Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Batch of links - Thanksgiving

- The history of Thanksgiving foods – turns out pumpkin pies weren’t common before the 19th century. And, unsurprisingly, the now typical sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows were created by a marshmallow company!

- Favorite Thanksgiving recipes from across the United States and, while we’re at it, across Canada. Granted, Canadian Thanksgiving is in October (closer to actual harvests) and isn’t celebrated with as much enthusiasm as American Thanksgiving, but we’ve got some pretty good dishes up our sleeve!

- I really enjoyed this piece about how Molly Yeh, of Chinese-Jewish descent, marries into a Norwegian-American family and learns how to make lefse, their traditional holiday dish.

- How to make turkey gravy ahead of Thanksgiving. This still requires turkey pieces, but if you’re not planning on roasting a whole turkey that day, or if you know you’ll have too many dishes going at once, this can be a good solution. Just reheat and serve!

- Also, if you are only hosting a few people, here are a few ideas on how to serve turkey without cooking a whole bird.

- If you are a fan of Stranger Things, you might enjoy this themed Thanksgiving menu.

- And for fans of Friends, an edible version of Rachel’s Thanksgiving trifle (the one with ladyfingers, jam, custard, and… meat and peas).

- Thanksgiving Special: traditional Thanksgiving fare is plated in the style of various famous artists.

- Finally, a holidays manners quiz written for children, but grown-ups can use a refresher, too!

Fall 2016 outings

We skipped the late-summer outing this year, but we did have two fall outings. Maybe with a few more by year’s end, we’ll maintain our once-a-month goal? In any event, our first outing was to the San Antonio Aquarium. Tickets are cheaper online, and you can often find coupon codes in addition to the discount. Speaking for us adults, I think we were a bit disappointed at how small it was (we think the building used to be a car dealership that has been converted into an aquarium). That being said, we got to touch rays, and that was really cool! You can also feed them, so they come right up to you if you come close to the glass. There is also an octopus, small sharks, koi fish, eels, jellyfish, seahorses… Plus, there are non-aquatic animals like birds, reptiles and amphibians. And what was the Little Prince’s favorite part (keeping in mind that he got to touch stingrays and feed koi fish)? The animatronic dinosaurs at the entrance, of which I don’t even have a picture. Well, at least he liked it.


Our second outing was to the South Texas Maize in Hondo, Texas. The main attraction is a 7-acre maze in a corn field (though, this year, it was planted with sorghum). As far as I can tell, ticket prices are a bit steeper there than at Texas other mazes, but it is much closer to San Antonio (so we save on gas and time), plus it is open until late November, whereas most other places close after Halloween. The maze itself was really enjoyable, and we got a “passport” so that at designated areas, we could answer a question to determine which way to go. We got the “Tiny Tots” version, so it was actually the Little Prince whose answers determined which way we went, and he did not lead us astray! There are also lots of food stands on the premises, as well as shaded picnic tables (though you are welcome to bring your own food) and play areas for children. There are goats to feed, too! If you are there at the right times, you can enjoy pig races, an apple canon or a hayride, too, and there are music shows on Saturday nights. What I was most pleasantly surprised by, though, were all the butterflies roaming around the premises!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Baked Red Pepper Pasta

I know I’ve got similar recipes posted already, but I had to share this. The red pepper sauce isn’t creamy like in this or that recipe, as the pasta is finished off by baking, BUT the addition of (lactose-free) béchamel makes it so much richer! It’s also easy to make, as I used jarred roasted red peppers instead of making my own – the red sauce all came together in the food processor, and the dish made my life easier because the components can be made ahead and assembled before baking. This dish was fantastic! I could have pulled a Garfield and emptied the pan right then and there, but the lack of leftovers would have left me starving the next night. The Engineer agreed with me that this definitely needs to go in the rotation (as a matter of fact, I’m making it again tonight); the Little Prince was a bit less enthusiastic, but we’re working on it. I bet this would freeze well, too. The recipe is from Kitchen Konfidence.

For the roasted red pepper sauce
1 jar (16 oz.) roasted red peppers, drained (I used 1 ½ 12-oz. jars)
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp. red wine vinegar, plus more to taste
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

For the white sauce
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter or margarine
2 Tbsp. flour
2 ¼ cups lactose-free whole milk
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 small pinch grated nutmeg
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

For the baked pasta
1 pound dried pasta (any small pasta will do)
8 oz. shredded vegan mozzarella
2 handfuls chopped basil, plus more for serving
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for grating

To make the roasted red pepper sauce, combine red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan and vinegar in a food processor along with 1 teaspoon of salt and several grinds of black pepper. Pulse until ingredients are finely chopped. With the food processor running, stream in olive oil to form a smooth sauce. Season to taste with additional salt, pepper and vinegar.

To make the white sauce, warm butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Sprinkle flour over the surface of the butter, and then stir to combine. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture turns light golden and takes on a nutty aroma (1 - 2 minutes). Whisk in the milk gradually, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of heavy cream (8 - 10 minutes). Take the sauce off the heat, and stir in Parmesan, nutmeg, a couple pinches of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.

Preheat an oven to 350 °F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (I did this while I was cooking the white sauce). Cook the pasta until just before al dente (2 to 3 minutes shy of the package instructions). The pasta should have some good bite to it, but no crunch. Drain the pasta, but reserve a little of the cooking liquid. Return the pasta to the pot, then fold in the roasted red pepper sauce with a splash of cooking liquid. Continue folding until the pasta is well coated. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed.

Spoon half of the white sauce into the bottom of a 12-inch cast-iron skillet (I used a 9 x 13 baking dish). Top with 1/2 of the pasta, 1/2 of the mozzarella and 1/2 of the basil. Start the next layer with the remaining white sauce, then remaining pasta. Using a spoon or spatula, gently fold the pasta in a few spots to create some streaks of white sauce throughout (don't mix up the whole thing though). Top with remaining mozzarella, basil and dusting of grated Parmesan. (This is the point when I stored it in the fridge; I just baked it a bit longer in the next step.)

Bake until the cheese is melted and the sides start to bubble (about 20 minutes). Turn the broiler to high, put the skillet under the flame, then cook until golden spots start to develop on the cheese (3 to 4 minutes – honestly, I don’t think this step is necessary). Let sit for 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy with extra chopped basil, grated Parmesan and black pepper!

Batch of links - Clothing recommendations

This post is the third in a series of batches of links (the first was about clutter, and the second focused on the KonMari method for decluttering). This led me to clothing in particular, because it’s the first part of Marie Kondo’s book and because it seems to be what people organize most often! Keep in mind that some (not all) of the following links are affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase by clicking on them, I would get a discount on a future purchase (which is not the same as an actual cash reward, but still very nice for items I love enough to recommend).

I am still looking for a pair of comfortable ballet flats (story of my life). I tried ballet flats by TOMS (specifically the natural burlap trim women’s ballet flats); they were adorable, but did not work for me – they were too tight for my big toe. I had the same problem with Tieks by Gavrieli: super cute shoes, great packaging and customer service, but just too tight in the toe tip. I’m also still looking for comfortable sandals to replace a pair that I got at Land’s End (sadly, their newer models were too stiff and would give me blisters). What I CAN recommend, though, is a simple walking shoe: Skecher’s Performance Women’s GOwalk Slip-On Walking Shoe (quite a mouthful!). It’s model #13510, if you want to look for them elsewhere, though the price on the ones I linked to is very good, and cheaper than what I paid at DSW. I had a pair in blue that I wore for about 2 years, and they were showing some signs of wear, so I replaced them with a pair in a more neutral grey. This lightweight shoe has never given me a blister, and it’s super comfortable to walk in! It “flexes and twists so your foot can move naturally”, and it’s even machine washable. Also, I know this may not matter to some, but I love having a shoe without shoelaces. And as a bonus, they are very affordable.

You may remember that I have problems finding great jeans (mainly because of the hole-creating front button). I think my favorite jeans were actually maternity jeans, but I just know Stacy London would not approve of me wearing them if I’m not pregnant! I did buy some pull-on jeans by JAG and thought that had fixed the problem, but I eventually realized (when I saw pictures of myself and also when I finally got a full-length mirror in my closet) that they sag A LOT. So I’m back to wearing conventional jeans and tucking my shirt in the front whenever I’m near a kitchen counter. While I still haven’t found the “perfect” jeans, I did find a neat belt: the Invisibelt. The (plastic!) buckle lays flat and prevents bulges from under your shirt, which was always my problem with belts. On the downside, it broke after only a season of wearing it, so it’s not necessarily great. I’ve since found a few leads on jeans for curvy women, so I’ll check those out eventually. I also heard about a website called My Style Rules, where you can create a virtual avatar in your size and shape and see how specific pieces would look on you before buying them. I didn’t get around to creating an avatar yet, but I do like the idea of virtually trying on clothes!

Some of my favorite places to buy clothes had closed, and when I shopped elsewhere (brick-and-mortar stores or online), I often found that I didn’t really know what I was looking for. Plus, I don’t really have time to go shopping. My wardrobe had become disparate, in the sense that I had many individual pieces that I liked, but it was hard for me to make an outfit out of them because many of them didn’t go with anything else in my closet. Some of the tips I gave in the last batch of links helped, especially the style worksheet or basic principles of creating a capsule wardrobe. But I still wasn’t satisfied, and got to thinking that if I were in Montreal, I’d probably bite the bullet and hire a stylist from Les Effrontés. But I’m in Texas, so I started using Stitch Fix instead. The basic premise is that you fill out a questionnaire about your style preferences and your clothing sizes, as well as what type of clothes you are looking for (formal or casual, skirts or pants, etc.) and how often you want to receive them (upon request for me, but you can also have them shipped automatically twice a month, once a month or every two months). A stylist then sends you five pieces based on your profile, and you choose what to keep and what to send back (send everything back and you still have to pay a $20 styling fee; keep anything and the styling fee is credited towards your purchase; keep all five items and you get a %25 discount; returns ship for free). The nice thing is that you give feedback on each item, so the selection you receive is improved over time and tailored to you. They cover regular and petite sizes as well as maternity styles; they also just started offering the service to men. Plus, customer service is really good! I’ve received some clothes that I wouldn’t have picked out in a store, but it turned out I really liked them on me! Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how it works and unboxings from a frequent user here – who, as it turns out, also did a full KonMari. (If you are in Canada, you could consider Chic Marie, which is essentially a clothing rental service that gives you the option to buy pieces you really like.) For men, the Engineer recommends Bombfell, which works essentially the same way as Stitch Fix. And while I’m at it, if you are looking for children’s clothing in basic colors without logos or slogans or sequins, I strongly recommend Primary.com – as the name suggests, they carry clothes in basic styles and colors, and it’s easy to mix and match.

I still like shopping online on occasion, though. I’ve mentioned it in the second post in this series, but I’ll say it again here: one of my favorite places to shop for clothing these days (mostly for myself, but also for the Little Prince) is ThredUp. The clothes are second-hand, but in very good condition, and you get significant discounts as compared to retail cost. The downside, in my opinion, is that there are only two pictures of any item, and sometimes I wish I could zoom in to get a better look. You can always email customer service to ask for more information about a particular piece, but someone else might buy it before you get your answer! Unless it’s a final sale, you can return an item in exchange for store credit. I’ve placed two orders so far and haven’t had to return anything, and I love my new clothes! Even if you don’t care about the positive environmental impact of reusing clothing instead of throwing it out, your wallet will thank you. It turns out I really don’t care whether clothes are brand-new or not, new-to-me is just as good. If you’re interested, click here to get $10 off your first order.

As for clothing brands I like, I’ll once again plug Rien ne se perd, tout se crée…. They are located in Quebec, so if you order from the States, you’ll pay more in shipping, BUT then you shouldn’t have to pay the local sales taxes and it evens out. Their clothes are beautiful and made to last, they’ve got great customer service, and their website now has an English version! Plus, it’s easy to mix and match their pieces to create outfits, even between different collections, so that helps avoid the disparate wardrobe problem I had. I’ve also bought a few pieces from other Quebec designers over the summer, but I’d like to get more wear out of them before really recommending anything.

And now for undergarments. (I’m not recommending any panties because every time I find one I really like, it gets discontinued, so it’s pointless.) I once interviewed Marie-Claude Pelletier, founder and CEO of Les Effrontés (the Canadian styling service I mentioned earlier). She told me that the single most important garment a woman should own is a well-fitted bra, and I totally agree. I’ve often seen outfits ruined because either the woman was wearing the wrong type of bra for the outfit (see this slideshow for tips), the wrong color, or the wrong shape (see here) or size altogether! I thought I was doing well in that department. Even after hearing the statistic that “90% of women are wearing the wrong bra size”, I measured myself properly and was actually in the 10% who had the right size. I was never one to take off my bra at the end of the day, because I really wasn’t uncomfortable. I had read the excellent master post on Epbot. I knew what I was doing. (For the record, my favored bra a few years ago was a Calvin Klein model that I replaced annually.) But then I heard about ThirdLove on my favorite podcast, and they have an offer where you can order a bra, remove the price tag, wash it and wear it for up to 30 days and return it for free if you don’t like it (if you click on the link I just gave, you’ll see “Try before you buy” in the upper left-hand corner – click on that and follow the steps). They promised it would be the most comfortable bra I’d ever owned, so I figured I’d give it a try. I ordered one of their nude 24/7 Classic T-Shirt Bras. I had barely had it on a minute when I decided that it was indeed the best fit I’d EVER had. There’s no gaping at the cups, no annoying tag in the back, the gore fits, the cup smoothes you perfectly, plus the accordion straps are cute and the gold hardware makes it look chic. So instead of returning it, I ordered more bras from ThirdLove (and actually had to get rid of my Calvin Klein one, which I couldn’t stand to wear anymore after experiencing such a great fit with ThirdLove).

You might be interested to know that ThirdLove has an app that you can use to find your size, though since I don’t have an iPhone I just used a tape measure. That being said, users are reporting surprisingly accurate results! One of the awesome things about ThirdLove is that they offer half-cup sizes, which most brands don’t, but it can make a big difference. Theoretically, half of women need those. ThirdLove has a total of 47 sizes and counting. Plus, they take into consideration the shape of your breasts (again, it seems like it should be obvious, but most brands don’t bother doing this and so many women are wearing something that doesn’t really flatter them). Take a minute to try their fit finder to see what size and style would work for you. And look at common fit issues to see if any of that rings true for you. Note that for the 24/7 Classic T-Shirt Bra,
I have bought one in a smaller sister size, meaning that I go down one measure in band size and up one measure in cup size; that way, the bra lasts longer, because as the elastic in the band wears out, I can use the tighter hooks to keep the fit. I’ve got two of those, plus a strapless one (most comfortable strapless I’ve ever owned) and two more frivolous ones. And, for my Canadian friends: yes, they ship to Canada, and overseas too (rates here). For the curious: they are called ThirdLove because they care about three things: look, feel, and fit of the bra.

Finally, here’s a tip I’ve heard, for those of you who either don’t like a flesh-toned bra or who can’t find one in the same color as their flesh: the right shade of red will work, too. (I have not tried this out myself, because I think that in my case, finding the right shade of red would be harder than finding the right shade of nude, but this might be helpful to someone!)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Brioches suisses aux pépites de chocolat



Quand on essaie de cuisiner au moins un déjeuner pas semaine, veut-veut pas, toutes les recettes ne font pas la même impression. Les gaufres au lait de poule, c’est bon, sans plus. Le pain-gâteau au gingembre et aux agrumes, c’est bon aussi, mais pas plus spécial que ça. Par contre, les brioches suisses, c’est génial!

Pour ces brioches, que j’ai trouvées sur le site Piment Oiseau, je m’étais laissée un peu intimider par tout le processus. En fin de compte, c’était bien plus simple que dans ma tête – c’est souvent comme ça, n’est-ce pas? J’ai fait toute la préparation la veille, et j’ai mis les brioches au réfrigérateur pour la nuit. Le lendemain matin, il ne me restait plus qu’à les faire cuire. Et elles étaient absolument délicieuses! Vraiment, c’est à refaire. J’ai adapté les mesures ci-dessous pour un public nord-américain. La blogueuse de Piment Oiseau avait elle-même trouvé la recette ici, où on suggère d’ajouter de l’eau de fleur d’oranger au sirop – j’avoue que ce serait une excellente variation!

Pour la pâte
260 g. de farine blanche (en gros, 2 tasses) + un peu pour le plan de travail
2 c. à soupe + 1 c. à thé de sucre, séparées
½ c. à thé de sel
4 c. à soupe + 3 c. à soupe de lait sans lactose
4 c. à soupe de beurre ou de margarine
5 c. à thé de levure active
1 œuf, battu
1 jaune d’œuf battu, pour la dorure

Pour la crème pâtissière
2 jaunes d’œufs
2 ½ c. à soupe de sucre
1 c. à soupe comble de fécule de maïs
¾ tasse + 1 c. à soupe de lait sans lactose (arrondissez à ¾ de tasse)

Pour la garniture
¼ tasse (50 g.) de pépites de chocolat miniatures (ou du chocolat pâtissier haché menu)

Pour le sirop
¼ tasse de sucre
3 c. à soupe d’eau

Pour la pâte
Mélangez la farine, 2 c. à soupe du sucre et le sel dans un grand bol (idéalement celui d’un batteur sur socle).

Faites chauffer 4 c. à soupe du lait au micro-ondes et faites-y fondre le beurre. Séparément, faire tiédir le reste du lait (pas trop chaud).

Dans un petit bol, mettre la levure fraîche et la couvrir du lait tiédi. Ajouter la cuillère à thé de sucre et bien mélanger le tout.

Ajouter le mélange de lait et de beurre, le mélange de levure et l’œuf battu au mélange de farine. Pétrir la pâte pendant 10 minutes (moins longtemps si, comme moi, vous utilisez le crochet à pain de votre batteur sur socle). Former une boule avec la pâte, la remettre dans le bol et recouvrir de plastique. Laisser reposer à température ambiante pendant 2 heures (j’aime mettre le bol dans le micro-ondes, la porte entrouverte).

Pour la crème pâtissière et la garniture
Avec un fouet, mélanger les jaunes d’œufs avec le sucre dans un grand bol. Ajouter la fécule de maïs et mélanger.

Dans une casserole, porter le lait à ébullition. Verser progressivement le lait dans le bol en fouettant continuellement. Verser le mélange dans la casserole et faire épaissir à feu doux tout en remuant continuellement avec le fouet. Laisser refroidir.

Une fois la pâte levée, la sortir du bol et lui donner quelques coups de poing. Sur un plan de travail fariné, étaler la pâte avec un rouleau à pâtisserie pour former un grand rectangle d’environ 25 x 40 cm. Étendre la crème pâtissière sur la moitié longue du rectangle de pâte. Parsemer les pépites de chocolat sur la couche de crème pâtissière. Rabattre la moitié de la pâte sur la crème et aplatir légèrement avec la paume de la main pour faire adhérer les deux pans. Couper en 10 rectangles d’environ 3 cm de large et déposer ceux-ci sur une plaque recouverte de papier parchemin ou d’un silpat. Recouvrir de plastique et faire lever encire 1 heure. (Une fois la pâte levée, vous pouvez la mettre au réfrigérateur jusqu’au lendemain.)

Préchauffer le four à 350 °F. Dorer les brioches avec un peu de jaune d’œuf battu, puis enfourner pour 15 minutes (ou 20, si elles sortaient directement du réfrigérateur).

Pour le sirop
Pendant ce temps, préparer le sirop en mélangeant le sucre et l’eau dans une petite casserole; porter à ébullition, puis laisser refroidir.

Sortir les brioches du four et les badigeonner immédiatement de sirop. Elles sont à leur meilleur tièdes, mais sont également délicieuses à la température de la pièce le lendemain.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Batch of links - Decluttering, with some help from Marie Kondo

You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve been meaning to write this post – I haven’t added anything to the “organization” side of the blog in forever! Since I had too many links, I broke it down into three parts – you can read the first one, about clutter in general, here, and I’ll try to post the third one in the coming days.

It took me a while to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, but I did get around to it almost a year ago (so it took me a while to write about it, too!). I was interested as soon as it came out, but was waiting to whittle things down in my nightstand pile of books to read (and I say this with no irony whatsoever). What seemed interesting to me about her approach is that she seems to say the opposite of what I am used to hearing from professional organizers. For example, they’ll usually say “Just declutter one room at a time, do as much as you can in one sitting and keep doing it until you finish that room.” But Marie Kondo says that it must all be done in one go, and not room by room, but theme by theme (all the clothes, then all the books, the papers, miscellaneous items and, finally, sentimental items). This does have the advantage of letting you see just how much stuff you have in total, instead of only getting a piecemeal view. Organizers usually say not to physically handle any object about which you’re on the fence, because the act of handling it will cause you to form a deeper attachment to it and then you’ll keep it; Marie Kondo says you must in fact handle everything, because only then can you truly decide to let it go and make your peace with it. I actually like that, because I couldn’t bear to throw out a whole armload of things without looking at each one individually to make sure I’m not accidentally disposing of something irreplaceable! Organizers say to only keep what is useful, but Marie Kondo says to only keep what sparks joy – and this is surprisingly helpful in whittling down your possessions, even though she sometimes takes it too far (I’ll get back to that). There’s a great article here that explores similarities and differences between the KonMari approach and that of most North American professional organizers.

Another example of the difference between Marie Kondo’s approach and that of an organizer like Peter Walsh would be that she would say that if you have 10 gold necklaces and they truly spark joy, you should keep all 10, but Peter Walsh might instead say to keep only your 5 favorite. I’d fall somewhere in the middle: keep them as long as you have space to store them (or display them) properly. If they’re in the bottom of a drawer, tangled up and tarnished and never get worn, either get rid of them or keep them but store them in a more appropriate way (which, granted, may mean getting rid of necklaces that you actually don’t like as much as the gold ones in order to make room for them).

Marie Kondo and Peter Walsh appeared together on Rachael Ray’s show to discuss folding and storing clothes and accessories. Their approach wasn’t very different, really, but it was interesting to note that even though she had an interpreter to translate what she said, Marie Kondo didn’t have the benefit of having what Peter Walsh said translated back to her. This is probably due to the format of the show and the short time allotted for the segment, but she had no opportunity to comment on what Peter Walsh said at all, while he commented on her methods. And on the subject of language, I might as well say it now: I disagree with the word “tidying” in the way that it is used in the translation of Marie Kondo’s book. I obviously can’t compare it to the original Japanese, but to me, tidying is something you do before someone comes over to your house; it’s a task that always or periodically needs doing, though it’s more like straightening up than cleaning. But the way she uses it, it means a once-in-a-lifetime major purging of your possessions so as to declutter your life once and for all. Admittedly, “purging” might sound too brutal for a book title, but you see what I mean!

If you want just a taste of her book, try 7 life-changing organizing lessons we learned from Marie Kondo or read an excerpt here. On that note, here’s how one person applied the KonMari philosophy to her kitchen (with a follow-up here). Forbes also had a great interview with her; here are parts 1 and 2. Plus, how one woman used the KonMari method to let go of her late mother’s things. (Spoiler: “There is a noticeable lightness to my apartment now and extra space in my closet. But it’s not the absences I notice most; it’s the sense of fullness imbued in each object I’ve chosen to keep, objects I hadn’t fully appreciated until I undertook Kondo’s project to face each individually.”) And this article is about a reporter using the KonMari method on her closet, then expanding to other areas in her home. Finally, here’s a podcast where the hosts question the KonMari method.

As I was telling a friend earlier this year, my main criticisms of Marie Kondo’s book are that a) she advocates a much more radical philosophy than I am willing to executes at this point, and b) some of it is woo. What I mean by the latter is that she’ll say something like (I’m paraphrasing), “If you keep your socks balled up in your drawer, I can see that they are sad even when you wear them.” That’s a bit too animistic for my taste, though obviously she has a different background than I do. That being said, I kept reading and understood what she meant to say, which is roughly that storing clothes improperly can damage the fibers of their fabric, so that they won’t look as good when you do wear them and won’t last as long as they could otherwise. It is better to take proper care of your belongings, and to appreciate the ones you keep, which happens almost naturally if you have fewer. Another way to phrase it would be to let go of things that no longer serve you, so that you more fully appreciate the things you have left.

As for keeping only things that spark joy, Marie Kondo takes it too far in my opinion. She has said that she has gotten rid of things like her screwdriver because it did not spark joy. But on the day that she needed a screwdriver, she used a plastic ruler instead (luckily for her it was a flathead screw!), but broke the ruler and was then sad because the ruler had truly sparked joy for her. So my philosophy would be closer to the quote by William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I’d also be afraid of getting rid of too many things, like this woman whose purging brought more sadness than relief.

A corollary to only keeping things that make you happy is that you ideally end up having only things you love, and then it’s always a pleasure to open a closet or drawer and see those things – or wear them! It’s the basic principle of the capsule wardrobe. (For more on the latter, see this awesome explanation, as well as parts 1, 2, and 3 of this Apartment Therapy post.) Most people who have capsule wardrobes report that not only is it easier to get dressed in the morning, but because they only have things that they love and that look great on them, they get more compliments (or at least, more compliments like “You look good” instead of “Nice shoes”).

So, I didn’t get rid of all my clothes that don’t spark joy yet, but I’ve made some great progress. I’ve let go of things I had been hanging on to for years for all the wrong reasons and to which I had grown very attached (there are still some that I haven’t let go yet, but past experience has shown me that if I revisit them in a year or two, I’ll be more open to getting rid of them). Basically, I let go of some things that sparked more guilt that joy. Guilt because they were expensive, guilt because they no longer fit me, guilt because someone else had given them to me, guilt because I no longer wear them (I no longer like them, they no longer fit my lifestyle, etc.). And I must admit that it’s really satisfying to look into a sparser closet and see fewer guilt-inducing clothes!

Selling what I could has helped me let go of certain things, mainly because I feel like then they are not wasted. I mean, obviously donating them isn’t necessarily wasting them, but when you drop off clothing at a second-hand store, you never know if it’s going to be bought by someone or if the store will end up having them recycled – or worse, throw them away – because turnover is too slow. When you sell an item, though, you know it’s going to someone who will love that piece more than you do. (For this reason, I also love what I call targeted donating – donating business attire to an organization like Dress for Success, for example.) Some stores, like H&M, will also let you bring in used clothes (any brand) for an in-store discount. Here’s an easy chart to help you figure out what to do with old clothes. And on the plus side, of course, you make a bit of money that can help you buy pieces that are more appropriate for your taste. (Because that can be an issue for many: at this point, I am hanging on to some pieces not just because I am still too attached to them, but because of the sunk cost fallacy OR because I would have literally nothing with which to replace them right now and I can’t afford to rebuild my entire wardrobe all at once. It’s a work in progress.)

My two favorite places to sell gently used clothing (both women’s and children’s clothing) are Vinted and ThredUp. On Vinted, you create a user profile and upload pictures of your clothes, for which you write a description and set a price. Users can then buy directly from you, with or without bargaining, and pay you for clothing and shipping through the website. Vinted takes a cut of the profits. (And obviously, this can be a good place to score some deals yourself!) As for ThredUp, it’s easier in the sense that you just mail your clothes to them (for free, with the bag they will send you upon request), and they give you a cut of the profits. But that means you don’t set the price yourself, and since they only take certain brands, they might not accept all your clothes, even if those in great condition – which, obviously, they insist upon. (BUT, that works in your favor if you’re buying from ThredUp, because you know each piece has been inspected and fits their criteria. If you’re interested in buying from ThredUp to find pieces that work with your new vision for your wardrobe, click on this affiliate link to get $10 off your first order – I’ve made two orders so far and I love it!)

If you need help getting started on decluttering your closet, here are 9 simple tips to help you thin out your closet (with another KonMari source here as well), plus an article titled How to (finally) streamline your closet.

Of course, you can only do this process for your own belongings, not anyone else’s! On that note, here’s why the KonMari method doesn’t work for parents (I can certainly relate, and it’ll be interesting to hear what Marie Kondo herself thinks once her new baby is a toddler), as well as some tips on dealing with a messy partner. That being said, I believe that I am organized enough that my items are already grouped by theme. By which I mean, all my clothes are in the same place: my bedroom (be it my dresser or my closet). The only clothes I have elsewhere are outerwear, which I keep in the closet near the front door, because that is where they will be most useful. I know some people have clothes in various rooms of their house, but the clothes I wear really are all in one room. (Full disclosure: I have old clothes of mine in the sewing room, and those are earmarked for some sewing projects, for example reusing them to make a shirt for the Little Prince or a dress for Dear Niece. I sometimes go through all of them to prune the pile, but I don’t count them as part of my wardrobe because I know I’ll never wear them again.) One thing I did change after reading Marie Kondo’s book, though, is that I now fold the clothes differently in my dresser and store them upright in my drawers – that way, they are all visible at a glance. I had seen this advice online before reading the book, and I hadn’t applied it because I thought my shirts wouldn’t possibly stay upright if I put them that way, but it turns out they do. Also, doing this has allowed me to see how monochromatic and dark my palette had become, so that’s something I’m working on. For the visual learners out there, or those who are just curious, here is a video guide on Marie Kondo’s method of folding clothes. Also, her latest book apparently explains it in much more detail.

The most important point, here, is that once you’ve done this exercise of decluttering, you have a much clearer vision of what you want for yourself. You tend to reduce the amount of useless stuff that comes into your home, and you are pickier about what does come in. This strategy can be applied to rebuilding your wardrobe. On that note, I came across a really great worksheet titled Never buy the wrong thing again. It’s designed to “help you pinpoint your shopping likes, dislikes and needs”, by asking questions such as finding common threads (sorry!) between your favorite items – color, shape, fabric, image they project, comfort, etc. – and between those you dislike in a way that helps you analyze those likes and dislikes. Once you have a clear idea of everything, you’ll be better at buying clothes that work for you and at avoiding those that don’t. If you have time for a longer exercise, there’s the Wardrobe Architect series that is a wonderful tool as well.

Real Simple magazine had a series of articles on that topic recently. One was titled The Closet Audit (written by Sarah Stebbins for the January 2016 issue, though it only appears in part online). The two most useful parts, in my opinion, were how to decide whether to keep an item or get rid of it (using more practical criteria than the KonMari method, but honestly, it might be just different ways of coming to the same conclusion), as well as the easy chart to which I linked earlier, to help you figure out what to do with old clothes. And for a great example with practical solutions, here is a a beautiful closet makeover, worth a look both for the physical closet and for its contents.

I also enjoyed an article titled On the heartbreaking difficulty of getting rid of books, because I could absolutely relate. Let me quote some of it here: “It occurred to me that part of the reason why tackling the ‘books’ stage of the Full Kondo seems so daunting is that to many of us our books don’t really belong in the category she has assigned. They are not impersonal units of knowledge, interchangeable and replaceable, but rather receptacles for the moments of our lives, whose pages have sopped up morning hopes and late-night sorrows, carried in honeymoon suitcases or clutched to broken hearts. They are mementos, which she cautions readers not to even attempt to contemplate getting rid of until the very last.” It is true that the books Marie Kondo named as examples were all of the academic/educational variety, not meaningful novels or memoirs or poetry collections. And also this: “Kondo argues emphatically and in bolded text that the right time to read a book is when it first comes into your possession. But throwing out every unread book on your bookshelf just because you’re not reading it right now makes about as much sense as throwing away all the perfectly good food in your refrigerator and pantry just because you don’t plan on eating it for your next meal. Only you can gauge your appetite.” I couldn’t agree more with that!

Books are one of the only categories of items that I intentionally don’t keep all in the same spot, which Marie Kondo wouldn’t like, but it’s what makes sense to me. The Engineer and I have a big built-in bookcase in which we keep the vast majority of our books. I also have a small bookcase near my desk for reference books, and a bookcase in the kitchen for cookbooks. As for unread books, they reside on my nightstand, and the pile waxes and wanes according to what I read and purchase. Only once I’ve read a book does it earn a place in our big bookcase, and I periodically weed out old books to make room for the new ones. I do notice, however, that there are some books that I was adamant about keeping years ago that I am now ready to let go, so this method really works well for me at this point (keep in mind that I had already done a big purge when we had said bookcase built).

I’m going to follow up this post with one about fashion recommendations, for those of you who were inspired (or who are in the process of pruning your wardrobe) and who could now use a few pointers in rebuilding it.

Kale Bistro Salad

This recipe is from The Kitchn. I changed it up a bit by making hard-boiled eggs instead of soft-boiled, because I knew that would suit my family better. I also used red cabbage (leftover from this recipe) because I prefer it to bitter radicchio. I really liked this salad, and I liked that there were enough elements in it that the Little Prince found something he liked, even though that obviously wasn’t the kale! Plus, when the components are stores separately, it keeps for days. Great for lunch or dinner! This made 6 servings for us.

For the vinaigrette, I usually make something very simple with equal amounts of olive oil and vinegar (like red wine vinegar); sometimes I throw in a bit of Dijon mustard.

For the croutons
¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
¼ tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups day-old bread cubes

Mix the cheese, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper in a small bowl; set aside. Cut the bread into roughly 1-inch cubes (I made mine a little smaller).

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the bread cubes, toss to coat with the oil, and arrange in a single layer. Toast the bread, tossing every minute or so, until the cubes are golden-brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total.

Remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl. Immediately sprinkle with the cheese and pepper mixture and toss to combine. (Once cool, these will keep at room temperature in an airtight container.)

For the salad
6 large eggs
1 lb. thick-cut bacon (I had about ½ lb.)
6 cups thinly sliced kale leaves
2 cups thinly sliced radicchio (I used red cabbage)
½ cup basic vinaigrette (see note above)
croutons (see above)

Fill a small saucepan with several inches of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a rapid simmer and gently add the eggs to the water, one at a time. Cook 6 minutes for a runny yolk. (I made mine hard-boiled, or hard-baked to be more precise: 30 minutes in a 325 °F-oven.) Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon. Run the eggs under cold water and, once cool enough to handle, gently peel.

Working in batches if needed, place the bacon in a single layer in a large frying pan. Fry over medium-low heat until the bacon is crispy on one side. Flip the bacon with tongs and fry until the second side is crispy. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined large plate and repeat frying if needed. Once cool enough to handle, break the bacon into 1-inch pieces.

Place the kale and radicchio in a large bowl and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, divide the greens among 4 plates. Top with the bacon and croutons. Place 1 egg on each serving and drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Soboro Beef on Rice

This recipe for soboro beef and rice is from Bon Appétit. It was easy to make; I ended up doubling the amount of beef to make it more substantial, and that’s what I wrote below. Note that this makes a generous quantity of rice (I didn’t touch those amounts!). You can always serve it with gomashio if you have leftovers. As a vegetable side, I made spiced roasted carrots with avocado and yogurt from Smitten Kitchen, which were really, really great. Unfortunately, our avocado was subpar, and I feel like it makes the close-up looks unappetizing, so I’m not sharing it – but I do recommend that recipe as well!

For the rice
2 cups Japanese short-grain white rice (I used sushi rice)

Place rice in a large saucepan, add water to cover, and swirl rice with your hand (water will become cloudy). Drain through a fine-mesh sieve and return rice to saucepan. Repeat process until water is clear when mixed with rice (3 or 4 times). Drain rice a final time and cover sieve with a kitchen towel; let rest 15 minutes (this will help the grains hydrate evenly).

Return rice to same saucepan and add 2 cups water. Partially cover pot and bring to a boil. Stir once, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer until water is mostly absorbed and rice is very fragrant and tender, 10–12 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest, covered, 10 minutes. Fluff rice with a large spoon, re-cover pot, and let sit 5 minutes before serving.

For the soboro beef
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 lb. ground beef chuck (20% fat)
¼ cup sake
¼ cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2-3 scallions, chopped

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high. Cook beef, stirring and breaking into small pieces, until browned and nearly cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add sake and cook until evaporated, about 1 minute. Add mirin and soy sauce and cook until pan is almost dry, about 1 minute longer. Add scallions and toss to combine. Serve on rice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Five-Spice Chocolate Cupcakes with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting



Chinese five-spice powder is mostly used in savory dishes (like this pork), but it actually pairs really well with chocolate. Come to think of it, chocolate pairs well with so many spices! The original recipe was for 24 cupcakes, so I halved it below to yield roughly 12 cupcakes (I actually got 10). This recipe is from a blog called Vanilla Garlic.

For the five-spice chocolate cupcakes

100 g. (about 3.5 to 4 oz.) of quality bittersweet chocolate
1 ½ sticks margarine or butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
¾ cup flour
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
¾ tsp. baking powder
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Chop chocolate and transfer into the bowl of a standing mixer; add the margarine to the chocolate and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (a double boiler works great too). Stir until chocolate melts and is combined with the margarine.

Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes to thicken.

Place the bowl back into the mixer and beat at medium speed for 3 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds before adding the next.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and five-spice powder. Add to the chocolate mixture and mix until just blended.

Scoop batter into prepared muffin tin and bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

For the spiced cream cheese frosting
4 oz. lactose-free cream cheese, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. margarine, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
¼ tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
¼ tsp. ground ginger

Cream the cream cheese and margarine together, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Slowly add the powdered sugar. Add the five-spice powder and ginger.

Spread or pipe on cooled cupcakes. Decorate with chopped candied ginger if you’re feeling really into it.

Batch of links - Clutter

I have a lot of links on this theme, so I thought I’d break it down and start with a post about clutter in general (I’ll follow up with a post about decluttering).

There was a great article in Time magazine (March 23rd, 2015 issue), called The Joy of Less (you can access it online here with a subscription and can read related articles here). Since I know not everyone has a subscription, however, I’ll give you some highlights. Did you know that Americans today have more possessions than any society in history? Three-quarters of garages surveyed in one study were so full that homeowners couldn’t park their cars inside. (This certainly seems to hold true in my neighborhood, where even though every house has at least a two-car garage AND a two-car driveway, people still lack space and have to park their cars in the street, to the point where it’s a one-lane in some stretches of road.) U.S. children make up just 3.1% of the global kid population, but American families buy 40% of the world’s toys! “Most household moves outside the U.S. weigh from 2.500 lb. to 7,500 lb. (1,110 kg to 3,400 kg). The average weight of a move in the U.S. is 8,000 lb. (3,600 kg) […]. It would be one thing if all our possessions were making us happier, but the opposite seems to be occurring.” Some studies have shown that too much stuff can actually lead to higher levels of anxiety, and I think we all experience the same feeling of relief after decluttering some part of the house. Other studies have shown that high levels of anxiety can lead to over-acquiring, so it’s often a vicious circle.

There has also been a huge rise in the self-storage industry (there are 48,500 storage facilities nationwide, as opposed to 10,000 in the rest of the world combined!), but we are now also witnessing a rise in the junk-removal industry as well as “the shift of possessions from tangible to digital” (I admit that even though the Engineer and I still buy physical copies of books and movies we like and of some music, most people our age only have physical evidence of things they liked at least 10 years ago). That Time article argues that the rise in consumption occurred after the Industrial Revolution: before then, one’s only options were what was sold at the local general store, but after that, one could order a myriad of things through catalogs and, now, online – not to mention the rise of warehouse stores and big-box stores and department stores – plus, the notion of planned obsolescence was introduced, and the cost of goods declined. “A new consumerism was emerging, one that offered a uniquely American idea that you could aspire to a different social class through acquiring.” (While the price of discretionary expenses has declined, conversely, the price of necessities like food, housing, and health care has gone up.)

A final quote that explains in part why we are stuck with all this clutter: “There are many economic and cultural factors that lead us to buy, but there are fundamental evolutionary drivers for why we acquire but then can’t let go. Call it our Inner Squirrel.[…] It doesn’t help that our Inner Squirrel is also sentimental.” I’ll get back to this in a bit.

Another article notes that an estimated two-thirds of the American GDP comes from retail shopping! Moreover, the home organization industry has more than doubled in size since the early 2000s. See 21 more statistics here.

Personally, I think that the rise of minimalism is the pendulum swinging away from consumerism, and I tend to be happier somewhere in the middle (though I still aspire to have a bit less than I do at the moment). Millennials are said to spend less than previous generations and keep less stuff. Heck, the Mall of America will be closed on Thanksgiving! (Granted, it’s still open on Black Friday, but this is a very big step and a sign that consumerism might be declining.)

There are different reasons for hanging on to things: we are emotionally attached to them, we think we might need them someday, we like the feeling of abundance conveyed by owning a lot (the Inner Squirrel), they have monetary value (or, conversely, it was a good deal), etc. Some people differentiate between hoarding habits of the sexes, but after reading Steve Almond’s essay In Defense of Male Clutter, I can identify with his reasons for keeping certain items that have sentimental value. So I don’t think it’s a sex or gender thing, just a personality thing – some of us form emotional attachment to our things (for example), and some people don’t. On that note, here are7 steps to dealing with emotional clutter.

There is a correlation between clutter and depression. It seems that women are more prone than men to feeling anxiety when they have more objects in the house – perhaps this flies in the face of what I said in the last paragraph! Conversely, decluttering has been tied to weight loss – Peter Walsh wrote a book about it, and you can read one example here and an article here.

Of course, some people have “clutter” because they have collections of things, especially since collecting is about more than just stuff. There’s a large emotional component to collecting, and I think that often, what differentiates a collection from clutter is the way that it’s presented. If your stuff is sitting in boxes or at the back of a closet or piled on the dining room table, it’s clutter, but if it’s in a display case, then it’s a collection.

This brings up the case of actual hoarders. (I had an almost unhealthy addiction to the TV show Hoarders, and I know I’m not the only one!) Last spring, I read in a magazine about a new book written by a woman whose mother is a hoarder, and she explores how her up-bringing now influences her life as a wife and parent. It’s called White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daugtherhood, and the Mess In Between, by Judy Batalion. Incidentally, the magazine article I had read mentioned that she was originally from Montreal, and after a ridiculously short game of Jewish geography, I had ascertained that she is the older sister of one of the Engineer’s friends from school. I haven’t read her book, but it does look interesting.

I’m going to write a follow-up post about decluttering; in the meantime, if you want to donate old items but don’t know where to start, here’s a helpful list for San Antonio residents. For example, it hadn’t occurred to me, but you can donate children’s clothing to foster care organizations so that it goes directly to children in need, as they often arrive in a foster home without any personal belongings. If you want a super-easy solution, there are organizations like the Salvation Army that accept a wide range of items and can arrange for a free pickup (but I do urge you to do your due diligence, because some of these organizations are not actually charities and are in fact small businesses that make a profit on the items that you give them).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Maple Sugar Coleslaw

I got this recipe from a promotional pamphlet acquired in Vermont. I know, I know – I’m a little embarrassed too, as if I’d been caught rooting for the Bruins instead of the Habs or something equally sacrilegious. But hey, a good recipe is a good recipe, no matter where it’s from! I’m not normally big on coleslaw, but this one was really, really good. (Better than Cook’s Illustrated sweet and tangy coleslaw that I tried more recently, for what it’s worth.) Note that the total weight of cabbage in the ingredients below is supposed to be roughly 1 ½ lbs., and that’s open to interpretation to a certain extent because coleslaw isn’t brain surgery. I served it with maple-glazed meatballs.

¼ head red cabbage (see note above)
¼ head green cabbage (see note above)
1 large carrot
1 stalk celery
½ cup granulate maple sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. celery seed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Shred or finely cut the cabbage. Peel and grate the carrot. Thinly cut the celery. Toss these ingredients in a colander with the maple sugar and salt. Place colander over a bowl and let stand 1-4 hours. The cabbage should be wilted.

Transfer cabbage, carrot and celery to a bowl. Add celery seed, oil, vinegar, and black pepper and mix. Cover and refrigerate until it is time to serve it (toss it once more before serving).


Boulettes de viande glacées à l'érable



J’ai trouvé cette recette dans un calendrier faisant la promotion des produits laitiers québécois. Il s’agissait à l’origine de boulettes de veau, mais vous connaissez ma position à ce sujet, alors j’ai remplacé par du porc. Et c’était absolument délicieux! En plus, il y a une sauce à la crème sure hyper facile, mais vous n’êtes pas strictement tenus de la faire. J’ai servi le tout avec une salade de chou au sucre d’érable.

Pour les boulettes
1 tranche de pain émietté
½ tasse de lait sans lactose
1 œuf
1 ½ lb. de porc haché
1 ½ tasse de fromage suisse sans lactose râpé
¾ tasse de sirop d’érable
¼ tasse de jus de lime
2 gousses d’ail hachées ou râpées
2 c. à thé de gingembre frais haché
sel et poivre du moulin

Pour la trempette à la crème sure
1 tasse de crème sure sans lactose
½ tasse de coriandre fraîche hachée
le jus d’une lime
sel et poivre du moulin

Pour les boulettes
Préchauffer le four à 425 °F.

Dans un grand bol, déposer le pain émietté et verser le lait dessus. Laisser le pain absorber le lait avant de le défaire à la fourchette. Ajouter l’œuf et bien battre. Ajouter le porc haché et le fromage. Saler et poivrer généreusement.

Former des boulettes de 1 pouce de diamètre et les déposer sur une plaque recouverte de papier parchemin. Cuire au four de 12 à 15 minutes. (J’ai ensuite mis mes boulettes sur la grille la plus haute et je les ai fait dorer pendant 8 minutes.)

Entre-temps, dans une grande poêle, mélanger le sirop d’érable, le jus de lime, l’ail et le gingembre. Porter à ébullition et laisser bouillir de 5 à 7 minutes. Ajouter les boulettes cuites et continuer à faire bouillir la sauce en remuant de temps en temps jusqu’à ce que les boulettes soient bien enrobées et que la sauce soit collante.

Pour la trempette à la crème sure
Dans un bol, mélanger la crème sure, la coriandre et le jus de lime. Saler et poivrer, au goût.

Servir les boulettes avec la trempette, et parsemer de coriandre hachée si désiré. Bon appétit!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Carrot Soup with Herb Yogurt

I know, I make a lot of carrot soups. You could easily substitute squash or pumpkin for this soup, though! It was delicious, but what made it really special with the herb yogurt topping – I think I’ll keep that trick up my sleeve for other soups! This make 4 generous servings, easily 6 if you serve them with rolls or something similar. The recipe is from Real Simple.

For the soup
1/3 cup olive oil (I used less, but I eyeballed it)
2 onions, chopped
4 lbs. carrots, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
kosher salt and black pepper
6 cups water (broth would be nice, too)
2 cups carrot juice (I used storebought juice)
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are completely soft, 12 to 15 minutes.

Purée in a blender, in batches, until smooth (I used my stick blender instead). Stir in the carrot juice and vinegar. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week; reheat over a low flame.

Serve the soup warm, topped with herb yogurt (see below) or lactose-free sour cream.

For the herb yogurt
1 cup lactose-free full-fat plain yogurt
½ tsp. finely grated garlic
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs (such as mint, basil, parsley, and/or dill)
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. lime zest
½ tsp. lime juice
½ tsp. kosher salt

Stir together yogurt, garlic, fresh herbs, Dijon mustard, lime zest, lime juice, and kosher salt. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Apple Rose Tarts



I was keen on using my Pink Pearl apples to make something pretty, and these apple rose tarts fit the bill nicely. The original instructions said to microwave the apples for 3 minutes, but that very nearly turned them into applesauce for me and made the following steps nearly impossible. After consulting other recipes, I’d recommend 2 minutes in the microwave – you can always go longer if you need it. I also wrote the instructions below for a yield of 6 tarts, but you can always scale up if you want (though I’d microwave the apples in two batches, in that case). These will be pretty even if you don’t use pink-fleshed apples, obviously. As is, they are barely sweet, so you could dust them with icing sugar and make them eve prettier!

2 apples (I used Pink Pearls)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. water
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
6 Tbsp. lactose-free cream cheese
3 Tbsp. sugar (or more, to taste)
cinnamon or nutmeg (optional, I didn’t use either)
powdered sugar, for topping (optional)

Preheat the oven at 375 °F. Grease 6 muffins tins and set aside.

Peel and core the apples, and thinly slice them. Combine the apple slices with lemon juice and water in a bowl and microwave 2 minutes. Cool the bowl in some ice water. Pat dry the apple slices of excess moisture and set aside.


Roll out the puff pastry and cut each sheet lengthwise into 3 even strips.

Spread the cream cheese and sprinkle the sugar onto the puff pastry strips.

Arrange the apple slices so that their rounded edge juts out from a long edge of the strip of dough, overlapping, and sprinkle cinnamon or nutmeg on top.

Fold the puff pastry in half lengthwise to cover the bottom of the apple slices and roll up each strip. Place in prepared muffin tins and bake for 40 minutes.


Once cooled, top with powdered sugar, if desired.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Rainbow Couscous Salad

This salad was delicious, at once hearty and healthy. I made it vegan, but there are instructions to add chicken and/or cheese if you choose. I liked it best at room temperature, though it keeps well in the fridge for a few days. The recipe is from Parents magazine.

1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced into half-moons (1 ¼ cups)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn, thawed
¼ cup olive oil, divided
¾ tsp. salt, divided
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
freshly ground black pepper
3 cups baby spinach
2 cups cooked Israeli couscous
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup crumbled feta cheese or lactose-free substitute (optional)
2 cups cubed or shredded cooked chicken breast (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 °F. In a large baking pan combine the zucchini, corn, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Roast for 10 minutes or until just tender.

Meanwhile, for the dressing, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice, honey, thyme, ½ teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste.

In a very large bowl combine the spinach, couscous, chickpeas, tomatoes, red onion, and dressing. Toss to combine. Sprinkle the feta and chicken pieces over the top, if using.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Sauce dragon pour bol-repas Bouddha

Bon, les bols-repas Bouddha, c’est pas sorcier. En gros, il vous faut des céréales complètes (riz brun, quinoa, farro, voire du couscous), idéalement des légumineuses (lentilles, pois chiches, haricots) et peut-être une autre source de protéines (tofu, œuf ou thon si vous ne tenez pas mordicus à un bol végétalien), des légumes (carottes, chou frisé, poivrons, patates douces, chou rouge, etc.), peut-être des noix ou des graines ou encore des pousses vertes. Et puis une sauce. Ma préférée est celle-ci, mais j’ai décidé d’essayer la sauce dragon de Coup de Pouce, qui a des airs de famille avec ma préférée. Il se trouve qu’elle est excellente! Je l’ai servie ici avec un bol contenant orge, carottes et rapini rôtis, pois chiches et graines de tournesol.

¼ tasse de levure alimentaire
3 c. à soupe d'huile d'olive
2 c. à soupe de sirop d'érable
2 c. à soupe de tamari
2 c. à soupe d'eau
2 c. à soupe de tahini
1 gousse d'ail râpée

Au mélangeur, réduire en sauce lisse tous les ingrédients. Verser la sauce dans un pot et réfrigérer jusqu’au moment d’utiliser (je préfère toutefois cette sauce à la température de la pièce).

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Gooey Cinnamon Cake



I found this gooey cinnamon cake recipe on David Lebovitz’s blog, but it was created by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, for her cookbook. It was unusual to make, as it has layers, but it came out absolutely delicious. It was moist and buttery, with a crisp top. We ploughed right through it over here, and the Little Prince in particular has brought it up at dessert time on several occasions since we’ve polished it off (it’s good for snacking, too). Note that I always use Ceylon cinnamon, but if you’re a fan of cassia, go for it.

For the cookie base
1 ½ cups (190 g.) flour
2 tsp. baking powder, aluminum-free
¼ tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. margarine (or unsalted butter), at room temperature, cubed
¾ cup (150 g.) sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
¼ cup lactose-free whole milk

For the soft gooey layer
¼ cup light corn syrup or golden syrup
¼ cup lactose-free whole milk
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
12 Tbsp. margarine (or unsalted butter), at room temperature
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. (225 g.) sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups (155 g.) flour

For the cinnamon topping
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon (see note above)

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line a 9- by 13-inch cake pan with foil, leaving an overhang on all four sides. (David Lebovitz helpfully suggests overturning the pan, shaping the foil over the bottom, removing it, then flipping the pan over and easing the foil into the pan.) Spray the foil in the pan with nonstick spray or brush with melted butter or margarine.

To make the cookie base, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Beat the margarine and sugar in the bowl of stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or by hand, until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg and the milk and mix in, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the dry ingredients, until fully incorporated. Put the mixture in the cake pan in dollops (it’s too thick to spread if you add it all in the same place), and spread it into an even layer with an offset spatula (I had to use my fingers for this).

To make the soft gooey layer, in a small bowl (or in the same bowl you used before, without even cleaning it), whisk together the corn syrup or golden syrup with the milk and vanilla.

Beat the margarine with the 1 cup sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Add one-third of the flour, then half of the milk/corn syrup mixture. Add another one-third of the flour, then the rest of the milk/corn syrup mixture. Then stir in the remaining flour. Dollop the batter over the unbaked cookie layer and spread evenly.

To make the cinnamon topping, mix together the sugar and cinnamon, then sprinkle it evenly over the cake.

Bake the cake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cake feels slightly damp, but gently set in the center. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. When cool, lift out the cake using the overhang of the foil, and cut the cake into 1-inch (3cm) squares (we made bigger pieces, but had only one at a time, obviously).

Lunch at home

Now that the Little Prince is in daycare three days a week, this gives me more time to make nice lunches for myself (and occasionally eat leftovers with him the next day). Admittedly, this isn’t necessarily the best use of my time, because it would be nice to do things like get caught up on my sewing projects or my reading, but hey, a gal’s gotta eat. Sometimes, I make meals that I know my kid wouldn’t enjoy as much, like soups or salads. He wasn’t big on Greek salad, although sliced apple salad was a different story. I was just happy that I got to use a 1 ½-pound heirloom tomato in a salad! I should also mention that I made croutons by pan-frying cubes of bread in olive oil, with some herbes de Provence and truffled salt, and they were the best ever! Even better than what the Greek salad actually called for.


I also made guacamole deviled eggs for the Engineer’s birthday. I had to cook two batches of eggs, because the directions they gave for boiled eggs were an absolute disaster, so I ended up making them again my go-to way (hard-baked for 30 minutes at 325 °F). They were good, but deviled eggs are such a hassle to make pretty! Actually, they are a hassle, period, considering how much effort goes into just a few bites… Vegan pho was alright, though the broth was a bit too concentrated for my taste. I really enjoyed Minimalist Baker’s vegan omelet, made with silken tofu, tahini, and nutritional yeast and filled with vegetables – but sadly, I didn’t get any appetizing pictures of that. It was obviously more involved than an omelet using eggs, but it was really good! And it’s a great way to use up vegetables and herbs that might go bad otherwise.


The lack of good pictures is also true of Molly Wizenberg’s herbed chicken meatballs in broth with peas and parmesan, although I liked that one so much that I’m going to share the recipe anyway. It’s basically a soup, except that if you store the leftovers in one pot, with the meatballs right in the broth, the latter gets cloudy – the taste is the same, but it’s a little less aesthetically pleasing. It would be great served with buttered, toasted bread (maybe garlic bread?). Note that the original recipe called for 10 cups of chicken broth, but I found that to be a little too much, so I recommend 8 cups (2 liters / 2 quarts). If you don’t use low-sodium broth, consider maybe using 6 or 7 cups of broth and making the rest water.


3 oz. (85 g.) rustic, country-style bread
¼ cup lactose-free whole milk
18 oz. (540 g.) ground chicken or turkey (ideally dark meat)
6 sprigs Italian parsley, leaves finely chopped and stems discarded
4 sprigs marjoram, leaves finely chopped and stems discarded (I omitted that)
salt and pepper, to taste
8 cups chicken stock (see note above)
12 oz. (340 g.) fresh or frozen peas
grana padano or parmesan, for grating

Cut the crusts off the bread. Cut the bread into roughly ½-inch cubes and put it into a large bowl. Add the milk, toss to coat, and leave to soak for about 20 minutes. Then squish the bread into a mush, and add the ground chicken. Add 1 tablespoon each of the chopped parsley and marjoram, a few grinds of black pepper, and a couple of very generous pinches of salt. (If you’re using table salt or fine sea salt, about 1 teaspoon should be right.) Mix with a fork, or with your hand, until evenly combined. (If you’re unsure of the seasoning, at this point you can fry off a little bit of the meat mixture and taste for salt.) With damp hands, form the meat into 1-inch balls. You should get approximately 25. Chill the meatballs for 30 minutes before cooking.

Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a wide pot, such as a Dutch oven. (This is a good time to taste the stock for seasoning.) Gently drop the meatballs into the simmering stock, and cook for 5 minutes (I cooked mine longer, to make sure they were cooked all the way through – you’re looking for their internal temperature to reach 165 °F). Remove the meatballs from the stock, and set aside. If the broth is cloudy, you can strain it, or just continue on. You can now go one of two ways:
1. If you plan to serve the soup immediately, add the peas to the simmering stock, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Return the meatballs to the pot, and stir in the remaining chopped herbs. Serve with freshly grated grana padano or parmesan.
2. If you plan to eat the soup later, chill the meatballs and the stock separately. When you’re ready to eat, bring the broth back to a simmer, add the meatballs and peas, and cook until everything is warm and the peas are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining chopped herbs. Serve with freshly grated grana padano or parmesan.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

The best applesauce - and more hipster apples



Every fall for the past several years, I had been looking for Pink Pearl apples in various grocery stores and markets. I’m pretty sure I first heard about them on The Kitchn, though a few years ago they were also mentioned on Spilled Milk and in Bon Appétit. I had to resign myself to the fact that these apples just aren’t sold in South Texas even when they are in season, and since the latter source recommended Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm for online ordering (a Google search didn’t reveal any other providers for fruit, only seeds and seedlings), I decided to take the plunge and order a case of apples. From Michigan. The apples themselves were not that expensive for heirloom apples (a little under $1.40 per apple?) plus proper packaging ($12.50 according to my itemized bill, but included in the price shown online), but the catch is that since apples are perishable, you have to pay for 2-day shipping, and *that* was a hit on the wallet. This had been bugging me for so long, though, that I decided to just take the hit this one time to cross them off my bucket list. I’m glad I did, although I won’t be placing this order annually!

Pink Pearl apples are known for their pink flesh. I’m a sucker for pink-fleshed apples (Surprise? Pendragon? Redlove Era?), though again, I can’t find them in South Texas and haven’t even tasted those varieties! Pink Pearls have a great balance of sweet and tart flavor, and I like my apples a bit tart, so these were a good fit. I saved the seeds of my Pink Pearls out of principle, though I realize that the climate here isn’t the most conducive to apple trees…

For those of you who want to make this applesauce recipe, but with more readily available apples, my favorite is still Envy, though last summer I had some great Honeycrisps and Pink Ladies. Actually, on that note, you should read this great article on the Honeycrisp and heirloom apples in general. The author got me right at the beginning with a rant about the Red Delicious, which ended with (and I quote): “Fuck the Red Delicious.” I couldn’t agree more!

Anyway, I decided to make applesauce with my Pink Pearls. I was inspired by an Instagram picture posted by Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette, who had the most beautifully pink applesauce I’d ever seen! I had tried this recipe before, and it makes perfectly fine applesauce, though I’d recommend draining it a bit before puréeing. But then I remembered I had wanted to try a recipe I found on Orangette, which seemed all the more appropriate given that that’s probably how Molly Wizenberg made the pink applesauce that looked so awesome in her Instagram feed! So I took a look, and it is Judy Rodgers’s roasted applesauce. And, well, damned if it wasn’t the best applesauce I’ve ever eaten! I’m always going to make it this way now, regardless of what kind of apple I use. Roasting the apples concentrates their flavor and makes the sugars caramelize a bit. I ended up using a bit less than 3 pounds of apples, because they didn’t all fit in my pan (so in that picture with the unpeeled apples in the pan, they didn’t all make it in, and the leftover apples are next to the pan in the next picture). The yield was probably a little over 2 cups of applesauce. I think next time, I’d just use two pans to make a big batch and freeze some (laid flat in a Ziploc bag, if you’re wondering). Anyway, this is absolutely awesome applesauce, especially if you like it a bit chunky.

3 ½ to 4 lbs. apples (Rodgers uses crisp eating apples, like Braeburns, Pippins, or Galas; I used Pink Pearls)
1 pinch of salt
1 to 2 tsp. sugar, or to taste
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter or margarine, cut into slivers

Preheat the oven to 375 °F.

Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Put them in a (ungreased) baking dish just large enough to hold them in a crowded single layer. (I used a 9”x13” pan here.)

Toss with a little salt and 1 teaspoon of the sugar (unless they are very sweet, in which case you might not need any sugar at all.) If they are tart enough to make you squint, use 2 teaspoons of sugar. Dot the apples with butter, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake until the apples start to soften, about 15 to 30 minutes (I needed 30 minutes for mine).

Remove the foil, increase the heat to 500 °F, and return the pan to the oven. Leave the apples to dry out and color slightly, about 10 minutes more. When the tips of the apples are golden and the fruit is tender, remove the pan from the oven, and coarsely mash the apples. (I used a potato masher for mine.) If you like, season the applesauce further with salt and sugar to taste. You can also use a splash of apple cider vinegar, but I didn’t.