Monday, January 31, 2011

Apricot ginger scones

Combined a couple of my favorite things (apricots and ginger) with butter and sugar and came up with a new scone combination. They're nice! But in an effort to get the recipe just right I probably need to test it a couple more times to fine tune the proportions. I also have a simple chocolate cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen that I need to test. It's a noble effort, eh?

Apricot Ginger Scones

2 cups all purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp lemon peel
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup diced crystallized ginger
2/3 cup diced dried apricots
½ cup buttermilk (may need more)
1 large egg

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and lemon peel in large bowl. Stir in ginger and apricots. Cut in butter with pastry knife. In small bowl, mix buttermilk and egg. Pour into flour mixture then stir just until mixed. Do not overmix. (If necessary, add just enough buttermilk to moisten mixture—it should hold together but not be sticky.)

Flour hands and turn dough onto ungreased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Pat dough gently into circle 1 ½ - 2” high and score into 8 scones with floured knife and separate about 1 inch apart. Brush tops with buttermilk then sprinkle top with additional sugar.

Bake in preheated oven at 375º for 18 – 20 minutes until top is light brown.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Did you ever notice that occasionally one single word keeps assaulting you? Perhaps it’s a word that normally would glide by in a passage you are reading or in ordinary conversation. But at another time in your life that single word stings and you wonder why it never affected you that way in the past. It’s probably not a coincidence that a specific word captures your attention.

I’ve been “reading” (listening to a recorded version) the novel Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese—a compelling story, beautifully written. Listening to the book yesterday I heard a passage about a doctor who was dying without regrets, but who understood that a man may die knowing that his biggest regret is leaving bitterness in the heart of someone who loved him. The doctor said, “I’ve been blessed. My genius was to know long ago that money alone won’t make me happy . . . But one thing I won’t have is regrets. My VIP patients often regret so many things on their deathbeds. They regret the bitterness they’ll leave in people’s hearts.”

And earlier there was the fortune cookie with the quote from Confucius—“It is better to live in peace than in bitterness and strife.”

Today in worship service, Pastor Mark was preaching on Ephesians 4 and the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christians. Ephesians 4:31 says, “Get rid of all bitterness.”

Bitterness is the word that has been assaulting me the past few days. I thought about the person I loved who died leaving bitterness in my heart. Over the years I have tried releasing this bitterness, tried through sheer strength of will to expel it. Obviously my will is not sufficient for I have not been totally successful doing it on my own. The passage of time and self-help books and medication and sayings in fortune cookies have not erased my bitterness. God must have wanted me to pay attention because he keeps putting the word in my path. I stand convicted.

Friday, January 28, 2011


The risk of stir craziness was high today. I’ve been holed up at home for a couple of days because of a snow storm and for part of that time there was no power. So today I needed to get out and breathe.

Last year I bought myself an incredible bargain—a lifetime pass to all the National Parks in the United States. Because I’m officially a senior citizen, it cost me only $10. Frequently I go to Great Falls National Park just to flash my LIFETIME PASS and to walk and absorb the seasonal changes. (Can you tell how much I love that lifetime pass?) Today it was snowing lightly, peaceful and quiet in the chilly fog, and the moody day gave me a great opportunity to take some photos. The photos appear to be black and white because of the snow, the grey Potomac River, the barren trees, and the rocks. I had the entire park almost to myself.

Almost to myself. There was a guy in an orange kayak running the rapids. He paddled around in the eddies, struggled upstream, and disappeared. He soon reappeared carrying his kayak to the top of a huge craggy island and back down the other side. Then he reappeared in the river, paddling down a section of the rapids, then back up to repeat his climb over the island back to the river. He must have been some kind of crazy.

For some reason I kept worrying that I was going to lose my keys today as I scrambled along the rocks and snow to get a view of the falls. Is that ridiculous? I’m worried about losing my keys while the guy in the orange kayak is in freezing water, climbing snow-covered rocks with his kayak on his back? I was in such danger—what if I had lost my keys? Who's the crazy one?

Thursday, January 27, 2011


It sleeted and snowed overnight and then some. No power here for hours, but it's back now. So naturally I'm thinking about warm food. I decided just to stay home today and see if I could create something new with what I had available in the pantry. Mulligatawny soup seemed appropriate. Researching recipes, I realized that there are no absolutes when it comes to mulligatawny soup. Sometimes it has chicken, sometimes pork, sometimes it's vegetarian. And the extras range from zucchini to garbanzo beans to cashews. This is just what I had available and it turned out well. Smells great too. Sometimes being snowed in is not all that bad. (Yes, I really had ghee in the pantry, but you can substitute clarified butter.)

Mulligatawny Soup

4 tablespoons ghee
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 large onion, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 coarsely chopped apple (baking apple like Winesap)
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 cup dried red lentils
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup tightly packed fresh baby spinach
¼ cup dried cherries (or raisins)
1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
Cooked basmati rice (optional)
Chutney (optional)


Sprinkle garam masala on chicken breasts. In large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of ghee and cook chicken over medium high heat, turning often. Set aside to cool.

Place large Dutch oven over medium heat and add the remaining ghee. Sauté onion and pepper until translucent. Add garlic and ginger and cook for about 2 minutes then add apple, sweet potato, and lentils. Add chicken stock and simmer until lentils are done and sweet potato is soft, about 20-30 minutes. Shred cooked chicken and add to vegetables in Dutch oven. Add spinach, dried cherries, and coconut milk and heat through over low heat, about 5-10 minutes.

Serve over rice, if desired, garnished with a dollop of chutney.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Farm Market in Winter

I love the Falls Church Farm Market at any time of year. Going there on Saturday mornings is ritual for me, a highlight of my week. In summer there are peaches and corn and heirloom tomatoes, fresh-cut flowers and pea shoots. And in the warm weather there are musicians playing and busking at the market. (On the 4th of July weekend last summer I was playing and busking at the market—my fellow musician and I made nearly $80! It’s much too cold to be playing outside now.) But there’s something special about the hardy souls who sell their goods all year ‘round.

The Falls Church Farm Market is held every Saturday in the parking lot of City Hall. In the winter the number of vendors is less than half of what would be there in the warmer months. But even in winter there are cabbages and mushrooms and apples and a variety of meats and prepared foods.

It was really, really cold this morning, still in the teens by the time I headed home from the market. The vendors were wrapped in layers of clothing but they had to count money with bare hands. My hands lost feeling in the few minutes I was there. I could only imagine what the vendors must feel like by the end of the day. But they were all so happy on this gloomy, frigid day, smiling and making jokes about the cold, saying they come back no matter what the weather because they love seeing their regular customers. The vendors drive hours from Pennsylvania, the northern part of Maryland, and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Dan from Atwater Bakery in Baltimore loads his truck at 4 o’clock in the morning to get to the market.

Today I bought baking apples, perhaps to make a tart, from Black Rock Orchard in Lineboro, Maryland. I bought a fabulous tangy jalapeno cheddar bread from Atwater Bakery and a winter-busting pumpkin soup from the Dragonfly Farms in Mt. Airy, Maryland. And I carefully chose just two truffles—cinnamon dark chocolate and toasted almond dark chocolate—from a homemade chocolate vendor. There were so many things I wanted that I didn’t get this week—lavender soap, and croissants, pickles, homemade ravioli, coffee, and cheese.

There will be another week, and another week after that, no matter what the temperature outside.

Friday, January 21, 2011

More food therapy

It's cold outside and I needed something warm and comforting but I didn't feel like cooking. That's why God created freezers. Opened the freezer and--like a miracle--there were a couple of containers of this soup that I made and froze weeks ago. Thank God for creating the microwave also--instant dinner, no fuss, no mess.

I love this soup. I got the recipe from my daughter Jenny (the mother of my precious twin granddaughters). Jenny takes care of those girls and works and cooks and seems to do everything so well. Isn't it great when we get recipes from our children? Apparently she adapted it from a Rachael Ray recipe. Now I have it and you have it. It's relatively easy, healthy, kid-friendly, and the best antidote to a cold day in January. I added sauteed mushrooms to the latest batch. Nice!

Double Dumpling Chicken Soup

2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
4 celery ribs - chopped
2 med. onions - chopped
2 medium carrots - chopped
1/2 to 1 cup shredded carrots
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken stock
1 pound ground chicken (I used ground white-meat turkey)
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 egg
1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 package gnocchi (I used whole wheat gnocchi from Trader Joe's)
1 cup frozen peas

Heat the olive oid in a soup pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add the veggies and cook for 5 minutes. Add the stock, cover, and bring to a gentle boil. While the stock heats, place the chicken in a bowl and add the garlic, nutmeg, egg, bread crumbs, and cheese. Combine the mixture and roll into walnut-size meatballs and add to the soup. Cook for 2-4 minutes, then add the gnocchi to the pot and cook for 5 minutes longer, or until they float. Add the peas and cook for 2 minutes longer. Turn the heat off and allow it to stand for 5 minutes to cool and thicken.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Food therapy

My dear friend Mike has cancer and he just started chemotherapy. I told him I'd cook him anything he would like. (Within reason--I don't think he'd be in the mood for elk parmesan or sushi.) So, the requests--meatloaf, green beans, baked potato, and oatmeal raisin cookies. That I can do. I think he's feeling better--at least he liked the food.

Since Mike gave me two Barefoot Contessa cookbooks (bless his heart!) I made her raisin pecan oatmeal cookies to show my gratitude. The cookies were a hit--so was the meatloaf. And I actually think my photo of the cookies is even better than the Food Network's photo. You can find the recipe in Ina Garten's book, Barefoort Contessa Back to Basics or online at

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The man in the moon

On Sundays I go to worship service in a space that has beautiful floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows. For the past few weeks, while we’re singing songs of praise to God and while Pastor Mark is preaching, I’ve watched a man outside the stained glass window. His face is not visible, just his outline as he sits in the cold, huddled against the building. For a long time this morning he sat motionless. Through a golden yellow crescent-shaped section of the stained glass, I could see the shape of his downcast head. The golden crescent looked like a quarter moon. A quarter moon with a man in its center. Eventually he got up, brushed the dirt off his clothes, folded his blankets, put on his backpack and walked away. His routine has been the same every week. He must be able to hear us singing. I wonder if he can hear the pastor’s voice. He must have a sad story to tell, our man in the moon.

And once again I thought about my childhood friend Sarrie. I wrote about Sarrie a couple of summers ago after I spoke with a homeless woman in Georgetown. Here’s the piece I wrote.

Life on the Street

There’s been a code-red air alert here for the past few days—all that heat and trapped ozone makes breathing difficult, even for healthy people. The media have been relaying requests that people take the public transportation to cut down on car exhaust. I was driving on the beltway, trying to recall the last time I rode a city bus. And I began feeling guilty for driving my car and got to thinking about whether I’m just a snob, too elitist to take the bus.

Karen, whom I met yesterday, probably would be happy to have the money to take a bus. She’d probably feel fortunate even to have a reason, any destination that would put her on a bus.

She didn’t look bad from a distance. She was sitting on a bench outside the C&O Canal headquarters in Georgetown, smoking cigarettes and having an animated, angry conversation with the sky. It’s hard to tell, but she’s probably in her late 30s, slim with short brown hair. She was wearing heavy black biker boots, jeans, and a heavy shrunken sweater, despite the intense heat. The jeans were too big, rolled at the waist, but still sagging so much below her hips that the skin below her naval was completely exposed, and if one were to look closely, I’m sure her pubic hair was visible. I didn’t look that closely. She didn’t make much of an effort to pull up the pants.

I was with a group of people playing music and having a picnic lunch. No one in our group of musicians took offense when Karen came to eat the food we had on the table. We actually offered her more food, encouraged her. I sat and talked with her while she ate. Her body odor was foul and her hands were filthy. She told me her father was a Rockefeller and that her mother had been raped. She repeated these “facts” several times. Someone had stolen her clothes and she was trying to get to the consulate to get a passport so she could get back home. I asked her if she was an American and she said, no, she was from the Middle East. I doubt that was true because she seemed like she could have grown up next door to me in white-bread America. She mumbled something about 9-ll and the drug wars. I told her that I would try to come back soon with some clothes for her. I gave her twenty dollars and she quickly stuffed the cash in her pocket and left. And I thought about Sarrie.

Sarrie was my childhood friend. She was brilliant, beautiful, with a gift for drawing. She seemed to have it all. She was the only daughter of a Jewish couple who miraculously survived the Nazis and emigrated from Poland after World War II. Her father had been an engineer before the war and, in this country, found worked as a television repairman. She was their future. But in young adulthood her life got derailed by schizophrenia and she disappeared. I saw Sarrie in Karen’s face.

There are many people, men and women like Karen, living on the streets. I don’t want to sound like Pollyanna, but I wonder what Jesus would do. No kidding—shouldn’t we all strive simply to be kind and compassionate? It doesn’t burden me to talk to Karen, to humanize her, pray for her, maybe give her something to make her life easier. She enriched me. Sadly, she enriched me because I put Sarrie in her place and I felt that in a small way I was reconnecting with Sarrie.

And I thought that there, but by the grace of God, go I. I don’t want to be arrogant, throwing her loose change like a pampered suburbanite. But what else can I do? How can I approach it other than based on who I am and by doing it from my heart? She did touch me. She is not just another faceless person who is mentally ill—seriously mentally ill—and living on the street. It’s so dangerous for someone like Karen. She could disappear, die tomorrow and maybe no one will ever know. I’m sure she has family members somewhere who are heartbroken over what has happened to her. And in her confusion she probably has chosen to live on the street because there is not adequate help for her. It’s a mess. I ask God how he can allow such things to happen. He doesn’t answer.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


We’re two weeks into the new year and I haven’t made any resolutions. But I’m thinking about resolutions. If I think about it long enough and wait long enough it will be 2012 and I can start all over again without doing anything. There’s a plan I can embrace—total inertia.

Last night I watched the film Into the Wild, about the young man who wanted to escape the bounds of society so he challenged himself to live off the land, alone, in the wilds of Alaska. He died of starvation. The story got me thinking about how I would challenge myself, presuming I ever actually decided to accept a challenge. People challenge themselves to run a marathon (not me—my knees would disintegrate). They challenge themselves to lose a hundred pounds (yes—I need to lose weight, but thankfully not a hundred pounds). They may challenge themselves to bring order to their chaotic lives (I’m fairly organized so that’s not an issue for me). So if I’m not going to run a marathon, or lose a ton of weight, or conquer my clutter, what is a challenge for me?

My real challenges are more emotional than physical. What’s my biggest emotional challenge? Overcoming fear. I’m afraid of uncertainty, afraid of change, afraid of sickness and death. I even have a fear of fear itself. And right now I have all of these fears front and center in my life.

So what do I need to do? I can’t really mitigate uncertainty, change, sickness or death. These are all part of the basic human condition. I can’t pretend they don’t exist. Medication only does so much unless I get medicated into a stupor. I suppose I just need to be brave. Oh, darn it—can’t I escape somehow? I suppose I need to accept these existential fears and just keep moving forward and live well in spite of them. And I know that I need to pray. Prayer may be the only thing that really works. Even better than medication.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Stolen cornbread

I fully admit it--not only am I stealing the recipe, but I'm also stealing the photograph. I could have taken my own photo but there was nothing left but crumbs when I thought about taking a photo. I stole the recipe from Ina Garten and I stole the photo from her too. But I'll give her full credit. She's the queen!

It's a great cornbread, a very thick batter that's more like scone dough in consistency. The final product holds together beautifully and has a texture somewhere between biscuits and focaccia.

Don't worry about the two sticks of butter and the two cups of cheese--they have no fat at all in them. (And now you can call me both a thief and a liar.)

Ina's Cheddar Dill Cornbread


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups milk
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra to grease the pan
8 ounces aged extra-sharp Cheddar, grated, divided
1 cup minced fresh dill (no fresh available so I used 2 tablespoons dried dill)


Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs, and butter. With a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry until most of the lumps are dissolved. Don't overmix! Mix in 2 cups of the grated Cheddar and the dill, and allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking pan.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle with the remaining grated Cheddar. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and cut into large squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Healthy coconut cake

I found this on a website called so surely it is some form of health food. It's a recipe from Orlene Walton Sayers, the wife the the governor of Texas in the early 1900s. You have to love a woman from Texas whose name is Orlene who bakes coconut cake and calls it health food.

Orlene's Coconut Cake

(Serves 12)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch cake pans. Cover the pan bottoms with wax paper or parchment and grease the paper.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes, with an electric mixer at high speed. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla.

In a separate bowl sift flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.

Reduce speed to low and stir in 1/3 cup milk. Add 1/3 flour mixture and combine. Add another 1/3 cup milk and half of the remaining flour mixture. When just incorporated, add final 1/3 cup milk and remaining flour mixture.

When just blended, divide batter between prepared pans.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden.

Cool the layers in pans for about 10 minutes before turning out onto wire racks and cooling completely.


3 egg whites
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
Meat of one coconut, grated (3 to 4 cups)


In a clean bowl beat egg whites with heavy mixer at high speed until soft peaks form.
Gradually add 1 cup of the powdered sugar and continue beating until glossy. Fold 3/4 of the grated coconut meat into the beaten egg whites.

To assemble cake, invert one cake layer onto a serving plate and spread with frosting. Top with second layer, spreading remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake.

Mix remaining coconut with the remaining 1/4 cup of powdered sugar. Press onto top and sides of the cake decoratively

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chicken again!

My late former husband used to mutter and grumble when he came home and I had made yet another chicken dish. "Chicken!" he would shout, "not chicken again." Yes, it's chicken again. So I hesitate to post the recipe. I think it's incredibly delicious but it could ruin my reputation. Not only is it chicken (again!) but it's another casserole and it has canned soup in the ingredient list. It's a recipe that my dear friend Betsy got years ago when she lived in Flagstaff. I've altered it (improved it, I'd like to think) over the years. So consider my reputation ruined but try it anyway.

Chicken Tortilla Casserole

4 tablespoons olive oil
3 boneless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons chili powder (I used Penzey’s Southwest seasoning)
½ cup white wine
1 onion, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, cut into julienne strips
2 cloves minced garlic
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup sour cream
¼ cup sliced black olives
2 small cans whole green chilies, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon cumin
1 dozen corn tortillas, cut into quarters
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
Salsa verde

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in non-stick skillet. Sprinkle chicken breasts with Southwest Seasoning and sauté over medium-high heat until brown. Pour wine in pan, cover, and cook over low-medium heat until chicken breasts are no longer pink. Set chicken aside and shred into large pieces after they cool slightly.

Sauté onion, red pepper, and garlic in remaining oil. Remove from heat and add soup, chicken broth, sour cream, olives, green chilies, and cumin.

Put about ½ cup of sauce mixture in bottom of a deep casserole dish. Put four tortillas (=16 pieces) in a layer in the casserole. Add more sauce and chicken in two more layers until casserole is filled. End with layer of cheese on top.

Bake 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees until cheese is bubbly.

Serve with extra salsa verde on the side.

Monday, January 3, 2011


No need to write a single word today. Pastor Elizabeth Hagan has inspired me to get out the shredder.

See what she wrote at

Sunday, January 2, 2011

No miracles

What if there is no such thing as a miracle?

There are a ton of aphorisms about miracles, all those pseudo-inspirational things embroidered on pillows or written in calligraphy on wooden plaques beside pictures of kittens or sunsets. For example: “Love is the great miracle cure. Loving ourselves works miracles in our lives.” Oh, just get over yourself, dear author, and the miracle of loving yourself. How hard is it to love yourself? Really! Is it a miracle?

I’ve been thinking about miracles for the past couple of weeks as I pray for a friend who is seriously ill. Do I pray for God to perform a miracle or do I just trust him to do his thing? In the gospel of Matthew (Matt 19:26) Jesus said, “With God all things are possible.” All things would include things we think are impossible.

So what we consider to be a miracle may simply be God’s ordinary work. In one sense, everything he does is a miracle. What may seem exceptional to mere mortals could just be part of God’s plan that we can’t see or comprehend. St. Augustine said, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.”

Nancy Gibbs wrote, “For the truly faithful, no miracle is necessary. For those who doubt, no miracle is sufficient.” I agree with Nancy but I don’t think I’ll embroider it on a pillow.