Moving and Mason Jars

In sync with the changes in season, Shaun and I spent this past weekend closing a chapter of our lives by packing up his apartment and moving into the little house down the road that will give him, and us, more room to grow. Moving may sometimes seem like a stressful endeavor, but going through closets, bookshelves, and old boxes helped us to slow down and savor the little mementos of our past that remind how far we’ve come as individuals, and as a couple. Tickets to baseball games, race bibs, old photos from our teens, letters from friends, clippings of the Times that inspired us on Sunday mornings past – just the little things that made us pause to honor the blessings in our lives. When I was boxing up the kitchen supplies I found an old egg-timer that I had accidentally set too close to the open flame of the stove and had half-melted into the tile counter top. It was clearly non-functional and why I didn’t just toss it back then, who knows. But it made me smile – this was the kitchen that Happyolks was born, and even though it was so small we could barely share counter space, it provided us with more memories and laughs than I can count. Late Sunday afternoon after some hardcore deep cleaning, spackling, and trips to Goodwill, we stood in the empty space glad for all that has been and excited for all that is still to come.

Seventy-five percent of our meals this weekend can be found at your local Whole Foods cold case (Golden Beet and Fennel salad for me, Calzones for him), but I did get around to experimenting with marmalades and preserves as an excuse to test-drive my new mason jars. Yes, I just used “test drive” and mason jars in the same sentence. First, a Grapefruit Ginger Thyme Marmalade and second, a Strawberry Rhubarb Basil Jam. They’re both sweet, and a little savory. That’s kinda what life feels like right about now around these parts. The marmalade is on the sour side, and I think it pairs well will poultry and mild greens. The jam would be lovely with biscuits or shortcake. If you’re feeling virtuous try a gluten free biscuit recipe at either Whole Life Nutrition or Gluten-Free Girl. Wanna splurge? Go for the shortcake recipe with cream from Joy the Baker.

For the Grapefruit Marmalade, you’ll need

  • 3 large ruby red grapefruits
  • 2 Meyer lemons
  • 2 cups of raw sugar
  • 2-3” nub of ginger, grated
  • a handful of fresh sprigs of thyme

With a paring knife, peel away the rind and pulp of a grapefruit and set aside. Cut in half, then remove the white membrane from the middle and discard. Cut the grapefruit into 1” chunks and place into a medium sized pot with 3 cups of water. Cut the rind and pulp into very thin strips no more than 2” in length and add to the pot. Repeat with the other two grapefruit and the lemons. Fill the pot with more water until just barely covering the top layer of fruit and rind. Bring to a rolling boil and cook for 30 minutes until the rinds are very tender. If the water level falls too low, add a bit of water. After 30 min, stir in the sugar and let the mixture come to a boil again. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and let simmer for another 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the thyme.  Spoon the marmalade into sterilized jars to store in the fridge, or go through the heat bath process for long-term storage.

For the Strawberry Rhubarb Basil Jam, you’ll need:

  • 3 heaping baskets of strawberries
  • 6 (9” to 12”) stalks of rhubarb
  • 2-3” nub of ginger, grated
  • **1 1/4 cup of ground flax seed
  • 1 cup of raw sugar
  • Juice and zest of one meyer lemon
  • Handful of fresh basil

Rinse the strawberries and rhubarb in warm water and veggie spray (even if they’re organic). Remove stems from strawberries, cut large pieces to 1” chunks and add to deep pot. Remove tough ends of rhubarb and chop into ½ inch chunks and add to pot with the strawberries. Cover with 2 cups of water and bring burner to medium heat. Let the mixture simmer down to a near liquid then remove from heat, stir in flax, sugar, lemon juice, zest, and grated ginger and return to a low simmer. Stir off and on for 20 minutes to thicken and to prevent sugars from burning at the bottom of the pot. Remove from heat when the mixture has taken on a jelly-like texture and add the basil. When slightly cooled, spoon the jam into sterilized jars to store in the fridge, or go through the heat bath process for long-term storage.

** I used ground flaxseed as a thickening agent because half-way into the process I realized I didn’t have pectin! At first I thought it was going to be a disaster and that I had just destroyed $6 of fresh strawberries, but it turns out it worked really well! Who couldn’t use a little extra flax in their diets anyway, eh?

Brown Rice Pudding

With the weight of two weeks of mid-term papers and exams off my shoulders, my body let its guard down and succumbed to repressed exhaustion. Lazing around this afternoon, I flipped through my favorite cookbooks searching for inspiration and came across Terry Walters brown rice pudding recipe (p. 273) in Clean Food. Yes, exactly… I thought. Pudding. My body and brain felt like pudding this weekend, and the visit from my amazing parents melted me into a gooey warm paste. I made a few adjustments to the original recipe primarily because I didn’t have all of Terry’s ingredients on hand, plus I omitted the maple syrup for some meaty dates I picked up at the Farmers Market that I think gave it a subtler flavor.

You’ll need:

  • 2 ½ cups cooked brown rice
  • 10 ounces extra firm organic tofu
  • 1 cup almond (or rice) milk
  • ½ cup brown rice syrup
  • 6 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp vanilla

(plus) nuts, cinnamon, and brown sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350’

Before you actually start to assemble the pudding, give yourself about hour to cook 1 ¼ cup brown rice in 2 ½ cups water ( based on package instructions). When the rice is cooked and still warm, combine with chopped tofu and non-dairy milk in a food processor. Slowly add brown rice syrup, dates, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and vanilla until pureed. Oil a 9 x 12 pan and pour in mixture. Lightly dust with cinnamon and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Enjoy while it’s still warm, sprinkling some raw walnuts, cinnamon, brown sugar, and even a little cold almond milk atop to send it home.

** Two days later… heated this up this morning with blackberries and almond milk, oh my. Protein perfect breakfast :)

Spaghetti Squash ‘Casserole’

Today was cold, windy, and intermittently drizzly. Shaun and I walked around Balboa Park and got a chuckle passing people bundled in knee-length coats, fuzzy scarves, and beanies. Anything under 60 is an excuse to break out the snow gear here in San Diego. Today’s people watching  resuscitated  the little details of  extreme temperatures from my travels abroad that you can’t see in the pictures. Hiking the Great Wall of China in jeans and sneakers at sub-zero temps was cold. So cold. No like, coldest I’ve ever been in my life, cold. I didn’t see anyone wearing UGGs on the Great Wall. In fact, the only people I see wearing UGGs anywhere is Southern California. Hmmm… something wrong with this picture. 55’ in San Diego is warm enough for a walk without a down comforter, but I’ll concede that it was brisk enough for cooking up something cozy and homey for supper.

I’ve had this big ‘ole spaghetti squash taking up all the space in my fruit bowl since Tuesday, and tonight some inspiration finally came upon me. This is sort of my take on a “casserole…” a term I sort of hate, because for some reason I always think of tuna and some creepy creamy sauce with peas. This is nothing even close to a traditional casserole, but its layers baked together resemble the classification.

This recipe serves two people, but can easily be doubled.

  • 1 big bundle of spinach
  • ½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup basil, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 can plum tomatoes
  • 1 medium sized spaghetti squash
  • olive oil for brushing
  • 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 425’

First things first, give the squash a good whack lengthwise. Scoop out the insides, and rub some olive oil on the flesh. Prepare a cookie sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Flip the squash halves flesh side down hard side up, and send ‘em to the oven for 45 (+) minutes.

In the meantime prepare your spinach, onions, garlic, and basil and set in a bowl to the side. Time wise, this dish takes a bit longer than most, but it’s just because the squash needs time to loosen up. When there is about 10 minutes left on the timer for the squash, heat a large skillet with olive oil and toss in the bowl of spinach, etc. sauté and remove from heat before the spinach turns too dark.

Remove the spaghetti squash from the oven when the outside gives a bit when you press it with your finger. Switch your oven to broil mode, high. While you let the squash cool for a sec, spoon a hearty layer of sautéed mixture to the bottom of a grotto dish or medium sized ramekin. Next, spoon out one large plum tomato from the can with a generous amount of tomato liquid atop of the spinach mixture. Scoop out the stringy squash with a fork, and allocate between the two dishes filling them to the top.

Now, here’s the final task: crack one egg over the squash, sprinkle with a little herbamere or salt. Place the dishes back on the cookie sheet and off they go back into the oven.  Timing at this point is tricky; we want to cook the egg but still keep it a bit runny in the middle. Let it cook for about 5 minutes, then check every 30 seconds or so thereafter because the eggs are super volatile under the broiler. Use your intuition.

Viola. Dinner. The grottos or ramekins will be extremely hot, so serve with caution. We enjoyed our “casserole” with a warmed multigrain loaf. Enjoy!

P.S… didn’t Shaun’s pictures turn out great on these?