Category Archives: Winter

Happy holidays! And happy news…

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Greetings and happy holidays!  And apologies for my extended absence.  The thing is, I just haven’t felt up to cooking, eating or doing much of anything these past few months.  I’m 14 weeks pregnant today and just now gradually emerging from the fog of sickness and exhaustion that was my first trimester.  Didn’t think my steady diet of bagels and clementines was really worthy of a blog post :).

We moved into our first house a year ago, on Christmas day, and I’m so happy with the difference a whole year makes!  This year, instead of unpacking boxes we will be hosting our first Christmas dinner, cooking in our new kitchen.  And of course, it would not be the holiday season without our first Christmas tree.

I’ve always been solidly on the real tree side of the debate.  The smell and texture of a live tree in your home is just one of those quintessential things about Christmas.  And I’ve always believed they’re the more eco-friendly option.  Artificial trees are made of petroleum, whereas real trees do cycle carbon, provide habitat, prevent erosion, etc during their lifetimes.

I have been reading recently, though, about the inordinate amount of pesticides and fertilizers that are used in many tree farms throughout the country.  Christmas tree farming is a long-term investment.  When you plant a sapling, it can be more than a decade before that tree makes it to a market.  The market also demands a perfectly shaped, fully and bushy tree.  This necessitates a pretty chemical-intensive farming model to ensure a large and speedy return on investment!

With the purging of chemicals on my mind lately, this concerned me.  How could I cope with the cognitive dissonance that perhaps, PERHAPS, my beloved real trees were not the most environmentally sensitive choice after all?  I started googling to see if there were any organic tree options in the DC area.  Turns out there is exactly one:  Licking Creek Bend Farm sells their sustainable Christmas trees to order and also weekly at the Adams Morgan farmers market.  So into the city we went in search of the perfect tree.

We came home with the most beautiful and fragrant concolor fir, cut only days earlier.  Its branches may be a little more sparse than your typical generic tree, but I think it looks natural and perfect in our home.  You’d think an organic tree would be astronomically expensive, but  they had a variety of price points and the one we selected was comparable to the prices you’d find at a nursery.

I also very much believe in decorating your tree with ornaments that are sentimental, meaningful, or handmade — no color-coordinated, themed trees in my house!  So since this is our first Official tree, it seems a little sparsely decorated as we slowly build a collection.  But I still love it.

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2012 so far has been a very special year to us, and I’m so happy to celebrate this holiday season with my loved ones and welcome in the new year.  Excited to see what 2013 will bring!  Best wishes to a beautiful holiday and prosperous new year to you!

-R

 

 

Winter survival

Winters in the midatlantic are the bane of my existence.  There are few things more miserable to me than a 3 month stretch of 40° and rainy.  Except for the few times we actually get snow, and I’ve got to dig my car out and navigate streets through a city whose approach to winter road maintenance is “snow:  it’ll melt.  Eventually.”  But the weather is just the salt in the wound created by the darkness, all the time.  Dark when I get up.  Dark when I leave.  Dark when I get home.  When spring finally rolls around, I feel a veil lift from me that I hadn’t realized had been there.  I feel like a new person.

Do you suffer from self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder?  What strategies do you have to manage?  Here are a few of mine:

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”  Well, I don’t exactly agree with this.  Of course there is such a thing as bad weather.  But appropriate clothing certainly helps.  I live in the city and take transit/walk to work, so being prepared for the elements is key.
First, look to the Canadians:  I have a pair of Blondo boots that are completely waterproof, salt proof, super warm…and yet work-appropriate and stylish.  Not cheap, but so worth it.  I wear them all the time on rainy, nasty winter days. La Canadienne is another brand of stylish winter boots, but I think they’re even more expensive.
I also recommend down.  My down puffy coat may look a little…puffy, but it is nearly impervious to cold once I have it on a few minutes.  I love it.  Finally, I believe that if I am going to spend money on clothing, it should be multifunctional.  I should be able to climb Everest in the morning and show up at work in the afternoon wearing the same outfit.  Okay, maybe not, but you get the idea.  One item I have that I love is this dress from Nau (this one, maybe?) that is just the perfectly normal little black dress — you can wear it out or office it up with a cardigan and belt — but it’s made with wicking, quick-dry fabric so it’s the first thing I grab out of my closet on rainy days.  Retailers like Nau and Patagonia are expensive but if you catch their sales (I never pay full price) they are about the same as non-outdoorsy stores.

Get sunshine when you can.  I always have to force myself away from my desk in the afternoon, but I am always glad I do, even when it’s freezing.  Being outside, in the sunshine just really lifts my mood.  Most of the year, I am a major stickler for sunscreen, but in the winter, I use a moisturizer with no SPF.  You want to get as much vitamin D as possible, and often my face is the only skin exposed to the light!

Don’t neglect yourself.  It’s easy to lock yourself indoors with an endless mug of hot chocolate and rich, decadent food in the winter — but take care of yourself.  You will really feel so much better.

At the end of the day, though, no matter what I do, I’m still pretty much a miserable, short-tempered mess all winter and the only real cure for me is spring.  Do you have any recommendations?  Do you use a light box or other device?  Take up winter sports?  Or some secret miracle drug?  Share your ideas!

-R

Rustic chestnut pasta with Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and a sage brown butter sauce

I made this recipe a long time ago and am FINALLY getting around to writing it up!  Of course, it may have been a little more apt during the holiday season, what with references to chestnuts roasting on an open fire…but what the heck.  Better late than never.

As recently as 100 years ago, native chestnut trees dominated eastern American forests.  Not only did their mast provide a major source of calories for wildlife and people, the trees were an important hardwood for the timber industry.  But the introduction of chestnut blight, a fungal parasite, has driven American chestnuts all but to extinction.

The chestnuts you find in stores today are from Chinese chestnuts, which are resistant to the blight.  There is some interesting cross-breeding work being conducted today to attempt a resurrection of American chestnuts, so all hope is not lost.  But the mass die-offs of chestnuts throughout Appalachia were certainly a cataclysmic ecological event.

At my farmer’s market each year, there is a stand that sells chestnuts, and I have always been intrigued.  To be honest, I don’t know that I’d ever enjoyed one before!  So I impulsively purchased a carton, knowing that I had a few chestnut recipes buried in some of my cookbooks.  And so of course I settled on the most labor-intensive one for this already labor-intensive nut!

I used entirely whole wheat flour for this, which made the pasta very grainy and, well, “rustic” as I like to say.  For a more refined taste, use AP or “00” flour as the original recipe recommends.

I also roll the homemade pasta out by hand as my pasta machine is broken and also pretty useless anyway.  But if you have one, by all means use it to get the sheets nice and thin.

Rustic chestnut pasta with brussels sprouts and mushrooms in a brown butter sauce
Adapted from The Modern Vegetarian by Maria Elia

2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 cups cooked chestnuts
6 egg yolks
1 whole egg
Bit of olive oil

For the vegetables:
9 ounces assorted mushrooms, such as chanterelle, oyster, shitake…
9 ounces Brussels sprouts
3 T unsalted butter
1 cup cooked chestnuts
1-2 large/medium shallots
dozen or so sage leaves, coarsely chopped into more manageable pieces
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

To prepare the chestnuts, preheat oven to 400° while they soak in water for about 25 minutes.  Score the outer shell with a knife and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the edges of the score marks curl back.  Peel the chestnuts while they are still warm.

For the pasta, finely grind 3/4 cup of the chestnuts in a food processor to a powder.  Combine with the flour on a work surface, making a small mound with an indentation in the top.  Crack the eggs into this indentation and gradually incorporate into the flour with a fork.  Knead for about ten minutes.  You can also do this step with the dough hook attachment of a stand mixer.

Chill the dough in the fridge for an hour.  Roll into sheets using a pasta maker, and then cut into rustic strips by hand.  Alternatively, if you do not have a pasta maker, roll the dough out as thin as possible by hand with a rolling pin.  You will probably want to work in small batches for this.   Again, cut by hand into rustic strips. Cook in well-salted boiling water for just a minute or two, until tender.

Roast the Brussels sprouts:  raise oven temperature to 500°.  Slice the sprouts, toss with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for about 10-15 minutes, until they are browning on the edges.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat a generous amount of butter, about one whole stick, over medium heat until it starts to brown.  Toss in the sage as well as a few fresh grinds of black pepper, and let this sizzle for a minute or two.  Set aside in a separate bowl and return the same skillet to the burner.  Add a bit more butter or olive oil as necessary and saute the shallots for a minute or two over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until they are nice and wilted.

Add the Brussles sprouts, the remaining chestnuts, and the sauce, and toss together with pasta until heated through.  Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with a few fresh shaves of parmesan.

Perfect meal for a snowed-in day!

-R

Garlicky broccoli soup

Growing tired of frozen, packaged, and carryout food, I spent the weekend in the kitchen of a family member, stocking up my freezer with soups, stews and other refreshingly homemade meals.  I got the idea for this soup from the Washington Post food section, and I think it turned out quite well!

Soup in any form is just such a soothing and healing meal; I crave it even during this unseasonably spring-like weather.  I pumped up this soup with more ingredients and some protein in the form of lentils to make it a heartier meal, but you can’t really go wrong with a base of garlic+broccoli.

Ingredients

4 heads broccoli (about 1.5 pounds)
6-7 cloves garlic
2 leeks (or one medium onion)
1 medium-large carrot
2 stalks celery
1/2 cup green lentils or split peas
12 cups water
Salt
Pepper
Thyme/oregano/Italian seasoning/etc
Splash vinegar

Finely chop all veggies.  Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large stock pot over medium-low heat.

Add the garlic, reserving about a tablespoon, and saute for 1-2 minutes, stirring so as not to burn.  Add a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper and a few sprinkles of Italian seasoning of choice.  Add the leeks and saute until tender and translucent, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the carrots and celery and cook for another couple minutes to take the edge off. Add the remaining garlic.  Deglaze with a splash of vinegar.

Cover in about 12 cups of water, add the lentils and let simmer for at least an hour, until the water has reduced some and a flavorful broth has been created.  Chop the broccoli into bite-size chunks and add to the pot.  Cook until soft and then take an immersion blender to the soup to coarsely chop up the soup a little more.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender or food processor, or just simply chop up the veggies more finely beforehand.

In the meantime, cook your pasta or other grain (rice would also be good).  I like to keep them separate and add the pasta as I dish each bowl out so the broth is not absorbed.

Allow to cook for another 30-60 minutes, tasting occasionally.  If it tastes too bland, you probably need more salt and/or more time.  Don’t be afraid.

While this dish lacks the complex flavor of some soups, its simplicity is its strength.  There is not too much chopping or prep involved, and you can get other chores done while it simmers — a great dish to make and freeze for later!

And I am so happy to finally have a home-cooked meal 🙂

-R

Snow day!

It’s a snowy day for many of us here on the east coast!  Before the reality of shoveling sets in (if it hasn’t already), take a moment to whip up something warm and hearty and enjoy it with some hot chocolate by the fire.

Here are a few ideas from my archives…

Of course you can’t go wrong with a pot of vegetable soup, but for a different take on it try some slippery dumplings in a veggie stew.  Is there really anything better than giant boiled noodles?  Chili is another favorite of mine on cold nights, as is the thick creaminess of risotto.  The curry spices in this butternut squash soup will also warm you up as much as the soup itself.

Last night I made some slippery dumplings, followed by some spicy Aztec hot chocolate (my new obsession), and it was just the perfect way to welcome the snowflakes.  What are your favorite recipes to enjoy as the snow is falling?

-R

Winter running

After a nearly 3 week hiatus, I finally resumed my running routine yesterday.  Last time I went for a jog, I was wearing shorts — but the weather has changed drastically in that short amount of time!  As you can see above, my backyard pond has already frozen over.  Highs are in the mid-thirties this week, with windchill down to the teens!  But I was determined to not let that stop me.

I kept reminding myself that I ran all summer in 100-degree heat, and that running in the cold is probably equally uncomfortable — just different — right?  As with any physical activity in any kind of extreme, it takes a little more preparation.  Here is one article with some basic winter running tips.

I wore:
Target running tights — for $25, these were great and kept me just warm enough.  I wish they were lined, flat-seamed and had pockets — but I’m not sure whether a nicer brand is worth the extra price for now.
Patagonia Capilene 3 top — I love these for layering in the winter and they work great for jogging, biking, hiking and other activities in chilly weather.  They keep you very warm without overheating.  Expensive if you pay full price, but I always buy last season’s on sale. I can usually find them for 50%-60% off (if you don’t care which color you get).
-A fleece vest I purchased for $5 at Old Navy.  Can’t really go wrong with that price.
-And of course, gloves and a hat.

So I set out and was immediately taken aback by how quiet everything was.  No lawnmowers, no kids playing in the street, no dogs barking — everything was just so peaceful.  My run went great — the best run I’ve had in a long time.  I think my body really needed that break.  As for the cold, the tights were great at cutting the windchill and I felt sufficiently warm with my outfit.

So now I’m not so intimidated by winter running — but ask me again when snow and ice are covering the ground :).

-R

Chocolate-pumpkin bundt cake with ganache drizzle

If you have leftover pumpkin from Thanksgiving, here is a dessert recipe that transitions it right into the winter holiday season.  I made it for a certain-someone’s birthday yesterday, but it would look lovely on your Christmas table as well.

This recipe is adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts.

Ingredients
2 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1.5 t cinnamon
1/ t ginger
1/4 t cloves
1/4 t nutmeg
3/4 cup unsweetened dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 pound butter
1.5 t vanilla extract
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 lb pumpkin puree
optional:  1.5 cups walnuts

For the ganache:
6 T heavy cream
6 oz semisweet chocolate

Instructions

Place oven rack one-third up from the bottom and preheat oven to 325

Coat inside of bundt pan with butter (take very-soft-but-not-quite-melted butter and brush on thoroughly).

Dust very fine breadcrumbs (pulse through a food processor as necessary) on inside of buttered pan, shaking out excess.  Set aside

Using a sifter or mesh strainer, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa.  Set aside.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter, then beat in the sugar and vanilla.  Add the eggs one at a time.

On low speed, add half the dry ingredients.  Then mix in the pumpkin.

When the pumpkin is incorporated add the remaining dry ingredients.

Mix in the walnuts at this point if you would like.  I did not do this myself.

Carefully turn the batter into the bundt pan, smoothing the top.

Let bake for 1.5 hours, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

When it is done, let the cake cool in the pan a good 30+ minutes before carefully turning over onto a cooling rack.  Let cool several more hours before serving.

The original recipe does not call for icing but instead a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.  In my opinion, however, icing is the best part of cake!  So I made a simple ganache to drizzle over the top.

Ganache icing

Melt 6 ounces of semisweet chocolate with 6 tablespoons of heavy cream in a double boiler or a metal bowl placed over a pot of boiling water.

Stir continuously until chocolate is completely melted and incorporated into cream.

At this stage the icing will be very runny.  If you want a very drizzly look you could apply it to the cake now.  Otherwise let cool for about 15-20 minutes.

I just spooned it on top of the cake and sort of eased it over the sides at the indentations.  I left the cake on the cooling rack over a lined baking sheet for easier cleanup.

I wasn’t sure how the combination of chocolate and pumpkin spices would taste, but — it worked!  I also whipped up the remaining heavy cream with some maple syrup to serve on the side.  This cake was delicious and enjoyed by all.

-R