I should be writing.. Instead, apple crisp…and apple cake.

This off-kilter shot is all about featuring our beloved former dog Bear’s watchful eye.

I really had no choice.

It’s officially apple season and the golden delicious tree is burgeoning.

So, last Sunday I slapped together an apple crisp sans recipe, though my trusty assistant in culinary crimes–my wife and herder of Buddy the Rescue Dog–pulled up an Epicurious recipe for a crust topping as a guide. For the filling, I just knew what ingredients I wanted and went from there.

Result: a caramelly ooze —gee, go figure, when the cook indiscriminately tosses in plenty of brown sugar and enough flour…well, there were the sweet cherries and their juice, and the chunks of golden delicioius–well, you get the picture… and the crust was as good as the apple-goo. 

Autumn…I love you.**

***

A few days later, within hours of finishing the crisp, and with plenty of Act of Kindness Writing chores I could/should be dealing with, it was time for an apple cake…or, as the recipe calls it, a ‘moist’ apple cake.

On its own, this is a ‘will bake again’ item. As always, though, I did stray ‘just a bit’…

  • I added allspice to both the apple mixture and the flour mixture.
  • When it comes to cinnamon, I just don’t get the low doses in most recipes. Can’t remember the last time I actually measured cinnamon.
  • I added rehydrated Craisins.
  • I made my own ‘apple sauce’. I just mashed away at, and then seasoned, chunks of golden delicious with the pastry cutter. And mashed away some more.
  • Figuring on a more moist result, I used a loaf pan instead of a 9” x 13” pan.
  • Fearing there might be spillover, I scooped out about a cup of the mixture and slathered that into a greased pie pan. Gotta say, when revisiting this recipe, I’ll be tempted to go exclusively with pie pans. It’s a quicker bake and four smaller cakes open the door to more experimentation, say a little creme de cassis reduction for one of them…and Ree Drummond’s Easy Caramel Sauce for another. Come to think of it…I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have those on hand for slices of this current version…

The problem with a spillover cake is its insistence on immediate measures for quality control.
Buddy anxiously awaiting ‘his’ afternoon coffee time.
He fully approves of fall flavors.

**“No, deeeear! I don’t know anyone named Autumn!”

I should be writing. Instead, drifting…toward chocolate cake.

  1. Raise your hand if:
  • you’ve ever left a measuring cup in the bag of flour or sugar.
  • you’ve intentionally left a measuring cup in the bag of flour or sugar for the next baking venture.
  • you skipped the ‘firmly pack the brown sugar’ step and instead just poured in an extra tablespoon or two of the stuff.
  • you would consider breaking off a hunk of this cake rather than resorting to a [pinkies up!] utensil. Recipe below…Note: Feel free to overdo both the chocolate chips and the cocoa.

2. Best way to get rid of the redolent odor of wildfire smoke in your kitchen? Four batches of roasted tomatoes, with generous supplies of garlic chunks, rosemary sprigs, etc. [It ain’t pretty here in Oregon right now…]

3. And then there’s this: Do you think dogs lying peacefully on the floor know the difference between our giving them half our attention [one hand scratching their chin and one hand clicking links or entering a passcode] vs. our full attention? Do we send out a ‘semi-distracted’ vibe when we are, in fact, semi-distracted?

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

**

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

**

  • 2 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 4 TBLSP cocoa

**

  • 3 six-inch long zucchini
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Cream first four ingredients together in large bowl.
  2. Add next three ingredients and stir well to mix.
  3. Measure next six ingredients into sifter; then sift into bowl of other ingredients.
  4. Finely grate zucchini into bowl; stir until blended. 
  5. Fold in half of the chocolate chips to mixture.
  6. Pour into greased 9″ x 13″ pan –or- two 9″ cake pans.
  7. Sprinkle rest of chocolate chips on top of batter.
  8. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. [Check it about the 37-minute mark. Hey, different ovens, right?]

*Cutting the oil in half barely changes the final result.

I should have been writing. Instead, a kitchen marathon

This is me…except he is smiling, has tons more hair, and his kitchen is clean. [Oh, yeah, I don’t wear that dorky hat. It would fall into the Instant Pot anyway.]

So, back to procrasticooking... Result: 35 new recipes in 30 days. Note: A few sites were repeated. Hard not to fall back on epicurious.com.

Discoveries:

1. I’m not sure I followed any of the recipes to their exact specifications. More and more, I’ve been treating recipes as general guidelines rather than strict instructions.

2. I ‘created’ a few of my own — simple ones where I combined new ingredients/seasonings. Example: Avocado oil-roasted potatoes with a favorite Moroccan spice mix, ras-el-hanout.

3. New cooking questions arose in that vast abyss otherwise labeled ‘my brain’, like…if I oil the veggies before seasoning them for roasting, will the oil serve as a barrier to absorption and reduce the flavors? And no, I stillhaven’t looked it up. Sometimes, you just want a mystery to linger.

4. Oh, lord, some of those recipe sites take *forever* to load up all the ads and videos. I know these folks want to make a little money, but I had no problem just closing them up and looking for faster-loading alternatives.

5. Despite the physical separation from my writing tools and settings, I did get some good prewriting and first draft material churning as I cleaned up afterwards.

6. Speaking of clean-up, yep, even with my wife doing her part, dishes and counter mess were the bane of my existence. I even took a couple of days off in mid-challenge just to dodge the scrub-and-soak-rinse-and-repeat detail. Plus, the horrors of dishwater hands…

7. Some utensils, pots, and dishes never really made it back to the cupboards. They were used, washed, air-dried or towel-dried, and put back to work.

8. Based on my ratings below…well, I’m easy to cook for.

9. Even after the challenge, I can’t seem to stop cooking new stuff. Just yesterday, on a whim, I baked a mango pound cake from Pati Jinich and made my version of Mexican street corn grits . Someone! Please stop the madness.

10. There was an added challenge this year…My gastronomically-devoted ‘shoo! chef’, Buddy.

black dog looking up at the counter

Passing through the work area, my wife would step around our furry child and mutter, “not quite a certified kitchen, I see.”


Here are my first five recipes with a few added comments, a letter grade, and a ‘Yes’ [would repeat this recipe] or ‘No’. Note: The letter grade is just as much a comment on how well I delivered as a cook as it is on whether I liked the recipe itself.

  • Bear Batter Bread by way of New Tastes from Texas by Stephan Pyles. B+ — Yes.
  • Slow-Cooked Garlicky Greens by way of Bon Appetit. A — -Yes.
  • Three Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Added dried cranberries and some almond flour to give them a little structure. In four of them, I added generous dabs of cold-hardened chocolate sauce. Result: Downright ugly, but cooked just right and resembling florentines. A- — Yes.
  • Savory cheese pancakes with half almond flour and half all purpose flour and the rest of the traditional pancake ingredients. I liked the nuttiness of the batter and the Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute. B+ — Yes.
  • Southern Fried Cabbage B+ — Yes

Links to procrasticooking:

https://www.instagram.com/procrasticooking/?hl=en

https://procrasticooking.wordpress.com

http://www.bakingequalslove.com/2014/10/procrasticooking-grilled-paneer.html

I should be writing. Instead, 30 recipes in 30 days

My first recipe from 11 days ago…Thank you, Epicurious.

So, yes, much like the summer of 2010 when I was laid up after Achilles tendon repair, I, like millions of others, am experiencing ‘restricted routines’. Hey, gotta do the right thing for others, including our front-liners. No complaints here.

And, as in 2010, it’s freed me up for another round of…

“30 New Recipes from 30 Sources in 30 Days”
Subtitle: “Without Gaining 30 Pounds”

Today’s entry, from Mom on Timeout: Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast

Okay, now this is weird. I’m revisiting the recipe and son of a gun if I forgot the eggs!

But it’s three hours after breakfast and it just hit me! 

This recipe’s batter called for a quarter cup of flour, which is not something I’ve used in the past, and evidently, that supplied enough substance and adherence qualities [‘stickiness’ is really the better word] that I didn’t notice the lack of eggs. Weird.

Probability: You throw in enough of the good inner stuff, you don’t notice shortcomings. Case in point: I’m not proud of its appearance–I can tell you, the wrestling match just to get this on the tray was not a pretty sight–but this stromboli-saurus recipe earned a ‘repeat visit’ award.

My apologies to Lauren’s Latest…her final product was much more pleasing to the eye.
‘Ugly Delicious’ folks: are you reading this?

Speaking of ‘inner stuff’, there was no reason to stop at peanut butter, so I pulled out black cherry preserves and a thick blueberry sauce that accompanied the flourless chocolate cake I’d made four days prior.

Half the fun of ‘following’ recipes is taking the detours. [Thank god there isn’t a Siri or Google Maps in the culinary world. That digital chorus would be endlessly yammering at me. “No, you nimrod, don’t double the cheese!”]

My final detour at breakfast: “Well, there’s still batter left…I wonder if I tossed in a wad of brown sugar and a glop of the blueberry sauce and then soaked the bread…”

Yep, I’d do it again. And maybe next time, a little creme de cassis or brandy wouldn’t hurt.

And speaking of detours…do this: While you’re eating, close your eyes. My experience: The food’s taste is ramped up. [Drawback, so is the sound of your chewing and chomping.] It seems to follow the truism that taking away one sense heightens the others.

So, what does all this have to do with writing? Experimentation in writing, as in cooking, can be a pleasant little kick in the seat of the pants.

Fellow writers and cooks: Go pave a new path. Have fun. 

I should be writing. Instead, prototyping cinnamon bun alternatives…

cinnamon buns
They ain’t pretty. Thus, the ‘prototyping’ label.

October 4 was National Cinnamon Bun Day in Sweden and clearly I had no choice but to honor the good folks from the way-up-north.

But ssshhhh, don’t tell them, I was too time-strapped [I.e. impatient, lazy, and disorganized] to use a yeast-based recipe.

And there it was–a lonely, neglected sheet of puff pastry in the freezer.

Time to experiment.

1. Thaw that baby out**.

2. Make up my own filling.

  • Hydrated raisins
  • Allspice
  • Gobs of cinnamon [the appropriate unit for my favorite spice]
  • Softened butter/vanilla shmear
  • Chopped almonds

3. Use the Pepperidge Farm baking instructions for a cheese-and-spinach something-or-other as a general guide and hover.

Nope, not pretty. But the ratio of pastry-to-filling–goooood stuff.

I’ll try it again…and maybe even work on the aesthetics.

True, not exactly buns

Will I be adopted by the Swedes anytime soon? Probably not. But I thank them for their special day.


**Writers and grammar-wonks, I probably should have juxtaposed ‘thaw’ and ‘out’, but it just wasn’t as pleasing to the ear. Sorry.

I should be writing. Instead, delivering comfort…

bowl of soup

…in the form of Wor Wonton Soup.

L has been going toe-to-toe with a virus and nothing fortifies her better than this.

1. Shortcut:  I didn’t actually make the won tons. I just cut the wrappers into strips and added them late in the process. [Okay, okay, it’s actually ‘wor wonton wrapper strips soup’.]

2. What’s the difference between wonton soup and wor wonton soup?

3. One definition of ‘wor’ in the Chinese language is ‘everything’. Works for me. Think ’empty the fridge and cupboards’.

4. One of my favorite parts of making soup: watching it grow…and grow…until “we’re gonna need a bigger pot”. Leftovers? Absolutely.

5. This recipe https://noshingwiththenolands.com/wor-won-ton-soup/ outclasses the broth from the local Chinese restaurants. It’s the ginger, I’d say, though the early addition of Chinese five-spice and elephant garlic in the sesame oil-infused heat didn’t hurt.

6. Why do I keep weaving cooking into my writing?

This piece https://writingcooperative.com/want-to-write-better-try-cooking-b918272b7025   helps explain.

Rants and Riffs: Installment #4–Tips for failure

So, here I am and I am clearly in need of a new look for drafts in MacJournal…

There—that’s better. Charter Roman…I like it.

Giving in to meaningless font-focused distractions prompts me to share a few more tips on how to fail at this writing thing.

1. Have a dog. For a less-fettered path to failure, get one with a clear opinion of his superiority over any digital device.

dog with chin resting on iPad mini

2. Live in a locale with great weather. That sun just pulls me away, with each wavelength of radiant flux** reminding me that: A. I need vitamin D B. camping out in front of a screen is a waste of valuable daylight.

3. Own a DVR. But if you ARE going to sit in front of a screen and waste valuable daylight, you might as well be catching up on [insert favorite cable series here].

4. Keep your most valuable insights and creations on a plethora of notebooks scattered throughout the universe.

These aren't strewn throughout the house, but you get the idea.
piles of notebooks

5. Nurture a lifelong interest in sports. [Diabolical ESPN.com opens on its own, I swear.] Checking for croquet updates is thus inevitable, followed by an all-too-convenient point-and-click side trip to your favorite croqueter’s profile.

**Another tip for failure: Find it imperative to research how sunlight is measure.

Rants and Riffs: Installment #3

cinnamon roll
This one stands on its own, but a thick layer of vanilla/cream cheese frosting wouldn’t hurt.

Today’s topic: Cinnamon rolls.

Come on folks, if there isn’t a roiling ooze of brown sugar, melted butter, and cinnamon the second the knife presses into the roll, it ain’t a cinnamon roll.

Want one with frosting? How about powdered sugar/cream cheese mortar? Something that requires the slathering skills of a professional mason. And yes, paying the guy’s union rate is worth it.

My cardiologist awaits…

I should be writing. Instead…comfort food.

chicken and dumplings
So, can you overcook dumplings? Not a question that’s ever entered my mind…until yesterday.

It’s been years since I’ve made chicken and dumplings, but I wanted something different from the rotisserie birdzilla I bought at Costco.

And that something was comfort.

The tablespoon of bacon grease that mysteriously found its way into the broth didn’t hurt.

Nor did the half-glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Prior to that…a little pepper, thyme, a good dose of Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, and some dehydrated garlic joined the sauteeing onions, celery, carrots, and potatoes for a little blooming.

After that, I added the chicken cubes, gave it 20 minutes and completed final steps for the dumplings.

They needed seasoning, so out trotted L to the garden for some chives. She was, of course, escorted by the ever productive Buddy.black dog on his back on the lawnI slapped–okay, I was gentler than that–the dough on the broth/chicken/veggie concoction [let’s just call it ‘soup’]. This recipe called for just five minutes of cooking time. Hoping a longer dip in the soup would enhance the flavor, I gave them 20 minutes and they were just fine. We both enjoyed how those skimpy balls o’ dough puffed into substantial orbs of comfort.

Ruminations from the kitchen:

  • I marvel at how I repeatedly tempt the cruel nature of gravity by plopping food-filled bowls and plasticware just off the edge of the counter.
  • I still maintain that food tasted straight from the pan rates higher than eaten from a plate.
  • Want to make a racket in the kitchen? Just try being quiet. Seriously, every time I saunter out in the morning for a silent early exit, I inevitably bump one glass container in the fridge into another, ram my elbow into the coffee maker, and pull a glass from the drainer, setting off a chain reaction of tumbling mugs and dishes.

 

Rants and Riffs: Installment #2

I want to live in a world where employees get paternity/maternity leave for when a new dog or cat joins the family. It makes perfect sense!

“Snuffles, this is where you will sleep.” *

“Jujubee, this is when I will feed you.” **

“Angel Face, that’s what the backyard is for.”  ***

“Forsythia, we’re going to have to change your name.”   ****

“Maxwell, I’m going to have to discipline you.” *****


* “Yes, this is my chest.”

** “With intermittent snack times pending your approval.”

*** “Or at least not the living room.”

**** “No animal deserves that name.”

***** “I’ll be shortening our snuggle time by ten seconds.”