Pumpkin Muffins – Prescribed

At my annual checkup, my doctor suggested I try the muffins she makes for her family’s breakfast, and scribbled the recipe on her prescription pad. The muffins are delicious and satisfying – no added sugar – just real food in the fun form of a muffin. Tasty, nurturing, and nutritious.

I took the last of a batch to Downtown Abbey, planning to eat a muffin with my oatmeal while Lady Baby ate toast with her oatmeal. No. Lady Baby pointed at the muffin. I said, “Well maybe try a little bit?” That piece gone, she pointed again and again, saying politely each time, “More pease!” A hit.

To make the muffins you combine two cups of almond flour with one-half teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of baking powder in a large bowl. Set aside. (At this point I add powdered ginger, cinnamon, and a little grated nutmeg.)

Blend in the food processor a half-can of pumpkin, two or more whisked eggs, two ripe bananas (approximately a cup), and a half-cup of olive or coconut oil. (I’ve only used olive oil but suspect coconut would be good.)

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk. Fold in blueberries, and nuts if you like. (Pecans add a good crunch.)

This single batch of batter fills a tray of 12 muffins. (I often double the recipe and freeze the muffins in foil-wrapped packets of three, then warm them up in the toaster oven before eating.)

To allow the muffins to come out of the pan more easily, I’ve learned to cut a little parchment paper circle for the bottom of each oiled muffin compartment. (Cupcake papers leave too much muffin on the paper for me.)

Bake at 400° for approximately 22 minutes (my oven takes a little longer). Let cool before gently removing the muffins.

If any bits break off in the process, eat immediately, and gladly – after all, doctor’s orders!

Pumpkin cropped

October Days With Lady Baby

An experiment: IF this works, you should see separate pages you open one at a time and find a Lady Baby tale. If it doesn’t, you will see drawings and text in the usual scroll, separated by WordPress code. (And I’ll try again some time.)

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In October I met Lady Baby and her mother at the Seattle airport, when they arrived at a Concourse C gate from Portland. Lady Baby seemed to find that a happy, but not extraordinary, event. We boarded our flight to Anchorage with an order of guacamole and accompanying bag of chips for a tray table picnic.

chips and guac

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Among the diversions I had tucked in my carry-on (including a small mail truck, a roll of blue masking tape, and a book about flying in a plane), the biggest hit was a sibling to the long-time favorite doll, Bey Bey, but this one a baby boy. At first he was “Kay-tee’s baby,” but soon became Baby Boy Baby. He wore a removable shirt and pants, and a too removable (as in continually falling off) hat.

Baby Boy Baby

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Once home at Downtown Abbey, after gaining permission, I attached the hat by a ribbon to his shirt – to the relief of all.

Baby Boy Hat

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Lady Baby understands a lot more than she has words for now. She speaks often in a shorthand – lacking extras like articles or pronouns or prepositions – she communicates with known nouns. And a few verbs like sit or walk or, best, hug! She also, if inclined, can follow pretty complex instructions, understanding to spread her fingers (another word of hers) while her mom helps her don new purple gloves (another word).

Lady Baby Gloves

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(This is an aside, but remember these?

Turkish Shoes for Lady Baby - small

I’m told that recently Lady Baby insisted on sleeping in her Turkish shoes. Not just having them in the bed with her, but wearing them on her feet, inside her sleep sack. What an elegant idea, how can parents be so unreasonable? she must be thinking.) Back to October.

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Mild weather made this October great for Lady Baby walks (ignoring a few raindrops). Several days I pushed her red stroller, and she pushed her tiny pink one (with babies aboard). At each street crossing we’d stop, load up the pink stroller and babies into the big stroller along with Lady Baby, and cross. On the other side, we’d unload and carry on.

Lady Baby with shopping cart and babies

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At the edge of a church’s empty parking lot, Lady Baby spotted a plastic safety “guy” (her word), that warns drivers about children playing. Just Lady Baby’s size, she showed me he had “eyes” and a “hat,” and seemed pleased to push him around a little bit. She also tromped the parking lot’s puddles in her rubber boots.

Lady Baby with safety guy

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One day, while Lady Baby and I walked to a school playground with Lady Cora, Mrs. Hughes sewed the Halloween costume she’d imagined for Lady Baby – a rainbow complete with stuffed cloud –it will make festive holiday and cheerful ending to October!

Lady Baby Halloween dress

Cards for Sale

You might recognize these images:

Summer cards

Or these fruits:

Fruit cards

Or Frances:

Frances cards

from illustrations that accompanied a post here on “Her spirits rose….” And now they are blank cards, available on my website (www.katygilmore.com). They come in groups of five different images for $22.50, which includes shipping. (More images on the website.)

I’ve only had a few of each group printed – this is an experiment – but I wanted you loyal readers to know just in case!

Three Novel Novels

All summer, on airplane rides, and night after night before sleep, I followed Dorothy Dunnett’s character Niccolo over mountain passes in 15th century Europe, on the canals of Venice, and into a Nile-flooded cistern in Cairo. So many pages of action, rich description, and tangled plot lines. I was sorry to finish, but excited to turn to shorter books – three completely different novels.

“Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter is set in Italy and Hollywood, in 1962 and now. It’s full of characters like a young woman filmmaker, the real Richard Burton, an Italian innkeeper named Pasquale, a starlet named Dee, a struggling writer, and a slightly sleazy agent. It’s a layered and thoroughly enjoyable novel with much shifting of scene and time. Jess Walter says he writes to “figure out who these people are, why they’re doing what they’re doing.” And that’s a good reason for reading him as well.

Now I’m in the middle of Helen Dunmore’s “The Greatcoat” – a novel that requires more willing suspension of disbelief than “Beautiful Ruins,” because it has less grip on reality.

It’s set in a small English village, just after the Second World War. Isabel Carey, our heroine – newly married to a young handsome doctor who is completely caught up in his busy rural medical practice – is lonely.

I’m only in the middle, so I don’t know how this is going to work out (something untoward might happen). The writing is spare and engrossing, and I can accept that when Isabel finds an old (and very warm) wool RAF greatcoat in a closet of a rented flat, she might bundle in it for warmth – and then be visited by a soldier. Wearing just such a greatcoat, he taps at her window and comes from an earlier time. Why not?

And the last novel I’ve so enjoyed lately is “After the Fall” by Victoria Roberts, who is best known for her New Yorker cartoon drawings of elegant people with prominent noses and witty words. “After the Fall” is a novel told in both words and pictures. It’s about a family, father (an inventor), mother (a socialite) and two distinctive children who live on New York’s Upper East Side, fall on economic hard times, and are reduced to living in Central Park. But the images coming to mind probably don’t explain the way this family lives in Central Park, surrounded by all their penthouse furnishings and their common sensical housekeeper and cook.

Mrs. Hughes and I recently had a little moment, a quick exchange about our delight in being English majors – how each semester we loved, just loved when we got that stack of books we had to read. So illicit a feeling, so delicious. I still have that feeling about the possibilities of good novels – that opportunity to bring my imagination to meet the author’s. What a joy – what a miracle that exchange is.

And these three novels, each in its own way, are novel.

Greatcoat - if Victoria Roberts drew one

Fabulous Fingerlings

After reading the Vedge cookbook on the plane, we stopped on the way from the airport in Seattle’s International District to buy some recommended condiments.

Most often I’m an olive oil, salt and pepper sort of “vegetable wrangler” (as Mrs. Hughes refers to a person preparing vegetables), but it seemed like some of the book’s interesting sauces would spice up the gathering autumn.

If only I could describe for you the interior of Big John’s Pacific Food Importers! (A quick Google declared it “a holy land for food lovers.”) Creaky wooden floors, and old olive oil cans full of flowers and herbs on the front porch of a warehouse building certainly charmed me. But the power was out – the interior dark. No scales. No cash register.

By the light of the proprietor’s cell phone and a tiny flashlight on my key chain, we found some of the things from my list. The place is a wonderland of jars and bottles from around the world – with power I might have also secured porcini powder or nigella seeds!

Then we walked a block away to Uwajimaya – the huge Seattle Asian grocery store and bought an interesting looking tamari and sriracha hot chile sauce.

It took searching further afield for the recommended Wizard’s vegan Worcestershire Sauce, but worth it, because Vedge’s “Fingerling Potatoes with Creamy Worcestershire Sauce” are sublime.

Using a pound of fingerling potatoes, whole if small, cut in half if bigger, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper, and roast until tender.

While that’s happening, combine half a cup of vegan mayo, two tablespoons of vegan Worcestershire sauce, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, two teaspoons of sherry or malt vinegar, a teaspoon of sugar, and salt and pepper. Pulse this mixture till smooth.

(A favorite thing about the Vedge cookbook is that it inspires cooking the bounty of this season, with or without specific ingredients. While eating at the restaurant with their perfect preparation was bliss, substitutions I’ve made also work out.)

The Vedge chef says he based this recipe on traditional and comforting “pub fare.” So, top the warm potatoes with the sauce, and picture yourself in an English pub, in a tall wooden booth by a roaring fire while fall rains lash the windows – and enjoy!

Bottles

The Barnes Foundation

Do you know about The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia? Maybe you saw the movie “The Art of the Steal” about the bitter controversy surrounding successful efforts to move the Barnes collection from the Philadelphia suburb of Merion (where it was created by its founder Dr. Albert C. Barnes in the 1920s) to a new location in Center City, Philadelphia?

The Barnes Foundation collection holds paintings familiar from reproductions – Cezanne’s “The Last Bathers,” Van Gogh’s “The Postman,” and most famously “The Dance” commissioned from Matisse by Dr. Barnes. It contains more than 800 pieces of art including many important post-impressionist and early modern paintings – along with old master paintings, African sculpture, furniture, textiles, antiquities – and wrought iron objects from Europe and the United States.

That last bit is most important, because a very particular way of hanging the art sets the Barnes apart – it’s arranged in what Dr. Barnes called “ensembles.”

Eager to teach people about art and show the “universality of the creative impulse,” he displayed things not in groups of “isms” or by artist or chronology – but by looking for commonalities or differences in four aspects of art: light, line, color, and space.

Madame Matisse’s hat might be echoed in the wrought iron hinge or lock or hasp hanging above or beside her, and relate to the next paintings as well. Or color might be the element the eye discovers as it moves over a wall of paintings and objects, seeing red splash, red sky, red cloak. Thinking about these related elements makes an engrossing way to experience the museum’s art.

The new building is luminous and beautiful, and inside it recreates the ensembles exactly as they were at Barnes’s death in 1951. No modern museum, white emptiness here – the house-sized rooms have warm-toned walls and light from actual windows, and the paintings and metal pieces hang precisely in their original close placements.

No photography was allowed, not even drawing, or I would have tried to sketch my favorite wall. It’s just a warm glow in my mind now, lacking specifics, just remembered pleasure from light and line and color and space.

The New York Times recorded the old building before the move, and you can get the feel of the collection as it was (and is):

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/11/an-interactive-tour-through-the-barnes-foundation/?_r=0

My first week home, still thinking a lot about the Barnes Foundation and how completely the paintings and their settings entranced me, I listened to a New Yorker “Out Loud” podcast with the author Nicholson Baker. In answer to a question about how reading from an e-device differed from reading a real book, Baker described how that morning he’d read an E.B. White essay out loud by a noisy waterfall. It’s something Baker often does, in order to really pay attention.

He said for him art is about slowing down, about giving yourself to the art, about taking time being a precondition for enjoying art.

At the Barnes, that’s the experience.

hinge from the Barnes shop

Vedge – A Vegetable Restaurant

On the visit back East, we stayed in Center City – what Philadelphians call the heart of their city – full of historic sites, shopping, a broad thoroughfare with world-class museum offerings – and restaurants!

And I discovered maybe my favorite-ever restaurant! Located in an elegant townhouse on Locust Street, Vedge has a lively atmosphere, an attentive, enthusiastic wait staff, good lighting, and comfy seats. To eat in such a beautiful, “hip” restaurant and be able to eat everything was such a treat for me.

While Vedge’s chef/owners, husband and wife team Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, use no animal products in their kitchen, they choose to call Vedge “a vegetable restaurant.” The title reflects the stars of the show, “vegetables at the forefront,” not an after thought or side dish. Vegetables dominate the menu – the starters, the hot dishes and, of course, “The Dirt List.” Seasonal and local goes without saying.

On our night The Dirt List included Brussels sprouts, broccolini, beets, green beans, zucchini, mushrooms, and fingerling fries. The plates are small, a little like tapas, providing multiple opportunities for taste adventures. From the saffron cauliflower soup to the über chunk chocolate dessert – it was all beautifully presented and so flavorful!

Two nights later we returned to Vedge with an old friend who lives nearby (I love repeating a known pleasure on a trip, and it’s fun to become a little bit of a “regular”). It was Restaurant Week in Philadelphia and no reservations available, but we were invited to show up in hopes of nabbing one of the unreserved tables overlooking the open kitchen.

No luck – but – the creative seater at the front desk found us a little velvet couch in a corner with three stools – one for sitting and two for plates of food – a cozy spot on a rain-splattered night to catch up with our old friend and explore more Vedge dishes!

On the plane back to the West Coast I read all of the chefs’ newly published cookbook: “Vedge: 100 Plates Large and Small That Redefine Vegetable Cooking.” I heartily recommend this book – a great treat for the cook at your house (that would probably be you!). The chefs travel the world seeking ways to adapt traditional flavors to their vegetable-centric menu.

The book is inspiring. The second night home I made their Portobello frites (an adaptation of Steak frites you’d find in a French bistro) featuring “a juicy red wine reduction that sings with tarragon and a touch of Dijon” – terrific! (And quicker and easier than it sounds.)

I’ll be revisiting Vedge’s cookbook in the blog – and dreaming of revisiting Vedge!

Brussels sprouts