Pumpkin is a tricky ingredient. By the time November rolls around, we are conditioned to think that everything we eat needs the pumpkin spice treatment. We get used to the sweet and warm spiced flavors that often accompany pumpkin, so adding it to your smoothie or coffee sounds like a good plan, but have you ever eaten a spoonful of plain pureed pumpkin? It’s really not so awesome. However, if you don’t sugar it up first, pumpkin is super healthy. Pumpkins are low in calories and high in fiber, antioxidants, and minerals, so it is well worth your time to seek out savory pumpkin recipes that don’t require lots of additional sugar to make it palatable.
I think of a recipe as something that requires measurements and specific amounts of this and that, but since this sandwich is absolved from all of that fussiness, I guess you would actually call it a non-recipe. I list below about how much of each component I use for reference but the beauty of this non-recipe is that you can use as much of each ingredient that you think looks good.
Tomato. Bacon. Jam. Tomato Bacon Jam. TomatoBaconJam! I have a hard time not getting pretty excited about any food that involves bacon. That being said, I get that tomato bacon jam sounds a little weird. Tomato jam alone sounds strange, but bacon jam? With onions? Weird, perhaps. Delicious, absolutely. If you are up to your eyeballs in tomatoes, then consider taking a break from canning them, and mix up some of this jam. Don’t be put off by the amount of bacon called for. The recipe makes approximately two cups, which comes out to 16 2 tablespoon servings. When you break it down, each serving has less than the equivalent of one piece of bacon. While I try to eat healthy on a daily basis, I most definitely believe that even a healthy diet has room for a smidge of bacon!
The idea for this salad came from dinner that I recently had at my sister’s house. I had traveled down with the kids for our first overnight at their new house (which is an old schoolhouse, how cool is that?!) and she made delicious Mexican rice bowls for dinner. It was perfect because she knew how much I love Mexican flavors and my husband who may or may not have a cumin allergy (long story), was not with us, so we had ourselves a little fiesta! There was seasoned rice and black beans, guacamole, fresh salsa, and pickled cabbage and you just piled whatever you wanted in your bowl, which of course, was everything. I had a bowl and a half and I had to force myself to stay in my seat and not allow myself to go back for a third helping.
These muffins start with my favorite lemon muffin recipe from Cooking Light. Olive oil and ricotta cheese replace the butter in this recipe which results in a perfectly tender muffin. I have made several variations of these muffins over the years but most recently I added poppyseeds and an earl grey glaze and I think it may be my favorite yet. Admittedly, topping these muffins with a glaze pushes them into more of a treat category than a snack, at least from a caloric standpoint. But the glaze is really nice and unexpected. Infusing cream with some earl grey tea gives it a decidedly floral taste which complements the lemon muffin. Originally, I had hoped to post these last week before Mother’s Day, because they would be so lovely as part of a Mother’s Day Brunch. But that didn’t happen. Life happened. So here they are, a week late, but no less delicious. :)
Arugula pesto, you are one of my new favorite things.
Sidenote: Arugula is also known as salad rocket, garden rocket, or simply, rocket. Doesn’t that make you laugh? What a funny name! Apparently this name is due to arugula’s lightning-fast growth rate. It makes me wonder if even I, Allison of the Black Thumb, could grow it. But then, a plant that is fast-growing doesn’t necessarily make it an easy-to-grow plant. And by easy, I mean that the said plant has to be able to survive and thrive through drought and intrusion of weeds, aka a general neglect on the part of the gardener –>me.
Pesto is a genius creation, don’t you think? Basil, which can have sweet, floral undertones is way different than arugula but substituting arugula is just as good. Instead of sweet and floral, you get grassy and peppery, which works very well with the earthiness of roasted beets. Adding arugula pesto to some quinoa and beets makes a salad that is a fantastic combination of grains, vegetables, and nuts. I first made this with barley instead of quinoa, and I loved it with barley too, but if you are gluten free, quinoa works just as well as is pictured here.
Lets talk about the delicious creation that is fruit salsa. Fruity, a little bit tart, with cinnamon & sugar chips to dip? It’s the best. I especially love it because I have some very fond memories from the first time I ate it. Specifically, my friend Katie made it for the baby shower that she planned with my mother in-law before Olive was born. Coming from a food-loving family, I don’t know how it is that I had never seen such a thing before. Nevertheless, I vividly remember trying it and thinking that I could not believe that it was possible for my life to have such a void as it apparently did in the years before experiencing fruit salsa. Many thanks to Katie! :)
At the time, I didn’t know if Olive was a boy or a girl and I most definitely did not know that our bundle of joy would become my life’s greatest challenge (see Mothering Mini Me). Ignorance is bliss, however, so in my state of blissful ignorance, I had a lovely afternoon with my friends and Central Pennsylvania family celebrating our impending arrival with delicious food and absolutely no games that required candy bars to be placed in diapers and identified.
In the years since, I’ve had fruit salsa several times and the traditional combo of fruit seems to be apples and an assortment of berries, sometimes with kiwi, and then served with cinnamon and sugar tortilla or pita chips. If you make it that way, as Katie did, it will be fantastic. In fact, if I had a bowl of it in front of me right now, I would sit here and keep eating it for the next two hours…..or until it was completely gone. If I ran out of chips, I would have no hesitation grabbing a spoon and shoveling it in as fast as my hand could return to the bowl. This time around, I found papaya at the grocery store and the bees in my head started buzzing, so I made a tropical fruit variation. And because my other friend, Miranda, recommended it, I used wontons instead of tortillas and it was all so very yummy.
It would be impossible to tell you about this soup without first discussing my recent parenting Fail. That’s fail with a capital “F.” We all have times when we don’t exactly shine in the parenting department and recently I had my turn to be in the shade. These days being a parent is already competitive enough without exposing our failures to each other, but I’ll share mine because nothing makes you feel better about your own parenting fiascos than hearing about someone else’s, right? Consider it my gift to you!
When my alarm went off early one morning to go to Zumba class, I found 4 text messages from Olive indicating that she didn’t feel well and was in the bathroom. For starters, I never heard any of the messages come in, so it wasn’t until an hour later that I found her there, curled up in a tiny ball and asleep on the bath mat. She said she never got sick, so I helped her back to bed, and she went back to sleep. A few hours later, she said she felt better and was ready to go into school. I could tell that something about her was a bit off, but she insisted that she wanted to go, so to school we went! And, as luck would have it, she was at school less than 20 minutes before she got sick, a spectacle which thankfully left her classmates unscathed but I am told covered a desk and a half. She was mortified and I felt terrible. The lesson to be learned here friends is that if your kid is white as a sheet, but says they feel fine, no good will come from listening to them.
This time of year is kind of like a no man’s land of seasons. It’s technically still winter, but for those of us in the northeast, spring is just around the corner and we are so over winter we cling to whatever hint of warmth and sunshine we can find. From a food standpoint, that means lemon. Lemon everything. Lemon cake, lemon bread, lemon chicken. It’s brightness and acidity are a sharp contrast to the warmth of chili and cinnamon that have permeated most of our winter cooking. This time of year, cooking with lemon is as close as you can get to harnessing a little bit of sunshine on an unseasonably warm day and pouring it into the food you cook. It’s brightness warms you up just as much as any bowl of hot soup.
Of the many pictures we have commemorating Olive’s birth, this is the one I am drawn to most often. Almost nine years later, I still remember when she was finally returned to me to hold after being whisked away immediately following her arrival. This picture is always so fresh in my mind because that feeling of being simultaneously overwhelmed, protective, and so very tired is one I have revisited almost every day since then. She was, and continues to be, the primary reason for my emotional and physical exhaustion and yet I cling to her, unable to let go.
By the time Olive was finally born, I had already begun questioning every preconceived idea that I had about being a parent. In my idealized syrupy-sweet visions of motherhood, we would sing together, read together, cook together. My little bundle would find joy in the same things I love to do and in the future they would be infinitely more fun because I could share them with her.
What I did not consider was that she may not want to do any of these things. It never occurred to me that beginning with her delivery, she would fight me at every turn in order to do things her way, in her time. From birth, Olive made it clear that she is not one to do what anyone else wants regardless of why or how much they want her to do it. “Strong willed” doesn’t begin to come close to describing my little Olive. To call her “strong willed” is the equivalent of calling Hurricane Katrina a thunderstorm. This is a girl who knows what she wants and long before you figure out what it is, she already has a plan for how she’s going to get it. Olive is generally unconcerned if your plans do not match up to hers because she has no intention of doing anything other than what she wants because she is so entirely confident in her ability to make decisions on her own behalf.
I often look at her and wonder, Where on earth did this child come from? And yet, it is when she is at her most difficult that I see the most of myself in her. Her quick temper, her resistance to change, and her lack of patience are admittedly among my strongest and least attractive qualities. Despite Olive being a smaller version of myself, I still find her to be a puzzle for which I do not have all of the pieces. When I was younger I was timid, lacking in confidence, and happy to go along with whatever anyone told me to do because then I wouldn’t have to voice my opinion and draw attention to myself. My impatience and need for control are traits have developed very slowly over the years, and I find myself surprisingly ill-equipped to figure them out in a child who was seemingly born with them entirely intact and in full force.
It is a very real fear of mine that our mutual tendencies toward stubbornness will one day collide and leave our relationship permanently altered. Or worse, that like two North-poled magnets, we will hover at a certain distance, circling, but never able to connect. Every day with Olive is a delicate dance to figure out how to navigate our similar need to be in control with minimal friction between us.
I tell myself over and over again that her strong sense of self will serve her well in the future. While there are many days that having a pliant child would make my days easier now, I recognize that the very virtues that I currently battle with will make her a strong young woman and a formidable adult. On the nights where we make it to bedtime without tears and slammed doors, I go into her room to say goodnight and I am rewarded with a hug that can only be described as fierce. My prize for making it through our daily dance without any missteps is the gift of her affection. Those nights, I hold on to her as tightly as she clings to me because I know the next day will bring a whole new dance and we’ll both have to learn it as we go.