Leaves in Vermont

From my Vacation in Vermont

I’ve been remiss in posting for a while. After the whole flood episode, I went on a wonderful vacation in Vermont (planned months ago), and then followed it with one of those whirlwind-of-unexpected-activities weeks at work. But it is mid-October, which means Halloween is approaching. So of course that inspired me to try to do a few ghoulish treats. My immediate inspiration was a post on Lil’ Luna, featuring neon green cookies with a single eyeball. How freaking cool is that? But I really wanted to make something simple, so I opted for a couple of different variations – one using coconut macaroons, and the second using rice crispy treats. I found candy eyeballs at Michael’s, but it looks like you can get them at some grocery stores, and I’m guessing that cooking stores would have them as well.

Macaroons can be deadly in terms of calories and fat, since they’re basically just coconut. But I’ve used Let’s Do Organic’s Reduced Fat Shredded Coconut previously and liked it, so I opted for half regular and half of the reduced fat stuff, as well as using a little over half erythritol and only 2 Tbsp of sugar. I found a great, simple recipe for coconut macaroons on Taste of Home, and followed it exactly with the exception of the 1/2 reduced fat coconut and food coloring.

All Ingredients Except the Coconut

All Ingredients Except the Coconut

Artificial though it (usually) may be, I make bold exceptions for food coloring when it comes to holiday baking. Baked goods are just more fun when they are vividly colored. (And that gel food coloring for cake decorating is awesome). For the neonish green I used green and yellow food coloring, and was very happy with the result. The coconut didn’t really dim the color down much at all after I added it.

I had initially planned to just attach the eyeballs with some simple icing after the macaroons cooled, but then I thought, hmmm….what if I made the icing red? And made it kind of ooze out behind the eyeballs? Oh, yeah! Great move – totally vivid and creepy looking!

Monster Macaroons

Monster Macaroons

For my other item, I made Rice Crispy treats. The first batch I made was with half the amount of marshmallows and butter as the normal recipe calls for, and had added Chocolate PB2 and honey.

While they were good, they were rather unworkable, as there just wasn’t enough ‘stickage’ without the extra marshmallows. So those I ended up forming into a giant blob with eyes (and sprinkles), and then freezing them to get them to set up a bit.

PB2 and Honey Rice Crispy Monster Blob

PB2 and Honey Rice Crispy Monster Blob

Then I cut them into jaggedy pieces. They tasted awesome, even though they were sub-par format-wise.

Jaggedy Chocolate PB2 and Honey Monster Crispies

Jaggedy Chocolate PB2 and Honey Crispies

Since I had leftover marshmallows and Rice Crispies, I decided to go ahead and make a more traditional batch with the full amount of marshmallows and butter. Once the marshmallow and butter were melted, I added orange food coloring. Which, when combined together, really served to highlight what kind of disgusting material marshmallows are made of. Oh well, it is Halloween, so it’s appropriate.

Melted Marshmallows and Butter with Food Coloring - Ew

Melted Marshmallows and Butter with Food Coloring – Ew

Once I mixed the gross orange stuff in with the Rice Crispies, I packed bits into a muffin pan to make round shapes, and then pressed the eyes in, and refrigerated them to let them set up.

Orange One-Eyed Rice Crispies

Orange One-Eyed Creepy Crispies

Here are the recipes for all three, should you care to try them yourself.

Monster Macaroons
adapted from First Place Macaroons on Taste of Home

makes 12 – double for more

2 egg whites
1/3 cup sugar (I used 2 Tbsp sugar, and the rest erythritol, available at Whole Foods)
2 Tbsp flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1+1/3 cup shredded coconut (I used 1/2 reduced fat coconut, available at Whole Foods)
green, yellow, and red food coloring
candy eyeballs
1 Tbsp skim milk
powdered (confectioners) sugar

Preheat the oven to 325°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or spray with cooking spray).

Beat together the egg whites, sugar, flour, vanilla, and salt with a mixer or a whisk. Add green and yellow food coloring a bit at a time, mixing well, until the desired color is achieved. Stir in the coconut, and mix well.

Make 12 equally sized hemi-spheres (as best you can), and place on the baking sheets. Push your finger or thumb gently into the middle of each to form a flat space to put the eyeballs onto later. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until fairly well set, and golden brown on the edges. Remove and let cool. (Theoretically you’re supposed to cool them on a rack, but I was pretty sure mine would fall apart if I removed them, so I just let them cool on the baking sheets).

Once the macaroons are cool, combine 1 Tbsp skim milk with a few tablespoons of powdered sugar. Then keep adding powdered sugar as necessary to make icing a bit thicker than honey. You basically want it to be only slightly drippy when you put it on the macaroons. Add red food coloring until your desired level of grossness. Then place a small bit on top of a macaroon, and press an eyeball into it. Thicken or thin the icing as needed, before finishing the rest. Allow to dry completely before storing.

Jaggedy One-Eyed Chocolate PB2 Crispies

makes about 12 – double for more

3 cups Rice Crispies
1 cup marshmallows
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp honey
4 Tbsp PB2
2 Tbsp milk
candy eyeballs
colored sprinkles (optional)

Put the Rice Crispies in a large bowl, and set aside. Mix the PB2 and milk together in a small bowl and set aisde. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or spray with cooking spray) and set aside.

Melt the marshmallows, butter and honey in a microwave safe bowl for about a minute until the marshmallows are completely non-marshmallow-shaped. Add the PB2 mixture, and mix everything together well.

Add everything to the Rice Crispies and stir together well. Put the mixture onto the baking sheet and smooth it out. Press the eyeballs in at even intervals. Add sprinkles for extra bizarre detail, if desired. Place in the freezer until it sets up, and then using something that won’t damage the baking sheet, cut around the eyeballs to make jaggedy one-eyed creepy crispies. Store in a container in the freezer.

Creepy Crispies

makes about 16

4 cups Rice Crispies
2 cups marshmallows
2 Tbsp butter
orange food coloring
candy eyeballs

Put the Rice Crispies in a large bowl, and set aside. Spray a couple of muffin pans with cooking spray, and set aside.

Melt the marshmallows and butter in a microwave safe bowl for about a minute to a minute and a half, until the marshmallows are completely non-marshmallow-shaped. Add orange food coloring until you get the desired color. (This will be kind of gross at this point, bravely move on.)

Quickly add everything to the Rice Crispies and stir together well.  Press even amounts into each muffin cubbyhole (whatever they’re called), and then press an eyeball into the center.

First let me open with this: when you are told by FEMA that you are in a 100-year floodplain, and your mortgage company requires you to buy flood insurance, the appropriate response is, ‘Oh, ok. Let me read up on that so that I 1) have some knowledge about what one should do if caught in a flood and 2) know exactly what is and what is not covered by flood insurance. The correct response is not ‘Yeah, yeah, 100-year floodplain, whatever.’ Last week was certainly an interesting one in Boulder and many surrounding communities. Boulder’s average annual precipitation is just over 20 inches. In six days we got over 17 inches of rain — over half of it in one day.

Last Wednesday night we had our first hint of what was to come from a badly leaking window and a running sump pump. An hour later, our basement was flooded with two inches of water. We brought several things up to the garage, and lifted other things up to higher perches in our crowded basement that admittedly looks like it might feature in an episode of Hoarders.  We knew that boxes being saved for future shipping needs, as well as just about anything paper was probably a goner already, so we didn’t bother with those, and left them on the floor in the water.

Basement - Flood I

Basement – Flood I

We went to bed hoping the sump pump would empty out the water overnight. Which it did. But it kept raining on Thursday. Just before dinner time, the basement once again flooded with another two inches of water. My husband pulled the pump from our fountain in the backyard for extra pump power, and MacGuyvered that up to go out a basement window. But rain kept coming, and the water kept getting higher. We went down to try to lift things up even higher, but on several of the heaviest items (the 100+ lb ones), we said ‘well, it’s insured – what happens happens’. (This was mistake number…whatever number we’re up to — personal items are NOT covered by either the flood insurance with FEMA or homeowners insurance). And so it kept on raining. And the level in the basement kept on rising. At one point, the toilet started overflowing, filling the basement with even more water (and no doubt all the other things that come out with sewer water). So we abandoned the basement, and turned its power off, aside from the outlet near the ceiling where the sump pump was plugged in.

Shortly after that my husband let fly an expletive and said ‘Look at the street!’ Look at the street, indeed! But it could no longer technically be called a street. It was rather hard for any of us to get great pictures since it was dark and creepy out, but these do a fairly good job of illustrating why I was rather freaked out that night. Our former street was now a rapidly flowing river.

What used to be our street

What used to be our street

And a picture that shows a little perspective on the depth of the river:

Another view of our street (Photo courtesy of Sondra (Wray) LeClaire)

Another view of our street (Photo courtesy of Sondra (Wray) LeClaire)

What was even more disturbing was what was going on two houses further upstream.

Two houses upstream (Photo courtesy of Sondra (Wray) LeClaire)

Two houses upstream (Photo courtesy of Sondra (Wray) LeClaire)

We stood on the lawn in the rain and watched the river for a while with our next door neighbors, then came in and caught a little tv to try to take our mind off things. Around midnight we decided to go to bed, hopeful that the river would be gone in the morning. Luckily, we had our street back by the time we woke up on Friday morning.

There were a few things we didn’t have, however – since our basement flooded to over the doorknob on the door at the foot of the stairs, we had no furnace, no hot water heater, and no hope for successful flushing in the restrooms. So we headed out for breakfast and supplies (we discovered that during the night our makeshift plumbing for the 2nd pump had broken and was merely putting water back in the basement via a different window well). Once we returned with extra pipe, we were able to MacGuyver an improved drainage route with an assist from our neighbor and a couple of his tarps.

Mac Guyver Pump and Drainage System

Mac Guyvered Pump and Drainage System

Our basement had flooded to about four feet. At this point we started calling around to see if we could find some professional help from people who actually had a clue how to clean up from a flood. It took five calls, but we got a slot at #4 on the list of a company coming out from Overland Park, Kansas. Fortunately with our increased pump power it started to drain quicker, and actually emptied out the basement by the next day. But with a basement full of soggy stuff, we were still totally up for help.

Basement Flood II

Basement Flood II

Then came the time where we found out what our flood insurance actually covered. It covers cleanup, and as the foreman of the crew helping us said, ‘basically what would be left if you picked up your house and shook everything out.’ Minus any finished basement features including carpet, tile, and quite a bit more. Alrighty then. Now we know. So, long story short (and still not over yet), the cleanup crew hauled out carpet, drywall, a multitude of trashbags, a parade of college-era furniture, electronics and stereo equipment. Antimicrobials were sprayed, dehumidifiers deployed, windows opened. Furnace and hot water heating companies, trash haulers, and insurance companies were called.

Our two main piles of stuff, and some of the damage in our neighborhood

Our two main piles of stuff, and some of the damage in our neighborhood

We’re still working on cleanup, and will be for a while, but honestly – we still have our house, we can still get to our house, and we still have the vast majority of our possessions. We are so much better off than so many people in the surrounding areas. There were several deaths, many people still missing, and so many people have either had their homes destroyed, can’t get to them, or can’t get out of their mountain town. We are very fortunate.

So now a little food, since this is a food blog. I was not in a great mood for cooking over the weekend. So I was really looking for something easy to throw together that was still healthier than the snack food I’d been eating off and on between phone calls and cleaning. I cooked some heirloom beans one day, since that was pretty easy. We had nearly a whole carton of rice left over from our delivery from Tra Ling’s the previous night, and I had a pepper and some onions in the fridge. I picked up a can of fire roasted tomatoes, and decided I’d make something like dirty rice. But, unbeknownst to me, I had no clue what dirty rice was – dirty rice is dirty because of chicken liver or giblets. I prefer my rice to be dirty from curry or tomatoes. So I went with tomatoes.

Post-Flood Whatever Bean Tomato Rice
serves 4

2 cups pretty much any kind of cooked beans
2 cups cooked rice – white, brown, wild, whatever
1 can fire roasted chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper – red, orange, or yellow
1 cup chopped onion – white, yellow, or red
2 cloves minced garlic (or be lazy and use garlic powder)
1 tsp olive oil
chicken stock
chili powder
hot smoked paprika or just paprika
Aleppo pepper or other dried red pepper
salt
black pepper

Heat the olive oil over medium in a large skillet. Saute the bell pepper and onion until tender. (If using real garlic, add it a few minutes after the bell pepper and onion.) Add the tomatoes, and about 1/3 cup of chicken stock. Then add some chili powder and paprika, and a bit of the Aleppo or dried red pepper, salt, and black pepper. Taste and adjust as desired. Then turn the heat up and let it cook until the liquid reduces down.

Post Flood Whatever Bean Tomato Rice

Post-Flood Whatever Bean Tomato Rice

* I can’t take credit for ‘Boulder Floodie’ – that was my friend C’s suggestion – thank you, C!

I finally got back in the kitchen to make something more interesting than my summer fat loss contest staples of salmon burgers and Fattousch Salad. This meal wasn’t really planned ahead of time, though. It basically came out of poor planning, a couple of things I bought independently, and a sample my mom sent home with me on Labor Day.

I’m a complete sucker for spaghetti squash. As much as I love pasta, I substitute spaghetti squash for it fairly often. So I bought a spaghetti squash at the store, but neglected to get any tomato products. Luckily, I had made a purchase of eight large paste tomatoes (I’m nearly certain they were San Marzanos) from Munson Farms over the weekend as well. Of course I would use some of my Chesnok Red garlic from Wee Bee Farms, because a good, bold hardneck garlic is always perfect for tomato sauce.

As I pondered my sauce, I started wondering what would happen if I threw in some of the pesto my mom made with basil from her neighbor’s garden. Hmmm…could be intriguing. Would certainly make it richer. So I had my ingredient plan. But the thought of standing in front of a hot stove on a 90 degree day while I cooked down fresh tomatoes didn’t really appeal to me. That’s what the grill is for, right? I read an article somewhere last year that said you could grill almost anything. I couldn’t remember exactly what they grilled for the article, but surely tomatoes would be fine. Plus they’d have a nice grilled flavor, which sounded great. I figured I’d peel the excess papery stuff off of a couple small heads of garlic and throw that on as well. And then I’d finish it off on the stove. (I’ve tried both roasting in the oven and microwaving, and given the HUGE amount of time it seems to take in the oven, I’m all about microwaving it these days).

Tomatoes and Garlic on the Grill

Tomatoes and Garlic on the Grill

I grilled the tomatoes on a medium heat, turning them by about a quarter whenever they got charred. Total time, maybe around fifteen minutes. While they were grilling, I cut the spaghetti squash in half, scooped out the seeds, and poked the shell a bunch of times with a knife, so it would be ready to microwave.

Once sufficiently charred, I took the tomatoes and garlic off (the garlic didn’t char, but got nice and soft – perfect). Then I started microwaving the spaghetti squash (checking it after about 8 minutes, and then every couple of minutes by poking the shell with a fork), and heated about a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet. I removed the tough core stuff around the end of the tomatoes (which were quite hot, so I pondered removing them before grilling in the future, but that might have made grilling a bit messier), and took the roasted garlic cloves out of their peels and minced them. Then I added all of it to the skillet. Since they were nice and soft, I just smashed the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Grilled Tomatoes and Garlic, with a Bit of Pesto

Grilled Tomatoes and Garlic, with a Bit of Pesto

After everything was broken down fairly well, I added 4 teaspoons of pesto, and continued cooking the sauce down on medium heat until it reduced by about a third.

Grilled Tomato and Pesto Sauce Cooked Down

Grilled Tomato and Pesto Sauce Cooked Down

Once my spaghetti squash was nice and tender, I used a fork to turn it into squash pasta, then topped it with my sauce. The sauce turned out really well between the fresh tomatoes, grilled flavor, and the richness of the pesto. Not bad for non-planned!

Spaghetti Squash with Grilled Tomato and Pesto Sauce

Spaghetti Squash with Grilled Tomato and Pesto Sauce

At few weeks ago, I finally stopped and bought some whole wheat flour from Farmer John at the Farmers’ Market. Farmer John, of Butte Mill Flour Company, grows hard red winter what outside of Niwot, and stone grinds it himself. I’d been eyeing his flour for some time, but just haven’t done much yeast baking in the past few years, opting instead for the much more forgiving quick breads. But with my summer of ‘training’ for the body fat loss contest I’m doing, I’m avoiding refined flours in anything I eat at home. So the time was perfect to give his flour a try.

I decided to be really brave and just go with all whole wheat flour, something I normally wouldn’t even consider doing — there were too many whole wheat and rye flour bread attempts when I was younger that resulted in much unpleasantness. But I thought the mashed potato trick I discovered a while ago might help out, so I had a small bit of confidence in the experiment. I referenced a recipe on the King Arthur Flour site, and went from there. In addition to a mashed sweet potato, I decided to add a small bit of oat bran, flax seeds and wheat germ.

Whole Wheat Bread Ingredients

Whole Wheat Bread Ingredients (Apologies for the fogginess – pictures taken during an unplanned camera lens fingerprint phase.)

I made the first batch after a particularly tiring weight lifting workout, and had no intention of spending 15 minutes kneading bread. So I decided to see how the bread machine would do with it on the dough setting. (I planned to bake it in the oven.) The answer was, ‘interestingly’. At first the mixture was way, way too dry, so I added water during the first part of the mixing until the dough could actually move around. Then I decided that maybe it was too much water. But I decided I’d just let it run through the dough cycle and see what happened.

Totally not the right texture

Totally not the right texture

Well, it was a sticky, sticky mess. So I tried to knead some flour into it. (So much for giving my arms a rest). But I discovered that whole wheat isn’t really the best kneading flour. I couldn’t get past sticky even after adding another 3/4 cup of flour. Being stubborn and wanting to stick to my no unrefined flours rule, I decided to put it back into the bread machine for another dough cycle. I don’t know why, it just seemed like something to do. (I was totally winging it at this point, obviously). I let it go through most of the cycle, but took it out just a little early, and dumped the entirely wrong-textured dough into a couple of bread pans and put it in to bake.

Still not the right texture - oh, whatever!

Still not the right texture – oh, whatever!

Amazingly, when it was done, it had a pretty nice texture, and tasted quite good. It was robust – definitely not your soft ciabatta or French bread taste or texture, but my husband and I finished both loaves off in about six days, so clearly it was good enough to warrant a repeat.

Wholly Whole Wheat Bread

Wholly Whole Wheat Bread

I tried making a second batch the next weekend. I used slightly less flour and water, left the wheat germ out (I thought it tasted just a tiny bit too wheat germy the first time), and used butter instead of olive oil to give it a richer taste. Things went pretty much the same as the first time, except I just added the extra flour to the bread machine before the second dough cycle instead of even trying a kneading phase. I used my large loaf pan instead of making two loaves, so that I would hopefully have taller bread, but that turned out to be a mistake. It took a very long time for the bread to get anywhere close to completely baked because of its denseness. In fact, I actually ended up slicing the bread, laying the pieces on a baking sheet, and finishing it off at a lower temperature as if I were making biscotti. (Note to self – excellent Plan B for any future too-moist bread products.) I think making two shorter loaves was an unintentional wise move the first time around. But this one did taste really good.

I can’t really recommend this recipe to anyone, but should you wish to have a bit of a whole wheat adventure, here’s the amounts I used for both rounds:

Round 1:

3 c + 3/4 c stone ground whole wheat flour
11 oz sweet potato – cooked and mashed until smooth
1/4 c oat bran
2 Tbsp wheat germ
2 Tbsp flax seeds
2 Tbsp olive oil
1+1/2 c water
1 pkg yeast (mine was specially recommended for whole grains and had 25% more in the package
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp salt

Round 2:

2 c + 1/2 c stone ground whole wheat flour
11 oz sweet potato – cooked and mashed until smooth
1/3 cup oat bran
2 Tbsp flax seeds
2 Tbsp melted butter
1+1/2 c water
1 pkg yeast (mine was specially recommended for whole grains and had 25% more in the package
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp salt

Put all ingredients in the bread pan and run through the bread cycle. Keep an eye on it, and add additional water and assist mixing with a spatula as needed. Add the additional flour, mix it in a bit with a spatula, then run through another bread cycle. Towards the end of the second bread cycle, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Put dough in two bread pans brushed with olive oil, and bake about 35-40 minutes. The bread is done when it is firm and crusty on top (you can check the temperature with a thermometer as well – it should be 190 degrees).

Handling breakfast and lunch for the Body Fat Loss Contest I’m taking part in this summer has been relatively simple. I make large batches of healthy items like bulgur or boiled chicken breast ahead of time, then pack that along with fruit, vegetables, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other items to take to work. But dinners take a little more planning, since it’s not just myself eating. I’ve done scrambled eggs with sautéed pea tendrils, whole wheat flax pasta and tomato sauce with clams, meatloaf made with antelope or bison, and a few other healthy standbys. This past week I planned one meal short, so needed something to make Friday night that wouldn’t take too much effort, because after a tiring week the last thing I wanted to do was spend a long time cooking.

Enter the frozen barramundi we get from Costco. (I’ve been reading recently about imported seafood, and the lack of inspection done as part of importing. My husband has done some reading on Costco, however, and how they do some of their own inspection, and maintain relationships with their suppliers. So at least for right now, I’m going to go with that. Plus there has never been any fishiness to the barramundi we’ve gotten, nor has it ever been freezer burned.) I had bought a large bunch of green beans which we had yet to eat, so that was easy to figure out. But I needed some kind of grain dish. I happened to have some campari tomatoes (my go-to out-of-season tomato – hydroponically grown, and quite delicious, actually), and since I’ve got cooked bulgur on hand at all times now, it dawned on me that I could throw together some tabbouleh rather quickly.

The barramundi is ridiculously easy to make. Once thawed, I just rub both sides with a small bit of olive oil, then salt and pepper both sides, and bake it at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. For two servings of tabbouleh, I used 1+1/3 cup cooked bulgur, six campari tomatoes, seeded then chopped, a large handful of chopped fresh parsley, 3 chopped garlic cloves (I like it garlicky!), 2 tsp of olive oil, 4 tsp lemon juice, 2 Tbsp ground sumac, a little urfa pepper, and salt and pepper. I just steamed the green beans.

When I looked down at the finished plates, I realized that it actually looked like a picture that you’d see in an article on healthy eating! But more importantly, it tasted wonderful, and really was healthy.

Barramundi, Tabbouleh Salad, and Green Beans

Barramundi, Tabbouleh Salad, and Green Beans

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