Monday, January 30, 2012

English Toffee Cookies and Bedtime Stories

Guest post by Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

Once again I discovered a misplaced recipe in heap of recipes destined for recycling. As I sniffed the pile, a faint but delicious scent of vanilla and cinnamon with a hint of walnuts teased my nostrils.

The recipe said, "English Toffee Cookies. 4/29/74." The words "Excellent & pretty rich" scrawled off to one side caught my eye. I placed the recipe near the basket of nuts from Grouse Mountain Farm.

To make things happen around here, everything has to be in the right place at the right time.

I love walnuts but I can't remove the shells myself. That's where humans come in--a person can crack these nuts from Grouse Mountain Farm with their hands. FYI--it's more work than you think to bring the nuts to the canine who has an expanded range of tastes. Check out this video.

Canines must be super-obvious about what we want. I'm talking over-the-top--an intense stare with saliva trailing out the side of your mouth is your best bet, otherwise humans are so tuned into their Iphones and Ipods they'd never get the message.

My dog park buddies can't believe I like nuts. "You like what??" they'll ask pausing over a stick or ball, as if I'd said I love eating drywall. Clearly we're a nation of dogs who have been eating the same things for much too long. Got kibble. Really? It's time to branch out. But try and get dogs to change, move beyond their usual routines and that's when they seem most like humans mired in their ways and living in denial about it.

It's really not all that surprising, but then again, none of my dog park buddies grew up listening to bedtime stories or learned to read books as puppies (not even the know-it-all German shepherd, though he claimed he read Garth Stein's book when I first met him.)

These were my favorite stories when I was young.

An interruption of one of those stories led to my discovery of walnuts.

I mentioned in my last post old Abe was my unwilling mentor, and he was possibly the greatest unsung food thief that ever lived, at least in our house. I wanted to be just like him. But Abe was always one step ahead of me.

It was just the three of us then, plus Gino the cat, who played with me from time to time and occasionally knocked things off shelves, but Gino never shared our love of the carrot or walnut.

Abe liked every thing edible, and some nonedible stuff such as pretzels, which barely pass as faux food in my book. The old guy slept with both nostrils open and never missed an opportunity to steal food. An open cupboard door, a market bag parked on the floor, a bowl of hummus carelessly left on a low table--Abe ate everything. The sly old coot once polished off an Irish coffee, licking the entire mug clean.

A surly, unrepentant lifetime sofa surfer, Abe wanted nothing to do with me, and when I didn't take him seriously and followed him where ever he went, he curled a lip and growled. But all I wanted was to be just like him--without the sorry-ass sour attitude.

So one afternoon, we sat around the lady as she read a story. I gazed at the picture of Boswell climbing the stairs as she read, "No obstacles deter me in my search for higher things." No one noticed when Abe left.

CLUNK! We all turned to look in the kitchen. Abe had spilled the basket of walnuts in the kitchen.

"Hey!" shouted the lady, standing up. I peered over the sofa and watched walnuts roll across the floor and Abe slink out of the kitchen. The lady tossed the book aside and we heard: CRUNCH, CRUNCH! Abe had stopped to chew his treasure.

The lady pried his mouth open. Pieces of walnut and shell fell out, and she said, "Who knew you liked walnuts?" She laughed, surprised.

First dog rule: laugh, and no one takes you seriously.

But humans are inconsistent and we canines use their predictably inconsistent behavior to our advantage.

Instead of taking the nut away, the lady peeled the shell, even took care to remove all the sharp pieces.

Whoa--if you can get your humans to peel nuts for you, you can get them to do anything. She handed Abe the nut. Anything that geezer dog wanted, he got.

What dog wouldn't want what Abe had?

I was by his side in a flash, as was Badger my co-conspirator. The lady cracked another nut; handed us each a piece. Badger spit out her nut, which I quickly snapped up and wolfed down.

You learn to eat first and think about it later when the pack surrounds you.

I wouldn't be surprised if the lady found empty shells in the back of Abe's crate, he'd probably been stealing them for years. Oh I was learning a lot already and I hadn't even set foot in dog school yet. (to be continued)

As a species, canines have come a long way thanks to humans--Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire, comes to mind. I think dogs were manipulating humans long before plants picked up that idea.

This recipe is a little more decadant than the usual recipes here, but in order to qualify according to Management the following can be procured locally:

Whole wheat pastry flour (Nash's Organic Produce)
Eggs (River Farm, Growing Things, Stokesbury, Skagit River Ranch)

Vegans could use half a mashed banana instead of the egg (and omit the egg white brush) and a vegan equivalent of butter. The bars may not hold together as well.

English Toffee Cookies
(Makes about 3 dozen cookies)

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 275F. Butter a 7 by 9-inch cake pan.

2. Cream the butter and sugar until smooth.

3. Add the egg yolk and vanilla, mix in thoroughly. In another bowl combine the flour and cinnamon. Mix the wet and dry ingredients, using your hands to blend the mixture together.

4. Spread mixture into the pan and press the dough over the entire surface. Whip the egg white, then brush it over the top of the dough. Sprinkle the nuts over the entire surface and gently press them down before baking.

5. Bake for 1 hour. Cut into 1-inch squares while still hot. Wait until cool to carefully remove from the pan.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Carrots, Market Bags, and Stolen Treasures

Bark--a guest post by Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

I read an article in a local paper the other day titled "How to Get Your Dog to Listen." Seriously? Have humans run out of other family members to write about?

According to this article, the first step is to say your dog's name.

FYI: We hound dogs don't feel any compulsion to respond to incoming messages. People have too much to say. TMI--apparently someone didn't get the email about this. And how exactly can you hold a biscuit in front of your eyes and maintain eye contact? Let me just say when you learn to get the biscuit when we point to the biscuit jar, we'll think about responding when you call our names.

Cross-species communication--all we canines hear is the human side of it.

That brings me to the subject of the day--carrots.

Management mentioned carrot season is ending soon, and those fill-in carrots from California are edible but they just aren't the same as local fare.

So I was thinking about carrots as I sniffed around for recipes. I pulled a cookbook from a discard pile and I figured it had to be some kind of mistake because the book hadn't been used enough to even pick up food scents. I pawed through the book, and found this simple carrot salad recipe. It was perfect so I left the book open for Management to find.

The lady arrived home first and picked up the book, as expected. She perused the recipe and I knew what was coming next--carrot salad. Humans think they're unique but they can be embarrassingly predictable.

I was over-the-top crazy to find 3 bunches of carrots in the market bag this week. "What to take a picture?" the lady asked. I was on my picture-taking bench in a flash.

If you love carrots as much as I do, put your order in now because carrot season at Northwest markets is winding down. And if you aren't a fan, you'd best work on it because everyone could use a few more veggies on the plate. Nash's carrots will only be around for a few more weeks, and unless we're making a special trip to the Ballard Market, which seems to have a bigger produce selection in winter, I put in my order.

The U-District farmers' market the sign says "please" and "thank you," but the message is definitely not pleasant for the canine community.

My dog park buddies rib me when I wax on about carrots, but seriously what's a dog to do in a vegetarian home? Get with the program, that's what. No spare bones at our table, unless you count celery or carrot bones.

Speaking of carrots, I'll share a story about stolen treasures.

I mentioned in my last post that I'd been adopted into this home with three dogs, two certified geezers. The aging alpha bitch passed away within days of my arrival, that left three of us: bassets, plus Gino the cat.
  • Abe (certified geezer with one blue eye)
  • Badger (Tom's dog or the girl)
  • Me (Finn, the Cooking Assistant and Dog Picker)
  • Gino, the former barn cat
Abe, slipped reluctantly into the alpha role, giving me the cold shoulder from day one.

The best days were when old Abe ignored me, but more than once he nipped me from behind, and one time when I helped myself to his food, he bit me extremely hard, even drew blood. I never whined about him to Management because I wanted to learn his tricks. I wanted what he had.

For one thing, Abe had his own easy chair that swiveled and rocked. On cold days, Management brought him warm blankets from the dryer. The word pampered comes to mind. He'd grown to be so lazy over the years that he rarely left the house except to bark at the pit bulls next door, to sleep in the sun, and to savor food finds that humans carelessly left within his reach.

I was shocked when I learned Management bought Abe's I've-got-a-bad heart routine. And sometimes he had a suspicious limp when he walked and I'd seen him run, so I didn't believe the limping either. And when I heard he'd had cancer and recovered, I figured he'd made that up, too. I once overheard Management once say, "Abe is one lucky dog."

The truth is, I wanted to be lucky, too.

Abe's con was brilliant. Feigning sleep in that overstuffed easy chair, as soon as everyone walked out the door, Abe waltzed into the kitchen like the compulsive-obsessive that he was, he pushed his nose into every cupboard. Sometimes a door would magically pop open, but most doors were hooked with rubber bands. With so many unmoveable doors and pushing them day after day, you'd think he'd get discouraged, but not Abe. After he tested every cupboard twice, he stood on his hind legs, leaned on the counter and sniffed the air just like a bear. He stretched as high as he could, laid his head sideways, then licked until the entire front of the counters were spotless, as if Management had gone over them with a sponge. Mostly he came up with crumbs, but sometimes he got lucky.

Once he snagged a buttered roll; another time he made off with a package of blue cheese. And I can't tell you how many apples disappeared when Abe was around. Management often discovered empty packages in the back of Abe's crate. Sure he'd hang his head when scolded, we all did. Abe never gave up the search for food.

One day Management came in the front door and carelessly placed two produce-laden market bags on the floor. Then they walked quickly out the front door. In less than five seconds, Abe had poked his head into a bag and came out holding a bunch of carrots. He didn't waste time looking around for Management to return; he was headed out the back door just as young Badger grabbed a head of cauliflower from the bag.

Badger was making off with the entire head as Management rounded the corner. She was caught in the act with the cauliflower heavy in her jaws. Management confiscated it as I sneaked past the shouts of "Bad Dog!" You'd think it was really bad if you heard the shouts, but none of us took Management's obligatory objections to our daily food gathering seriously. Our job is to get food; their job apparently was to yell about it. I didn't feel bad for Badger, I just wanted to know what happened to the carrots.

Abe was still gnawing on carrot number one; his teeth weren't very good anymore and the other carrots in the bunch had been tossed aside. I didn't waste time, either. I grabbed the bunch, spirited them off behind a bush and thoroughly enjoyed munching down these stolen treasures. The only trace left was the tops that practically blended in with the grass.

Within a few short weeks, I'd learned the art of counter surfing and discovered market bags were produce gold mines. Occasional scoldings with the appropriate head hanging and paw wringing from the dog who was caught came with the territory. Apparently around here the idea was to convince humans they were the leaders.

But just who the leaders of the pack are depends on your point of view. (the story continues)

Did someone say carrots?

Three cheers because we hounds finally get our own bunch of market carrots. We've come a long way since old Abe set the course.

This salad was adapted from a recipe in the Nourishing Gourmet's book, Fresh Nourishing Salads for All Seasons which was mistakenly placed in a discard pile. In the book, the author mentions that these carrots lose some of their crunch if allowed to marinate too long. I wouldn't know about leaving food too long because that just doesn't happen when I'm around.

Simple Winter Carrot Salad
(Serves 4 to 6)

4 cups grated carrots (about 2 extra-large carrots)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar(or Rocksalmic from Rockridge Orchards)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 teaspoon honey, or to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Place shredded carrots in a bowl.

2. Whisk together balsamic vinegar, mustard, honey and olive oil in a small bowl. Gently mix in with carrots. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Snow Days Equal Soup Days

I was sure I was tired of soup after making it every week for a year, but I confess, soup remains one of my favorite meals in the winter and since we've been snowed in here for the past week, I'm hungry for a bowl of comfort. That's why I was happy to find the latest issue of Vegetarian Journal in my mailbox.

Inside the magazine was the article I'd written about South American soups. As soon as I spotted the Peruvian Quinoa Chowder, I knew our dinner doldrums were on the decline.

Seriously, back to soup and Vegetarian Journal. I've been a fan of Vegetarian Resource Group before I started writing articles for Vegetarian Journal. It's hard to believe that in 1999, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Vegan Desserts was the first article I'd published with them, and I've got to say I still look forward to reading every issue. The current issue is compelling. I can't wait to read "The Ghetto Vegetarian" by Holly Green and reviews that include Big Vegan by Robin Asbell and World Vegan Feast by Bryanna Clark Grogan are on my "must read" list tonight. Even though I'm not big on buying more of anything these days, I have allotted myself 6 new books for 2012, so I may put these on my wish list.

(FYI: Last time I checked, you could buy Vegetarian Journal at Third Place Books and maybe at University Books, if you're interested, or you could just subscribe here.)

South American Soups

South American soups range from delicate consomme to hearty stews. From breakfast, to lunch, to dinner and dessert, soup plays an important role in daily fare since pre-Colombian times and most soups are simply flavored, drawing inspiration from the foods of indigenous populations and evolved over time as Europeans, Asians and Africans contributed flavors and ingredients.

When I started to research South American soups, I'd expected to see them laden with meat. And many are, but surprisingly meatless soups thickened with grains--dried maize (corn) or beans, quinoa, amaranth, potatoes and squash soups have ties to pre-Columbian times. According to Maria Baez Kijac in The South American Table old fashioned, thick-as-polenta soups were mostly all meatless before the Spaniards arrived. Who knew?

Meat consumption increased after the Portugeese and Spaniards arrived but even today one can find meatless porridge like hominy soup called locro in Argintina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. (However, don't ask me where, my own Cooking Assistant won't allow the vacation days.)

This recipe is a rerun from last year, but it's so perfect now because most ingredients are pantry staples. I don't have a sweet potato, so I'll use carrots and I have frozen corn not peas. But that's the beauty of soup, it's adaptable to what you have in your pantry.

One should always have a well-stocked pantry for those crazy random snow days.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Whine a little for Brussels sprouts and oranges

Bark--A Guest Post by the Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog-picker)

I'd wanted to bark about oranges, but Management has pointed out that oranges aren't grown locally in the Northwest. Still, I'm holding out hope that some farmers might be planning for global warming by planting citrus orchards. Until then, I decided to pair oranges with Brussels sprouts and the Management finally relented. Human regulations are never totally clear to canines.

To the canines, oranges and Brussels sprouts may sound innovative, but seriously, if you can think of flavor combinations, they've already been done. But the concept gives oranges a local twist and oranges are paws down one of the best things winter brings.


When I say orange, I'm talking about those little Mandarins where the peel slips off, and each segment squirts sweet-tart juice. I don't know about you but my taste buds do cartwheels and somersaults around the tingling flavors. And if you're a canine that loves the orange orbs, you must establish that you love it beyond compare. Then you'll do anything just for one taste, and then one more, and one more.

Communicating with humans is tricky at best. A canine can feel like a circus clown with the over-the-top-Oprah excitement needed to get humans to pony up oranges. Take my advice, for oranges, it's time to let your inner puppy go, and oddly, the more foolish your antics, humans enjoy the show and they'll willingly hand over good stuff again and again.

Let me just add some humans are incredibly slow learners, that's why over-the-top is the key begging success, if only the cardboard sign holders had this secret.

I'll tell you a story about how I came to love oranges.

In the last post, I mentioned I'd been adopted and that I'd expected to land in a a one-dog home. That's not wishful thinking but just about every dog I know visualizes the best-case scenario. We're good at that, why do you think they chose canines to be therapy dogs? Doesn't matter what's happening in the world, us canines are an upbeat bunch. Still, what a shock when I learned I'd be living with three gray-haired bassets, two were certified Geezers.

Here is the lazy cast of characters I first encountered:

  • Hunter (the former pampered model)
  • Abe (the Curmudgeon with one blue eye)
  • Badger (Tom's Dog or the girl)

Hunter passed away shortly after I arrived. I didn't get to know her, and when she didn't come home with Management one afternoon, Badger quickly claimed Hunter's former bed. No tears shed there. The Curmudgeon slipped outside and started singing. Mournful and bluesy, he started out so quiet you could barely hear him but once he cranked it up, it was the most beautiful dog voice I'd ever heard. The Thrill is Gone and B.B.King comes to mind.

Apparently Management approved of singing because they slipped him an orange segment.

I was intrigued and wanted what he had, so I tried my chops. Sadly, what we think as so easy-to-do usually takes more talent than we realize. No reward was forthcoming.

Still, I was determined to discover the geezer dog's secret to snagging rewards, so I hung in the background, watching. The classic movie All About Eve comes to mind. I've seen my share of old movies, too and that understudy to Betty Davis was a con artist.

Abe's best con was laying on the sofa in a deep coma-like sleep. With his oversized tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, he could've passed for dead, but when Management peeled and orange, that old boy was on the alert. In a flash he'd be sitting waiting for that orange before the first segment came off. He'd stare, shift his weight from side to side and hum quietly. If the segments didn't come fast enough, he trembled and drooled like crazy. Management laughed and rewarded him with one segment after another.

Management around here is a conundrum with reward requirements.

If I shimmied close and did exactly what Abe did, I got an orange segment after he snagged one. The old guy kept his gaze on the orange until until it was all gone.

And after the orange was clearly gone, he pushed past me with a low bad-ass low growl. Seriously, how bad ass could grandpa be? My apprenticeship apparently irritated old Blue Eye. We weren't about to bond over citrus any time soon. (to be continued.)

Brussels sprouts

Show me a dog that doesn't like Brussels sprouts and I'll show you a dog who hasn't been exposed to fresh 0ff-the stalk Brussels sprouts. I'm told the old model Hunter the one who passed away when I first arrived loved finding the sprouts in winter under farm vendor's booths at the market. Once Management discovered Hunter loved raw Brussels spouts, they were soon sharing with everyone.

For best results get Brussels sprouts right after a cold snap. The sprouts that are the sweetest are the ones that have been left on the stalks. This recipe calls for cooking, but I love Brussels sprout raw and this salad from 101 Cookbooks is one of my favorites, but then I'm not the chef, I only make suggestions.

My suggestion for you is to get your favorite chef right on this recipe. These Brussels sprouts came from Whistling Train Farm.

Here is the recipe:

Orange Brussels Sprouts
(Serves 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 to 10 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 pounds of Brussels sprouts, rinsed and cut in half if big
Zest and juice of 1 organic Mandarin orange
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add oil and garlic cloves. Stir and cook until garlic begins to caramelize.

2. Add Brussels sprouts. Stir until coated with oil, then add orange zest and juice, cover, lower heat. Sprouts should be firm yet tender when done. Start testing at 3 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

A few tips for this recipe:

1. Don't get carried away and eat the sprouts before you even get started.

2. Go ahead lick your plate when you're done.

Here's to empty plates. Until next time--The Cooking Assistant.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Brazilian Black Beans

When I was in San Francisco I picked up a bag of Rancho Gordo black beans at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market. I wondered what the difference was between store bought black beans, Northwest farmers' market turtle beans and Rancho Gordo Midnight beans.

First I'll address the grocery store black bean experience in one word. Gas. Sure these bargain beans are easier on your budget but don't be fooled by low prices, these beans are old. To cook them, you should soak them overnight, pour the water off and cook with a strip of kombu, a sea vegetable, for easier digestion. Even then you may experience gas. Also cheap dry black beans don't have much flavor. Still I have to admit, these bagged beans are inexpensive protein source and maybe it's good to have a back-up bag in your pantry. But be sure to eat these beans within a year, because old beans are no good for your digestive system.

Check around; prices at the market vary with type of beans and farm growing them. From blogs I've read, it costs around $4. to grow a pound of beans in the Northwest, so be prepared for higher prices for this year's crop at the farmers' market.

Rancho Gordo Midnight beans actually taste different from Turtle beans. More firm to the tooth, yet with a soft sweetish creamy interior than the black turtle beans. The flavor was definitely worth paying farmers' market prices. I'm putting Midnight beans on my "must have" list.

If you're intrigued, you can order Midnight beans from Rancho Gordo. Rancho Gordo beans, grains and popcorn also make great gifts for the foodie on your gift list. If your Cooking Assistant doesn't spot them first, that is.

Brazilian Black Bean Soup
(Serves 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup shallots or onions, chopped
8 to 10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 carrot, diced
1 small sweet potato, diced
1 tablespoon cumin
1 cup dried, soaked overnight and drained dry black beans
2 cups water
1 6-inch piece of kombu (cut into tiny pieces)
10 sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 orange, juice and zest
Pinch of cayenne (or to taste)
Sea salt to taste
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

1. Heat oil over medium heat in the bottom of a pressure cooker. Add shallots or onions, stir and cook until lightly browned. Stir in garlic and cook until caramelized and fragrant. Add carrot, sweet potato, cumin, black beans, water and sundried tomatoes.

2. Lock the lid on the pressure cooker. Turn heat to high; when the button pops up start timing for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, remove pot from the heat and let the pressure come down naturally. Taste to be sure the beans are cooked, then add about a tablespoon of orange zest and orange juice. Add cayenne and sea salt to taste.

3. Garnish with cilantro, if desired. Serve with warm corn tortillas.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Got Granola?

Bark More:
A guest post by the Cooking Assistant (the dog picker or Finn, if you prefer)

I found this recipe buried in a pile of papers. Dotted with grease stains it still held faint traces of maple syrup and cinnamon. I inhaled and detected toasted nuts, oats, and vanilla. Wasn't hard to guess--granola.

Before I knew it the paper was in my teeth and I was placing it on top of the pile.

Neither one of the management team has ever suspected us hounds of moving things to enhance our advantage. But seriously, what do you think we do when management is out? Sure we read a lot, who wouldn't with all that time on our paws?

Lately I've been into dog stories. I love to identify with the protagonists--the classic is Kafka's "Investigations of a Dog." Of course there are others--A Dog's Life and The Art of Racing in the Rain come to mind, but the latter strikes me as a phoney dog memoir. I mean, dogs do not want to be reincarnated as people, really, only a person would assume that.

I digress, the thing is, we hounds are hardwired to focus on what's right under our collective noses--where the biscuits are kept, whether the pantry door is locked, and whether pockets hold treats. Scents lure us. Which brings me back to granola.

When management breezed through the door, the lady picked up the recipe and I wasn't a bit surprised. After all I've been doing this sort of thing since I was a pup, I had some good teachers.

A Dog Eat Dog World

My love of the hippie cereal goes back to when all us puppies were all clamoring for the management's attention. We all wanted to go to a good home, and apparently I wasn't the only pup who'd caught the maple nut aroma on her clothes. But I was the only one with the audacity to lick her hand when she reached in the enclosure.

I stuck close by that hand until she picked me up. I snuggled close and I knew I had her. The other puppies yipped as I snuggled close. Easy chairs, squeek toys and home baked treats were within a paws reach. I went all mushy inside when the lady said, "I'll take this one." The easy life yawned before me.

What a rude shock I had sharing my new backseat with a smelly geezer dog, who apparently was part of my package deal. The old fogey was silent and all the way home the smell of rotten teeth and bad skin overwhelmed me. This dog was ancient, and as born optimist, I held out hope smelly old bitch woke she might play with me when she woke.

It never happened. And once we arrived home, two more geezers appeared. I'd landed in a retirement home--and the gruff blue-eyed geezer growled and when management wasn't looking, he snapped at me, letting me know he was onto my game plan. I was an interloper.

I stood my ground. I growled back.

That strategy didn't win any brownie prizes from management who continually sided with the geezers. If you were to ask about the most difficult part of my life, this was it. Fights errupted and I wasn't even sure I'd be allowed to stay, especially when I knocked the old bitch off her feet one afternoon. But what was I supposed to do? Roll over and take it?

I'd expected to be in a one dog home and there I was surrounded by arthritic bonebags trudging around like zombies. (To be continued . . .)

Got Granola?

The good news was that the granola was as sweet as I'd imagined, even better than it had smelled. If only I hadn't tried to steal more. But I can't help myself when food is at hand. Okay, I got off to quite a rocky start, and I didn't recieve the kind of welcome I'd expected, but I still think of granola as my comfort food from the puppy years.

A version of this recipe came from Cheryl Harrison of Skagit Valley Co-op. Management claimed was supposed to be in The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook, but when the manuscript was due, management couldn't find it. Obviously she didn't enlist us hounds to find it. Humans are way too busy with their many meaningless activities. It's no wonder they forget sandwiches on tables and apples on counters.

Can't find your keys? Next time check the dog's bed. Forgot about your sandwich? Don't even ask.

We dogs have a distinct advantage when it comes to getting just desserts, and that includes granola.

One thing you need for granola is walnuts. Local walnuts have the best flavor, and the best walnuts I've ever tasted come from Grouse Mountain Farm. I can practically crack them with my paws.

I'm pretty sure you can get the honey, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and wheat flour from local farms. And as for the fruit, use local fruit that you've dried yourself--apples, pears, tart cherries, nectarines, peaches or apricots--it's all good.

For canine companions--avoid raisins or chocolate, these are toxic.

Maple-Nut Granola
(Makes about 8 cups)

3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (or use whole almonds)
5 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup dried chopped fruit (apples, apricots, pears--no raisins)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Mix wet ingredients together in a saucepan. Heat gently until well combined and very liquid.

2. Cook and combine nuts, oats, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, flour, sea salt and cinnamon, while wet ingredients cook.

3. Pour honey-maple syrup mixture over oat-nut mixture. Spread on baking sheets, and bake for 15 minutes. Stir gently, then return to oven for another 15 to 20 minutes. Mixture should be lightly browned. Allow to cool completely before transferring to a bowl. Not stirring encourages plenty of big clumps. Carefully mix in dried fruit.

4. Enjoy for breakfast, snacks or as a topping for coconut sorbet.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Plant a seed and watch it grow

.When the Irish Eyes Seed Catalog arrived last week, I stayed up late thumbing through it, dreaming up my fantasy garden.

It was like a Julia Cameron artist date, but I didn't go anywhere. Lush vegetable gardens start with seeds, but once planted, it takes work keeping the weeds and pests at bay. And when your produce doesn't quite look like the high quality stuff at the market, you realize hard work and plant and soil knowledge are essential ingredients for good produce.

From gardens to projects
It's the same way with projects. Like gardens they start with ideas and I've got plenty of them this year. Not that I haven't in the past, but I'm thrilled to have a long project in mind, and since part of it involves this blog.

Here's what's coming down the pike for early 2012:

1. Book reviews:

2. Food Budgets--I dropped the ball on my $100 a week food budget way too many times in the summer, but I haven't given up. In 2012, I plan to explore a budget that accommodates more fresh vegetables and fruit in the summer. I also plan to explore alternatives such a dumpster diving with freegans, though I could never give up fresh food from local farms.

3. More farm, farmers' market and food news. Plus at least one post about what's happening with the honey bees.
4. Meatless Monday's recipe blog post for 2012 will be a year-long guest post by my Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker or Finn) because I think food deserves a fresh point of view. And he's definitely got his own point of view.

5. A look at what other food bloggers are talking about. In reality, 5 numbers look better than 4, so this idea doesn't really have priority yet, but I love to check blogs like this one and this one, and I can't forget this one. So look for an upcoming post on on my favorite food blogs and if you have ideas about who to include, let me know.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Soup Project: 50 soups and 10 things I learned from making them

The 2011 Soup Project has come to an end.

I'd started the Soup Project partly to save our food budget and partly to see if it could be done. Sure books of soup recipes exist, but every one of them depends on meat, poultry or fish soup stocks and soups for variety. I wondered if I'd hit a wall doing all vegan soups (some had a bit of cheese for garnish) but it turned out, I didn't hit a wall, I could have kept going.

As I look back over my year of soups, I figured the best post for today would be a wrap up of all the things I learned about soup making this year.

Here are ten things I learned from making soup this past year:

1. It's incredibly easy to make soup. Homemade soup doesn't even even require a cookbook, just ideas jotted down from recipes that catch your eye. Anyone can create soup, just let your imagination go.

2. Mind the season. Make asparagus soup in the spring, fruit soups in the summer, and kale, potato and carrot soup in the winter.

3. Go with local choices because the flavors are better, you support local farms and doesn't it feel good to say this dinner came from a local farm.

4. Create layers of flavor with homemade stock. The prepackaged stock is usually loaded with sodium and will give your soup a "boxed" or "packaged" background flavor. If time is short, do a faux layer by adding carrots, celery, onion and parsley to the soup. Toss in a bay leaf. Sample as you cook. Before serving, ladle a cup of soup out and puree it. Return to the pot and season to taste with salt, pepper and add a bit of lemon juice to brighten the flavors.

5. Use a heavy soup pot, pressure cooker or crock pot. No need for special or expensive equipment, just the basics makes soup a great food budget meal. It really is a budget meal. Other things you might need include a colander for pasta and beans, measuring spoons and cups, a ladel and a few good knives.

6. Add less ingredients. I'd always thought if one carrot is good, two will be better. This is not always true with soup. It can become overcrowded and too many vegetables can be distracting. It takes practice to the perfect consistency for soup, but in the meantime it's all edible.

7. If you catch burned soup right away, carefully ladle the soup into another pot, avoid scraping the burned part. I've rescued many burned soups this way. FYI if you get a heavy soup pot, you won't have the "burned soup" problem very often.

8. Don't double hot peppers or salt in recipes. One folk remedy for too much salt in soup is to add a chunk of potato, bring the soup to a boil, then remove the potato.

9. Think of the bowl as a frame for your soup. The colors on our plates influence how we feel. I found most soups look best in black or white bowls. Red was a loser soup bowl color, and green or yellow didn't fare much better. Blue came in second to black and white. We instinctively eat with our eyes first so be aware of how your soup looks.

10. If the flavor is bland and you're near the end of cooking, consider the five flavors our taste buds experience--sweet, salty, sour, pungent, and spicey. Balancing these flavors isn't as tricky as it sounds. Often a squeeze of lemon, a dash of salt or a pinch of sugar is all the soup really needs.

Soup really is good for the food budget. (Except for the fruit soups of summer.) You can savor soup one day with warm crusty bread and the next day ladle leftovers over quinoa or rice another day.

Stay tuned for my new recipe project next Monday. I have a few ideas and my Assistant has more than a few. In the meantime, check out this collections of soups and take your pick.

The 2011 Soup Project

1. Sweet Potato and Kale Soup

3. Basic Soup Stock

4. Locro Guascho Argentino (white beans, sweet potatoes and hominy)

16. Red Velvet Soup (with beets)