assembling a large piece of Ikea furniture (goodbye weekends, hello *!%$*#& Allen wrenches), getting a new robot vacuum cleaner, and making a jump-start on Spring Cleaning, in deference to T’s allergies, we never got around to staging and photographing this bre — erm, cake. However, we are not immune to your need for food photos. Here now some completely gratuitous pictures of Rhubarb Jam Tarlets from when we received farm boxes of the stuff, and couldn’t eat it fast enough. Please ogle responsibly.

Rhubarb Jam Tarts 09Rhubarb Jam Tarts 12
Rhubarb Jam Tarts 26 Rhubarb Jam Tarts 28


We mentioned back in September, T’s youngest sister was facing kidney failure. Just last week, she jumped to the top of the kidney transplant list, and voila – a new internal organ became available! After a three-hour surgery and a very boring week-long hospital stay, now the hard part begins – making that sucker stick around. This means a six months period in which Bug mourns that she cannot get her ears pierced, dye her hair, or attend school. She is also on major drugs which, while ensuring her body doesn’t reject the new organ outright, also bring her to some fairly intense emotional highs and lows – literally, there’s been hysterical laughter and hysterical sobbing within the same hour. It’s like all your teen years all at once, on Fast Forward! It’s a bit crazy-making for the family so far, but y’know what? Life is worth whatever struggle…

As someone who has had her share of being housebound for illnesses in the (hallelujah, far distant!) past, T’s convinced that our old and pine-tree-dust-prone house can be made into a safe Destination, for when Bug gets sick of her own four walls. To that end, she has gotten deeply involved with cleaning products which will aid in purifying the house, but not offend D’s sensibilities or annoy her sinuses in the process. Enter the Mrs. Meyers Clean Day line of products. Yes, yes, everyone has heard of them by now – we’re always late to the ball game. We’ve gotten fond of their lavender dish soap, which makes the whole kitchen smell nice. But T’s mostly bemused by them because she has been glazing over, staring at gardening catalogs lately, thus was enchanted into ordering Radish All-Purpose Cleanser. Yes. Radish-scented cleanser. We know what they sharply flavored little buggers taste like — but what does radish even smell like??? Tune in next time, inquiring minds will be told…

Posted in Baking, California | 2 Comments

Auld Lang Syne Again

You made it. You survived the holidays another year, which also means you survived another trip around the sun. A new year…! Technically, this is the last day to wish anyone such a thing, as it’s already Three King’s Day, and we’re meant to just be getting on with things by this point… and so we shall.

Ruby's Cafe 09

Between the endless holidays ads since Halloween, culminating in the Jenny Craig/Weight Watchers/local gym membership drives now, it was a relief to kick off our Holiday Blackout on Christmas Eve, and contentedly refuse much more interaction with media than playing a few games of Lexulous online. We avoided people, too, which isn’t what we usually do, but it was a blessed relief, this year, as we were both stricken with some sniffly thing which actually might have been …a cold. Since we deny the existence of the common cold in this household, we simply blamed the dry air, and made excuses to spend another day in bed with headache medicine.

Ruby's Cafe 11

It was unavoidable to do a bit of traveling, though, and we were happy enough to visit our favorite diner in Laguna Hills, Ruby’s. It’s adorable at any time of the year, with its shiny red and silver decor, model WWII planes slowly flying around the ceiling (one of which D. identified as the kind his father flew in the Korean War), and its vintage Coke ads, but it especially shone with all the holiday decorations flung around.

Ruby's Cafe 13

Ruby’s is like opening a door and stepping back into a cleaner, more technical and much more diverse version of the 1940′s. The earnest looking men wear soda jerk hats and wrap-around aprons, and the women in their fresh red and white pinstriped waitress mini-dresses, white caps, “natural” looking stockings and perky aprons. The service is really, really good, and you don’t often find people under twenty-five in the diner, unless accompanied by people over sixty-five. This might be because there’s a mall next door with other food options, or this might be because there are several doctor’s offices and a VA nearby, skewing the age group to the AARP side of things, but it’s never too crowded, and we’re often the youngest people in the joint. Which suits us just fine.

But, whatever else the decor and other patrons do or don’t do for us, you know we’d never be at a diner if it didn’t have really, really good food. Despite its being a chain, this isn’t just your usual Coke and Burgers joint, nope. We did mention it was by some doctor’s offices, yes? The food there is … healthy. For a given value of health, yes, but it’s got low carb options on the menu, calorie counts and diet cherry Coke. With a real cherry. You cannot help but feel spoiled with a real maraschino Cherry in your diet Coke…

T. always gets their low carb veggie tacos, which are mostly shredded cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, and salsa with a very few black beans and a whole wheat, handmade taco shell. D. usually springs for the onion rings and a veggie burger of some sort. (You can even get your burger wrapped in just lettuce, if you’d like to cut carbs even more.) There are tons of Ruby’s throughout Southern California — and one in Hawaii, one in New Jersey, one in Vegas and a few more in Pennsylvania for some inexplicable reason — but if you ever get a chance to find one of the fifteen or twenty in SoCal, you should. It’s just one of those places that seems to be a place to be happy…

And, speaking of happy!

Or, happy in the food sense, anyway: we made a new food discovery last month! We didn’t actually cruise the Asian market for this one ourselves; T’s sister dubiously bought a couple of packages and then couldn’t get herself nerved up enough to eat them, so passed them along.

Tofu Noodles

This may look, to you, merely like ramen-ish or pot noodles, but they’re better – they’re ramen-ish pot noodles made out of tofu and yam flour. Given that yam flour has, er… what they call an “organic” smell, you’ll want to rinse these thoroughly right out of the package. “Organic” apparently smells oddly rotten or like wet dog and seaweed, so yay! No, it’s not really appetizing, but keep in mind that tofu is made through a process of fermentation, so there’s that, plus whatever drying and rehydrating process which makes flour from the yam, which may or may not be a yam as the Western mind is familiar with — but it’s all food and safe, so soldier on, foodie.

These faux noodles come in macaroni, spaghetti, fettuccine and other variations from House Foods, and while we can’t speak to the other varieties, we know the ramen-ish stuff is reasonable for stir fry and Asian foods. We made a very simple mock duck, broccoli, onion and orange sauce (READ: marmalade and soy sauce, works a treat) for our first bag. It worked. Perfectly. D. was T’s taste tester in this (by the time she cooked it, she only wanted a cup of tea), and he surprised her by eating his entire serving – twenty calories – with every appearance of enjoyment.

BEWARE, however: from what we’ve read, if you eat these with the idea of real pasta in your head, you’ll be unhappy. Shirataki noodles have no taste but what sauce you give them, but the texture is very different from wheat pasta. Even al dente pasta mushes between your teeth when you chew it… but this has a slight rubbery texture which snaps strangely between your teeth to produce a cognitive dissonance as you chew. Conversely, if you’ve eaten squid, apparently you’ll be okay with this, as that’s one description – that it reminds people a bit of squid, except not so chewy.

(Okay, that didn’t really help, did it?)

Either way, this is not Italian food, but it is good, and worth experimentation. For three grams of carbohydrate and twenty calories a serving, it’s worthwhile for those times you feel like eating your weight in packaged ramen. Shiritaki provides that college-style comfort food without the extra load on your body.

Stay tuned for further experimentation!

So, happy New Year, intrepid traveler through this world. Plug your ears when diet commercials come on. We love you just the way you are. If you’re happy with you, we’re happy with you.

Be well, and stay out of trouble.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Chilly Changes

Skyway Drive 127

This morning, the frost on the deck has stayed… well into afternoon. Freezes and a few snow flurries this past week have been a surprising change from the previous weekend, when errands could still be done on one’s shirtsleeves (if done briskly, anyway). And now, the change of season has brought with it both fewer stresses, and additional ones. 2014 is suddenly bearing down on us, and the tentative thoughts we’d had about changes in the new year will soon be… more than thoughts. D. will be lecturing for an online course for a university this year, and T. has agreed to joining a vision board for a camping and retreat organization. Both D. and T. are taking on this additional jobs against their better judgment, and there will be many adjustments in the new year – and possibly a lot of whining as well. Nevertheless, one always has to try out opportunity like a coat still bearing its tags. Maybe something is meant to fit…

2013 Benicia 046

Meanwhile, we’ve begun to amble about the countryside a bit, in search of the unusual, as we gather items for the festive season. At a diner on the 680 industrial corridor outside of Benicia netted us a yummy breakfast at Rosie’s Cafe, and the chance to watch trains – right up close. That was probably the last weekend we could reasonably sit outside in the thin autumn sunshine, but it was well worth it to chow down on zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes and onions stuffed into an omelette and a perfectly toasted English muffin. Cheap and entertaining – can’t beat that.

Our diner luck held, the following weekend, and we were excited to discover a tiny cafe tucked into the edge of a shopping plaza in Pleasant Hill that has regular diner options and vegan ones as well. Real diners – places where requesting a half-caf mocha latte with sprinkles will get you nothing but regular refills of strong black coffee and a bowl of those little vats of cream – are traditionally completely impatient with the high maintenance requirements of foodies. They’re usually cheek-by-jowl with irascible old people, shifty-looking loners, families full of sticky children, and cackling dames gossiping over their tea. Plaza Cafe has all this — plus scrambled tofu among its breakfast offerings, and huge portions – tell the server you won’t need the hash browns or you’ll never finish. A cash-only cafe, full of “regulars,” Little League families, and surprised newbies like us, who just happened to wander in, this place is right in the middle of everything, yet off the beaten path. Those in the area will find it worthwhile to check it out.

A brisk, sunny day, Thanksgiving was a gift of family, new friends, and a plethora of great tastes. Our meal consisted of garlicky roasts and lentil loaf with a surprising bbq sauce, a savory barley risotto, rich mashed sweet potatoes, studded with bits of fried apple and onion, an amazing vegan kugel-style mac-n-cheese, the regular mashed potatoes, green beans with slivered almonds, salad greens with Honeycrisp apples and bright bursts of pomegranate arils, and silky mashed… cauliflower. Which we’re still not sure we believe contained no potato whatsoever. One of the nicest additions to the meal, aside from numerous pies, was T’s resurrecting her vegan cheesecake. Once upon a time, this was the go-to recipe, lemon cheesecake. Since then, it has had a few variations — this year, cranberry apple. Since the last time we blogged this particular recipe was in 2008, we’ll go ahead and repost:

Basic Vegan Cheesecake

  • 1 14 oz pkg. firm silken tofu
  • 1 8 oz. pkg “Cream Cheese” Tofutti, Daiya or, substitute regular creamed cheese if you’d like
  • 2/3 c. sweetener – we used erythritol
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch + ice water

Skyway Drive 123

Though a graham cracker crust is traditional, a more flavorful — and less apt to go soggy — alternative is a gingersnap crust. You can make it in the same way — whiz up ten or fifteen dry gingersnaps in your food processor (or, ginger nuts, as they’re also called) and add a tablespoon of butter or margarine to create a crumb the texture of damp sand, and then pack it with your fingertips into the bottom of a spring form pan. Pre-baking the crust is unnecessary.

~ Preheat Oven 350°F ~

Place silken tofu, cream cheese in bowl, and, using an immersion blender or beater, blend until smooth. Add your flavoring. If you’re making a lemon cheesecake base, 1/4 c. of lemon juice at this stage will give you a perfect tang.

In a smaller separate bowl, combine 2 tbsp ice water, your extract and cornstarch with a whisk. Pour mixture into tofu blend and beat until VERY smooth. Pour lemon filling into gingersnap crust, and bake for 45 minutes. Allow to cool for two hours, or for very best firmness, REFRIGERATE OVERNIGHT. We left ours in the oven and just went to bed, and it refrained from cracking in this way, but cooling SLOWLY.

Vegan Cranberry Cheesecake 3

We topped this lovely pie with cranberry applesauce. This may seem a strange choice, but adding apples to cranberry sauce sweetened and took the edge from the fresh cranberries, allowing us to use less sweetener. Also, the pectin from the peels brought the sauce a really smooth mouth feel, complimenting the creaminess of the tofu. This cheesecake with a citrus sauce, chocolate ganache, or a bright berry coulee would also have worked beautifully.

Vegan Cranberry Cheesecake 2

Our next test kitchen project upstairs is attempting to make sourdough rye bread. Rye flour contains little or no gluten, which means that it’s so far lying sullenly in the big silver bowl, staring at us… and yet, the commercial bakeries at Raley’s and Nob Hill bring forth perfectly light, chewy, sour loaves with thick, crisp crusts, on a weekly basis. Their secret has to be, in part, the baking vessels, which must be cast iron, to make that lovely crust, and we have a great pair of cast iron skillets which together will create a Dutch oven. But, only time will tell what else goes into the mix to make a great rye sourdough. Stay tuned!

Posted in Baking, California, Food, Kitchen Favorites, Life, Recipe | 1 Comment