mendiants porcini salt strawberry vanilla shortbread cookies roasted kabocha squash


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back on track

Monday, December 10th, 2018

Recipe: mendiants

At the start of the summer I had grand plans to resume long trail runs, big hikes, and backpacking with Neva while exploring new wildernesses. Then we got a puppy. And while Yuki is an exceptional dog, puppy training can derail some (or all) of those big summertime adventures. The incessant smoke from western wildfires didn’t help either. As September neared, my oncologist said I could stop my tamoxifen (estrogen modulator), which I had been taking daily for a decade to prevent a recurrence of breast cancer. That was great news! Except I think it left me feeling tired. In the last month, I’ve finally begun to pull myself out of this funk that slowly crept in and took over my life. Part of that process involved long overdue household upgrades, massive cleaning, and also important life updates – like who will take Yuki and Neva if we both die? Folks, make sure you have a will and make sure it is up to date! Another part was putting my physical and mental health ahead of things like social engagements, social media, other people’s drama, or this blog. The older I get, the more I value my time and what I do with it.


quality time outside with a good friend and good pups



Before we get to the super fast, super easy, super awesome recipe, I need to share Maggie’s story in the hopes that someone out there will see her and realize that their life will be incomplete without this sweet girl. Maggie was surrendered this summer to RezDawg Rescue (the wonderful organization that rescued our beloved Yuki). She was terribly malnourished and neglected. Under the care of her foster family, she has returned to a healthy weight and her beautiful coat is growing back. Despite what she’s been through, she has a lot of love to give. Maggie is a smart and gentle 5-6 year old yellow lab mix who is looking for her forever family and is available for adoption now. Believe me, if we could handle a third dog, she would be my girl. If you or someone you know is interested in providing Maggie with the loving and caring home she deserves, you can apply to adopt at this link: https://www.petstablished.com/pets/public/6615. She is currently being fostered in Longmont, Colorado. You don’t have to live in Colorado to adopt Maggie!

maggie is on santa’s nice list



This year’s cookie list is shorter than last year’s list for the sake of my sanity. One of the simplest and most popular sweets I distributed last year were mendiants, which I learned to make 11 years ago in my advanced pastry skills program. Traditionally, these one- or two-bite French confections are disks of dark chocolate studded with dried fruits and nuts. They are crazy easy to make if you merely melt the chocolate without bothering to temper, but tempering the chocolate gives the final product a shiny finish, that distinctive snap, and a longer shelf life. I had a lot of fun thinking up flavor, texture, and visual combinations.

dark chocolate, candied kumquats, hazelnuts, dried apricots, chopped raw pistachios, toasted coconut flakes, pulverized freeze-dried raspberries, cocoa nibs, candied ginger, dried organic rose buds, flake sea salt, almonds, dried cranberries



If you opt to melt your chocolate, do it gently over a water bath or at half power in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring between each zap session. If you decide to temper the chocolate, you can see how I go about the seed method. You’re not limited to dark chocolate. Milk chocolate and white chocolate are a little finicky compared to dark chocolate due to the milk solids and cocoa butter content. They tend to burn more easily and temper at a lower temperature, so you’ll have to be more vigilant.

seeding the melted chocolate



**Jump for more butter**

salt of the earth

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

Recipe: porcini salt

We are still in the throes of our Spring in Autumn Cleaning fest, but I’ve gotten my OCD under control enough to mentally ignore the disastrous mess on the ground floor – to be dealt with as time permits. It’s a constant nagging in the back of my mind. An itch that demands scratching. Then you realize there are other more pressing issues like eating, sleeping, and taking the pups out for exercise.


yuki and neva confined to the bedroom while evil vacuum works downstairs

this is what cabin fever looks like



The snow wasn’t great, but at least there was snow! And the entire point of this ski tour was to get dialed in with Yuki, not to get our jollies on turns. We are teaching her to respect the classic Nordic skis before working up to the backcountry skis in steeper and deeper snow. Neva could always use more training, too. We stopped a lot for the first mile, adjusting harnesses and leashes and belts. While Yuki has a thicker and warmer coat than Neva, Neva has the metabolism of a blast furnace. Yuki’s paws got cold in 20°F snow such that we had to pull out the booties to keep her paws from freezing. Neva plowed her face through the snow drifts, lying with her naked belly (it’s bare, we can’t figure out why her hair is super bald along her ventral midline) directly on the snow whenever we stopped. Yuki didn’t struggle as we put the booties on her and she completely ignored them the whole trip!

By the way, folks on Instagram have asked where we get the dog booties. dogbooties.com out of Anchorage, Alaska sells inexpensive and super functional dog boots for $3/paw. I recommend buying spares and we always choose colors that are easiest to find in the snow. Neva tends to need them if the temperatures drop to single digits and the snow is deep. We did notice a little slippage as Yuki crossed a few sections of ice. I think an easy fix would be to buy some silicone gel and apply little dots to the booties. I’d put the dots all around the bootie because they don’t appear to remain in a preferred orientation.


figuring it all out

neva points in the direction she wants to go

this is why we get fluorescent orange booties (and spares)



For some reason, our holiday duties are on an accelerated schedule this year. I haven’t had the time to stop and figure out why. Instead, I’m determined to get it all done and hope I’m in one piece at the end. Which brings me to homemade gifts. EASY homemade gifts like a lovely jar of porcini salt. Maybe not so easy if you have to go and forage your own porcini mushrooms, dress them, and dry them. But SUPER easy if you buy the dried porcini. They are not inexpensive, however a little goes a long way. Fresh porcini have a delightful earthy, rich flavor. Once you dry porcini, the flavor becomes an intensely concentrated burst of heady umami. Pair that with salt, and you have MAGIC. I opt for Maldon sea salt or Murray River flake sea salt. Flake sea salt dissolves easily and has a big surface area to collect the porcini powder.

maldon sea salt and dried porcini



The easiest way to pulverize the dried porcini is in a coffee grinder or spice grinder. Except if you grind coffee in that coffee grinder, your porcini powder will have noticeable hints of coffee. I actually have a dedicated coffee grinder that I only use for spices and clean between uses. It’s best to weigh the porcini slices than measure them by volume because the pieces are large and flat and sometimes twisty. But the recipe is pretty forgiving. Nothing wrong with grabbing a handful of dried porcini and tossing them into the grinder. I try to grind the porcini slices into a very fine powder. A few flecks here and there are no big deal.

fill the grinder up to the lip of the metal cup

grind into a fine powder



**Jump for more butter**

in with the new

Sunday, November 18th, 2018

Recipe: roasted kabocha squash

The past few days have involved a lot of cleaning and precious little outside time, but we tell ourselves it is all worth it because we finally updated our refrigerator of 16 years and the crappy stove that came with the house (guessing 21 years old). I consider this a major accomplishment because we’ve had these upgrades on our list for about 10 years… we just hate shopping.


made a clear path for the delivery guys while yuki wonders what’s up

new refrigerator, new stove



The old refrigerator went into the basement to increase our cold storage capacity. The old stove was hauled away. Good riddance. But these things never go as smoothly as planned. We planed off 5 millimeters of cabinet siding to get the refrigerator to fit in its cubby and then replaced 20 feet of old copper water line which had been left unused for 13 years. And now that we have a slide-in range rather than a free-standing range, we need a backsplash. I’m going with stainless steel and it will be easily removable so I can scrub the hell out of it. It’s nice to have the kitchen back in place and working better than before! After all of that, we finally got out with the pups for some exercise and fresh air.

little yuki has a new harness because she outgrew her size small harness!



Thanksgiving is this week and I’ll have a lovely little story to share with you later, but for now I must tell you about kabocha squash. It sounds like kombucha, but it is kabocha, and it is my favorite squash. Kabocha is a Japanese winter squash, also called Japanese Pumpkin, and it has a beautiful sweetness. I love it stewed, in soup, tempura fried, and roasted. You can find it at Asian grocery stores with decent produce sections or at places like Whole Foods or farmers markets. Like many squashes, these are quite hard and a little scary to cut when raw, so do be careful as you would with any similar squash.

to roast: olive oil, salt, pepper, kabocha squash(es)



The skin on the kabocha squash is edible, which is great! Simply wash the squash before cutting. I like to remove the stem because it’s nearly impossible to cut through when splitting the kabocha in half. A careful shallow cut around the base of the stem with the tip of a paring knife (don’t twist, keep it flat) makes popping the stem off by hand a cinch. Once that’s done, carefully cut the kabocha squash in half and scoop out the guts. I then cut the halves in half to get four quarters and trim the hard corners off. From there, I like to slice my squash into 1-inch thick pieces.

scoop out the guts

cut into 1-inch thick slices



**Jump for more butter**