reading round-up (1.17.14)

As I’ve alluded to before, it’s pretty cold. People who voluntarily move to Minnesota at Christmas are not really allowed to complain about this, so I am trying to find ways to celebrate the season. Of first importance, we celebrate that Max is pretty confidently adapting to using his doggie door, which makes the most annoying part of puppy-raising require less time out in the cold for us. Secondly, I’m really enjoying Six Classical Music Portraits of Winter from The Imaginative Conservative. Let me know if you have a favorite!

I really appreciated 5 Tips for Loving People through the Loss of a Marriage. It makes my stomach turn when I think of how much pain I’ve watched friends experience in divorce, and when the people who should be able to love them best don’t know what to do, it seems even worse. I especially loved her points about the importance of avoiding assumptions (you do not know all the details, ever), validating a person’s experience without jumping to advice, and being a safe presence for the long grief journey.

Looking around at this new house splattered with stuff I can’t figure out how to organize, and a non-working dishwasher, I’m grateful (and most needful) of the encouragement about keeping a clean home from Emily. I definitely recommend all four parts of her series, and hope to get to a point where they can be implemented here soon!

I can’t decide which of these pictures I like best. The duck? The St. Bernard? The bunnies? Maybe the bunnies. Agh. So cute.

Aaron’s birthday is next week, and I’m very excited to be substituting these wonderful Chocolate Peanut Butter cups in place of his usual request (“Buckeye Peanut Butter Balls”), because they taste the same and are so much easier to make! Also, significantly less messy. The only question is: big or small muffin cups? I could see this going both ways.

USA Today shares their reader’s photos of extreme weather, which recently featured “my” lighthouse in Michigan. I find some comfort knowing it’s really cold there, too.

photo by Ted Swoboda]

faith my eyes


I was going to wipe off the counters and take some pictures for a look-at-how-far-we’ve-come kitchen project update. Instead, there was an unfortunate food incident and the remodeling tales will wait a bit longer!

With a short window of time to make lunch between an appointment and piano lessons today, I threw a spaghetti squash in the microwave without poking the flesh to release steam while it cooked. The entire squash exploded when I cut it open afterwards and now I have mild burns all over my face, neck, arms and hands. Since my right eyebrow got the worst of the heat, I’m guessing I’d be in the emergency room if I hadn’t been wearing glasses to catch the stuff headed for my eyes!  I’m following my doctor’s orders for treatment and I should heal quickly without permanent damage since it’s more like a blazing sunburn than the “hot curling iron” feel. But it’s a little haunting to think – what if I hadn’t come back into the house for my glasses before that appointment this morning?

Since the kitchen is still carpeted, I’m toying with the idea of ripping it up and going down to the subfloor instead of cleaning the edible war zone. I even found a chunk of squash that flew over the island and into the back hallway. I suppose we should really think about getting a dog for these heavy-duty jobs.

…Keep me responsible, be it a light or heavy load
Keep me guessing, these blessings in disguise
And I’ll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes.
-Faith My Eyes, Caedmon’s Call

Friday Five: Pre-Autumnal Foods

I have a tendency to discover a favorite food and then eat it constantly until I can’t stand the thought of that dish anymore. This habit usually drives Aaron crazy, but right now we are both in a crazy food phase together and having a lot of fun! If you stop by sometime soon, we’ll probably be eating one of these:

1. In first place, Roasted Pears. Apparently we have never fully appreciated this fruit before. This recipe gives the basic gist of how it works, but we’ve been making up the filling combination as we go. Our favorite version was cinnamon, almond butter and craisins, but cinnamon, nutmeg, and golden raisins with a touch of real butter came in second. I imagine these would be fabulous with ice cream, but we’ve been eating them on their own.

Pears in the new oven!

2. We have a wealth of fresh juicy tomatoes, so I usually eat a big one for lunch with salt and pepper. Sometimes I add a poached egg to make it a more complete meal.

3. Aromatic Jasmine Rice isn’t anything outrageously special, but this is much more fragrant than regular white rice and adds an extra kick to stir-fry nights.

4. Popcorn microwaved in a paper bag,  covered with an inappropriate amount of melted butter and liberal salting. And then consumed far too quickly.

5. Since fall is almost here, tea has replaced lemonade as the recreational beverage of choice.  The favored blend for both of us right now is Tazo Zen, which has green tea leaves, lemongrass and spearmint.

Tazo on the patio

don’t stop believin’ (garden 2011)

Having an (admittedly) nerdy plant-loving husband is very helpful in the summer when he grows a garden. Aaron puts a ton of effort into both the planning and execution stages of gardening. In doing so, he finds enjoyment, we save money, and I feel hip because we’re extreme produce locavores.

This year has been pretty successful. Even though our first attempt at snow peas was an epic fail, we’ve enjoyed several rhubarb crisps, the first few fresh tomatoes have been divine, and we’re trying a new technique with the delicious acorn squash!

all our tomatoes!

the big tomato is almost ready - such a picture of hope.

these snow peas are an embarassment to nature

squash growing up on stakes!

that bee's pollination will make the flower produce a squash!

Rhubarb stalks. And sometimes I do, too.

This year I have my own little garden, too. I am very proud of it. I purchased this little basil plant at a farmer’s market and repotted it myself. I try to water it. Don’t laugh – this is actually a big deal for me. I don’t have natural horticultural nurturing instincts, but I’m starting small and trying to make this work. I don’t want to have to buy fresh basil all the time when tomato season is in full force, because my favorite way to enjoy a juicy red tomato is tossed with olive oil, chopped basil and fresh mozzarella in a caprese salad. I fully intend to try fanning the tomatoes like this, too. Yum!

grow, baby, grow!

[first picture from livingstonandporter’s etsy shop]

Friday Five: grilled pizza recipes

We tried throwing a pizza on the grill earlier this summer and it’s totally addicting! We’re calling this “The Summer of the Pizza” and enjoy grilled pizza several times a week. Some people do this with a round baking stone, but I don’t have that – so you can do without one, too!

A) Pre-bake a pizza crust inside under the broiler, not on bake, so the top of it gets a little bit crusty. If you want to make the dough at home, this recipe is very simple and delicious. Super easy if you have a stand mixer!
B) Cover with your preferred toppings -five suggestions will follow!
C) Season your grill grates with a little bit of olive oil on a paper towel.
D) Put the pizza on the grill until the bottom is crispy and the cheese is melted. Some directions say to leave it on high, but we’ve always left our wonky grill on low and it produces deliciousness for us.

fine dining at the Hummel home

While the regular inside method makes a great pizza, nothing beats the fire-oven taste we get from the grill. Now that you know how to be sweet and grill your summer pizzas, here are five great topping recipes you should try:

1) The Hummel Special – tomato paste and italian seasoning, covered with mozzarella, pepperoni, mushroom, broccoli, and pineapple.

2) Smitten Kitchen’s Zucchini pizza is great, but Aaron prefers chopped asparagus so we do that for his half, like in the picture above.

3) Western BBQ – a little bacon and a chicken breast, chopped to smithereens and thrown into a pan with half a red onion, mixed with barbeque sauce and a can of crushed pineapple. Covered with mozzarella to keep it all on the crust.

4) Salmon pizza – herbed goat cheese or cream cheese, with chunks from a salmon fillet, thinly sliced red onions, chopped asparagus and capers. This is PERFECT with a spinach and strawberry salad.

5) Mushrooms and Bleu Cheese – cream cheese and blue cheese for the base, covered with quartered portobello mushrooms and some thinly sliced scallions or leeks.  Sprinkle a little real grated parmesan over the top!

many-tasting foods

While whipping up a “quick” venison pot-pie for dinner this evening, (side note: it was supposed to be fast, but actually wasn’t) I chatted with an old friend from college about some of our recent culinary adventures. The conversation was peppered with comments like “I read that food blog, too!” “A what-squash?” and “I think I have some of those in the freezer!” Aaron never really knows what to make out of my half of these sorts of conversations. It probably doesn’t sound much different from when I talk to myself in the kitchen. He likes eating, so I don’t let him complain about my domestic eccentricities. This friendly conversation made me realize we have tried LOTS of new foods in the past year or so, and I thought I’d share a list of our favorites.
* Smitten Kitchen’s Jacked-Up Banana Bread and
*  SK’s Perfect Blueberry Muffins.
* Our current sunday brunch favorite: Eggs Benedict with ham. I also owe all my success with this dish to SK’s poached egg tutorial. Let’s just say that lady speaks my food-love language.

* Tuna salad – a can of tuna with cottage cheese and black beans. Mixed together between two slices of bread or over a plate of greens. I didn’t like tuna until I tried it this way!
* And my regular bagged-salad lunches at work become divine with Trader Joe’s Champagne Pear Gorgonzola Vinaigrette Dressing. For the first time in my life, I had to ask myself: Am I eating salad or dessert? It’s great with dried apricots and nuts over baby spring greens.

*Bon Appetit’s Salmon and Asparagus
* Something like these meatballs with BBQ sauce in the crockpot. They are almost shamefully home-style comfort food. I always bake them in little foil cupcake liners instead of browning them in oil on the stove. They still taste delicious and are awesome with steamed green beans and steak fries.
* Smitten Kitchen’s Roasted Mushrooms. I don’t use nearly that much butter and they are still delish! Sometimes I go very minimalist with a touch of butter and a little splash of lemon juice.

Totally unhealthy snacks and desserts:
* A new favorite snack is Sausage Dip in the crockpot. Sometimes something is really delicious without being nutritious or healthy in any way, and this dish is one of them.
* We’ve been very into Baked Brie lately and it seems to be on sale at a local grocery store quite a bit. Love it!
* We’ve made 3 or 4 of Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Guinness Cake in the past few weeks and I’m not gonna lie… I kind of want another one.  Yes, I said “we” made these, because Aaron baked the first one on his own. Mostly.
* These Pumpkin Muffins from my friends Hannah and Bethany are sinfully easy (2 ingredients! I’m not joking!) and we mayhaveeatenawholepanbyourselvesonmorethanoneoccasion.

So those are some of the new foods we’ve been enjoying lately. I’m excited to see what fun new discoveries are ahead of us, too. For instance, what will I do with the 200 venison brats in our freezer? Certainly we won’t be having that many cookouts this summer. And which of our soon-to-be-planned-out garden veggies will grow well and make their way into our meals on a regular basis? We will have to wait and see…

fat tuesday

Aaron asks if we ate pancakes tonight in an effort to live up to the nickname “fat tuesday,” but he doesn’t really care about the answer. Pancakes for dinner? Well, okay. You don’t have to twist anyone’s arm around here.

On this day we mark the eve of Lent, when it is traditional for Christians to participate in various practices of self-denial in order to more tangibly appreciate Christ’s ultimate self-denial: death on the cross.   Reminiscent of their Jewish ancestors clearing the leaven before passover, Christians developed the habit of eating rich and sweet foods (hence the name “Fat Tuesday”) right before entering Lent, when they would abstain from such things until Easter weekend.
Just like we have plenty of meaningful and sometimes silly traditions with our own families, we really enjoyed celebrating this tradition from the family of God and I think we’ll continue doing so in future years!

poached eggs, sausage and blueberry pancakes

This recipe was adapted from my cousin Natalie, so I always think of her when I make them. They are even, um, a little bit healthier than plain old pancakes. Well… I don’t know what difference these actually make when slathered with Buddy the Elf’s fourth main food group, to be perfectly honest with you.   We make these because they are good, not because they make us look good.

Natalie’s Oatmeal Pancakes
1 c whole-wheat flour
1 c quick cooking oats
2 T sugar
1t salt
1t baking soda
2t baking powder
4T butter
2 c milk
2 large eggs

Mix ingredients to make batter, adding more milk if needed for a runnier consistency. Add chunks of fruit (fresh or frozen) if desired. Cook on a hot griddle and enjoy with maple syrup!

potato soup

A cup of hot, homemade soup is like pulling a cozy sweater around your shoulders on a chilly day. It is, invariably, a sign that cooler weather has come and that colder days are worth persevering. I looked up quotes about soup and found one that said “women just have a primeval instinct to make soup”. I don’t know if this is universally true, but it’s definitely the case at our house. I have a few standard soups that are becoming fast favorites, but here’s the one we’ve consumed the most this fall. Of course, the goal with cooking is to make the best food with the most nutritional value, so I find myself tweaking recipes and adjusting things until we are satisfied with the contents. This one is great because it has the comfort of potatoes and a little cheese, but it is broth-based and is loaded with “surprise” veggies like carrots and celery that promote health without stealing the show from the potatoes and broccoli. Keep in mind that, of all things, soup is an art, not a science, and you can radically adjust the ingredients to your taste and still come up with a fantastic meal!

Potato Soup
In the bottom of a huge stock pot, sautee:
1-2 diced ONIONS and minced GARLIC
add 2 cups of chopped CELERY when the onions are translucent.
add 8-10 medium peeled-and-chunked POTATOES and 3 peeled-and-sliced CARROTS (or better yet, carrot shreds from the prepared salad aisle!), and fill the pot with CHICKEN BROTH, boiling until the potatoes are soft. Use an immersion blender (or a potato masher if you don’t have one) to blend all the ingredients, adding more water or chicken stock as needed for consistency.
add 1 bag shredded SHARP CHEDDAR, 1 bag (or 2-3 heads) chopped BROCCOLI and around 1/2 pound of diced HAM.
season with pepper and watch for the broccoli to turn bright green before enjoying with a salad and crusty bread!

Here is what this should look like before you mash everything together:

guacamole that launched a thousand ships

Several years ago, I made this guacamole for some college friends who joined me at my parent’s home for Labor Day weekend at the beach… and I will not lie, I was totally trying to impress my crush. You know, I had to show him I was the kind of girl he could really eat dinner with every night for the rest of his life. Well, it worked. Aaron proudly tells our friends that he fell in love with me the night he ate my guacamole and decided then and there that he wanted to marry me. Little did we know there would be several years of dating, deployment, dating, breaking up, dating, proposal, engagement, etc., between here and there, but we are now married and enjoy inhaling guacamole as often as I can justify purchasing avacados. Which, you know, isn’t that difficult.

2 Hass avacados
juice from half a lime – or a 3 squirts from a jar. I won’t tell on you.
1 small clove of garlic, minced – or a teaspoon from a jar. No judgment.
1 scallion, sliced thinly
1 T olive oil

Mash all ingredients together and add 1 small tomato, diced. Enjoy plain with tortilla chips or offer it with salsa and sour cream for an appetizer spread.
I usually mix this up a bit – sometimes I leave out the tomato, use lemon instead of lime, or a dice a leek for the scallion, depending on what I have on hand. You can always use a teeny bit of onion in place of the scallion, just be sure to chop it up really small. Unless you like it spicy, in which case you should totally keep that onion chunky and make the recipe your own!