Tag Archives: No Nuts

Dark Chocolate and Pumpkin Seed “No Nuts Nutella”

Might I tear you away from Pinterest for a few moments so you can read this post?  I know you are getting ready to french braid your hair (sideways) and need to go to the grocery store to buy ingredients for those bacon and cinnamon roll muffins and are in the middle of building that new wrapping paper storage system, but take a few moments to look elsewhere.  No.  Don’t click “See More Pins.”   I realize you need to print out that 30 day training regimen — because who wouldn’t want an ass like that?  But trust me, you don’t know what a burpee is.  Nor do you want to.  I did them.

And the boots.  I need those boots and those jeans and that sweater. And I want to have only matching accessories that show a little pop of coordinated color.  I want to think about what I wear before I put it on, instead of throwing on jeans, a turtleneck, and clogs as I run out the door to pick up the children.

It’s like a dream world, isn’t it?  It’s the world without problems.  It’s all exotic vacations and beautiful food and lovely bodies without back fat.  It’s houses where the piles of school papers have a logical home that isn’t the front seat of your car.  It’s houses with style and matching interiors with themes — rather than a mishmash of your parents’ furniture and stuff you bought from IKEA.  It’s backyards with fireplaces, rather than snow or weeds or neighbors with annoying dogs.  It’s thinking about life using inspirational sayings and being strong in who you are, rather than being small and weak and petty and insecure.

And I guess that’s why it is a tremendous escape.  Life isn’t nearly as pretty.  It has bad weather and cancer diagnoses and health scares and employees who are inspired by the petty rather than the positive.  It has crime and moral failings and budget cuts and terrifying thoughts.  It has self destructive behavior and asses with cellulite.  And waistlines with stretch marks and closets that aren’t dedicated to crafting.   It has kids who puke in the car on those same school papers — that were supposed to be returned last week.

Can we all just cut the crap with the need to have perfection? None of us live it.  Even the people who you think do.  They don’t.  The “strongest” among us are insecure.  The most “beautiful” among us feel ugly. And those people who you think serve only beautiful food (maybe me?) also make instant Jell-O Pudding.  I did just last week.  And you know what? It’s freaking easy.

And sometimes the world around you requires easy in the times of ugly.

But yesterday I took a little time and made this homemade “Nutella” (driven mostly by the fact that I felt guilty that I haven’t posted anything here in a long time … and we can’t have the real stuff due to my daughter’s severe nut allergies).  While on my no carb eating plan, I had a big dollop on a piece of toast.  I licked the spatula multiple times and ate a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk.  It is as delicious as I remember it.  And then I served leftovers for dinner, had two glasses of wine, and passed out on the couch playing Words with Friends.  My husband and I talked for a long time about some intense situations he is dealing with.  We came up with no answers — but a lot more worry.  I later realized that we forgot to pay an important bill.  And my kids didn’t go to sleep until almost 9:30.  I woke up this morning feeling anxious for no good reason.

Or maybe it was for a lot of good reasons.  Reasons that come from not only the ugly of the world, but the ugly that we put upon ourselves.

Enjoy the “Nutella.”

Dark Chocolate and Pumpkin Seed “Nutella”

Makes about one pint

1 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and cooled (you could also use sunflower seeds, or a mix)
2 T vegetable oil
4 ounces dark chocolate
4 T butter
2 t vanilla extract
3-4 T sweetened condensed milk
1/8 cup of milk, warmed
1/2 salt

1.  Place toasted pumpkin seeds in the food processor and process until finely chopped.  Add 2 T vegetable oil in a steady stream while machine is still running.  Continue to process the seeds for about 3 or 4 minutes — until they become like a nut butter consistency.  You should scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times to make sure everything gets incorporated.

2.  Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter together.  Add in the vanilla extract.

3.  Add the chocolate mixture to the pumpkin seed mixture along with 3 T condensed milk and salt.  Process for a few seconds.  Taste and add more condensed milk if you like it a little sweeter.  It may become very thick at this point.  That’s OK.

4.  Remove to a bowl and whisk in warmed milk, a tablespoon or so at a time until your “Nutella” is the desired consistency.  Store in the refrigerator.  Serve on toast, use for baking, or melt to top ice cream.

 

 

Butternut Squash and Apple Muffins with Pumpkin Seed Streusel

I have received one butternut squash and one dozen eggs every Tuesday for the last three weeks from my CSA.  Up until yesterday, I had exactly three butternut squashes on my counter and three dozen eggs in my refrigerator.  I always like to kid myself and say things like “When fall gets here and the kids are back in school, I will finally organize their baby books.  Or clean out the storage area.  Or have that yard sale I’ve been meaning to do since June.”  Instead, I am confronted with back to school nights, violin shopping, supply acquisition, homework helping, pick ups and drop offs, driving, soccer, snacks, and maintaining some level of personal hygiene.

(Memo to my kids: I really have tried with your baby books.  Although I am very sentimental and keep things like your baby teeth and dried up belly button stubs, I am very poor at organizing these items into beautiful volumes for you to treasure one day.  I really hope it is OK that everything is crammed into a baby book with a cracked spine, papers falling out, and notes written in any color pen (or pencil) I had handy.  I do love you.  But not enough to scrapbook.)

And this entire month has been consumed by the Bloomsburg Floods.  We have the luxury of not being in the epicenter of the destruction and our busy schedule is pretty trivial compared to what the residents are going through.  But it has meant a lot of back and forth travel — which means bags that don’t have a chance to get unpacked before they are being packed again. Whirlwind is how some describe it, I think.  But as I talk with friends who are having their homes condemned, I am pretty sure a whirlwind would be a welcome feeling.  Never mind the “problem” of having all of your children’s baby book items in a box, rather than in a muddy heap never to be looked at again.

This whirlwind seems to blow cooking and eating rules out the window.  The grown ups have eaten a lot of Thai takeout. The kids have eaten way too many pasta dinners and lots of dessert.  It was the boy’s 5th birthday too, which seemed to provide an endless supply of cookies, rice krispy treats, cakes, and cupcakes.  But no more!

I turned on the oven yesterday (and it still worked!) and I made these muffins in an attempt to make a relatively healthy treat or breakfast that the kids would enjoy.  They are whole grain, quite low in sugar and fat, and filled with both butternut squash and apples.  They were a nice fall treat and used up one whole squash and 4 eggs.

Only two squash and 32 eggs to go.

Butternut Squash and Apple Muffins with Pumpkin Seed Streusel

Makes about 18 full size muffins

Muffins:
1 1/2 cups of cooked butternut squash (I like to halve mine, scoop out seeds, and slow roast for about an hour at 325 degrees Fahrenheit)
4 eggs
1/4 cup of dark brown sugar (can use more — up to 3/4 cup for a sweeter muffin)
1/3 cup applesauce
6 T vegetable oil
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
2 t cinnamon
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 medium apple, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped

Streusel:
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (can use more here too if you like)
1 t cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped and toasted pumpkin seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  In a large bowl, mix wet ingredients by whisking together cooked squash, eggs, dark brown sugar, applesauce, and vegetable oil.

3. In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients by combining salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and whole wheat pastry flour.

4.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and whisk until just combined.  Stir in chopped apples.  Spoon into greased muffin tins about 2/3 of the way full. (You can use cupcake papers if you like.)

5.  Combine streusel ingredients (brown sugar, cinnamon, and pumpkin seeds) and sprinkle a nice spoonful over top of each muffin before baking.

6.  Bake muffins for about 15 minutes until just done and a tester comes out basically clean.  Let cool a few minutes in tins and then remove muffins to a cooling rack.  (I had to use a knife to loosen them before removing.)

 

 

 

 

Gluten-Free Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Sunbutter Mousse Frosting

I am having a hard time listening to my own voice lately.  The words are all the same … “Eat over your plate, please. Do not get in the pool until your sunscreen is on.  Why did you just get in the pool without sunscreen? It’s not too hot. It’s summer.  Don’t come back inside.  You are not bored.  No, we can’t get donuts.  Get along.  I have no idea what we’re having for dinner.  And I don’t know when it will be ready.  Clean up the Playmobil or I’m throwing it away. Hang up your towel.  Hang up your bathing suit.   No, we are not watching TV.  If that little asshole spraying us with the water cannon doesn’t stop, I’m going to lose my shit.”

Well maybe I just *thought* the last one.  OK, I actually said it out loud just yesterday, but it was under my breath.

But I’m doing this all without beer, people.  Because, once again, I am not eating/drinking gluten and wheat (with the exception of a few I couldn’t turn down).  And it’s working — miraculously, or perhaps, predictably — and my sinuses and ears have never felt better.  I won’t bore you with the boring details though.

I haven’t done much gluten-free baking and was a little overwhelmed with the combination of flours and ingredients that one must use in order to approximate wheat flour.  Sorghum, potato, corn, xanthan gum … just not your normal pantry ingredients.  I’m starting to stock up, but I really liked the idea of a one flour, whole grain solution when I saw a chocolate cupcake recipe on the back of the Bob’s Red Mill Quinoa Flour.  I’m sure I’ll get into the science experiments eventually (when I have  a huge pantry), but for now I’m going to try to keep it simple.

Beyond, I’d prefer to take a more whole foods approach to gluten-free.  As much as I like some of the substitute products, some of the ingredient lists are terrifying.   The cookies might be good, but I think we learned our lesson with Snackwells, didn’t we?  These cupcakes utilize only quinoa flour, which is a complete protein and closer to a vegetable than a grain.  I’ve modified the recipe to include chocolate chips and frosted them with a sunbutter mousse frosting.   The texture is great and I think the quinoa flavor (which can be somewhat stronger than normal flour) is tamed by the chocolate.

And I do appreciate the irony of discussing healthy foods as I type up a recipe for cupcakes with chocolate, butter, cream cheese, sunbutter, and sugar.  It’s still not every day food — but it’s an improvement. And forgive me, a girl needs a good chocolate treat when she’s not drinking beer.

Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Sunbutter Mousse Frosting

Cupcake recipe modified from Bob’s Red Mill

Makes one dozen with some leftover frosting

Cupcakes:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups quinoa flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 eggs, separated
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup of chocolate chips or mini chocolate chips

Frosting:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1-8 ounce package of light cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
6 T butter, softened
1/2 cup Sunbutter (or other nut butter of your choice)
1 t vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a muffin or cupcake tin with twelve paper liners (or grease well).

2.  In a medium saucepan, combine the butter and water over medium heat, stirring until melted together.  Remove from heat and whisk in cocoa powder.

3.  In a large bowl, combine the sugar, brown sugar, quinoa flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add in the cocoa mixture along with the two egg yolks, the vanilla, and the sour cream.  Mix batter until combined well.  Stir in chocolate chips.

4.  In a separate medium bowl, beat the two egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Fold the beaten egg whites into the cupcake batter with a rubber spatula.  You want it to be well combined, but you don’t want the egg whites to deflate too much.

5.  Pour batter into prepared cupcake liners, making each cupcake about 2/3 full.  Bake for about 15 minutes until nicely puffed and crackly on top.

6.  While cupcakes are baking and/or cooling, make the frosting by creaming together the butter, sunbutter, and cream cheese until well mixed using an electric mixer.  Add in the powdered sugar and mix slowly until incorporated and then turn up to high and mix until very light and fluffy.  Mix in vanilla extract.  Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes.

 

Garlic Scape Pesto with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Garlic Scapes.  Who knew they even existed?  They are not the kind of thing you generally see on a grocery store shelf and people very rarely know what they are unless they garden or belong to a CSA.  I will be completely honest that I had never seen them before joining our farm share — and I love to cook with unique ingredients.  So technically speaking, the garlic scape is the green stalk of a young garlic plant.  (They continue to exist when the plant matures, they just aren’t really edible any more.)  Obviously, they have a very garlicky flavor, but are somewhat like a cross between garlic and a curly, dense scallion.

As I was making the pesto last night, I began to think of the many uses for it.  It is truly delicious and I think I like it more than regular basil pesto.  On the simplest level, toss some of the warm scape pesto with hot pasta and you have a treat.  We did that last night with some local asparagus, which made a great, light dinner.  (BTW, I am not eating wheat right now, so I had the Bionaturae gluten-free spaghetti and it was delicious.  Highly recommend it for those off gluten or wheat.)  The kids absolutely devoured it and wanted more.

But other than pasta, the possibilities are endless — mixed in with sour cream and/or cream cheese for a dip or spread, as a sauce on a white pizza with fresh mozzarella, in omelets, mixed into soups or tomato sauces, extended with a bit of lemon juice or vinegar for a salad dressing, tossed with veggies for roasting, mixed with white beans and sausage for a warm salad, used as a basis for a pasta salad, spread on toasts or bruschetta for a quick appetizer (or on a sandwich), or mixed into hummus or white bean dip, etc.

The pesto keeps well in the refrigerator and it is also easily frozen so you can enjoy it when the garlic scapes are no longer around. This version is nut-free for my allergic daughter, but I love the richness of the toasted pumpkin seeds. I’m sure any type of nuts or seeds would work, however.

Get to the farmer’s market now and ask around for garlic scapes.  If you are like me, you will want to eat this directly off the spoon.

Garlic Scape Pesto with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

15 garlic scapes, trimmed and roughly chopped
3/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 cup olive oil
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

1.  In the bowl of a food processor, add garlic scapes, toasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Process until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary.

2.  Place into a small bowl and stir in parmesan cheese.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

 

Banana Pudding Popsicles

Maybe it’s been the heat, or my lack of air conditioning during the heat, but I’ve been thinking about Jell-O Banana Pudding Pops lately.  I generally believe that the entirely random thoughts that breeze through our brains are on their way to the discard pile — unless we pay attention to them.  Then they are preserved for a new period of time.  I am not a neurobiologist, but I’m pretty sure that this is how it works.  And I think that the period of time is approximately 28 years, because there is no way I’ve enjoyed a Pudding Pop since I was about 10 or 11.  You can confirm that 28 year time period with your “science” if you like.  But I prefer to trust Bill Cosby.

So, I actually sort of forgot that Jell-O Banana Pudding Pops even existed (and how much I loved them), but I did confirm with the Internet and it is clear that I did not dream this. There were multiple flavors — chocolate, vanilla, and chocolate-vanilla swirl at the basic level.  But I remember loving the banana ones.  And my friend Beth remembers that there was something printed on the popsicle sticks.  Was it a contest?  A fortune?  We clearly let go of that piece of factual information sometime in college when we were killing brain cells with ridiculous amounts of Yuengling Lager.  Anyone else remember? Or have more energy than I do to perform a Google search to find out? Good for you.

When I decided to replicate the pudding pops, every recipe that I found (surprise!) started out with Jell-O Pudding. This is all well and good — but it’s not really recipe worthy. So I made a simple homemade vanilla pudding and then pureed ripe bananas into it.   It would be equally good with any flavor of pudding (chocolate, caramel, etc.) or with any type of fruit pureed into it.  Strawberries would be great.  But that’s not how Bill envisioned it.  So I’m sticking with an original flavor.

It’s not an original method because I made it from scratch, but I think Bill would be OK with it because we generally agree on most topics.  Namely, Donald Trump.

Banana Pudding Popsicles

Makes about 12 popsicles (or 4 cups of pudding)

1 cup milk (I had 2%)
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
2 T butter
2 t vanilla extract
3 bananas, ripe and mashed

1.  In a medium heavy saucepan, whisk together the milk, half and half, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and eggs.   Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly (and scraping out corners of pan with a spatula to get any trapped parts), for about 5-7 minutes until the mixture is bubbly and thickened.  Remove from heat immediately and stir in butter and vanilla extract.

2.  Pour pudding mixture into the bowl of a food processor and add mashed bananas.  Process until completely smooth, scraping down sides as necessary (and being careful to let steam from the hot pudding escape).  Pour pudding into popsicle molds and freeze for at least 6 hours until completely hardened.  (These will keep a few days, at least, in the freezer.)

 

Rum Balls

I planned to write this post detailing how it included my favorite things — rum and balls, of course.  And then I was going to integrate how appropriate Rum Balls are during the holiday season because of the infamous Pete Schweddy’s Balls.  And then I planned to go into the typical territory that we all need alcohol to get through the holiday season with the stress of busy schedules, travel, not enough money, and families that drive us crazy.  And don’t forget the dinner table arguments with Republicans.  (I kid because I love, Dad.)

But I’m not going to do that.

Because in the last three weeks, our family and friends have been crushed by loss.  A dear family friend and the mother of one of our best friends lost her battle with pancreatic cancer.  A friend lost her best friend to a heart condition.  We (and some of our dearest, old friends) lost a friend we went to high school with when he died of a sudden heart attack at 38 years old (with a wife and two boys, 10 and 7).  And now, another friend has lost her 44 year old brother (with a 2 year old and a baby on the way) to a sudden heart attack also.

So my thought is this:  please take the next few days and embrace those around you.  Tell them how much you love them and how much they mean to you.  Don’t argue over whether someone bought a cheap bottle of wine.  Don’t worry that the presents aren’t wrapped yet (Cuizoo, I’m talking to you.)  If the pine needles haven’t been adequately vacuumed before the company comes, ignore it.  I have distinct memories of being a little girl with pine needles on the floor and in all of my presents.  It’s OK and it hasn’t scarred me or anything.  If you didn’t get the last two batches of cookies made, skip it.  Against all of my normal advice, go to the store and buy something pre-made.  I’m buying a deliciously non-organic, non-pastured, antibiotic-fed Honeybaked Ham for Christmas Eve.  So there!

As I was passing a fellow parent at school drop off today, she remarked that Christmas is only magical for kids because they don’t have to do any of the work.  True enough, I guess.  But we need to step outside all of the work and find the magic in simply being together, as contrived as that might sound.  We need to cut ourselves a few breaks and not hold one another to insane standards that aren’t attainable.  We need to let go of anger and silly bickering.

We need to think about children who have lost parents and remember that the only thing our kids truly care about is that we are together (even if they claim they are pissed about not getting a Wii).  We need to hold our siblings and parents and grandparents a little tighter, knowing that this ride doesn’t last forever.  Some of us have been taught these lessons already.  Some of us will learn soon enough.

So, Merry Christmas and Happy 2011.  Please hug those who make you feel safe.  Tell them that you love them.  Thank them for all they do for you.  And raise a glass to those we have lost too soon.

Rum Balls

Makes about 3 dozen

2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs, from a 9 oz. box (I do this in the food processor)
2 cups toasted pumpkin seeds, finely chopped (or other nuts … I do this in the processor too)
4 t. light corn syrup
Pinch of salt
2 generous shot glasses of good quality rum (I used a pure cane sugar rum)
1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar

1.  Combine vanilla wafer crumbs, chopped pumpkin seeds, corn syrup, and salt.  Stir in rum.  If mixture is too dry, you may need a bit more rum.  It should be clumpy, so you can roll into balls.

2.  Put powdered sugar on a plate.

3.  Taking about 1 heaping teaspoon of the rum ball mixture, roll into a ball using the palms of your hands.  Drop into powdered sugar and coat well.  Place onto a parchment lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining rum ball mixture.  When finished, place rum balls in a ziploc bag and store in the refrigerator.  They are best if made up ahead and allowed to “ripen” for a few days (my grandmother’s words).   (This is the only time you want balls to be ripe.)

Brown Butter Non-Pecan Pie

Before I had kids, I imagined my life with them only in scenes with a Barbara Walters interview softening glow.  And I imagined babies — never toddlers or tweens or teens.  I’m sure that I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but the beauty and magic of it all consistently put a filter on my imagined reality.  And I guess that’s OK, because you don’t generally do things (by choice) that you imagine will be terrible.  My thoughts were generally filled with laughing babies on park swings — not spending an hour every evening attempting to get two kids to brush their teeth (Because seriously, does the schedule ever change?  No.  So brush your damn teeth.)

And when the babies arrived, I realized there were a whole host of little things that could go wrong.  I spent my time worrying about the big stuff, but never considered that my Christmas baby would be jaundiced and require light therapy.  I never thought about spending New Year’s Eve in the doctor’s office.  I never thought about silly little things that would require ultrasounds and blood work and doctors saying things like “Oh, in most cases this is fine, but we need to check it out.”  I never thought about mastitis.  And holy shit, that day seriously ruined my plan for a Barbara Walters glow.

I especially never thought about the chance my daughter would have severe food allergies.  I still remember standing at my bathroom sink when the pediatrician called to give me the results of the allergy tests we did on a whim because she had eczema (another thing you don’t imagine in your baby fantasies).  She read off the list … “Severe and life-threatening reactions to all dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, and all tree nuts.  With tremendously high levels for peanuts.”

I cried.  And cried.  And cried.  And after I cried some more, I couldn’t help but feel guilty.  Guilty because I ate those things while pregnant and breastfeeding.  Guilty because I knew to stop eating dairy when she showed signs of eczema, but I never stopped eating nuts.  Guilty because she spit up a lot and I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN.  Guilty because in the whole universe of things that could go wrong, this seemed minor, and yet it was crushing to me.  I knew that day her life (and mine) had changed forever and that it was always going to be different for her.  And harder.  I remember someone very innocently saying “Oh, she’ll never get to have an ice cream cone.”  Thanks for the reminder.  I certainly wasn’t feeling horrible enough already.

What I didn’t know even then was what it would be like to have a child, not a baby, with food allergies.  I didn’t know how much harder it would be when they are off on playdates, or field trips, or birthday parties — when they are out of your control and making their own choices.  I didn’t think about teachers asking “Can she touch an acorn?” I didn’t think about her having to sit in a special chair or at a special lunch table just to avoid allergens.

I also didn’t know how thankful I could be today.  I am thankful that, at almost 9 years old, she has outgrown all of her allergies except peanuts and tree nuts.  I am thankful (in a strange way) that, because so many more children are afflicted, we now have an entire section of our grocery store devoted to allergy-friendly products — things like coconut milk ice cream, Sunbutter, or wheat and gluten-free bread and pasta.  It would have made my life a lot easier back then, but I am not sure that I’d be sitting here typing this today if it weren’t for her allergies.  They forced me to cook and to understand food at a level I never had to before.

My daughter’s allergies also made me understand the importance of food and family, and the magical moments that occur when we share both together.  And I think I was so crushed when I realized she had severe food allergies because I knew inherently that there would be times when she was excluded from those celebrations — times when the friend’s birthday cupcakes wouldn’t be safe.  And I think that is why I made it my business to cook a safe version of nearly everything just to keep her at the table and let her be part of every celebration (even if it meant baking cupcakes at midnight or attempting to make homemade pasta out of rice flour).

But this year when we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, my daughter will be able to have everything at the table.  Even the “Pecan” Pie.  The soft glow has worn off a bit, but I am so truly thankful for where we are today.  May you all have a wonderful celebration of food and family on Thursday.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Brown Butter Non-Pecan Pie

Make one 9 inch pie

Butter Pie Crust of your Choice (I used this one)
2 cups of sunflower and pumpkin seeds (I liked the mix of both for better texture)
6 T butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup corn syrup (light or dark both work)
3 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
3 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Roll out pie crust into a circle with approximately a 12 inch diameter.  Carefully transfer to a 9 inch pie dish (not deep dish).  Trim off excess if necessary, leaving about one inch of overhang.  Fold the overhang under and decoratively flute or crimp the edges.  Using a fork, prick the bottom of the crust and place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to re-firm the butter.

3.  Place sunflower and pumpkin seeds in an even layer on a baking sheet.  Toast in preheated oven for 5-10 minutes until golden, being careful not to let them burn.  Set aside to cool.

4.  In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and allow to brown slightly.  You want it to be golden brown and smell fragrant, but do not let it burn or you will have to start over.  Remove from heat immediately after it gets to that state and whisk in brown sugar until well incorporated.  Stir in corn syrup, vanilla extract, and salt.

5.  In a large bowl, whisk the egg to break them up.  Slowly whisk in brown sugar/butter mixture (just a bit at at a time, so the eggs don’t curdle).  Mix well to make sure everything is incorporated.

6.  Remove chilled crust from refrigerator and pour toasted (and cooled) seeds into crust.  Pour pie mixture over top of the seeds.  Place pie pan on a baking sheet and bake the pie until the filling has set and it is a nice brown color, about 55 minutes.  Let cool completely before serving.  You can store this in the refrigerator for at least a day (mine’s been in there for two now and it is still great) — just bring to room temperature before serving.

White Chocolate Meringue Cookies

I remember being in about 3rd or 4th grade and getting a C in handwriting.  I was crushed.  The only grades that ever graced my report card were A’s.  But something about cursive writing wasn’t clicking with me.  My handwriting was ugly and awkward and certainly not the least bit artistic.  I received C’s in only two other courses during school:  1) Home Economics (during the sewing unit, which is not at all surprising considering I still can’t figure out how to thread my machine) and 2) Gym (during the basketball unit, which is not surprising considering I could only make 3 out of 10 free throws — a skill [or lack thereof] that thankfully hasn’t affected me in life . . . yet.)

I can distinctly recall bringing home that report card while my grandmother, Grace, was visiting.  We talked about it and she quickly told me that it didn’t matter.  This was crazy talk, from my vantage point.  She told me how her father once said to her that everyone develops their own unique brand of handwriting, and that making it perfectly beautiful according to one person’s definition was not only impossible, but not the least bit interesting.  I am blessed to still have my grandmother in my life at 96 years old.  Arthritis has crippled her imperfectly beautiful, but truly unique, handwriting — but I still get a chance to talk with her and that it something I treasure.

My mom recently gave me a stack of her recipe cards and I studied them for nearly an hour.  There were clues in that handwriting somewhere.  I could imagine any one of those cards being out on the counter when I was visiting her as a toddler. I could imagine her writing recipes down in her old house.  I could imagine her pulling them all out in anticipation of Christmas, or just a weekend visit.

And I didn’t have to imagine the memories of her making many of the recipes — I can remember coming into her kitchen at breakfast time as she was pulling her special meringue cookies out of a cold oven — a cold oven with a heavy door.  They were like a magic trick — you put them in a hot oven, turn it off, go to bed, and wake up to beautifully crusty meringues with a somewhat creamy interior, loaded with chocolate chips.

When I see in the recipe that she says to line a baking “tin” with wax paper, I remember she had the coolest wall mounted wrap dispenser that had three (I think) covered segments that held paper towels, foil, and wax paper.  Each one had its own little door and cutting edge.  I remember her glass jars (some of which I have on top of my cabinets now) filled with spices, and especially cinnamon heart candies.  I remember her geranium out front and the seemingly mile-long hallway to her bedroom.  I remember making paper dolls to count the days down until my parents would return from a trip.  I remember her making trip activity books with cryptoquips and crossword puzzles (that she would make herself) and riddles for me to solve.  I remember going to painting class with her and trying to be an artist — a skill she had, that I did not.  And I remember sitting with her at the piano and getting giddy with excitement as she would play Scott Joplin.

But mostly, I remember her telling me that I was me and that was the only person I ever had to be.  Eventually, my handwriting went from awful, to beautiful, and back to awful again — it seems now I am always too rushed to make perfectly formed letters.  But I think about those physical artifacts and wonder if reading a blog post will ever substitute for holding a grandmother’s recipe in your hands, studying the words that she wrote, and seeing yourself in her life.

White Chocolate Meringue Cookies

A few notes:  The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of sugar, but I found 1/2 cup to be plenty.  Also, she always used regular chocolate chips, but I used white chocolate for a nice all white appearance.  Both are delicious.  And one food safety note, I am not a food scientist so I am not sure if these get cooked hard enough to eliminate Salmonella.  As with any dish where eggs are gently cooked, please only use the freshest eggs from responsible farms and take care to not serve to those who might be very young/old or immune-suppressed if Salmonella is a concern.

Makes about two dozen

2 egg whites
1/2 cup of sugar
1 cup of chocolate chips (white or semi-sweet, mini chips are nice too)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Gradually beat in sugar until the mixture is very glossy and holding nice, stiff peaks.

3.  Fold in chocolate chips.

4.  Drop by the spoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and place into hot oven.  Immediately turn the oven off and leave overnight, or at least 6 hours.  Remove and store in a tightly sealed container.