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Politics, Holidays, and Artichoke Dip

9 Nov

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Holy cow.

What a whirlwind.  We’ve been in November for 9 days.  And it’s been nuts.

Let’s just look at this empirically, shall we?  With the start of November, first there was the take down of Halloween.  Halloween has just gotten too spooky.  Seriously people, enough already with the blood and goo and violent paraphernalia.  We are not the real life Walking Dead and I do imagine if a live zombie came lumbering and grumbling your way, you might poop yourself and run (it’s always a good time for an oxymoron or two).  So what’s with the increasingly growing gore of Halloween?

Growing up, my mom and I would visit local craft shops set up in parking lots and fields and ogle at all the cute pumpkin, scarecrow, turkey, and charming broomsticky things representing the start of the autumn season.  Somehow, that innocence seems to have been forgotten.  Nowadays, we’ve gone straight from this growing grossness of a spooky, dead-loving holiday to – wait for it – Christmas?

It was August 30th when I saw my first sign of Christmas.  Rob and I were in Costco and they had just displayed their wrapping ribbon.  We stopped, looked at the ribbon, looked at each other, and with a slight head shake (and most possible eye roll), kept walking.  The day before Halloween, we saw our first Christmas commercial.  However after discussing it (yes, we discuss these things), we decided it didn’t officially count because the real commercial showing Christmas is upon us is the one with the Hershey Kisses bells ringing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Yes, I am coining that as the official sign of Christmas – Hershey’s Chocolate, you’re welcome.  Anywho, despite my love, adoration, borderline slight obsession with Christmas (our house blows up into a reindeer, elk, and moose bedazzled wonderland), it’s frankly not yet time.

While the commercial world tries to build up this monstrosity of constant technology, and gimme, gimme, gimme attitudes, and desensitizes children from the innocence of these holidays – clearly, the teacher in me has a bone to pick – I am determined to not let November fly by in a disingenuous prelude to Christmas.

Also, in between good riddance-ing Halloween, avoiding a premature Christmas celebration, and fitting in the best historical foodie celebration our nation celebrates, there was probably one of the most stressful, surprising, amazing, horrible, and memorable elections our nation has probably ever seen.

Over the last few years, our national hard drive has been doused with water, sparking shards of entitlement and division and teaching blame-to-everyone-else-rather-than-accountability across our land.  So this morning, after turning off the tv around 1:45am and then still staying up way too late with anxiety and anticipation, I roused myself to full awareness around 4am to a historical headline.

And despite anyone’s political affiliation, I think most can agree that this election pushed the giant reset button on that national hard drive (and finally those horrible commercials can stop).

So, taking slow steps through this significant day, I mindfully look at my little home adorned with the peaceful signs of the season: pumpkins made from old draperies found in a southern mountain store in NC, red maple leaf placemats, and my personal favorite, antique 14-carat gold rimmed, hand-painted dessert plates adorned with turkeys, pheasants, and mallards.  They are all now in their showcased place, ready for their 43,830 minutes of fame (that’s total minutes in November, and math is cool).

By golly, all of this calls for a damn good dish.

While we are just starting to wake up to a morning chill here in North Florida, I feel the need to plunge head first into everything autumnal, even if it means I need to turn my air conditioning down to a sweater-wearing degree.  It’s also the season for entertaining, and my mind is racing with great ideas for great food with great people – no matter what the celebration.

Like this Artichoke White Bean Dip.  It’s simple, it’s easy and it is oh-so-good.  Hardly an indulgence, it’s not as dairy-filled as many artichoke dips tend to be.  Being dip-worthy, spread-worthy, put-on-a-sandwich-or-mix-with-tuna-fish-worthy, this has become a new standard for easy, crowd-pleasing recipes.

So in between tonight’s news reports claiming disbelief at what just politically happened, and the constant Pier 1 Christmas commercials, make this dip and serve it to a friend or two (with a cocktail, of course).  Its warmth and depth will comfort you with Autumn, helping bring the season back to the heart of what it is meant to be.

Enjoy it.

Warm Artichoke White Bean Dip
makes about 28 oz, enough for a whole crowd (or one hungry night)

  • 9 oz (usually 1 box) thawed, cooked artichoke hearts
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ c apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp half and half
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • s&p
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • shredded cheddar cheese to top *optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor, mix all above ingredients except for the olive oil.  Make sure everything is well incorporated and taste for seasoning.  When mixed, pour into an oven-proof baking dish (a ceramic pie dish works well).  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil (and cheese, if using), and put in oven until the top is browned and the mixture is hot throughout. 

Serve with crudités, bread, pitas, crackers, or simply a spoon (save the spoon for home-alone times, not so much entertaining). 

Enjoy!

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Hurricane Salad

10 Oct

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Right now, leaves are rustling due to a nice, cool, dry breeze, the windows are open in my always-ever-locked house, and I am enjoying what feels like the very first taste of autumn.  When I walk outside, I’m not immediately suffocated by heat and humidity, and there are very few biting bugs flying around (always a good day when this happens in Florida).

It also happens to be a Monday, a day when I’m usually working at school.  But today was a “virtual planning day” per our lovely contract, which allowed me to finish my report cards, or do anything else teacher-y (like cut out paper pumpkins), in my sweatpants.

All in thanks to Matthew.

No, I’m not talking about my husband’s many family members of that name (on my side it’s Bob, and I think the Bobs still win that rodeo).  I’m talking about the crazy, high-intensity, slow-as-a-freaking-snail hurricane that crawled its way through north Florida a few days ago.

Thinking back to those rare times when public school actually got cancelled for things, I’ve seen the gamut.  I’ve had a fire day (thank you SoCal wildfires), a wind day, snow days, a tsunami day (that was a crazy phone call to wake up to), and now Florida has gifted my very first hurricane days.

Growing up mostly in the Southwest, I had never been in a proper hurricane before.  But let me tell you, it’s an event.  The prep alone was beyond stressful – moving all the patio furniture to the garage, securing the house, digging through all the camping equipment to find white gas stoves and lanterns.  With my parents’ help, we got it all done which made me feel prepared – and proud.  I was stocked with water and ice (I bought the last 4 bags at the grocery store, thank you very much), lots of fresh fruits and veggies, and dried/canned/preserved goods to last a long, potential power outage.  And of course I also bought the absolute essentials for any long, drawn out, stressful event: chardonnay and pumpkin donuts.

I was ready.

The storm was what it was.  A storm.  Big, loud, mean, wet, wild, windy, and everything a person might imagine a hurricane to be.  I was scared, nervous, and at times peaceful as my family and I sat in pajamas watching continued news reports.  There was nothing else to do.

But eat.

What a fabulous excuse a hurricane is for eating junk food!  I thought it was just us with our chardonnay and donuts – oh, and beanie weenie casserole – but the grocery store trip afterwards showed us what people really thought was important.

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Bread, chips, bananas all topped the list of hurricane necessities – the empty shelves couldn’t hide it.

But spin around to those green, fresh, healthy things?

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Why golly, those shelves were chalked full.

So funny, because despite our little junk food splurge, we also made a conscious effort to make sure some nutrition did make its way into our bodies, basically to give us the right kind of energy and lack of mental lethargy to face whatever it was that we needed to face with this storm (again, our first major hurricane, folks).

My mom whipped up what she ended up calling the Hurricane Salad.  It was really just a veggie salad full of ingredients that are health-wise important: mixed greens, yellow bell pepper, soy beans, cucumber, celery, corn, and a simple ranch dressing.  That was it.  But boy did it hit the spot.  We ate it for two days.

With only some chopping, it literally took a few minutes to assemble and a fantastic dinner salad was ready.

Now, you definitely don’t need a hurricane to make this salad.  In fact, let’s hope you don’t have a hurricane to enjoy this salad.  But, it would be great as a take-along dish (dressing separate), easy lunch, fast dinner, or anything else in between.

People – oh those proverbial “people” – always say that something good comes out of something negative.  However, I wouldn’t call this salad good.  I’d call it delicious!  (Too cheesy?  Oh, some cheese would be good on the salad too!)

Try it – sans storms – and let me know what you think!

Enjoy!

(Feel free to use your favorite ranch dressing here – and ranch really is the best for this salad, I think.  But here’s my recipe for a good homemade version that will last you and your favorite salads all week.)

Hurricane Salad

This salad is completely flexible.  Add or subtract as much or as little as you want.  So it can easily be a single serving, or enough to feed a crowd.  Just toss together the following ingredients: mixed greens, yellow bell pepper, soy beans (cooked, I boil mine), cucumber, celery, and corn (cooked or raw).  Sprinkle a bit of s&p, and serve with the dressing on the side (to appease any finicky pourers).

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Homemade Ranch
(makes 1 pt)

Finely mix together 1/2 tsp dried oregano, pinch of ground thyme, 1/8 tsp celery seed, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, and s&p to taste. Use a mortar and pestle to mix (this makes more spice mix than you need- great for chicken, shrimp, or a olive oil dip). Then pour 1 tsp of the spice mixture into a bowl with 1 c mayo, 1 c Greek yogurt, and juice of 1 lemon. Mix and taste for seasoning. 

Enjoy! 

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Beet Down – A New Way to do Beets

4 May

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I’ve moved a lot, both growing up and now in my adult years.  More than occasionally I get the, “How do you do that?” round of questioning, mostly from people that consider a significant move an over-filled pick-up truck unloading across town.  Now, don’t get me wrong, a move is a move.  But some are more uprooting then others.

We’ve been in Jacksonville for about 3 years now, and I’m starting to get a tad bit antsy about where we’ll go next.  At night, Rob and I lie in bed perusing Zillow, dreaming of a possible destination for our next Coast Guard-led adventure.  Port Angeles, Detroit, Boston, not much is out of the running except for land locked areas, most of which we wouldn’t want to live in anyway (sorry, Oklahoma.  Been there, done that).  Of course we look at houses that are waaaaay beyond our means – with kitchens that just might make me famous – but it’s just a fun torturous game we play.  Like window shopping at Gucci.

Everywhere we go we try to squeeze everything we can out of the location, and we have only a year left in north Florida.  We’ve done a lot here, but definitely have a lot more to go, do, and see.  Though altogether we’ve found things we love (paddle boarding, the bird life, dolphins, good shopping), and really don’t love (the bugs, the heat, the bugs, the heat, oh and snakes.  Well, I don’t mind the snakes, but Rob runs away like a little girl).

In terms of one of the more important things in life – food – we’ve also found our regional likes and dislikes.  Sorry, Southern folk, we haven’t taken to the oddly-hairy-yet-slimy-at-the-same-time-omg-who-created-this-thing called okra, nor have some traditions (potato salad at Thanksgiving?) found a settled place in our hearts.  BBQ, however, that’s a love story.  So are the sweet onions.  Also, honey.  And so are the beets.

I’ve never actually documented the epic argument Rob and I had over beets.  Maybe one day.  But, beets!  Really?  Aren’t there better things to argue about, like sponges or spoons?

Well, we’ve grown in our relationship since arguing about beets (thank goodness) and now we can’t go a week without them.  Luckily, farms in Florida grow beets almost year round, and the months they don’t, the red roots keep for a long while in a crisper – if they last that long.  Thankfully, our CSA provides us with bunches regularly.  We eat them straight from the oven, or cold with a bit of vinegar and honey.  I’ve chopped them up into fancy tapenades and relishes, used their juice to dye Easter eggs, and have even infused vodka to make a fancy beet cocktail.  Beet options are endless.

So then why are restaurants only serving beets with the standard goat cheese and arugula?  I mean, some have pecans, some do a balsamic reduction drizzle, but really they are all the same.  It’s so sad!  Culinary monotony at its best.

So let’s turn the tables, shall we, and shake up the beet world.

With these: Beet Tacos.

Vegetarians, unite!  Meat Eaters, indulge!  Paleo folk, take a shower from your last CrossFit workout and pick up one of these tacos (sans cheese and crema)!

These are simple enough for a weeknight, but impressive enough for easy entertaining.  Having spent enough time in Mesa, Arizona, I prefer the small corn tacos to flour, and I feel their earthy flavor compliments the sweet beets wonderfully.  Chipotle crema is nothing more than 1 c Mexican cream (found now at most grocery stores), 3 chopped up chipotle peppers, lime zest and 1 tsp of agave Every Mex dish needs some beans, which are super simple to prepare.  Heat some canned black beans (drained and rinsed) in a pot over medium heat with ½ c water, 1 glove of garlic, and a sprig of mint.  Once boiling, remove from the heat, discard the herb and garlic, season the beans with s&p, and smash them with a fork.  For the star of the show: In a foil-lined baking dish, roast 4 peeled beets at 400 degrees with a dash of s&p, a drizzle of canola oil, 1 tsp cumin, and a whole jalapeno (sliced down the middle) until beets are tender, about an hour and a halfThe fresh topping of crisp cilantro (tear off stem) and soft shredded romaine (roll 2-4 leaves like a cigar then chop into thin strips) top off the bite with herby freshness For an optional creamy, salty indulgence, crumbled Queso Fresco tops the taco with ease.  Oh, and don’t forget the squeeze of that lime you zested earlier (it’s not just a margarita garnish, you know).

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When Rob and I were dating, tacos were our go-to dinner date.  Here in Jacksonville, we haven’t been able to find quite the same ole(!) experience as I we had in the South West.  Remembering those fresh flavors, I decided to create my own using one of Jacksonville’s finest produce, the bodacious beet.  Yes, bodacious.

With Cinco De Mayo coming up, enjoy these tacos with friends and maybe a marg or two.  You’ll get the best of two worlds, or at least the best of two regions of the U.S. (speaking from lots of moving – and eating – experience here, folks).

CinEnjoy!

Beet Tacos
(serves 4)
*ingredients and instructions above. 

To assemble:
Put the corn tortilla on a plate.  Spread some of the smashed black beans on the tortilla.  Top the beans with some roughly chopped beets.  Then Top the beets with the lettuce, cilantro, queso fresco, and a drizzle or two of the crema.  Squeeze the juice of a lime slice over the top, and you’ve got seriously one of the best tacos you’ll ever eat.

Enjoy!

An Aftertaste
If you like beets, check out these and these.  

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