Category Archives: Recipes

Homemade Fig Newtons

A snack idea turned into monster memories and a response to a scary post

Can prunes be an adequate substitute for the leftover Halloween candy in my freezer?

We tried to get rid of it, the bags of miniature Snickers and 3 Musketeers. Brian was handing out so much candy per customer that it prompted one observant kid to ask whether we had had very many trick-or-treaters. Sounding even more grown up was the young woman who told us to stay warm as I stood there in the doorway wrapped in a comforter. Enjoying what was left of unrestricted youth, the teen was roaming the neighborhood with her friends on the one night that a random stranger might be welcomed. Trick-or-treat for as long as you can.

Eventually, we might circle back to the fun it was to put on a wig. College bars. Parties. You’re back to deciding what to be. A Potluck? Now you have to decide what to bring. So, there you are, Little Red Riding Hood with your tater-tot casserole and cold feet because those are the shoes that go with that outfit. You came with Doug. He’s a wolf. Of course, he is. He brought a bag of pretzels. We hate Doug. Then those parties you somewhat dreaded – parties that required overcoming barriers, psychological barriers, just to leave the house – these parties will be something to miss while you’re either supervising your own monsters or cooing over the costumes of other people’s kids.

“What a beautiful princess you are!”

“What a scary ghost!”

A lollypop and a bacon strip – a pair for some reason – came to our door the year I started to write this post, 2019. The bacon worried – and probably hoped – that he might offend a vegetarian. He was itching for something, an encounter that would cue the statement churning in his head, a belief in search of context. What exactly did he want to say all puffed up like that? A skeleton – first the meat and now the bones – carried a ten-gallon pumpkin for her stash. Her mother was quick to tell me that “She picked it out!” We laughed. Smart kid. Brian has robbed a baby of the fun of dropping something into his bucket of candy. So, he gives the boy another chocolate “for the hand.” Held in the arms of his father, the boy’s little arm swings around like a boom. His candy lands with a pleasing crinkle. You can see this on the baby’s face. He did that. Did we see? Yes. We saw. You did that! Good for you, kid!

It’s amazing what can be understood and between whom. A baby. A man. A politically incorrect slab of meat.

Or is it dumbfounding what is confused?

A Facebook post about a left-wing global warming conspiracy brings me down. It is liked and shared without question, replacing the discussion we might have had.

This is from my Facebook feed.

The guy who posted this used to be a friend of mine. We were part of the same weekly dinner group. At some point we lost touch, only to reconnect on social media. There I can see that things are going well for my old friend. Girlfriends. Dogs. Skiing. Lots of pictures in beautiful places. Nature. There is God. Crusaders are mixed with A Course in Miracles – something I associate with Marianne Williamson who endorsed Dennis Kucinich for president for ’04 and who herself ran for the office in 2020 as a peace candidate. What I remember about Williamson’s take on The Course was that one can be centered in love or fear. The idea prepared me to deal with those who have made an art out of scaring people, be they salespeople, politicians or someone who thinks they are closer to God than I am. Anyway, the contradiction reminded me of Stu.

Stu was a gay sergeant in the U.S. Air Force before Bill Clinton’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He had married his beard who was stationed somewhere far away. Marry a lesbian and live with your lover. It was a fairly common survival tactic in the military, or so was my understanding back then. (More recently I heard a similar story. A lesbian Mormon approached a bachelor friend to suggest a marriage that would be arranged to help her pass in that world. I can’t remember what he was supposed to get out of the deal. Reluctant sex? Money? The casting off of stigmas that we invent? I’m so sorry that this person can’t just be who she is – openly – without fear of punishment.) Well, I suppose it’s naive and possibly insulting (for that I am sorry), but I was floored to learn that this gay man who took a wife for show was a Republican. “They’re called Log Cabin Republicans,” he told me.

I never knew my old dinner party friend as a particularly religious guy, though not without some belief in a higher power, a sense of mystery behind the curtain so to speak. And now here he is lauding the late Reverend Billy Graham. It’s just another thing that separates us: A religious leader who defended the death penalty instead of seeking mercy for the condemned; and a belief that pollution that could be prevented isn’t contributing to the shrinking polar icecaps.

Why is it taking me so long to finish this post? When did a first draft appear? November? 2019. That was pre-Covid-19. Remember when we used to say pre-9-11?

You’ll have to deal with the leftover candy, unless of course you’re the sort to turn off the lights and hide until eight-thirty when the little monsters go in for the night for their baths and bedtime stories. Was it not for Brian, who knows what I would do? I almost skipped it last year. But eventually I joined him on the porch. I had been washing windows and putting up lights to cheer up the place for the coming winter. It will be dark at four-thirty before you know it. So, I was tired and it was hard to get off the couch. Hard not to just doze off to the sound of Brian greeting the kids and their parents who carry babies dressed like bunny rabbits and nudge superheroes forward, often reminding the likes of Spider-Man to say thank you. Soon they’ll be wandering the streets with their friends unsupervised and without costumes or gloves or hats because this is what freedom looks like to a child.

Now it’s another kind of mask. The face coverings that are supposed to fend off real monsters have been politicized. They stand in as cheap knock-offs of fundamental human rights. It’s a misplaced grudge, of course. But it’s hard to get people to talk about the dread caught in their stomach, a feeling that they might end up on the street because a layoff is looming and they’re behind on the rent. And even if your investments might give you a sense of security, deep down you worry because you don’t really understand how the stock market works. It’s hard to get people to talk about how they have really been screwed by the system where something as basic as affordable health care is not assured. How can you relax when you know that something that started as a cough could sink you for life? And if you’re lucky enough to have a job, it might be a soul-sucking one, the kind of work where you put your time in until you can retire without going broke. But those are big rocks to move. It is easier to complain about how wearing a mask is impinging upon your freedom.

When my old dinner friend thinks of me, he remembers how I hated flies. One of the rare times we actually exchanged words on Facebook, he recalled how I had lost my mind the time they had overtaken the house where I lived. They dotted the white cathedral ceilings in the kitchen as if someone had flung a box of raisins into its frosted underside. “Guilty as charged!” I said. This has not changed… Nor has my objection to the death penalty. At what age is a child aware of lethal injections that are administered by doctors, sanctioned by the state and defended by men with Bibles? Whatever it is, it is too young to be burdened by such sad things. Whatever age it is, that’s when I knew that I was against it. Was she always that way? Yes. I was always that way. Is she still that way? Yes. We ask these things of people we used to know. We wonder if we ever knew them.

There is but a trickle of kids this Halloween night and Brian and I wonder if we should give up on our ritual of sitting on the porch with our big bowls of candy, making a game out of giving away the perfect amount to each kid so that we neither run out of treats too early or end up with a surplus. It’s a game we never win. The lulls between monsters give us a chance to reminisce. I try to remember what it was like to trick-or-treat when I was a kid. Pillow cases for bags. Being out in the dark with Matt and Amy. Ginger? Who was in charge? My dad? Yes. He must have been there. Or was it one of the “big kids” taking us from house to house dressed as clowns and witches – costumes my mother made – and – one year for some reason – really fat baseball players with painted mustaches? Or were we kids on the loose? Unsupervised. Free.

How does one respond to a long-debunked conspiracy theory? I could post a quick “Really?”, by which I would mean, “Are you frickin’ kidding me?” It’s hard to find the words that are both kind and truthful. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. This is a thing. Besides, even the smart-and-carefully-crafted-to-be-kind rebuttal is sharpened by pixels. Plus, if I am to believe the things that I am reading about this or the podcasts that are addressing the subject, it’s very difficult to talk someone out of a conspiracy theory for which they’ve already made the non-refundable down payment. It’s hard to abandon the sunk costs, even if that just means the hours someone has spent with their face in a YouTube channel.

Don’t respond. What good will come of it? Talk about fig newtons.

I can see my dad inspecting the candy that is spread out on the kitchen counter. He is protecting me. These days I try to protect him with advice like, “Don’t click on suspicious links!” He already knows this, but I warn him anyway. We both know that he is a target for scams because he is old. Why doesn’t anyone do anything about this? Why are parasites an acceptable feature of our society? Once just hours after my parents ordered a new iPhone that was to be delivered by Fed-Ex, a suspicious call was triggered. My dad knew enough to hang up. He even called Apple. Yep, it’s a scam. They were fully aware of it. I never got the full story. What was the point? How exactly did the voice on the other end of the line intend to separate my dad from his money? How did they know that he had just purchased a phone? Instead, I was stuck on a single question. When are we going to realize that we can design the world as we wish and that we need not tolerate predators that see our loved ones as easy marks? Instead, we stand around as if there is nothing to be done. We re-elect incumbents on every level of government who have failed to stop this bullshit. Impotent, we are left to rebel against the common good with a lie about a medical condition that prevents us from wearing a mask for the ten minutes it takes to buy a jug of milk. It’s pathetic.

With Covid-19 heading into another peak worse than the previous ones, now I worry more about organic viruses than the ones that infect my parents’ computer.

By the time I was in the third grade, we lived in Tehran where the locals would have been confused by tiny Frankensteins at the door. That must be why I have memories of the Halloween parties that replaced the trick-or-treating. Bobbing for apples wasn’t for me and the cake walks weren’t as exciting as tromping around the neighborhood wrapped in the smell of night. My mother made a jack-o-lantern cake for one of these occasions. I wanted to keep it. But alas it was for some other kid to win.  These must have been squadron parties, military families entertaining their kids in a foreign country. At one such party, Santa Claus gave me a camel. Who arranged for this? A lowly one-striper? An administrative assistant? I want to thank you. I still have that camel. But that’s Christmas. We’re talking about Halloween.

So, Brian and I are on the porch handing out candy. He would be content to read between customers, but he lets me sit there with him. He’s mostly cooperative when I ask him questions about what he remembers about trick-or-treating. But he does not remember how old he was when he stopped. I couldn’t say either. He marks his place and puts down his book. You can read, I say. He won’t do this until I leave or pick up my own book. I ask him how the book is going. Then business picks up. One kid. Two. Three at a time. Four. Talk of bagging it next year fades.

Of course, we didn’t know what next year would bring. It’s 2020. The department of health is advising against a traditional Halloween.

Let it go. Just let it go. But I can’t.

There was a stretch when it seemed like some parents were opting for house parties instead of trick-or-treating. It was safer. Warmer. Maybe, but mainly safer. It’s better to eat pizza and watch a scary movie than to worry about razor blades in your candy. Now the neighborhood listserv is abuzz with talk about how “goodie bags” can be safely distributed to the kiddos who are desperate for the kind of fun that cannot be replaced with musical chairs and party favors. That want something real. We all do.

The Facebook meme that has me torqued complains that Dr. Elaine Curry “gets no media coverage.”  Tucker Carlson seemed to like her. I know this because I watched the interview on YouTube. And now an algorithm has pegged me for a nut. But maybe I could be convinced that global warming is a hoax, if only I were to watch all of those suggested videos. Well, even as he interviews her, Tucker seems uninterested in what Curry has to say. He has is own agenda to push and he uses her to do it. In a cursory search, I did not find an example of Curry using that word – hoax. Her issue is actually more interesting than 44 blurry words on a meme. But why look any further? Two grainy photographs – a woman and a girl – are somehow enough.

Have my Internet wanderings triggered the right-wing political mail I’ve been getting? If this is how the Republicans are spending their money, I suppose there is some hope in that.

So now there’s candy in the freezer. Brian gave up sweets a long time ago and I have never had much of a sweet tooth. And yet this afternoon a candy bar did sound good. Did I say there was candy in the freezer? What would be the harm?

It turns out that rampant candy tampering was never a thing. It used to be that calling out a hoax cleared the air. Made us less afraid, assuming you were willing to accept the good news. Imagine that! Refusing to accept the good news. Instead we cling to the thing that keeps us in a perpetual state of fear and mistrust. Why are we so comfortable there when we could assume the best of people? What would Marianne Williamson with her love-versus-fear-based perspective say about that? In any case, hoax is just another word that has lost its meaning.

Curry’s issue seems to be that mainstream academia has sidelined her for presenting data that does not support the theory that burning fossil fuels is a driver of the climate crisis. She’s also cranky about the claims that there is almost perfect consensus of the scientific community on this issue. Skeptical Science refutes this along with several other of her statements.

I want the snappy response that will definitively win – and more importantly end – this argument. I want this even though smarter people than me (and you my old friend) have ended it several times only to see conspiracy theories resurrect like the zombies at my door, lies that will not die because it is so damn easy to click share and to repeat what we have heard from behind the fortress of a keyboard. I can’t stay with you here, pretending to believe in monsters under the bed. There are plenty of real monsters. If you listen, you will hear them knocking. Answer the door. Instead, you hide. You’re in the house. Except for the glow of the television, it is dark. But those pesky kids persist. They ring the doorbell anyway. So, you turn up the volume and the giant heads pound the message even louder. They pound it so hard that you’ve lost sight of a truth that used to be yours and a common sense that seemed – but wasn’t – intractable. You have been robbed. But instead you just figured that you must have spent that twenty dollars. You just can’t remember where. 

You seem paranoid. I’m afraid that it is contagious.

I tell myself to drop it.

Too much work.

Too dangerous.

Write about Fig Newtons.

What happened to you, friend?

What happened to me?

Would it have made a difference were we still eating dinner together?

If your chest is tightening, if you think I am lost, corrupted or brainwashed, I understand. You call me names, I’ve seen them on the Internet, in my Facebook feed and elsewhere. But before that, there were the businessmen who used to come into Paddy O’Neil’s where I was a cocktail waitress. Tom, a big guy in a suit, was a known tipper. I think he was a lawyer because he wasn’t a doctor and in my mind, those were the people with money. But he could have been anything. Regardless of where Tom sat – your section, mine – the alpha waitress would usually claim his table that would be stuffed with more suits who were loose with their money. So, it was unusual that I would ever have to deal with him, but sometimes I did.  He was a scotch man and I brought him the usual, a double Dewar’s on the rocks. When I was new on the job, the first time I heard him order it – dubdersrox – I asked him to repeat it. He did and it didn’t help. I didn’t know my scotches. I still don’t. In any case, most of our exchanges have long been forgotten except for this summation. “You’re a bleeding heart!” he said. At the time it hurt. Today, I would have said, You’re damn right. What led to this, I do not remember. Maybe he was extolling the virtues of Billy Graham and I just couldn’t help myself and confessed that I couldn’t make sense of his lack of compassion. Or maybe he saw me wince when he made a comment about the lazy Indians who pass out drunk in the park. I wouldn’t have been able to resist hinting at the irony, the idea that some of these suits might drive home inebriated that very night, as if inebriation were somehow classier than a bum who smelled of dirty socks. Or maybe I just asked a question that challenged an assumption and instead of taking it seriously, it was easier to slap a label on me. Or maybe you can just tell that kind of thing about a person.

I am reminded of Dr. Elaine Ingham She is a soil scientist. Like Curry, she too complained about how the university system pushed conventional wisdom. In her lecture at the Oxford Real Farming Conference she introduced herself in part this way:

Yes, I do have the academic alphabet soup after my name. So undergraduate, masters, PhD… I am currently the president of Soil Food Web, a company I started after I ran smack into my university, Oregon State university’s absolute dedication to Monsanto…

Her approach appealed to me. It made sense to me in the same way that I’ve always been opposed to the death penalty on a gut level.  Without being a soil scientist myself, it seemed reasonable to suggest that a cycle of tilling and fertilizing and applying pesticides was eroding the soil and harming the very microbes that make it possible to grow stuff. So, I am not unsympathetic to the suggestion that unpopular ideas can be shushed by the establishment or that a minority voice might actually be right, while the majority presses for conforming to bad science. Galileo was accused of heresy because he made the case for a heliocentric solar system (what did they call it before it was the “solar” system?) as opposed to one that revolved around Earth. So, there are two examples.

But this hardly means that I should concede that the climate crisis is a hoax because someone’s research didn’t warrant priority funding. Brian and I talked about this a lot. The way we choose our scientific pursuits is not perfect. It might even be unfair. But it’s a little too convenient to claim that whenever the consensus doesn’t swing your way it means that there is a conspiracy.

Brian thinks that climate change denial is rooted in the question about how we can transition to a green economy without wreaking havoc on the economy as it operates today. He’s probably right. But it’s hard for me to understand. It’s kind of like people who might vote for Trump because their 401-k was doing well the last time they checked. Or what about Stu, who married a woman just so that he wouldn’t be hassled by anyone who might notice that he was gay? How did he set aside this reality when he voted for the clowns who would have been happy to slam the closet door on his face? And lock it shut? And he did this for what? The perception that Republicans are fiscally responsible? They are not. Morally superior? Give me a frickin’ break! No wonder depression has a grip on this country. We’re constantly setting aside our values to guard our dog bones, and they are bones. That’s what you get when money rules a system.

We all have our cognitive dissonance. I voted for Joe Biden.

Likewise, most climate change deniers – those people who are smarter than a collaboration of international scientist – are the same people who will be the first to avail themselves to modern medicine be it LASIK surgery, an artificial joint, or a treatment for cancer that would have killed their grandparents. They’ll jump on an airplane without a care in the world, embrace nuclear energy and fill their homes with gadgets: handheld devices that are essentially an extension of their brains, GPS systems that rely on satellites in space, or robots that vacuum their floors. But when it comes to a warning that the CO2 levels in the atmosphere are dangerously high, they’re good with brushing it off as a hoax because it’s not economically viable?

Of course, it is beyond ironic that this Facebook meme is presented as an example of “media manipulation”.  Our current president will go down in history as having invented the idea of accusing people of your own crimes. But it’s an old trick and it’s certainly being used here. A deceptive message warning us about deceptive messages? Maybe that could have been my snappy response to my friend’s ignorant post.

This year, the year when Covid-19 emerged, for Halloween we sat on the lawn with our neighbors instead of waiting for the monsters to knock. Trick-or-treaters marched by to take their goodie bags from the tables that lined the sidewalk at a safe distance. It was windy. Gusty at times. It occurs to me that we are sitting under a maple that is dying and loosing its branches. Maybe we should think about moving? We don’t. The women are wrapped in blankets. Every year the blankets.

A block over, “It’s hoppin’!” There are bon fires. But I’m not sure they had anything to do with the firetruck that went by.

The neighbor’s kid is dressed like Trump. Backlit by street lamps, we can see a stick figure inside a blow-up costume that is wearing a diaper. His brother is dressed like the grim reaper. I don’t think this was on purpose. They are accompanied by the headless horseman who doesn’t have a pumpkin to carry or a horse to ride. So maybe he was just headless? When it’s time to go inside, the brothers have to walk their friend home. So a baby Donald Trump and his brother the grim reaper escorted this decapitated body down the street.

I tried to find the clip that solidified my dislike for Reverend Billy Graham. It seems like it was something on Larry King. A woman in Texas was going to be executed that night, always midnight for some reason, a strange custom when you think about it. I couldn’t find it. Instead, I discovered that the man had evolved. He actually seemed humble when talking about how he might have been wrong to condemn the gays. Elderly now, he seemed comfortable with reflection. And I was surprised to learn that he was – eventually – on the right side of the Civil Rights movement. That was something, wasn’t it? Of course, religious extremists didn’t like the Reverend’s change of heart. How easily they turn on you.

How easily they turn on you, indeed.

If only we could just be who we are, without fear of punishment.

Sometimes cold. Usually. Sometime after moving to South Dakota, I would associate Halloween with blizzards. It was probably the weather more than my age that determined when it was time to stop tick-or-treating.

Homemade Fig Newtons
Author: 
Recipe type: Snack
 
Ingredients
  • 5 prunes, chopped
  • Saltines or other cracker
  • Walnuts, 1 handful, chopped
  • Maple syrup
  • Peanut butter
Instructions
  1. Spread finely chopped prunes/prune paste on a cracker.
  2. Sprinkle the above with crushed walnuts or another nut you like. Pecans would be good.
  3. Drizzle the above with maple syrup.
  4. On a separate cracker, spread a dab of peanut butter. Use this to make a sandwich with the first cracker with prunes etc.

Fancy Oatmeal

When family was recently visiting, I noticed that my dad was including prunes in his diet. I’ve always associated them with digestive health, but apparently they’re more versatile than that. This article also links them to bone and heart health. I can enjoy a prune out of the bag just fine, but eating a recommended amount can be a chore (somewhere I read 5-8 prunes, while the site just referenced recommends  2 ounces). If only the date bars we used to get at the May Day Cafe in Minneapolis could be considered breakfast. They’re ridiculously good. Somewhat inspired by this, I came up with another version of my “fancy oatmeal”.  While this is cooking, you will think that someone is baking cookies.  If you are like me and like to eat breakfast for dinner, this works for that. It’s also a decent choice when you’re feeling tempted by junk food. It can satisfy some of those cravings.

Oatmeal with prunes
Author: 
Cuisine: Breakfast
 
Ingredients
  • ½ c oatmeal (not instant)
  • 1 c water
  • ⅛ tsp ginger, ground
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon, ground
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 prunes, chopped
  • Milk
  • Walnuts, chopped
  • Maple syrup
Instructions
  1. In a large microwavable cereal bowl, combine oatmeal and water.
  2. Microwave for 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in ginger, cinnamon (I just eyeball the spices), vanilla and prunes.
  4. Let the above stand covered for a few minutes.
  5. Stir in a splash of milk and microwave for another minute or two.
  6. Top with walnuts and drizzle with maple syrup.
  7. If you are microwave adverse, this could be made on the stove just as easily.

 

The Veggie Burger I Wish I Could Order at my Favorite Restaurants

Some restaurants deserve credit for offering vegetarian options, especially if there’s an attempt to elevate veggie burgers beyond the commercial stuff. But I’d  prefer a Boca Burger to an over-salted “patty” that oozes out of the bun with every bite. If I wonder “Why isn’t this a burrito?”, then your black bean concoction doesn’t cut it on a bun. The ideal veggie burger is firm. Texture is critical. Having sampled a number of them in the Twin Cities,  I’m not sure that any of them have nailed it, but there are some pretty good ones. I’ve listed some below.

Here’s the veggie burger I wish I could find in restaurants. It’s based on “Wonderful Walnut-Mushroom Loaf”, a recipe in Jazzy Vegetarian by Laura Theodore. The loaf was really good and the leftovers that were sliced and pan fried were even better.

The Ideal Veggie Burger
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetarian
 
This is a rare homemade veggie burger that is firm, has a good texture and is packed full of flavor without overdoing the salt or garlic. It reminds me of stuffing. But for those who don't like sage and poultry seasoning (I'm thinking of my vegetarian sister), it has none of that.
Ingredients
  • 4 slices of bread, whole grain, rye... whatever or 2½ cups of bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin light olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 5-6 ounces of chopped mushrooms, cremini works well
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 heaping teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon tamari
  • 2¼ cups walnuts
  • ½ cup unsalted roasted sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, or vegan cheese
  • Zest from ½ lemon
  • 1 teaspoon italian seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
Instructions
Equipment
  1. Toaster
  2. A large skillet
  3. The Rosle Multi Cutter or a food processor and a cutting board and a chef's knife
  4. Cheese grater
  5. Zester
  6. A big mixing bowl
  7. Rubber spatula
  8. Cookie sheet or pizza pan
Prep some stuff
  1. Toast 4 slices of bread, whole grain, rye... whatever and set aside.
  2. Warm 2 tablespoons of oil in large skillet.
  3. Chop 5-6 ounces of mushrooms. The Rosle Multi Cutter (RMC) is great for this job (see below). Set aside.
  4. Chop 1 onion. If using the RMC, roughly chop onion into wedges. Set aside a small wedge of onion and chop the rest. Don't overload the unit. Otherwise chop the whole thing on a cutting board as you normally would.
In the skillet add...
  1. Chopped onion. Saute for a few minutes until tender. Then add...
  2. Two cloves minced garlic. If using the RMC to mince, add cloves to the wedge of onion you saved. I find that the chopper needs something to grab onto to work, hence the onion.
  3. Mushrooms. Continue to saute for 10 minutes then...
  4. One heaping teaspoon of brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of tamari. Cook until the pan juices have evaporated.
In the meantime, put this stuff in a big mixing bowl...
  1. Pulverize toast to make 2½ cups of bread crumbs. Either use a food processor or the RMC. Just tear the toast into pieces that fit.
  2. Chop 2¼ cups of walnuts in a processor or the RMC until coarsely ground.
  3. Same with ½ cup sunflower seeds. Process until coarsely ground and add to mixing bowl with the other stuff.
  4. Add 1 cup of shredded cheese, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, lemon zest, and ¼ teaspoon of salt to the bowl.
  5. Toss everything together.
Mix it all together!
  1. Add the mushroom-onion mixture to the bowl and blend everything together with your hands or a rubber spatula. The mixture will form a ball that holds together.
Bake your veggie burgers
  1. Form medium sized patties and bake them on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Turn them over and bake for an additional 10 minutes or longer to brown them.
Serve
  1. These were really good on soft whole wheat bagels from the Seward Co-op with a slice of a tomato from the garden. They were also good served over a bed of rice with chopped fresh tomatoes on top. To reheat, pan fry them in a little bit of oil.

 

Veggie Burgers in the Twin Cities

It has been a while since I’ve sampled some of these. Here’s what I remember.

  • Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub – Loved the beer. The wild rice veggie burger was a little heavy on the garlic the day I was there.
  • The Local – I must have had the Veggie Lucy. It was good enough to make the “I would order that again” list. I believe it’s the same sandwich you’ll find at The Liffey, which you can enjoy on the balcony that overlooks West Seventh Street in downtown St. Paul.
  • Speaking of the lucy, the Fried Vegetable “Juicy Lucy” at The Happy Gnome can hit the spot, although it’s on the heavy side. I have good memories of being at the Gnome on a snowy Sunday when they had some live music.
  • The Tiny Diner serves a spinach and walnut burger which sounds good in theory but the mushy texture lost me. That said, I love the Tiny Diner and have had other great meals there. Their outdoor dining under the solar panels is especially appealing.
  • Peppers and Fries has a black bean based veggie burger. It was okay, but the next time I visit I’ll stick with the burrito.
  • Pub 112 in Stillwater has the Gaelic Gairdin, which was perfect the first time I ordered it.
  • The Chef Shack – I think the beets made this one interesting and I might steal the idea for another iteration of the above recipe. I just wish it could be have been paired with an equally appealing texture.
  • The Pint Public House gets reasonable marks for its veggie burger but docked for the so-so bun that accompanied it.
  • The American Burger Bar that was on LaSalle Avenue where I tried their veggie burger closed. But there are other locations. The burger had one of the better textures of the ones I’ve tried but was on the bland side. So order yours with plenty of yummy toppings.

Rosle Multi-Cutter

Under the heading of gadgets that work as advertised, I present the Rosle Multi-Cutter. Brian’s sister gave us one as a Christmas gift. I love it and highly recommend it.

Preserving Berries

Raspberries_001
Inspired by my neighbors who gave me some homemade raspberry jam and who assured me that it was easy to make (“Just get some Sure Jell or some other kind of pectin and follow the directions.”), I gave it a try. It was easy, although for one batch I forgot to skim off the foam, making for a cloudy product… or at least I think that’s what happened.

With a number of things to get done before Thanksgiving, I was looking for an even easier way to preserve the last of my harvest. In the past, I used a trick my friend Mary Ann shared. Just put the berries on a plate such that they are not touching. Pop them in the freezer. Once they are frozen, transfer them to a plastic bag and freeze. Pre-freezing the berries prevents them from clumping. It works perfectly.

This year I tried something even easier. I rinsed the berries and cooked them down on a low heat to make a sauce. Then I distributed the sauce into ice cube trays. Once frozen, I popped the cubes out of the tray and put them in a plastic bag for storage in the freezer. The raspberry cubes can flavor yogurt, oatmeal, desserts, and – one of my favorites – salad dressing. An added advantage is that there is no sugar added to the cubes. That can be controlled whenever they are used.

Hummus Veggie Wrap

Right before I had left my hometown to take a job in Saint Paul, I took a cooking class at my favorite restaurant in Rapid City. Veggies was a venture of Seventh-Day Adventists. Unlike Mary who was the owner of the restaurant and our teacher, I’m not positive that God intended for people to be vegetarians. Nevertheless, Mary did make a compelling case for being one (actually a vegan, it turns out) and eating whole unprocessed foods. She reaffirmed what I had read years earlier in a random book I found. Sugar Blues argued that sugar was a processed drug, not unlike (do I remember this correctly?) cocaine.

Maybe the book was overstating it. But, I’ll never forget the story Mary told us about a school that was having serious discipline problems. She claimed to have corrected the problem by taking over the cafeteria. She got rid of the sugar, the white bread, the dairy and – of course – the meat. She described a transformation where failing students with a penchant for picking fights became model citizens. Before they couldn’t concentrate or sit still. Now they could. And according to Mary, it was about the food. I believed her. After all, the reason I took her class in the first place was because I noticed that I felt better whenever I had lunch at her long-since closed restaurant. A meal there was always totally satisfying.

I still have the cookbook I bought when I took Mary’s class. The Best of Veggie’s has everything from main dishes like croquette’s with cashew gravy that will stand up to the comfort food of my childhood (think Grandma’s roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, sweet carrots drenched in butter, rolls) to vegan mayo and homemade ketchup. So, I was surprised that something as basic as a hummus recipe didn’t hit the mark. Was the ¼ cup of lemon juice a typo? I made it work by adding more beans. But the hummus recipe that my mother gave me last week over the phone is better. From my post-it note to you, here it is with some adaptations:

Hummus Veggie Wrap
Author: 
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
A hummus veggie wrap is a quick and satisfying lunch or dinner.
Ingredients
Hummus
  • 1 can garbanzo beans - reserve juice
  • 2 ounces sliced jalapeno pepper (I used one big ass jalapeno from my garden. It could have taken more)
  • ½ TSP cumin
  • 2 TBS lemon juice
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 TBS reserved bean juice
Note
  • The above makes a dry-ish mixture that didn't seem quite right. I added a dollop of peanut butter (I would have used tahini instead if it had been available), a splash of tamari, and a little extra bean juice.
Wrap
  • Hummus (see above)
  • Tortillas (buy or make, see below)
  • Veggies of your choice: I used cucumber, red pepper, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Black olives, pickled jalapeno and crushed walnuts would have been a good addition. I put crushed walnuts on everything.
Instructions
  1. Blend hummus ingredients in a food processor or mash by hand.
  2. Warm tortilla - I heat mine directly on a gas burner on the stove, turning it with tongs
  3. Spread hummus down the center of a tortilla and sprinkle with paprika
  4. Layer veggies on top of hummus and fold tortilla closed. Don't know how? Look it up on YouTube.

Brian knows that anything I cook is accompanied by the “How would I change this?” conversation. With the fresh tomatoes from my backyard shining in this dish, the obvious answer would have been to grow more of my own veggies. It’s easy to grow cucumbers, onions and peppers. Also, I could have replaced the canned garbanzo beans with cooking up some dried ones, which would have taken just a few minutes in the pressure cooker.

A more challenging improvement would be to make my own tortillas using just three ingredients as shown in this video. Is it really that easy? Or will my ambitions go the way of my pasta machine, which is rarely used even though fresh pasta is notably better than anything I can buy with the possible exception of what I can get at Cossetta’s?

The prominent “Handmade Locally” on the package of the tortillas I have in my fridge makes me feel good. The story on the back of the package about the family behind the business is also touching.

“…Together they worked long hours at low-wage job after low-wage job to support their family until they took a roll of the dice and began peddling an unlikely product: fresh corn tortillas.”

Never mind that it is flour tortillas that I have. After reading the list of 20+ ingredients of which I recognize three (bleached wheat flour, water and salt), these “locally made” marketing techniques quickly lose their luster.

Cutting the veggies lengthwise for a wrap works well.

Cutting the veggies lengthwise for a wrap works well.

Add whatever veggies you like.

Add whatever veggies you like.

Fold the bottom of the wrap up first then roll the sides in.

Fold the bottom of the wrap up first then roll the sides in.

Not-so-Bland Beans and Weenies

Last year I attended a talk about healthy eating and the one thing that stuck with me was the recommendation to eat a big variety of food, counting spices. Gleaning from similar talks (lectures about nutrition apparently bring in the money at PBS), I picked up that an easy way to incorporate ginger into your diet is to add a pinch to oatmeal. Among other things, ginger is an anti-inflammatory medicine that can ease arthritis pain. Maybe it would make me feel a little less creaky after a day working in the yard? Eventually, I was putting a combination of spices in my oatmeal or warmed with fruit that would be added on top of it or some yogurt. A little ginger, cinnamon and vanilla swirled into a combination of frozen peaches and blueberries that are heated in the microwave for a couple of minutes fills the air with the smell of baked a pie. It’s really good.

Last night, noting that he had picked up some Field Roast Vegetarian Frankfurters, Brian suggested I have beans and weenies for dinner (He was settling on yogurt and fruit – I was in the mood for something hot). Along with The Honeymooners, the dish was the Saturday special when he was growing up and it remains a go-to favorite in our own home. With only a few minutes before the Cleveland-Golden State game was to start, it sounded perfect…only this time I decided to jazz it up.

While it seemed like it could have gone either way, it turned out really good.

 

Not-so-Bland Beans and Weenies
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Ingredients
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 Field Roast Vegetarian Frankfurters OR a substitute of your choice, cut lengthwise and then sliced into half circles
  • Onion, a handful, chopped
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Bush's Vegetarian Baked Beans, 16 oz can
  • Cinnamon, a couple of shakes
  • Ginger, a pinch
  • Oregano, a pinch - don't overdo it
Instructions
  1. Warm some oil in a saucepan
  2. sauté the onion and red pepper flakes for a few minutes
  3. add the frankfurters and brown
  4. add the baked beans and enough water to rinse the can mostly clean
  5. stir in cinnamon, ginger and oregano
  6. bring to a bubble
  7. simmer for 10 minutes

 

In the past, I’ve tried to make baked beans from scratch because I’m not a big fan of “a can of this a can of that”. They weren’t very good. I’ll have to give it another shot.

Peanut Butter Soup

When an old roommate offered me some of her peanut butter soup, it didn’t sound too appetizing but I couldn’t deny that it smelled really good and it turned out to be a very satisfying meal. I never got the recipe, but found that I had luck winging it. Do a search for “Peanut Butter Soup” for recipes that have more precise directions.

Peanut Butter Soup
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • Olive Oil
  • Onion, medium, chopped
  • Garlic, a handful minced
  • Peanut Butter, 1 large TBS
  • Water, 1 cup
  • Milk, 1-3 cups
  • Cayenne Pepper, 2-3 shakes
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Spinach (optional)
  • Carrots (optional)
  • Tomatoes (optional)
  • Garbanzo Beans (optional)
  • Rice (optional)
  • Noodles (optional)
Instructions
  1. Warm oil.
  2. Sauté onions and garlic on medium heat. Do not burn. You could include celery and carrots at this point if desired.
  3. Stir in peanut butter. Turn the heat up and let it brown and start to stick to the bottom of the pan, but do not burn it.
  4. Gradually add a cup of water, stirring it in to make a smooth mixture.
  5. Stir in milk.
  6. Add cayenne pepper, pepper, and salt to taste.
  7. Add other vegetables as desired. For example, spinach or some other chopped up green such as kale can be nice. A can of diced tomatoes will work. Garbanzo beans worked great. If you use them, I'd keep it simple and leave out the other vegetables. A cup of rice or noodles will make for an even more filling dish.

Squash Soup with Croutons

This recipe reminds me of the 2011 Boise trip I made with my parents. With plans to stay for a couple of weeks, we drove out to see my sister in October and stayed through Thanksgiving. I was the sous-chef the night we first tried this soup, taking directions from Mom – who I believe got this out of Cooking Light. Unless it was a Tuesday night, we probably followed dinner with Scrabble or Rummy, otherwise it would have been DWTS. Go Ricki!

Squash Soup with Croutons
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
I love a recipe that doesn't require special ingredients. Don't skip the croutons. Like the soup, they're simple but worth it.
Ingredients
Soup
  • 1 TBS Olive oil
  • 1 squash - cubed - I think we used Butternut
  • 4 cloves of garlic - chopped fine
  • 1¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 C Vegetable broth - used canned or take a few minutes to make your own.
Croutons
  • 4 slices of bread - cubed
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • Salt
Vegetable broth
  • Olive oil
  • 1 carrot - cut in thirds
  • 1 small onion - quartered
  • 1-2 celery sticks - cut in thirds
Instructions
Vegetable broth
  1. Sauté vegetables until they are caramelized.
  2. Turn up heat.
  3. Gradually add enough water to loosen whatever is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add more water to cover vegetables.
  5. Bring to boil.
  6. Turn down heat.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Simmer 20-30 minutes.
  9. Remove vegetables and discard (in the compost pile :o)
  10. Or used canned vegetable broth.
Soup
  1. Sauté garlic and cayenne 1 minute
  2. Add squash, broth, and 2¼ cups of water.
  3. Bring to boil.
  4. Lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes.
  5. Soup should be creamy. If needed, smooth it out with a potato masher or mixer.
  6. Note: When I made this, I sautéed the squash cubes with the garlic and cayenne before I added the liquid.
Croutons
  1. Toss bread cubes and 2 Tbs of oil and ½ tsp of salt.
  2. Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes.

Spicy Lentils and Noodles

This is what happens when you screw up the Soba Noodle & Lentils Salad. I started knowing that I didn’t have all of the ingredients for that recipe, which shouldn’t have been a problem. But then I overcooked the lentils, which was starting to look less appetizing. So, I shifted gears to make a soup, but ended up with a spicy sauce  instead. I stand by it even though Brian didn’t appear to be a huge fan.

Spicy Lentils & Noodles
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • ¾ Cup Lentils - I used red.
  • Olive Oil
  • Onion
  • Carrots
  • Garlic
  • 1 TBS Flour
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Black Pepper
  • Salt
  • Plain Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Egg Noodles
Instructions
  1. Cook the lentils. Normally, you would boil them for 5-7 minutes. I overdid it, so mine were mushy, hence the adaptation. Set aside.
  2. Sauté chopped onions, carrots and garlic in light olive oil.
  3. Add lentils and continue to cook. Stir in flour. Once a brown crusty goodness has formed on the bottom of the pan (not to be confused with burning), turn up the heat and cool down with water. Scrape the pan and blend. Add spices. I should have measured this, as my dish turned out too spicy. It wasn't ruined, but it took away from an otherwise flavorful dish. Let bubble.
  4. Blend in a dollop of yogurt.
  5. Stir in milk. Cook down to the consistency that you want.
  6. At the end you could add some frozen peas. I didn't.
  7. Serve over egg noodles or whatever you like.

Thanksgiving Leftovers – A Soup

 

Thanksgiving Leftovers
Author: 
 
This is proof that knowing a few basic tricks makes winging it in the kitchen a little less of a gamble. Using tips I've collected from cooking shows, recipes and friends, I came up with a soup made from Thanksgiving leftovers. Below is listed what I used. Use whatever leftovers you have.
Ingredients
  • Turkey Carcass - From the turkey, of course!
  • Rice - I used a short brown rice. I thought about using potatoes instead. Noodles would also work.
  • Carrots - some end-of-the bag scraggly carrots
  • Celery - 2 stocks
  • Leeks - left over from a Lentils and Soba recipe that called for just the white part of the leek
  • Onion -
  • Mushroom stems - left over from The World's Best Green Bean Caserole that called for removing the stems
  • Flour
  • Vegetable stock - left over from when I made potato soup.
  • Olive Oil - Extra Virgin
  • Heavy Whipping Cream - the portition that wasn't used for whipped topping for the chocolate pie
  • Red Wine
  • Milk
Instructions
Prep
  1. Clean meat from turkey bones and set aside.
  2. Chop carrots, celery, leeks, onion or whatever vegetables you have. A consistent shape - whatever you choose - works nicely. Set aside.
Turkey Broth
  1. Sauté bones with a little olive oil. You can add an onion or other vegetables if you like. Stir occasionally. Don't burn but brown enough that some sticks to the bottom of the pan. When this happens turn up the heat and add enough water to cover the bottom before it burns. Be careful of the steam. Stir while scraping the browned crusty goodness from the bottom of the pan. At this point, you can add enough water to cover the bones and simmer for 20-30 minutes. For my experiment, I did this after letting the water cook down (not to a dry point), added more water and back and forth. Use a colander to separate the bones from the broth or save a dish and just carefully pour the broth into a bowl, leaving the bones behind in the pan.
Rice
  1. In a large pot, add a little olive oil. Cover the bottom with rice. I probably should have measured the rice, as I used more than I needed, but the soup is still quite good. Toast the rice until it smells good. Be careful to stir as not to burn it. Turn up the heat. Add enough turkey broth to cover the rice. Be careful of the initial steam this will create. As the broth cooks down, add more broth. Repeat until you've used up all of the broth and the rice has doubled in volume. For a final product, you're aiming for rice that is cooked or mostly cooked and slightly covered with liquid.
Vegetable Mixture
  1. In a separate pan, sauté vegetables in olive oil until it smells good.
  2. Stir in a big TBS of flour.
  3. Add vegetable stock, stirring to make it smooth, blending in a little at a time.
  4. Add a splash of wine.
  5. Drink a splash of wine.
  6. Add cream.
  7. The end product should be vegetables in a creamy sauce.
The Soup
  1. Add vegetable mixture to rice.
  2. Add milk.
  3. Season to taste.
Spices
  1. What no spices? I considered putting a curry twist on this to mimic a turkey soup recipe that my friend Nancy gave to me. I also have some Bouquet Garni that pairs nicely with poultry. In the end, I didn't season it at all. I tasted the soup and liked it just fine the way it was. However, at the table, I did find myself adding salt and pepper.