Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why I Cook

   Cooking for me isn't just about feeding myself, or my family.  For me, it is an outlet for creativity and expression.  People who truly care about cooking and food, don't just cook to fill bellies.  They sautĂ© to inspire.  They bake to bring comfort.  They kneed, to make others feel cared for.  They flambĂ© to evoke a smile and the telltale moan of ecstasy.  They stir because at times a pot, a spoon, and a stove top are their only safe place.  They julianne because controlling a knife and a vegetable may be the only thing they can control.   They cook to make people understand them through their food, when at times they are unable to reveal themselves in any other way.  They cook because they must. 
   Cooking is a language of its own to these people, myself being one of them.  It is a language that is sweet and spicy, bitter and tangy, savory and rich.  The kitchen is a land full of promise, excitement.  A place of experimentation and discovery.  Recipes set the story, tales of magical, faraway lands, full of exotic and exciting flavors.  The ingredients, unique characters, all begging to be the star of the next dishes story.  
  Cooking for me isn't just about providing nourishment.  It's about communicating, escaping, controlling, experimenting, learning, and understanding.  So the next time you are making a meal, don't just throw stuff in a pot until it's ready.  Introduce yourself to the characters, listen to their stories, see the kitchen before you as a place of potential, and find yourself lost in its language.  But above all, try to understand what it means to openly, freely, and unabashedly cook.  


Sunday, January 13, 2013

One Book Can Make A Difference

Hi All!

A commercial came on the other night with the catch phrase “one book can make a difference.”  Classic book characters, from Clifford the Big Red Dog to Goldilocks and the Three Bears sang about how one book in the hands of a child can evoke the imagination and inspire determination.  So it got me thinking about what books and authors made a difference with me growing up.  

Below is what I came up with.  Check it out!  Maybe you’ll find some ideas for the kids in your life or even for yourself...

Oh The Thinks You Can Think by Dr. Seuss
            Dr. Seuss is my tried and true.  From childhood through today, somehow his words seem to resonate with me and my life.  As a kid I had them all, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Hop on Pop, There’s a Wocket in my Pocket, Green Eggs and Ham… I could go on for days.  But Oh The Thinks You Can Think, now that one’s special.  It’s message: you can do anything you set your mind to and the imagination is vast and endless.  (I actually bought a new copy not so long ago so I could have it on my bookshelf as a reminder to believe in myself and my creativity.) 

Aesop’s Fables
           The stories are brief enough to hold a child’s attention, but all end with great morals. Some of the better known tales are The Tortoise and the Hare and The Lion and the Mouse, but there are so many more! I had a beautifully illustrated oversized copy of these when I was a kid and would love to read two or three fables before bed.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
            Another great children’s story, but I didn’t truly begin to identify with this one until adulthood.  It’s actually incredibly deep and complex and another one of my favorite sources of inspiration when I’ve hit a creative block.

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
            Great for beginning readers, this is the first collection of books I remember reading on my own Misty of Chincoteague is the story of the wild horses of Assateague Island and a young boy and girl’s experience with one very special mare and her newborn colt.  A beautiful and touching tale for anyone who loves animals.

The Witches by Roald Dahl
            My 3rd Grade teacher Mrs. Rowe introduced me to Roald Dahl.  She read almost all of his books to us during that school year.  The BFG, Matilda, The Witches, and James and the Giant Peach were personal favorites.  The Witches (he adventure of a boy as he discovers witches are indeed real and unlike anything he had ever imagined) was a particular favorite because Mrs. Rowe wove this wonderful tale that she was one of the witches described in the book.  Now, we all knew deep down that it wasn’t true, but it was more fun to pretend it was.  It made the school year fun and one of my favorite memories from elementary school.

Animorphs and Everworld by K.A. Applegate
            Animorphs fell in that pre-adolescence phase, around 6th grade.  It's the story of a group of teens who are given the power to transform into any animal they touch from a dying alien.  They are then thrust into a battle for humanity against a species of aliens who are attempting to take over earth one human body at a time.  I’ll admit that I didn’t complete this series because I grew out of it before it ended (There are over 60 books!), but while I was reading it, I was seriously into it.  I remember how excited I was each time a new one came out.  It’s the first time I really remember getting wound up about the release date of a book. My mom would pick up the latest copy for me while I was in school or we would schedule a specific trip to the bookstore so I could get it ASAP.  And once I was hooked on this series, I was hooked.  I would take my new book, sit in a corner, and read it cover to cover in one day, desperate to know what happened next.  As I got older I transitioned from Animorphs to another K.A. Applegate series geared towards a teen audience called Everworld, which took hold of me in much the same way.  Everworld, the lesser known of the two series, is about a group of teenagers transported into a world where all the gods and creatures of myth are very much real and alive.  Looking back, I would liken the way I read these two series to the way I read romance novels now.  They're very wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, in a good way.  Quick reads and fun stories that gets you excited and make you want to read more (and great for both boys and girls!).

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
            My first real introduction to the classics, Frankenstein was assigned to be read in my 9th grade English class a few chapters at a time.  The problem was, once I started I couldn’t seem to stop.  The language was more complicated than I was used to, but there was something about the story that fascinated me.  I read the whole thing in two days.  The teacher didn’t know what to do with me!

A Dance Through Time by Lynn Kurland
            My very first romance novel!  I had to read one for a book report in my 9th grade English class and my mom gave me this one because she knew Lynn Kurland’s writing never got too raunchy.  A Dance Through Time is a beautiful love story with twists, turns, and time travel (and without any…ummm… penetration).  A modern woman is thrown back in time to medieval Scotland where she must figure out how to survive and eventually falls in love.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
            Okay, this one’s a big milestone for me, as it is for many of my generation.  The story of Harry Potter became a part of my life in a way I never could have predicted when I first picked up Sorcerer’s Stone.  It had been purchased for my little sister and discarded on a dresser after only making it through a chapter or so.  I’m not sure what made me start reading it, but after a few chapters there was no turning back.  I was invested in these characters, Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  My sister soon caught the bug too.  She may deny it, but I vividly remember following her around the house reading it too her until she would finally sit and listen.  I reread the first two or three books in the series with her, until she got too impatient to know what happened next and took to reading them on her own.  We were obsessed. We force-fed them to our mom via book-on-tape in the car.  When the movies started coming out, they literally became a holiday in our house.  We’d get tickets to the earliest showing on Friday morning and get to skip school.  We’re not a mid-night screening family, we much prefer the quiet empty theater that comes with a morning screening (fewer coughing and rustling candy wrappers to interrupt the viewing experience). 

The longer I thought (and wrote) the more titles popped into my head, but if I included them all this post would go on for days.  Here's a list of the late-comers...
Good Dog Carl by Alexandra Day
(Great for creative little ones - you make up the story yourself!)
Adventures of Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel
The Incredible Journey  by Sheila Burnford
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'engle
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Watership Down by Richard Adams

Happy Reading!

Here’s the link to the commercial...  http://bookpeopleunite.org/

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mini Pancake Muffins

I've recently come to the conclusion that anyone that doesn't love puppies or pancakes are terrible people.  This would naturally mean that anyone who doesn't love mini pancakes filled with chocolate chips or berries, smothered in butter, and dipped in maple syrup are monstrous, horrible beings.  Since I'm sure none of you are these awful, haters of all things cute and sweet, these are the perfect treat to satisfy any cravings for something cute as a button and sweet as could be for breakfast...or lunch...or dinner...or all three...


This recipe makes about 24 mini muffins.  

- 1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
- 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
- 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
- 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
- 2 Tablespoons Sugar
- 2/3 Cup Buttermilk (Room Temp.)
- 1 Egg (Room Temp)
- 2 Tablespoons Pure Maple Syrup
- 2 Tablespoons Butter (Melted, and Cooled)
- 1/2 Cup Mini Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (You could also make these just plain, or with any of your favorite berries)

1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray your muffin tins with some baking spray.  (I like the Pam spray for baking.)

2.) In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar.  

3.) In a separate large bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg, maple syrup, and slowly add in the melted butter incase it is is still a little hot (you don't want the hot butter to cook your egg.)

4.) Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, in two or three small batches, stirring until just combined.  

5.) Fold in your chocolate chips or whatever else you choose to add.  

6.) Spoon about a tablespoon of batter into each muffin cup and bake for about 12-15 minutes, keeping a close eye on them so that they don't burn.  

7.) I like to eat mine hot out of the oven, slathered in butter and dipped in maple syrup.  I'm sure they would also be delicious topped with some buttercream icing, or a fruit topping as well.  

How cute are they! 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sweet N' Sticky Asian Chicken Wings

From a very young age I have considered myself something of a chicken wing aficionado.  It is job that I take very seriously, and have recently made it my mission to create the ultimate classic chicken wing.  Although this recipe is far from the classic buffalo chicken wing, it's still one of the best that I have come up with.  Sweet, sticky, and scrumptious, I just know you'll enjoy this new twist on an old classic that can be made two different ways depending on how you like them!  


For the Wings:

To Bake (A healthier version):

- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 Teaspoon of Kosher Salt
- 1 Teaspoon of Black Pepper

To Oven Fry:

- 1 Egg, lightly beaten
- 1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
- 1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt 
- 1 Teaspoon Black Pepper

For the Sauce:

This makes enough sauce for about two pounds of wings. 

- 4 Tablespoons Soy Sauce (I used the regular kind, but you can use reduced sodium if you want)
- 3 Tablespoons Water
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 1/2 Cup White Vinegar
- 1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1-2 Tablespoons Honey
- A few dashes of hot sauce depending on how hot you want it.  (I use Frank's)

1.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees regardless of whether you are baking or oven frying them.  Line a baking sheet with foil and place a wire baking rack on top of the baking sheet.  (The wire rack isn't necessary, but it helps to keep the wings out of the fat drippings, allowing them to be crispier.  And crispier is always better!)

2.) If you are baking the wings, toss them in the olive oil, salt and pepper, place them on the rack, top side down.  If you are oven frying them, crack and lightly beat the egg in one bowl, and combine the flour, salt, and pepper in another bowl.  Dip the wings in the egg, then in the flour/salt/pepper mixture, being sure to coat completely, then place on the rack, top side down.  

3.) Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes, then flip the wings and bake them for 30 more minutes at 425 degrees.  

4.) While the wings are baking, combine soy sauce, water, white vinegar, garlic powder, salt, apple cider vinegar, honey, and hot sauce in a small sauce pan.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  I like to allow my sauce to simmer for a good 15-20 minutes to thicken.  This sauce will never get super thick, but you will notice that it will coat your spoon and get sticky as it cools.  That is exactly how you want it!  

5.) Once the wings have finished baking, pour the sauce into a container with a lid, add the wings, and shake 'em all up (being very sure that the lid is sealed of course!).  

6.) Serve immediately with some bleu cheese and enjoy!   

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

On behalf of Britt and myself, I would like to wish all of our readers a very Happy New Year. The past year has been one long, hard, pain in the rear, (tales of which are soon to come!) but we have very high hopes for a positive, fresh start in 2013, beginning with this blog. We hope it's a place where you can find laughs, lessons, great food, magical books, family tales that make you feel better about your relatives and the occasional adorable cat (or dog, or horse) picture (we may or may not love our animals more than people). Most importantly though we hope you are able to feel the love that we share, not only for our books and food, but also between one another as well as for you! Here's to hoping that 2013 takes us all to wonderful new places, in the kitchen, within the pages of books, and in all of our crazy,imperfect, unpredictable, amazing lives!