Nothing says lovin’ like fried potatoes in the oven.

I’ve never really been in a position to establish new family traditions since I was always the one living close to Pittsburgh. But while going back east regularly is extremely important to us, it’s also pretty necessary that we have new plans in our new home. Luckily, April and I are very good at this, because we understand the essential component of a good tradition: food.

Did you know that until recently I had never made latkes from scratch? True story. I finally have a kitchen with enough surface area to thoroughly trash while doing so, so I figured what the heck. Let’s grate the potatoes by hand, even!

Latkes

Yeah. So that was pretty successful, not going to lie.

Matzoh ball soup, check. April’s delicious brisket – whose one fatal flaw was not being bigger so there were more leftovers, check.

Hanukkah table

(This was about the point where I realized my casual plastic placemats and lack of tablecloth were, well, lacking. Next time I’ll work harder on the presentation. See also: not wearing my jammies to the dinner table.)

Candles were lit. Blessings were sung. Passive voice was written.

And then, dreidel. Popular among the under 8 crowd, especially. There is something intrinsically appealing about counting gold and silver coins.

Jonah with dreidel

Actual spinning is optional, however. (So is knowing the rules of the game.)

We ended the night with full bellies and happy hearts. Seriously. It would have been a Norman Rockwell-worthy evening if not for the soft pants.

decorations

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Mussels: Achievement Unlocked

There’s a point when you’re making mussels for dinner where it becomes undeniably obvious that you are in fact preparing a live animal for consumption. That point most likely occurs during the “cleaning and de-bearding” stage – which, let’s be clear, is made worse by the use of the word “de-bearding” – when the mussels can get protective of their little beardy bits (seriously, what the hell are those, anyway?) and pull them back inside their shells.

Don’t freak out. This is perfectly normal self preservation behavior for a live animal about to become a tasty tasty snack. Says the former vegetarian.

I’d never prepared mussels at home, but our family’s love of all things mollusk is well documented (though we prefer them sans starfish, thank you very much). This weekend, inspired by San Francisco’s crab season (totally a thing) I went a little seafood crazy at the market. In addition to dungeness crabs, I also picked up 5 lbs of mussels.

Five pounds? you say. That sounds like a lot.

mussels

Oh yeah. It is.

I opted to go the traditional white wine route, adding tomatoes, onions, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley, like you do. It made for a lovely presentation.

mussels with white wine sauce

Coupled with crusty bread for sauce sopping, I’d say this was a pretty successful first attempt at making mussels in the comfort of my own kitchen. We didn’t actually finish all 5 lbs, by the way. Not that you can tell from the carnage below.

shells

But now Avi has an enviable lunch of leftovers to take to school, and I have conquered one aspect of a previously intimidating cooking category.

What should be next?

#lobsterbake2011

Last weekend was the annual lobster bake at the mountain house, a tradition started years ago by a group of work friends, which we were not, that grew to include families of those friends, which we are, and for which we are now tremendously grateful to be a part of.

The weather was practically perfect, unlike past years when the event was held later in the fall – yielding gorgeous photos of snow dusted foliage,

almost the same view of the woods from yesterday, with snow

but shivering lobster eaters huddled inside. (That photo is from #lobsterbake2009)

Avi is a big lobster fan, and much like we’ve had to start getting him his own mussels at restaurants (or be very careful with the rationing lest he eat our entire order), he had his own lobster this year.

He did a pretty solid number on the thing, gamely cracking and twisting to get to the meat and asking for help with the really tricky parts.

He almost gave away his entire tail, deeming the meat “too tough”, but we realized he had some thicker bits from the edge of the body in his mouth and convinced him to give the lusciously sweet tail a second try. Remind me again why we did that?

One of the best things about the lobster bake is the rest of the non-lobster food, a delicious smorgasbord of homemade delights and awesome store-bought crap food (Doritos!) that I don’t normally get to eat. In case I didn’t make it abundantly clear, lobster bakes are solidly in the cheat day category, i.e. 100% NOT x diet friendly!

But x diet influenced our day regardless, as I discovered that it’s difficult to go from one extreme to another, though maybe not how you’re thinking. I made chocolate chip cookies to add to the supplemental food extravaganza. Unfortunately, the thing about baking for real after baking like this is that you may not have all the ingredients in the house that ordinarily you’d take for granted. Like, uh, flour. And sugar. Oops.

My adaptation was a roaring success, however. Enough that I promised the recipe (!) to not one but three different people. Here goes nothing.

(Sort of) Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups coconut flour
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup coconut oil
2 cups dark brown sugar (I may have had to stop midway through mixing to acquire this.)
1 cup sugar (This one, too.)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbs vanilla extract
4 large (good) eggs
1 bar of decent semisweet baking chocolate
oil, spray or butter for coating the glassware

Right off the bat I should note that this makes a lot of cookies. A LOT. But they are done blondie style, so you can control the size of your cuts. They also freeze beautifully.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. I was able to do all three of my dishes of cookies together (more on that in a bit), but you may have to stagger your baking depending on your oven.

Mix dry ingredients (not sugars) really well  in one bowl and set aside. Melt butter then coconut oil into the butter (it helps them combine) and set aside to cool. Stir in brown sugar, sugar, vanilla to the  butter/oil combo. While it continues to cool (seriously, you don’t want your eggs to get funky, do you?) chip apart the chocolate bar. Add the eggs to the wet ingredients, then the dry to the wet. It’s going to be crumblier than your typical cookie dough, but that’s why we do them as blondies. Stir in the chocolate shavings/chips/whatever you managed to do with the bar.

For baking, I used 2 9 inch Pyrex pie plates and 2 small 5×5 glass dishes from Ikea. I baked one of the Ikea dishes at home, then chilled the rest of the dough and took it up to the mountains for the lobster bake. I could have easily fit all four dishes on two racks in my oven, though. There seemed to be no major baking-uniformity issue, either.

Spray or coat the glass dishes with whatever stick-free method you prefer. Press the dough in until the bottom is completely covered – I think most of my cookies were about 1 inch thick.

The coconut taste is so subtle that several coconut-haters were fooled. And the fine texture of the dough due to the coconut flour goes nicely with the irregular chocolate chunky slivers. Seriously, it does!

I recommend East End Fat Gary as the perfect accompaniment to these cookies, but then again, I recommend Fat Gary to go along with pretty much anything. I do not, however, recommend anyone try this at home:

Or else you will be mocked. And subject to inside jokes on The Internet.

What I Love vs. What I Eat, vol. 6.1: MOAR BISCUITS

Wheeee! I made more biscuits! And I totally confirmed my suspicion that the coconut flour (and prevalent coconut flavor) can be pushed in one direction (sweet and delicious!) or another (coconut, what?!) depending on the additional ingredient combinations.

Here’s your starting point.

For savory biscuits, I swapped out the coconut oil for unsalted butter, removed the stevia and doubled the kosher salt. I added a CSA jalapeno pepper (very finely chopped) and some fresh CSA parsley, and baked for 17 minutes.

I also got 13 biscuits out of the batter, and they’re only 45 calories a piece. “Coconut, what?!”, indeed.

Nutritional information for one biscuit, approximate: 45 calories, 4.1 grams fat, 9.4 mg cholesterol, 1.9 grams carbohydrates, 1.3 grams fiber, .2 grams sugar. .5 grams protein.

For sweeter, coconuttier biscuits, I added finely shredded unsweetened coconut to the batter (made with coconut oil) and tiny bit of vanilla. I also topped the biscuits with larger pieces of unsweetened shredded coconut.

Next time I’ll probably use vanilla flavored liquid stevia for the whole batch so I can calculate the nutritional information and ingredient amounts. This was part of a larger experiment (you’re not seeing the complete failure of forgetting to sweeten unsweetened cocoa before mixing it in….right) so I can’t quite do the math with this tiny batch of four. It was just enough to whet my appetite to make some more this evening.

MOAR BISCUITS.

What I Love vs. What I Eat, vol. 6: Egg Salad & Biscuits. (No, really.)

(For more on this once-and-future series, see this post. Or find all the harebrained episodes via tag in the sidebar.)

Alternate title: What I’m Eating For Lunch Today (with homemade gazpacho) That Is Rocking My World.

There’s no need for exposition, the food speaks for itself.

We’ll start with the eggs. Plenty of people have done healthier, non-mayo-based egg salad. Most involve mustard and yogurt, but since I’m avoiding dairy the yogurt is a no go. Straight mustard doesn’t lend itself to creaminess very well, and the dijon mustards all have added ingredients I’d rather not use. I decided to go the mustard route but made two changes to get the consistency and creaminess that egg salad should have. I picked a “creamier” root vegetable, and I added an unconventional liquid.

I may have eaten this yesterday for lunch, too, with heirloom tomatoes and brocolli sprouts.

Very simple. Hard boiled eggs, celery, leeks (the creamier root), cilantro (favorite herb, though your mileage may vary), yellow mustard, kosher salt, pepper and…unsweetened almond milk. Weird, I know. But it worked. I made it for a baby shower and even non-x diet eaters thought it was great. I hard boil eggs almost weekly, and this could very easily be whipped up in single serving portions without the vegetables – though I highly recommend them for the texture. Heck, this may even become part of my weekly lunch repertoire.

But alas, with no grains (they’re an x) it is difficult to eat an egg salad sandwich.

I’ve been baking with raw almond flour, garbanzo bean flour and coconut flour. All have their uses, thought nothing really caught my eye as a suitable staple alternative until I came across this recipe on a gluten free site. I made it as written, with coconut oil not butter, and used this chart to convert to stevia powder. I also made my biscuit drops a little smaller, getting 11 to the batch. Ideally next time I’ll get 12. I prefer even numbers.

Guys, they’re so fluffy! It’s amazing. They taste like bready biscuits!

I think the batter itself will be a wonderful base for further experimentation. It’s very subtly sweet, almost like corn bread, which made me think immediately of adding chili powder or jalapeno peppers. I want to punch up the coconut in a future version as well, maybe with coconut extract and flakes. What a find. High five to Andrea Bijou for the recipe.

Soooooo back to my lunch.

Non-dairy egg salad + gluten free/sugar free biscuit =

daaaaamn close to an egg salad sandwich! And with my chilled soup and ice tea, I can eat like the weather is just warming up for summer instead of cooling down for fall.

As long as I don’t open a window or look outside.

But we were on a break!

Dammit, August. I was trying to simplify. Relax. Enjoy the moment. Stop recording life and try living it.

But then you had to go and be awesome, and I have no record of it for The Posterity.

There was great cooking (despite the so-called x diet), family vacations, beautiful beer money (what?!) and of course, Batman. All in a day’s work.

So here’s August:

I’ve been baking, sans gluten or grains of any sort. Raw almond flour is my new favorite ingredient, followed closely by raw, unsweetened coconut. These are delightful, x-friendly and even passed muster with non-x friends at a dinner party.

I also turned these

into these

with the same raw almond flour. Fried green tomatoes a la x. Or something.

Meanwhile, these came

signifying our official “membership” in the Good Beer Investor Program at East End Brewing Company. We were number 21, if I recall correctly. A good omen? Really looking forward to drinking and spreading the Good Beer Cheer (Scott, that should totally be a thing) with these (dare I say?) beautiful beer monies.

Midway through August was vacation time, but before we left for the  beach we had to deal with the snow in Pittsburgh.

As Batman filmed downtown, we were treated to all sorts of vehicle and star-sightings as well as a lovely dusting of prop snow for several days. I missed most of it because I was on campus, but caught a bit at the end. Crazy weather juxtapositioning, since approximately twelve hours after I took that picture, I got to see this

We had a wonderful time at Bethany Beach again this year, due to the fabulous generosity and awesomeness of family. The weather was mostly perfect

and even when it wasn’t, it was beautiful. Exactly what we all needed before the start of the school year(s), since I indeed came right back to this

and this

(Can somebody *please* explain to me the significance of the panda??)

Avi’s hockey practices with his first official team started this month, also. He is very excited.

No really, he is. And we are, too. SHAHA is amazing.  More than worth the lengthy drive to the South Hills several times a week. Also: my hair is so long. Wow. Also also: I was not driving when this picture was taken. But! I can’t wait to see how quickly Avi continues to develop with this sport his whole family loves. His skating skills are really impressive and we can actually see him putting it all together on the ice. So much love!

Yeah, so that was August. I also took my absolute favorite picture of Avi ever (so far) during this month, so even though I’ve shared it with The Entire Internet already, I would be remiss if I didn’t share it again here. He’s so freakin cute, it slays me.

Told ya so.

Bring on September!

What I Love vs. What I Eat, Vol. 5: “Toastless” French Toast

(For more on this once-and-future series, see this post. Or find all the harebrained episodes via tag in the sidebar.)

It’s a new dawn of eating and food preparation in our household. Cynically I call it the x diet, where x is anything I want but can’t have. Dairy free, gluten free, sugar free. There are other x’s but those are the big ones. Tons of fresh vegetables, many courtesy of our CSA, and lean protein. We feel great, and I can’t begin to express (without digressing more than I have already) how much easier and – dare I say it? – fun this is to do with your partner than attempting it on your own.

But of course I miss fancy desserts and sweet things in general, although honestly not that often. I sometimes crave them in the morning, and an egg white omelet loaded with spinach or kale and broccoli, tomatoes and white beans is pretty solidly in the savory camp. I found myself wanting the spiced, nutty, lightly sweet taste of good French toast – although never with syrup. Gross.

Now, how to capture that cinnamon-y, vanilla-y goodness without, um, the toast part?

Almond Egg White Rollups, or “Toastless” French Toast

1/2 cup liquid egg whites
1 large egg
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
8 drops clear liquid Stevia
1/2 teaspoonish vanilla extract
Cinnamon
2 tablespoons raw almond butter, unsweetened & creamy

Whip the egg with the egg whites and almond milk. Add Stevia, vanilla and cinnamon. Heat an egg pan over low-medium heat (on our stovetop, that’s about 4). Pour a thin, crepe-like layer of egg mixture into the pan. This recipe makes 2, so be mindful of how much you pour.

Be patient. Seriously. You want it to be almost done before you flip it, with no little egg droolies leaking out the sides. And when the time comes to flip, sometimes you do a great job, and sometimes you don’t.

You can usually rescue it when you slide the whole thing onto a plate. Place about a tablespoon of raw almond butter on one side of the egg, or smooth a thin layer across the whole thing. Gently roll it up.

I eat it plain, others prefer a garnish.

It’s just sweet enough to take the edge off, and the vanilla, cinnamon and almond are welcome flavors that I miss in a world of vegetables and lean proteins. The fat content might make you balk, but it’s healthy fats from the almonds so don’t be afraid of that number.

Gluten free, dairy free, sugar free. x diet, bring it on.

Nutritional info for 1 rollup (recipe makes 2): 178 calories, 11.1 grams fat, 46.5mg cholesterol, 3.3 grams carbs, 2.3 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, 13.3 grams protein.

(It’s especially nice paired with a light kale and bean salad. For breakfast. I know, right?!”