Wednesday, November 25, 2009

well, isn't that pretty!

{yes, that is an engagement ring. yes, i am engaged. yes, i'll tell you more tomorrow}

Monday, November 23, 2009

"oh no! i don't have enough casserole dishes!"

The above photo was the scene in my kitchen tonight...

Here's the e-mail I sent to my mother a week or two ago. This year the celebration is catered by me and my parents. There's a whole lotta food to be made, plus I'll be taking a dish to Brandon's family dinner:

"So, I started thinking about turkey day last night....
OK, you know I've really been thinking about Thanksgiving for weeks. :~)

I know you and dad are making:
Dressing and Gravy
Cranberry Sauce
Green Bean Casserole
Sister Schubert's Rolls
Pumpkin Pie

I was hoping to make:
Mashed Sweet Potatoes in Orange Bowls
Pecan Pie*
Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake (unless Dad wants to make his pumpkin roll, then, I'll be glad to concede.)

How do those sound to you? I can gladly make more, or if you'd really like to make something I don't mind giving it up.

Oooooo, can you make that pineapple cheese casserole?** I LOVE THAT STUFF!
Love you!
*I'll be making my aunt's Bourbon pecan pie. YUM! Have I shared that recipe with you yet?
**Note, this is NOT my mom's recipe in the link, but oddly enough, it is titled Tricia's Pineapple Cheese Casserole. (My mom's name is Patricia, and she often goes by Tricia.) I don't think this deviates too far from her recipe.

Yes indeed, that is what we plan to serve this Thursday.

I started cooking tonight. I already feel behind! I made the macaroni and cheese tonight, and will finish the baking and the topping on Thursday morning. My other goal for tonight is to assemble the pineapple cheese casserole that I plan on taking to Brandon's.

Tomorrow's game plan: sweet potatoes and pecan pie.
Wednesday: corn casserole and pumpkin gooey butter cake.

Broken down like this it doesn't feel like I'm making that much. I just mapped out the casserole dishes I plan to use, and realized I'm one dish short! I guess I'll just have to pick another one up.

Check out this little beauty I got on Saturday. It's an Emile Henry casserole. I found it on sale at the William-Sonoma outlet. I am one happy cook!
Maybe I can find another one tomorrow to fulfill my one missing casserole conundrum! :~)

I also got a really great rectangular cake pan with a lid. I'll use it for the gooey cake.... I'm ready for Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"i'm a pioneer woman!"

I just made my very first batch of Irish soda bread!

Now, I know this is not a true bread in the sense that it's made with yeast and takes hours to make. This stuff is really easy. But, I feel like bread making is one of the first steps to someday becoming completely self sufficient. Next step, urban chickens! (Brandon is obsessed with the idea of someday having backyard chickens.)

Plus, I know what went into this stuff. There's no high fructose corn syrup or weird preservatives. Yep, making my own bread really fits with my food philosophy.

I liked the flavor, it was hearty and had a thick cracker-like crust. It tasted delicious with a spread of pumpkin butter from Brandon's mom. (Thanks Mrs. Debbie.) (I love a good apple butter and have recently discovered pumpkin and sweet potato butters. Yum!) I don't think I would use this bread for a traditional sandwich. But honestly, I don't eat that many sandwiches anyway. It would be a nice open face sandwich bread.

It was easy to make this recipe fasting friendly. Every recipe I found calls for buttermilk, simply use soy milk mixed with vinegar to create vegan buttermilk. The reason buttermilk is used is because the acid in the milk and the baking soda in the bread mix together to leaven the bread. (Remember science class? I always loved the baking soda/ vinegar experiment!)

Here's the recipe I used from It was really simple, and came together in a matter of minutes.

  • Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread:
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting (next time I plan to use all whole wheat flour instead of half AP half whole wheat.)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups buttermilk (To substitute buttermilk: place 2 1/4 teaspoons vinegar in a measuring cup, then fill to the 2 1/4 cup mark with milk or soymilk. Stir together and let sit for a few minutes until it has curdled. It will change in texture and look thicker.)

  • Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a baking sheet with oil and sprinkle with a little flour.
  • Whisk whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in full circles (starting in the center of the bowl working toward the outside of the bowl) until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, in a matter of seconds, turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Clean dough off your hand.
  • Pat and roll the dough gently with floury hands, just enough to tidy it up and give it a round shape. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 2 inches. Transfer the loaf to the prepared baking sheet. Mark with a deep cross using a serrated knife and prick each of the four quadrants.
  • Bake the bread for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400° and continue to bake until the loaf is brown on top and sounds hollow when tapped, 30 to 35 minutes more. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and let cool for about 30 minutes.

I promise, you're gonna love this stuff!!!

PS: One of my favorite parts about making this bread is making the cross with a sharp knife before cooking. Ireland has a long Christian history, so this traditional detail made me smile. Here's an explanation of the meaning from one website:

"The cross on the soda bread has several explanations. Legend has it that folks did it to "let the devil out" while it's baking for good luck, and others say that it made it easy to divide into 4 pieces. It was also a symbol for a cross during Christian holidays."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Sunday began the period of fasting we call "The Nativity Fast" in the Orthodox Church. This is my third Nativity Fast. I was a little taken back when I realized this last night. Being Orthodox has become such a part of me that I forget sometimes that I haven't always been here. But, on the other hand, time flies. I can't believe that I am entering into this fast for the third time!

Last night we prayed the first Paraklesis service. I have mentioned it before. For those of you who don't know it. It is a service of intercessory prayer to the Theotokos. (The bearer of God, The Virgin Mary.)

For the first time in almost a year, we sang this song:

"The Virgin cometh today into the cave to give birth, ineffably to bring forth Christ the Word eternal. Therefore, rejoice, O earth at the message glad with the angels and shepherds give glory to Him who shall appear by His own will as a young child, He who is from eternity God."

I love to sing this song. I love it not only for the lyrics, but also for the sweet memories it brings to mind. I love this service because it is a quiet service after the sun goes down. I always feel cozy and safe with my fellow parishioners in the church whenever we're praying this service. That's one of the many reasons I love it so much!

I still don't really feel like Christmas is anywhere near. (That might have something to do with the 70 degree weather outside...) But, last night brought back a few happy memories of preparations for Christmas in the past few years. (I am aware that I should have been more focused during the service, but my mind wanders frequently.)

Of course, I cannot write a post without including some mention of food:

Someone asked me on Sunday if I planned on posting some fasting recipes soon. During every fast one food emerges as the "go to" food for the fast. Such as my 15 bean soup or something quick and easy to prepare. I have already noticed an obsession with sweet potatoes. Since I'm just cooking for me it's easy to make a potato and have a pretty decent meal. (I realize it lacks a lot of protein, I didn't say it was perfect. But, it is decently healthy.) I will definitely be posting some fabulous sweet potato recipes soon.

I also have another new obsession. It isn't for something NEARLY as healthy. But, it's pretty great if you ask me.

On Sunday my friend Liz and I were talking about her recent experiments with a really cool idea using black beans in brownies. (I'll let her post more on that sometime.) She mentioned the "Coke Cake." I had no idea what this was, but I was definitely intrigued. I think it's magic. Or rather it's two very highly processed foods coming together to form cake. AND, it's fasting friendly! AWESOME!

Coke Cake:
1 Can of Coca-Cola (you are welcome to use diet, or any other type of fizzy soda.)
1 Cake mix (I used chocolate for mine, but I think a ginger ale/ carrot cake mix combo would be really good!)

Mix the coke and the cake mix. Bake according to package directions.

No, I am not kidding. This just made my LIFE!

I made icing for it, but I didn't really follow a recipe. I used margerine, a little bit of coke, cocoa, vanilla, and powdered sugar. It will do the trick in a pinch, but I've made better icing in the past. Last night, I made an icing with rasberries and lemon zest that turned out really well! (I was inspired by the "razzle dazzle" cupcake at Muddy's Bake Shop, chocolate cake with rasberry icing.)

It's interesting to note that I was just talking with a friend about cutting back on the processed foods during this fast... Everyone needs cake every once in a while!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

the pâté of the south...

Of course, I'm speaking of none other than the staple of any Southern lunch repertoire: Pimento Cheese. (Note: it's "Pimento Cheese" not "Pimento AND Cheese.")

It's such a simple dish. But like with any other basic recipe, there's room for improvement, room to fail, and always a few that stand out. In the case of Pimento Cheese, some brands are stand alone favorites and "Aunt So and So" or "Pappy" can be worshipped as gods when they create a signature secret recipe.

For those of you, such as my former roommate, who don't know what pimento cheese is. Here's one definition. In its simplest form, the spread includes: grated cheese, mayonnaise, and diced pimentos. See, there's a whole lot of room to modify this one!

I set out to create a signature recipe.

I love the flavors of plain and simple pimento cheese, but also like a bit of zing. Something that makes the dish a bit different from the others. Where to begin?

Cheese. I'm a purist. Pimento cheese is supposed to have sharp yellow cheddar. I definitely prefer white cheddar on a daily basis, but this is one dish that should always be made with yellow cheddar. I don't think I should have to explain why I prefer FRESHLY grated cheese. But, for those of you who might not understand, here's the explanation: fresh grated cheese has more moisture than its pre-grated counterpart. Plus, it tastes a lot less like the plastic packaging it comes in. It simply tastes fresher. AND, it's cheaper. So, roll up your sleeves and start grating.

Mayonnaise. I know it would be better for me to use homemade mayonnaise. But, most people don't have the spare time to master the art of egg and oil emulsions. My favorite mayonnaise brand is Duke's. Anyone care to disagree? Cause, you'll lose. It's simply the best. PS- Dearest Mayonnaise Hating Friends (Mindy, that's you) I have seen a recipe for this using cream cheese. I have no idea why you'd what to do this... but I also have no idea why you hate mayonnaise.

Pimentos. I don't think I've ever seen any other brand of these than "Dromedary Pimentos." I feel like this is a traditional thing. As with most things, I would prefer to use a fresh pepper, but the flavor and texture of the pimento end of the pimento cheese equation is derived from these canned jewels. The Lee Brothers (Southern cookbook authors, who specialize in fresh ingredients in Southern cuisine) like to roast a red pepper for their recipe. But honestly, I like to stick with the traditional, no matter how canned it is. Plus, I have grown up recycling those little jars for everything! I don't think my mom ever threw away a pimento jar, they're the perfect size to store tiny items.

Name. Since most of the immortalized recipes include the name of some beloved family member, I think mine needs that sort of name.... Hmm, most of the kids I babysit call me "Miss Caitlyn." Brandon's nephew calls me "Aunt C.C." what do you think guys?

I haven't shared a recipe with you in a while, so I think now's as good a time as any.

Miss Caitlyn's (or Aunt C.C.'s) Pimento Cheese
1 1/4 Cups of freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 Cup Duke's Mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons diced pimentos
2 Tablespoons very finely minced white onion
1 Tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 Teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1/4 Teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (a smidge more if using pre-ground)
1/4 Teaspoon granulated sugar
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Mix ingredients together. Serve on bread, crackers, or on an old leather shoe. I promise this stuff would improve its flavor.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

in order to pray more...

I'm already thinking Christmas...

I'm not a last-minute Christmas gift shopper. But, I feel like I'm one of the masses each and every year. Between December 1 and 24 I'm out hurriedly shopping with the rest of America. It makes me angry, and it makes me nervous. I've done a couple of online only Christmases. But honestly I still don't like waiting until after Thanksgiving.

One answer would be to shop before Thanksgiving... That's a nice idea. I've noted before that once Santa shows up in his sleigh in the Macy's parade the world says: "ready set CHRISTMAS!!!" I like the idea of shopping before Thanksgiving.

A few years back, a woman from my church mentioned doing shopping before the Nativity Fast began.

The Nativity Fast is a 40 day period of fasting leading up to Christmas. It begins on November 15. During that time, Orthodox Christians spend more time in church for various services. The fast is not meant to be a time of celebration for Christians. It is meant to be a time of preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. This explains why Orthodox people don't usually host parties during the fast. We celebrate for the 12 days following Christmas. It's a really sweet time of celebration.

It would only make sense to cover all of the duties that consume my time during the holidays before the fast begins. So, I made it my goal to finish all of my Christmas "To Do" list before the fast.

And, oh what a joy it has been!

I am ALMOST done with my Christmas shopping. I have to pick up one more present, although it has already been chosen. I bought supplies for my Christmas cards today. I also bought all of my wrapping supplies, and began wrapping the presents I have now. (I did a lot of online shopping, it wasn't as hard for me because I'm not worried about things not coming in on time.) I'm waiting on the bulk of the presents to arrive.

Tonight I made 26 bars of orange zest and clove soap to give as presents. That's taken care of...

What's so interesting is that I'm not really in a Christmas mood yet. You would think that I'd be drinking peppermint hot chocolate and listening to my (very guilty pleasure) Mariah Carey Christmas CD. But no. Even though, I know that I won't be able to drink hot chocolate in a few weeks due to the "no dairy" rule of the fast. No. I'm simply overjoyed to be almost done with the things that take me away from focusing on the fast each year.

Now, I get to focus on:
  • Decorating my apartment for my very first Christmas in my own place!
  • And baking. Yes, I'll be freezing most of the goodies to enjoy when the fast is over. But, I do have a great fasting (vegan) recipe for gingerbread cutout cookies. I now have time to make plenty of those.
  • And to plan for St. Nicholas day festivities. Ladies, I think a gingerbread cookie decorating party for the kids sounds like a good plan...
  • Oh, and I really want to have a St. Stephen's day celebration this year (Dec. 27.)
Yep, I'm going to find plenty to occupy my time during the month of December. I'll just have a few less things to worry about...

Oh wait, I'm already forgetting the reason why I shopped early.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

a mouthful of sugar...

Isn't that what Halloween is all about?

A few weeks ago, some of my friends with children were discussing their Halloween plans. They were talking about going to a certain cafe for a cookie decorating class. I thought it would be fun to also take the girls I babysit (Caroline and Mary Elise) to the class.

The only problem? It cost $12 per kid.

So, I channeled my mom's industrious side and set out to plan our own alternative party. My friend Liz provided the special icing, Kh. Jeanette provided some fun sprinkles, Trish provided The Great Pumpkin DVD, and I provided cookies and the venue.

I hosted 13 kids for a very fun, very sticky mess of a party. Am I crazy? Yes. Was it the most fun ever? YES!!!

Here are some of the party details. (I really love to plan a party. But, planning a KID'S party, 10x more fun!)

Here's the "medium kid" table. (The 2 year old bunch, were set up in the kitchen. And the bigger girls were in the bonus room.)

I got these fun take out containers and put the cookies into each box ahead of time. I gave each child 5 cookies: a bat, a witch's hat, a scaredy cat, a ghost and naturally a pumpkin.

I, once again, channeled my mom when I made these alliterated name cards for each child. Do you know how difficult it is to find a spooky word beginning with A? We settled on "Alarming Anna-Marie" because it was the least offensive title we could come up with! I thought the others turned out pretty cute though!

Let the fun begin! Here's "Lurking Lydia" piling the icing on her cookies. Liz made orange, green, black, and white icing for the kids. It was the perfect representation of the Halloween color spectrum.

"Jumpy James" going to town on his plate of cookies.

"Nightmarish Nicholas" at the little people table in the kitchen.

I think it was controlled chaos. I think.

We ended the party by watching (not listening, the kids were far too loud) Charlie Brown's The Great Pumpkin. Classic!

The three crazy "big" girls. The only one missing was Grace. Harveys please come home!

I invited Cailyn and Clare to keep Mary-Elise company. I think they had a great time.

Mesmerized, and in a sugar coma! I love it!!!

"Petrifying Paul" graced us with his presence. He says, I'm cute, and I know it.

Sweet friends, "Spooky Sarah Ann" and "Crawly Caroline." SAC "BOOed" Caroline earlier this week. Have you heard if this? Read about it here. She passed on the Boo to Mary Wren and Isabelle.

We all had such a fun time. Thanks for coming everyone!