Tag Archives: Isabelle

Vegan Pumpkin Date Nut Balls

Sometimes you never know what will suit. You can make all the educated guesses you want, but people will surprise you with their likes and dislikes.

So it was interesting for me to note which foods went first at the church coffee hour Shawn and I hosted a few weeks ago. In the blink of an eye two dozen of Rick Ellis’s deviled eggs disappeared, which made me glad, since they had been the last thing I prepared the night before and I almost didn’t make them thinking I had plenty of food (which I did, but then you have the question when is enough enough?). Inspired by Julia Child, the hard-boiled eggs first have their yolks pressed through a chinoise sieve so that the yolks transform into yellow yolk clouds. Next some room-temperature butter blended into the yolk clouds (along with a spoonful of dijon, mayonnaise, a squirt of fresh lemon juice, and a dash of cayenne) which combines to make these the most etherial deviled eggs that will ever pass your lips. Tired and cranky as I was the night before I was glad to have made the effort when I saw what a hit they were.Gluten Free Pumpkin Date Nut BallsThe next platter of food to vanish was Isabelle’s Vegan Pumpkin Date Nut Balls. It almost doesn’t feel like a recipe to me since they don’t go in the oven or get cooked, but they were a smash hit and people were popping them into their mouths as if they were candy. Continue reading


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Launch Number Two

Last Saturday I got up at 6 am to help pack the car and take Isabelle back to college. The start of year number two was completely different than it was for year number one. For starters it was just the two of us. No whole-family entourage like we’d done for her freshman year. Just two girls, a loaded Prius, and a couple of energy bars in case we felt peckish between Whately and West Haven. Even the weather was different –

UNH Weather

These screen shots from my radar app show the difference from one year to the next. Despite the lack of precipitation, for which we were very grateful, there was still some pretty intense cloud action to gawk at as we zoomed south on 91.

Coulds in the Pioneer Valley

Clouds in New Haven

Instead of the cutie little house she was in last year she’s in a big dorm, smack dab in the middle of campus. There are pros and cons. One of the pros was we could load all her stuff into a gigantic orange crate on wheels then ride it up the elevator to her room in two trips. Yeah for giant orange crates and elevators!

Easy Transport

One of the cons of said elevators is that she won’t be able to use them on ROTC days since there is a regulation which states that when cadets are in uniform they may not use the elevators – they have to use stairs. I think the government just wants them to get a little bit more exercise. Of course for my kid that is just fine and dandy since she loves to work out. When she was describing her dorm to us after the housing lottery this past spring the main pro of this dorm (in her eyes) is the fact that the gym is right behind it – literally a hop, two skips and a jump, which makes her very happy. After I left there were some texts saying she’d been to the gym, had gone out to dinner with friends, but somehow hadn’t quite unpacked her room (this via snapchat) –

Unpacking - not


I’m sure being on the quad will be noisy, but she went prepared with earplugs plus we picked up a box fan for the window which should at least provide some white noise to counteract the boisterous revelers who decided to skip the gym. And let’s face it – any college campus would be noisy compared with our house in the country.

As for me, once we finished with the requisite last minute trips to Target, Whole Foods and IKEA (which somehow took hours), I toodled home for my first night as an empty nester. Since Shawn had gone up to the Cummington Fair to watch the demolition derby, it was less empty nest and more a night of having the house to myself. Just me and the dog and about six loads of laundry left behind by my sophomore girl. I unpacked boxes and bags, threw a load in the washing machine, and settled onto the couch with some crackers and this amazing Morracan Carrot Purée. I’ve been whipping up vats of this stuff ever since my sister took me to Sofra Bakery and Cafe in Cambridge. It is delicious and zippy, exotic (the spices) yet familiar (carrots) and I am in love with it. I’d had something similar at a African restaurant in another part of Cambridge years ago but never managed to get my hands on the recipe. Now I have a recipe and it is a winner.

Sofra Meze plate with Basil Lemonade

Above is our platter of five meze dishes – the offerings change every day – including the Moroccan style carrots with dukkah (second from the right) all of which is served with crick-cracks. The green drinks were a very refreshing basil infused lemonade. Honestly it was some of the best food I’d had in ages, so much so that I made my sister go back with me the following day for breakfast.

Breakfast at Sofra

I know I’m a bit intense about this recipe, but I need to be honest with you –actually this recipe is three recipes (well four if you realize that one of the three has another recipe within it) in one, which probably will seem a bit daunting. I took the lazy woman’s way out and bought two of the components ready made, and when you do that this recipe becomes easy peasy. Hey, I bought Ana Sortun’s cookbook Spice just to get my hands on this recipe, so it seemed silly not to pick up a packet of dukkah and a jar of harissa paste at the same time. Even if you’re not near Cambridge you can call their store manager at 617.661.3161 and ask them to ship you your own supply, which will last for many batches of Moroccan Carrot Purée. Empty nest or no, you will be a very happy camper.

Harissa and Dukkah

Empty Nest Moroccan Carrot Purée

2 pounds of carrots, peeled

5-7 Tablespoons olive oil

2-3 teaspoons cider vinegar

2-5 teaspoons harissa *

1 teaspoon cumin (ground)

1/2 teaspoon ginger (ground)

1-2 cloves minced garlic

salt and pepper to taste

Dukkah **

French bread or crackers

Chop the carrots into smallish chunks and put into a medium saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer on medium high heat 20-30 minutes or until fork tender. Timing will somewhat depend upon the size of our carrot chunks. Drain the carrots but leave them in the saucepan and return it to the stove. Over medium high heat “dry” the carrots by shaking the pan constantly, sort of like you would for jiffy pop popcorn. You may be tempted to skip this step, but don’t or it will make your carrot purée watery. It only take a minute or so.

Then with a potato masher mash the carrots, cider vinegar and harissa to taste, cumin, ginger, garlic, and enough olive oil to loosen the whole mixture. You don’t want mashed potato smooth, you want the mixture to be smashed up, with a few chunks left for texture. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

You can serve this the way they do in the restaurant with a scoop of carrot purée, the dukkah sprinkled on top and crackers or bread to scoop it all up with. Or you can serve it in separate bowls of carrot purée, olive oil and dukkah. I’ve even spread some of the purée on a piece of bread then topped it with with a few slices of leftover steak and a handful of arugula to make a divine lunchtime treat. It would also be great to pack for a picnic.

Empty Nester Moroccan Carrot Puree

So you really want to go all out and make your own harissa and dukkah? Here are the recipes (though I have not tested them myself). All three come from Ana Sorten’s cookbook Spice.

* Harissa

1 cup ground Urfa chilies

2 teaspoons chopped garlic

1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, soaked in warm water for an hour

3 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cup water

1 Tablespoon Moroccan Ras el Hannout (yep, another recipe)

1/4 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredient in a blender and purée until smooth. Sore in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Moroccan Ras el Hannout

1/4 cup cumin seeds

3/4 teaspoon saffron

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 Tablespoon tumeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 Tablespoon fresh ground black pepper

1/2 cup paprika

In a cast iron frying pan toast cumin seeds for a couple of minutes until fragrant, shaking the pan vigorously. Cool seed and grind with the saffron in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Mix with remaining spices.


1/2 cup blanched almonds

3 Tablespoons coriander seeds

2 Tablespoons cumin seeds

2 Tablespoons sesame seeds

1/4 cup unsweetened dried coconut

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a cast iron skillet over medium/medium low heat toast the almonds until golden. Cool, then chop.

In the same iron skillet toast the coriander and cumin seeds until fragrant. Cool, then coarsely grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

In the same iron skillet toast the sesame seeds until just browned. Cool.

And yet again in the same skillet toast the coconut until golden and then cool.

Once everything is toasted and cooled combine together and grind or pound slightly to combine.



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Antidote to Stress – Creamed Food

I thought we were over the major college hurdle when I wrote my last post. After all our daughter had chosen to attend UNH this fall. We could relax – right? Wrong – so wrong! It turns out getting into college is just step one, choosing which college to go to is step two. The first deposit check is the beginning of steps three through infinity.

I know there are kids out there who are super smart with extreme financial need who may get a full ride to college. There are some families for whom tuition payments are no problem. I of course don’t personally know any of families like that, but I image they exist in the stratosphere of the 1%. Then there is the rest of us. Our kids may qualify for some financial aid and scholarships from their chosen school, some of them may get merit based grants and aid, but it is rarely enough to cover the entire cost of college. So once the choosing and being chosen part of the college process is over it’s time to figure out where the money will come from.

We can help a bit, but we won’t be able to fund everything so my focus for the last several weeks has been to look for scholarships and grants which Isabelle won’t have to pay back*. This has meant filling out endless forms, all of which had to be in the correct order. We started with the forms which told colleges how much our family could afford. In between filling out those forms we scurried to our accountant to try and get our taxes done in January. She of course laughed at the thought of being able to file in the first month of the year (when you’re self-employed like we are). Many of the forms needed for our various tax schedules don’t get released until late February or March. It doesn’t matter that a different part of the government (the one who would decided how much we could afford) expected us to file our taxes by the third week of January. She took pity on us she came up with a draft of our taxes so we could (sort of) move on.

Turns out there were some scholarships we’d already missed the deadlines for. I guess instead of taking Isabelle to visit colleges last fall I should have put her on a bus while I spent my time searching out potential scholarships. Amazingly, even with our late start of January there were many different scholarships out there. You just have to fit their criteria.

In some cases it is about your GPA and SAT scores. For other scholarships it helps if your parents didn’t go to college. I found a bunch of grants for kids who grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, but since we’re from Whately Isabelle couldn’t apply to those. Certain scholarships correlate with intended majors or specific colleges. Others are awarded to left-handed people whose parents immigrated from the Land of Oz. (Ok, I’m kidding about that last one)  It’s mind-boggling what is out there.

Of course just because you find a scholarship which matches your kid it doesn’t mean the scholarship committee will choose your offspring. There are still essays to write, recommendations to get, plus you’ll have to make copies of everything from your family’s federal returns (with all social security numbers blacked out), to your kid’s official high school transcript, along with your dog’s vaccination records, and a pint of blood. Ok, I’m kidding again, but I bet we could find a scholarship where they wanted those last two things. One of the more challenging parts is adhering to the various directions. They make the directions tricky because it is an easy way to eliminate certain applicants. Put your SAT scores before your extra-curricular activities? Bing we won’t consider you. Did you remember to staple everything together? No? Bing another application in the trash. Remove all staples , mail in a 10″ x 13″ envelope, scan to a pdf, with a photo, without a photo; hand written essay, typed essay, or in some cases both handwritten and typed essay. The variations are endless.

toast ready for creamed greens

Which may make you understand why I’ve been eating a lot of food these past few weeks which is both comforting and needs no elaborate instructions. Barely a step up from baby food some might say. The original recipe I’ve been rifting off of came from my friend Jessica. She ate a lot of this while going to graduate school on a very tight budget. Since she was living in the middle of Amish Country, there were wonderful markets to go to where she would buy chipped beef. She would make a glorious creamed chipped beef on toast though sometimes she got fancy and served it on a baked potato. Since chipped beef is hard to come by in western Massachusetts I’ve been substituting all things green for the beef, though occasionally I’ll use chopped up ham and peas. I am usually too last-minute to ever think about baking a potato so my creamed whatever is always served over toast. It is comforting, it is cheap, and it is fast. The perfect antidote to all these forms and applications.

rainbow swiss chard

Rainbow swiss chard as the “green”

Creamed Greens on Toast

Like I said there really isn’t a specific recipe. You’ll either need to experiment a bit or if you want to you can come over to my house and I’ll whip you up a bowl while you staple (or unstaple) pages together for yet another application.

1 or 2 pieces of bread

1/2 small onion, chopped (optional)

1-3 Tablespoons butter or margarine or olive oil

handful of flour

kale, spinach or swiss chard, stems removed if tough, washed and chopped

spoonful of mustard, grainy or dijon

cow, goat or rice milk

salt and pepper

While your bread is toasting sauté the chopped onions, if you are using them. Once they are translucent or the butter/margarine/oil is heated make the  roux (which is just a fancy name for white sauce) by adding the flour. Stir everything around until the flour is cooked a bit, but not burned.  Add your main green ingredient along with a spoonful of mustard. Then whisk in the cow or goat or rice milk. Start with a little, you can always add more. When the roux is thickened and the greens are cooked taste for seasonings. Pour it all over the toast which you’ve plopped into a bowl and dig in.

Creamed spinach on toast

Creamed spinach on toast

Of course if you can find chipped beef where you live by all means try it with that.

*I am aware that kids can take out loans for college, but starting off life with huge amounts of debt is its own challenge. We’re trying to make it so there isn’t a mountain of debt, just a small hill.


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