Tag Archives: cooking

Banana Muffins

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There is a lot to be done in the next few months.

I have to write four large papers and give two presentations. I have to read a bajillion pages of class reading.

I have to purchase, address, stamp, and mail 150 save-the-dates and 150 invitations. I need to compile guest lists for bridal showers. I need to register. I need to pick music. I need to make a wedding website (well, not need, but it’s free and convenient for our guests to look in one place for all pertinent information). And I’m sure there are a hundred other things I’m forgetting as well.

So I’m making muffins, incorporating the overripe bananas from the top of the fridge.

Overripe bananas are perfect for muffins because they melt into the batter during the stirring process. An overripe banana contains enough unrefined sugars to justify halving the amount of extra granulated sugar. And banana muffins are the best muffins. Banana muffins are the muffins my mother always made to use up all the overripe bananas that sat on top of the fridge.

Banana muffins taste like the dead of winter and the middle of summer all at once. I’ve yet to master muffins: somehow mine always turn out tough and hard, despite my minimal stirring. Mother made them dense, but fluffy, and always huge, with domed tops.

Mine are still sort of banana-ish hockey pucks. But at least they are chewable.

It’s the stirring process I love the most. Not “stirring” as in “thrilling,” but the literal process of stirring the batter. I suppose you could say that stirring stirs me. It was always my job to stir. Mother was always wise enough to not trust me with the measuring spoons, at least not until I was older, but I remember stirring things in the kitchen when I was very, very small. I love making things blend. I love to watch separate elements combine into a delicious whole.

I wish that things like academic semesters and weddings were as simple as adding ingredients, stirring, and putting them in the oven until they’re done.

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Turmeric: the Wonder Spice

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In my neverending quest to find natural solutions to a pesky and unsettling hormonal imbalance (the details of which I will not here divulge), I have researched the medicinal capacities of hundreds of plants. Plants are powerful things, man. God knew we wouldn’t have conventional medicine for a long time, so He made plants to take care of us while we waited for things like penicillin.

The most recent one to come to my attention is turmeric root. Turmeric roots are ground into powder and are most commonly used in curries and other spicy Indian foods. The powder is orange, but has a distinctive yellow color when cooked.

Turmeric is a potent antifungal agent. It prevents bad bacteria and intestinal funguses (yes, you read that right, intestinal funguses) from latching on and taking root inside your system. It’s a potent natural painkiller when combined with ginger root. Made into a paste with whole milk (or coconut milk, for the lactose intolerant), it can be used a as a face mask that removes dark circles and sucks toxins from your pores. Some really…enterprising people use it to battle cancer sans chemo. (I will not go that far. If I get cancer, that sucker is getting pummeled by chemo, end of story.)

Turmeric has traditionally been used as a clothing dye. Its golden-yellow color found itself splashed over garments in India and other places where turmeric is grown. Once applied to fabric, that vibrant color would be irrevocably stained into its fibers.

And, thanks to an unfortunate cooking incident, the same will be true of the front of my favorite linen dress.

Seven Minute Wonder Chicken

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One of my goals for the summer is to learn how to cook healthy and cook fast. The cook healthy part is fairly easy–stick to simple, pronounceable ingredients and don’t use too much of them. The fast part–now that’s tricky.

Especially protein. I haven’t had much experience cooking meat until now. When I cooked at home, I made pies. Cookies. Occasionally tuna salad. But I didn’t cook meat. Mostly because I was afraid of doing it wrong and wasting good food, but now I figure if I don’t try, I’ll never learn. If it’s not bleeding or blackened, it’s edible.

But I don’t have much time for slow cookers. First off, I don’t own a slow cooker. I have two frying pans, two saucepans, two pots, two skillets, a lot of little baking dishes, and a muffin tin. Everything I cook needs to be cooked on the stove. And quickly. Once school starts, time will be of the essence. Sure, I’ll be able to do a lot of meals in the dining common, but for the meals I won’t get to stick around campus for, I’ll still want to eat good food.

So I figured out a formula for fast and tasty chicken that you can stick anywhere–on top of salad, rice, next to a baked potato, mixed in with noodles–anywhere at all. Notice I did not say “recipe.” Recipes involve precise measurements. Measurements work very well for architects and seamstresses, but this is food we’re talking about, here. I am not an architect or a seamstress. I am a starving artist graduate student who prefers things…”to taste.”

Also, I am my mother’s daughter and my grandmother’s granddaughter. They never measure anything, and their food is amazing.

For my fellow wanderers, here is my flexible formula for yummy and hasty chicken:

You’ll need a…

  • Non-stick frying pan
  • A non-metal spatula
  • Thawed chicken cut into strips (or chunks or cubes or whatever you have the patience for)
    • (As far as quantity goes, don’t heap the pan full of chicken. There should be enough to have all the pieces spread out in one layer in the pan and not stacked on top of each other.)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of an oil or oils of your choice. For example, you could use a tablespoon of olive oil, combine vegetable oil and sesame oil, have or a tablespoon of olive oil plus a tablespoon of coconut oil (tried that tonight–it was delish).
  • 2 powdered seasonings. For example, onion and garlic powder. A teaspoon-ish each. Again, to taste.
  • 1 ground leaf seasoning, about a teaspoon. For example, basil leaves or oregano.
  • Optional: chopped vegetable. Half an onion. A bell pepper. Zucchini. Whatever your soul desireth.

Heat the oils in the pan (on the stovetop–don’t stick the thing in the oven, boys) at maximum heat until they bubble or ripple. You do not, repeat NOT, want to see smoke. If you do, find the fire extinguisher, follow the instructions, then start over.

 Add the chicken. Take the spatula and push it around. Listen to that satisfying popping sound as the heated oils do their thing. Turn on the overhead oven fan. Just do.

You’ll notice the chicken starts to turn a frothy white. Add the spices. I just sort of sprinkle them generously. I like to keep my measuring spoons clean. If you wanted vegetables, toss those in now, too.

Continue pushing the chicken around, flipping it over occasionally to make sure the pieces get brown on all sides. You should notice less and less pink and more and more white and brown. The goal is to get rid of all the pink. Pink means food poisoning and a trip to the ER. No pink.

Toss on that leafy seasoning. Pretend you’re Julia Child. Or Emeril. Whoever you prefer.

When all the pink is gone (7-8 minutes of pushing around later), the chicken is done, and you have made yummy food. Hooray!

Now you can eat the chicken. Or put it in plastic wrap and a freezer bag and freeze it for later. Or stick it in Tupperware and refrigerate for tomorrow’s lunch.

It’s your chicken. You can fry if you want to.

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I can cook.

If you had asked me three years ago if I could cook, my answer would be a resounding “no.” I can bake. I make a mean peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My guacamole is pretty awesome. But I would have told you that no, under no circumstances can I cook. I will burn things. I will break things. I will create a royal and unspeakable mess. But produce something edible? Nope.

But after the first year, I thought, hey, this writing a post every day thing seems to be working out. I wonder what else I can do?

Once upon a time, I knitted things constantly. I had time. I was in high school. College destroyed my creativity. That’s just the name of the game. I still have drawers full of yarn waiting to be knit together with love, and I mean to pick it up and maybe get one project done before September.

I taught myself to knit. One lady showed me the two basic stiches that make knitting what it is. The rest of the stuff—color knitting, cables, knitting in the round, turning heels, gussets, intarsia, slip stitches, yarn overs—that I taught myself with the help of library books. I made fantastic things. Every summer I cranked out an absurd amount of knitwear. Socks were my favorite things to make.

So twenty-two-year-old me figured, hey, if I taught myself how to knit and if I can discipline myself to write a blog post every day, I can teach myself how to cook.

This time I had help. My mother’s a wizard in the kitchen. She comes from a long line of excellent cooks, cooks who didn’t bother with measuring cups or even recipes. A lot of my “teaching myself how to cook” is me hollering from the kitchen: “Mom, does this look done?” “Mom, does this taste right?” “Mom, how do you do so and so?”

And according to my dinner guests on Wednesday (parents and AB included), I finally know how to cook, cook wholesomely, and cook well.

I now can make a mean stir fry. 

And This Has Been “Cooking Adventures with Rizzy”

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Word to the wise: if you want to make an omelet, make sure that the hand-me-down cookware is actually still usable.

Of course, perhaps the only way to know if something is usable is to try using it. At least once.

My kitchen has an oven, complete with a four-range stovetop. So far I’ve only used it to boil water for tea, but that’s not nearly adventurous enough for me. No, sir.

Over vacation, I made my first omelet. I’d never tried before, although the theory was clear: an egg or two, a tablespoon of milk or half and half, combined and beaten with a fork and poured into non-stick pan with desired fillings. Create egg-pancake. Wait until the underside is cooked. Somehow flip it over. Cook other side. Eat.

With this in my head, I proceeded to grab the appropriate materials and create an omelet in the kitchen of my grandmother’s mountain cabin. The first try was a trifle messy, but good. The second was a picture-perfect, golden-yellow half-circle, a bit like the sun when it rises over the mountains. Tasted pretty good, too.

I thought about trying it again, only this time on the electric stove in my apartment. If you’re going to christen an oven, you might as well do it at breakfast.

I grabbed a pan. This pan was in my grandmother’s (the other grandmother—mother’s, not father’s side) kitchen for an undetermined length of time. I’m not sure how often it was used, but by the look of it I’d say that it received a fair amount of use in its heyday. A little dingy, but still a pan, and still omelet sized.

I got out a measuring cup and two eggs and proceeded with the whisking process while allowing a half cup of spinach to cook down in the aforementioned pan. I noticed that the spinach got a little browner than I was expecting quite a bit quicker than I was expecting.

(I will pause here to remind you that the only time I’ve ever made on omelet was on a gas stove in the mountains at an elevated altitude.)

Unperturbed (I am the kind to eat burnt popcorn, after all), I added the egg mixture, allowing it to pancake itself. I reached for a spatula. The only plastic one I own (I’m kitchen-savvy enough to know that metal spatulas on non-stick surfaces is a no-no) was too big to slip past the rim and under the omelet. I tried to flip the egg-pancake a la Julia Child, but I’m not her, nor will I ever be, and I’ve made peace with that. What I got was a wider egg-pancake that was quickly surrounding itself in a cloud of odd-smelling steam. We’ll call it steam.

I finally wedged the corner of the spatula under the omelet and flip part of it over. The underside was a lovely shade of charcoal. I got the rest of it flipped over, but the inside of my now egg-taco was still a bit runny and undone. I felt as if I had no choice but to press the charred hide of my omelet even closer to the floor of the pan in the hopes that it would squish its runny guts closer to the heat source.

Eventually I gave up and plopped the very black and firm Eggenstein onto my plate. Next to the burnt toast with peanut butter and sliced peaches. The toast burnt because I thought surely whole wheat will hold up to the same amount of heat as ciabatta, which I’d been toasting all this week. Apparently not.

Once I chewed past the burnt bits, the omelet was just fine. Ugly, but fine. I’m trying not to think about the amount of carcinogens I consumed. The highly suspect pan is being held for questioning. From now on the larger, newer non-stick pan will be doing the omleting in this household. The other might be good for sautéing vegetables. I’ll have to call in an expert to look at it, and by expert I mean my mother.   

Let Them Eat Cake

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If you are having a bad day, allow me to remind you that it is autumn. Hopefully you will feel better. Unless you hate autumn, in which case I’m sorry that you have led such a joyless existence.

Autumn means autumn desserts.

Autumn desserts are a Rambler family mainstay. We wait all year for an excuse to use up our hoarded cans of pumpkin and for all the many ways to dress a cup of sliced apples. Autumn means the house always smells of cinnamon and brown sugar.

Autumn also means we get a bit chunky. But that’s okay—sweaters were made for hiding love handles.

Today we indulged in our first autumnal dessert of the season. My honored mother made apple cake. Apple cake is the food of the gods. The inhabitants of Olympus lean down from their celestial chaise lounges for a whiff of the heavenly aromas wafting from my mother’s kitchen when she makes this stuff. Who would have thought that such lowly ingredients as sugar, butter, flour, and humble apples could combine so divinely? Every bite is a bite of autumn, with all its spice and simplicity and crispness. I will not divulge how many slices I consumed today—nor how many wedges were cut to “even up the edges” of the cake as it lay in its pan.

Yes. Autumn makes me rhapsodize about cake. Don’t judge—with how much eagerness did you drive out to fetch your first pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks? Yes. Yes, that’s what I thought.

As American As…

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The best thing you can do to celebrate anything is to eat.

Today, as just about everyone in America celebrates our country’s birthday, a million grills will be ablaze as my fellow citizens cook all manner of dead animals and vegetables.

Normally, this is what the Rambler family does on Independence Day. My father’s hobby is grilling, so he’ll try to cook up a masterpiece of a steak or two for us, along with chicken and fish and…there now, I’m drooling.

This year, for reasons I don’t have the time to relate, we will not be grilling tonight. We’ll be eating out. That’s the other really American thing to do, apparently.

But, as any true American can tell you, there is nothing more American than apple pie. There’s a reason the simile “as American as apple pie” is in existence.

So today, instead of grilling, I did the patriotic thing. I made apple pie. A friend of mine did the same thing and tweeted a few pictures of her creation, and I felt inspired. Pie was going to happen today.

I cannot cook. I am better at making a royal mess in the kitchen than I am at actually making edible, yummy things. But I can bake. Allow me one moment of bragging on myself. I can bake. Baby, can I make a mean dessert.

Perhaps that’s nothing to be proud of. The ability to clog the arteries of my family and friends can hardly be considered a commendable pastime. This is perhaps why I’ve tried to reform my villainous ways and turned to clean eating, smoothie making, and sautéing vegetables.

But today’s a holiday. And there was this pie crust recipe I’d been dying to try. Hence, pie.

Normally I use pre-made pie crust. But they put some suspicious-sounding, completely unnecessary, and probably carcinogenic chemicals in those puppies. My inner hippie did not approve of consuming such nonsense today. If I was going to make apple pie, it was going to be healthy apple pie, dash it all. I like being in control of what I’m putting in my system. The only logical course of action was to make my own pie crust.

Now, when I embark on a new endeavor, such as making pie crust from scratch for the first time, I do not take the most efficient route. This is how I learn. I learn by making a huge mess and cleaning it up, so I’ll know how to make less of a mess the next time. Needless to say, there was flour all over the kitchen for about an hour while I made this blame pie. I have a feeling I’ll be cleaning flour out of crevices in our kitchen for about a year.

Making the crust went very well. The ingredients stirred up very easily, and while putting the little balls of sticky dough into freezer bags for rolling and chilling was a bit of a messy ordeal, I think I managed okay. Trying to roll those wads of dough into crust, however, was mildly disastrous. The tore. They cracked. They crumbled. They stuck to the rolling pin. They did not want to submit to their destiny. Not without a fight.

After my top crust has splintered into a few major continents, I patched them together with bits of dough to make a kind of Frankencrust. I then went to pick it up and move it to cover the pie filling. Not surprisingly, it fell through my fingers into a pile of dough-fetti, which lay on the cutting board, mocking me.

I mooshed those suckers back into submission and re-rolled them. My mother then had the brilliant idea of rolling the crust loosely around the rolling pin and unrolling it again over the pie like a doughy venetian blind. This worked like a charm. I started folding a crimping the edges, happily trying to make them look as attractive as the Frankendough would allow.

That was when I remembered I forgot to add the butter.

I had only crimped half the pie. Always one to improvise, I unrolled half the crust up and away from the filling, exposing half of the brown-sugary appleness. I took my one tablespoon of butter and dotted it into half of the pie. Half of the pie will therefore not be runny. We’ll have options.

The crust in place, lumpy and odd-looking though it was, I cut in vents and pushed it into the oven with a triumphant “ha!” Mind over pie crust. Bam.

Forty-four minutes later, out comes a pie. It is not a perfect pie. But, by the flour in my hair and the vegetable shortening under my nails, it is my pie. I worked hard for it. I sweated and fussed over it. And soon my family will partake of its homespun deliciousness.

There ain’t nothin’ more American than this here apple pie. 

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Mind over Mango

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Maybe it’s because I’m about to finish college. Maybe it’s because I just turned twenty-one. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason I’ve gotten the urge lately to try almost everything (legal) that I’ve never tried before.

One item on the list was to eat a mango.

Part of my recent healthy-eating kick has been to make a meal out of fruit-and-veggie purees, often listed under the cutesy yet exalted title, “smoothie.” This has involved trying to combine fruits, vegetables, and yogurt in way that approximate the taste of other foods. For example, it is entirely possible to get carrot juice to taste like an orange creamsicle. It’s even possible to combine bananas, blueberries, spinach, and kale (kale!) in such a way to make it taste like mint ice cream. It’s like alchemy, but with fruit.

I went grocery shopping with my mother. As a budding smoothie-foodie, this may or may not have been the wisest choice. I found myself in the produce section for most of the trip, and not just because Mother kept sending me back to get things. No, I was mesmerized by the fruit. And I noticed there were mangoes.

One of the smoothie recipes I’d found (yes, they make recipes for these things) called for oranges and a mango. So I picked up a mango—an odd, bicolored bulbous thing that looks like a pear having an allergic reaction to itself—and gave it a squeeze. I have no clue what a ripe mango is supposed to feel like. This puppy was hard as a rock, so I figured it wasn’t ripe yet, and bought it.

It kept company with the oranges in a bowl on top of the refrigerator from Friday until today. Out of curiosity, I reached up into the bowl and found a rather squishy mango at my fingertips. I don’t know about your personal experience, but I know that in mine, squishy fruit equals rotten fruit. There are few things more depressing to me than a rotten piece of fruit—all that potential delisciousness gone to waste.

Bracing myself, I pulled it out of the bowl and looked at it. It still looked like a pear with asthma, as opposed to a brown pulpy mess, which was what I’d expected. Still, I thought, I had better eat it now before it starts attracting vultures.

Grabbing my trusty paring knife, I plunged it into the little bugger and cut one pivoting slice around the thing’s pit. It felt like cutting an avocado or a peach. The first mistake I made, I now realize, was assuming that the mango would behave like a peach. Rule One about mangoes: a mango is not a peach.

I realized this after trying to tug the two halves apart. They wouldn’t budge. Yes, I managed to wring out a puddle of yellowy-orange juice onto the countertop, but that fruit wouldn’t let go of itself. Since it became clear at this point that there was no tidy way of finishing my mango experiment, I did what any self-respecting twenty-one year old with a fruit fetish would do: I put the knife down and sunk my teeth into that mango like a vegetarian Dracula.

Rule Two about mangoes: if ever you want to do a mango-based facial, all you have to do is eat the mango. Those suckers are explosive. In seconds, I had mango up to my hairline. There was a mango-juice Niagara Falls coursing down my chin and cascading to my elbows. There were stringy bits of mango between every single one of my teeth, molars included. I was covered in what felt like head-to-toe mangoeyness, dripping in sweet, yellow-orange, and utterly delicious sap. Yes sir, that mango went where no mango has gone before.

I’m positive that I was doing something wrong. The mango was probably overripe. Or maybe it wasn’t ripe enough. Who knows. I grew up in the land of apples and peaches and strawberries—where everything grows in tidy little packages that are easily eaten off the stem. Not so much, it seems, with something exotic like a mango.  

I’d hardly call it a failed experiment. Before today, I never might have thought of eating fruit as anything more than a way of being healthy. It is a way of eating healthy—but more importantly, eating fruit can be fun. A mess, absolutely. But something as mundane and necessary as eating healthy food can be a whole lot of fun. This thought is a little revolutionary: who knows what else might pop out of our kitchen now that I’ve discovered food can be fun?

Life needs to have both a little of the mundane and a little of the fantastic—but what law says we have to separate the two?

Sweet Productivity

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It’s amazing what won’t get done in a day off of work.

A day off can often mean you, alone, in your house/apartment/cardboard box without much to do. Or a lot to do, which means you’ll be so intimidated by the task list that it may not get done anyway.

This is a very opportune time to buckle down and try that thing you’ve been hoping to try for several weeks.

For me, this meant healthy brownies.

I know that seems a little oxymoronic. After all, isn’t the point of eating a brownie supposed to be that it’s unhealthy?

My mother and I are health nuts. Over the years, I have become increasingly health conscious. It used to be I just wanted to lose weight, but my priorities have reordered themselves. Now it’s become a matter of eating what I need, not just what I want.

Occasionally, though, what I want and what I need happen to be the same thing.

In this case, it meant a brownie.

This wasn’t a normal brownie. It didn’t come from a mix, but it wasn’t your typical from-scratch variety either. Needless to say, they didn’t turn out very normally, either.

Rolled oats instead of flour meant they were more gooey and less cakey. Greek yogurt and egg whites instead of butter and oil meant they were a bit tangier and not as sweet. Half a cup of dark chocolate cocoa powder meant that the dark chocolaty-ness kind of kicked you in the teeth when you bit into one. Using unadulterated peanut butter as the drizzle on top meant that they were saltier than usual. Mixing all the ingredients in a blender instead of a mixer meant you were essentially baking a smoothie.

However, the yogurt, egg whites, and peanut butter meant that the brownies would be very high in protein, which made even a tiny brownie very filling. Like lembas. Chocolate is good for you—seriously, it’s a powerful antioxidant, which is wonderful for a lot of reasons. Oats meant the things were high in fiber, which is also wonderful. Lots of protein and lots of fiber are two things that athletically-challenged-and-therefore-we-run-to-stay-healthy people really, really need.

And if what we need comes in the form of a brownie, so much the better.

Plus, they taste delicious with coffee.

So a lot of my task list got ignored today because trying something new took precedence. I’m okay with that. I still managed to be productive—even if my productivity only yielded non-brownie brownies.

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Dawn of a New Hobby

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Most girls my age have been cooking since they were four. A slightly smaller number of girls my age have been in charge of cooking at least one meal a week in their households since they were ten until they went to college, where meals became nonexistent. It’s a general (and usually true) assumption in our culture that if you’re female, you can cook.

This is not the case with everyone.

I’m not sure if it’s just because I have a subconscious fear of electronic food preparation devices or because I simply lack the skill, but I am not competent in the kitchen. At all. Yes, I’m a girl. But cooking is a mountain I’ve yet to climb. Sure, I dally around at the base, baking pies at the appropriate seasons, whipping up pretty decent guacamole, and making a teriyaki broccoli-mushroom stir fry that’s particularly yummy with baked chicken. Aside from that, I feel like a fish out of water when it comes to all things culinary.

However, college has turned me into a health nut. I’m a bit obsessive about knowing what’s in my food. Prepackaged stuff drives me crazy. I eat salads in the dining common mostly for the benefit of knowing exactly what my meal’s ingredients are. I question the makeup of most of their casseroles. I’m not even a huge fan of eating at restaurants on a regular basis. There’s no way of knowing what you’re putting in the tank. It could be perfectly wholesome stuff—and it might not.

That, and I like the idea of using substitute ingredients to sneak more vegetables into things. If I’m ever a mother, I will be a devious one. I’ve discovered that there are ways to make pizza crust out of cauliflower, brownies out of sweet potatoes, and chocolate pudding out of avocadoes. Being the kind of person who enjoys peanut butter on her hamburgers, I am more than willing to try these things. And chances are, the only way I’m going to try them is if I make them myself.

In short, my hippie flower-child tendencies may just lead to the beginning of a new obsession.

Like I need another one.  

Multi-Culti Christmas

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We in the Rambler household like a variety when it comes to food. We make German spice cookies for Christmas and are mildly obsessed with Mexican food at all other times of the year. Mother and I have a taste for Asian cuisine, and all of us have an affinity for anything Italian.

Two years ago, we celebrated Christmas with latkes. Latkes, as you may know, are potato pancakes traditionally associated with the Jewish celebration of Hanukah. Hanukah and Christmas are not known for being friends, but we like to celebrate diversity. While we’re not Jewish, during the winter months we like to keep a menorah on the shelf next to our Bible commentaries.

That same Christmas, we went to our favorite Mexican restaurant for Christmas Eve and wished the wait-staff a feliz navidad.

This year we reprised the latke tradition. We made latkes tonight. I am no chef—normally I only make the occasional fruit pie—but tonight I added latke-making to my repertoire. I may not be able to do anything else, but at least I can make a mean latke.  

We will overlook the fact that we served bacon with the latkes. Diversity, folks. Diversity.

Baking Tip

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Christmas is time for baking. Christmas-cookie making is a global phenomenon. There are few Christmas-celebrating nations that do not have some kind of cookie tradition. Some substitute things like cake, pie, tarts, or other sweet things for cookies, but the principle is still there. Christmas is hardly Christmas without cookies.

In the Rambler family household, the cookie baking tradition has shifted over the years. We started out with sugar cookies with multi-colored sprinkles. Post-Germany excursion, we moved on to baking Lebkuchen, which is like gingerbread, only awesome-er. To that repertoire we have added no-bake chocolate-and-peanut-butter cookies, as well as peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses plopped in their centers. This year we added oatmeal cookies, since we like to pretend to be healthy in this family and oatmeal is Daddy’s favorite.

Mother and I have a system. I am the champion stirrer. She mans the oven. I assemble the dry ingredients. She handles the wet. We split our time operating the mixer. In the case of the Lebkuchen, I roll out the dough and use the cookie cutter. If we’re making drop cookies, we both attack the bowl of batter with spoons in hand. Most of the dough makes it onto the cookie sheet. Most.

Of course, one of the crucial steps in the cookie-baking process is taste testing. You eat a bit of the dough to make sure the taste is right and you didn’t forget any ingredients. You scrape the bowl to make cleanup easier. After the cookies are baked, there is the essential First Bite of Cookie to make sure they turned out okay. And if one cookie is accidentally damaged in the transition from cookie sheet to cooling rack (accidentally, mind you), then of course it’s no longer good enough to give away—so you might as well eat it.

I am no chef. My cooking skills are limited at best. But I do have one meager tip to offer all of my fellow Christmas-cookie-bakers. Before you bake, exercise. Exercise for hours. That’s the only way you’ll ever be able to forgive yourself after a day of baking cookies.

Gourdness Gracious

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It’s fall. Can I get an “amen?”

Thank you. There’s the introduction; now for the sermon.

Fall conjures up certain images in our minds. We see falling leaves, haystacks, people in scarves, steaming cups of coffee. Our noses catch whiffs of burning leaves and that nip in the air that’s never quite the same in any other season of the year. And, naturally, we’re looking forward to Thanksgiving time and all of the associated comfort food and joy.

And pumpkin. Pumpkin everything.

It seems that this year more than any other I’m noticing the prevalence of pumpkin-themed items. Pumpkin pie, of course, but then there’s pumpkin candles, pumpkin air freshener, and pumpkin car deodorizer, pumpkin lip balm. And everything is suddenly pumpkin flavored, from cookies to lattes. There’s pumpkin cream cheese and pumpkin muffins and pumpkin spice this, that, or the other.

It’s almost done too much. I’m waiting for pumpkin chocolate. Pumpkin-scented shoe inserts. Pumpkin deodorant. Pumpkin perfume already exists (I know because I own some). Pumpkin stationary. Pumpkin wine. Pumpkin-flavored cough drops. Pumpkin ink. Pumpkin soda. Pumpkin toilet paper. Pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin. It’s cliché, it’s annoying, it’s overdone, it’s—

Wait. What was that you said? Come again? Pumpkin doughnuts, you say? Dunkin’ Doughnuts pumpkin doughnuts?

…never mind. I take it all back. Pass the box and get me some coffee; I’m set until the eggnog hits the shelves.

How ‘Bout That Vibrant Parmesan?

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Have you ever had an adjective attack?

Perhaps I should explain myself. And adjective attack is when you are hear an adjective so apt, so tasteful, so beautifully placed to describe an object that you just have to stop and say, “Good gracious, that was lovely.”

Yesterday I was at the wedding shower for one of my adopted sisters. Among many other yummy goodies, including but not limited to a mountain of strawberries and the obligatory chocolate fondue fountain, there was a soufflé dish full of some sort of dip. I scooped up a dollop of the stuff onto a whole wheat cracker (because everybody knows that putting something on a whole wheat cracker automatically negates all the calories) and took a bite. I detected spinach, some sort of cheese, and little chunks of something crunchy and tangy. I learned later that this was a spinach artichoke dip lovingly prepared by the bride-to-be’s father.

But I am not necessarily here to discuss the merits of the dip. I am here to give an illustration of an adjective attack, which in this case happened very shortly after taking a bite of artichoke and spinach on a wheat thin.

Another attendee took a bite at about the same time. While I do not have skilled enough taste buds to be able to detect the variety of cheese in a dish by flavor, this young woman clearly did. She took one bite, let out a little exclamation of pleasure and promptly said “Oh, my, how yummy! I’ve never tasted anything quite like it. The parmesan is so vibrant.”

I stopped mid-chew. Vibrant. Parmesan. Vibrant parmesan.

This was the adjective attack. Something clicked in the writer-ly corner of my brain. Never before had I entertained the idea that cheese could be vibrant. But the evidence was in my mouth. It was in fact very vibrant parmesan. That was what made the dip so delicious.

Why, yes, reader. I am a word nerd. However did you guess?