The New York Times “Cooking” newsletter is a curious thing. There’s lots of talk of food and recipes, of course, but there’s more to it than that.
Along with the recipes and tips, Sam Sifton, food editor, reliably ends with a sweet treat of notable mentions.
This week I most enjoyed Sifton’s nod to The Atlantic’s “Fifty” series. Photo essays from every state, new ones posted weekly, on Sundays.
Maine hasn’t been posted yet, but Iowa, Idaho, Missouri, Florida, Kentucky, and a number of others have.
Look for your state (if it’s not there yet, keep checking back), and the others as well. This is a beautiful country we live in ... and this series reminds us just how beautiful it is.
Is your hobby or pastime photography? What sort of series could you create? Local landmarks and natural wonders? Use "Fifty" as inspiration and see where it takes you.
Two too many avocados. All ripe with no recipe to go to.
Well, I should say, no recipe I'd made before that I wanted to make again. I wanted something different.
I needed a recipe.
When I saw the name of the recipe: Chocolate Avocado Pudding, I wasn't sure to what to think other than, what an odd combination of ingredients.
But it works. Avocado and chocolate ... and some maple syrup and a splash of milk.
It's so good every time I place a little bowl of pudding on the table, I ask, "Want some puddin, Puddin?"
If avocados don't make it on your grocery list very often, but you like chocolate pudding, you might want to try the recipe. I use dark cocoa powder and add extra maple syrup. And, according to The Pretty Bee where you can find the recipe, it's paleo and vegan. Two more reasons (if you're looking for one) to try it. Yum, yum.
Do you have recipes with odd ingredient pairings? Do tell.
So many of us are cooking more, and being one of those people who is cooking more, I can say there are days when it's a bit of a chore. The days I don't want to to cook are the days I want to be doing other things. When the time it takes to cook something takes me away from something else.
I like to cook, always have. Baking is one of my hobbies.
But it's good to have a break.
We cooked a lot the day before (different dishes for lunch and dinner). It wasn't planned, but the following day when we did a run-through meal plan, we realized we had leftovers for lunch and dinner.
Lunch and dinner.
Two meals we didn't have to cook. What a welcome break from starting from scratch. From the chopping, sauteing, peeling, measuring, and mixing. The piled up dishes, bowls, and pots and pans.
It meant less time in the kitchen, more time for other things. So easy, it was like having takeout.
It was a small thing, but a good thing. A reminder to notice when things are good. We noticed, and it felt good.
So good we made popcorn. We had the time. And anyway, making popcorn is fun and not so much like cooking. And that was good, too.
How about you? What simple pleasures are you noticing?
An Illustrated Journal
Early evening is when I get restless. I don’t like to read at the end of the day because most days I spend a lot of time on the computer.
Sometimes a movie is a good fit, but more often than not, I find myself watching television or spending more time than I should scrolling Instagram. And that leaves me more restless.
After thinking about what I could manage and what makes sense, I’ve decided to try journaling. It’s new to me and I want to experiment.
I’m not interested in listing what I’ve done during the day. Instead, I want to focus on one thing that caught my attention during the day. One topic, subject, thought, or feeling.
And I want to set some parameters:
This is the first collage.
Last night I cooked a new dish: Roast Chicken with Schmaltzy Cabbage from Smitten Kitchen. It was good, especially the cooked cabbage.
When I was pulling the ingredients, I realized new recipes are what keep me interested in cooking. Sure, I have a few go-to recipes, but I like trying new ones.
And my cast iron pans.
Geez I love those pans. They are like the original non-stick cooking pans. And clean up? So easy. I use them for almost all my cooking.
What about you ... do you journal? Do you set parameters? I’d love to know your process. Got any tips to share?
Do you cook? With cast iron? I'd love to know.
A recipe of one's own
Forgive me, but I’ve never liked a boiled dinner.
I know. A lot of people like a boiled dinner, and for many, it’s the traditional meal on St. Patrick’s Day.
I’ve got a wee bit of Irish in me and I like to cook, but I had to find my way beyond the boiled dinner. It took some trial and error, but this has been my St. Patrick's Day dinner menu for a while now. And I won't say who, but even those who remain on the side of the boiled dinner have been known to ask for seconds.
St. Patrick's Day Menu
• Corned Beef (flat cut) with a brown sugar/mustard glaze
• Colcannon - mashed potatoes with sauteed onion and cabbage
• Roasted Carrots
• Soda Bread
• Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes
I sometimes make the cupcakes a day ahead, but otherwise make all the dishes the day we celebrate. Especially the soda bread. It’s best the day it’s baked.
What holiday dishes and traditions do you modify and make your own?
What to do?
I was 14 years old, home alone, and I was bored. I paced from my bedroom, to the living room, to the kitchen ... and back again. In the kitchen, I opened and closed the cabinet doors over and over again, looking for something.
Something to eat? Something to do? I didn't even know.
Round and round I went. Until I found what I didn't know I was looking for: a tub of Quaker Oats oatmeal.
I decided to make cookies.
My mother was an occasional baker and her go-to cookie was the oatmeal raisin. I'd seen her make them, helped her make them, and I knew where to find the recipe: it's printed on the underside of the lid of every tub of oatmeal.
I gathered the ingredients, followed the instructions, and waited for the first batch to finish baking. Ten minutes, maybe twelve.
To my surprise, baking the cookies lifted my spirits, erased the boredom, and filled the better part of my afternoon. When my mom and brothers and sisters came home we ate cookies together. And they were good. Really good. Just as good as Mom's.
And I was hooked.
I went from being bored (and to be honest, a little lonely), to feeling good, productive, interested, and happy.
It was the gathering of ingredients, the measuring, and the mixing that shifted things. I was focused on baking, no longer distracted by my boredom. And the distraction made me happy. Dollops of dough and a baker's dozen. I was hooked.
Baking cookies helped me understand that it's the doing that makes the difference. That hobbies offer not only distraction, but reward, too. Maybe not always with baked goods or a finished product, but a shift ... in mood, progress, outlook, or skill.
The cookies became the start of a life-long pursuit of hobbies, passions, and pastimes. Of baking and hiking, sewing and stitching. Writing letters, cooking, and camping. Some experiences long-lasting efforts, others one-and-done.
I sometimes think my hobby is finding new hobbies.
And why not?
I can whip up a batch of bread and butter pickles, stitch a popped button back on a shirt, and skate backwards on a frozen pond.
And I can bake.
I make a pretty good apple pie, a decent Irish soda bread, and yes, a darn good oatmeal raisin cookie.
I made some this morning. Here's the recipe.
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
(Adapted from the Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies recipe. I don't add the cinnamon.)
Heat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer (or by hand) until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; add to butter and sugar mixture.
Add oats and raisins; mix well.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly on cookie sheet, remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Enjoy!
If there are any left over, store tightly covered.