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



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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



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out of sync

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

Recipe: strawberry vanilla shortbread cookies

I know most of you already have your sights set on the December holidays, so please forgive me for rehashing last week’s Thanksgiving festivities. It was my intention to share this with you then, but a family emergency came up. It’s a good thing I didn’t plan a fancy meal. Well, that’s not entirely true. I planned a special plate for Neva, as always, and for Yuki, because it was her first Thanksgiving! And then it snowed and we enjoyed skiing and playing in the powder.


a plate for each pup

yuki had no idea what was going on

enjoying a proper start to the ski season

yuki chasing neva in the snow

a dazzling sunset



I posted the video of the pups eating their plates on Instagram and there is also a blooper cut. And thankfully the emergency turned out all right. Huge yay!

If you were hanging out in our house of late, you’d think it was spring because we have been engaging in what can only be classified as a giant Spring Cleaning in Autumn. It’s the stuff of nightmares for Jeremy because I say something as innocent as “let’s replace the sofas”. First we assess if we really do need to replace them. Yes, they’re 38 years old and ergonomically terrible for our backs when we sit on them. Then we calculate finances, find a good sale, determine the best model for our needs. Then the avalanche begins. Where are we putting the old sofas? And before you know it, we are moving half the furniture around in the house which makes me reorganize all of our books, gear, and storage and then I’m declaring that we need to donate or recycle a lot of old stuff that we haven’t needed nor unearthed in the last decade. Jeremy will be moving a bookcase and pause as I stare at the pantry. “None of that needs to be moved to make space for the couches,” he’ll mention in passing as Yuki happily shadows his every move.

But spring cleaning isn’t the only out of season activity I’ve been pursuing. Each fall I start getting nervous about the cookies I distribute in December and I feel compelled to add a new recipe to the rotating assortment. I tested a new one this fall. It’s definitely more of a spring or summer cookie, but I think people will like it no matter the season and I want to share the loveliness with everyone now.

What makes it a spring/summer cookie is the inclusion of strawberries. I had a lot of trouble finding chewy dried strawberries that weren’t loaded with sugar and opted to dehydrate my own. That meant I was the lady in all of the grocery stores examining every box of strawberries for the ripest ones I could find in October. There weren’t many, but there were some decent berries. If you are already worried about drying your own strawberries, never fear. I tested these with freeze-dried strawberries (which are pretty much everywhere) and they work. Some of my taste testers even preferred the freeze-dried to the dried strawberries. But I prefer the slight chew of the homemade dried strawberries. So I’ll show you how I dried my strawberries in my food dehydrator and then I’ll get to the cookies.


water, lemons, strawberries



I started with 4 pounds of ripe-ish strawberries which yielded about 3 cups of dried strawberries. The water and lemon juice mixture helps to prevent browning. If you are drying strawberries for snacks, you can cut the berries into 1/4-inch thick slices, but I wanted them chunky for the cookies, so I halved them. This increases the drying time and results in a little chewiness. How dry you want the slices is up to you. If you do leave them slightly soft, then use or consume them right away or store them longer term in the freezer.

hull the berries

combine the lemon and water

halve the strawberries

soak in the lemon-water for 5 minutes



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