prickly pear cactussour fig and creeping jenny

Summer school is happening. Three credit hours’ worth of material in six weeks means I studied for nearly seven hours last night to prepare for this morning’s class. This is my new normal. I think it’s safe to say that June will be the month of five minute meals.

Also: Hello, summer! Anything below 85 degrees does not count in my book, so thank you for finally climbing into the 90s. I am happy. My gardens are happy. Please stick around.

prickly pear in bloombeans and greens

Quick pan-fried cannelloni beans with coriander and thyme

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This recipe makes one generous serving, but doubles (and triples) easily. The beans taste great on their own, but I like to heap them onto toast atop a bit of cashew cheese, or over a bed of greens. Salt plays a starring role in this dish, adding both flavor and texture. You’ll want to use a coarse salt, fleur de sel if you have it. Maldon or another kosher salt will also do.

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1 cup cooked cannelloni or other white beans, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme

In a small bowl, mix together the nutritional yeast, salt, coriander, and pepper. Set aside.

Warm up the oil in a skillet, add the beans, and toss to coat. Arrange the beans into an even layer, and coat cover with the seasoning mixture. Turn up the heat – the goal is to quickly brown the beans on one side. After a couple of minutes, toss everything together in the pan, so the beans are evenly coated with the seasoning. Continue stirring over high heat until just starting to brown all over. Remove from heat, add the thyme leaves, and season to taste. Serve immediately.

Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 5 minutes


squash sauce

With temps nearing 100 today, I’m keeping things in the kitchen simple, focusing all efforts on soaking up the last flush of summer.

This means my blender is seeing a lot of action: the family-sized green smoothie it makes every day, followed by a giant batch of butternut queso.

My garden didn’t yield any butternuts this year, but there were plenty at the farmers’ market. This sauce is easy to make with both fresh and frozen butternut squash, so I snatched several up to prep and freeze later this month.

squash sauce


Butternut queso

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This is one of those recipes that was born of not-in-the-mood-for-anything meals + staple ingredients. Items are grabbed from the pantry, tossed into the blender, and the rest of the meal figures itself out. If using a medium/large butternut, the neck portion will yield 2 to 2 1/2 cups cubed squash. The concentrated sweetness of dried tomatoes rounds out the flavor of this sauce and lends it a hint of color. We go easy on the garlic, but mine is a homegrown variety, more pungent than what’s found in most markets. This tastes good with a dash (or three) of smoked paprika; sadly, my family is too wimpy to handle such a thing. Sometimes, I sneak in a few dashes of ground chipotle – just as much flavor, but less discernible heat. You’ll notice I don’t add any oil or butter – this isn’t because I’m avoiding fat; the sauce is rich enough without it (especially after the flavors have melded in the fridge for a few hours). Some similar recipes on the web include Earth Balance, and I’m sure throwing in a knob would taste good to some palates, but we enjoy it without.

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2 cups 1/2-inch cubed butternut squash
1 medium yellow-fleshed potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, or more to taste
4 thumb-sized sundried tomato pieces (preferably not oil packed)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon tamari
1/2 cup raw cashews, either pre-soaked/drained or pulverized in a spice grinder
1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, more to taste
a few grinds white pepper, more to taste

Combine the squash, potato, garlic and sundried tomatoes in a large, wide pot. Add just enough water to cover and bring to a low boil. Lower to a simmer and cook until the potato and squash are fork tender, about 10 minutes. Taking care not to burn yourself, transfer the contents of the pot to the blender. Add the lemon juice and tamari, and blend until smooth. Add the cashews, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper, and blend again until smooth. Add additional water if necessary to make the sauce thinner, if you prefer. The sauce will thicken slightly when cooled.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 15 minutes | Yield: about 3 cups

Second breakfast / late night snacks / movie+book notes

I’m not a straightaway breakfast person, whether I’m up for work before dawn or a bit later on the weekend. Years and years of running first thing in the morning reinforced this behavior, but I also think it’s because I can’t fall asleep with an empty stomach. Which means I wake up with a semi-full stomach, I guess? Or at the very least, no rumbling hunger pangs.

My first breakfast is usually a smoothie with espresso blended in, or if I’m in a really big hurry (or feeling really full), I fill a jam jar with a scoop of chocolate Vega protein powder, a couple ounces of espresso, top it off with almond milk, give it a shake and bam! first breakfast.

banana pudding overnight oatssecond breakfast, in a jar: banana pudding overnight oats // a tester recipe for Kathy Hester’s current cookbook-in-progress

Jump ahead a couple of hours and I’m ready for second breakfast. On work days, it’s fresh fruit + either chia pudding or a jar of overnight oats. On weekends it’s always something broiled on toast.

a classicsecond breakfast, on toast: this classic never lets me down

I could do an entire blog devoted to things on toast, because it’s also what I have every night right before popping in a movie or cracking open a book.

Speaking of which, I cannot help but share a few titles of things I’ve recently devoured.

Film (first time viewing):
We Need to Talk About Kevin: This movie is not for everyone, but if you can handle it, you should watch it. It’s extremely uncomfortable to watch, but handles the subject matter in an entirely new (to me) way. Most reviews don’t do this movie justice; they seem to imply it’s a shock-seeking amalgam of horror and drama, which is true of many films in this newly emerging genre. Yes, the subject matter is horrifying – but the director’s approach to this topic, the editing, cinematography, set and costume design, and acting make it difficult to label as any one type of film. If you read the novel, forget everything from that experience. (But you don’t need me to tell you that, because we all know that cinematography and the written word are two entirely different media, and a director and an author convey their own interpretations of material. Ahem.) If you didn’t read the novel, here’s my attempt at a synopsis: this film is about a family – a mother and son, mostly – and a patchwork of present day events, real flashbacks, and recollections filtered through the mother’s point of view, all swirling around and leading up to a specific event. It’s a study of nature vs. nurture, exposing many questions without offering any definitive answers. I watched this without knowledge of what the event was (although you have a pretty good idea early on), and had read the novel so long ago that by the time I realized it, I was able to ignore anything book-related and immerse myself in the film. Almost no violence is actually shown on screen, but the tension and dread leading up to a few scenes and played out through the actors’ body language and facial expressions revealed more than a thousand audible or visual shocks could.  Oh yes, and it stars Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller and John C. Reilly.

Films (repeat viewings):
Fright Night (2011): Colin Farrell, an actor I’ve grudgingly come to appreciate, gives this remake an equally campy and creepy turn. I first watched this to see David Tennant in leather pants; I rewatch it because Farrell’s vampire scared the shit out of me. In an otherwise campy-in-all-the-right-places movie, he’s quite good.

Super 8: So my personal opinion is that everything in this film after the alien is revealed and starts snatching people up is totally overblown, typical J.J. Abrams Spielberg worship schtick, but up until that point? One of my favorite movies ever. The dialogue and behavior of the kids is straight out of It or Stand by Me – one of the coming-of-age friendship scenes not involving murderous demon clowns or dead bodies near railroad tracks. (The real hallmark of King’s writing.) I really, really wanted to watch this with Nina, but my husband reminded me that not only does she already know enough curse words without seeing a pack of tweens saying ‘shit’ in every other sentence (although their dialogue is pretty fucking funny, and realistic from what I remember of my childhood), but also that the alien might give her a bit of a scare.

Books (first time readings):
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler: I think this novel is better the less you know (sort of like Little Bee). If you really want to read a review, though, the one from the NYT Sunday Book Review is quite good.

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn: Dark and disturbing (think V.C. Andrews crossed with Jodi Picoult); very predictable but in the most delicious, disaster-rubbernecking sort of way.

spin dip (not) on toastdestined to be a second breakfast on toast

Oh, and I was going to share one of my favorite things to eat on toast. There is a baking dish of this particular spinach artichoke dip in my refrigerator at least once a month. It works as a quesadilla filling, as a stand alone appetizer with chips, and most importantly, broiled atop a slice of sourdough with a healthy dusting of smoked paprika.

spin dip on toastthe ultimate second breakfast, even better as a midnight or movie snack

Spinach artichoke dip

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I tested this dip a couple of years ago for Allyson Kramer’s first cookbook, Great Gluten Free Vegan Eats, and it quickly became the dish I bring to every party. The original has a cashew cream base, which unfortunately a friend of mine can’t eat. Instead of looking for a new recipe, I came up with this.

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2 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
1 6-ounce container plain Greek vegan yogurt
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon fine grain salt
2 cups of packed chopped spinach leaves
1 can of large artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
additional salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Stir together everything except the spinach and artichoke hearts. Fold these last two ingredients in, and add additional salt if needed. Transfer to a small baking dish (no larger than 9″ square) and bake for 25 minutes, or until bubbly and starting to brown. Allow to set at least five minutes before serving.

Yield: 1 pan

Prep time: 15 minutes | Bake time: 25 minutes

Kitchen garden + a really small batch pear butter recipe




purslane Gargoyles-eye-viewThis summer, Nina tried her hand at potting up herbs and ornamentals. Over a dozen pots are scattered in and around our kitchen garden, transforming it into our new happy place. // Gargoyle’s eye view.
lunchOn weekends, she’ll pack herself a lunch and hang out on the steps, hoping to catch a blue-tailed skink.
purple.peppersThere is a baby skink curled up in this pot, under the doreanthus!
Every time I make this it turns out a different color. This batch was a pale gold.

Sage and white pepper-infused pear butter

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You’ll want enough chopped pears to fill your slow cooker one-half to three-quarters of the way up; four or five pears are a perfect fit for my 2-quart slow cooker. When I make this for my family, I just tuck the sage and peppercorns into the pot and strain them out later. (Or not – the peppercorns are really pretty when the sink to the bottom of a jar.) If I’m making it as a gift, I bundle them in muslin or gauze. Also, I think rosemary (with the pepper) or lavender (without) would taste wonderful in place of the sage.

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4-5 pears, any variety
juice of 1 lemon wedge
3-4 fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon white or mixed peppercorns, or 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon muscovado or dark brown sugar

Peel, core and chop your pears. Add the chopped pears into the slow cooker, squeeze a wedge of lemon over the top, tuck your sage and peppercorns in the middle and sprinkle your sugar over it all. Set the slow cooker to low and cover. Check every thirty minutes or so, smashing the pears around with a wooden spoon as they soften. When your pears have the consistency of applesauce, vent the lid and continue cooking until thickened, stirring every so often to prevent sticking or scorching. When the pears are done cooking, allow them to cool for 15 minutes before you strain and transfer to glass jars.

Yield: 1 Cup

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 2-5 hours, depending on your slow cooker