Go Big Blueberry Muffins

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I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way. I am one fired-up Cats fan. I am a tweet-at-Cal, unapologetically loud, wear-blue-or-ruin-the-chi, Louisville-despising, sports article-absorbing, NCAA championship-preoccupied University of Kentucky Basketball fan. Love it or hate it – it’s just who I am.

I learned the “way” of the Cats fan at a very young age. In my UK-tied family (my grandparents and parents are alum), I learned that dinner table conversations often turned into basketball debates, and I had to hold my own. My Papa (grandfather) took me to games when I was little – both football and basketball. I loved these dates with him and would pick up pointers about the UK fan culture. Though he didn’t say many words, he taught me a lot of subtle lessons about being a Kentucky fan, like  you see the Cats through to the end of a game, you memorize the bench, you don’t mind your neighbor’s holler’n, you always stand up when the game is tight, you clap to the rhythm to On-On-U-Of-K and know the words to My Old Kentucky Home, you only leave to pee at half-time and, at the end of the day, you always believe in your team. Basketball is like Thoroughbreds, bourbon and sweet accents – it’s just part of being a true Kentuckian. In a world of so much divide and independence, it keeps us unified; it keeps us passionate.

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Seed Starting Basics

SONY DSCLast year was the first year Shawn and I had a yard. A YARD. A blank canvass in which to create horticultural wonders. After years of condos, apartments and yards that weren’t really our own to mess with, we had dirt to press between our fingers and use to our satisfaction. Like Adam and Eve, Shawn and I would work the land we inherited (well, bought) as we were instructed by God himself, and the fruits of our labors will burst from the ground. There will be no trips to Kroger – no tasteless and dull vegetables in my kitchen. Only bounties of endless, colorful, vibrant, organic vegetables for summer cooking delights. This yard was my proverbial oyster.

And then mid-summer time came and went. The greens came up and stayed up and fed us many wonderful early summer nights. Many seeds sprouted – not the one eggplant, not our much-anticipated fish peppers and not a sign of the onions. But for those that did pop up, progress was slow, slow, slow. At the projected harvest time, our carrots were the size of my pinky finger. Our tomatoes produced by September, but not nearly enough to stock up for the winter. And we had ideas, but couldn’t exactly pinpoint why, after all the reading and the sowing and the watering, we were only seeing about a 50/50 success rate.

Now we’re welcoming growing season number two, and we’re ready to fight the good fight once again. One of my humble diagnosis for our tomatoes and pepper plants was the fact that we didn’t jump-start seeds inside. In fact, as I am realizing now, we really didn’t know enough about each individual plant that went into our square-foot, carefully plotted out gardening beds. I’ve discovered that hopeful, prayerful approach is not gardening – it’s a newcomer’s mistake. So this year, my seeds have gotten a head start. We started growing peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and eggplant seedlings indoors on March 1, a little more than 8 weeks before our projected, super-safe last-frost day: May 1. Then a couple weeks after that, I started some onions and another batch of green peppers. At about 6 weeks before frost, we added to the head-start group some parsley, a ton of lettuce, swiss chard, kale and arugula – many of these will go in the garden a few weeks before last frost as they are hardy plants. About two weeks before last frost, I’ll add some carrots, zucchini squash and cantaloupe to the starters. And finally, when the threat of frost is gone, I’ll sow corn, green beans, turnips and beets directly into the ground.

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Sugary Redemption: Zesty Lemon Bars with Mascarpone Icing

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A couple weeks ago I was eating breakfast with Shawn on a Saturday when we had nothing pressing on our schedules. These clear-slate days always irritate me until a project takes root in my brain.  I had arrived at my afternoon project that morning while making belgian waffles in a kitchen already wrecked with dirty batter bowls and piles of flour. And I exclaimed without hesitation, “I’m going to do something crazy today.”

“Is it go buy some chickens?” Shawn said, unmoved.

You see, we’ve been debating about the addition of a backyard chicken coop – fresh eggs at our fingertips, I say. Actually, it’s not really a debate, to Shawn, it’s more like a slow process of denouncing a nutty fad of mine. In fact, I am tracking down some experts for more advice on urban chickens – and I know I can order them in the mail in an instant. For the past few weeks I’ve been preoccupied with the idea that our next big move in life will be investing in a small hobby farm out in the country. Chickens would be the first step in that direction – and with Shawn’s woodworking skills, a coop would be a piece of cake.

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Rewards of Summer Canning and Crispy Chicken in Brown Butter Jalapeño Reduction

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There’s nothing like a little fresh salsa made from the fruits of your own backyard garden – in frigid January.

This week, Shawn and I pried open a pint jar of garden salsa I’d canned in the summer months. This was not the first year I’ve canned and stored local and homegrown food for the winter, but I always feel a little giddy every time I pop open one of those almost-forgotten jars. It feels like breaking a piggy bank. When I can barely walk to my car without my fingers going numb, a scoop of fresh, chunky diced tomatoes swimming in their own natural juices fixes my craving for the glory days of summer, even if for just a moment.

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On a Food Kick: Sweet Potato and Gorgonzola Bisque

Sweet potato bisqueI know what you’re thinking: Put down the sweet potatoes and walk away, Elizabeth. You’re going a little bit berserk on your sweet potato kick.

All kitchen geeks are at times guilty of going on food kicks. I think they are perfectly healthy: these streaks of devotion to one beloved ingredient simply shows your  enthusiasm, creativity and ingenuity in the kitchen.  I’ve hopped on the “fill the freezer with fruit” smoothie train, the “brink of fall” pumpkin train (kill me) and the “hard to ignore fresh summer tomato” train. For some, it’s rather a cookbook or recipe author that they can’t seem to shake. The only problem with a food kick is, when we get so married to one ingredient, we forget there are a bazillion other ingredients out there just as fun, dynamic and versatile. So if you find yourself incorporating a favorite ingredient over and over, just consider these tips:

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Respect the Sentiment, Not the Textbook Rules

My dad in his pajama pants, not always wearing a shirt, flipping pancakes in harmony was a familiar sight on Saturday mornings growing up.

Like a lot of American dads, my dad wasn’t home a lot during the week. So Saturday mornings were the only times we kids could really get some quality time with Dad. As there were four of us vying for his attention, you can probably imagine the chatter from the barstools as we drizzled syrup on our hot cakes. When we were really little, dad would try to form our pancakes into a requested animal: a dolphin, a turtle, a dog or, if he was feeling really brave, a unicorn. In the later years, he started to throw in mashed bananas to his mix. The pancakes were always tasty and packed up our bellies so that we could skip lunch on Saturdays.

pancakes Jan

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A Lesson in Greek Eating at Athenian Grill

Beginning in the summer of 2012, Ilias Pappas took his mouthwatering gyros (“yee-ros”) to the streets of Lexington. His Greek food truck parked in the grass at summertime food festivals, outside the doors of local breweries and on the sidewalks of downtown hotspots during the lunch hour. Long lines of patrons craving tender slices of peppery lamb, warm pita bread, and paper baskets piled high with fresh hummus and herbs formed in front of Pappas’ portable kitchen.

Athenian Grill Spankikopita

Now this family owned and operated business has a permanent location in Chevy Chase. Instead of following his customers around town, Pappas has customers filing in his front door all hours of the day to order his family’s authentic Greek recipes.

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A Sweet Start: Sweet Potato Muffins with a Honey Butter Glaze

Happy New Year, everyone! Despite having woken up embarrassingly late with the aches and grogginess of an oncoming cold, I entered 2014 with my baker’s creativity firing.

lone muffinMy husband Shawn enjoys the sleepiness of the first day of the year. Nobody’s open, so there’s no reason to go out. I’ve already expended my Christmas budget and gathered some goods for my closet over the holidays, so there’s no justifiable reason for shopping. There’s no guilt in sleeping in and there’s no business to distract you from your pajama-wearing peace. Seems to me the only people with obligations are those in the college football industry, with bowl games stacking up the TV schedule all day long. So, Shawn couldn’t be more content.

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Cold Weather Chicken Noodle Therapy

Close Up chicken noodle soup When throats get scratchy, noses start to slow drip and chills scamper down spines, there’s only one remedy. You know the therapy – but it’s very likely you associate this prescription-free, mom-approved medicine with a red can made iconic by Andy Warhol.

As with every recipe that I spend a considerable amount of time with, I learned a couple unspoken secrets about chicken noodle soup while slow-cooking the soup for a sick hubby this week.

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Buttery Bourbon Caramels

complete bourbon caramelCall her the Baroness of Buckeyes and the Princess of Peppermint Bark – my little sister Hannah is a master at making Christmas candy.  A methodical and calculated cook (carried over from her physician’s assistant mind), she’s likely to be found in her kitchen a few weeks before Christmas prayerfully massaging a roll of soon-to-be-transformed creme candy.

If I’ve learned anything from Hannah about the art of creating homemade candy, it’s that even if you strictly follow the rules of a recipe, candy can still cause some kitchen drama. You’d better have a trusty candy thermometer, a dehumidifier and plenty of patience, because sometimes these recipes can get, well, a little sticky.

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