Archive for the 'rise and shine' Category

smile power

I got my start as a graphic designer laying out ads for a newspaper in southern Minnesota. I had an old fashioned “in and out” box on my desk. Am I dating myself? Ad copy would pile up in the “in” box and finished ads loitered in the “out” box, waiting to be proofed. Every so often our proof reader, Hallie, would come by and empty my “out” box. She’d return my stack a few hours later.

My routine was to pour a cup of coffee and thumb my way through the return pile. Most ads had minor corrections. Ads that were perfect though got a signature Hallie smiley face scrawled with her blue proofer’s pen. Oh how I loved to find a perky little smiley face lurking in the corner. Ads that were really messed up got a confused face. And if an ad came through the proofing rotation more than twice, you could expect an evil stink eye. Shudder.


It quickly became clear to me that Hallie was a master. Nothing got by her. And boy could she draw a smiley face. I marveled at her ability to give a simple little face so much expression. Her faces frequently made my day. I actually started a smiley face file. Every once and a while I’d clip a face until slowly I amassed an envelope full of smileys. And let me tell you, when you’re feeling down and you dump out a pile of smiley faces that someone has drawn, it’s hard not to feel at least a little bit better. It’s been over 10 years since I left the paper, but I still have my envelope of smileys tucked in my desk drawer. Just in case.

The staff at the paper was small and frequently we’d gather together for lunch at the back table, sharing bits and pieces of our lives. Hallie’s kids and grandkids are scattered all over the country and I loved hearing about their lives. She could also talk food and gardening to no end. Truly a woman after my own heart. We shared many meals and swapped many recipes.


I start every rhubarb season off with a batch of Hallie’s rhubarb muffins. Made with brown sugar, they have a rich carmel flavor that pairs beautifully with tart rhubarb. Last week I baked my third round of Hallie’s muffins in as many weeks. They’re that good. I packed a few muffins and a thermos of tea to take out to the bee yard for a hive check. My two new hives have been limping along with the cold spring weather – which has resulted in me clucking around them like a nervous mother hen.

Out at the bee yard I pull the lid off of hive one and find a gorgeous queen, busy at work. Her brood pattern is good, but it’s still in small patches on the frames. Her hive population is small too – all young nurse bees and not many foragers. I close up the hive and give them a reassuring pat. The situation in hive two, however, is all together brighter. After multiple hive checks, I’ve yet to lay eyes on this queen, but that hardly matters. My heart leaps at her handiwork – frame after frame of perfectly laid brood. In a week or two this hive will be bursting with bees.

I remove my veil and take a seat on an empty pallet for a cup of tea and a muffin. I decide to call the elusive queen in hive two Hallie Frances. She has earned a smiley face, no question. I think I’ll even tape one of Hallie’s smileys to her hive for extra encouragement. I mull over hive one. This queen is younger by a good two weeks. I’m confident that she’ll catch up. Last fall I named the daughter of my all-time favorite queen Ella Bella – after another woman whom I respect and admire (childhood idol turned adulthood inspiration). Sadly this little hive did not get a fair shake and they met their match with this winter’s unrelenting cold. So I decide to call my new underdog queen simply, EB. Hell, maybe I’ll give her a smiley face too. Smile power works – I know.

I pack up and test the voltage on the electric bear fence before I go. Finally I can relax. I’m heading into the summer bee season with two strong ladies at the helm. And that, makes me smile.


Hallie Francis’s Rhubarb Muffins
I don’t care for overly sweet rhubarb baked goods, so I do not pack the brown sugar. I also prefer a very rhubarby muffin. Adjust both to suit your taste.

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil (something neutral like canola)
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 – 2 cups rhubarb, chopped
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Cream together brown sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla. Mix together dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Fold in rhubarb and optional nuts. Batter will be thick and sticky. Fill muffin tins 3/4 full and bake at 400º for 20 minutes. Makes 1 1/2 dozen regular muffins.

looking back

Believe it or not, there is a special place in my kitchen for Pillsbury Pop n’ Fresh Biscuits. Normally I’m more of a “do it from scratch” sort of girl, but the Dough Boy has long held a spot in my heart. This most likely stems from early childhood, when I became very attached to the whole Pop n’ Fresh family.
This was in the 70’s – pre action figures. My Pop n’ Fresh toys are more like static rubber dolls, but the heads on all of the adults do spin. I have the whole Fresh clan. Grandpa Fresh, Grandma Fresh, Mrs. Fresh, Poppin and Poppie (the kids), BunBun (baby Fresh), Biscuit (the Fresh cat), Flapjack (the Fresh dog), and of course Pop n’ Fresh himself. I was especially taken with Biscuit. He went everywhere with me.
pop n fresh family
When I was about six my family took a trip to Sweden to trace my mother’s roots and visit long lost relatives. This was my first big trip and I packed carefully. I singled out Biscuit to keep me company on the long overseas flight. But after we were settled in our seats, I was dismayed to find my little cat was missing. Really the only thing I remember about my one and only trip to Sweden is the agony I felt over loosing my best companion. That and I got nipped in the stomach by a pony at some relative’s farm while trying to feed it an apple slice. It was a traumatic trip.
But my luck shifted upon arriving back to the States. It turned out that Biscuit had spent the entire trip to Sweden under the guest bed at my grandmother’s where I had slept the night before our flight out. And oh the relief to have the whole Fresh family reunited again! I think this incident is what really sealed my allegiance to Pillsbury.
That and my mom was good enough to fuel my love of being in the kitchen by supplying me with kid-friendly recipes. One of my signature dishes was weekend Sticky Buns – made with a tin of Pillsbury refrigerated biscuits. It was so thrilling to pop open the roll of biscuits. And the gooey warm buns that resulted were a treat to be sure. Gradually, I evolved in the kitchen and outgrew my Sticky Bun phase. But not without having made them often enough to commit the recipe to memory.
sticky buns
Several years ago, after what seemed like an arduous amount of time in the kitchen preparing fancy meals and copious holiday baking, I was racking my brain for something quick yet festive to ring in the new year with. Frankly the thought of my usual homemade cinnamon rolls for the first breakfast of the year felt like too much effort. And that’s when it hit me. Sticky Buns. Ten minutes to assemble, ten minutes to bake. Exactly what I was looking for. And they were even – a little to my astonishment – as good as I remembered.
For a slightly more grown up flare I switched from light corn syrup to honey and added a hint of vanilla. But beyond that, I’ve never looked back. A strong pot of coffee and a plate of Sticky Buns has become my New Year’s Day morning tradition. I look forward to it every year. Even though popping open the can of refrigerator biscuits still makes me jump.
When I was at my mom’s this Christmas, I asked if she remembered the binder of recipes she had assembled for me as a kid. Neither of us could recall what became of it, but she still had some of my favorites filed away. I felt like a ten year old all over again reading the stained, dog eared page. And I was surprised to realize that there are Sticky Bun variations. I’m a raisins only fan. But according to the recipe, Peter likes chocolate chips, Maggie likes raisins, and Katie prefers coconut and nuts mixed together. I don’t know who Peter, Maggie, and Katie are, but I am firmly in Maggie’s camp. And like the recipe says, they are “really good and really sticky!”
bun recipe
Sticky Buns

3 tablespoons butter
dark brown sugar
honey (or substitute light corn syrup)
raisins (and/or chopped nuts, toasted coconut, chocolate chips)
vanilla (optional)
1 can (8 ounces) refrigerated biscuits

Cut each square tablespoon of butter into quarters. Take two of the pieces and grease 10 cups in a standard muffin tin. Take the other 10 pieces and put 1 in each of the 10 muffin cups. Add 1 teaspoon of brown sugar and 1 teaspoon honey to each cup. For a little extra flavor you can also add 5 to 6 drops of pure vanilla in each cup.  Sprinkle a few raisins in each cup (or if you want to branch out like Peter and Katie, add any combination of coconut, chocolate chips, and nuts). Pop open the can of biscuits and put 1 on top of each cup. Bake the Sticky Buns in a 400ºF oven 8 to 10 minutes, until the biscuits are gently browned. Run a knife around each bun. Then put a cookie sheet or tray over the muffin pan and invert the whole shebang. Give the bottom of each cup a tap with the base of the knife, wait about 2 minutes and lift up the muffin pan. Gently pry out any stuck buns with the knife. Makes 10 buns.

the comeback kid

I got the best sort of e-mail last week. It was from a farmer down the road wondering if I wanted to experiment cooking with fresh red currants. I believe my response was something like “heck yeah!” The farm has recently introduced some currant trials into their thriving blueberry and raspberry operation. But the problem with currants is that they have (rather unfortunately) fallen out of fashion. Luckily there are places like Highland Valley Farm that are making an effort to reintroduce them into modern cuisine.

pink, red, white currants

I have to admit that a fresh currant has never managed to make its way into my own kitchen. Which of course, made me wonder why. Magdalen, at the farm, directed me to for a brief history lesson. I learned that there was actually a federal ban on growing most strains of currants (and their cousin gooseberries) from 1900 until 1966. And even still, many states prohibit the cultivation of black currants. Evidentially, the shrubs can host a serious disease harmful to white pine trees. And since the white pine was a major player in the timber industry at the turn of the century, currants and gooseberries were forced to take a back seat. In fact, they pretty much got ditched all together. The white pine blister rust that the shrubs can carry is still a concern, but modern day commercially available cultivars generally have a greater resistance to the disease. Whew.
I was now feeling educated enough to head over to the farm to pick up my berries. Magdalen had told me they have a few different varieties, but what she didn’t mention is how positively gorgeous they are. I was expecting a carton of plain-jane little red berries. But what I got was a mix of stunning jewels – Pink Champagne in the most perfect shade of light pink, striking ruby red Rovadas, and almost translucent white Blankas. I had my fingers into each bag before I was even out of the driveway.
All of the berries were juicy and tangy – sort of like miniature grapes with a tiny seed. But right away I could detect subtle differences between the varieties. The white Blanka berries are firm and have a soft, more subtle seed. The lovely Pink Champagne seems the most delicate of the three – soft, but with an exciting flavor twist. Is “pink” a recognized  flavor? Because they taste pink. And the Rovada reds are a perfect blend of both. The berries are tart, but not overwhelmingly so. Of course I’m the type that also enjoys sour cherries right off the tree. I love the rush of something tangy on my tongue.
After I ate my fill of them raw, I realized my education was only half complete. I had no clue how I was actually going to cook with them. I flipped through the indexes of about a dozen cookbooks. Nothing. Not even in The Joy – my standard go to for all things old fashioned. Searching on line yielded a bit more, but I was hard pressed to find anything much beyond jam and jelly recipes. Not that I’m opposed to preserves, I just wanted something a little more adventurous. Which meant I was on my own with this comeback kid.
I decided to start by baking them – straight up. I wanted to keep the currants as unadorned as possible to see how their flavor might change in the oven. So I made simple little rustic cornmeal tart shells for the berries to rest in and laced them with just a bit of honey. The tarts were lovely, and as I suspected, the currants mellowed somewhat in the oven. There was more of a caramelized sweetness shinning through, but still enough of a tang to warrant a small scoop of vanilla on the side. I can certainly see kicking this up a notch and making a custard based tart studded with these little gems.
currant tarts
As I was enjoying my tart, pondering what my next experiment might be, I remembered a great appetizer that my friend Kris made a few weeks ago. She simply plated up some soft cheese, scattered red currants about and drizzled honey over the whole shebang. A delicious accompaniment for a basket of pita crackers. So simple, yet elegant and complex tasting. The flavor combo was such a knockout that I decided to take it one step further and turn it into a savory scone. I knew it would involve some Sassy Nanny chev and a bit of honey. But my real dilemma was which variety of currant to use. The bright red Rovadas would be the showiest for sure, but something in me really wanted to use the white Blanka. I liked the idea of a scone riddled with secret little land mines of flavor. It worked, just as I had hoped. A little bit tangy, a little bit sweet, and all with an element of surprise.
currant scones
I had some leftover berries mixed with honey from the tart trial, so next I decided to cook them down a bit on the stove and make a currant syrup. I learned in my online research that currants are naturally high in pectin, meaning the juice thickens up nicely on its own. I opted to slow simmer them just for a bit before taking them off and straining them though a jelly bag. I think you could cook them down longer for a thicker sauce for meats or spooning over yogurt, but I wanted a nice light syrup to add to a glass of soda water or lemonade. I set the syrup in the fridge to chill while I went to the garden for some sprigs of chocolate mint. I muddled a few leaves of mint in the bottom of a glass, filled it with ice, and proceeded as planned. Not only was my drink striking, I felt especially good knowing that I was getting a healthy dose of vitamin C and potassium to boot.
Thinking about the currant’s great nutrient value reminded me that I should not overlook using them raw. They make an amazingly bright addition to my morning granola. And I can easily see tossing them into green salads and grain based pilafs. Which lead me to the idea of using them in a fresh salsa. I had an avocado in waiting on the window sill. So back to the garden I went, for a jalapeño and cilantro. I mixed this all together with my usual culprits – honey and garlic – for a cooling summer salsa. This time around, I knew without hesitation that I wanted to use the Pink Champagne berries, simply for the preppy pink and green color scheme.
chip with salsa
Even after all of this playing around, I still had a few leftover berries for the freezer. Which will be perfect to make a small batch of David Lebovitz’s currant jam. I love the simplicity of his recipe. And If I don’t get to it, that’s okay too. I’m perfectly fine with having a bag of zesty jewels in my freezer. It’s nice to have a secret weapon tucked away.
I’ve had a great week welcoming this newcomer into my kitchen. We are strangers no more. Though I’ll be honest that it took a while to get my head around the little seeds. They add a certain chewiness that can be awkward at first. But it’s sort of refreshing to be introduced to a new texture. And let’s face it, currants haven’t exactly had an easy go of things. I sort of like the notion of eating such a renegade berry. And how lucky we are to even have the chance to do so. I say hats off to places like Highland Valley Farm and home gardeners willing to give currants a second shot.
Fresh Currant Tartlets 
Note: Be sure to use a parchment lined baking sheet. I definitely experienced some honey ooze from the filling. If the thought of this frightens you, and/or your currant/honey mixture seems particularly juicy and runny, you can add a teaspoon or so of cornstarch to thicken it up.

3 cups fresh currants (ideally a mix of varieties)
1/2 cup honey

Gently mix together in a bowl and set aside.

Crust (adapted from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain)
1 1/2 cup very fine cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream
2 egg yolks

Sift dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add in butter and mix until the butter is coarse and mostly broken in, increasing the speed a bit as you go. Add the cream and egg yolks and mix until combined. The dough will be crumbly, but it should come together nicely when turned out onto a floured work surface. This dough is best shaped right after making while it is still at room temperature. Form the dough into a clump and divide it into 10 equal pieces. Use the heel of your hand to flatten each piece into a 5-inch round circle, making the edges slightly thinner than the middle. Use a bench scraper and flour to aid in working with the dough. Transfer discs to a parchment lined baking sheet. Working with one tart at a time, spoon about 1/4 cup filling onto the dough and gently fold edges up toward the center. You want an imperfect, slightly ruffled looking  edge. The dough is pretty forgiving, so just work with it as you go. When all the tarts are filled and formed, bake in a 375º F oven for about 35 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the edges are slightly browned.  Makes 10 3 1/2-inch tarts.
currant tart

– –

Savory Chev and Currant Scones

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup cream
1 egg
3 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup crumbled chev (soft goat cheese)
3/4 cup fresh currants
cream and honey for wash

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to mix. In a separate bowl, beat together the cream, egg and honey, then stir. Add the butter cubes to the food processor and pulse just long enough to cut in the butter. There should be some pea size pieces of butter remaining. Dump the dry butter mix into the cream and egg bowl, along with the chev and currants and mix until the batter is just combined and comes together. Again, you still want to have some nice flecks of butter. Turn the dough out on to a floured work surface and pat it into a round disc that is about 1 inch thick. You can make one 8 to 9 inch disc or two smaller 6 inch discs for 2 rounds of slightly smaller scones. Brush the top of each disc with a bit of cream and a drizzle of honey. Cut each round in half and then portion each half into thirds for 6 larger or 12 smaller scones. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and  bake in a 350º F oven for 15-20 minutes until scones are just slightly golden and brown. Makes 6 large or 12 smaller scones.


– –

Red Currant Syrup

Fresh currants
Honey, to taste

Put currants in a saucepan and drizzle a spoonful or two of honey over berries. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook over low heat, sort of mashing up the berries as they cook. Taste occasionally and added enough honey to reach your desired sweetness. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes. remove from heat and strain mixture through a jelly bag of fine meshed sieve. Store syrup in fridge. Add 1 to 3 tablespoons syrup to club soda, lemonade, or vodka. Garnish with mint or lime.

Alternatively, cook down the currants further and use it as a sauce for meats, yogurt, or ice cream.

– –

Currant-Avocado Salsa

2 avocados, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch chunks
3/4 cup fresh currants
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1-2 tablespoons honey
1 minced jalapeño
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup sweet onion, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix lime juice, honey, and jalapeno together in a bowl until well combined. Stir in remaining ingredients and gently mix. Serve with tortilla chips or pita crisps. Serves 4


pass the butter

Still searching for ways to climb out of my recent breakfast rut, I’ve been on the lookout for ideas. I knew I was on to something when I stumbled across the exotic sounding ontbijtkoek – a Dutch spice bread. There are three things that immediately caught me attention. 1) Ontbijtkoek is traditionally made with rye flour. 2) It also involves honey. I love baking recipes that use honey – especially when it is combined with rye. You might as well just pass me the butter right now. 3) It literally translates to “breakfast cake.” Sign me up.

Other selling points include that it calls for a healthy dose of my favorite winter-warmers: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and clove. Plus there’s fact that it’s quick. And dish friendly. One mixing bowl, one spatula, one loaf pan. Of course I had to complicate things by baking mine in three little mini-loaf pans. They’re so cute, I couldn’t resist. I rationalized that it would be handy to stick a loaf or two into the freezer for future breakfast pick-me-ups.

I learned from Wikipedia that several parts of The Netherlands have their own local recipe, of which the most famous is “oudewijvenkoek,” a variety that is mostly eaten in the northern regions. Oudewijvenkoek translates to “old hag’s cake” – which I found amusing, but a little more research taught me that it is traditionally flavored with aniseed. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there for breakfast. Too licoricey.

I found a handful of recipes for ontbijtkoek and ended up taking the bits and pieces I liked best from each to make my own version. Apologies to the Dutch if I have gone and ruined their traditional breakfast cake in doing so. But this much I can tell you – it is perfect with a strong cup of coffee. It’s chewy and warm and toasty. But don’t limit it to breakfast. Try it for elevenses and afternoon tea too. It’s marvelous lightly toasted with a spread of cold butter. Or if you want to get especially European about it, try it topped with a mild chev. Now there’s a combination that will send the breakfast blues packin’.

Ontbijtkoek (Breakfast Cake)

1 1/2 cups light rye flour
1/2 cup flour
3 teaspoons of baking powder
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup black strap molasses
3/4 cup milk
pinch of salt

Combine the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add in the liquid ingredients. Stir until just combined. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake in a 300ºF oven for 50 – 80 minutes, depending on the size of your pan(s). This is a moist bread, so you really want to be sure it is completely cooked through. Serve warm or lightly toasted with butter or chev. Makes one loaf, or 2 -3 mini lovaes.

hot cakes

I live in northern Wisconsin. Which means I live with no less than six months of winter. Truly, if I had it my way, I think I’d hole up and hibernate with the neighborhood black bears. But, no. It’s become pretty clear that no one else up here on the south shore of Lake Superior seems to share my sentiments. In fact, sometimes the winter months feel as jam packed as summer. Go ahead. Burst my bubble. I’ll do my best to embrace it.

The craziness kicks off with Santa and Mrs. Claus arriving on the Madeline Island Ferry. And then there’s the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race – a 2 day dog filled affair, followed by the Blue Moon Ball with the 20-piece Big Woods Band. We barely have time to catch our breath before the Book Across the Bay – a 10k ski race across Superior’s iced over Chequmegon Bay. Frozen beach parties, trips across the ice road to the Island, maple sugaring, snowshoeing. It never ends.

But the winter event that I have come to appreciate most is the Drummond Bar Stool Races. This is exactly what it sounds like. Every year, dozens and dozens of grown adults gather on the third Saturday in February to race bar stools mounted onto skis down a man-made hill. Welcome to northern Wisconsin. Laugh if you will, but people take this event seriously. Listen carefully in the crowd and you’ll overhear people discussing snow conditions, wax choices, barstool aerodynamics, test runs, and pushing strategies.
Barstool teams consist of two people – a rider and a pusher. A stoplight at the top of the hill gives pushers the cue to propel their rider down the hill. It doesn’t take long to discern that the best strategy is to have a pusher with some weight and brawn paired with a slim built rider. Shortly into our first time spectating, my husband leaned over and said “If we ever compete – you’re riding.” It’s been five years, and we still haven’t had the gumption to register.
Notice how the pusher (in white) in the right hand lane has gone into an all-out belly slide? Notice how the rider in the right lane has caught some air?
This particular third Saturday in February was a gorgeous, sunny 28º F day. I might have even gotten my recommended daily allowance of vitamin D. For whatever reason though, the course and conditions boasted an unprecedented amount of crashes and ties. It was a highly entertaining race.
The barstool races have become a tradition for Mark and I, and we generally make a day of it – kicking things off with a hearty breakfast at the Delta Diner. The Delta Diner is an authentic roadside diner located in the heart of Delta, Wisconsin. Which means it is located in the heart of nowhere. But it is worth the trip. Really. Check your GPS. If you are within an hour (maybe even two) of Delta, make the detour.
Owner and cook Todd Bucher provides a gastronomical experience that is unforgettable. Breakfasts are out of this world – including a thoroughly refreshing Mexican Eggs Benny. Add a side of crunchy hash browns and you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day.  Also offered up are traditional blue plate specials, old-fashioned  malts, fish-frys and specialty burgers. Todd and his wife Nina make a point of using as many local ingredients as they can find. Could it get any better?
One of the house specialties is thin, Norwegian style pancakes. And while it’s not officially on the menu, if you ask for “hot cakes” Todd will throw a handful of chopped jalapeños onto your cakes. Brilliant! I have dreams about these pancakes. The tang of hot meeting sweet is so amazingly perfect. Why have I not thought of this before?
And so it is that I have Todd to thank for my latest kitchen inspiration – Jalapeño Cornmeal Waffles. I took my favorite waffle recipe (clipped from somewhere long ago), substituted cornmeal for part of the flour and added a healthy handful of chopped jalepeños to the batter. And whoo-eee did they ever surpass my expectations! The cornmeal offers a perfect nutty crunch to the jalapeños. Winter does have it’s perks. And zingy waffles on a Wednesday night is one of them.
Jalepaño Cornmeal Waffles

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
3 tablespoons cornstarch (for extra crunch)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup milk
6 tablespoons canola oil
1 egg, separated
1 scant tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
handful of chopped jalapeños (fresh or pickled)

Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Separate egg, and reserve the white in a small bowl. Mix the yolk with the rest of the wet ingredients in a 2-cup measuring cup or bowl. Beat the egg white with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. Sprinkle in sugar and continue to beat until glossy. Beat vanilla into the egg white.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just incorporated. Gently fold in egg white and jalapeños, but do not over mix!
Add batter to hot waffle iron and cook until golden brown and crisp.
Makes 2 full sized Belgian waffles.

fill me

I’ve been in a breakfast rut lately. Maybe it’s the mid-winter doldrums. I mull around the kitchen, open the fridge, peer into the pantry, but nothing really jumps out at me. Except for this past week. This past week there was left over Valentine cupcakes. And yes. I have a weakness for cake. Especially when it involves breakfast. But, like all good things, the cupcakes came to an end. Which is probably just as well. Bikini season is just around the corner.

This morning though, I realized the source of my problem. The granola jar has been empty for weeks. I’m not exactly sure why. We almost always have granola on hand. But there it was, empty as could be, staring me in the face. “Fill me” it whispered. And so I did.
I have several granola recipes, but I tend to latch on to certain ones for long spells, making them over and over again – ignoring all other contenders. Among past pet favorites is a version loaded with toasty cinnamon. My friend Cari introduced me to it on a backpacking trip and I was immediately smitten. Three tablespoons of cinnamon takes the chill out of the morning air like nobody’s business. Before that it was a fruit laden number that I adapted from Bon Appétit. But my new, all-time, number one favorite, is a subtle, seedy affair with coconut and honey. It has stayed in rotation longer than any other.
The recipe originated from sort of an odd source – the Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book, by an N.D. named Jessica Black. The subtitle beckons “Protect Yourself and Your Family from Heart Disease, Arthritis, Diabetes, Allergies – and More.” I picked it up a few years ago for the “and More” claim. Hopefully to help slow the progression of irreversible inflammatory glaucoma in my eye.
I have to admit that I didn’t have terribly high expectations for the recipes, but I have been pleasantly surprised with everything I have tried. If nothing else, the book is an interesting read. Black does an easy job of explaining the three different families of prostaglandins (fatty acids) found in foods. Two types (PGE1 and PGE3) are “good” and the other (PGE2) is a “not so good” pro-inflammatory type. Naturally, the book focuses on recipes with foods that are high in camps 1 and 3.
But good or bad prostaglandins aside, this granola is a winner. I love that it uses honey for the sweet and coconut oil for the fat. Two of my favorite ingredients. (If the thought of raw coconut oil scares you, I urge you to do a little research. It’s an amazing fat that has gotten an unfair bad rap for way too long.) The light, subtle coconut flavor matches perfectly with the oats. This is an understated granola but its flavor and texture are spot on. And who knows, maybe it really will help protect us and and our families from all the nasties out there. Who can argue with that?
Granola with a Conscious
(Adapted from Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book)

6 cups raw oats
1 1/4 cups unsweetened flaked coconut
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup coconut oil

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Gently heat the honey and coconut oil to a liquid. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well. Press into a parchment lined baking sheet and bake in a 325º F oven to your desired level of toastedness, 20-40 minutes. Store in an airtight container. (Milk, incidentally is high in PGE2, which means if reducing inflammatory foods is your goal, you should serve this with a milk substitute such a rice milk or almond milk.)


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