Your Guide to Reading Between the Tines

In Which Our Heroine Plunders Apples and Makes a Triumphant Return to Blogging

This is me. And this is one of the many, many pounds of apples currently heaped up in the pantry enjoying each others’ company. More on that in a moment. First, an apology.

I cringed when I saw that my last post was on Christmas goodies. Oh, fearless cooks and dedicated eaters, I am sorry I left you. As sometimes happens, Life got incredibly busy and blogging took a back seat. A really, really back seat. Like, back a few state lines. Maybe somewhere on the other side of the Continental Divide. The other side of the Prime Meridian?

Anyway.

With recent changes, I have more flexibility with and control of my time, and I am looking forward to getting back to talking about food. After all, I do so enjoy a delicious conversation about food and food issues. Simply put, the Simple Spoonful is back in business. So, without further ado…

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Cookies and Goodies…

I have been popping into the kitchen almost daily to make up some wonderful concoctions for Christmas. So far, I have raspberry bars, oatmeal butter cookies, raw whole foods fudge, chocolate covered peanut butter balls, triple ginger gingersnaps, dark chocolate coconut bark sprinkled with sea salt, spiced candied nuts, caramel corn, and now turtles with homemade caramel. This picture was taken a couple days ago, which means it was after the caramel corn and oatmeal cookies were gifted away and before the turtles and coconut bark had been made. It’s been an entertaining affair, as only about half of those have involved recipes.

Our first Christmas guest arrives tomorrow, so I will start laying them out to sample. I’ll let you know what the biggest hits are and hopefully give some directions here for you to make some of the highlights in your kitchens! Speaking of which, I still have dreams of a wonderful shortbread. Does anyone have a recipe?

Hungrily,

L

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Thanksgiving with Bean Pie–Hold the Turkey

It took a bean pie to get me back here.

It started with the beans themselves–heirloom Christmas beans splashed with maroon and cream. They are the size of giant Lima beans. Broad and flat, with  rich, chesnut flavor and creamy texture. These are the beans I wanted.

I soak them, cook them, whir them into a nutty cream with vanilla, eggs, agave nectar, and barley malt, and pour the fragrant mixture into a flaky cream cheese crust. I sprinkle the top liberally with pecans and bake the pie for the better part of an hour.

I wait.

The house smells delicious. And soon, I will be trying a recipe from Native Seeds that I have been wanting to try for literally years.

I just had to wait for the perfect beans. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Things have changed drastically around here, beyond the new job that kept me hopping. The Unicyclist and I moved to Wisconsin in August, a move we had been talking about for more than a year. Southeastern Wisconsin certainly has no shortage of food adventures, however, and now that we are as unpacked as we will be for a while, I’ll be posting here again more regularly. Farms and orchards and CSAs and co-ops are plentiful here, not to mention family and community gardens. Plus, we folk like to eat.

In the meantime, Jessica tipped me off to this very fun map of regional recipe searches for Thanksgiving, which illustrates that regional food is not entirely dead…though it is sometimes odd. Why is Nevada devouring mac and cheese and a virtual desert of cheesy carbs, for example? Who can say? Take a peek and let me know, if you did up a Thanksgiving feast for the holiday–what are your must-have staples, and where did you try something new this year?

(I do still promise to give the details on the rest of that Colorado trip…that cholocate is still pretty vivid in my mind. But for now…it’s just about lunchtime.)

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Mile High Eats

At the end of July, the Unicyclist and I went to Colorado for my cousin’s wedding. It was a gorgeous affair at an amazing location near Pine. Best of all, we were lucky enough to stick around the state for a week afterward to enjoy the mountains and rivers of Colorado…and its small towns and giant cities.

And there was food. Did I mention the food? Post-wedding, our first big adventure was at Denver’s The Oven. It’s owned by the amazing Mark Tarbell, who is responsible for our favorite spot here in Phoenix as well: the eponymous Tarbell’s.

Of course, since the week was a family fest, we had a party of great aunties and moms and dads along for the feast, which was perfect for the laid-back atmosphere of the place. The house-made mozzarella was delicious, the focaccia amazing, the variety of spreads tangy and savory and rich. And the pizzas, of course, were perfection. The company was the best part, especially with the long wooden tables and shared dishes. The staff even comped us dessert when they found out we’d stopped in as fans of the Phoenix restaurant. If you’re ever fortunate enough to come across anything Mark Tarbell has had a hand in cooking, pull up a chair and tuck in. That’s all I have to say about that.

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In Which Our Heroine Eats Well Across State Lines

As the steaming asphalt may have reminded you, it’s still summer. Perhaps, like me, you’ve recently spent some time thinking about how much people seem to do in the summer. They get married and go on trips, they light sparklers and host cookouts, they move houses and have reunions with gaggles of relatives. And, despite all my odd-duck tendencies, I am pretty normal in that respect.

I have been hard to catch lately in part due to work, but equally due to play. The past six weeks have been peppered with jaunts to Michigan, the Coconino National Forest, Colorado, and the Petrified Forest. The sights were stunning, and there was plenty of good eating. I’m going to try to get you caught up on the eats and the sights this week.

I’m going to start small: Prescott. Only a brief jaunt away, it was a great escape to higher elevation and cooler climes on Fourth of July weekend. We camped under pine trees and spent a day hiking just before the rains came and soaked the town.

The Unicyclist, as you can see, was working his mid-project mountain man look. Since then, his project has been completed and released, and the Unicyclist has been shaved and shorn. The Great Circle of Life or something, I’m sure. Here, you can see Mountain Man trying out his mini-binoculars, seeing something cool and many-legged, no doubt.

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Back to the Blog: Another Day at the Farm

It’s July in the Sonoran Desert. The cicadas sing, dust storms roil on the horizon several times a week, the garden is dry and listless, and mesquite pods have begun to litter the ground. Meanwhile, I try to figure out when I can comb the neighborhood for mesquite pods to make flour for the year sometime in my crazy schedule.

It’s been a week of peanut butter sandwiches, if you know what I mean. It’s been several weeks of peanut butter sandwiches, in fact. With the Unicyclist and myself both in crunchtime, “real” meals are sorely neglected. There’s a lot of peanut butter, a lot of omelet, a good deal of hummus and raw veggies, and a fair bit of pancake. It’s all about the quick and the easy—what real food we can whip up and eat in a half hour.

Since I’ve been so busy, I’ve definitely missed updating the community here on the fabulous summer events we’ve enjoyed thus far: the second farm day, our escape to cooler climes in northern Arizona, and a darn fine Vietnamese noodle salad I will be enjoying for lunch this week. While I could begin with any one of those things, it seems best to begin by showing some of the pictures from the most recent farm day. Frankly, farm day embodies hope. After all, when my own garden is decidedly brown and crunchy, it’s incredibly encouraging that someone is able to grow things during the months of triple-digit weather.

As you will recall, last farm day hit during artichoke season. This time around, however, it was a stand of June corn that sat ripe and ready in the hundred-degree heat. The rows of artichokes were overgrown and buzzing with bees. The buds had burst into bloom like hundreds of violet fireworks.

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Greens for Everyone!

The White House garden is bearing fruit. And vegetables.

I heard about it on NPR on my drive this afternoon. Sam Kass, White House Associate Chef, was talking about all the things the students of Bancroft Elementary have learned while working with Michelle Obama. These are the students who dug the dirt back in early spring, the students who planted the seeds and helped tend the garden. Today, these students joined the First Lady and a whole mess of press for a harvest meal.

For today’s feast, lettuces, chard, peas, and kale were in abundance, the early tomatoes were just shy of ready, and Sam had the opportunity to show off the first eggplant snuggled in the greens. Kids were eating vegetables seconds after picking them today. The best part of all, however, was listening to Kass describe the effects the garden had on the students. He focused on one student in particular, who spoke of having learned the importance of gentleness—with the plants, with the earthworm he dug up—and what that meant for his relationships outside the garden.

Give it a listen. It will make you smile.

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Lunches on the Go

Well, as most of you are aware, I have joined the 9-5 crowd.  This explains my infrequent forays into the blogosphere these days.  Not only is there just a lot less time (thanks to the commute, plus the fact that I’m working 6 days a week while also finishing a contract gig), but my wrists and back are not loving enforced, back-to-back hours at the computer.  In any case, I thought I’d take a few minutes for a short update on what I’ve been figuring out after a month of trucking lunches to work again for those of you looking for ideas!  In no particular order, here are some of my favorites.

  • Peanut butter and banana sandwiches on sprouted cinnamon raisin bread
  • Cucumber, tomato, feta, and olive chopped salad
  • Hummus with a variety of dipping vegetables
  • Plenty of fresh fruit (with or without yogurt) for snacking
  • Avocado sandwiches with lettuce and tomato on lightly toasted bread
  • Trail mix (that I mix myself) for snacking
  • Cold grilled eggplant with cream cheese, tomato, and lettuce on toasted bread or a fresh, whole-grain bagel
  • Curry (eaten at room temp, as I dislike the microwave)
  • Smoothies (loads of frozen fruit and yogurt from grass-fed cows)

I’m starting to feel the need for more creativity, however…I will let you know what I dream up as the summer progresses!  I’m sure our farm goodies will provide inspiration.  Tomatoes and sweet corn are coming ripe, as are loads of summer squash.  Expect an update this weekend sometime!  In the meantime, what dishes are you enjoying for work lunches or picnics these days?

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Food News of the Weird

Just for your reading pleasure, here’s some tidbits I unearthed recently about food, industry, and the places they intersect.  In no particular order:

1) Six German states banned Red Bull Cola after the food safety agency in North Rhine-Westphalia (LIGA) found trace amounts of cocaine in the brew.  Austria-based Red Bull claims that no such traces were found in their internal tests, but that if those Rhinelanders thought they found something, well, it was certainly just due to Red Bull’s participation in the common industry practice of including decocainised coca leaf extract to give it that little sumpin’ sumpin’.  Decocainised coca leaf.  Like decaf tea leaves, but with cocaine.  Meanwhile, Coca-Cola has refused to comment on whether it still uses coca leaves in its famous beverage.  Food industry execs, predictably, are trying to quash the concern before it grows.  My favorite quote, from the Time article, is this: “If you start examining lots of other drinks and food so carefully, you’d find a lot of surprising things.”

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Michael Pollan: Food, Ads, and Revolution

Here’s an interesting video that covers quite a bit of ground: swine flu and industrial ag, GMOs and overpopulation, politics and sustainability, and consumer confusion campaigns (including Cheerios). Pollan also mentions Michella Obama’s White House garden, big ag subsidies, and the impact of the Standard American Diet on the health care crisis.

It’s about 20 minutes long, but there’s plenty of good stuff. Pollan is a man who keeps things simple: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

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