A Few Gift Ideas

labels

1. Something homemade: Toasted Muesli

Since discovering toasted muesli this past summer, I can’t get enough of it — seriously, we make double batches of it twice a week. Its virtues are countless — healthy, whole grain, full of fiber, gluten free, easy to make, delicious, delicious, delicious — and I can’t introduce enough people to it.

If you are interested in printing these labels at home, these are the two sets of Avery stickers I ordered:

Circular: Avery, 2.5″ diameter, White
Rectangular: Avery, 3″x3.75″, Ivory

Here are the label files to download:

off white
blue
blue & off white
rectangular

Two other foods I love giving as gifts this time of year are rosemary shortbread and orange and ricotta pound cake. This pinboard has more ideas, too.

filling the jars
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Thyme Dinner Rolls

basket of thyme dinner rolls

I know that some of you might be thinking there is no possible way you have time to add one more item, let alone homemade dinner rolls, to your Thanksgiving Day timetable, but I’m here on this snowy November morning to encourage — to insist! — that you do. You absolutely have time. Here’s why:

1. This dough, especially if you use instant yeast, takes five minutes to mix together. There is no kneading, no pampering.

2. Moreover, there is no need to flour up a workspace or to get your hands dirty shaping individual rolls. If you have a 12-cup muffin pan and someone lurking in your kitchen hoping to help, you’re in luck. Put that friend to work buttering the muffin cups, punching down the dough, portioning out the rolls. Handling this dough requires no skill.

3. This dough can rise in the corner of your kitchen all morning long. While that turkey roasts away, you can punch the dough down as often as you need, and when at last you find the oven free of birds and stuffings and gratins, in will go your rolls.

4. These rolls bake in 25 minutes. If you plan on letting your turkey rest for a good 30 minutes before carving, you’ll have plenty of time to let these rolls make their second rise (17 to 20 minutes) and to bake them before your guests are seated around the table, at which point you will pass around a basket of steaming hot, thyme-flecked rolls.

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Applesauce – Yogurt Cake | Homemade Applesauce

slice of applesauce - yogurt cake

I don’t know how anyone could find fault in something as delectable as Teddie’s apple cake, as fun as the big apple pancake, or as glorious as the Balzano apple cake, but I happen to live with a few such people. And I know I shouldn’t take offense to a three-year old’s aversion to “texture” of any kind, but when I see a piece of cake picked to pieces, apples and crumbs scattered across the plate, my blood pressure rises.

In an effort to please these little beings — seriously, there’s nothing like a toddler’s behavior at the dinner table to shatter my confidence in the kitchen — I called my old neighbor, Geri, from Virginia, to get her recipe for applesauce-yogurt cake, something she always seemed to have on hand this time of year, a cake my children (and I) couldn’t get enough of when we found ourselves across the street at her house.

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White Bean, Escarole & Sausage Soup

white bean, escarole & sausage soup

There is a not-so-little known deli in my town called Gershon’s, and the first time Ben and I stopped in, we found ourselves in the to-go line staring up at the overwhelming menu board during the midday rush, the trail of hungry regulars growing behind us with every passing second, the decision of what to order becoming harder with every beep-beep-beep of the opening front door.

Fortunately, the man standing behind us offered us guidance, telling us to order the #1, a corned beef and pastrami sandwich, the one he orders every week, the one he has ordered every week since discovering Gershon’s 21 years ago. It seemed like a safe bet.

Served on rye bread, this sandwich, buckling with meat, dripping with Russian dressing, spilling with slaw, couldn’t have been more delicious. And as we chomped on our pickles and picked at our chips, we wondered if we too might fall into the #1-for-life routine. But fortunately, something happened — the weather turned — and when we found ourselves at Gershon’s again, this time to dine-in on a Saturday afternoon, we decided to warm up with a cup of the daily soup, white bean with escarole and sausage.

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Beatty’s Chocolate Cake Plus Two Fair Trade Giveaways: Lake Champlain Chocolates Hot Cocoa; Bag of Fair Trade Goodies

Beatty's Chocolate Cake

Earlier this month, upon realizing that I had officially become my mother, not only in my preferences, but also in how I impose my preferences on others — dark meat chicken, cakes without frosting — I decided it might be wise to branch out a bit, to bake a cake with not one but two layers and to guild it not with a delicate dusting of powdered sugar but with a slathering of silky frosting.

It was a healthy exercise. You see, I didn’t know that frosting — chocolate buttercream in this case — has the ability to silence a table surrounded by both toddlers and adults and afterwards to elicit unprompted comments such as: “You are such a good cooker.” This cake, made with buttermilk and oil — no butter — and exclusively cocoa — no melted chocolate — is incredibly light and moist and stays this way — tasting freshly baked — for days. It’s another Ina Garten recipe, one she begged for from a friend, the grandson of Beatty, after taking one bite.

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Basic Apple Pie

ready for the oven

When my friend Anne announced she was getting married in my neck of the woods and asked if I might be interested in making some apple pies in place of a wedding cake, I immediately called my aunt Marcy to consult. I hadn’t made a pie in a long time — years! — and I not only needed a refresher on the basics — how many apples? what spices? tapioca or flour? how much sugar? — I also needed help with the logistics: would I realistically be able to make, bake and store enough pies to feed an entire (albeit small) wedding? Could I face this challenge with grace and dignity?

The conclusion we came to pretty quickly was no. Absolutely not. In my wise old age I have learned that sometimes it just makes sense to accept my limitations. Deep thoughts by Ali.

After explaining to Anne that for the wellbeing of everyone in my house I would have to decline, we came up with a saner solution: I would make two ceremonial pies for the pie-cutting ritual. Two pies I could handle. Nobody in my house would be harmed.

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Millet Muffins

millet muffin

Every time I visit Philadelphia, I have high hopes of hitting up all of my favorite spots: La Colombe for a cappucino, Cafe Lutecia for a croissant, Ding Ho for fresh rice noodles, Reading Terminal Market for a soft pretzel, Fork for brioche French toast and Metropolitan Bakery for a millet muffin.

But on a recent overnight visit I had time for neither a coffee nor a croissant, and I returned home craving all of my favorite carbs but most of all a brown-sugar, millet-studded muffin.

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Goodbye Marine Corps; Moving to New York // Also, Olive Oil Toast

olive oil toast

So, the funny thing about blogging for what now feels like a long time is that I feel I have to tell you everything. I can’t just say, “Hey, I’ve moved to Schenectady! And I have a kitchen with a teensy strip of pegboard and cabinets with awesome blue knobs. And in my corner cupboard I have a lazy Susan on top of which sits ANOTHER lazy Susan. And I have a pear and an apple tree bearing fruit in my backyard. And I have a landlord that advises me to get a cat because the mice and squirrels sometimes take over the house. I love her.”

I can’t just mention these things without offering any explanation. If you don’t want to listen, just scroll down to the olive oil toast. It’s a particularly handy thing to know how to make if, say, you’ve misplaced your toaster or are considering downsizing. It’s also about my favorite thing to eat these days.

OK, so, when I was a freshman in college, there was a boy, Ewan, who lived on the first floor of my entryway. Several times a week when I passed his room, I would spot him on the floor of his room in his dark green sweats and t-shirt doing push-ups and sit-ups. The scene always struck me as odd but I never gave it much thought. “Ewan’s intense,” I would think, as I, without a worry in the world, would skip up my steps heading to my room, hoping perhaps to find my roommates and maybe convince them it was time to go get some fro-yo.

It pains me to admit how clueless I was in the fall of 1999. The dark green getup should have been a giveaway. I would later learn that Ewan was in training to be a Marine Corps Officer, and even later learn that shortly after college Ewan would lead a platoon of Marines to Iraq.

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Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal

baked steel cut oatmeal with almonds

Yesterday, while three movers packed away our lives into boxes, I snuck one last dish into the oven, a mixture of steel cut oats, cinnamon, maple syrup, and coarsely chopped almonds, a dish I have been addicted to in some form or another since March.

For months, I made this baked oatmeal using rolled oats and, as suggested, always mixed up the dry ingredients the night before baking, which allowed for easy preparations in the morning. But about a month ago I discovered that when steel cut oats replace the rolled oats, the morning effort disappears altogether: the entire dish — egg, milk, melted butter, baking powder and all — can be assembled the night before baking. 

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