Cranberry Orange Muffins with Pine Nuts

So many things are hard. Parenting is hard. Taking care of sick kids is hard. Keeping the living room rug toy free for more than 10 minutes is hard. Putting clean sheets on the top bunk bed is hard. Sleeping next to a bed wetter is really hard.  
That is why I make muffins: Muffins are Easy.  
They are an easy snack, an easy breakfast, and an easy way to let the kids help in the kitchen and participate in making something they enjoy.  After the past week of grumpy sickness here, we could really use some easy distractions. These particular muffins have become a winter favorite. 
I love Cranberries and they combine so well with the Orange and Pine Nut flavors to create a really moist, flavorful treat.  You can easily leave out the nuts, or swap them for walnuts or pecans, but the Pine Nuts really do add a delicious flavor.  These muffins are also really good with whole grain flour like Spelt. 

Looking for more Easy Muffin Recipes to try?  

Cranberry Orange Muffins with Pine Nuts

Ingredients

2 cups all purpose flour, or freshly ground Spelt flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup pine nuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a standard 12 muffin cup tin and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients and mix well.  In a separate bowl combine the oil, egg, milk, orange zest, juice and beat to combine.  Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and pour in the milk mixture.  Stir until just combined, being careful to avoid over mixing.  Gently fold in the cranberries and pine nuts.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins until they are approximately 3/4 full.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and the muffins spring back when pressed lightly.  Remove immediately from tin and cool on a wire rack. Makes 12 medium muffins or 9 large muffins.

What is your favorite kind of muffin?

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Posted in baking, breakfast, food, snack + appetizer | Leave a comment

Cranberry Pear Tart with Almond Cream


I love the new series, Bringing Back Sunday Dinner, on Simple Bites.  When I first saw it, I couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement as I read along – yes, let’s bring back Sunday Dinner! My Grandmothers always put on big mid-afternoon meal every Sunday when I was growing up and I always think of those gatherings with such fondness.  I’m ready to Bring Back Sunday Dinner too!

So what makes Sunday dinner different than dinner every other night of the week?  It’s the extra preparation! For me, the main dish part of the meal is easy – I normally put a lot of effort into the main dish anyway.  At our house, dessert is not a normal part of our regular meals.  Just having dessert at all will make Sunday Dinner a little more special, but having a really nice dessert will make Sunday Dinner really memorable.

Thanks to the new Simple Bites series, I’m committing myself to real Sunday Dinners this year.  We will enjoy a meal made more special by inviting family and friends, prepared with extra special care, and dressed up a bit with our nicest tableware.  Best of all, we are going to have Dessert on Sunday.  I’m getting excited just thinking of all the dessert recipes that will be gracing our Sunday table this year. 

To start us off right, we are enjoying this Cranberry Pear Tart with Almond Cream.  It takes a little more time than the simple brownies and puddings we normally whip up after a meal, but it is well worth the extra effort.  The kids definitely knew something special was happening when I brought this beautiful tart out!

I’m looking forward to all the Sunday Dinners ahead of us.  I’m really looking forward to the memories and traditions that this extra effort once a week will pass on to my children.  But if I’m being honest, I am most looking forward to Dessert on Sunday – I think the kids would say the same thing!

Cranberry Pear Tart with Almond Cream

Ingredients

2 cans Libby’s Pear Halves, well drained and patted dry
1 cup fresh cranberries, washed and dried

For the Crust:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

For the Almond Cream:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
¾ cup ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

Directions

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9 inch fluted tart pan and set aside.

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse twice. Add the pieces of cold butter to
the dry mixture and pulse until mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Lightly beat the yolk and slowly
add it to the flour mixture, pulsing after each addition. When the yolk has been added, pulse until
dough begins to form large clumps. Remove dough from food processor and knead it on a lightly
floured surface until it is well combined.

Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the buttered tart pan. Freeze the crust for at least
30 minutes before baking.

Cover the tart with a buttered piece of aluminum foil. Bake on the center rack of preheated oven for 25
minutes. Carefully remove the foil and cool.

For the Almond Cream:
Combine the butter and sugar in a food processor until smooth. Add the ground almonds, flour, and
cornstarch being sure to process after the addition of each ingredient. Add the egg, vanilla, and spices
and process until the almond cream is well combined.

To assemble the tart:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spread the almond cream evenly onto the bottom of the baked crust. Thinly slice 6 to 8 pear halves
crosswise. Scoop each half onto a spatula and slide it onto the almond cream in the center of the tart,
placing the wide end of each pear toward the edge of the crust. Gently press down on the pear to fan
out the slices forming a circle of pear spokes in the center of the tart. Pour the cranberries over the
almond cream and arrange evenly over the tart.

Bake the tart for 50 or 60 minutes or until the almond cream is puffy and golden. Cool tart on a wire
rack and serve at room temperature.

Do you have Sunday Dinners?  What makes them special?

Posted in dessert, food | Leave a comment

Five Great Non-Fiction Reads

Now that I have shared my Top Ten Fiction Reads from 2012, I want to tell you about some of the best Non-Fiction books I enjoyed last year too.  Sometimes finding compelling non-fiction can be difficult, but I came across quite a few exceptional non-fiction reads last year and I am excited to tell you about my favorites.

These are Five Great Non-Fiction Reads, the kind of non-fiction that you can’t put down and can still make you feel a lot smarter when you make it to the last page.  To see more of what I read in 2012 and what my bookshelf looks like in 2013, follow along with me on Goodreads.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks || by Rebecca Skloot

Non-fiction Science is a genre I don’t normally gravitate towards, but this book was a compelling page turner. A scientific detective story, this book follows the cells of a poor African American woman, Henrietta Lacks, who dies of cervical cancer in 1951.  Pieces of the tumor that killed Henrietta were taken without her knowledge and continue to live on in laboratories around the world.  Not only do you find out just how influential those cells have been, you also get the story behind the story: Who was Henrietta Lacks and what happened to her?

French Kids Eat Everything || by Karen Le Billon

I loved this book! It was so fun to read about Karen Le Billon’s experience moving from America to her husband’s hometown in northern France.  The writing is witty, insightful, and personal and I wanted to have Le Billon over for lunch when I finished the book.  Best of all, the book provides really useful information, tips, and ideas for creating healthy eaters, curing picky eaters, and taking great strides toward creating a family food culture.


Triangle: The Fire that Changed America || by David von Drehle

I got my graduate degree in History, but you don’t have to be a historian to enjoy this book.  In 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City caught on fire.  Within only fifteen minutes, the deadly blaze had killed 146 workers – mostly young immigrants.  This journalistic account of a tragic moment in history is fascinating. Drehle shows us how workplace conditions led to the unfortunate disaster and how the tragedy fit into the Progressive movement.  The story is shocking and heartbreaking and even enraging at times, but certainly an important tale of social justice in American history.

Can Any Mother Help Me? || by Jenna Bailey

This deeply touching book came to me as an unexpected gift from a dear friend and I am so glad to have read it.  This book appealed to me as a historian, as a woman, and most of all as a mother.  In 1935 a young woman wrote a letter to a popular magazine expressing her feelings of isolation and loneliness.  When women from all over the country wrote back sharing their similar feelings, they banded together to create a private magazine they called “The Cooperative Correspondence Club.”  For 55 years these women correspond and develop deeply meaningful friendships that take them through world wars, personal tragedies, and the day to day routines of marriage and motherhood.  This book is both profoundly moving and very entertaining.


This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland || by Gretel Ehrlich

This book is part armchair travel, part history, and part cultural anthropology.  With beautiful, lyrical writing Ehrlich takes readers on a journey to Greenland where people live for four months in the dark, four months in the light, and a few months in the twilight year in and year out.  With narwhal whales, dogsleds, and glaciers this book took me so far from the life I am accustomed to.   This book is a mystical, poetic, and brilliant account of a place, a people, and a way of life and thought at the edge of the world.

Do you read much Non-Fiction?  What have you read recently?

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Tuscan Bean and Vegetable Soup with Asiago Croutons

On a cold, bleak winter day like today I can’t help but daydream about escaping to some place a little less gray.  Right now, I’m thinking Italy in the spring sounds just about right.  It’s been far too many years since I last visited Italy, yes far too many.

And since it will probably be a few more years before I make it back, because I’m not quite ready to tackle foreign travel with three little ones yet, I have to settle for daydreams, my old photo albums, and the lovely shared experiences from my more well traveled friends. However, in the kitchen I can make a few of my Italian dreams come true right now.

This Tuscan Bean and Vegetable Soup has been the perfect winter pick-me-up.  Full of flavor and remarkably simple, this dish is a little bit of Italy on a gray winter day here in Albuquerque. Best of all it is healthy and delicious.  
Packed with vegetables and legumes, this soup is rich in minerals, dietary fiber, and even protein. The Swiss Chard alone provides high doses of vitamins A, K, and C.  The Asiago Croutons add a simple heartiness to the soup making it a complete meal.  It’s not quite a trip through the Tuscan countryside, but as long as I’m stuck here in New Mexico, this soup is the next best thing.     

Tuscan Bean and Vegetable Soup with Asiago Croutons

Ingredients

2 cups cooked pinto beans *(see note below)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
5 cups water
3 small zucchini squash, sliced
3/4 cup carrots, sliced
1 1/2 cups red potatoes, cubed
1 cup canned tomato puree
1 cup whole petite green beans, or cut green beans
1 teaspoon ground sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups packed swiss chard, coarsely chopped
6 slices crusty whole wheat french bread
1/3 cup Asiago, grated

Directions

* Note: This recipe works best with freshly cooked pinto beans.  To cook your own pinto beans, soak 1 cup dried beans overnight.  Combine soaked beans and 10 cups water in a large pot.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for approximately 1 hour or until beans are tender.  Drain and proceed with recipe.

In a large dutch oven or sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion, celery, and garlic and saute for 3 minutes.  Add beans, 5 cups water, and the next 7 ingredients.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 35 minutes.  Add the chard and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Preheat boiler. Arrange bread slices on a baking sheet. Top evenly with Asiago and broil for 2 to 3 minutes or until bread is toasted and cheese is melted and browning.  Slice toasted bread into squares.  Ladle soup into bowls and top with cheese croutons.  Makes 6 servings.

Where do you daydream about traveling to?

Posted in food, soup, vegetarian | Leave a comment

Ten Favorite Fiction Reads from 2012

In 2012 I challenged myself to read One Hundred books.  I didn’t quite reach my goal, making it through only Eighty books in 2012.  Still, I am proud of myself for making time to read, which really means making time for myself and a little self-nourishment at the end of every day.

Since I pick most of the books I read based on recommendations from friends and bloggers, I want to share a few of my favorite reads from 2012 with you here.  Today, I’m sharing My Favorite Adult Fiction Reads from 2012.   I will follow up with my Favorite Classics, Non-Fiction, and Young Adult Reads from 2012 throughout the next week.   For the full list of Books I Read in 2012, check out my Goodreads page.

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The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse || by Louise Erdrich

This National Book Award Finalist was probably my favorite book in 2012.  Spanning most of the 20th Century, this book tells the story of Agnes DeWitt, a former nun who successfully disguises herself as a man and serves as a priest on a North Dakota Indian Reservation.  It is a beautifully written story of miracles and faith, love and grace.

Flight Behavior by || Barbara Kingsolver

I’ve been a Kingsolver fan for a long time and this book, her most recent, does not disappoint! Joining Dellarobia Turnbow in her southern Applachian community, we encounter both the startling effects of climate change and the inner conflict of an unhappy woman contemplating an extramarital affair.  The book is a testament to nature, both human and environmental, and the beauty that struggles to survive during the most harsh conditions.

The White Queen || by Phillipa Gregory

This piece of Historical Fiction is the first book in Gregory’s series The Cousin Wars, which are set during the War of the Roses in England.  Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen, secretly marries the King of England and then fights for her right to the throne. Full of intrigue, romance, and mystery this book will keep you on the edge of your seat while also providing a well researched look into this period of British history.

The Red Queen || by Philippa Gregory

Because I enjoyed the first book in the Cousin Wars so much, I moved right along to the second book in the series. This tale of historical fiction follows the life of Margaret Beaufort who believes in her family’s divine right to rule England, despite a number of tragic setbacks. A mother at 14 and a widow shortly thereafter, Margaret fights her way through secret plots, unexpected treachery, and a life of lonely misunderstanding. Thrilling to the end.

Great House || by Nicole Krauss

Being a big fan of Krauss, I delved into this book with high expectations and I was thoroughly satisfied by the end.  Told in a series of short stories nested together, this National Book Award Finalist, follows a piece of furniture, a large and mysterious desk, through many years and many homes.  From the Spanish Civil War to Nazi Germany to the home of an American novelist, this desk becomes part of a beautiful and haunting story of loss and memory, grief and love.

A Thousand Acres || by Jane Smiley

When a successful Iowa farmer decides to divide his thousand acres between his three daughters, the youngest daughter objects. Her objection eventually leads to everyone’s demise and the revelation of dark secrets and long buried emotions. Confronting themes of truth, abuse, pride, and justice, this Pulitzer Prize winning book is a deeply moving re-imagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Never Let Me Go || by Kazuo Ishiguro

Just to give fair warning, this book is beautiful but tragic. Hinting at the tragedy from the beginning, this book follows Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy through their years as “special” students at a mysterious English boarding school.  From unexpected origins towards an unbelievable destiny, these three characters discover why their shared past is so important, why they are shunned by the rest of the world, and why they are both expendable and crucial.  With elements of science fiction, this brilliant work of characterization is a really good read.

Year of Wonders || by Geraldine Brooks

In this piece of Historical Fiction, housemaid Anna Frith tells the story of the plague in her small isolated village outside of London in 1666.  With the entire town quarantined, every household faces the threat of death, accusations of witch craft, and the complete disintegration of their community and life as they knew it. Ultimately triumphant, Frith is a remarkable heroine and admirable character in this compelling tale of history.

Cloud Atlas || by David Mitchell

Different than any other book I’ve ever read, this clever novel is told through six loosely related stories that take you from the 19th century South Pacific to a post apocolyptic science fiction future.  Each story leaves off at a crucial point and moves into the next seemingly unrelated story.  By the end of the book, the reader has been transported back to the beginning where everything finally makes sense.  A clever look at how fates intertwine and souls drift like clouds across the landscape.

The People’s Act of Love || by James Meek

Set during a time of social upheaval and war in Siberia, this is a remarkable novel about the Russian Revolution.  In a forgotten town populated by an extreme sect of castrated Christians, this book explores the revolution and its ideals, the nature of love and duty, and issues of morality and power.  This book is a suspenseful page turner as well as a deeply thought provoking work.

What good books did you read in 2012?  I’d love more recommendations. 

Posted in book reviews, books, fiction | Leave a comment

Mexican Black Bean Chili with Sausage

Welcome 2013!  I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for a New Year as I am for 2013.  We had a lovely holiday break, which was just the beginning of all the good days ahead of us.  This year will be the year I marry my Soul Mate, and well, it doesn’t get better than that.  (If you missed my romantic proposal, check it out here).

There are still so many things to figure out and plan and wait for.  We don’t even have a wedding date set yet.  Right now, I am just trying to go about life as usual – cooking, working, kids, etc.  It’s not quite life as usual though because there is this big exciting thing that is always on my mind lately: I’m getting married this year!   
Still, my overwhelming happiness aside, someone has to make dinner everyday. That’s where this fabulous Mexican Black Bean Chili with Sausage comes in.  I make a big pot of this over a winter weekend and then enjoy it for dinner and lunch several times throughout the week.  This chili is great the day you make it, but it makes really good leftovers too! 
I like my chili on the spicy side.  If you don’t, you can easily adapt this recipe by leaving out the chipotle chiles and just using more of the adobo sauce for the delicious flavor.  Also, a big scoop of plain greek yogurt or sour cream goes along way to cool off this chili – that’s my solution for the kids and it works well.  On the other hand, if you like more spice, feel free to add more chiles. 
Oh, and did I mention, I’m getting married this year!  Happy New Year everyone! 

Mexican Black Bean Chili with Sausage


(Printable Recipe)

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds ground sausage (turkey or pork)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon ground paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 medium onions, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce, minced
1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from canned chile)
5 1/2 cups cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup minced green onions 
Sour Cream or Plain Yogurt for topping

Directions

In a large, dutch oven or pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add sausage and cook for approximately 7 minutes, or until browned and cooked through. Stir to crumble.  
Add the next 6 ingredients and cook for 5 minutes, or until onion is tender. Add beans, broth, water, and tomatoes to pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes or until chili has thickened.  Stir in juice and cilantro.  Top each serving with green onions and sour cream as desired.  Serves 8.  

“What are you looking forward to in 2013? 

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light 

Posted in dinner, food, soup | Leave a comment

Last Minute DIY Gifts

Growing up, my mom always finished her holiday shopping and crafting by the first of November. I have no idea how she managed that! There are only 6 days left until Christmas this year and I’m still scrambling.  At least I got the holiday cards in the mail and that was no small feat!

If you’re like me and you still need to pull together some last minute gifts, I’ve got a few great ideas for you.  These gift ideas are creative, thoughtful, and best of all they are very simple.  I think I’m going to end up using all of them this year!

FIVE Last Minute DIY Gifts

1. This simple but adorable calendar from Paislee Press makes a perfect gift in a jiffy!  I had mine printed at Costco and they are really pretty – I know all the relatives and grandparents are going to love them.   You can purchase the template here. (image via Paislee Press)
2. I love this Edible Gift Bag from See Jane Blog.  Pick out a few of your favorite edible treats, put them in a reusable shopping bag, and then download the free printable here.  This makes a perfect teacher/neighbor/friend/hostess gift and I’m giving a lot of these this year.  (image via See Jane Blog)

3. These leather wrapped votive holders from Creature Comforts are simple yet elegant.  A set of these makes a thoughtful gift for any home.  In fact, I think I’ll keep a few for myself to put on the mantle at my house.  You can find the tutorial for these, as well as beautiful leather wrapped vases, here.  (image via Creature Comforts) 
4.  If you have any littles on your gifting list, these crayons are fun to make and fun to use. My kids love these crayons.  Find the tutorial for this cool craft on She Knows.  (image via She Knows)

5. Pretty coasters are the sort of thing I always want but never get around to buying for myself – sounds like the recipe for a good gift!  I like that these have a touch of creative DIY, which makes them more personal, but they are still simple enough to put together last minute.  Find the tutorial here on Fellow Fellow.  
(image via Fellow Fellow)

Are you ready for the holidays?  Have you finished all your making + shopping?

Posted in craft, holiday | Leave a comment