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2011 was not my favorite year, which seems silly when I think of all the giggles and thrills that graced the last 12  months.  My son learned to swim, my daughter to climb trees with ease, our family to adventure by canoe.  We ate a lot of very good food.  The many good moments cannot, unfortunately, overlook the abundance of unexpected misfortune and challenges that betook my family and friends. We are all looking forward to a better 2012.

I am hard up to think of a better way to start a day (or a year) than with a tall steaming stack of pancakes.  Way back when, I asserted my love for pancakes in my first post on this blog.  Those Buttermilk Pancakes continue to be our weekly standard, but sometimes we are craving something a little different (or do not have any buttermilk in the house).  On those days we have Buckwheat Blueberry Pancakes.  Buckwheat blends with whole wheat and all purpose flours to produce a pancake that has the characteristic blue hue of buckwheat, but the lightness of a regular pancake.  A touch of yogurt in the mix gives them a pleasant moist quality.  I like to dot the top of each cooking pancake with blueberries, but they are also very good with a mashed banana mixed into the batter.  Stack the pancakes with just a touch of butter between the layers and stream Mixed Berry Syrup over the top.  I am off to whip up another batch to welcome my family into the New Year!

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The holidays are upon us.  Anticipating a busy couple of weeks, we have transformed our home into a full-fledged  Christmas scene.  The tree is up, Santa Lucia is perched on the buffet, and the winter mugs in the morning coffee rotation.  While trying to convince the over-eager children that it is too early to start hanging ornaments on the advent calendar (whose idea was it anyway to decorate for Christmas in November?), we have been brainstorming ideas for edible holiday gifts.

I love making edible gifts for just about any occasion. Cooking for others is a way to treat those we appreciate with a delicious treat and share a bit of ourselves in the process.  It is best to plan ahead and start cooking early so that the making and giving does not become a stressful burden.  Riding the food hangover following Thanksgiving, our first foodie gift to make was Cranberry Cashew Granola Bars.

These granola bars are just sweet enough to count as a treat, but full of wholesome ingredients so they are also right at home in your little one’s school lunch bag.  The bars hold together pretty well, better than other granola bars I have tried.  Any crumbly bits taste tremendous sprinkled atop yogurt and fruit for breakfast.  Feel free to change up the types of nuts and dried fruit, just be sure to use equal quantities.  If you are using roasted nuts or toasted wheat germ, do not toast them again in the oven, instead add those items to the bowl with the cranberries.

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Super Tasty Home Fries

November 14, 2011

Home-fried potatoes seems so simple, yet for years they eluded me.  The challenge lies in achieving a crispy browned exterior on the potato without having to use copious amounts of oil.  Starting with raw potatoes, I always found that the outside browned before the inside could cook through.  Since I always used oil rather judiciously, the potatoes would stick to the pan and we would miss out on the flavorful, crispy skin.  After much trial and error, I developed this recipe which results in perfectly seasoned potatoes with just the right amount of crunch, all with only a little bit of oil.

Super Tasty Home Fries start with cooked potato.  You can either boil them briefly or use leftover baked potato.  Either work well.  I used russet potatoes for the picture, but really any type of potato works well. The dish begins on the stove-top and finishes in the oven.  It works best with a cast iron skillet, but any oven safe pan will work.  In a pinch, you can spread out the potatoes on a baking sheet.  Saute the onion with the spices, then add the potato and toss in the oven.  For a cheesy touch, melt cheddar over the top of the potatoes in the final minutes.  These home fries are a staple at our house.  They really are super tasty!

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Banana-Lovers’ Muffins

October 1, 2011

The other day when a friend offered me a whole tub of over-ripened bananas, I knew immediately what to do with them.  For a couple of years, I have been eying this recipe for banana muffins.  We enjoy banana bread fairly often, but I rarely have the 5 ripe bananas this recipe requires to dedicate to baking. This was a perfect opportunity.

These truly are Banana-Lovers’ Muffins.  With a base of five whipped  bananas and only the simplest of ingredients (flour, butter, salt, baking soda), these muffins sing of bananas.  The effect is quite different from the standard banana bread that is more bread than banana.  The bananas also lend an incredibly creamy quality to the texture of the muffin.  Indeed, though creamy is admittedly a strange descriptor for muffins, it is absolutely apt here. These muffins are moist without being dense making it easy to take down more than one with the morning coffee.

Banana-Lovers’ Muffins is adapted from a recipe from the Kona Inn.  The only thing I changed was to reduce the sugar by half.  I am not a fan of super sweet morning food.  To our family they still seemed plenty sweet with the reduced added sugar and the natural sweetness from the bananas.  We will definitely make these again.

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Berry Dutch Baby

August 3, 2011

Breakfast is sometimes tiresome.  We make eggs, pancakes, waffles, granola, but even with all of those choices, we are still sometimes bored.  Recently I remembered about Dutch Babies which my mother used to make for me.  They are essentially large popovers that are sliced and served with lemon and powdered sugar or jams and syrups if you prefer.  As a child I loved these, but I have not be able to completely sell my kids on them for some reason.  The other night however, as I said goodnight, my son requested a Dutch Baby with berries for breakfast.

Making Dutch Babies is simple, you whisk together a batter, preheat a cast iron in the oven, and pour the batter into the hot pan.  The batter then cooks in the oven until it puffs up and browns.  It is dramatic and beautiful, but have your audience near when you take it from the oven, because it soon falls.  Dutch Babies are best eaten very soon after being removed from the oven.

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Mixed Berry Syrup

July 28, 2011

I did not intend to share this recipe.  It seemed too simple, and maybe, just maybe, you are tired of reading about all the flats of berries my family is consuming.  Oh, but then the syrup began to heat and give off the most luscious smell.  By the time I was ready to ladle it in the jar, I was entertaining thoughts of bathing in this gorgeous liquid. That is when I knew I had to spread the word.   The next morning I awoke and made up a batch of the best pancakes ever (my humble opinion) to showcase this delicious syrup.

And so, simple as it may be, here is the recipe for the syrup that you should by all means make.   Sometimes it is the simplest of recipes that create the most delicious products.  It takes a little longer to make syrup than jam.  The sugar needs to heat to 230 degrees which takes time.  Do not be tempted to add the strained berries before the temperature is reached.  You will end up with a runny product.

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Three Berry Jam

July 6, 2011

My family and I just returned from a delightful escape from reality in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Without the modern distractions of cars, phones, and computers, our days were peacefully filled with banana slug hunts, star gazing,  and swimming until we pruned.  It was a much needed pause in an otherwise busy life, a centering of sorts.  But alas, there are other responsibilities to which we must tend.  Some are grudgingly attended- bill paying, laundry folding, car repairing. Other responsibilities are the important rituals of life that help to make meaning and define some of the rhythms of our family life.  At the top of the list during this time of year is preserving the glorious bounty of summer.

Berry season is short, so we rely on the craft of jam making to preserve these flavors for the dark days.  On our way home, we stopped into Gizdich Ranch and picked up a flat each of raspberries and ollalie berries. I combined these two berries with some strawberries I froze last month to create a mixed berry jam.

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