My baking cravings have continued as we dig deep into the end of summer, so last week I decided to try a new recipe: English Muffins. And this recipe did not disappoint. The muffins didn’t come out exactly like the store bought kind (less holes, not uniform in shape or size), but the flavor and texture were wonderful! We enjoyed them plain with a little butter and as part of an egg/breakfast sandwich. Both ways they definitely had the wow factor. The last muffin was highly sought after to say the least! An added bonus, they are also super easy to make. It was a perfect mid-week breakfast treat.
Whole-Wheat English Muffins
What You Need:
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or 1 packet)
4 tablespoons/60 grams unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Cornmeal, as needed
In a small bowl combine the yeast and 1/3 cup warm water. Allow yeast to dissolve, about 5 minutes.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter and pour into a large bowl. Whisk in yogurt, milk, honey, salt and the yeast/water mixture. Add flours and baking soda and mix until well combined.
Cover the bowl and let it rest for 1 to 1 1/2 hours (until dough has doubled).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly dust a small baking sheet with cornmeal (set aside).
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet (medium high heat) and melt 1 tablespoon butter. Using a 1/2 measuring cup, drop batter into skillet to form muffins. It is okay if they aren’t round, but try to make sure they form a nice mound. Repeat until you have 3 muffins for the first batch. Reduce heat to low. Cover skillet with lid or baking sheet and cook 3 to 5 minutes, bottoms should be golden brown. Flip muffins and cook (covered) an additional 2 to 4 minutes or until the other sides are golden brown. Place muffins on prepared baking sheet.
Repeat for the second batch (3 more muffins) using remaining batter and another tablespoon of butter.
Bake muffins for 6 to 9 minutes and enjoy!
Recipe adapted from The New York Times.
This year, for the first summer in I don’t know how long, we didn’t move. We stayed put. And this seemed like something worth celebrating, so I planted.
I have been dreaming about a garden for years and the stars finally lined up this summer. We would be in one place long enough to plant and enjoy the harvest. I have such wonderful memories of gardening (or at least eating out of the garden) as a kid. Summer snack time was grabbing snow peas off the vine as we ran past in the back yard. And I have longed for this feeling of stepping out your door and finding fresh food ready to eat.
This spring, after we cemented our plans to stay put, I started planning for a garden, with only one major obstacle left- space. We are renters, which means, we don’t really have a yard of our own, but we have a porch that gets full sun and this is where I set my sights. Container gardening. I seem to have picked a popular moment to catch hold of this trend as magazines and websites are touting this small scale type of gardening so finding information, suggestions, and advice was easy. It is all pretty basic. Gather some large containers or pots that drain well, fill them with high quality soil, and plant crops that do well in a confined space. Most types of veggies seemed to fit into this category, and after some debate, we decided on snow peas, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs.
To fill our containers, we attended the May Market and National Public Gardens Day hosted at Phipps Conservatory in the city (Pittsburgh, PA). It was fun to stroll through the vendors, chat with farmers, and select the plants we would be growing this summer. We picked out three types of tomatoes (a small red for sauces, zebra striped green, and purple), a sweet red pepper plant, two types of basil (curly purple and baby leaf), and oregano. We also planted cilantro and snow peas from seeds.
The porch is right off our living room and I have found that I love watching the progress of the plants as much as I like the harvest we have gotten so far. I gravitate towards the french doors that open out onto the porch several times a day, and I have noticed that my husband does the same thing. We have become garden watchers.
I loved the excitement of spring and early summer as the fern like stems of the cilantro broke through the soil and as our tomatoes plants began reaching up and over the railing on the porch towards the sun in wild, lanky branches. The basil soon filled and overflowed from the pot and oregano stretched out leafy tentacles as we reached deeper into summer. Our giant cone shaped peppers have been teasing us with deep green for a month and it felt like we such a victory when last week when they finally started shifting into a rusty and then bright red. We will eat pepper soon!
When my cousin’s daughter came to stay with us for a few days, I saw this excitement and wonder at how our food grows spread through her. She loved “harvesting” basil and oregano. Snipping off pieces with scissors and them pulling the leaves off to scatter on her personalized, homemade pizza. There is so much wonder in watching things grow.
For the most part, our garden, so far, has been a success (knock on wood), if for no other reason than the joy we get from watching it grow and the handful of things we have eaten already- basil, cilantro, oregano, tomatoes. But we did have some failures: the snow peas burned up and one of our tomato plants looks like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, a shriveled stick with one lonely tomato. Lessons learned for next time.
But for now, I am truly enjoying the green out my window and the fresh tomato I have sitting on my counter for tonight!
I have been on a baking roll the last two weeks (which seems crazy since it is so hot out), but I love the smell and the rising dough sitting in my kitchen, and the fun of trying out new recipes. So this week, I went back to something both my husband and I love- soft pretzels! But I wanted to try something new. After a little searching, I came across a Rosemary and Sea Salt Pretzel Recipe over at two peas & their pod. I was pretty much sold when they also included a cheese dipping sauce.
Yesterday, I got to work recreating this savory treat. The dough came together perfectly and I loved the fresh rosemary smell drifting out of the kitchen. The recipe is simple and straightforward (especially if you have a stand mixer) and the dough doubled beautifully and baked off in a crisp, golden brown. The pretzels were light and chewy and looked like puffs of yummy goodness. Right before we scarfed these down as part of our dinner, I made the cheese sauce. It was good, but I would make some alterations (as indicated in my version of the recipe below). Long story short, we wanted the sauce to be much cheesier! Overall, this is a great treat and it will be reappearing in our house again soon.
Rosemary Soft Pretzels with Cheddar Cheese Dipping Sauce
What You Need:
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
Canola oil, to grease bowl
3 quarts water
2/3 cups baking soda
1 whole egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
Coarse sea salt
For the cheese sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the pretzels, combine the water, sugar, yeast, and melted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook mix until all ingredients are incorporated. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Then, add the salt, flour, and chopped rosemary. Mix on low until combined. Once combined, increase the speed to medium and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 3 to 4 minutes. (If the dough is too wet, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.) Remove the dough, place it on a flat surface and shape into a ball with your hands. Coat a large bowl with canola oil, add the dough ball, and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot.
Place the dough on a clean, flat surface and divide into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope moving from the center out to the edges of the dough with the palm of your hands. Taper the ends of the dough rope. Shape the dough into pretzels by crossing the two ends, twisting once, and then secure each end to the bottom of the pretzel with your thumbs. Shape all pretzels and then slowly add the baking soda to the boiling water. (It will boil furiously as added.) Gentle place 2 pretzels into the boiling water using a slotted spatula and boil for 30 seconds. As they boil, splash the tops with warm water using your spatula. Remove, and place pretzels on a baking sheet, brush the tops with the egg wash and season liberally with sea salt. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until pretzels are golden brown. Remove pretzels from oven and let cool on a wire baking rack.
For the cheese sauce, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and then whisk in flour. Add milk and whisk until the mixture thickens, 2-5 minutes. Add shredded cheese, stir until cheese is melted and smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Serve cheese sauce with pretzels and enjoy!
Recipe adapted from two peas & their pod.
Two weeks ago we returned to one of my very favorite places: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It offers solitude, unbelievable views, and a 40 plus mile trail that hugs the coastline of Lake Superior. Backpacking paradise.
As always, when you return someplace you love, it feels comfortingly familiar, and yet, the lake also never ceases to surprise me. This time with ice. When we planned our trip for May, we figured it would be cool this far north, but we never imagined the horizon would be painted white. It felt like standing on the edge of the arctic even though the trail is laced with sand. It was worlds-colliding-beautiful.
Each day of the trip we watched how the ice changed, moved, breathed. From the beach we could hear it cracking, shattering, and moaning as the sun melted it and the wind swept it into the shoreline and then pushed it away. Each morning we hurried from our tent to see what the ice had done over night. It was like a game. Hide-and-go-seek with the ice.
During the day, we would take breaks along the shore, half the time just listening, the other half spent skipping rocks between the ice and into the ice and over the ice. We sunk an iceberg with a steady stream of stones.
Our weather, for the most part, was sunny or partly-cloudy and shifted in heavy breaths from warm to cool to cold and back again. One night, sitting on the beach after dinner, the wind suddenly changed direction blasting us with icy air moving directly from the center of the lake, and the ice pack, to us. We hurried into our tent.
Sunset has always been one of my favorite times of day when backpacking, and the ice only added to the layers of shifting colors and shadows as the sun sunk into the distant water. Watching was like breathing in color.
Our trip refilled me. The pleasure of walking and looking and being in one of my very favorite places once again!
I love national parks. Every time I set foot in one I feel thankful that past generations had the foresight to protect special places all over our country. It makes me feel lucky and proud and profoundly happy.
So last weekend, when I had the chance to spend three days exploring Great Smoky Mountain National Park with my cousin I was giddy with excitement. I started bouncing and fidgeting in the car before we even reached Tennessee. And this park did not disappoint.
With over 800 miles of trail, it is a great place for hikers of all levels, and offered a wide range of trail lengths and levels of difficult. We spent our first two days going up. I love long trails and big views and that is exactly what we got. On day one, we struck out on a section of the Appalachian Trail stretching from Newfound Gap to a little rocky bluff called Charlies Bunion. The section we did, just over 8 miles round trip, was a steady climb through bare trees and rocky soil ending with awesome views out across the valley. The famous blue-gray haze of the mountains drifted out in front of us and the spine of ridges snaked across the rolling hills of this area like rippling water.
On day two, we did my favorite hike, the Alum Cave Trail up to the summit of Mount Le Conte. At just over 11 miles round trip, this hike offered every stage of beauty the park had to reveal. The trail starts out crisscrossing a clear, boulder strewn river banked by thick stretches of deep, green rhododendrons. I can’t even imagine how pretty this section would be when they are in bloom as it was beautiful with the simple palette of green.
The first main attraction you reach is a natural rock arch, that you hike under where you begin the great march up and up and up. Here the terrain breaks away into rocky outcroppings and brief glimpses between trees of the views that are coming. The trail is rocky, and in some places, steep, but worth it for the views. About 2.5 miles in, you reach Alum Cave Bluffs, a wide stretch of rocks carved out into a dust-colored overhang.
The next section, above the bluffs, offers the best views we saw during our trip: miles and miles and miles of mountain shadows like layers of blue-gray sharks teeth reaching so deep into the horizon it is hard to tell where the mountains end and the clouds begin. Every turn offered more views. And at the top, just above the only lodge in the park (not accessible by car), is the final spur trail to the cliffs that dead-ends at the edge of a rock outcropping that simply drops off into mountain views.
After sitting at the top, basking in the sun and views, it is almost impossible to come down. So beautiful.
Our final day, we traveled to the west side of the park to do the historic driving loop at Cades Cove and for a short hike out to Abrams Falls. This side of the park is very different and showcased much of the history of people in this area. It was interesting to experience a new perspective on what the park encompasses.
Here, the trail follows the river with little drops and rises until it reaches the main attraction: Abrams Falls. The falls are about 30 feet and cascade into a large pool of clear, cold water. I loved the pounding sounded that whispered and then echoed and then whispered again as we drew close and hiked away. A beautiful way to cap off a wonderful trip!
Right after the first of the year, Lucas and I flew south. It was the first time either of us had taken a trip to warm weather in the winter and it happened just as the polar vortex was covering our little part of PA. I can’t say prefect timing enough.
The gulf coast of Florida is beautiful, and we enjoyed every minute of sun and temperatures that allowed for t-shirt and flip-flops. A few of our favorites: Ybor City in Tampa, 7venth Sun Brewery in Dunedin, Honeymoon Island (shells and dolphins!) just north of Clearwater, and of course, the highlight of our trip, swimming with manatees in Crystal River at the Three Sisters Springs.
Honeymoon Island Dolphins!
Three Sisters Springs Manatees
Face to face
Sea bird giving us the eye
As 2013 comes to a close, and snow drifts down in lazy clumps outside my windows, it seemed like the perfect day to look back. I have been blogging here for just over 2.5 years, which seems crazy and unreal and wonderful. So today I thought I would re-post some of my favorite memories (oldest to newest with links to the blog post).
Thanks for sharing in our journeys and we look forward to new adventures in 2014!