Simple Hummus


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Preparing hummus for a birthday beach potluck.

Simple Hummus

2 cans chickpeas

2 cloves garlic

4 tablespoons tahini

1 tsp salt

6 tablespoons quality olive oil

3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


Pour liquid from the chickpeas into a bowl and set aside.

Rinse the chickpeas and put in a food processor, adding tahini, garlic, salt, lemon juice, and seven tablespoons of the reserved liquid.  Blend with the food processor and add the olive oil as it runs.

Top with a few whole chickpeas and drizzle the top with olive oil, sprinkle with paprika, and garnish with parsley leaves, if you like.

Recipe from


Dinner & movies in bed.  Daddy’s on a climbing trip & we are testing out our hummus.


Heading for the beach tomorrow with our hummus, sand toys, & a birthday present.

Chocolate Birthday Cake 


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Born just under four pounds five weeks early, fed by syringe for seven weeks…six years ago.

Chocolate Birthday Cake

1 cup boiling water

3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

2 cups granulated sugar

10 Tbs. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper. Dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a small heatproof bowl, whisk together the boiling water and cocoa powder until smooth. Let cool completely.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using a mixer, beat together the granulated sugar and butter on medium-high speed until the mixture is light in color and texture, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the vanilla and the cooled cocoa mixture.

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until smooth, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops.

Bake the cakes until they begin to pull away from the sides of the pans, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer the pans to wire racks and let cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the inside of each pan to release the cake. Invert the pans onto the racks, lift off the pans and peel the parchment paper off the cakes. Turn the cakes right side up and let cool completely.

Place 1 cake layer, bottom side up, on a cake plate. Using an icing spatula, spread the top of the layer with a generous 1/2 cup of the frosting. Place the second layer, top side down, on top of the first layer. Frost the top and then the sides with the remaining frosting. Slice the cake into thick wedges and serve.

For chocolate cupcakes, line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups. Bake until the tops spring back when pressed in the center, 20 to 25 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool before frosting.

Recipe from William Sonoma

Chocolate Frosting

3 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder

8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup heavy cream, or as needed

To make the cake, preheat an oven to 350°F.

In a bowl, sift together the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder. Using the mixer, beat in the butter on low speed until it is crumbly. Beat in the vanilla, then gradually beat in enough of the cream to make a spreadable frosting.

Brown Sugar Frosting

Melt ½ lb butter
Add: 1 cup dark brown sugar
Boil 2 minutes
Add: ¼ cup milk
Bring to full boil and let cool
Gradually add 4 cups powder sugar and beat to spread
Melt 2 squares bitter chocolate and drizzle on frosting.

Recipe from Plum Cove Cottage


Charlotte ice skating with her brothers for her sixth birthday.

 Crackers at Home


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Crackers at Home

If we understand the origins of food, how it is made, why we eat, then our relationship with food become a two way street.  I water and grow, wash and cut, roast and bake, and food gives back to me, energy and health.  In that light, it is satisfying to make a food at home with basic ingredients, to strip it of preservatives, and increase its nutrition levels.  Self-reliance factors in, as well.  This is why I make crackers.

Crackers Recipe

3 cups all-purpose flour, or a mix of all-purpose and whole grain flours

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup water

Optional Toppings: 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, 1 tablespoon poppy seeds, 1 teaspoon sea salt

Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat to 450°F. Sprinkle a baking sheet lightly with flour and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.

Add the oil and water to the flour mixture. Stir until a soft, sticky dough is formed. If a lot of loose flour remains in the bottom of the bowl and the surface of the dough, add more water a tablespoon at a time until all the flour is incorporated.

Divide the dough into two halves and set one half aside. Sprinkle your work surface lightly with flour and set the other half on top. Pat it into a thick square with your hands.

Working from the center of the dough out, roll the dough into a rectangle roughly 1/8-inch thick or thinner, if you can. If the dough starts to shrink back as you roll it, let it rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes and then continue rolling.

Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, cut the dough into individual crackers.

Transfer crackers to baking sheet and prick with fork so they won’t puff up during baking.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, but keep an eye on them.

Cool and store the crackers: Transfer the baked crackers to a wire rack to cool completely. The crackers will crisp further as they cool. Store the crackers in an airtight container on the counter for 3-5 days. If you’re crackers are a little old and less-than-crispy, lay them on a baking sheet and put them in a 350°F oven for a few minutes to re-crisp.

Recipe From The Kitchn

Charlotte putting on her rock climbing shoes in Joshua Tree National Park.

Pecan Sticky Buns


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Upside Down (un-flipped) Pecan Sticky Buns

Before I completely separate myself from sweet recipes after a season of treats, here are notes about my favorite holiday recipes this year so I can find them again next year (….. or sooner).

This Pecan Sticky Bun recipe from Deb Perelman, Smitten Kitchen, is intimidating because it has so many steps.  But, once you wrap your head around what needs to be done, it’s not so hard, and the result is superb.

Her description is so long, that I “skimmed” when I read it and missed the step where you flip the buns.  They are baked sitting in the Pecan Caramel as a layer on the bottom of the pan and are to be flipped before serving so the goo is on top of the bun instead of underneath.  My husband did ask where the sauce part was.  It was there, just on the underside, instead of on top.  Although, the taste is the same, they definitely look more decadent when flipped.

I tried the Whole Lemon Bar recipe in the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook this year, too, but, despite the fact that they contain the entire lemon, they were not tart enough for my family.  I have a Lemon Bar recipe in the Archives of this blog and remember it as the best one.  It is from the New York Times and comes out like Lemon Curd on Shortbread.  That is my go-to Lemon Bar recipe for now, and this is my go-to Sticky Bun recipe.

Pecan Sticky Buns

Make the Dough:
1 packet (1 tablespoon) instant or active dry yeast
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
6 tablespoons  butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
4 large egg yolks
1 large whole egg
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting counter
1 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
Oil or butter to coat bowl

Proof the yeast.

Whisk in butter, yolks and whole egg.

Add half the flour and combine with the dough hook of a stand mixer or a wooden spoon.

Add salt, then second half of flour and continue to mix until a craggy dough forms.  Knead for 5-10 minutes.

Let the dough rise until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Prepare Caramel:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup  honey
1/4 teaspoon salt

Melt butter in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat.

Stir in brown sugar, cream, honey and salt.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until caramel is golden brown and glossy, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Pour into a the bottom and up the sides of a deep 9×13-inch baking dish and let the dish cool down in the fridge while you assemble your rolls.

Mix Filling:
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups toasted and cooled, chopped pecans (divided)

In a small bowl, stir sugars, cinnamon and salt together.

Remove slightly cooled caramel base from fridge and sprinkle it with 1 cup pecans.

Turn the risen dough out onto a floured work surface and roll it into a rectangle that is 18 inches wide and 12 or so inches long. (It’s okay if it goes longer/thinner, but try to keep the width at 18″.)

Brush the dough with melted butter.

Sprinkle it with the filling and then 1/2 cup pecans.

Roll the dough into a tight 18-inch long spiral.

Using a sharp serrated knife, very, very gently saw the log into 1 1/2-inch sections; you should get 12.

Arrange the buns evenly spread out over pecan-caramel base.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for another 1 to 2 hours, until they press tightly together in the pan and look puffed again.

*(Or, you can refrigerate the buns overnight, and up to 16 hours. If chilling overnight, remove from fridge 1 hour before you’d like them to bake. Heat oven to 350°F (175°C).)

Bake your buns until they’re puffed and golden (the internal temperature should read 185 degrees F), approximately 30 to 40 minutes. If they brown too quickly on top before the centers are baked, cover dish with foil for remaining baking time.

Let rest in pan on cooling rack for 2 to 3 minutes, then carefully and quickly invert onto a large serving tray, nudging any caramel left behind in the pan or puddled in the center of the buns back evenly over the tops and sides. Eat warm. Store any leftovers in the fridge, rewarming slightly.

Adapted Recipe from smitten


Holiday Whole Lemon Bars

Christmas Salad


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Christmas Salad

This salad has the warm, winter feel of a Christmas salad.  In an effort to balance out the sweets of the season, inspired by Moroccan flavors, vitamin-enriched with sweet potatoes, and filled with Mandarin oranges from the front yard tree, this salad is today’s pick for a fresh, December meal.  Salud!

Christmas Salad

Add to a bed of chopped, fresh spinach

Cooked, chopped sweet potatoes

Diced oranges or tangerines

Dired raisins, cranberries, or dates

Diced chives or green onions

Optional: Sliced avocado, shaved or grated parmesan, nuts


Whisk together to taste: olive oil, lemon juice, Vegenaise, honey, whole grain mustard, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 tsp ground ginger,  a pinch of cumin, salt.


Ventura’s Poinsettia Pavilion Christmas Tree



Apple, Ham & Kohlrabi Chopped Salad


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Apple, Ham & Kohlrabi Chopped Salad

 I bought a living Christmas tree this year.  Our tree is a dwarf variety from the local plant nursery, easily grown in a container in full to partial sun.  During the month of December, our tree will soak up the sun streaming in our front windows, and, for the remainder of the year, sit on our side patio.  I love it.  I love that it is alive and will continue to live.  I love that it is easily moved from outside to inside and back again.  Christmas chores just got a little easier.  Hallelujah. Now, let’s make a chopped salad.

Apple, Ham & Kohlrabi Chopped Salad + Honey Mustard Dressing

Chop the following and throw into a salad bowl:

3 Green Apples

1 Kohlrabi bulb

12 raw Brussel Sprouts

6 slices Ham

1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese

1/2 cup Walnuts

Honey Mustard Dressing

1 minced onion or shallot

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tsp lemon juice

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

1 tablespoon honey

1/3 cup olive oil

salt + pepper to taste

Recipe inspired by Cooking with the New York Times

Our Living Christmas Tree

Bosc & D’Anjou Caramelized Pear Pie


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Bosc & D’Anjou Caramelized Pear Pie

Bosc & D’Anjou Caramelized Pear Pie

Served on our Thanksgiving table this year, I was told, after serving dessert with a heapful of vanilla ice cream, that this pie recipe should be added to the annual menu.  Rustic, juicy, & flavorful, it has a new dimension, thanks to the pears caramelized in pomegranate molassas.  This year, & every year, I am grateful for family, grateful for friends, & grateful for the bounty of fresh food available for us all.

Caramelized Pear Pie

4 Bosc pears 

4 Anjou pears 

6 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (recipe below)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

3 tablespoons cornstarch

¾ cup light brown sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

pie crust (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Quarter 6 pears. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, bring 3 tablespoons molasses to a boil. Let simmer about 2 minutes, until molasses thickens. Arrange half the quartered pears in a single layer in skillet.

Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons butter over pears. Cook, turning occasionally, until pears are well caramelized on all sides (but not cooked through), about 5 minutes.

Scrape pears and molasses into a bowl. Add cornstarch and toss to combine.

Repeat cooking process with remaining molasses, butter and quartered pears. Add second batch of pears to bowl; combine.

Thinly slice remaining pears and add to bowl. Stir in sugar and salt.

Scrape pear filling into pie crust.

Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until crust is dark golden and pears are tender when pricked with a fork, about 45 minutes more.

Let cool for 30 minutes before slicing.

Recipe adapted from Cooking with the New York Times.

Pomegranate Molasses

Pomegranate Molasses

“Place the pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture has reduced to 1 cup, approximately 70 minutes. It should be the consistency of thick syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan for 30 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.”  The Food Network.

Painting by Gianna Vargas.

Pie Crust

Combine 4 c flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 ½ c butter

Work butter in to flour with hands to resemble coarse meal

Gradually pour ½ c cold milk or cream

This will make enough for two pie crusts, or one pie (top & bottom).

Pre-bake the crust in an oven preheated to 375 until the crust starts to brown slightly and remove from oven to cool before filling.

Thanksgiving Tables

Pizza at Home


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Chicken Pizza on Seeded Garlic Crust

I hope I am well past the soggy pizza crust stage, because when this comes out right, it is very freeing to know a fresh pizza can be made at home.    I, often, use a cookie sheet to make a big, rectangular pizza to cut into squares. They are easy to wrap individually in foil and freeze.  I pull one out the night before for a lunchbox, and it is defrosted by lunchtime the next day.  Alternatively, they are re-heated in the toaster oven for a “fast-food” lunch or dinner at home.

A few key things to share with you are the pre-baked pan, pre-baked crust, and making sure the yeast becomes active.  First, pre-baking the pan and then the crust, seem to be essential for a nice, crisp crust under juicy sauce and vegetable toppings.  Baking on a pizza stone, and in a wood-fired oven would probably elevate the pizza even more, but I am not quite there, yet.   Do I consider these for my Christmas list?   Secondly, I started using my husband’s home-brew thermometer to make sure the warm water is in the ideal range for making the yeast active (proofing the yeast). The side of the yeast package lists the temperature range, and following it carefully has made a big difference in getting the yeast to consistently rise properly.  Like any homemade food, once you make it a few times, its process becomes less of a mystery, and the rewards are great for you and for those you feed.  Cheers!

Pizza Crust

1 3/4 cup warm water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 packet dried yeast

6 cups white flour (2 cups may be replaced with whole grain flours & seeds.)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon salt

Optional: 2 cloves minced garlic

Proof the yeast by warming the water and adding the yeast + sugar.  Let it sit until the yeast starts to bubble, about five minutes.  Add one cup of flour, oil, salt, and optional minced garlic.  Mix with a spoon as you add an whole grain or seeds, then more and more flour until you can no longer stir it.

Ditch any rings you are wearing and use your hands to knead the dough until you have added all of the flour and you have a nice, smooth ball of dough.

Place this in a greased bowl, cover with a clean cotton kitchen towel, and let it sit somewhere where there are no drafts.  Let it rise until the ball is double in size.  The timing will depend on the warmth of the ambient air, but usually takes an hour or so.

Once you have risen dough, flour a flat surface and roll out the dough until it is the size of your pizza pan.

Preheat the pizza pan in a 450 degree oven for about ten minutes.  Pull the dough up and stretch it to carefully place the dough on the hot pan.  Randomly, poke a few holes in the crust, and put back in the oven to pre-bake until it barely starts to brown.

Remove from the oven, spread pizza sauce (recipe below) and load with toppings of your choice.  Return your pizza to the oven until the toppings are warmed and the cheese melted.

Recipe from King Arthur Flour Cookbook


Tomato Basil Pizza

Pizza Sauce

Use 28 oz of canned tomatoes with liquid, 5 garlic cloves, and a few splashes of olive oil.  Bring to a boil and simmer for one hour.  Transfer to a blender and puree.

Recipe inspired by Gweneth Paltrow My Father’s Daughter


Two types of basil growing by the front door.

Mexican Chocolate Cake


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Mexican Chocolate Cake

Sarah, Summerland Kitchen, made this cake for her son’s third birthday earlier this month, and it was divine.  The cinnamon gives it a hint of rich spice and the pecans, a perfect texture.  The cake has a brownie-like feel and leaves one fully satisfied that today’s chocolate quota has been filled.

Mexican Chocolate Cake

12 cup Bundt Pan

2 sticks unsalted butter

1/2 cup raw cocoa

3/4 cup water

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons vanilla

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt


2 cups chopped pecans

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup half and half

5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao) finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Make the Cake

Move a rack to the center of the oven.  Preheat oven to 350.  Butter the cakepan well and dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Melt butter in a saucepan over moderately low heat.

Whisk in cocoa, add water, and whick until smooth.

Remove from the heat and whisk in sugar, then eggs, then buttermilk, and vanilla.

Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Then sift again into cocoa mixture amd whisk until just combined.  (Some lumps are okay.)

Pour batter into cake pan.

Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs attached. 45-55 minutes.  Cool cake in pan on a rack for 20 minutes.

Run a thin knife around the pan and invert to remove the cake on a plate.

Make the Glaze

Spread the pecans out on a baking sheet and roast until fragrant and a shade darker, 6-8 minutes.  Cool slightly on a rack about 5 minutes.

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat.  Stir in half and half and powdered sugar.  Add chocolate and cook, stirring, until smooth.

Remive from heat and stir in pecans and salt.  Cool glaze until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Spoon glaze over too and sides of cake and spread.

Recipe from Chef Rebecca Rather, Rather Sweet Cafe in Fredericksburg, Texas.

He comes out this time of year.  We call him “Bones.”