Peppery Roasted Almonds

  Internet is alive with a blog post and website extolling the virtues of eating almonds. If you could believe everything that you read, almonds can do everything from curing cancer to reversing heart disease. 

The almond is a nutritionally dense food and a good source of riboflavin and niacin, vitamin E, and the essential minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folate; choline; and the essential mineral potassium. They are also rich in dietary fiber, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats, fats which potentially may lower LDL cholesterol.

I generally like healthy foods, but raw almonds are too bland and flavorless.

This is a simple recipe to spice it up a bit. Feel free to substitute your favorite spices for the pepper. 

 1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups raw almonds with their skins

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl until the almonds are well coated. Roast in a single layer on a cookie sheet at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes, shaking the pan once during roasting.

Cool completely before eating. Store in a sealed container for up to two weeks.  

White Tiger: The Color of Controversy

A great article regarding white tigers.

Tiger Tales

Royal White Bengal Tiger ~ ©Rare Species Fund Royal White Bengal Tiger ©Rare Species Fund

White Tigers are NOT Genetically Defective
There is no evidence of a genetic defect inherent in the white color variant of the Royal White Bengal Tiger, notwithstanding the erroneous claims to the contrary by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). White tigers have a normally occurring, simple recessive genetic color variant known as leucism, much the same as the leucistic (white) deer common to the Carolinas. Leucism and albinism are not the same. White tigers are not albinos and do not carry the genetic weaknesses associated with albinism. According to a recent study published in Current Biology, the gene, known as SLC45A2, is a naturally expressed color variant that was common in wild tiger populations prior to extirpation by poachers, hunters and habitat fragmentation in the 1950’s.

White Bengals result from genetic mutations that are part…

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Palm Oil: Heart of Darkness

This is an excellent article on the impact of palm oil production on our world. In addition to driving multiple species to extinction, including the Sumatran orangutan, elephant, and tiger, all of which are critically endangered, as well the endangered Bornean orangutans and pygmy elephants, the massive deforestation of rain forest to convert it to palm oil crops is contributing significantly to climate change. We are literally killing ourselves along with them.

Tiger Tales

RSF Orangutan ©Rare Species Fund

The Horror of Palm Oil Production
Fires raging across much of Borneo and Sumatra devour vast amounts of Indonesian rainforest. These fires which are now out of control, are believed to have been set intentionally by companies seeking to clear land for the lucrative production of palm oil crops. Unfortunately, approximately 50% of everyday products used in the west today, contain palm oil.

Habitat for thousands of species, including critically endangered Sumatran tigers, orangutans and rhinos, is engulfed in flames at the rate of about one million acres annually— deforestation on a cataclysmic scale for the purpose of unsustainable palm oil production.

Unless this ecological apocalypse is arrested, the biodiversity of the Indonesian rainforest, and all of the hope for our future that it represents, could be lost in our lifetime.

— a·poc·a·lypse
/əˈpäkəˌlips/
1. the complete final destruction of the world.
2. an event involving destruction…

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Erika’s Chocolate Chocolate Shortbread Pecan Pie

2-DSC_6408I love pecan pie. I hate corn syrup.  Most pecan pie recipes use the loathsome ingredient, an unholy union for sure, and that is a situation that we can no longer in good conscience tolerate.

What is corn syrup?  It’s a tacky, syrupy substance made from corn starch and contains maltose and  higher oligosaccharides, depending on the grade.  Maltose (malt sugar), also found in beer, is the sugar that converts to fat more easily than any other sugar.  In technical terms, corn syrup is super yucky.

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Now a word about pie crust.  Pies are delicious, so much better than cakes.  But pie crust, well, it’s more boring than delicious. We have relegated it to vehicle status, the humble servant that offers up the pie filling.  We can do better.  And by better, I mean shortbread — buttery, sweet and full of vanilla flavor.  After all, if we are going to indulge, shouldn’t the flavor be worth it?

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, and I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say that the world needs a corn syrup-free pecan pie.  And of course the world needs more chocolate.  The logical conclusion that you can (and should) draw, is that I am helping the needy. Je vous présente Erika’s Chocolate Chocolate Shortbread Pecan Pie.

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Ingredients

Shortbread Crust

1 c Flour
Dash Salt
1/2 c butter, softened
1 and 1/2 c confectioner’s sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Pecan Pie Filling

3 T butter
2 c chocolate, chopped and divided (you can use semisweet or milk chocolate, if you live with sissies)
1/3 c sugar
1 c light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1/2 c organic raw sugar
2 c chopped pecans, divided
1/2 c melted butter
2 T milk
1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 T flour

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Make the shortbread crust:

Cream together butter and sugar. Add egg yolk, vanilla, salt and flour and mix until it forms a ball. Roll the shortbread out between sheets of waxed paper and then transfer to a deep dish pie plate. Flute or press edges and place uncooked pie shell in the refrigerator to chill while finishing the filling.

Make the filling:

In a small saucepan, melt together 1 cup of the chopped chocolate, 3 T butter and 1/3 c. sugar over low heat until thoroughly melted. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together brown sugar, eggs, 1/2 c organic sugar until well blended. Add 1/2 c melted butter, 1 c. chopped pecans, milk, vanilla, and flour. Mix until blended and then add chocolate mixture.

Sprinkle remaining pecans and chocolate chunks into the bottom of shortbread crust. Pour filling mixture over it.

Place on center rack in oven and bake for 55-65 minutes.

 

Great Expectations

Marcos & me, April 26, 2015.

Marcos & me, April 26, 2015.

I accidentally bought a stallion in December.  Not just any horse, he’s the kind of horse that little girls ride in their dreams at night.  I wake up in the morning counting down the minutes before I can ride him again.

I am a student of dressage, and I train with close friends of more than a dozen years now, Kim and Yvonne Barteau of KYB Dressage.  I met Kim and Yvonne in 2003 after working with a trainer for more than three years but never seeing the inside of a show ring or even knowing a single USDF test.

Gigar in 2004.

Gigar in 2004.

In the fall of 2003, I had purchased an Akhal-Teke stallion named Gigar, and by the beginning of the 2004 show season, I made my first salute to the judges in the box.  In the beginning, Yvonne read tests for me, and I remember coming out of the ring after the first one feeling rather full of myself.  Yvonne asked me, “What the heck was that?  You never made it to X on your trot loops; you only went to the quarter line. They are going to whack you for that.”  (At Training Four, the horse was required to touch the center line at X (center of the dressage ring) during the first trot loop.)   I laughed and told her, “Well, you’re the trainer.  How come he doesn’t know where X is?”  I was a pretty poor student back then and managed to show up for my first show without ever reading a dressage test for myself.

Marcos in December 2014.

Marcos in December 2014.

I became a better student over the years.  I now know where X is.  Working with people who are excellent inures a feeling of trust and a motivation for excellence.  In fact, I almost called this blog Blind Faith, except that it isn’t blind.  It is a faith that evolves over time after hours and years of lessons in which you are pushed to the limit of your ability and kept safe at all times.  It is not unusual for Yvonne to give me an instruction that is completely counter-intuitive to me and at the moment I feel a compelling need to grab onto the reins like a clutch monkey and cling for dear life, she tells me “donkey kick,” and when I do it, the horse drops onto the bit and gets ahead of the leg.  It’s a special kind of fairy dust (or perhaps schizophrenia) that I now carry with me even when I am not in a lesson, and I can actually hear their voices in my head when I find trouble riding on my own.

Dona in 2005

Dona in 2005

In late 2004, I had just had a major surgery and was patched together like Humpty Dumpty.  About two weeks after surgery, Yvonne persuaded me to try out a three and a half year old Friesian filly that she thought I should buy.  The last thing I wanted was a young horse, and certainly not a fat, hairy Friesian.  I still have Dona, who will be fourteen this year.  In 2005, she was the USDF Region 4 Reserve Champion (Training Level AA), USDF All Breeds Award 2nd Place (Frieisan Horse Society, Training Level AA), and was ranked 18th place nationally for all breeds, USDF Adult Amateur Award.  By 2006, she was 3rd in the country, all breeds at Training Level for the USDF Adult Amateur Award (median score of 72.308%); she won first place for the USDF All Breeds Awards for the Friesian Horse Society for both Training and First Level, and she placed at Regionals as well.  In her spare time, she carried my eight year old daughter around like a basket of eggs and with her unfailing kindness, she taught her to ride.  She is the Lassie of the horse world.

Marcos April 26, 2015.

Marcos April 26, 2015

For the past several years, demands of my career have kept me out of the show ring.  Last June, Yvonne sent me an email with a video of an amazing Andalusian stallion, which I did not watch at the time.  In the fall, I was casually window shopping for a new show prospect and had ridden a different Andalusian stallion in a lesson with Yvonne.  At her encouragement (and by “encouragement,” I mean insistence), she had me see and ride a mahogany bay stallion at another barn that she had worked with previously.

One thing I have learned over the last decade is that when Yvonne makes a strong recommendation, she is always right.  She did, after all, write the book (literally) on the matchmaking of horses and riders,  Ride the Right Horse.  (If her passion were stocks instead of horses, we would all be billionaires.)  And now I have my Marcos, who is the most talented horse I have ever ridden.

Once again, I find myself in the happy anticipation of show season.   The twelve preceding years have taught me that if I put in the work, my greatest expectations will be fulfilled.  And by great expectations, I do not mean Horse of the Year Awards or the other trappings of the show ring that flow from riding a well trained horse well.  I mean this steady march toward progress in dressage – that exquisitely nuanced recipe of connection, balance, impulsion, and suppleness that is born out of an educated partnership forged with a horse.

Not all trainers are equal, and Kim and Yvonne are without equal.

Spumoni Drop Cookies

1-DSC_0881Spumoni (from spuma, meaning foam), is an Italian flavor of ice cream containing chocolate, fruits (usually cherries) and nuts (typically pistachio).  Like Neapolitan ice cream, it is created in layers, and it is very popular in countries with large Italian populations such as the US and Argentina.  (I am a US citizen of Argentine descent, so naturally I love spumoni!)  National Spumoni Day is August 21st in the US.  I love spumoni ice cream, and what’s not to love?  Chocolate, pistachios and cherries…naturally this combination also belongs in a chewy, delicious cookie.

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Spumoni Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 packages instant pistachio pudding mix (I think they are 3.4 oz each)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (12 ounce) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips  (you can use milk chocolate chips in the alternative)
1/2 generous cup chopped maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift flour and baking soda; set aside.

Cream butter and sugars in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in the instant pudding and mix well. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Blend in the flour mixture. Fold in chips, cherries, and pistachios. Drop by large spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven until light brown, about 10 minutes.  Take them out when they are a still a bit blonde and let them firm on the pan a few seconds before transferring to baking racks to cool.

 

Honey Orange Cake with Honey Cream Mascarpone Frosting with Orange Essence

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Honey is a magical, sweet and healthy food made by bees using the nectar of flowers.   Humans have been collecting honey for at least 8,000 years, as depicted in ancient cave drawings in Valencia, Spain.  The ancient Egyptians, Eurasians, Indians, Chinese, Romans and Mayans all cooked with honey.  The Hindus believed it to be one of the five elixirs of immortality.  For Jews, it symbolizes the new year.  It is mentioned multiple times in the Old and the New Testaments.  It plays a role in Buddhism.  The Qur’an has an entire chapter called the Bee, wherein the prophet Mohammed recommended honey for healing purposes.

2-DSC_0747Most importantly, it is delicious.  Really, truly delicious.

I developed this cake recipe because I had a large jar of raw honey that had begun to crystallize and I wanted to use it it.  I recommend that you purchase and use local, raw honey in your home.

This cake is very sweet with a lot of orange flavor and a subtle hint of spice from the cinnamon.  I topped it with a mascarpone cream icing that is infused with orange essence and more honey (of course) that I put together on the fly.  There is a rough approximation of the frosting that I used at the end of the cake recipe.  It may need a tiny bit of tweaking because I did not really measure…

If you are not familiar with mascarpone, it is a delicious and mild Italian soft cheese, somewhat akin to American cream cheese.  It acts like Viagra for whipped cream in that it will help it to maintain stiffness when time or other conditions will cause ordinary whipped cream to deflate.  If you haven’t got mascarpone, you can use cream cheese in a pinch. However, the flavor is not identical.  Cream cheese has more tang and lacks the subtle, nuanced sweetness of mascarpone.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 cup raw, locally produced honey
  • 1/2 cup avocado oil
  • 4 organic eggs
  • The grated zest of two oranges
  • 1 cup of fresh squeezed, organic orange juice
  • 2 and 1/2 cups organic flour
  • 3 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour a 9 x 13 baking pan, or spray it liberally with coconut oil cooking spray.

Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon together.

In a large bowl, mix sugar, honey, oil, eggs and orange zest.  Add the flour mixture alternating with the orange juice until just mixed.  Don’t beat it to death.  Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes.

Honey Cream Mascarpone Frosting with Orange Essence

In a KitchenAid mixer, beat together 2 cups organic heavy whipping cream, 8 oz mascarpone, 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 teaspoon pure orange extract until stiff peaks form.  Frost the cake generously and then refrigerate.

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Divine, Sublime Chicken with Lemon, Cream and Sage

chicken milk

I was going to try to regale you with the history of milk consumption that coincides with the Neolithic Period, but that would just be an obnoxious show, detracting from the truth of this blog:  this recipe is unbelievably, off the hook, incredibly delicious.  Ridiculous.  The best chicken recipe I’ve ever tasted.  It is an intoxicatingly fragrant concoction of lemon, sage and cream with a seductive hint of cinnamon and a decadent, velvety cream sauce.  It is based on celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk, but as usual, I made modifications.  (I think I modify every recipe because I cannot stand anyone telling me what to do, even a recipe.)  I tweaked the cooking method and time a little bit to produce a moister, more cooked and more tender bird.  I also reduced garlic and added some heat.  Life is better a little spicier, and I am a Spice Girl!  Make this recipe and enjoy a celebration in your mouth that you will not soon forget.

One 4-lb. organic chicken that has not been injected full of saline.
Freshly ground, Himalayan pink salt
Freshly milled black pepper
Olive oil
½ stick cinnamon
1 handful fresh sage.  You can use about 1-2 T dried, rubbed sage, if you must, but fresher is better
Zest of 3 lemons
About 1/2 tsp fresh crushed red pepper
6 cloves garlic, skin left on
2 cups organic whole milk
1/2 cup organic heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375°F. Season chicken with salt and pepper and brown it in a cast iron Dutch oven in a bit of olive oil until it is golden brown. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over the chicken.  Cookin the preheated oven for 1½ hours, basting with pan juices from time-to-time. After 90 minutes, increase heat to 425°F and cover the chicken.  Cook for 20 minutes more.  Serve hot with a generous amount of the cream sauce spooned over it.

Chocolate Walnut Bars with Sultry Caramel Sauce

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The word caramel was first recorded in English in 1725. It came via French from the Spanish “caramelo.”  Whatever its origin, caramel is decadently rich, sweet and sultry with its buttery finish and soothing texture.  I wrote this recipe on a chilly, windy, midwestern day with damp air and blowing leaves, the kind of day that makes you happy to be indoors with a warm and fragrant kitchen and a personable dog near by.  It is fabulously sugary and fatty and spares no calories.

1-DSC_0592Chocolate Walnut Bars

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup chopped walnuts, divided into two 1/2 cup portions
2 cups unbleached, organic flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large organic eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups high quality, dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Caramel Sauce

1 and 1/2 cups organic sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil and spray foil with a coconut cooking spray or butter.  In your food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of walnuts until coarsely ground then whisk them together with flour, baking powder and baking soda.

Beat the butter with brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl.  Add vanilla.  Gradually beat in the dry ingredients and then the chocolate and then the remaining 1/2 cup of walnuts.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan and bake until just done, about 30 minutes.  Place pan on a rack to cool.

While the bars are cooling, make your caramel sauce.  Place sugar and water into a heavy saucepan and heat until boiling over medium heat, swirling constantly.  Once the syrup is just boiling, reduce the heat enough to keep it boiling but not so hot to burn the sugar.  Continue to swirl and heat the syrup until it turns a rich brown color.  Be very careful because it is easy to burn caramelized sugar.  Once the color is sufficiently rich and brown, turn off the heat.  Carefully add the heavy cream, butter and vanilla.  It will bubble up furiously at first.  Turn heat back to low and stir and heat the caramel mixture until all of the caramelized sugar has dissolved and the sauce is finished.  Allow sauce to cool.  It will thicken as it cools.

Serve Chocolate Walnut bars warm with warm Caramel Sauce spooned over them.

If I Could Save Time in a Bottle

Ari Half Moon Bay

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent.”
― Carl Sandburg

Ari-dona2

Ariel in 2013, with Dona.

Today is a special day.  The light of my life celebrates her nineteenth birthday.

It is such a cliche to ask where the time has gone.  Last week, I was looking at framed photographs of her through the years, and experienced nostalgia that was nearly panic, looking into the familiar eyes, the familiar face, the smile filled with baby teeth, of that beloved child.  That child is lost to me forever, at least those earlier versions.  Every year, she is replaced with the current, updated version of herself.  I love them all, but I cannot help but miss the Ariels of Birthdays Past, even as I love the current and future Ariel more every minute.

Today she is everything on my list of gratitudes.  Whenever I doubt myself, my life, my choices, I know I have this one thing that turned out perfectly because of me and in spite of me.

An earlier birthday girl also loved black horses.

An earlier birthday girl also loved black horses.

The funny thing about time is that the hours and days seem to pass so slowly sometimes, but the years pile up in a hurry.  We could probably adjust to it more easily if it were only the time that were passing, but in reality, with it, time drags everything into a constant evolution.

The baby who held my earlobe for security and played with pairs of plastic animals in the bathtub all too quickly became the toddler who told me, “Ah, shit!” from her car seat one January when I told her that Kiddieland was closed for the winter.

Ariel in the Summer of 2014.

Ariel in the Summer of 2014.

I remember the first time she insisted on walking into school on the first day of first grade without me, dressed in a purple down parka, with a backpack that was so big next to tiny her that it almost dragged the ground.  She trudged up the gothic stairs at the Lab School, her blonde curls bouncing in the wind, and when she didn’t even turn back to see me in the car line, I cried.  I want her to be independent.  I want her to not need me.  But maybe not just yet (even still).

Ariel on Dona in 2005, trusted friends ever since then.

Ariel on Dona in 2005, trusted friends ever since then.

When Ari was seven, we bought a pony that ended up being not suitable for a child.  We found this out when the pony spooked at the barn owner’s dog and sent me sailing in a fall that left me biting through the nerve in my lower lip, my helmet breaking (saving my nose), gravel embedded in my face, and a bruised kidney.  As I leaned over the bathroom sink trying to determine if the grit I was spitting out was my teeth or arena gravel, I heard the other barn kids asking Ariel if her mother was alright, to which she screamed, “Well she would be if it weren’t for your asshole dog!!”

Birthday Past 2013.

Birthday Past 2013.

I can recall a million tiny details.  A million moments in time that, when woven together, knit my favorite story of all time, a story where the heroine is a sassy, intelligent, resourceful and hilarious beauty with the golden tresses, the dazzling smile and sparkling blue eyes even better than a Disney princess.

I am grateful.  I am grateful for each moment and each memory.  I am grateful for all those bathroom stops we had to make on every road trip; I am grateful for the times we went to war over homework; I am grateful for the Halloween costumes and the pink birthday parties and the back to school shopping, and the friend dramas, and the messy bedroom and the undone chores and the done chores.  I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

Ari and Byttersweet in 2008.

Ari and Byttersweet in 2008.

Today, she is a freshman in college and we are beginning the next chapter in this wonderful book.  I am so proud of you, Ari, and I am so grateful to have you for my daughter.  Happy Birthday.  I love you!

~ Mommy

PS – Yes, I am making you a flan instead of a birthday cake🙂

ari and me

Ariel and me 1999.

Ariel in Summer 2014.  Photo © Visual Stimulus Photography

Ariel in Summer 2014. Photo © Visual Stimulus Photography

Ariel in 2011.  Photo © Visual Stimulus Photography

Ariel in 2011