Bergziegenkeks (Mountain Goat Cookies)

A white plate of Mountain Goat cookies with a sprig of lavender

Today’s Musings:
What do you do when you find yourself with an extra 20 minutes to spare?  Work out?  Go for a walk?  Scroll Facebook?  For me,  the obsessive baker, an extra 20 minutes usually results in throwing together the ingredients for a small batch of cookies, devoured that same day, regrettably often in one sitting.  The kitchen is my nirvana.  Sometimes I wonder why 75% of my home exists.  Nestle my bed next to the stove and I could happily reside in my kitchen (it would save on heating bills, too).  These simple cookie recipes are usually quick experiments inspired by whatever ingredients I happen to have on hand; nothing serious, nothing special, nothing blog-worthy, just a quick baked-good fix for my ever-present sweet tooth.

The other night,  while waiting for Mr. M to arrive for dinner,  I found myself with just such a pocket of time.  With no dessert planned, and spying a bag of almond meal on the counter, I quickly whipped up these cookies, rationalizing that these humble treats would be better than nothing, even if they weren’t up to my usual baking standards.  I was astonished when Mr. M said they were practically  “the perfect cookie” – not too sweet, loaded with spices, not overly rich, crispy on the outside with a tender interior.  He even claimed they were a contender to my sister’s buttery, crumbly, oatmeal flips,  my all-time favorite cookie.  High praise, indeed. 

An added bonus – the ingredients, on the whole, aren’t overly decadent…no butter, milk, yolk, or flour.  In honor of Mr. M,  I’m sharing this throw-together recipe that ended up being my first hit of 2022.

Today’s Recipe:


Bergziegenkeks (Mountain Goat Cookies)

  • Servings: A dozen cookies
  • Print

These spicy cookies are not overly sweet, crispy on the outside with a tender interior, and come together in a jiffy.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond meal or almond flour*
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon allspice
  • Generous pinch white pepper
  • Pinch salt
  • Powdered sugar (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and stir well until fully combined. Measure and roll into 12 equal balls (about 15-16 grams each). Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment or a silicon baking sheet. Slightly flatten each cookie with your fingers.
  2. Bake for about 1 7 minutes or until tops are firm and a few cookies are just barely browning around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool slightly on the baking sheet. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar (if using).

*Typically, almond meal is made from unblanched almonds while almond flour is made from blanched almonds. Either will work in this recipe.  If you use almond flour, expect a lighter colored, more delicate looking cookie. 

Vegan Lasagna

A pan of vegan lasagna with a pice taken out

Today’s Musings:
At first glance, 2021 appeared to be a 7” version of 2020, the single (kudos to anyone who is old enough to understand that reference). And that distills down to a tale of opposition – heated, angry, fractious opposition…fact/science/proof/experts vs. anecdotal evidence/conspiracy theories/personal (internet) research. When I think of a personification of America today, an image of “Bison Guy” from the Capitol mob attack, rather than Uncle Sam, springs to mind. Our collective New Year’s Eve was again spent in isolation (thanks Delta), anti-vaxxers still refuse to get vaxxed, Global warming continues its march as glaciers melt, fires burn and wildlife suffers – starving, homeless, and unable to escape inevitable extinction. In Texas and other states, old white men still insist on regulating my body. Black men continue to get killed for minor or non-existent infractions of the law.

And yet, for me, 2021 provided me with a clearer focus of who I am and where I’m striving to go. A major shift, 2021 was about GROWTH. I started the year by finding my voice – my loud, outdoor, “I matter” voice – as I recounted my uncensored personal struggle to survive the aftermath of a toxic relationship. I felt ill as I hit the “publish” button each day, afraid of the repercussions, emotional and potentially physical, yet forged ahead irrespective of my fear, buoyed by friends, fellow victims and a therapist. I burned a few bridges in the process, telling my truth – what happened to me and my subsequent healing. If others were incensed by my brash decision to speak out, that’s their burden.  Overall, however, the response was overwhelmingly positive – counselors, educators, and victims thanked me for sharing my experience and assured me my words matter.  

That farce of a relationship compelled me to take a stark look at my own culpability. I chose to pursue him,  to not ask questions, to ignore the red flags which, in hindsight, waved furiously in front of my eyes throughout my time with him. Life doesn’t allow do-overs. I couldn’t return to the time before, start over, make better choices, but I could sure as hell ensure it never happened again. So, using this specific tragic coupling along with other previous disastrous relationships as guides, I created a list of eight must-have, line-in-the-sand characteristics the next man would possess. No longer would I be blinded and distracted by charm, superficialities, or the dark, damaged men I inexplicably find so appealing. I created a roadmap for the type of love I deserve.

In addition to romantic love, 2021 offered fertile ground for nascent buds of new female friendships to bloom and grow as well. A few years ago, I developed an inkling that my inner-circle, my sounding-boards, my confidants, didn’t always have my best interests in mind or, when they did, didn’t fully understand my perspective. Taking the quote, “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you,” to heart, I began developing friendships with an expanded circle of women who shared my lifestyle, goals and perspective; women who built each other up instead of competing; women who were smart and funny and lived full lives. I’ve enjoyed connecting with this new pussy-posse, building friendships, and supporting them as much, I hope, as they’ve supported me. Two of these fabulous women, in fact, encouraged me to write the cookbook I began in March, a humongous exercise in personal growth.

The recipe below is an additional testament to my 2021 evolution. This time last year, I was baking up Gourmet S’mores and Rocky Road Pie, while my kitchen staples amounted to whole milk, whipping cream, butter blocks, eggs, and cheese wedges. Then, in July, I met Mr. M. – a vegan (gasp!). Food avoidance is ordinarily a deal-breaker in my book, and vegans…well, vegans, no matter their laudable motives, are culinary self-flagellators and should be avoided. Yet, before I closed the door on us permanently, I perused my new “must have, line-in-the-sand” list referenced above and also pinned prominently on my bulletin board. I scanned the list for mention of dietary restrictions and found none. This culinary quirk was obviously not as important as I thought. So, I gave us a chance, with happy results. Shortly after we became a couple, my annual blood test showed alarmingly high cholesterol levels (see previous list of kitchen  staples – is  it any wonder?!) prompting a choice – statins or a diet overhaul. I chose the latter – while not vegan or even vegetarian, the beginning of 2022 finds me with a refrigerator full of vegetables, “plant based” bacon, creamer, mozzarella, pepperoni, and butter – and a 13 x 9 inch pan filled with the remnants of our New Year’s Eve dinner – my version of vegan lasagna. Growth, indeed.

Happy New Year!

 Today’s Recipe:


Vegan Lasagna

Layers of vegetables and plant-based ricotta result in surprisingly satisfying Italian comfort food – you won’t miss the meat. It tastes even better the next day, after the flavors have had time to meld.


Ingredients

    Lasagna
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
  • 10 oz. package sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 oz. package baby spinach
  • 12 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 24 oz. jar tomato basil marinara sauce
  • 12 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 16 oz. vegan ricotta, divided in half
  • 4 oz. vegan parmesan, divided in thirds
  • Bechamel
  • 2 Tablespoons vegan butter
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup oat milk
  • pinch nutmeg

Directions

  1. Make Lasagna: In a large pan, sauté onion and red bell pepper in olive oil until beginning to soften. Add cremini mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms have released their juices and onions are beginning to brown. Add garlic and baby spinach and sauté until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat, stir in artichoke hearts and approximately ½ cup marinara sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Cover bottom of a 13” x 9” pan with about ¼ cup marinara sauce. Dip lasagna noodles in additional sauce and cover bottom of pan with one layer of noodles. Spread ½ of vegetable filling over noodles. Cover noodles with half the ricotta and a third of the parmesan. Continue with another layer of marinara dipped noodles, vegetable filling, ricotta and parmesan. Cover parmesan with one more layer of marinara dipped noodles – you should have 3 layers of noodles, and two layers of vegetables and ricotta.
  3. Make Bechamel: Melt butter in a small sauce pan. Add flour and whisk until thoroughly combined. Continue whisking for another minute, but do not let the “roux” brown. Add milk and bring to a simmer. Cook bechamel until it resembles a thin pancake batter. Remove from heat and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pour bechamel over lasagna and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Cover with foil and let lasagna rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow noodles to soften.
  4. Preheat oven to 375° F. Bake lasagna, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until lasagna is bubbly and edges are beginning to crisp. Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes to ensure it slices cleanly when cut.

Italian Hot Chocolate – Cioccolata Calda

A mug of Italian hot chocolate with freshly whipped cream

TODAY’S MUSINGS:
Yes,  I know, it’s been ages since you’ve heard from me, but I have a legitimate reason for the silence and, no, my “reason” isn’t that I’ve been lazy.  If you are reading this post for illumination on where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing these past three months,  I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m saving that story for another day.  Stay tuned.

Today,  you’ll find me sitting at a dining room table, swaddled in a bright orange down comforter in a chilly, yet cozy cabin just off the main road in Angels Camp, CA.  Outside my window, sun-spattered rolling golden hills dotted with majestic live oaks belie the chilly temperatures outside my door.  Yesterday, an unexpected “bomb cyclone” made for a grey, cold and wet day  – and fevered conversations about hot chocolate steaming away on the camp stove.

Let’s face it,  American hot chocolate is insipid at best – lackluster, brown-colored Swiss Miss® water at its worst.  We are not celebrated for our chocolate beverage prowess in the States.  The Spanish, with their thick chocolate and churros, are world-renowned for their rich, dark, dippable rather than drinkable, chocolate and they stand proudly at the apex of the hot chocolate pyramid of deliciousness.  Not far behind them are the French and their “chocolat chaud,” The rich beverage available for sipping on chilly Parisian streets.  Christmas mornings, my sister combines copious quantities of Ghirardelli Double Chocolate cocoa powder,  a smidge of sugar, and an equal ratio of whole milk to heavy whipping cream in an effort to recall her memories of the decadent beverage sipped in the City of Lights. Her final result?  Satisfying, but not quite mind-blowing.  I must admit, however, until last night,  I was entirely in the dark when it came to Cioccolata Calda, Italy’s version of the drink.  I’ve been fortunate to visit Italy and, during my travels, study, as well as indulge in, its cuisine.  Accordingly,  I’m familiar with Italian espresso, various wines and their regions, amaro, limoncello, nocino, grappa, and the early evening Aperol spritz, leaving nary any room for something as seemingly innocuous as hot chocolate.  Oh, what have I been missing?!

Last night, with my first (scalding) sip,  my hot chocolate world expanded. I could use poetic words like “decadent,” “rich,” “silky,” and “fudgy” to describe this ganache in a mug,  but today I’ve decided to be straightforward – the Italians can call their hot chocolate what they like, but it is, in essence, a mug of warm chocolate pudding before it has been allowed to set – milk, cream, cornstarch and dark chocolate…the makings of a most excellent creamy dessert – and damn indulgent hot chocolate.  It would be made only more satisfying with crisp biscotti for dunking.  This Christmas,  I’ll be taking the reins on the morning beverage; step aside, Sis.

TODAY’S RECIPE:
Forgive the less than professional photo – and the inartfully dolloped cream.  As mentioned above,  my inaugural recipe was created over a camp stove; the cream “whipped” in a vigorously shaken plastic container.  Nevertheless,  the results did not disappoint, possibly even made more delicious by our rustic surroundings. The Spanish may have Chocolate and Churros; we had Patagonia and Cioccolata Calda.

Tip:  You don’t want the hot chocolate to boil (212° F), but you need to heat it to a temperature of 203° F for the cornstarch’s thickening properties to activate.  Don’t rush the process by turning up the heat – be patient, heat it slowly, and stir often.


Italian Hot Chocolate

This ultra-thick, rich and not overly sweet elixir will change the way you think about hot chocolate. This recipe should make two servings, but I find it so decadent (even for me!) that it can easily stretch to 4 servings. With the addition of coffee, this belly warmer also makes a five-star mocha.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk, divided
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
  • 4 ½ oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • Tiny pinch salt (optional)
  • Lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk together ¾ cup whole milk, heavy whipping cream and sugar until small bubbles begin to form around the edges (don’t boil).
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the remaining ¼ cup milk and cornstarch. Set aside.
  3. Once the milk is heated, add the cornstarch mixture and whisk for 30 seconds to combine. Add dark chocolate and salt and continue whisking for about 7 minutes until the chocolate has fully melted and the mixture thickly coats the back of a spoon (similar to a thin chocolate sauce). Pour into 2 coffee mugs (or 4 demitasse cups if you want to show restraint). Top with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. Careful – since this hot chocolate is so thick, it holds heat better than your regular brew; sip carefully.

Triple Coconut Tart with Berries

A coconut tart covered in fresh berries

Today’s Musings:
July 4th in my city – there’s nothing safe nor sane about it. It starts weeks prior with the random M80 explosion rocking the neighborhood, usually at 4:00 a.m., as well as the testing of mortar rockets at 7:30 a.m. before the culprits head off to work.   By the time dawn breaks on the 4th,  an alarm clock isn’t needed to wake me from my slumber.  Fire crackers, Piccalo Petes, and cherry bombs ensure I’m out of bed by 9:00 a.m.  The cacophony increases throughout the day to a crescendo of illegal sky rockets and mortars with skyward explosions akin to a war zone, overshadowing any display from my neighbor,  Disneyland. The night is punctuated by the howl of fire engines – and we wonder, “Has someone blown off a finger?  Has a wayward rocket caused a fire?” By 10 p.m., a sulfuric haze has blanketed the city and I’m thankful my roof is still intact. The next morning, a tour of my backyard reveals a smattering of detritus from the festivities – charred end caps from the mortars and thin red sticks from the sky rockets.

My dog-owning neighbors hate this time of year. I, on the other hand, delight in this reminder of my childhood and consider myself lucky to be owned by two unruffled felines, no matter how loud the blasts. This one night, my city is alive and decidedly lawless. The neighborhood celebrates with a backyard party each year – more anarchistic that patriotic, except for my choice of dessert.

Today’s Recipe:


Triple Coconut Tart with Berries

  • Servings: One 9” Tart
  • Print

Coconut in the crust, along with coconut milk and shredded coconut in the pastry crème ensures coconut lovers won’t be disappointed.


Ingredients

    Coconut Pastry Crème
  • 3 Tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Graham Cracker Crust
  • 2 cups Graham cracker crumbs (about 15 sheets)
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • Topping
  • Assorted fresh berries
  • ¼ cup apricot jam
  • Sweetened whipped cream
  • Toasted coconut

Directions

  1. Make coconut pastry crème: In a medium sauce pan, whisk together flour, corn starch, salt, and sugar. Whisk in eggs, milk, coconut milk, and shredded coconut. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until custard is very thick, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in butter and vanilla extract. Scrape into bowl, press plastic wrap against the surface of the custard, and chill in refrigerator for several hours until cool.
  2. Make graham cracker crust: Preheat oven to 350° F. In a food processor, pulse graham crackers, coconut and salt until ground into crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until combined and beginning to clump together. Press in the bottom and up sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned. Cool.
  3. To assemble: Pour pastry crème into crust and smooth. Cover with fresh berries. Heat apricot jam for 1 minute in microwave and strain. Brush berries with jam, decorate with whipped cream and toasted coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Steakhouse Potato Salad

Today’s Musings:
Recently,  two different friends have reproached me for “living in the past.”  No kidding;  That’s what happens when you naively decide to write a memoir, isn’t it? You are faced with excavating your history, your shards of broken dreams, your faulty memories and stories, surrounding yourself  with these unearthed remnants of your past.  Spade in hand,  the memoir process requires you to crouch on your personal plot of land and begin digging, uncertain of what’s hidden underneath the smooth topsoil.   Prodding the hard-packed earth,  you uncover remembrances buried long ago.  Layer by layer, bit by bit, you scrape away time.  The work is often painful; you are spent by day’s end. As you reveal each recollection, you resist placing a value on it straightaway.  You unearth,  record, set it aside for later examination, and  move on to the next trinket to be exhumed.  Some memories you uncover whole,  the ground gives them back easily.  They appear, to you, almost untouched by time.  Others are mere shards that require painstaking reconstruction and restoration.  You unbury still other recollections only to realize they are not, in truth, as you remember them.  Each piece, intact memories and shards alike, is changed, if only a little;  sharp edges smoothed by the years buried and concealed from sight.  You gently extract them from the ground,  brush them off and carefully spread this array in front of you for a discerning evaluation – what to keep, what to discard,  what is valuable, what no longer serves you.  Some remembrances you delight in unearthing while others you wish you had never found. You continue with your work until each treasure, every fragment, has been exposed.  Only then can you truly recognize where you’ve been.  Only then can you decide where you’re headed next, but do these memories fail us as guides?   

 

Misunderstanding

Make a notation dear
of this word and that
which ones hurt most
which ones feel good about our hearts

which ones we moor our tenderness upon
When in the midst of course terms
I would rather expose docile replies
It is strange how fear binds adults

Would you still admire me if
I spoke in concert again with your aspirations
with eyes of open glass
You would be captive in their sentience of you

Or if I were mute
which of my voices would you understand
The voice of my joy in you is brave and sweet
It resonates from the most inward enclosures

I’m quite guilty
I relied on poetic vision
to show me what exists
and what doesn’t

I sought knowledge of you through your body
at times making false assumptions
wrong turns
sincerely at times admit to being lost
crying, where is the felicity in this?

In small favors not on desert plateaus
In errors only
I tried to placate your worlds
with perfect skies
the contour of your body and mind

I ask you please to renounce your hardness
A favor for love

To be unpossessive of happiness
maybe in not striving for ends
just in the purpose of temporary joy
Ti
me only falsely unmakes their sum
a
lso fragmenting us

Before you
and after you
a region slept in me
Trees replaced you
and temples replaced you
and then nothing replaces you

Now that your absence is exposed like the desert we stood in
I search failingly for your depth in the shallow nightfall
I search for your affinities in quiet spaces

I had hoped the slow paces of enlightenment
would rescue our disappointments
not allow a trail of misunderstanding
to mislead the procession of tenderness
which once flowed in weightless rivers

What darkness cares to separate us
Existential questions preclude emotional ones
Perplexities aren’t supposed to stop Love

Once the chastities have eloped
I hoped to undertake true intimacies
Outside of mysteries

Is your body made for me
to place unutterable reasons within
to shelter your surfaces with gestures now obsolete

A lovely future dares to be here now
Don’t allow the unknown to dispel it
Don’t use doubt as a veil of shyness

I thought I had vanquished the desire to perfect
It robbed me of the ability to love what is most human
to admire the task not quite finished the way I had envisioned it
to subtract nothing
for Love

We must embrace the accomplishment
of one who gives their soul
Where doest right and wrong appear in love
just a state we know to be vulnerable

Our eyes began east harmonies
A procession of epiphanies, maybe,
but not all meetings are breathless

I saw in the mistral of your eyes
Love adrift
and sought to still your inquietudes
I failed more than once
with words
and with wordlessness

At times I thought I deserved to be loved less
At times much more
All the time wanting something else

 Don’t begrudge our pasts
There are many of them
At once remote and still intimate
I consider them like our childhood
unruly and fantastical
but our memories always fail as guides

Full of not knowing
and yet instilled with clairvoyance
We distill a thousand kinds of courage
necessary for anything of worth

Who can see the way out of adult dilemmas?
Certainly not adults
We expected so much brilliance
for such a difficult task

Tall flowers do not grow in close shelter
to survive our folly
our hearts must go separate ways for a vanity forever precluding Love

 – Jason, 1998

Today’s Recipe:


Steakhouse Potato Salad

What do you like on your baked potato? Sour cream? Blue cheese? Bacon? They’re in here!


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ lbs. small, red skinned potatoes
  • 1 Tablespoon Champagne vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup crumbled blue cheese
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, cover potatoes with salted water by 1”. Bring to simmer and cook, uncovered, until tender 15-20 minutes. Drain well.
  2. Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt and black pepper. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, quarter them and toss the still-warm potatoes with the vinaigrette. Add blue cheese, sour cream, red onion and parsley and toss gently. Let stand 1 hour to allow flavors to develop. Sprinkle with bacon and serve.