Category :

bye-bye 2015

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It’s time to say goodnight to twenty-fifteen.

Goodnight, moon…I mean, goodnight, year.

At the end of every year, I like to think back on some of the new things I experienced, big and small, over the past twelve months. Some of them are accomplishments…some are really more like sicknesses or injuries.

Literally.

what i’ve done this year:

  • started studying french…and german…and spanish and italian (I can’t tell my grazies from my bienvenues anymore…)
  • attended a Scottish festival in Ehime Prefecture, with Scottish dancing, Scottish singing, and Scottish scotch.
  • visited the Sapporo Snow Festival for the second year in a row, and went to the Otaru Lantern Festival
  • cried at a junior high school graduation for the first time. It was my second time attending the ceremony, but my first time crying. I was pretty close to those students.
  • literally ate so much I couldn’t move on a solo trip to Fukuoka (I ate the entire city and then some)
  • went on the longest bicycle ride I’ve ever taken: two hours each way into/out of the mountains

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  • went off on my own for my first solo international trip, Indonesia for Golden Week
  • experienced crippling traveler’s diarrhea
  • had the biggest birthday celebration I’ve ever had…and left early b/c of much-delayed reaction to ice cream (I am painfully lactose-intolerant, sometimes to the point of total incapacitation)
  • snorkeled successfully for the first time (snorkeled for the second time, but the first successful attempt)
  • burned my entire upper body for the second time in my life (this time, I wasn’t even trying)
  • did yoga in Bali (well…attempted yoga in Bali. it was a pathetic attempt.)

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  • finished my year as a section editor for an ex-patriate magazine
  • got messy with fine arts photography for my own enjoyment, starting with a (not-yet-finished) portrait series
  • slept on a wooden plank on the beach for the second year in a row (no mosquito bites this time!)
  • discovered what happens when someone (who isn’t me) pees in a lake full of bioluminescent algae (they light up, apparently)
  • tried surfing in the rain for possibly the tenth time, and never once managed to stand up…not even a potty squat
  • mastered the squat (not the workout move, the yoga position)

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  • finished my first post-college job (JET)
  • crossed a dream destination off of my bucket list: Okinawa!
  • visited American Village and was highly underwhelmed
  • had enough traditional Okinawan food to fill an ocean
  • drunk Okinawan fire water from a tap in a wall
  • taken up a position as the social media dude of Gluten-Free JET

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2015 favorite recipes:

I discovered and created a lot of new recipes, and screwed up twice as many. There are some that I’m in the process of revising and testing again right now, but most of them are good. Here the ones I’m the most proud of:

ginger turmeric cookies || gluten-free brownies || mayonnaise || apple chai-der pie || gluten-free sweet potato muffins || black tea butter cookies 

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My resolutions for this past year were to write more, take more photos, cook/bake more, and just in general, produce more. Let’s compare:

blog posts:

I wrote 9 in 2014 on this blog, from August to December (five months.) This post marks the 28th post of 2015, nineteen more than the last year (and doing the math to calculate how many I could have written from January 2014 through December 2014, seven more.)

journals:

I didn’t actually finish my 2015 creativity journal, but I did make up for it by starting a cooking/baking notebook, a career journal, and two freelance writing jobs (I am finally getting paid to write, y’all. oh my lord.)

National Novel Writing Month:

Like the journals, I failed to finish my second attempt at NaNoWriMo, throwing in the towel at about 37,000 words due to gaining a new job the same month, and coming down with a killer cold on my first day of work. I do resolve to finish both the second novel and the first one I worked on a year ago.

photography:

According to my editing software, Adobe Lightroom 3, I took 4,141 photos in 2014, and 10,828 in 2015 (all photos, even duplicates and the ones I never edited or uploaded.) I would say that’s an improvement.

reading: 

It seems…I also did not meet this goal. Last year, I got through 14 books. This year, I managed 12. To be fair, though, I’ve been reading a book since September (it’s the densest book I have ever read) AND I am currently reading FOUR books simultaneously (because apparently that’s what I do.) Had I dedicated more time to sitting down and reading, I could easily have managed 16. (Coincidentally I also have about 16 magazines sitting on my bedroom floor waiting to be read…I’m just terribly far behind on reading in general.) At least now I know what I can manage: 12 – 15 books in one year. It’s not that I’m a slow reader. It’s that (1) I generally like to read non-fiction, and in order to avoid overloading my brain, I tend to read those slowly, and (2) I don’t sit down to read often enough.

food: 

While in Japan, I cooked dinner for myself at least twice a week. Since moving home, I’ve managed to make dinner not only for myself, but for my parents, with many left overs, twice a week. I also mastered a fabulous French onion soup AND mulligatawny stew recipe (with some guest appearances from tomato soup and blue cheese soup, and a brief foray into roux with white shrimp sauce.) I’ll take it, considering my 2016 resolution (coming up.)

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2016 resolution:

Drumroll, please.

I have a tendency to create expectations for myself that are too high. This is ironic, given my hate-hate relationship with the entire concept of “expectation.” But it’s also understandable, if you consider that I’m an obsessive planner and can never seem to just sit still in the present moment. Because of this, I’m taking extra effort, with every bit of irony, to make a general, achievable, low-maintenance New Year’s Resolution:

Get fit.

I usually try to be really specific and achieve something small, something different than what you usually hear as common resolutions, but this coming year, I resolve to exercise, get fit, cook more, eat better, and learn about my body. This means using the gym membership that I (my mom) has been paying for since September, going to yoga once a week, focusing on savory recipes more than sweet, continuing my exploration of alternative diet (dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, etc.), and reading about how to be…”healthy.”

I hesitate to equate “healthy” with “fit” or with any notion of size. Instead, I resolve to be both healthy and fit, regardless of size or weight. I would like a flat stomach again, but we’ll see what happens.

 

There you have it, The Last Post of the Year.

See y’all on the other side!

Categories: Uncategorized

holiday cookies, 2015

past holiday cookies:

ginger turmeric sugar cookies | | basic sugar cookies | | cardamom shortbread | | salted, spiced double chocolate cookies | | chocolate chip cookies | | cardamom molasses cookies | | black tea butter cookies

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Christmas is just around the corner, which means cookies galore. I like to do a cookie round-up every December, featuring some new holiday cookie recipes and bringing back some old ones. Perhaps someday I’ll have enough to write a book dedicated to holiday cookies (and by “perhaps,” I mean “certainly.”) It’s the time of year for spicy chocolate, rich ginger and molasses, decorate-able sugar cookies, and exploring all manner of exotic recipes, ancient recipes, and European recipes.

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Last year, I went on a spicy cookie binge, introducing salted and spiced double chocolate cookies and cardamom molasses cookies. Over the past year, though, I’ve been trying my hand at some vegan and gluten-free pastries (vegan banana nut muffins, gluten-free brownies, gluten-free muffins), so our special 2015 guests are of the vegan variety.

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I spent a month trying to come up with a “healthy” vegan cookie, with whole wheat, oatmeal, apples, and more, so that I could have my cake and gain a six-pack, too. I don’t normally diet, and in fact I hate the word, but I’m thinking it’s time to become more aware of my health and what I’m eating (my tummy will go away but chocolate chip cookies are forever.) Long story short, those cookies were disastrous and disgusting, consistently. They were mushy and soggy, even when I dried out the apple bits in the oven before adding them to the batter, and they tasted less than pleasant. My grandiose idea of The Healthy Vegan Apple Oatmeal Cookie would have to say hello to the trashcan for good. I figured I could try scones instead, but I still wanted some cookies for Saint Nick (I am Saint Nick. I wanted the cookies for my own mouth.) The scones will have to wait until 2016 (but expect a load of vegan and GF scone recipes next year.)

A friend of mine suggested that I do peanut butter cookies. They’re essentially only three ingredients: peanut butter, flour, and sugar. However, as I discovered through a lot of trial and error, three ingredients just doesn’t cut it. Adding some oil and liquid helps.

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When thinking of what types of cookies I could make vegan, and what types of cookies I didn’t already have on the blog, the obvious top choice was snickerdoodles, named after me (actually, as you can read in the about me, my parents called me snickerdoodle when I was younger…meaning until last week.)

So here we have it: our 2015 holiday cookies are vegan snickerdoodles and vegan peanut butter!

With the snickerdoodles, I found it’s really important to have a combination of apple sauce, vegetable oil, and maple syrup. No maple syrup and the cookies won’t be very sweet. Too much apple sauce and they taste metallic (apple sauce has ascorbic acid, and the most important ingredient in snickerdoodles is tartaric acid, so in all it’s just too much acid.) The apple sauce helps the texture: it makes the cookies puff up more and end up softer when they cool. Otherwise, you end up with snickerdoodle chips. The maple syrup helps sweeten the cookies and thin out the dough a little bit. If the dough is too dry, the coating doesn’t stick and it’s harder to work with.

vegan snickerdoodles

makes 2 dozen small (2 teaspoons) or 1 dozen medium (4 tsp)

sugar coating

10 g granulated sugar

1/4 tsp cinnamon

dash of salt

cookies

60 g canola oil*

25 g unsweetened apple sauce

60 g maple syrup*

110 g granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

185 g all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cream of tartar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 F/190 C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small shallow bowl, or on a plate, mix the coating ingredients. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and cream of tartar.

In a larger mixing bowl, beat the wet ingredients (oil, apple sauce, syrup, sugar, and vanilla), then beat in dry mixture until fully combined. The dough might be dry and crumbly, but it should clump together when you squeeze it.

Form small balls about 2 centimeters across, use a small (2-teaspoon) cookie scoop, or a regular spoon. Lightly press dough spheres into the bowl/plate of cinnamon sugar, to coat one side and form a small disc, then arrange the cookies (sugared side up) on the baking sheet.

Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until the tops are crispy and crackle-y. Remove, cool, and enjoy.

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I made the peanut butter cookies a few different ways: as simple as possible (no added liquids), with a little bit of added liquid (soy milk), with a ton of apple sauce for volume, and then with a mix of oil and milk. The last way ended up being the best all around: they thinned out and puffed up, retained the peanut butter taste but weren’t too dense, and were easy to work with. Too much soy milk and the flavor gets diluted. Too little and the cookies are dense. I ended up not even needing apple sauce. You’re welcome to add some, but I found it didn’t make a difference, and because I like to simplify my recipes as much as possible, if I don’t need it, I don’t use it. I also took out the vanilla extract because the flavor comes from the peanut butter and the sweetness from the sugars.

I tried these with factory peanut butter (Skippy) and organic (Justin’s), and they turned out the same either way. The non-factory peanut butter is thicker and less sweet, though there’s plenty of oil in it, but the cookies are still amazing. If you think the dough is too thick or dry, mix in some oil or milk.

NOTE: Because these cookies use canola oil as the fat (as opposed to something that would be solid at room temperature, like butter or coconut oil), they won’t melt down or spread at all. The snickerdoodles do spread because of the apple sauce (and perhaps the syrup), but for the peanut butter cookies, you’ll need to flatten them yourself. You can make them really really flat and thin, or a little bit flat like a hockey puck, or you could even just make vegan peanut butter cookie balls. Every option is equally scrumptious.

vegan peanut butter cookies

makes two dozen small (2 tsp, OXO scoop size 60) or one dozen medium (4 tsp/1.5 Tbsp, OXO scoop size 40) cookies

160 g peanut butter

80 g granulated sugar

80 g brown sugar

32 g canola oil

32 g soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)

95 g all-purpose flour

dash of salt

1 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 F/ C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the wet ingredients (peanut butter, sugars, milk, and oil) and in a separate small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder.

Beat ingredients together until the dough is fully mixed.

Using a small ice cream scoop (~2 teaspoons or one spoonful), scoop dough onto the baking sheet and press down with a fork.

Bake for 10 – 15 minutes until the cookies start to darken slightly around the edges. Remove and cool.

Happy holidays, y’all

Nick P.

Categories: alternative diet, cookies, Vegan

black tea butter cookies

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Imagine this:

A cold, rainy Sunday morning in December. No alarms going off, no work, and no plans. You roll around in bed, waiting to come to life, and waiting for your comforter to stop being so damned comfortable. Eventually, you get up, rip a massive yawn, brush your teeth, and start some coffee brewing in your moka pot, or drip brewer, or french press, what have you. Whole wheat english muffins with dill mayo and smoked ham, vanilla bean coffee, and black tea butter cookies for breakfast, accompanied by a gander at the news (which turns into reading Buzzfeed articles because really, who wants to ruin their day reading about politics?)

Sounds perfect to me.

 

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I wanted to find/create a recipe for a cookie to go with tea, like a tea cookie. Something small, light, and easy to make, to add some sweetness to the morning joe. I found a recipe for chai tea cookies somewhere and played around with it until I had spiced black tea butter cookies (basically shortbread.) You assemble everything in a food processor, squeeze it together, wrap it, and chill until you’re ready to bake, then you slice them and pop ’em in the oven!

They’re delicate, butter-y, sweet, and spicy, and they go well with a cup of coffee or English breakfast tea.

 

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black tea butter cookies

adapted from Chai Tea Cookies, on The Kitchn

makes one dozen

 

70 g all-purpose flour

30 g granulated sugar

dash of salt

2 bags of black tea, cut open, or 2 tsp loose black tea (Earl Grey, English Breakfast, etc.)

1/4 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp ginger

2 ounces (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened

 

Assemble everything in a food processor and pulse until dough forms a large clump.

Dump dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper and squeeze together lightly, so there are no loose or dry bits falling off.

Mold into a log, whatever width you like (I do about 3-4 centimeters), and roll up in the parchment paper, rolling into a cylinder and flattening the ends as you go.

Chill, wrapped in parchment, in the refrigerator until ready to bake.

When ready to bake, pre-heat oven to 375 F/190 C, and slice log into 1-centimeter-thick rounds with a serrated or chef’s knife (be careful not to push down too hard, or the dough will squish or crumble.) Arrange the discs on a baking sheet and bake 10 – 15 minutes, until just starting to brown on the edges. Remove, cool, and enjoy.

 

Enjoy your weekend, y’all

Nick P.

Categories: cookies

saturday spice: cloves, the nail spice

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previous saturday spices: 

cardamom, 11/15/15

[cloves, eugenia caryophyllis/syzgium aromaticum, the nail spice]

The word “clove” comes from the Latin clavus, meaning “nail” on account of their being shaped like nails. The spice is the dried, unopened bud of an evergreen, Syzgium Aromaticum.

Cloves, like cardamom, are a native of the Spice Islands (Molucca Islands/Malaka Islands) in Indonesia, east of Sulawesi, west of New Guinea, and north of Timor. The spice has played a major role in world history since before the birth of Christ. From the 4th to the 15th century, common era, the Arab world controlled the spice trade, until the Portuguese sailed all the way to Indonesia in 1514 CE and established a monopoly. During the 8th century, spices were commonly traded throughout Europe and Italy, the port of entry, profited from the industry.

In the early 17th century, the Dutch landed in the Molucca Islands and established their own monopoly alongside the Portuguese. Together, they ruled over the spice trade until the 18th century, when spices were being grown all over the world, prices were lowered as a result, and people at all levels of society had access to the materials.

 

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In order to maintain their control over the trees, the Dutch burned any clove trees planted outside their dominion, upsetting the locals. It was a tradition in Indonesia to plant a clove tree for the birth of a child, linking the life of the tree to the fate of the child, and the destruction of these trees by the Dutch was a great offense to the children to whose lives they were tied. People revolted, inciting bloody war over the clove trees.

While the Dutch and Portuguese held reign over the spice trees, cloves and other spices were worth their weight in gold, but by the time Magellan reached them, prices had dropped dramatically and the monopolies had dissolved. Now, cloves are grown in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Mauritius, Ternate, Tidore, and around Indonesia. In fact, Tanzania now produces 80% of the world’s supply of cloves.

 

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how cloves are used

Cloves have significant medicinal value, as well as long-standing culinary use. The buds contain eugenol, a natural anesthetic, and salicylic acid. As a result, they have served to relieve toothaches, nausea, indigestion, coughs, and other medical ailments. In food, they’re a key ingredient in meat glazes, soup stocks, spice mixes, Worcestershire sauce, gingerbread, spiced pastries, and winter beverages, as well as the base for Indonesian clove cigarettes, kreteks.

As I have learned from first-hand experience, the flavor of the bud is powerful, so use it sparingly. If you’re using 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, for example, consider only using 1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon of cloves, unless you like the fuzzy numb feeling on your tongue.

 

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what can i make with cloves?

Cloves pack a punch, so beware how much of the spice you use. A small pinch is enough to give you a full flavor experience. Here are two of my recipes that use the spice:

spiced black tea apple pie | | pumpkin streusel muffins

other ideas:

gingersnaps | | glazed ham | | indian curry | | eggnog | | pumpkin pie | | spiced apple cider | | mulled wine | | chai | | cincinnati chili | | soup stock

 

sources

ACH Food Companies. “Spice Encyclopedia: Cloves.” Spice Advice.

Bentley, Robert and Henry Trimen. Medicinal Plants. UCLA History and Special Collections. London, Churchill, 1880.

Discover Indonesia Online. “Maluku: History of Maluku.” indahnesia.com. (20 May 2011.)

Gladen, Cynthia. “Cloves.” University of Minnesota Libraries.

Rayment, W.J. “History of Cloves.” InDepthInfo.

 

Happy Holidays!

Nick P.

upcoming saturday spices:

ginger

vanilla

cayenne pepper

Categories: saturday spice

muffin of the month, december 2015: gluten-free sweet potato muffins

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What is my favorite thing about baking, you ask?

Well, I have to test the recipes a lot before I feel confident calling them “my own,” let alone “successful,” and as a result…I get to eat a lot.

And if I’m making something buttery or high-carb-y, and my parents are on a diet, I have to eat a lot, a lot. I mean…I get to eat a lot, a lot.

When I was in Japan, I discovered the versatility of rice flour as a gluten-free ingredient, and ever since it’s become my goal to really get to know gluten-free ingredients, and to find recipes using the more common, easier-to-find, and cheaper ingredients.

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Also, I started budgeting again and, y’all, it ain’t lookin’ good.

I spent the entire month of November on a muffin journey: testing out the previous monthly muffin, then attempting to make a gluten-free version, testing every flour combination imaginable (white rice + brown rice, white rice + buckwheat, white rice + half a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, white rice + soy flour, and white rice + chickpea flour.) I discovered that they all work well as long as you have a base of white rice flour, plus a high-fiber flour. You can also do 100% white rice flour for a lighter muffin, but for those of you who, like me, need to hibernate immediately, hearty is good.

I also tested out dairy and non-dairy versions: buttermilk, greek yogurt, and soy milk.

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In all, I made enough muffins to feed the city, and when I was just about to start the dairy testing, but realized I had no more puree left, I picked out a recipe for the January monthly muffin (shhhh, it’s a secret. duh.) The texture of these muffins is so unbelievable, you’d never guess they’re gluten-free. None of the weird gummy-crumbly-heavy-like-a-boulder stuff, and you don’t have to break the bank searching for flours you’ve never heard of (but if you would like to do so, by all means, go ahead.) When it came to non-dairy milk, I decided just to try a totally vegan version, and those turned out as well as the rest, albeit a little smaller and drier.

All substitutions included in the recipe below.

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gluten-free sweet potato muffins (with vegan substitutions below)

adapted from whole wheat pumpkin streusel muffins

makes 1 dozen

 

80 g white rice flour

80 g high-fiber gluten-free flour (brown rice, soy, chickpea, buckwheat) or 80 g white rice flour (160 g total)

80 g starch (tapioca and cornstarch combined, or one of the two)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

80 g buttermilk*

150 g maple syrup or agave nectar

2 eggs**

45 g canola oil

200 g sweet potato puree

extra: pecans, raisins, brown sugar, streusel topping, crystallized ginger

 

*You can substitute greek yogurt, milk (dairy or non-dairy), or dried buttermilk. For greek yogurt, the batter will be thicker, so add a few extra grams of yogurt (90-100 g), and for milk, substitute 1:1 (80 g.) If you use dried buttermilk: 80 g water into the wet mixture and 4 teaspoons of buttermilk powder into the dry.

**You can make these vegan by using 80 g non-dairy milk and 20 g vinegar in the wet mixture, and 3 tsp baking soda (10 g vinegar + 1 tsp baking soda = 1 egg), instead of 1 tsp in the dry mixture. These will be a little drier than the recipe, so I would do 160 – 170 g syrup instead of 150.

 

Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cups.

In a small bowl, combine the flours, starch, salt, baking soda and powder, and spices.

In a large bowl, whisk together syrup, buttermilk, canola oil, eggs, and puree.

Dump dry mix into wet and mix quickly. If desired, mix in extras (nuts, raisins, etc.) and divide evenly among muffin cups, ~3 Tbsp per cup, then top with streusel, nuts, cinnamon brown sugar, or whatever else you like.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until firm to the touch and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool in pan, then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling.

 

I like them best when they’re topped with cinnamon and brown sugar.

Happy Muffin-days,

Nick P.

Categories: alternative diet, muffins, seasonal produce, Vegan