I first made these muffins three springs ago, as a farewell and a thank you to one of the most compassionate, gentle, poised, and balanced women I have known, who entered my life at such a crucial time. Everything — from the words she said and the voice she spoke in, to the pure grace of her movements — was angelic. And with the impact she made on me I sometimes wonder if she really was an angel sent to help me out…
Well friends, I made it to a new continent and a new country I’ve been wanting to visit for most of my life – Australia! I’m all settled in my apartment in Melbourne, and trying hard not to think about having to leave in four short months.
So I knew the coffee culture was big here, but no one informed me of the FOOD! I want to eat everything I see on the street, in the markets and at every cute café… and I probably would were it not so expensive. One of the best features of my apartment is that it is right next to the Queen Victoria Market, a huge (takes up 2 city blocks!) farmers & artisans market where I can score some great deals on the typically pricey produce. The indoor portion of the market is filled with artisan made yogurts, cheeses, breads, pestos, dips, cereals, pastries, chocolates… you name it. They seem very into quality and fresh foods here and I love it.
Happy spring! Happy Easter! Happy sunshine, happy blooming flowers, happy chirping birds, happy sprouting seeds. It’s a happy time of year, a time for breathing in that fresh air, stretching those legs, planting that garden, and celebrating life.
Springtime always evokes in me a desire to eat cleanly and cleanse my body from all the heavy comfort foods of winter. I get excited for all the vegetables and fruits to grow and ripen in the next several months, and vow to take full advantage. In the midst of this inspired mood, though, is Easter and all its sweet temptations.
This year we decided to have a low-key brunch with our “neighborhood family.” Lots of yummy indulgent food was planned, prepared, shared and eaten. And although we try to avoid the highly processed Easter candy, it somehow sneaks its way into our house and we are left to fall to its seductions. Needless to say I (and probably everyone but I’ll speak for myself ;) indulged too much over the course of the day and went to bed feeling like a stuffed roly-poly.
It was the most fun Easter I’ve had since I was a wee little egg hunter at Grandma’s house though, and I do not regret a single moment or bite of chocolate cake. The day started with licking my chocolate torte batter from the bowl and ended by plopping into bed, exhausted like a child who played outside all day long. In between there was lots of cooking, brunch enjoying, hiding easter eggs in the woods, a walk on the farm which ended in an long dog chase, and yard games and honey wine up on “the hill.” Most importantly, it was all in wonderful company.
I can’t think of a single person who actually dislikes banana bread. And I dare you to find someone who doesn’t like that oh so dreamy creamy cocoa hazelnut spread (aka nutella). They’re two very lovable things, and when combined will put a smile on anyone’s face.
So what happens when you mix banana bread with nutella? Well, there could be many outcomes, but mine just happened to be these banana-nutella swirl muffins. And given 98% of our population’s fondness of the two components, these muffins are the perfect treat to bring to a party, a potluck, or a very special friend’s birthday… as I did for my very special friend Corey.
Bring me to a pastry shop, and scones are just about the only thing that’ll get my attention. I’m not one to fall for those buttery, flaky filled croissants or tarts or really anything with a pie-like crust. But scones are in their own wonderful category of pastry. They’re like big fluffy cookie-biscuits, and I love everything about that.
Even with my love for scones, I never seem to justify buying one, knowing how butter and cream and sugar laden they are. Sounds great for a treat, but not quite the nutritious breakfast I’m going for.
I was inspired to experiment myself by way of a scone recipe on a bag of hazelnut flour. First of all, anything made with hazelnut flour is going to be divine, right? Not to mention there will also be currants, and together this goodness will be baked into scones? Gotta try it.
I’m finding my eating habits to be more and more in tune with the seasons as I grow older. Except for chocolate, which will always be in season to me.
Growing up in a rural area and seeing everything around me blossom, fruit and die in cycles with the seasons has certainly made me aware, as has working on an organic farm, having local food so easily available, and tasting the difference between sweet corn grown 2 miles away versus sweet corn from the opposite coast in the dead of winter. Although it’s been hard to learn that I can’t have it all whenever I want it, anticipating the summer months and watching my edible garden grow makes in-season produce that much more special. It’s like my mom used to say when I asked why she couldn’t make her amazing Christmas cookies all year long — “because then they wouldn’t be so good!”
Now it allll makes sense.
The good things are certainly worth waiting for, especially when it comes to juicy sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes and zucchini in the summer. I enjoy this dish as soon as the first sweet corn arrives at the market and for as long as the season lasts. It was one of my blog’s early recipes: Calabacitas con elote, or Mexican Zucchini with Corn. The past few summers we had enjoyed it as a side dish, but this year I’ve decided to take advantage of its versatility. The sautéed squash, corn and tomatoes are such a simple combination, but something about them simmering together in their ripe juices with a little fresh oregano gives the dish a rich flavor I can only describe as purely summer.
Lately we tried adding local pork chorizo from our neighbors at the farmer’s market, which was a delicious way to make a one-pot meal — and quite the rich & hearty one. For a lighter option you could add pulled chicken, taco-seasoned ground turkey or tofu, or black beans to the mix for a filling and nutritious entree. Another thing I want to try is using the veggie dish as a taco or enchilada filling or adding a little broth to make a summery soup. So many possibilities for this simple dish!
Gazpacho and I have a thing this summer. How did I never see in it what I do now? I used to compare it to ‘just like drinking a jar of salsa – yuck!’, but now I see it’s so far beyond that. Light, refreshing, complex, pure, and wonderful. Like drinking my summer garden. For breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Topped with herbed croutons, fancy ceviche, or nothing. I love it, and I love that it helps me keep any of my precious garden tomatoes from going to waste.
Working on an organic farm this summer as well as having 6 plants of my own to tend, you could say I’ve picked my fair share of ‘maters this season. And just look at all the varieties! Each has their own flavor, texture and purpose. Many are heirlooms, which are so flavor-packed and meaty they’re just crying out to be part of a mean BLT. I’ll admit some look pretty darn ugly on the outside. But it’s the inside beauty that counts, right?
I’ve made gazpacho (Spanish chilled tomato soup) maybe 6 times in the past few weeks, enjoying it as an on-the-go breakfast, as a cool refresher after working outside, eating bowls-full for lunch & dinner, and taking it to a cookout for friends to enjoy. Each time I make it is a little different, as I don’t follow a strict recipe and always use a mishmash of tomato varieties. But it’s hard to mess up too bad, unless of course you mistake jalapeños for bell peppers. Here’s my top secret recipe, now go put summer’s bounty to good use!
Strawberry season in the Mid-Atlantic — although fleeting, it always leaves me with excitement for more of summer’s candy to come: blueberries, wild raspberries, and my most beloved, the peach! So while I do cherish the early red berries, admittedly I get more excited for what’s to follow, and the indication that my favorite season is only just beginning.
garden bouquet: summer lettuces and berries
My go-to recipe to highlight the local strawberries for the past few years has been this: an oat square that reminds me of my good old Nutri-Grain bar, but much more hearty and wholesome with fresh-from-the-fields strawberry jam slathered and baked right on top. They’re also vegan, and interestingly made with chia seeds as a thickener in the jam and as an egg-replacer in the dough. Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, protein, antioxidants, calcium, omega-3, and pure energy! I also like the seedy texture it gave to the jam — i love jam with chunks of fruit and seeds :)
One of my favorite homemade treats to make is granola. I love that the variations are limitless – every spice or flavor combination is feasible. And it’s too easy to ‘healthify’ – using fruit purees in place of oil or butter – or not :) The only problem I have with making my own granola is that it never seems to make it to an actual breakfast bowl of say yogurt, fruit and granola. Why? Well because I start snacking on it… and then it’s so crunchy and sweet and salty and tasty and hey, much better for you than most store-bought granola right? And then before I know it…. an empty jar?! Happens every time, including this batch of triple-ginger fig granola. Luckily my sisters were around to help this time so we can all share the blame ;)
This recipe calls for a triple punch of fresh, dried, and crystallized ginger, plus blackstrap molasses to give a rich, pungent flavor. I added in dried figs, cherries, and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) but feel free to throw in whatever you feel like. That’s the beauty of granola!