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I’m sitting on the back patio wrapped in a flannel shirt.  Drinking a hot cup of coffee.  Eating a Cranberry, White Chocolate scone that just came out of the oven.  I could sit here all day.  I love the fall.  Have I said that before?  One of the exciting things about the fall is the realization that it’s time to turn on the oven and start baking again.  The heat of the summer forces you away from the oven;  the cooler temperatures of the fall pull you back.  In the past two weeks I’ve made a loaf of banana bread, a batch of zucchini muffins, a loaf of zucchini bread, and cranberry, white chocolate scones.  Not a bad start to the season, huh?  I anticipate the season to be filled with fruit tarts, sweet breads, pumpkin bread pudding, peach cobblers, apple crumb desserts, more zucchini breads, more banana breads, more scones (maple-walnut mmmm), and who knows what else my taste buds might force upon me.  I’m sure most of the baking will be done on Saturday mornings, because who could resist starting the weekend off with a thick slice of apple-walnut bread still warm from the oven?  Not me.  And not Lauren.

I often get asked where I get my love for being in the kitchen, cooking and baking, and I usually respond by saying, “I don’t really know, I just really like to eat.”  That’s about as truthful answer as I can offer.  I’m not sure where it came from, but I love the creativity that can be found in the kitchen.  I think that I find myself most creative when I’m thinking about Grilled Chicken with strawberries and a balsamic glaze or Blackberry and Rosemary scones or Ginger and Clove cookies.  I love to cook for other people and I love to share food with people.  I see food not as an obligation for life (although it is), rather and opportunity for community.  I want to share a bit of what that looked like last weekend for me, Lauren, and two of our dear friends.

Lauren is getting used to my coming up with “out of left field” ideas, and so I’m sure it was no real shock when I announced to her “I think I’m going to try to make cheese.”  I don’t fully remember her response, but I’m sure she rolled her eyes, shook her head, let out a slight grin and said “Of course you do.”  I started to wander around the web to find out some information about it and learned that Ricotta cheese is the easiest cheese to make because you can make it with two ingredients commonly found at the store: whole milk and buttermilk.  I didn’t really have a plan for when I would make the cheese, so for a few days the idea of becoming a cheese maker sat in the back of my mind.

Two weeks ago we made plans with Cuyler and Shannon for them to come up and stay at our place for the weekend.  Cuyler and Shannon are a hoot and I’m very glad to call them my friends.  They were a part of the house church I led and I even had the honor of preforming their wedding ceremony.    When we started making plans to get together I knew that the cheese making hour was near.  Suddenly plans in my head were coming together.  “We could make Ricotta cheese, and make ravioli to fill with the cheese, and make some pasta sauce from tomatoes and veggies from the garden, and we could saute a bunch of vegetables together for a side dish, and we could make bread, and…um…oh yeah, caramelized shallots.”  I knew that they would be up for a evening of “Slow Food,” and when I asked them if they like that idea, they were more excited than I anticipated.  I told Cuyler, “Shannon and I can make the cheese, and you and Lauren can sit around a make fun of us.”  He was up for that.

They came over on Saturday afternoon and after a short catching up session we were making a plan for the cooking.  The bread and the ravioli dough would need some time to rise.  The pasta sauce could sit cooking all day.  The cheese could be made then popped into the fridge until we needed it.  And the side dishes would take about 20 minutes each.  We started by making the pasta sauce and let it simmer on the stove for a few hours.  It was filled with tomatoes, peppers, onions, oregano and chives from the garden.  Then we started on the Rosemary and Sea Salt Focaccia bread.  Cuyler went to work kneading the dough for 10 minutes.  He was a real trooper.  Once that was ready to rise Shannon started the dough for the ravioli.  The ravioli dough needed rest for an hour, so while that was doing its things we moved on to the Main Event: Cheese making.  Lauren went to work on the cheese.  Bring a gallon of whole milk and 4 qts of buttermilk to 170 degrees while stirring, then ladle out the curd that has separated from the whey.  Put the curd in a cheese cloth to drain add a little salt, and it’s ready to go.  Homemade cheese in under 20 minutes!  Once the ravioli dough was ready we rolled it out into a big circle, filled one half with some ricotta and seasonings, folded the dough over and cut it into bite sized pieces.  For the veggies, I just cut a bunch of squash and zucchini up and threw them into a skillet with some red wine and shallots and let that simmer for 20 minutes.  The shallots were caramelized in butter then baked in the oven until they got nice and soft.

Shannon made a flourless chocolate cake for dessert!  We ate like royalty that night.  Everything made from scratch.  Everyone cooking.  It was beautiful.  I love to be in the kitchen with people, so if this inspires you to get in the kitchen but you’re still a bit overwhelmed by the whole process I’d be glad to help.

Happy fall.

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Lauren and I signed up for Nexflix a few weeks ago.  We had been toying with the idea for a while, but it finally made sense.  We originally signed up so that Lauren could get her fix of the TV show Bones.  We watched two discs of Bones and rearranged our queue for our latest endeavor.

We’re going to try to watch every film that has one an Academy Award.

Lauren made a list going all the way back to 1927 with all the winning films.  Netflix doesn’t carry 3 of them, so we are going to put the winning films for 1927, 1928, and 1933 on hold until we can find them somewhere where we can rent them.

Thursday night we started by watching the 1929 award winning film The Broadway Melody.  I’m not going to talk much about the film, but if you want some insight about it, check out what Lauren thought of it. It was interesting to watch a movie that was considered the “best of it’s time,” when it’s time was almost 90 years ago.  The plot was better than I expected.

Well, that’s it.  I thought I would share a bit of what we’ve got going on.  Anyone seen The Broadway Melody?  or The Dogway Melody (read Lauren’s thoughts on the movie to learn about that)?  Has anyone seen all the Academy Award winning movies?

cheers.

I wonder what it would be like to live in a culture that celebrates food and cooking the way that we celebrate sports.  We prize people for being able to put a ball in a hoop or hit a ball over fence.  At all levels of athleticism people are idolized for the ability to play.  I’m not trivializing these people abilities and talants, but making an observation of our culture.

I wonder what it would be like to open the paper and read stories about Joe Schmoe, who was able to make an entire meal out of ingredients already in his kitchen.  Or perhaps Jane Doe finally broke the record for the baking the best cranberry and rosemary scone.

I’m sure some of you dont see any value in celebrating food and cooking in the way that I do, but then again I don’t find much value in celebrating sports achievements.

This morning I woke up to dark skies, cold weather and rain.  I decided to make some banana bread.  I had everything I needed to bake the bread already in my kitchen, so putting it together was easy.

3-4 ripe bananas (mashed with a wooden spoon) mixed with 1/3 cup of melted butter.
Add in 1tsp. vanilla, 3/4-1 cup sugar and 1 egg (beaten).  Mix all the ingredients together.
Sprinkle a pinch of salt and 1tsp baking soda over the mixture, then stir it in.
Last, fold in 1 1/2 cup flour.
Pour the mixture into a buttered 4″x8″ bread pan and pop it into a oven preheated at 350*.  Wait patiently for an hour and pull the bread out to cool.  Let it sit for 5 minutes.

There is no comparison to the taste of fresh banana bread.  Touchdown!

I love the cooler morning temperatures.  I love the warmth of the sun on my face in the morning.  In the middle of the summer, the sun warms the morning temps to 70 degrees Fahrenheit , but now it’s almost 20 degrees cooler in the morning hours.  This morning I grabbed a cup of coffee and a sweatshirt and headed out to the garden.

We have had a strange growing season here in Colorado.  It appears that most begetable growth is a few weeks behind the norm.  There’s several key factors in this:  above average rainy spring, freezing temps in May, several weeks above 90 F. in July with no rain.  All in all, these things remind me how “out-of-my-control” growing vegetables really is.

The past few weeks I have been harvesting beens and cucumbers beyond what Lauren and I could eat ourselves.  Recently the zucchini and summer squash have picked up the pace.  But now, the moment we have all been waiting for, the tomatoes are here.  With in the past two weeks I have picked almost 3 dozen tomatoes from 9 plants.  The most abundent variety is called “Black Plum.”  They have an tall, elongated shape with dark red coloring at the base and deep maroon/black at the shoulders.  The inside is often remarked as looking “rancid.”  I assure you that this isn’t the case.  The inner wall of the fruit has a black shadow to it, and the seeds are almost green.  I can understand the comparison, but I wish there was more of an encouraging way to describe it.  I also have some Amish Paste, Black Krim, Hillbilly, and Costoluto Genovese plants that are slowly turning.  The tomato plant that taunts me is called Bloody Butcher.  It produces small, round fruit (about 2-3 oz.)  If you make an “O” with your hand, the fruit would fit nicely in the empty space. (Ok, be honest.  Who stopped to make the shape with your hand?  You can tell me.)  These plants are taunting me because they overheard me say that they could be in the running for the best tomato I’ve ever tasted.  Since they hear me say that, they have slowed way down in maturing.  They are, how you say, “very sneaky.”

So, there’s a little Garden Update for you.  How are your gardens doing this year?  Do you have a bumper crop of anything?  How about failures?

May your harvest be abundant.

When I walked outside to water the garden this morning, I could feel the presence of Fall.  It’s not here yet; lets not rush things.  The anticipition of fall is always a hopeful time for me.

I love the smells of fall:
apples
cinnamon
clove
nutmeg
burning leaves

I love the sights of fall:
reds, oranges, and browns of leaves falling to the ground
pumpkins and cornstalks decorating front porches
fields bare after harvest
sweaters

Did I miss anything?  what would you add to the list?  What about taste? or sound?