Another walk at Ashland

Ran an errand yesterday in the vicinity of Ashland.  Whenever it is nice out and I am somewhere near, I try to head to Ashland to check out what’s blooming and just enjoy the beauty in such a central location.

Spring at Lexington Cemetery

After staying in and isolated for quite a few days, took advantage of an unexpectedly sunny afternoon to head to lovely Lexington Cemetery before the heat wave starting tomorrow takes down all the flowers.

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Mashed Cauliflower and Parsnips with Spinach

Cooking in water

Several years ago I saw a Rachael Ray episode on Thanksgiving for which she prepared a dish with mashed potatoes and parsnips with spinach and parmesan stirred in.  It sounded so good but I wanted to try using cauliflower instead of potatoes to make it healthier.

Substituting 2 cauliflower heads for the potatoes, it turned out great but was a lot of work. Since then riced cauliflower has become popular so I hunted for a recipe for mashed cauliflower using the riced version–so much easier.  Then I used aspects of both recipes to create this one.

Mashed Cauliflower and Parsnips with Spinach

  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 16 oz packages riced cauliflower (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 parsnips
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup reserved water from cooking cauliflower
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 6-8 oz fresh organic baby spinach or kale or 10-12 ounces fresh spinach or kale sauteed
  • optional: 1/2 – 1 stick unsalted butter
  • optional: 1/2 cup pecorino romano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Melt the 3 Tbs butter in the pot and add the riced cauliflower to saute.  Saute 3-4 minutes.  While it’s sauteeing, peel and grate the parsnips, then add those in with the cauliflower.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir in.

Then add the 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.

Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Drain, making sure to keep 1/4 cup of the water.

Return the cauliflower and parsnips to the pot and stir in the reserved water.

Either use an immersion blender to puree or put mixture in blender (probably will take a couple of rounds). If you want to add more butter, stir that in now.

After immersion blender

After pureeing

Allow mixture to cool a while before stirring in the beaten egg.

Fresh raw spinach is a little harder to stir in and you’ll need to use a little less if that’s your choice but either add the raw or saute 10 or 12 oz of fresh baby spinach just till wilted and stir it in.

Butter or oil a casserole dish and transfer the mixture to it.  If you’d like to top with cheese, sprinkle the 1/2 cup of pecorino romano on top.

Place casserole in oven and cook for 30 minutes.

Finished product

Nostalgia on Third Street

My dear friend Cecy came back to town on a whirlwind visit on Halloween.  After a long and lovely lunch we decided to go to Third Street, where we met. She had just turned 13 and I was still (barely) 12.  My aunt Mary Jane and my grandmother had moved in up the block and since my aunt knew her mother we were introduced and became fast friends.

We each posed in front of Mary Jane’s former home (the one with the white trim porch) and then in front of Cecy’s house. (the one with the pumpkins):

Making that one cup of coffee

Morning Coffee

Over on the Not Just Sassy blog, I recently posted about  coffee and how the one cup I fix every day is a special moment.  Thought I’d describe here how I make the one cup — along with some rambling about my history with coffee.

In a sense my coffee adventures began as a small child when tasting my parents’ coffee left me in love.  Continued when summer visits with my grandmother developed a ritual of her, my friend Cecy and I hanging out in the kitchen savoring coffee ice cream on hot afternoons.

The real development that changed my coffee world arrived early in college, when coffee stores with whole beans and varieties from around the world entered and my friends and I dipped into the land of Melitta cups and French Roast.

A summer studying in Paris and sipping “cafe creme” all over town honed my tastes some more.  Then I wound up in first Portland and then Seattle a few years later for law school.  Starbucks, still under its original ownership, existed only in the Pacific Northwest at the time and coffee had gone crazy.

Espresso bars were everywhere.  Seattle had a craze for dessert and coffee places where fancy homemade desserts and all your espresso choices enticed everyone away from dessert in other restaurants.  I shopped for beans at a Starbucks where I mostly just remember beans for sale.

About the time I moved back to Chicago, Howard Schultz managed to take Starbucks from the original owners and start the massive global takeover and destruction of the coffee quality we now have.

In the Windy City you could still get good coffee beans from specialty places but it was a coffee desert compared to the vibrant scene I’d left in the Pac NW.

Fast forward a few years and I landed in San Francisco, where Peet’s was just a local (if prolific) coffee company.  Soon introduced to it, I drank a lot of Peet’s until a Spinelli’s moved into the Corte Madera shopping center closest to where I lived and I became a regular.

Alfred Peet founded his company in 1966 and is credited with being the one to bring fine coffee to prominence.  When he left the company, Sal Bonavita took over (I gather he’d been working there).  Sal and his late, 1st wife went through Nine Gates Mystery School so a bunch of people I know knew them and some of this story is entirely based on hearsay.

Not far from the time I moved to Kentucky Bonavita sold Peets, which led to the same kind of expansion and badly over-roasting the coffee Starbucks had undergone.  Meanwhile, turns out the original owners of Starbucks also learned from Alfred Peet and Arnold Spinelli was a great friend of his.  Spinelli also sold his company.

A few years later — guessing at the end of their non-competes — Bonavita and Spinelli teamed up to form Bonavita’s.  Friends in the area cued me in to the great new coffee and I started ordering.  At the time there was also a tea division which a friend of mine worked in, so good teas too.  Bonavita soon left and the company became La Coppa, with all the blends, as far as I can remember, staying the same.

Meanwhile a side trip takes us to Italy where the amazing guide, Roberto Bechi, brought a handful of beans out from the back of a restaurant to show me how Italians drink blends, usually, if I remember correctly, including Pacific, Middle Eastern and South American coffees, each roasted to a different level.  And none, he made sure to point out, to the extreme level to which most American espresso is roasted.

Which is how we come to La Coppa’s Mill Valley Blend, which has beans from the different regions, not over roasted, and is what I use to make my coffee.  I also like their espresso and La Donna blends and, if I were more flush, I’d keep all three around.

Their coffee is a little on the high end for me but once I started keeping to one cup a day and then using smaller pots, I felt I could afford it and quit alternating with less expensive (and not so good) stuff I can get locally.

For a long time I made the coffee in my Gaggia espresso machine — I think the closet to “budget” model they ever had.  The one thing I haven’t gotten into is grinding the coffee myself.  I’ve had grinders a couple of times and I don’t disagree that it tastes better but I hate fiddling with it…  Also got tired of fiddling with the multiple parts needing to be taken apart on the machine and cleaned every time I made coffee.

So I pulled out an old stove top espresso maker I’d been given and never used and fell in love.  It was aluminum, which I don’t love so I soon bought a new stainless steel one.  Because I like a big mug full, I started off with 6-cup (that’s six espresso cups, not full cups).  I wound up with two of different brands and found some kinds of coffee came out better in one and some better in the other, oddly enough.

Then I got a smaller one for days when I didn’t want to drink quite so much and found every kind of coffee tasted better when made in the 4-cup pot.  Added a 3-cup and found the same thing.

Later I also discovered it’s better when you put the burner on very low and let it brew slowly.  All of the stove top makers have handles that melt if you let them get over the heat.  On my gas range, I had always turned the flame to the highest point I could get without having any of the flame extending past the edges of the pot.  Somewhere in the low medium area.  But after I accidentally turned it to the lowest point and let it take longer I became a fan of the slower method.

I also use a cone filter grind, which is finer than what’s often recommended, though different stove top makers suggest different grinds.  It started because I switched back and forth from espresso to still using Melitta and a coarser grind really is tasteless fixed that way so I just got the one grind. When I dropped the Melitta and tried the coarser grind for stove top pot after being used to the finer, I didn’t like the coffee as well.

Another deviation from normal fine coffee wisdom is that I wash the pot after every use.  I know they say to just rinse but every time someone gives me coffee out of a pot that doesn’t get washed the coffee tastes stale and bitter to me, so I wash.  And my coffee takes strong and fresh but never bitter or stale.

So there you have it.  My journey through coffee, leading to the one lovely cup I cherish every day.

Chocolate Avocado Joy in a Bowl

Chocolate Avocado Joy in a Bowl

I started out with a recipe for chocolate avocado mug cake.  I quickly decided the mug made it harder – especially because my mugs are mainly a collection of artisan crafted pottery mugs I’ve collected for years at fairs and artisan shops–interesting shapes but awkward for this.  After the change to a bowl (SO much easier) I wound up tweaking a little more and then experimenting about whether you can make more than one serving and cook the second batch the next day (you can!).

A double batch required fiddling with the ingredients as I could instantly see just doubling everything wouldn’t work.  At some point in the future I plan to  try more like a quadruple batch and figure out if you can freeze the unbaked extras to cook off at some later point.

This recipe isn’t too far off from recipes for chocolate avocado mousse so I suspect you could put it in the fridge without baking and eat it cold as pudding/mousse but I’ve been so enamored of the warm version I’ve not tried it.  Plus I really like my mousse recipe. 🙂

So delicious I fix this often and EVERY time exclaim over how something so simple and reasonably healthy can be so utterly scrumptious.  It is 540 calories per serving but I comfort myself with the by and large nutritious content as opposed to the usual empty calories of dessert.

2-serving ingredients

  • one medium to large avocado
  • 3 Tb unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 Tb almond butter
  • 1/4 c. pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

One-serving ingredients

  • 1/2 medium to large avocado
  • 2 Tb unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 Tb almond butter
  • 3 Tb pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder

Optional for both: drizzle with chocolate syrup right before eating

I put it all in a small food processor and whirl it up till well mixed.  If you wish you can butter or oil your bowl but I find the clean-up is about the same either way.  Place the batter in your microwaveable bowl.

The microwave times are going to vary with the power of your microwave.  Mine is an 1100 watt, so adjust accordingly up or down.  I cook anywhere from 1 minute 45 seconds to 2 minutes.  The lesser time makes it a little more like a thick pudding and the longer time makes it more cakey.  People say it’s like steamed cake — personally haven’t had one so I can’t tell ya.

When I make the double batch I go ahead and put the second half in the bowl I intend to use, cover and place in fridge. The next day I put it cold in the microwave for the same time as normal and it turns out great.

You can drizzle with a little chocolate syrup to make it extra yummy.

Mother’s Day at Buck Pond Farm

My childhood friend Cecy Rose came to town for the weekend.  When we met I was 12 and she 13 and she lived here, down the street from my aunt and grandmother, and I lived in Michigan.  Now I’m here in Lexington and she’s in West Virginia.  We’ve been friends all these years.

As kids, Cecy went to school for a while with Pat Davis and I was friends with Pat (as with Cecy) via my aunt Mary Jane.  We each both separately and together spent a lot of time in summers out at High Hope/Buck Pond Farm (Pat’s family changed the name and now the current owners took it back to the original–built in 1785).  So Cecy had made an appointment at the farm and the manager took us around on Sunday.

Cecy is an artist and in recent years has been doing a lot of horse paintings.  She comes to town and takes a bunch of photographs and then uses them to inspire her paintings.  I just lucked out on getting access I would not have (and have not had since my aunt died) to taking some shots of the horses.

We even went through the foaling barn and got to see a one-day-old foal (the one shown both nursing and, with big white forehead marking, standing against mom.  In the paddock next to it a bunch of mares and foals were out and it was nap time for many so there were foals flat out on the ground all over the place with moms standing vigil.

I’m putting them in a gallery below but wanted to single out this photo which has a little story.  The foal is this mare’s first.  They were alone in a paddock and when we approached to take photos, she nervously herded her baby away from us and every time we moved to try to get a shot, she moved him again.

Finally we gave up and turned to the paddock across the drive, where some more pairs grazed.  I glanced back and realized these two, upon realizing we were paying attention to other horses, had come to the fence and posed, like “no, we’re more photogenic, take us”.

Any time I spend with Cecy is always great, but this was a special treat!


Springtime at Lexington Cemetery

It was such a beautiful day (a breather from what seems like an endless stream of clouds and rain and storms), we went for a ride through Lexington Cemetery to enjoy their amazing spring flowers.

We also spent a long time looping around trying to find Mom’s parents’ graves, which we used to be able to drive straight to but haven’t been for a few years…  Eventually, success…