Hot (!) Spiced Milk

hot spiced milk

I started making this milk within the last few weeks, inspired by the tumeric milk posted over at the beautiful Journey Kitchen. Similar to a hot chocolate my friend Carrie makes (milk + cocoa powder + sweetener + heat = bam!), it’s nothing complicated or confusing. It’s hot and soothing—pure comfort when paired with a big down comforter and some online TV, especially when it’s as cold as it has been around here lately. And, because of the powerful spices, spiced milk is actually really beneficial for your health, too:

spices

First, there’s tumeric, the bright yellow spice that colors mustard and flavors curry. Commonly used in both Chinese and Indian ancient systems of medicine, tumeric is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory spices out there, the same ingredient I heard physicians wax eloquent about at a CCFA symposium I attended with my friend Alicia a few years ago. Because inflammation is connected to so many physical ailments, from Crohn’s to eczema to heart disease, foods that work against inflammation are like nutritional powerhouses, ingredients I want to work into my diet as much as possible.

There are also ginger and cardamom, long considered beneficial for digestion; cinnamon, which helps regulate blood sugar; cayenne, aid to the circulatory system, among other things; and cloves, another anti-inflammatory and also anti-bacterial spice. I add raw honey for taste, but I could just as easily be adding that for the nutritional benefits as well, as raw honey has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties.

hot spiced milk for two

But all that aside, trust me when I say the health benefits are just icing on the cake for this drink, which is at once soothing and stimulating, spicy and sweet. Going down your throat, it burns just slightly (and of course, you could adjust the spices to your liking if you’re less tolerant of the kick of cayenne) and feels like a kicked-up version of chai tea or some really amazing steamed milk.

More than anything though, to me, it’s been one of a hundred comforts I’ve been tasting over the last few days, I really believe brought to me by the Great Comforter, the one to whom I could barely hang on at the beginning of this month. There have been long talks with Tim, encouraging Bible studies with friends, peaceful nights of sleep, random free tickets to the symphony, the ability to think clearly enough to remember how many blessings I’ve been given. My friend Joanna, in a recent email, told me that the darkest times in our lives are also times covered by God’s love and grace to pull us out of them, and she’s right. I’m tasting that these days, and it is good.

You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.
(Job 10:12 NIV)

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The Best Pumpkin Bread You’ll Ever Have

Remember what I said before about pumpkin being the kind of fall you could eat? Well, it’s still true—only, OK, listen: this hasn’t just been any fall.

This year in Chicago, fall’s gone above and beyond. Literally. Yesterday was the third day in a row where temps soared into the 70s. Yes, you read that right: 70s! In late October! While the trees are already ten shades of orange and red! I went somewhere last night and had to take my sweater off, that’s how warm I was. It’s the kind of thing people talk about wherever you go—church, the grocery store, chatting on the phone—as if, no matter what your feelings or indifference about this crazy gorgeous season that transitions from the long daylight of summer into the snow and frost of winter, one thing remains, at least this year, at least where I live: autumn’s got your attention.

loaf of the BEST pumpkin bread

I guess the same could be said of many things, from football to TV shows to the pleasure of reading a good book: the die-hard lovers will take the good and bad alike. They’ll cheer for their losing team. They’ll watch when no one else is. That’s like me and fall: rain or sun, cold or warm, thick and thin, I’m already sold. It’s many of us and pumpkin, especially this time of year, when we can have the pancakes and the muffins and the carving and the Jack O’ Lanterns. But just like it’s more fun to watch a winning team and just like some Octobers are easier to love than others, some pumpkin recipes are more impressive, more endearing, more oh-my-gosh good.

Like the best pumpkin bread you’ll ever have for example.

pumpkin squash bread

I am so excited about this pumpkin bread. To put it another way, if pumpkin is fall, this pumpkin bread is these last few days of October. It is weather warm enough to mean no jacket. It is driving home with the windows open. It is comfort and daylight and the best of summer with the best of the months after, where the lawns are covered with crunchy leaves and you just step outside and feel the sun on your face.

It doesn’t last long, despite yielding two loaves, but that’s only because it tastes so good and maybe because that’s how the best things go. And over the next few days, as the weather returns to low 40s (or lower! did someone say snow?), I’m going to hold onto the last few slices, savor them the way I do October, and enjoy every bite.

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My Favorite Fall Cookies

I never travel without snacks, whether it’s a long road trip or a quick flight, and last week’s trip to Seattle was no exception. On the way home, I brought one of these in my bag, in addition to eating half a chicken in the airport from the Wolfgang Puck cafe; on the way there, I packed a bag of sliced green peppers, a bunch of carrot matchsticks and a large plastic bag filled with some of my favorite cookies.

These are those cookies, and I have to tell you they’re something special. Have you ever had those butter almond thins from Trader Joe’s? When I used to buy them, I could eat the whole box. In one sitting. Literally. These cookies are just like those. Or, speaking of food on airplanes, do you remember back in the day when flights would include nuts and a snack? There were these ginger-like cookies I always found so comforting. And these cookies are even better than that.

almond cookies on baking sheet

The recipe originates with Martha Stewart, and beyond my typical ingredient deviations—spelt flour, Sucanat, coconut oil—the primary adaptations I made relate to method: where she says to chill the dough in loaf pans (making it tall and easy to cut), I’ve tried a 9 X 13 pan (making long, skinny cookie strips), long logs (where you just slice and bake), large circles of dough (to then roll out and cut shapes from) and random scraps of dough formed into balls. The beauty is that all of these methods work.

favorite fall cookies

You can take this versatile cookie dough and do whatever you’d like with it: you’ll still wind up with the same buttery, nutty crisps I can’t get enough of.

spiced cookies

They’re good with tea or coffee. They’re good by themselves. And, for the record, not that this happened to anyone here, but if you’re ever stuck in Seattle Tacoma Airport for three hours while you wait for someone else’s flight to arrive, and you want something to mindlessly eat and eat until it’s totally and completely gone, well, they’re good for that, too.

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Chunky Applesauce

We all have different ideas of what is comforting: familiar movies, certain songs, a big bed piled high with blankets. When I’m lonely, comfort might come through a friend dropping by. When I’m tired, an afternoon nap. But when it’s early October and I’m feeling overwhelmed or discouraged or just like I miss someone very much, point me to the kitchen.

Cooking is such a gift, you know? You can walk into the kitchen with a million things on your mind—the client you lost at work, the list of things you have to finish by Monday, the way that long phone call just ended—and grab something off the counter, say, five green apples, crisp and tart and beautifully tangible, able to be held in your hand in the way ideas and anxieties and conversations can’t. You can peel them, one long and curly strip after another, watching their bright skins fall into the trash even as your shoulders relax, focusing on your knife slicing the exposed flesh rather than focusing on whatever was on your mind a few minutes ago.

wedding apples

And you’ll find repetition can be wonderfully soothing: pour the ingredients, stir the apples with spices, take a minute or so to blend everything into a sauce. While you do these things, you can think, of course, or you can be quiet. You can sing, or pray, or pray out loud. I do those things when I drive or when I clean; I do those things when I cook. I feel the apples softening as I stir, and I tell God I love having afternoons like this one, good gifts from Him. I add extra cinnamon, and my mind shifts from conflict to the things that make peace.

applesauce

Applesauce, in particular, is a kind of kitchen comfort: not only is it simple to make, with few steps and easy-to-find ingredients, but it’s delicious, like the inside of an apple pie or a more mashed version of Passover’s charoset. Warm and fragrant, this version shows something very important, that sometimes an hour in the kitchen is the very definition of comfort, especially when it ends with something good to eat, and you can follow its steps almost mindlessly—freeing you up to, you know, think, pray, sing or, do nothing else at all, while your hands lead your mind in the very important task of mixing together something sweet, spiced and, most importantly, able to be eaten with a big spoon.

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what has been coming

buckwheat ginger cookies

This month of June has been continual change. From trips out of town to friends taking new jobs to continually decreasing pants sizes, it’s been one thing after another. For many of these things, I guess it’s really been more of a culmination, in which wheels that have been in motion, things have been coming, in these last few weeks finally have. It’s exciting. It’s terrifying. It’s something we’ll talk more about next week (along with a big announcement! stay tuned!).

But meanwhile, let’s talk about another kind of change, a specific one that’s been happening in my kitchen and could happen in yours: buckwheat flour.

soft buckwheat ginger cookies

Because, thing is, it’s not just June that’s been change for me; it’s 2010, which over the last six months has brought one new realization after another. What started with the removal of refined sugars and flours in a new year’s resolution led to the reading of labels and analyzing of ingredient lists, avoiding things I couldn’t pronounce or recognize in favor of more whole foods like blueberries, eggs, butter, milk, grass-fed meat. I watched Food, Inc. (thanks, Kendra!). I read The Maker’s Diet. I gave up white bread and chose sprouted grains. I started drinking kombucha (Whole Foods, are you listening? please start carrying it again!). Along the way, I also started taking cod liver oil and a probiotic.

The changes all felt pretty natural, like I was just taking care of my body in new ways, and while I have been eating very well and working out only two or three times a week, I’ve lost twelve pounds, without even meaning to. It’s crazy.

And really, the only change that ever felt difficult at all was probably the earliest one: removing white all-purpose flour and white sugar from my baking.

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meant to be

making ketchup

Up until about the middle of January this year, it had never occurred to me that one could produce ketchup in any way other than, well, walking into the local Dominick’s and grabbing some.

Then Kelly of wonderful Eat Make Read posted her version of a recipe from Saveur. This, in addition to sending me promptly to the store to buy my own copy of the issue, which was dedicated to home cooks, got me curious.

Around that same time, my friend Kelley (different Kelley, she with an e and of banana bread fame) and I had started reading a book together. (All right, full disclosure, we actually ended up reading different books but by the same author, Jefferey Steingarten.) She was making fast headway in hers, but it took me a few months to reach even the middle of mine, where he would discuss, it turns out, the subject of ketchup, in great detail.

And that was not the end.

See, when I’d read Steingarten’s ketchup chapter last week, it was just a few days after I had also seen, over at Endless Simmer, a post by my blogging friend Nick of Macheesmo. He wrote, if you can believe it, an entire post in defense of—what else?—ketchup.

Now, I don’t know what your feelings are on this thing we call fate (or as some like me might say, providence or even sovereignty). Probably these are questions best considered when one watches last week’s episode of LOST, I know, but, honestly: How can you look at those top three references—all of which took place within the same two-and-a-half-month span and after a lifetime of no such thing—and not see what I see: I was meant to make ketchup.

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