Simple Life: Writing, Tools and Peaches

My weekdays since the first of August have been completely absorbed by working on a new book, a narrative nonfiction story I have tried to write half a dozen times over the past six or so years, and for which I have never successfully found the voice or narrative arc. I finally gave up and let the story grow in my subconscious until it found its own voice and thread, and demanded my attention; it’s been running hot ever since.

In fact, the narrative is coming along so fast that I can barely keep up with it. Since August first, I have written 36k words or 150 double-spaced pages, an astonishing amount in five weeks, for me or anyone else.

Mind you, this is a rough draft, meaning it’s not something I would want anyone else to read. Usually, I am a plodding writer, writing a few pages a day, laying down the narrative carefully, attentive to individual words and sentences, to rhythm and repetition and nuance and structure.

But with this narrative, I am just listening to the story in my head, sometimes getting up to pace and speak it out as a voice memo on my phone, then sitting back down at the keyboard to chase the words as they tumble out. This story has me by the throat; it wants me to listen and transcribe. Editing can come later.

By the time the weekend rolls around, I am worn out, mentally and emotionally exhausted. So I turn to tools–of course!–and using my creativity in other ways.

My “tool girl” project for the past five weekends has been refinishing the very weathered wood sash and trim on the five of the casement windows in my condo.

A casement window partly open. The gray patches on the wall outside are from stucco repair, which I am happy to not have to do!

(If you’re not familiar with the terminology, “sash” is the wood that frames the actual window pane, “trim” is the wood framing the opening in the wall. Casements open with a crank handle, swinging out horizontally, not up and down like awning windows.)

These are high-quality windows, with powder-coated steel exteriors and painted wood interiors, but the previous owner apparently was apparently in the habit of leaving the windows open all summer long, rain or shine, and the painted wood interiors as well as the sills took a beating.

I started with the casement window in my bedroom, which with its sill was badly water-damaged.

Midway through scraping the weathered paint down to the wood and removing damaged caulk from around the window and the sill.

After about four hours of scraping off loose paint, cutting out damaged caulk, sanding to smooth the surfaces, carefully re-caulking, and then applying two coats of paint, the window looked new again. And best of all, the wood is now protected for another couple of decades if it’s treated well.

Detail of refinished window and sill–it looks new again!

That project was so successful that I tackled the other casement windows in the condo, one or two per weekend. And then I refinished the interior wood sash and trim on the eight-foot-tall sliding glass doors that lead out onto both decks. And re-caulked the sills of the four 5-foot-by-5-foot picture windows throughout the condo.

About the time my inner tool girl needed a break, a friend gave me a box of beautiful western Colorado peaches. I love peaches, but I knew I would never be able to eat all of these before they rotted. So I blanched them, peeled off the fuzzy skin, and then sliced and froze them for winter, when they will be a treat.

If you’ve never frozen ripe peaches, it’s ridiculously easy: Start by checking for any bruises or dings and set those peaches aside for fresh eating.

Then fill a stock pot with water and bring it to a gentle boil. Drop the peaches in one by one (I use a large strainer to handle them) and let them simmer for one to two minutes but no longer. You don’t want to cook them, just loosen the skin.

Peaches in gently boiling water

Take the peaches out and place on a cutting board to cool to the touch. Then, using your fingers, slip the skin off–it should peel easily.

Slip the skin off once the peaches are cool enough to touch.

Then slice the peaches and put them into a bowl. Squeeze a lemon over the slices to keep them from browning and sprinkle with a small amount of sugar to bring out their juice. Stir and pack into a freezer container or a freezer bag (I use resealable gallon-sized bags).

Fruits of summer sunshine in the freezer for winter!

I also freeze some peach halves for easy winter desserts. Here’s my simplest version:

Turn a thawed peach half cut side up, put a small dab of butter in the hole where the pit was, add a heaping teaspoon of brown sugar atop the butter and sprinkle cinnamon over the cut half of the peach. Put the half (halves, because you’ll want more than one!) on a baking sheet and slide under the broiler.

Broil until the sugar has melted into the butter and the tops of the peaches are beginning to brown. Remove, plate, and serve with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. And enjoy!

That’s my life right now–write all day on weekdays, work on the condo and put up fruit for winter. It’s a simple existence, and I’m happy with it. What makes you happy these days?

What’s Cooking: Easy Pesto Pizzas for One or More

Once I got used to the idea of not having internet and electricity, the thing I missed the most during my blissfully off-the-grid time working in Yellowstone National Park last month may seem strange: cooking.

When I’m camped out in Red, my trusty Toyota Tacoma pickup, I keep meal-prep simple (and make my home-on-wheels less attractive to bears and other wildlife) by only cooking breakfast. And that’s just gluten-free instant oatmeal with organic dried fruit. I perch on Red’s tailgate with my JetBoil stove, which lives up to its name by boiling a cup of water practically faster than I can empty the packet of oatmeal into my mug and add the dried fruit. 

Sitting on Red’s tailgate in the chill pre-dawn air, eating my oatmeal (enriched with a dollop of half-and-half from the Mammoth store) and watching the sun rise over Mount Everts across the valley, listening to the bluebirds and buntings sing and the mama elk squeal at their young was about as wonderful a way to start the day as you can imagine. 

Mt. Everts from the hill above the Mammoth Campground in the evening (look closely and you can see Red between the trees).

For lunches and dinner, I ate deli salads and wraps from the Gardiner Market, bought whenever I went out of the park to town to get my wifi fix. Or if it was a shower day, I hiked up to the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, where I had some delicious meals, great wine, and interesting conversations with the servers, who come from all over the country and in fact the world to work there. 

But I missed being able to cook, especially using whatever was fresh in my kitchen garden.

When I got home, one of the first things I did was check my garden, tended by my friends (thank you, Bev and Maggie!), to see what needed harvesting. I noticed that the basil had thrived in the hot weather while I was away, so I snipped enough of that to make a batch of pesto. (Recipe here.)

One of the best things about having fresh pesto around, from my point of view, is all the ways you can use it. Not just on pasta: Mix a dollop in scrambled eggs, or spread it on an omlette. It’s great broiled on crusty slices of bread, or as a sandwich spread. Bake or grill chicken breasts (or mild fish) spread with pesto and wrapped with foil, and you’ll be hooked. 

My favorite way of using pesto on hot summer nights though is to make easy pesto “pizzas” using tortillas or pita bread as the crust. Here’s the recipe:

Individual Pesto “Pizzas”

1 corn or flour tortilla, or one round pita bread

1 or 2 tsps of basil pesto (the amount depends on the size of the “crust”)

1 T sliced fresh leaves of spinach, radish, mustard, or other flavorful green (I use whatever needs harvesting from my garden)

1 slice mozzarella cheese, cut into strips

2 grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise (I use organic tomatoes)

2 half artichoke hearts, cut in half again (I use grilled baby artichoke hearts in jars)

Pre-heat broiler. Spread the pesto on the tortilla or pita bread, thinner on the tortilla (it’ll run off if you use too much), thicker on the pita bread since it’ll soak in. Cover with the sliced greens. Put the “pizza” on a cookie sheet and put in the broiler until the greens wilt and the pesto bubbles. Remove from broiler and layer on strips of cheese to mostly cover wilted greens. Top with tomato halves and artichoke hearts. Return to broiler (on cookie sheet) and broil until cheese bubbles, about two minutes. 

Slide onto a plate, let cool for a moment, and enjoy! (Warning: these are messy. But oh-so-good.)

For dessert, serve up some warmed fresh summer fruit topped with vanilla yogurt or ice cream. (I just finished eating warm Palisade peaches, which I sliced and froze last summer, topped with Noosa vanilla yogurt. Heaven!) 

I loved my time in Yellowstone. But it’s good to be home with my garden and my kitchen. 

Happy Summer!

What’s Cooking: Simple Herbed Chicken Breasts

My apologies for not writing a blog post at the regular time on Sunday evening. I simply wore myself out over the weekend doing what I think of as the usual stuff–a three-mile walk to check if spring was springing along the river, plus laundry and other household tasks, and readying the studio for a house guest. Somehow that all took more out of me than usual.

I think I'm still recovering from the nasty respiratory flu I picked up in early February. I was really sick for a week, then sort of sick for week two–I sounded like a frog and had a deep cough that frightened dogs and small children. By the third wee, I thought I was over it, but my energy has never really recovered. Or maybe I'm just getting old. 😉

(By the way, the answer to the question about whether spring is springing along the river is told in the buds of the native sand cherry in the photo above: close but not quite. It's been unusually windy and dry here during both February and March, and so far "spring" means wind and blowing dust.)

One thing I did do was cook, including figuring out a simple and delicious new recipe for baking chicken breasts. I'm always looking for prepare-ahead recipes, things I can cook on the weekend and use for several meals during the week, when I often don't have time or energy to do much cooking. I particularly like this way of preparing chicken breasts because it's easy and quick (half an hour total, including prep time), makes enough for half-a-dozen meals for one or a dinner with friends, and the herbs add a lovely flavor. 

Simple Herbed Chicken Breasts

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts (I use organic, free-range)
olive oil
Mediterranean herbs (I use a mix of dried oregano, basil, tarragon, garlic, and lemon peel)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse the chicken breasts, removing any remaining lose membrane, and pat them dry. Cut four or five squares of aluminum foil (depending on how many breasts there are) nine or so inches on each side. Pour about a tsp of olive oil into the middle of each square. Place two chicken breasts onto the square, spreading the olive oil around under each, and then pour about another tsp olive oil over them. Sprinkle each chicken breast with herbs. Pull the sides of the aluminum foil up and over the chicken breasts and fold the edges together to seal in juices during baking. 

Set the foil packets on a baking sheet with edges to catch any drips (a pizza pan with sides works too), and center the the sheet or pan on the middle rack in the oven. Bake for about seven minutes or until interiors of the breasts are no longer pink. Open packets and serve. Also good cold, chopped in salads, or used in sandwiches. After cooling, you can refrigerate uneaten ones in the foil packets; they’ll keep for a week.

For lunch, I often make a bowl of salad with whatever greens and fresh vegetables and fruits I have around. Today, I added one chopped chicken breast to my salad ingredients: a quarter of a ripe avocado, five small organic tomatoes, and some corn I shaved and froze last summer.

I heated the corn right in the bowl, added the rest of the chopped ingredients, plus a sprinkle of salt, a splash of orange-infused California olive oil that Molly brought me from San Francisco (thanks, sweetie!), and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Simple, fresh, pretty, and tasty–the perfect meal, from my point of view. 


What’s Cooking: Peach Sorbet & Almond Butter

I’m always ridiculously pleased when I invent a new recipe, especially one that’s relatively simple and turns out to be delicious. 

Here are two, one using summer’s ripe peaches, and the other using almonds to make a less-expensive alternative to one of my staple proteins: almond butter.  

The peaches from Colorado’s West Slope are ripe and abundant right now, and this year’s crop may be the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. Hence this recipe, a non-dairy, gluten-free sorbet using juicy, ripe peaches. 

Peaches Drink Wine Sorbet

(Adapted from a recipe in Sunset Magazine from 1998!)

4 cups ripe and chilled organic peaches, peeled, and cut into eighths

1 T lime juice

2 T lemon juice

2/3 cup white wine (anything you have left over is fine)

1-2 T brandy or port

about 3 T sugar

Rinse, slice and peel the peaches (ripe peaches peel easily, especially if they’re chilled). Put them in a food processor (if you’re using a blender, you’ll need to split them in 2 or 3 smaller batches) and mix in lime and lemon juice. Puree until smooth, then add white wine, brandy and sugar to taste. Process until blended. Pour puree into an ice cream maker (make sure it’ll handle a quart) and freeze until sorbet is firm enough to scoop. Makes a quart of summer-delicious sorbet! 

Leftover sorbet frozen in a re-used gelato jar… 

Note: I usually serve this directly from the ice cream maker. If you need to freeze it first, take it out before serving and thaw until soft enough to re-blend with a wooden spoon or sturdy spatula. Then serve immediately. Also, if you have leftover peach slices, sprinkle them with Fruit Fresh (a citric-acid-based natural preservative that keeps them from turning brown), and a little sugar, stir, and put them in freezer bags or containers. They’ll give you a sweet taste of summer sun come winter.


As a kid, I loved peanut butter, the chunkier the better. As an adult, I’ve migrated away from peanuts after a bad reaction to a bag of airline peanuts a few years back. 

Almond butter is my nut butter of choice these days, but not the kind in a jar with various additives. I’ve been getting it fresh-ground at Whole Foods. (No additives there, and if you’ve never had nut butter still warm from being ground, you’ve missed the real stuff!) 

But it’s expensive, and the closest Whole Foods is two hours away. So when I saw an article in the Denver Post about making your own nut butters, I was excited. Turns out it’s even simpler than the article makes it seem. (Especially if you have a food processor—mine’s a 35-year-old Cuisinart, and it still does a great job). 

Homemade Almond Butter

1-1/2 cups organic almonds

1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)

about 1 T organic light olive oil or nut oil

Roast the almonds in a 350-degree oven for five to seven minutes (shorter if you like a “lighter” flavor, longer if you like a more roasted flavor). Let the cool, and then place in a food processor. Add salt, and process until the nuts turn to flour and then begin to gather in a ball. Drizzle in olive oil while they’re processing. Continue to process until the butter is the desired consistency. In my machine, it takes more than five minutes to get to chunky and may take another five to get to full creamy butter. 

Almond butter at the chunky stage…

Note: You can use roasted peanuts, cashews and pecans instead of almonds. Each different nut will have a different roasting time.  


What’s Cooking: Custom Hot Chocolate Mix

cocoa heart Artistic hot chocolate

My morning writing ritual includes a cup of hot chocolate, something that you might consider decadent unless you know that caffeine, even in the tiny amounts contained in decaf coffee or tea makes me sick. To stay healthy, I avoid all of those caffeinated drinks  I used to love. Instead, I drink hot chocolate.

It turns out that my hot chocolate habit is healthier than you might think. As an article in Mother Nature Network reports, Cornell University researchers studying the anti-oxidant levels in chocolate found that hot cocoa is a great source of antioxidants.

Chocolate chip hearts Chocolate is heart-healthy; cocoa powder has even more benefits than the solid form

In fact, hot cocoa’s antioxidant concentration is twice as high as red wine, and two to three times stronger than green teas, as well as four to five times stronger than black tea. Since cocoa lacks the fat of a chocolate bar (even dark chocolate is high-fat), it’s a healthier way to eat the antioxidants.

And heating the cocoa releases more of those cancer-fighting, age-fighting, free-radical-neutralizing antioxidants, says Professor Chan Yong Lee, the lead author of the study.

Other health benefits: cocoa’s flavonoids help you process nitric oxide, thus improving blood flow (including blood flow to the brain, which helps prevent dementia), lowering your blood pressure, preventing clots, and improving heart health.

Don’t buy commercial hot chocolate mix though. It’s full of unhealthy corn syrup in various incarnations and saturated fats. And it’s expensive on a per-serving basis. Instead, make your own healthy (and cocoa-rich) mix in bulk. It’s ridiculously simple. (There are only two ingredients!)

Two ingredients: cocoa powder and sugar Two ingredients: cocoa powder and sugar

Health-Rich Hot Chocolate Mix

2 cups organic sugar
8-9 T organic cocoa powder (I use Savory Spice cocoa–it has a lovely flavor)

Mix the sugar with the cocoa powder until it is combined. (Add more cocoa if you like a richer mix, more sugar if you prefer sweeter hot chocolate.) Store in an air-tight jar or tin. Add two to three heaping teaspoons to a cup of hot milk. (Use skim or lowfat milk to keep the fat content from counteracting the health benefits.) Stir and enjoy!

As you sip your healthy hot chocolate, thank the Mayans, who invented chocolate drinks many millennia ago. (Cacao beans are native to South America. They’re one of the Americas’ great native crops, along with chiles, corn, beans and squash.)

GIFT IT: Put the mix in a pretty jar, add instructions for making hot chocolate on a hand-made card, and give it to someone you love for Valentine’s Day.

A little artistic expression of how I feel when I drink my heart-healthy hot chocolate.... Valentine’s Day and hot chocolate makes for happy hearts!

What’s Cooking: One Dish Winter Dinner Recipe

It’s Wednesday and DIY night on this blog, so here’s a recipe!

Weather Report: 22 degrees F, wind howling out of the southeast, no snow yet. Perfect weather for a simple, quick and healthy dinner featuring local winter vegetables and soft cheese. (You can add meat if you want, more on that later.)

Your one-bowl dinner ready to eat--ummm! Your one-bowl dinner ready to eat–yum!

Yams Nested in Kale With Corn and Cheese

1 yam (actually, it’s an orange sweet potato, but we won’t get technical!)
5 or 6 leaves kale (I happen to like Lacinato kale for its rich and smooth flavor)
1/3 cup frozen corn (I shave kernels from summer corn and freeze them)
1 oz or so farmer’s cheese (I use Rocking W cheese from western Colorado)
splash olive oil
fresh-ground pepper

This part takes some planning: Prick the yam with a fork and bake for an hour or so at 375 degrees. Basically, you bake it until it smells great and is soft when you touch it. (You can bake the yam the day before, or in the morning if you want.)

Lacinato or dinosaur kale, a heritage Italian variety Lacinato or dinosaur kale, a heritage Italian variety

While the yam is cooling enough so you can slice it, chop the kale roughly into bite-sized pieces.

Chopped kale piled in a bowl with corn on top Chopped kale piled in a bowl with corn on top

Drizzle a little olive oil into a microwave safe bowl (or into a saute´ pan on the stove), pile in the kale, add the frozen corn and microwave covered for two minutes. (Or sauté, also covered, on medium heat on the stove until kale is thoroughly wilted, for about 4 or 5 minutes.)

Yam, baked and chopped, cheese in chunks Yam, baked and chopped, cheese in chunks

While the kale and corn are cooking, slice the yam thickly, and cut the cheese into chunks. When the kale/corn is done, layer the chunks of cheese atop the corn, and then place the yam slices on top. Grate some pepper on top, return to the microwave for 30 seconds (covered) or put back on the stove for long enough for the cheese to melt.

Serve with crusty bread, and enjoy!

Locavore Rating: The yam and the pepper aren’t local at all, but the olive oil I use comes from California, which is more local (and more reliable) than that from Italy. The kale, corn and cheese are quite local (from Ploughboy Local Market).

Meat-Eaters: Add some sausage, preferably chicken or turkey with a lighter flavor that won’t overwhelm the vegetables. Simply brown the sausage while you’re chopping and cooking the kale and corn, and layer the sausage in atop the veggies, but below the cheese and yams.

What’s playing while I cook: Roseanne Cash’s new CD, The River & The Thread.

Jars of eggnog on the kitchen island, waiting to go to happy homes....

What’s Cooking? Sinful Solstice Eggnog Recipe

Jars of eggnog on the kitchen island, waiting to go to happy homes.... Jars of eggnog on the kitchen island, waiting to go to happy homes….

In Sunday’s post about Winter Solstice luminarias, I promised to share the recipe for my Sinful Solstice Eggnog. This homemade eggnog has been part of my holiday season traditions since before Richard, Molly and I moved to Salida seventeen years ago.

It started out (as so many traditions do) as just a small thing, a treat for visiting family at Christmas. Over the years though, as our Light the Darkness party moved to Solstice and expanded, so too did the batches of eggnog, until the year when I used four-and-a-half dozen eggs and over a gallon of heavy cream. That was insane.

Now I make this rich eggnog to give away, instead of as the centerpiece for one of the huge parties Richard took so much joy from hosting. I always toast him with a small glass, remembering how he loved the whole ritual of eggnog, luminarias, and gathering our community of friends to light the solstice darkness.

Susan’s Sinfully Delicious Holiday Eggnog Recipe
(Adapted from Joy of Cooking)

one dozen eggs (free-range eggs with their orange yolks make prettier eggnog)
1 pound powdered sugar
2 to 3 cups dark rum (substitute a fruity bourbon or whiskey if you prefer)
1 qt organic skim or lowfat milk
1 qt ditto half ‘n half
1.5 qts ditto heavy cream

Separate eggs, placing yolks in one bowl and whites in another. Cover whites and refrigerate. Beat yolks until creamy. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating slowly. Add two cups of liquor (reserving one, if using three), beating constantly.

Egg whites in one bowl, yolks in the mixer bowl, ready to become nog. Egg whites in one bowl, yolks in the mixer bowl, ready to become nog.

Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to eliminate the “eggy” taste. Then add the remaining cup of rum (beating constantly), along with the milk, half ‘n half, and the cream. Cover the nog and put it back in the refrigerator overnight (or for at least three hours) to mellow the liquor.

When the nog is mellowed, beat the whites until they form almost stiff peaks (the peaks barely droop). Fold the whites gently into the egg mix and sprinkle the whole with freshly grated nutmeg.

A double recipe of finished eggnog in Richard's largest bread-dough bowl A double recipe of finished eggnog in Richard’s largest bread-dough bowl

Serve in a punch bowl with a ladle and small glasses or cups—it’s very rich. (Serves 20-30 people.)

Enjoy with those you love!

My living room in the afternoon--imagine me on the couch with Medusa, the multi-headed lamp, turned on for light.

What’s Cooking: Stuffed Winter Squash and Change

My living room in the afternoon--imagine me on the couch with Medusa, the multi-headed lamp, turned on for light. My living room–imagine me on the couch after dark with Medusa, the multi-headed lamp, turned on for light.

It’s Wednesday evening, and I’m sitting on the couch in my cozy front room writing a blog post about cooking and change. I know, I usually post on Sunday night. What’s wrong? Nothing.

Just a little shift in my work life: As of next month, I’ll no longer be writing 3-4 blog posts a month for the Habitat Hero project, as Audubon Rockies takes the program under its wing, so to speak.

I’m going to use that spare creative energy to post twice weekly on this blog. Wednesday night will be a shorter post—a recipe, a book review, a “tool girl” project. The longer, more reflective piece will still come Sunday night.

Stuffed and baked Acorn squash Stuffed and baked Acorn squash

Hence tonight’s recipe: Sausage & Vegetable Stuffed Winter Squash

2 Acorn or 3 Delicata squash
1 pound chicken sausage links (I use Gosar Farms natural Mandarin Orange Spice Sausage from Ploughboy Local Market)
1 large bunch organic kale, coarsely chopped
3 organic carrots, chopped
1 large organic Jonagold or other crisp, juicy apple, chopped
2 T good whiskey or bourbon (I use Wood’s Tenderfoot Whiskey, brewed two blocks from my house)
2 tsp paprika
1 T olive oil
2 oz Asiago cheese, coarsely grated

Acorn halves after initial baking; one filled Acorn halves after initial baking; one filled

Halve squash and scoop out the seeds and strings (if you have friends with chickens, save them for the fowl—they love them!). Place each half split-side down in a baking pan with 1/4-inch of water. Bake in a 325 degree oven for an hour, until tender.

Meanwhile. cook sausage until casings brown; slice into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Pour olive oil into the pan with the sausage drippings, heat oil and then sauté kale with carrots until kale is thoroughly wilted. Add apple chunks plus paprika and whiskey, sauté for another few minutes and then add sausage back and mix thoroughly.

That stuffing (which is good just by itself, I might add) That stuffing (which is good just by itself, I might add)

When squash is baked, turn them right side up in the pans, add water if it has evaporated away and mound sausage filling in each squash half. Top with grated Asiago, and bake for another 15 minutes or until cheese begins to crust. Remove from oven and serve while still warm. (Serves four generously as a main dish.)

Vel bekomme! (“Enjoy your meal!” in Norwegian, the language of my last name.)

Deck railings dripping before dawn....

What’s Cooking: Savory Rosemary-Lavender Scones

Deck railings dripping before dawn.... Deck railings dripping before dawn….

I woke this morning in the darkness before dawn and, as I always do, I first checked the view of the constellations—Orion, my favorite, was barely visible, glittering through a veil of high cloud. Next I checked the outside temperature: 49 degrees F, very warm for dawn at this time of year.

I grabbed my laptop and returned to bed, piling pillows behind me so I could sit up and write in my journal. Half an hour later, I heard a sound I don’t usually hear as night is yielding to day: thunder. I looked out and saw showers sweeping down the mountainsides.

Soon, rain was splattering the windows. With no sun to warm the house, I decided it was the perfect time to revive a Sunday tradition from the years BBC (before Richard’s brain cancer), when I baked scones almost every Sunday morning.

Fire at the push of a button on a remote, a luxury after years of splitting and burning wood. Fire at the push of a button on a remote, a luxury after years of splitting and burning wood.

I could of course have simply turned on the charming and efficient gas fireplace tucked in the corner of my living-dining-kitchen “great” room as my supplemental heat source.

But if I’m going to pay for natural gas—and by “pay” I mean both shell out cash and also pay in terms of the effect of the CO2 added to the atmosphere when I burn it—I might as well use that gas to feed myself as well. Hence baking.

I don’t remember the last time I baked scones. I pretty much gave up baking when Richard entered hospice care three years ago. After he died, it was just me, and I was scrambling to finish the big house and build this small one.

I hunted through my recipe books and looked online for a savory scone recipe, and didn’t find one I really liked. I wanted something without much gluten, since lately I seem to be a little sensitive to it, and I had in mind using the herbs growing in pots on my deck, specifically the lavender, which is blooming again—crazy plants!—and the rosemary.

Food processor, ingredients, Mom's favorite green glass mixing bowl--I'm all set! Food processor, ingredients, Mom’s favorite green glass mixing bowl–I’m set!

I wasn’t entirely sure I’d still remember how to get just the right texture to the dough and bake them so they’re crisp outside and crumbly within. But once I got out my ingredients and began to measure and mix and chop and whisk, my hands remembered.

Chopping freshly harvested lavender buds and rosemary leaves—oh, the fragrance! Chopping freshly harvested lavender buds and rosemary leaves—oh, the fragrance!

And the results? I took some scones over to Ploughboy Local Market, and was gratified by the speed at which the scones were devoured, and the expressions of delight. But don’t take my word for it, make ’em yourself!

Susan’s Savory Rosemary-Lavender Scones

1-1/4 cups spelt flour (this recipe was developed for high-altitude; below 5,000 feet, use 1 cup spelt flour)
1/2 cup unbleached flour (could just use all spelt flour)
1/2 cup blue cornmeal
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 T finely chopped mixed rosemary leaves and lavender buds
5 T butter, cubed
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk or half-n-half soured with 1 tsp vinegar
3 T maple syrup

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix dry ingredients plus chopped lavender and rosemary. (I do this in a food processor.) Cut in butter until flour/butter mix is crumbly. (In a food processor, pulse slowly just until crumbly.) Beat egg in small bowl, add buttermilk/soured cream and maple syrup and beat until combined. Reserve about a T for a wash for scones. Pour the rest into food processor, pulse just until the mix begins to gather into a mass. Put about a T flour each onto two cookie sheets. Scoop out half of the scone dough and dredge in flour on cookie sheet until it doesn’t stick. Flatten the ball gently and if it’s still sticky, gently knead in enough flour to make it workable. Carefully pat out into a half-inch thick round. Brush with reserved egg/cream/syrup wash. Cut into 8 wedges, separating wedges so they don’t stick while baking. Bake 15 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Enjoy!

The finished scones cooling. The finished scones cooling.

Coda: Getting back to my Sunday-morning baking feels like coming home again. I miss Richard and I always will, but I like this simple life I’m building on my own.

Local ingredients--everything in the photo came from within a hundred miles, some from just a few blocks away.

What’s Cooking

After last week’s post, The Dangerous Power of Thin, I wanted to share two simple recipes. I may have a tangled relationship with eating, but that does not extend to food and cooking.

I love to cook. I revel in playing with the flavors, colors, and textures of fresh ingredients, in preparing food that’s healthy and delicious, and visually appealing.

Local ingredients--everything in the photo came from within a hundred miles, some from just a few blocks away. Everything in the photo came from within a hundred miles, some from just a few blocks away.

I prefer to create from local ingredients because not only are they more likely to be fresh, I know them. They come from my community, broadly speaking, from earth that’s familiar to me—healthy food from a healthy land.

First is my favorite simple dinner, something I started making when Molly was still in high school. Tuesday is her 35th birthday—Happy Birthday, Sweetie!—which tells you how long ago that was. (The quantities in these two recipes make a single serving, but both scale up well.)

Baby Swiss from Rocking W Cheese on Colorado's West Slope, thanks to Ploughboy Local Market Baby Swiss from Rocking W Cheese on Colorado’s West Slope, thanks to Ploughboy Local Market

Cheesy Eggs Poached on Greens and Salsa

1 tsp butter or olive oil
2 T salsa (any kind: hot or mild, tomato and chile, fruit and chile…)
1 1/2 cups fresh greens (again, any kind, even mixed salad greens), torn into bite-sized pieces
1 – 2 eggs
1 T cheese, chopped into small cubes
fresh-ground pepper

Put the butter or olive oil in a microwavable bowl with a lid. (If you prefer to cook on the stove, you’ll need a very small flat-bottomed pan with a lid.) Spread salsa in the bottom in a layer, and top with greens. (Don’t worry if the greens fill the container–they shrink with cooking.) Microwave the salsa and greens for a minute or so on high, until they are hot and wilted. (Or sauté covered for a very short time without stirring.)

A green-shelled egg that's so local I bring the chickens food scraps, thanks to Maggie and Tony A green-shelled egg laid by my friend Maggie’s flock just a few blocks away.

While the greens are cooking, beat the eggs in a small bowl, add the cheese and grind in pepper to taste. Pour the egg mix atop the hot, wilted greens (again, don’t stir), cover, and microwave or cook on high for a minute, or until the eggs are set and the cheese melted.

Cheesy Eggs Poached on Greens and Salsa Cheesy Eggs Poached on Greens and Salsa

Uncover and enjoy. Excellent with warm sourdough bread and a fruit salad. I ate this for dinner tonight—yum!

The second recipe is the hot breakfast cereal I invented for Richard’s anti-cancer diet, which helped keep him healthy through four brain surgeries, radiation, and two courses of chemo. The idea is to eat food high in fiber and anti-oxidants, and low in simple sugars and starches, a good strategy for all of us. (All ingredients are organic, many are local.)

Measuring dry ingredients into the bowl. Measuring dry ingredients.

Creamy Hot Cereal

1 1/2 heaping T whole rolled oats (the old-fashioned kind)
1/2 T blue cornmeal (adds a nutty flavor)
1/2 T oat bran
1/2 T flax meal (great for Omega 3s)
1 T walnuts, chopped
1/2 T dried sour cherries
1 T raisins
1/2 T dried cranberries (not the kind sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup!)
pinch salt
1/2 T ground cinnamon (sweetens the cereal and lowers blood pressure as well as controlling blood sugar)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/4 cup water

Mix ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Add water and let soak for at least an hour (overnight is fine). Cook on high (uncovered) for four minutes and then stir. Return to microwave and cook for another three minutes. Add milk or yogurt if desired. The cinnamon and ginger jazz up the flavor.

I buy the ingredients in bulk to save packaging and money. This cereal can be mixed up in quantity and stored in glass jars, but you’ll need to stir it before measuring it out because it settles. A serving for me is 2/3 cup of the mixture; others may eat more. (It’s very filling.)

Adding fresh-ground spices (these are from Savory Spice in Denver) makes the mix fragrant and flavorful. Adding fresh-ground spices (these are from Savory Spice in Denver) makes the mix fragrant and flavorful.


You may notice some changes to the design of this blog/website. My friend Mark Wiard has been helping me update it, including adding a handy Events Calendar. Feel free to explore and let me know what you think, but be aware some sections are still under construction….