Blue Bird Days

Four years ago we left the mountains and moved to my husband’s home state of Oklahoma. We were filled with hope and expectation and like so many romantic-types our dreams were slightly elusive. The vision of what life would be was a far cry from what life actually was.

We found ourselves suddenly, willingly, on a path that felt overwhelmingly “off”. What ensued were two years of stretching and growth in the midst of regret.

Despite our own personal (and perhaps petty) dissappointment there was an outpouring of light. We enjoyed the close proximity to our families. We delighted in our sweet son, Cecil. We welcomed our second beautiful son into the world, James. And so the dailyness of life helped us to hobble on.

Two years ago we moved back to the mountains, to the same town we’d left twice before. That old adage third times a charm comes to mind. Call it fate or providence. I call it God. We’ve come to the conclusion that we’re just supposed to be here and lucky for us there’s no where else we’d rather be.

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Commitments aren’t my forte. So I’m hesitant to put the cart before the horse here. But I’ve missed sharing recipes and for some inexplicable reason I feel like I’m supposed to do this, maybe just today, maybe next month. We’ll just see what happens 🙂

This is a little Early Spring menu. I always anticipate the change of seasons, and where I live March and April don’t typically feel very springy (although this year is quite the exception!). This is my remedy. Ostensibly springy foods just cozied up a bit.

SALMON WITH CRÈME FRAÎCHE AND HERBS
We make this year round. It’s incredibly fast and delicious for very little effort, perfect for a weeknight! I always serve it over brown rice to sop up the sauce. THAT SAUCE. It’s wonderful and I’m not typically comfortable boasting about things because I get all sweaty. As for sides, the asparagus recipe below would be nice for special occasions, but my favorite side is boiled (pronounced “bowled” if you’re from East Texas) frozen peas with a drizzle of olive oil and finely chopped fresh mint.

Also, not to be a pain… but you MUST (!) use crème fraîche! NOT sour cream!! It’s expensive and I’m sorry.  I think you’ll forgive me after you try it.

Lastly, if you’re feeling really decadent, you can double the sauce. That’s just an unspoken universal truth. In life, you can always double the sauce.

1 pound salmon filet (approx)
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1/2 cup creme fraiche
juice of 1 small lemon, approx 2 Tbs.
1 garlic clove, minced
2-3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped fine
1 tablespoon shallots or fresh chives, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried dill (fresh would probably be awesome, but I always just use dried)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375* F

2. In a large baking dish that will more than accommodate the fish, lay a piece of parchment paper about twice as large as the baking dish (let the extra paper drape over the side). On the section of parchment that is sitting in the dish, drizzle 1 tsp. of olive oil.  Lay fish skin-side down on oiled parchment.  Drizzle fish with remaining 1 tsp. olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Prepare the creme fraiche sauce.  In a medium sized bowl mix the remaining 8 ingredients: creme fraiche through the pinch of pepper.

4. Pour sauce mixture over entire fish.  Fold the unused side of the parchment over the fish.  Fold the edges three times to create a parcel and seal thoroughly.  You’re steaming the fish in the parchment so its important that the edges stay sealed.

5. Bake approximately 15-20 minutes**, until parchment envelope puffs up and fish begins to flake.  Remove from oven and allow to cool 5-10 mins before opening parchment at table.

(Serves 4)

** Depending on the thickness of your salmon filet, it might need more time in the oven. I’d start checking around the 18 minute mark. I’ve had 1 1/4″ – 1 1/2″ filets require closer to 25 minutes.

ROASTED ASPARAGUS BUNDLES
In the photo above I was tinkering around, testing different versions of this recipe. Asparagus and pork in any form were just made for each other.  Here is my spin on this old-world classic. I don’t like the other components to cover up the natural flavor of the asparagus, so I keep all the garnishes pretty light.

To make this dairy-free, simply omit the parmesan cheese shavings.  The other flavors are very pronounced and you won’t miss the cheese a bit.  The little touch of parsley and lemon zest on top add just enough flavor and color.

1 pound asparagus
6 slices prosciutto
1-2 T. olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
parmesan cheese shavings, using a vegetable peeler
2-3 T. parsley, coarsely chopped
1 t. lemon zest

  1. Preheat oven to 375* F.
  2. Cut off the bottom third of each asparagus stalk.  Divide the stalks into 6 little piles (approx. 4 or 5 stalks per pile, depending on the size of your asparagus).  Wrap each pile of asparagus in 1 slice of prosciutto and place bundles with the prosciutto seam-side down on a baking sheet or sheet pan.  Repeat with remaining piles, leaving a little room between each bundle.
  3. Drizzle the bundles with olive oil, fresh ground pepper, and the tiniest pinch of salt (prosciutto and parmesan together are quite salty, so you need very little). Roast approximately 20-25 minutes, until the asparagus is tender and just beginning to brown.
  4. Before serving, lightly scatter with chopped parsley, a couple of parmesan shavings and a pinch of lemon zest over each bundle.

(Serves 6)

CITRUS INFUSED STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKES
This is a great way to serve those first strawberries of the season that may not be the most ripe and flavorful, but they’re red and pretty and you just want some. Also, I’m more of a cupcake-shortcake-gal as opposed to a biscuit-shortcake-gal, just my personal preference.

Strawberries:
1 lb. strawberries, hulled, sliced
1-2 tsp. orange zest (preferably organic)
juice of 1 orange
3-4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium-sized bowl mix together all ingredients. Taste & adjust. Macerate at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until shortcakes are ready.  Or prepare ahead of time and store in the fridge, but bring to room temp 30 minutes before serving.

Shortcakes:
1 1/2 cups flour (for GF use: 1 c. rice flour, 1/3 c. potato starch, 1/4 c. tapioca flour, 3/4 tsp. xanthan gum)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, at room temp (for dairy-free use coconut oil)
3 tablespoons canola oil (or other neutral flavor cooking oil)
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg (or 2 for more of a denser sponge-cake)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sparkling water, like Perrier

barely-whipped cream, to serve (2 cups heavy whipping cream, 1-2 T. sugar, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, whisk until soft peaks form)

confectioner’s sugar, to serve

  1. Preheat oven to 350* F. Generously butter a 12 cup muffin pan.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. In the bowl of your mixer, beat together the butter, oil and sugar until light and fluffy, approx. 2 minutes.  Add the egg and then the vanilla.
  4. Alternately, and on low-speed, beat in the flour mix and sparkling water, until just blended. Divide batter between muffin cups. Bake 15 – 18 minutes, until tops are brown and cakes have set.  Test with a toothpick. Allow to cool a few minutes before removing from pan.
  5. To serve, slice each cake in half, horizontally. Spoon macerated strawberries and their juice over the bottom cake half, top with a big dollop of barely whipped cream, place the cake’s “hat” on top.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

(Makes 12 shortcakes)

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Thai Curry with Cauliflower “Rice” {gluten-free, vegan}

Thai Jungle Curry + Cauliflower

Adam made me this cutting board. There is something so much more intrinsically beautiful in a gift that is made versus bought. He’s a little protective of it, though, re-sanding the surface every now and then. I’ve even been gently reproached for allowing strawberry hulls to sit too long on its surface.

There is symbolism in this cutting board, too. In the early years of our marriage my husband was a full-time carpenter, a surprisingly lucrative job for a twenty-something in a ski-town. “Building America,” he would say with a wink. He loved the work. The life-style. However, with the arrival our first child he felt it was time to move up the ranks, to trade in the hammer and tool belt for collared shirts and client meetings. Management. He had arrived.

Life is full of irony. As it turns out, he quite liked that old hammer and tool belt. So much so that he’s decided its time to take a leap, to set aside the nine-to-five for a while and test out furniture making full-time. I’ll be sure to share more of his work going forward. It’s beautiful stuff.

Thai Jungle Curry + Cauliflower

This change coincides with another, perhaps even more important. In the last year-and-a-half since Cecil was born we have become increasingly aware of the distance that separates us from our kinfolk, the sweet people who love us and our son the most. As we’ve talked, and talked, and talked some more about this decision, it has become abundantly clear that the time is now. Everything all at once.

At the end of July, with quiet enthusiasm and measured certainty, we will move back to the Oklahoma hills where Adam was born.

THAI CURRY WITH CAULIFLOWER “RICE”
Adapted from Whole Living

This is one of my favorite vegetarian/vegan dinners.  It just feels good to get full on a bunch of colorful vegetables. You could easily substitute any number of different veggies: asparagus, green beans, a handful of spinach, etc. If cauliflower “rice” sounds too fringe/new-age-hippie I completely understand, sometimes I’m not feeling it either, so I just substitute brown rice. Or serve both for more bulk and a little grain.

Cauliflower “Rice”
2 cups cauliflower, florets only
1 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil  (olive oil works, too)
1/2 red onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
sea salt
1/4 cup vegetable broth

Thai Curry
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste (more or less to suit your spice level)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup coconut milk (I prefer full fat, but “lite” would be fine)
1/2 red onion, sliced
2 cups broccoli florets
2 carrots, julienned
1/2 red bell pepper, julienned

Garnish
3 tablespoons shelled and toasted pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or peanuts
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
fresh sprouts (optional)
fresh lime slices for garnish
Sriracha sauce, to serve

  1. Pulse cauliflower florets in food processor until they resemble the texture of rice (see pic above).
  2. Heat coconut oil in a medium sized skillet over medium-low heat, add onion and garlic and saute until softened, approximately 3-5 minutes.  Stir in the cauliflower “rice”, a pinch of salt and veggie broth.  Partially cover the pan and simmer/steam 5 minutes until broth has evaporated and the cauliflower is tender but still toothsome.  Keep warm.
  3. While the “rice” cooks, make the curry.  In a large skillet or wok, heat the remaining coconut oil over medium to medium-high heat.  Add the garlic, ginger, curry paste and brown sugar and cook for 1 minute, stirring to incorporate the ingredients.  Add the veggie slices: onion, carrot, broccoli and red bell pepper.  Stir-fry 2-4 minutes until tender-crisp and just beginning to brown on the edges.  Decrease the heat to low and add the coconut milk, stirring to loosen any browned bits.  Allow curry to simmer gently and thicken for 2 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  4. To serve, spoon veggies and sauce over cauliflower “rice”.  Top with pumpkin seeds, cilantro, fresh sprouts, and a lime wedge.

Serves 2

Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce {gluten-free}

Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce {gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free}

I’m afraid I’m asking you to endure an untimely braise of meatballs.  My sincerest apologies.  Spring and Summer have both been a little coy.  Hopefully you’re eating gazpacho on the deck or something.  If so, just bookmark this recipe for those first cool nights of September.

MEATBALLS IN CHIPOTLE SAUCE
Adapted from Williams Sonoma Mexican cookbook

We’ve been making these meatballs since we were first married.  Naturally, the recipe has evolved quite a bit over that eight year span.  When I get in a dinner rut, this is one of my favorite back-pocket meals.  They’re spicy and unctuous and comforting.

If you’re avoiding gluten, do carefully read the ingredients on the can of chipotle chiles.  Some are gluten-free and some are most certainly not.

This recipe is the perfect divide-and-conquer sort.  One person can make the sauce while the other person prepares the meatballs.  Then just simmer it all together for 20 minutes.  Serve over rice.

Sauce:
2 (14 1/2 oz.) cans diced tomatoes, with juice
1 – 2 chipotle chiles in adobo from a can, plus 1 teaspoon of sauce (adjust to your spice preference)
4 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
3/4 – 1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups beef or chicken stock
1 tablespoon oil

Meatballs:
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (1 pound ground beef & 1/2 pound ground pork is also good)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 -2  garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 cup gluten-free bread crumbs
1 tablespoon milk of choice (cow, soy, rice, etc.)

Sauce Preparation:

  1. In a blender, combine the sauce ingredients except oil (diced tomatoes through stock).  Process until smooth.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking.  Pour in sauce and bring to a lively simmer, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to gently simmer, uncovered, until sauce has thickened almost reduced by half, about 5-10 minutes.

Meatball Preparation:

  1. While the sauce simmers, in a large bowl, add the beef, pork, cumin, garlic, and salt and pepper.  Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands or a fork until the ingredients are evenly distributed.  Stir in the breadcrumbs and 1 tablespoon of milk.
  2. Gingerly roll meat mixture into golf ball-sized balls, being careful not to overwork the meat mixture.  Drop each meatball as it is made into the gently simmering sauce.  The sauce should at least come half-way up the meatballs and possibly almost cover them.  Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, remove one meatball to a plate and cut in half to check for doneness. If the meatballs begin to stick, stir in a tablespoon or two of water.  Remove one meatball to a plate and cut in half to check for doneness.  Serve directly from pot, ladled over rice.

Serves 4-6

Roma goes to Rome.



Travel has a way of awakening the senses, making every moment that much more vivid. The details of the day, even the most mundane, become forever-memorialized in the mind’s eye. Adam, the seasoned traveler in our home, pointed this out many years ago, and I must say it has made our periodic gallivanting even more enjoyable, knowing that the pleasure of travel doesn’t end abruptly when we return home. Quite the opposite is true. We get to revisit every memory, as often as we’d like, for the rest of our days.
We started our ten day trek in Rome and then ventured on to Florence. It was rainy and chilly most days. No bother. The rain left a picturesque wet sheen on the streets and ruins; the cool air only made the atmosphere more romantic.
You could almost feel Rome rumbling with excitement over the papal conclave, various colors of smoke, and eventually the selection and celebration of Pope Francis all while we were there.
For the duration of our trip the daily routine was much the same. Fortified with the hotel’s breakfast and too many cappuccinos (Adam and me) and plenty of milk (Cecil), we would pound the streets of both great cities, cramming in as much as possible. Then we would cram our faces with good food, take a nap, repeat.


I did want to share a couple of our favorite meals and restaurants.  These were the highlights.
//ROME//
Vecchia Roma –  By far our best meal in Rome and the best meal of the trip. The trattoria was full to the brim with tons of loud Italians! A very good sign indeed. Thankfully, we were there with a couple of Roman friends because these people were understandably not catering to the tourist crowd but locals. The restaurant’s specialty is the all’Amatriciana flambe with guanicale (pork jowl), which they toss together in huge cheese wheels. It was divine. This was the most delicious and memorable pasta I have ever had. I have already set to work recreating this dish at home.
La Soffitta Renovatio – Just around the corner from Vatican City. This place is a little pricy, but they have a very extensive gluten-free menu. I’m almost certain our waiter told me that they can make anything from the main menu gluten-free. I had a wonderful pizza with buffalo mozzarella and then a heavenly dessert for which I have no name. It seemed very much like an ice-box cake with meringue cookies and sweetened mascarpone cheese generously drizzled with a thick caramel sauce. This is definitely on my to-do list.
//FLORENCE//
All’Antico Vinaio –  This was our best restaurant meal in Florence! So unassuming. As a matter of fact, you could easily walk right past it and never know. This is an inexpensive and filling little sandwich shop with a great selection of cured meats and cheeses. They only make sandwiches. Wonderful sandwiches! The little glass of house wine right outside doesn’t hurt either!
All-in-all, a wonderful vacation full of inspirational sights, sounds and tastes!

Olive Oil and Maple Granola {gluten-free, vegan}

Olive Oil and Maple Granola {gluten-free, vegan}

We just returned from a lovely trip to Italy.  It was somewhat last-minute and a wonderful whirlwind.  Cecil came, too, and couldn’t have been more delightful!  More on our trip later.  I’ve been tarrying over this silly granola post the entire month of March.

Much like banana bread, I’ve never met a granola I didn’t like.  So to use superlatives like “best” would certainly show uncharacteristic partiality on my part.  BUT.  If I had to pick only one…

Olive Oil + Maple Granola {gluten-free, vegan}

In this version, the more traditional ingredients like honey and a neutral-tasting oil or butter are swapped out for the dark, heady flavor of real maple syrup and the grassy notes and pleasant bitterness of olive oil.

Not only is this unexpected pairing of flavors complimentary, but it also creates a markedly unusual texture.  Whereas most granolas are pleasantly chewy – giving one the sense you’ve earned your morning nutrients through prolonged chomping – this recipe is almost brittle, crumbling to pieces in your mouth.  I tend to hover over the hot heap right out of the oven, picking out the toasty coconut shards and eating them one-by-one.

This cereal doesn’t stop at breakfast, either. We eat it all day long: soaked in milk with the addition of dried cherries (Molly’s idea), a dry handful as we dash out the door, even sprinkled over greek yogurt for dessert.  And, to bring things full circle, it makes a great snack for long-haul flights.  It’s no wonder a single batch of the stuff never lasts more than 48 hours!

OLIVE OIL & MAPLE GRANOLA
This recipe was created by Nakisia Davis, owner/founder of Early Bird Foods.  She was generous enough to share it eons ago with the good folks over at Food52 as part of their “Genius Recipes” column, a weekly post that’s been a real boon to anyone’s ongoing search for delicious food.

3 cups gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
1 cup raw sunflower seeds, hulled
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
1 1/4 cups raw pecans, whole or roughly chopped
3/4 cup real maple syrup
1/2 extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl mix all ingredients together, stirring until everything is evenly moistened.
  • Spread granola mixture onto lined sheet pan and bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until toasty brown, approximately 45 minutes.
  • (Try to) cool completely before serving or storing.

Yield: 7 cups.