There are so many reasons not to diet nor to even try in March. It’s easy for me to justify almost anything but dieting when we’re 13 months into the Pandemic? No. Say it loudly. No. This post is about celebrating what’s always sweet and special about March.
In March I’m talking about Girl Scout Cookie Sale Month; International Women’s Day (3/8); National Pi Day (3/12); St. Patrick’s Day (3/17); French Language (3/20) & French Bread Days (3/21); National Cocktail Day ( 3/24) followed by Passover (3/27).
#BE PREPARED. NEVER PASS A BOX OF THIN MINTS (March)
There are 1.7 million Girl Scouts in America who want to sell you a box of cookies. A Brownie pin still lives in my jewelry box and my girls were also Scouts. I was often a leader. Every March the cookie box inventory hung out in my garage until depletion! That month was worth 5 pounds. I’ve never passed a Thin Mints box that didn’t call my name.
#CHOOSE TO CHALLENGE. #GENERATION EQUALITY. IWD2021 (3/8)
Although IWD is an international celebration, America has been late to the party. Happily more American women are now joining our worldwide sisterhood to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women. This year’s theme was “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.”
I always try to honor the Day in some manner. In 2011, while still living in Henderson (Nevada), I invited my talented and amazing besties for an IWD dinner party. In Boulder this year I made a delicious Blood Orange Cake filled with Sea Salt Roasted Nuts.* By adding club soda to Lillet Blanc, tossing in an orange twist and filling a rocks glass with ice, I turned an apéritif into a dessert cocktail. (*Hey Gant gang, There’s no one to taste test my food. Will be so thrilled to be home and cook for you.)
IF IT AIN’T BROGUE, DON’T FIX IT (3/17)
I’ve not a smidgen of blood – red cells, white cells, platelets, or plasma – that runs Irish. My Mom’s people were Welch coal miners. Everyday they’d go down into the mines, their lunch buckets filled with Cornish pasties. They are savory pocket-shaped and baked shortcrust pastry filled with beef, potatoes, Swedes (rutabagas) and onions. Every Christmas Eve our family would feast to their memory with pasty, raspberry sherbet, fruit salad and Saffron biscuits.
But I digress. Next Wednesday is St. Patrick’s Day, a time for we Irish wannabes to make merry and be spontaneously rambunctious. (Is that even possible this year?) Every March 17th, no matter where I’ve landed for the winter, I try to bake Mrs. Frings’ Irish Soda Bread, a recipe I found in Sweet Paul’s magazine years ago. I’m always reminded how plain and authentic this bread tastes. While best on the day it’s made, toast it for Day 2 and 3’s breakfast.
Don’t forget to slash the top, cutting it about a half-inch deep to make a cross pattern. That slash will either ward off the devil, bless the bread or let heat penetrate into the thickest part of the bread. Since I forgot the almighty slash this year, if the devil comes knocking at my door, I’ll know Why.
So, my friends, that about covers March. I’m passing National Pi Day festivities over to my Accountant friend and numbers guru, Donna Grauer. While I may know Pie, she’s an expert on Pi. Don’t even get her started on Prime Numbers. For me, every day is french language day. After more years of french studies than I will admit, I’m still waiting for the ‘breakthrough.” I’ll pair French bread with Dorie’s Slow-Cooker Brisket with Carrots and Sweet Potatoes for Passover on March 27th. And, there goes March!
“MARCH 4th, THE ONLY DAY THAT IS ALSO A SENTENCE.” J.Green
MRS. FRINGS’ IRISH SODA BREAD from Sweet Paul magazine by Staffer Paul Vitale
3-4 cups all-purpose flour, dough should be sticky 1 stick of butter (8 TBS) at room temperature 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 lb. raisins 1 tsp. baking powder 1/2 tsp.baking soda 1 tsp. salt 1 and 1/2 cup buttermilk
Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
Mix butter into dry mixture by hand until clumps disappear.
Slowly add in the buttermilk by hand until you can form one big clump of dough.
Place in 8 or 9 inch round, springform or cast iron pan that’s been coated with butter and flour.
Bake until deep golden brown at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes, checking at the 40 minute mark. (My soda bread took 45 minutes.)
Remove from oven, place on rack and drape with damp cloth until cool.
Slice and enjoy with Orange Marmalade (my fave) or Irish butter!
Lillet French Aperitif with an Orange Twist, a favorite of Liz Berg, That Skinny Chick Can Bake Blog
4 ounces Lillet Blanc 4 ounces club soda Orange twist
Fill rocks glass with ice. Add Lillet Blanc and then club soda. Stir to mix
The more it snows in Colorado, the better it is for agricultural support, the recreation community and our precious albeit beleaguered Colorado River. I grew up in Iowa, a state bordered on the west by the meandering Missouri, North America’s longest river, and the east, by Ol’Man River himself. (There’s a song.) Let’s agree it’s been my good fortune that my neck-of-the-woods has always been located ‘where a river runs through it.’
During the past two weeks I’ve opened my eyes most mornings to more snow. Of course the scene is magical. It’s also cold, really cold, more than normal cold. You know what’s an antidote for snowy, frigid weather? SOUP. In particular, Moroccan-Spiced Chickpea, Lentil and Noodle Soup. Heads up, vegetarians. Or spread the love to meat eaters at your table by adding mini-meatballs.
This satisfying, flavorful, spicy soup is everything. It’s ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and saffron (optional). It’s chickpeas, red lentils and angel hair pasta. Oh yes, do not pass Go without a lemon. It’s essential. And what I discovered after letting it simmer all week on my stovetop is it only gets better with age. You may need to add liquid. Glance through the recipe. Make it work for you. Resistance is futile.
PARIS, Tu me manques. (I miss you.)
A year ago today my daughter, Melissa, flew to Paris to spend a week with me. For the past several years I’ve been spending a few winter months in the City of Lights. Melissa had never visited France. I now know there are few greater joys than showing your daughter Paris for the first time.
Before she left Paris, we’d already planned our 2021 Paris week. Melissa and daughter Clara, for her high school graduation present, would fly to Paris for a week. Emma, a college junior who would be studying in Greece for the semester, would join us.
When I waved goodbye to Missy last March 4th, we had no idea I would be following 10 days later due to new Covid travel restrictions. Nor did we know I wouldn’t see her for the following twelve months and still counting. Let me be clear. I have nothing but gratitude for the good health and well-being my family has enjoyed the past year. We are the lucky ones. No pity parties at our households.
I decided, however, I could relive the memories of that fabulous week either with sadness or joy. I came down on the side of joy, calories, l’apéro (cocktail hour), photographs and Piaf. I believe in make-believe. Of course, if all else fails, there is always ZOOM.
Moroccan-Spiced Chickpea and Noodle Soup by Dorie Greenspan, Everyday Dorie, The Way I Cook
MINI MEATBALLS: (Add meatballs or make it vegetarian.)
1 Tablespoon olive oil 1-pound ground beef or turkey to form into 18 to 20 small meatballs Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter 2 medium onions, finely chopped, rinsed and patted dry 2 celery stalks with leaves, finely sliced 3 garlic clove, chopped 2-3 TBS ground ginger 1 TBS fine sea salt or to taste 11/2 Tsp freshly ground black pepper 11/2 Tsp ground turmeric 11/2 tsp ground cinnamon 3/4 tsp cumin 1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper Large pinch of saffron threads (this is pricey so it’s optional) One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro 2 quarts unsalted vegetable or chicken stock or broth. 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas drain and rinse 3/4 cup red lentils, split 1/4-pound thin or angel hair pasta, broken into short pieces 1 or 2 lemons, cut into wedges or slices
Place oil in large skillet.
Season meat with salt and black pepper; form into 18 to 20 small meatballs.Precook meatballs: Brown over medium heat for about 5 to 8 minutes, browning all sides. Set meatballs aside. Pour out leftover oil and swipe clean with a paper towel
3. Over medium low heat melt butter to cook onion, garlic and celery for about 4 minutes or when vegetables start to soften. Add spices, stir to blend with vegetables for 30 seconds before stirring in tomatoes and half of parsley. If using, return the meatballs and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes covered.
4. Add broth or water to the pot. Increase the heat. Bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to simmer. Add drained chickpeas, partially cover pot, let simmer for about 30 minutes. Add more liquid as needed.
5. Add lentils, cook partially covered for 20 minutes more until softened. Season to taste.
6. Before serving, stir in broken pasta and cook for about 8-10 minutes. Then stir in the remainder of parsley or cilantro.
7. Lemon juice is traditional to serve but you may also add it in the kitchen or serve with lemon slices at the table.
About the Recipe, from Dorie:The Moroccan soup/stew is simple and so satisfying and like many dishes, it’s better when served the next day. Its roots are in Northern Africa and the spices add an exotic and delicious flavor. This Hariri traditional dish has several add-ins of pasta, chickpeas, and lentils.The combined flavors are almost magical when blended together.
It’s come to this. Three weeks ago I stood at my kitchen sink having my first cup of coffee and heard myself say, “I am just so over you, Mary. You don’t make me laugh anymore.”
First, here’s to acknowledging I may be losing my mind. Or, since what’s said out loud carries more power than just thinking it, I obviously wanted Me to hear it.
Let’s just leave it here. My laughter soundtrack needs maintenance. Got it.
During the past 345 days of pandemic restrictions, I’ve finally caught up with myself, checking off those pesky chores and irritating to-do’s long needing my attention. Finally the unread New Yorker magazines are trashed, my storage unit is almost laid bare and there’s a re-do in progress at my Gant condo. At some point during those 8,280 hours I apparently lost my Joy and parked my Sense of Humor. During this very somber and sad time, we still need to smile. Do you agree? Let’s try.
Joke to My Gant Family:“If you would like to know how it feels to be in hospitality during the corona virus pandemic: Remember when the Titanic was sinking and the Band continued to play? Well, we’re the band…..”
Last week I received my second vaccine shot. Age shoved me to the head of the line and Pfizer-BioNTech delivered the two life-saving jabs that went into my arm. Bravo to scientists Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, the brains behind the world’s first effective Covid vaccine. Bravo times two because I no longer need my Hazmat suit for Clara’s high school graduation!
JOKE:“Sometime I wonder if all this is happening because I didn’t forward that e-mail to 10 People.”
In time, everyone will have their own vaccination story. This is mine. With less than six million people, Colorado, ranked #12 in quality health care*, is arguably more manageable than, for example, California (40 million) or New York (20 million). Last March 14th, the same night I landed in Aspen after evacuating from Paris, Governor Jared Polis closed down the state’s ski resorts bringing the High Country’s major economic engine to a full stop. When the taxi driver picked me up at the airport, he was totally chagrined. “I don’t know how I’m going to buy food,” he said.
Gov. Polis has been righting the ship ever since. Ya gotta support a politician who last May hid a shipment of tests and PPE because he was ‘worried the federal government or somebody else would take them.’ That’s the type of guy most Coloradans can get behind.
JOKE:“Really wish we had a dog right now but then I remember that old slogan, a dog is for life, not just for a global pandemic.”
Although I’m in Boulder now, friends kept me in the loop so I could sign up when the vaccination registration link went on line. Three weeks later, bingo, I had a shot slot.
The most unnerving part of this three-week seamless process was the road trips. Snow is always an issue in the mountains. It’s a 210-mile trip from Boulder to Aspen. The weather gods were kind for Shot #1. Slushy roads, I can handle. For Shot #2, Mother Nature was grumpy. The mountains had a glorious 14 to 20-inch dump the day before and there were still flurries so yep, ice and snow. Three plows escorted me and others over Vail Pass. On the trip home there was more snow. Contending with 110 or so trucks required to “Chain Up,” made for a white-knuckle drive. When conditions merit the chains, these big guys have to be maneuvered off and back on the Interstate during the 127-mile stretch through the Eisenhower Tunnel and over Vail Pass. I have a healthy respect for 18 wheelers. They win. In the end, however, safely back in Boulder, mission accomplished. Grateful.
JOKE:“In Germany they are preparing for the covid crisis by stocking up with sausage and cheese. That’s the Wurst Käse scenario.”
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY
What to do with three ripe bananas? Banana bread? Nah. Smoothie? Not today. Try this Banana-Peanut Butter Sundae. Or Split. No ice cream or yogurt needed. Just pantry and fridge staples. Decadence personified.
I never made pudding from scratch. Hello, Jell-O brand. Then I met Dorie’s Dark Chocolate Pudding. Dorie has been updating and improving this pudding recipe since Paris Sweets, a cookbook she published in 2002. She’s nailed it. That’s all I need to say.
BANANA ICE CREAM by Cooking for One, America’s Test Kitchen
SERVES: 1 or 2
3 very, ripe bananas, peeled, bagged and put in freezer
1/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1. Freeze bananas until solid, at least 8 hours
2. Let bananas sit at room temperature to often slightly, about 15 minutes. 3. Slice into 1/2-inch-thick rounds and place in blender, food processor or Immersion Blender. Add cream, vanilla, lemon juice, cinnamon and salt. (Note: To make it chocolate, add some unsweetened cocoa powder with bananas.) Process until smooth, about 5 minutes.
4. Transfer mixture to airtight container and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours. Ice cream can be frozen for up to one week.
5. Serve, topped with sprinkles, topping sauce (hot or cold) and a cherry.
TIPS: 1) Substitute canned coconut milk to make it vegan or plant-based creamer for the cream. 2) Optional: In Step 2, For various flavoring, add about 3-4 tablespoons of peanut butter or Nutella and/or stir in nuts or unsweetened cocoa powder.
DARK CHOCOLATE PUDDING
1½ cups whole milk
¾ cup heavy cream
⅓ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
¼ pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted and warm
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ cups whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks
1.Combine milk and cream in a heavy saucepan. Heat on stove over medium heat just until bubbles start to form at the edges.
2. While the milk and cream are heating, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, and salt together in a medium large pan. Whisk in the egg and egg yolks until well combined.
3. Place the bowl on a kitchen towel or potholder to keep it from moving. Pour about a quarter of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling.Pour in the rest of the milk mixture and whisk to combine.
4. Pour everything back into the saucepan and return to the stove, cooking over medium heat while whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble, about 3 minutes. Cook for 1-2 more minutes, whisking constantly to prevent burning, until very thick.
5. Pour through strainer into bowl. Add in the melted chocolate, vanilla extract, and butter and whisk until combined and very smooth.
6. As a last step, run a handheld immersion blender a few times through the pudding to further smooth and to aerate slightly. You can also run through a food processor briefly.
7. Pour pudding into individual cups or ramekins, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 4 hours, until set.
When I returned to Aspen in 2013 I would occasionally have dinner with a family friend from Chicago who summered in Aspen. Since we both had lived in Des Moines where our husbands were pals, we never lacked for conversation. One thing we often discussed was her daughter, Ann, who was masterminding and creating a museum in Washington D.C.
Color me skeptical. However, I know her daughter, Ann. If Ann dreamed of a museum based on Words, there would be a museum based on Words. After seven years of nurturing this project from birth to fruition, mission accomplished. In late May 2020 Ann Friedman hosted a virtual Planet Word’s Open House. Located in the historic and now-restored Franklin School in downtown D.C., Ann told the Washington-Post recently, Planet Word was ‘an interactive museum that will bring language to life.’
There are no appropriate Words to describe this spectacular, amazing, interactive, high tech, 3-story museum jam-packed with Words. Did I mention it is free? I sometimes just visit its site to learn. Although I’ve played with words throughout a lifetime of writing, I’ve never considered them standing on their own, being museum-worthy.
This tumultuous month, January 2021, brought it home. Words and those who say them matter.
LADY GAGA, SONIA, AMANDA & J-LO
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. Words have energy and power with the ability to help and heal or hurt and harm.” Yehuda Berg
Words can inspire, lift us up. If you are open to it, I think these women were able to do just that at the Inauguration:
Lady Gaga, I’m a fan. And, FYI, her outfit on Wednesday was tame compared to others I’ve seen. The Lady fills up a room. She has a presence. Her pipes are pure gold. “I will sing to the hearts of all people who live on this land,” she said before the Inauguration.
For those who cared to listen, she did just that…’Gave proof through the night that our flag (pause) was (pause) still (pause) there (full stop, breathe).’ She took the crowd with her as she gestured, with her arm raised, to Old Glory. The crazy thing is I never thought our flag wouldn’t be there. Still a little shaken by that thought.
I think Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the only woman on earth who could be forgiven for mispronouncing Vice President Harris’ first name during her swearing in ceremony!
What can be said about 22-year-old Amanda Gorman who recited “The Hill We Climb.” Her poem and recitation of it was breathtakingly beautiful. Welcome to a glimpse of our Gen Z kids, my friends. Move aside.
And J-Lo, singing America the Beautiful, paused mid-song to shout in Spanish “One nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” from the Pledge of Allegiance. (I had to call the young Spanish speakers in my family for a translation!)
Well done, Ladies.
COOK THE BOOK FRIDAYS
Although I’ve added must-buy equipment to my Boulder rental kitchen, I still must plan meals around what’s possible. This week Dorie’sMediterranean Shepherd’s Pie is the perfect choice.
Called Hachis Parmetier in France, it’s a classic family casserole made of two simple layers: ground/leftover meat topped with mashed potatoes. You’ve permission to check the fridge to toss what veggies you find, in-between.
Because Covid has turned me into a wild and crazy woman, I’d substitute peas for sweetness and color rather than spinach. I mixed extra turnip chunks in with the potatoes. (Note to new Readers: I never veer from a recipe’s directions.) Do your thing. Then add a green salad. Viola! Five-star supper.
MEDITERRANEAN SHEPHERD’S PIE by Dorie Greenspan, The Way I Cook
Serves 6-8 people
2-1/2 pounds (about 1 kg) Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4-6 tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground lamb, beef, turkey or chicken
1/2 pound hot or mild sausage meat (pork, chicken or turkey)
1 medium onion coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup (120 ml) chicken broth
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons ground sumac, or grated zest of 1 lemon
1-1/2 teaspoons za’atar or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes,
1/2 pound peeled butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 handfuls baby kale or spinach
1 tablespoon unsalted butter cut into bits, or olive oil (optional)
1. Drop the potato chunks into a large pot of cold salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook. Cook until the potatoes mash easily when pressed against the side of the pot, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Drain the potatoes. Put the empty pot back over medium heat. Return the potatoes to the pot and cook, stirring and turning them for about 3-4 minute until they are dry. Mash the potatoes in a food mill, mixer, ricer set over a bowl or with a fork. Stir the butter and ¼ cup of the milk or cream into the potatoes, along with ample salt and pepper, and adjust to taste.. Set aside.
FILLING: (You can make the filling and keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.)
1. Put a large skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and when it’s hot, add the ground meat and sausage. Cook, stirring and pressing the meat with a wooden spoon to break it up, for about 2-4 minutes. As you’re cooking, drizzle in 1 more tablespoon of oil if needed.
2. Add another tablespoon of oil, along with the onion and garlic. Season with the salt and a few grinds of pepper and cook over low heat until the onions soften, about 10 minutes. 3. Turn up the heat and add the chicken broth. Stir in the spices. Cook for a minute, then add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer. Scatter over the pieces of squash and cook over low heat until the squash is fork-tender, about 20 minutes.
4. Stir in the kale or spinach and taste for salt and pepper. (You can make the filling up to 2 days ahead and keep it tightly covered in the refrigerator.)
5. Spoon the filling into the pie plate, adding enough of the liquid in the pan to come up and around the edges of the mix. Top with the potatoes, smoothing them over the filling, making swoops and swirls out to the edges of the pie plate.
6. At this point, the pie can be refrigerated until cool, wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months.)
7. Center a rack in the oven, preheated to 375 degrees F. Bake the pie for 30 to 40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the potatoes are browned here and there. If you’d like to get them crusty brown, run them under the broiler.
CHOICES: Use turnips or green peas instead of the squash or just skip the extra vegetable. If you’d rather, skip the topping entirely. The filling is so fragrant, tasty and chunky as is. Pull out a bun and make a sloppy Joe, or grab a wedge of cornbread and smother it with the juicy meat. Make some rice or a pot of beans and use the filling as a spoon-over.
I’m in a bit of a mood today, dear Readers. This is a very short blog post. It’s CooktheBookFriday, time to join my virtual cooking group as we work our way through “Everyday Dorie, The Way I Cook.” This week’s deliciousness is Pasta with Cabbage, Butternut Squash and Toasted Walnuts. If a pasta dish can be healthy, this one is. Try it.
Although this blog is anchored by food and recipes, it’s been more about my rebuilding a lifestyle after Michael died and having the audacious idea that others might like to read about that. It’s my safe space and a joy to write. Besides recipes worth trying, I do know it’s been encouraging to some, helpful to others and just fun to read. Today I can’t do fun.
Wednesday afternoon Emma, my 19-year-old granddaughter texted me,
“Grandma, are you watching this?”
I don’t watch television. When I turned it on and saw what was developing in D.C., well, there are no words. I spent the rest of the day on the phone and texting with Emma, a first-time voter, and her 17-year-old sister.
They talked. I listened. And if you’re listening, you know young people see the world quite differently. Emma was born a few months before 9/11 and voted for the first time just before this failed coup. What bookends to her young life.
Our elected officials were traumatized and understandably so by the capitol’s lockdown. Kids can relate. Emma’s been locked down four times. In 2018 at least 4.1 million American kids experienced that and in 2019 there were more than 6,200 school lockdowns. Yet Congress can’t get a gun bill passed. Maybe now?
As the scene unfolded you’d have to be blind not to notice the security response to a basically white mob was noticeably different than responses when people of color are involved. And in case we forget, the world was watching.
Last year I volunteered at an Aspen Institute conference. About 60% of the participants were people of color. The Institute’s president/CEO Dan Porterfield gave the welcoming address. “People like me” he said, “who are white in America, have to decide what kind of white people we’re going to be…we have to make the active effort to level the playing field and promote justice.”
God Bless America. Stay Safe this month.
COOK THE BOOK FRIDAYS
PASTA with CABBAGE, BUTTERNUT SQUASH and TOASTED WALNUTS
by Dorie Greenspan, Everyday Dorie, The Way I Cook
Serves: 4 INGREDIENTS: 1/2 pound winter squash, such as Delicata, Kabocha, acorn or butternut, scrubbed and peeled, if necessary 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 pinch fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper 2 tablespoons cider vinegar 1 1/2 teaspoons honey 1/2 pound Fettuccine, Linguine or other long pasta 1/4 cup dried cranberries, cherries or dried fruit of your choice 1/2 pound (about 2 lightly packed cups) green cabbage, trimmed, cored and shredded 1/4 cup toasted walnut pieces 1/4-1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan, for sprinkling
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut the squash in half and remove the seeds and strings
Thinly slice or cut into cubes. You’ll have about 2 lightly packed cups.
Warm 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large high-sided skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium-high heat. Toss in the squash, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until it is almost tender, about 8 minutes.
Stir in 1 tablespoon of the vinegar and cook until it is absorbed by the squash — this is quick. Add the honey and stir to coat before scraping the squash into a bowl. Set aside.
Cook the pasta according to package directions. About a minute before the pasta is ready, toss the dried fruit into the pot. When the pasta is cooked, scoop out 1/4 cup of the cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta, leaving a little water clinging to the strands.
Return the skillet to medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil, toss in the cabbage and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed. Pour in the reserved pasta water and cook for a minute, then add the pasta and cranberries and stir it all around. Mix in the squash and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Taste for salt and pepper. You may want to add a bit more oil.
Transfer to a warm bowl or leave the pasta in the skillet to serve, topped with the walnuts and Parmesan.
STORING: The dish is really best served as soon as it’s made.
Thanksgiving is over. (Check) One holiday down, more to follow. Take a deep breath, buckle up and grab whatever gaiety you can muster to make December happen. The goal here is to find a reason to pull your Joy lever everyday.
Alone for Thanksgiving, first time ever, I was determined to flip my favorite holiday from the anticipated sad to happy. Needing to save the Ski Season, our Colorado governor and Aspen mayor issued Stay-At-Home-orders. So for days prior to the holiday I did just that. Baking was my comfort buffer.
Remember that ravishing Triple-Layer Parsnip and Cranberry cake from my Thanksgiving post? Using that recipe, I pulled out my favorite mold and baked mini-bundt desserts for friends who were also going to be alone for the holiday. I already had an inventory of Pandemic-proof Window Cake Boxes and Weck jars for the sauce.
Thanksgiving morning I put together my cargo and first headed down valley to deliver some of my 18 dessert packages. By noon, feeling quite pleased at having surprised everyone, I’d finished all my doorstep deliveries. Waiting for me, I already knew, was a traditional Thanksgiving feast dropped off by my friends, the Overeynder’s.
After justifying those extra calories by taking a not-at-all strenuous hike, catching up with far-away family and friends and watching “Holidate” on Netflix (Yes, it was cheesy. Yes, I loved it.), the holiday was in the rear-view mirror. Not the best Thanksgiving ever but it was fine.
Wait, it gets better. On the next day my down valley buddies who had included me in an elaborately orchestrated and safe tailgating food exchange on Thanksgiving, brought my portion to Aspen. What can I say? There was enough food to feed a family of four!
TIME TO MAKE A LIST
My Thanksgiving story is not to minimize the suffering in the world or America’s pain. Yes, we’ve experienced a rock-hard eight months with a horrendous winter forecasted. This past month I’ve seen (Thank God for Zoom.) the agonizing inner courage of a childhood friend whose daughter is doing battle with this virus and another Manchester friend who recently received a disheartening diagnosis.
With everything reeling-out of-control I began to feel helpless again, reminiscent of trying to get home from Paris last March and being quarantined for two weeks. Full stop. I’m not returning to that dark place again. Time to Makea List. For whatever reason, Lists work for me. I cross out the uncontrollable and am always left with what I call a Plan Possible forward.
After getting through Thanksgiving, packing up, driving and getting settled in Boulder, I need to plan how to live, work, study, and entertain myself in an impermanent, unfamiliar location as safely as possible. Just having received a library card, for example, and meeting neighbors who, if they see The New York Times’ piling up on my doorstep, will come calling, helps. Decided to forego gift giving and donate to organizations feeding the hungry this year. A feel-good idea.
MOLASSES COFFEE CAKE.
After my last post’s cake, a triple-layer showstopper, it seems unfair to feature this Molasses Coffee Cake now. It’s like comparing Plain Jane to Cinderella. Don’t be fooled. While not particularly photogenic or even splashy, it’s dense, moist, flavorful and complex. As a colleague wrote, ‘It has a whole lotta zing.’
Here’s some additional thoughts because this is not only a perfect holiday coffee cake but, gussied up with ice cream or whipped cream, it will be refreshing at tea time, as a fancy dessert or the best midnight snack Santa has ever tasted. It’s all about the coffee and the spices. And, that glaze? Oh My, you must.
MOLASSES COFFEE CAKE from “Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook,” by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 8 to 10 servings
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup uncultured molasses
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup hot coffee (can be made with instant coffee or espresso powder)
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder, plus more (optional) for decoration
1 teaspoon boiling water
5 ounces best-quality white chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces, at room temperature
Whipped cream, for topping
This cake is even better on the second day — the spices have more time to ripen.
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan that’s at least 2 inches high (use a springform if you don’t have a regular cake pan that’s tall enough), fit a round of parchment paper into the bottom of the pan, butter the paper and dust the interior with flour; tap out the excess.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt ginger, five -spice powder, cinnamon and pepper.
3. Working in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar together on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Add the molasses and beat for 2 minutes more, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the egg and beat for 2 minutes, then beat in the vanilla.
4. Turn the mixer off, add the flour mixture and pulse to begin incorporating it. Then beat on low speed only until the dry ingredients disappear into the batter. With the mixer on low, add the hot coffee, again mixing only until it is incorporated. Scrape the batter into the pan and swivel the pan to even it.
5. Bake for 28 to 33 minutes, until the cake is beautifully browned and has risen uniformly. It will pull away from the sides of the pan if gently tugged and a tester inserted into the center of the cake will come out clean.
6. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the cake rest for 5 minutes, then run a blunt knife around the sides of the cake. Turn the cake out onto the rack, gently peel off the parchment, invert onto another rack and cool to room temperature; or, if you are using a springform, simply remove the ring. The cake may develop a little dip in the center — that’s its personality.
7. Dissolve the instant espresso powder in the boiling water. Put the chopped chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.
8. Bring the cream to a boil (you can do this the microwave oven), stir in the espresso extract that you make and pour the cream over the chocolate. Let sit for 30 seconds and then, using a whisk or the small heatproof spatula, stir until the mixture is smooth. /add the butter one piece at a time, stirring until it is melted and incorporated.
9. Set the cake on the rack on a piece of of foil to catch drips. Pour as much of the glaze as you want over the cake and use a long spatula or a table knife to spread it. I like it when the glaze drips down the sides of the cake unevenly; if you want to smooth it, you can, of course.
10. Sprinkle with a little instant espresso powder to decorate, if you like.
11. Put the cake in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to set the glaze, then return it to room temperature for serving. Pass any remaining glaze a the table.
Storing: Wrapped well, the cake can keep at room temperature for up to 3 days. Wrapped airtight, it can be frozen for up to 2 months, glaze and all.