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Monday, April 27, 2009

broccoli marinated in sesame-walnut-ginger sauce


saying “No, thank you”

Something else I’ve been working on lately is saying “No, thank you.” Seems like every week someone is asking me to volunteer for a worthy cause. Sometimes it’s money they’re asking for, but more often it’s my time. It’s hard because very often I think “That’s a GREAT idea for a program [or event or board or organization or presentation or meeting or conference]!”

Here’s my usual pattern:  I agree to participate (because it really IS a very good cause). But after initially accepting the obligation with enthusiasm, as the time approaches for the actual event, I get increasingly resentful of the time that it takes to prepare for it, and then begin to dread my actual participation. At this point, I finally acknowledge the time that it is taking away from my family, or my friends, or time for myself, and I get CRANKY about it. But since I agreed to do it, I suck it up and fulfill the obligation.

This whole pattern seemed silly, because there was no one to blame but myself. No one was holding a gun to my head and forcing me to do these things. Why didn’t I say no at the beginning, instead of repeatedly going through this drama? I would tell myself not to let myself get caught up again, but it kept happening (because sure enough, there are so MANY different worthy causes out there!).

Dan (my husband) and I had the good fortune to meet Alice Hanscam, and last Fall we took a course of parent coaching lessons with her. During that process, she asked each of us to come up with a mission statement. Here’s mine. You could probably guess even without me telling you that it’s at a time when I was feeling completely over-committed and overwhelmed with work (bakery, CSA, farmers’ market) and related volunteer obligations, and unhappy with my interactions with four-year-old Meredith.

1. I feel liberated from obligations.
2. I have space on my calendar for spontaneous activities.
3. I have energy for time with family, friends, exercise and pursuing hobbies.

On the one hand, I am almost always inclined to agree to a request for help, but luckily, I’m also a compulsive planner. So, to try to achieve my mission, I constructed the following elaborate filter for myself to use whenever I was presented with an opportunity, invitation or request—be it social, work-related, or public service/volunteer work. It really helped me in the initial stages of saying “no, thank you.”

When someone wants something from me, I ask myself several questions:
1. What’s in it for me?  Is it good for me? My family? My health? My business? if so, HOW good?
2. What is the entire time/energy obligation?  (Cooking a potluck dish required? Writing a presentation? Practicing a talk?)
3. Do I already have something scheduled for that day?
4. Is the week already too busy?
5. Is it planning too far in advance?

At first it was really hard to say “no, thank you” to people who wanted me to participate in their worthy cause or fun event…  but gradually it got a little easier, and pretty soon I was agonizing less over the decisions, and more or less stopped second-guessing myself. I don’t have to formally go through the filter each time now, and most of the time I make decisions that I don’t feel resentful about later. Finally I’m at a place where I’m feeling good about the things I’m saying “no, thank you” to, because I’m feeling even better about the time that it’s opening up to take care of and enjoy myself, my family, and my friends.

I guess part of the reason I’m sharing this with you is that one of the things I’m not feeling obligated to do is write blog posts all the time. I’m only writing them if I really WANT to write them! Which feels fantastic. So now you know that every time I post, I am excited and happy to write to you!

So, what about a recipe to go with this story? As part of my feeling free from obligations these days, I’m keeping my meal prep simpler than usual. So I’m including this broccoli recipe because it’s easy, and REALLY GOOD, and you don’t have to feel obligated to make something fancier or more elaborate to treat yourself to a really really delicious meal (and it’s healthy, to boot). 


broccoli marinated in sesame-walnut-ginger sauce

This fantastic recipe is based on one in Mollie Katzen’s The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without. And once you try this recipe, you’ll see why. It’s amazing. I use way less sauce than she calls for, but adjust it to your taste, adding more or less broccoli as you wish. Use more broccoli if you want a leaner dish, less broccoli for a richer dish.

You marinate the broccoli for an hour or two in the sesame and walnut oils, garlic and ginger, then add the rice wine vinegar at the end, so the green of the broccoli doesn’t fade. You can even let it marinate overnight in the refrigerator, and then add the vinegar the next day, after warming the broccoli up to room temperature.

Somehow, this dish is so hearty and full-flavored—you just have to try it to believe how good it is! You can just eat a big pile of it for a meal. It’s got plenty of protein with the nuts!

¼ cup roasted walnut oil (such as Loriva—don’t use refined walnut oil, it won’t have much taste)
1 tablespoon dark roasted sesame oil
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce (I like Nama Shoyu)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
Pinch of cayenne
2-4 pounds broccoli heads, cut into bite-sized florets
2-4 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar (I like brown rice vinegar best)
½ to 1 cup walnuts, toasted for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven, and chopped coarsely

1. Reserve the broccoli stems for another use (like roasting them at 450 degrees with olive oil, salt, and garlic).
2. Steam the broccoli florets for about 4 minutes, in batches, as necessary, just until tender. Dump them out on a dishtowel on the counter and spread them into a single layer. Let them cool and steam off their excess moisture.
3. Combine the oils, soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, and cayenne in a large bowl. Add the broccoli to this marinade and toss well until completely coated. Let stand at room temperature for an hour or two (or covered, in the refrigerator, if you’re going to let it marinate longer).
4. Sprinkle in the vinegar just before serving. Taste and see if you need more vinegar, soy sauce, or salt.
5. Sprinkle the walnuts on each serving at the table, and have a dish of nuts on the table for everyone to add more, as desired.


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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

carrot cake cupcakes with creamy frosting


letting go

These last several weeks I’ve been working on letting go. Letting go of some of the tasks and obligations that, if I had a clone, I could easily accomplish. Unfortunately, there is only one of me, so I have had to start being a little more realistic about how much work is sustainable over the long term. This has not been an easy project.

As much as I love all my projects (the bakery, the CSA business, the farmers market non-profit), I’ve realized that doing all my tasks for each of them is too much. Even though I am passionately attached to each one, I am learning that I can remain passionate about something, but not DO everything myself. It’s OK to let go.

In that vein, I’ve hired my wonderful friend Nancy to help with the CSA… she is taking over the technical support and customer service tasks, as well as learning how to manage the website. It’s SO GREAT to have her help! This letting go, while difficult at first, is giving me more time with my family, more time to exercise, and more time to slow down and (try to) feel peaceful.

So… I feel like celebrating! And everyone knows that cupcakes and celebrations go together. I had time to pick up Meredith early from preschool today and we made these carrot cake cupcakes!





carrot cake cupcakes with creamy frosting

You know how good our Alaskan carrots are, and this is a perfect recipe to celebrate them! Cupcakes and cakes are always good for celebrating, don’t you think? You can make a beautiful layer cake or gorgeous cupcakes, topped with creamy, tangy white frosting and golden curls of toasted coconut.

This recipe is based on one in rebar modern food. A single batch will make 18-20 cupcakes, or one 8” double-layer cake.


1 ½ cups grated carrots
¾ cup crushed unsweetened pineapple, drained
¾ cup unsweetened coconut flakes (optional—leave it out if you’re not a coconut fan)
½ cup chopped dates
¾ cup toasted walnuts, chopped (toast for 15-20 minutes in a 350 degree oven)
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt


1 block Neufchatel cheese or cream cheese (12 ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted


1-2 cups large unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted in a 300 degree oven for about 8 minutes, until light golden-brown
OR if you’re making this with a four-year-old, you can choose a different garnish, like…
jellybeans? And then SHE can eat the ones with jellybeans.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8” round cake pans and set aside. Combine grated carrot, pineapple, coconut, dates and walnuts in a large bowl.
2. In the bowl of a mixer, beat the sugars with the eggs. Stir in the vanilla and whip on high speed until the volume has tripled. On medium speed, pour the oil in slowly to blend.
3. Combine the remaining dry ingredients and gently stir into the egg mixture. Fold gently into the carrot mixture. Divide the batter between the cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake 30 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 5 minutes, then invert onto cooling racks. Wait until the cakes are completely cool before making the frosting.
4. Beat the cream cheese with the vanilla and powdered sugar until completely creamy. Put the bottom layer of the cake on a plate, and spread just the top of the cake with frosting. Place the top cake layer on, and again, just frost the top of the cake. (If you want to frost the sides of the cake as well, you’ll need to make a double batch of the frosting, but I don’t think it needs it.) Garnish the top with toasted coconut.

For cupcakes, line 2 muffin tins with cupcake papers and spray the papers with nonstick spray. Scoop the batter into the cups (use an ice-cream scoop if you have it) and fill the cups fairly full; the cupcakes don’t rise much because of all the carrots and fruits and nuts weighing down the batter. Bake them at 350 degrees, testing them for doneness with a toothpick after about 20 minutes. When the toothpick comes out clean, remove from oven, let cool in tins for 5 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. Wait until completely cool before decorating, as for the cake.


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Sunday, April 12, 2009

egg salad sandwiches and grilled asparagus


Easter traditions

One of the fun things about growing up is that you get to start making your own holiday traditions. At least, I thought I ought to be able to do that when I got married, since my mom and dad always had wonderful holiday parties with their friends (and accompanying children). However, I hadn’t reckoned on the power of family proximity. My mom and dad had moved to Alaska before they met—my mom from San Diego, my dad from a small farming town in Washington. I remember very clearly, soon after Dan and I were married, checking with my mom to see if she minded if we did our own thing for Easter. I was shocked when she seemed hurt and disappointed at the suggestion.

I told her that we had an idea to hike Bird Ridge with some friends and then come home and make pizza with toppings (including ham and sliced hard boiled eggs—the obligatory nod to tradition). I was honestly confused at her reaction, and I told her that I was just thinking of doing like she and my dad had done…  finding friends of our own to celebrate some of the holidays with. “Yes,” she said, ”of course that’s what we did—but that was because our families were so far away!” Suddenly I had a totally new perspective on those wonderful holiday gatherings I had grown up with—certainly all those close family friends FELT like family (WERE family!), but now I understood that my mom had missed her parents and siblings at the holidays.

Still, my dad thought it was perfectly reasonable for us to do our own thing on this one holiday, and my mom came around without too much fuss. And of course we shared many meals with my parents in all seasons, holiday or no.

But now, as time has passed, the Bird Ridge hike, as well as the ham and egg pizza, has gone by the boards…  As soon as our daughter Meredith got heavy enough to be a burden in the baby carrier, we switched strategies. One year we pulled her in the pulk on an afternoon’s ski trip up in the mountains above Anchorage. But these past couple of years, egg hunt festivities have replaced mountaineering. These days we’re more likely to have a family ski or a short hike. And for dinner? We invite the remaining family in town: my brother and his girlfriend, Christi. I guess I’m getting to be more like my mom all the time!

But, unlike my mom’s Easter ham, this is what we eat for dinner: the unconventional but by now, thoroughly traditional egg salad and grilled asparagus. Are you laughing? Come on, are you seriously going to tell me you DON’T like egg salad? These sandwiches are SO good when you make egg salad with homemade mayonnaise (especially when you use extra-virgin olive oil for the mayo). And of course I love to use up those colored hard-boiled eggs that Meredith has mined out of snowdrifts, from under trees, and behind car tires. I think you’ll love this meal, whether you make it for Easter, or any time in the spring with great bundles of asparagus!



open-faced egg salad sandwiches

Of course, you can use mayonnaise from the store, and your egg salad will still be delicious. But if you want to make truly luscious egg salad, I recommend making your own mayonnaise; the olive oil really does make a difference! You can make it the day before and you’ll be all ready to mix it up with your Easter eggs. Isn’t it funny: egg salad is eggs mixed with an egg dressing!

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 egg
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt (adjust to taste)
pinch of white pepper
1 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil, or a mixture of extra-virgin and regular olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar

Combine the mustard, egg, salt and pepper in the bowl of a blender or food processor. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow, thin, steady stream. Process until the mixture starts to thicken. Stop when all the oil has been added and scrape down the sides. Then add the lemon juice a little at a time, combining well. Taste for salt and white pepper, and add more lemon juice if you like. Transfer the mayonnaise to a jar, cover tightly, and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Perfectly Cooked Hard-Boiled Eggs
This method keeps the eggs from overcooking, and ensures a creamy yolk without that green ring around the outside of the yolk.

1 dozen eggs (or fewer)

In a heavy pot, cover raw eggs with cold water. Bring slowly to a boil over medium heat, and when the water starts to boil, let the eggs simmer gently for one minute. Turn the heat off, put the cover on the pot, and let it sit for 6 minutes. Then carefully pour the water off and run cold water over the eggs, draining and replacing the cold water until the water stays cold. I usually drain the water once, refill it partway with cold water, and then fill the pot with ice cubes.

The Egg Salad Sandwiches
Is it silly to include a recipe for such easy (and delicious) sandwiches? Maybe, but this is how I make them. I like to use up the hard boiled Easter eggs that cracked in the dyeing process, so the egg whites are crazed purple and bright pink. Makes it more festive, don’t you think?

12 perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs (see previous recipe)
mayonnaise (see previous recipe, or use store-bought)
Dijon mustard
fresh-ground pepper
paprika (optional)
flat-leaved parsley, chopped fine
slices of whole-grain bread

1. Peel the eggs. If you’re interested in cutting down the saturated fat a little cut 4-6 of the eggs in half and discard the yolks. Chop all the eggs up into a bowl. Add mayonnaise to moisten nicely, including a couple of large dollops of mustard to your taste (I like quite a bit, but use your own judgment). Add freshly ground pepper, and if the mayonnaise and mustard didn’t add enough salt for you, add salt.
2. Toast the bread well and top each slice with lovely thick mounds of creamy egg salad. Dust with paprika and more pepper, then sprinkle lavishly with parsley. Eat with your hands or with a knife and fork.

grilled asparagus

This is so easy it’s almost embarrassing to call it a recipe, but since it’s so good, and you might not have discovered it yet, I’m including it here.

a pound or two of fresh asparagus (buy more than you think you could possibly eat)
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt

1. Heat your grill to very hot.
2. Snap the ends off the bottoms of the asparagus, as close to the bottom of the stalk as they will still snap nicely. Toss them with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.
3. Turn the grill heat down to medium. Grill the asparagus until they are nice and tender and have grill marks all around; about 9 minutes, turning them every 3 minutes or so.
4. Eat them right away or else eat them later at room temperature. Try not to eat them all right as they come off the grill, because you are likely to burn your tongue, and the rest of your family will be annoyed.

Tip: To keep your asparagus fresh when you get it home from the grocery store, cut about a half-inch off the bottom of the stalks, wrap a wet paper towel around the bottoms of the stalks, and stand them upright in an open plastic bag wrapped around their bottoms. Fasten the bag around the bottom of the stems with a rubber band.

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