Sunday, January 30, 2011

Roasted Chickpeas

I feel like a pusher, bringing this highly addictive snack out to share, but since I'm crazy late to the Roasted Chickpea Adoration Party, I think I can fall back on the easy "everyone else was doing it" defense.

Recipes for these crunchy, salty little munchers were everywhere a year or so ago, but at the time I was suffering from garbanzo overload.  And I was a little skeptical that they were really All That.  It is one of my neuroses, you see, that if everyone likes something, I stand back and steadfastly refuse to take a gander of my own.  It makes no sense, I know, and that is why I refer to it as a 'neurosis,' you see.

If everyone likes something, especially if that everyone includes a fair cross-section of different tastes, then one would generally, and rightly, assume that what you have here is a fair bet.  But it doesn't work that way for me.  Even if, say, when I finally get on board, I end up agreeing with the masses.  Every single time.

This was the case with Forrest Gump, Hey YaEat, Pray, Love (the book, not the movie), Glee, and flat boots.

The kiss of death is widespread approval.  File under: Neurotic Tendencies of Sarah #736.

The thing is, though, I had to know that I would get on the chickpea roasting train at some point, just as I finally saw Forrest Gump and laughed and cried and loved it so much it hurt.  And how I eventually streamed Hey Ya, which remains wedged firmly in my head and which still makes me want to get up and dance anytime I hear it...

Yesterday, after not having given a spare thought to roasting beans in many months, I ran across a recipe while I was, ahem, reading magazines for free in those comfortable chairs at the bookstore, and I came straight home, grabbed some cooked chickpeas from the freezer, and commenced to searching the internet for spice combinations and techniques.

I felt silly.  What exactly is it that I think I am accomplishing by not jumping on bandwagons until they have passed me by?

Silly or not, though, I needed a salty snack, and I have finally resumed my yoga practice after a long, stress-filled hiatus, so said salty snack needed to be healthy, but was required to still have that addictive quality that makes Mrs. Vickie's chips so dangerous.  Roasted chickpeas fit the bill.  And I knew without a doubt that they would fit that bill because everyone and their mother posted a variation on the recipe six or seven seasons back.

It was quite amazing though, what happened to the beans.  Even after reading so much about how they morph into super-crunchy little balls of flavor, I was still dumbfounded when it actually happened.  I went with the dry-roasting technique recommended by The Kitchn, and toasted my spices in a dry skillet for a bit before mixing the spices with olive oil, and it was all super easy and angst-free (except for this public admission of how hopelessly behind-the-times I am).

I tried not to eat too many when they were done, but it was a lost cause from the get-go.  You know how opening up a box of Thin Mints to get a cookie or two always ends in disaster?  Same goes here (save for the not-so-small feature that there are no trans fats to contend with in this particular situation).  I ate them straight out of the oven, I snacked on them while I finished making dinner, I had another handful while washing dishes, and then I upended the leftover container into my mouth before lunch today.

Crazy good.  (Just like everyone said they were).


ROASTED CHICKPEAS (makes about 3 cups)

  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas (or 2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained)
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs coarse sea salt
  • 4-ish tsp mixed herbs and spices (I used one tsp each of cinnamon, cumin, chipotle powder, and smoked paprika - for other ideas, see the blogroll on The Kitchn)
  1. Pat chickpeas dry with a clean kitchen towel, and spread on a jelly-roll pan (or other heavy cookie sheet).
  2. Bake in a 400 degree oven (or 325 degrees, if using convection) for about 40 minutes, stirring at least every 10 minutes, until beans have turned a deep golden brown and are dry and crunchy.  Take care not to let them burn.
  3. While beans are in the oven, toast the spices in a dry skillet over medium-low heat for just a minute or two, stirring often, until warm and fragrant.  Remove spices from heat, and add the olive oil, stirring to combine.
  4. When beans are done cooking, toss them immediately with the spiced oil, and then sprinkle with the sea salt.  Taste, and add more oil and salt if desired.
  5. Serve immediately.  Leftovers can be stored in a tightly-closed container, but they lose just a wee bit of their crunchiness.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Day in Our Homeschool

While obsessively watching the list of school closings during our recent Snowmageddon, I saw there was a daycare or preschool or some such young child corral called the Love Bug Learning Center.

I wish I had thought of it first.  It would be the perfect name for our home school.  I'm kind of tempted to co-opt it anyway, and to print up a sign and post it above our kitchen table (where much of our learning time is spent).

When The Boy Wonder was four-and-a-half years old, we began to think of ourselves as a homeschooling family.  We had long known that we would not be sending him to Pre-K, though a big emphasis is placed on the pre-kindergarten year in Georgia, where the lottery has been used to fund a public Pre-K program that now means most children enter full-day schooling at age four, and so I chose that year as a beginning point for our homeschool journey.

I started small, very small really, and used that first year to carve out an hour or two every day in which we sat together and did crafts, sang songs, and read poems and folk tales together during Princess Hazelnut's nap.  It was a precious time, just for the two of us, and though I stuck pretty closely to the Sonlight P4/5 book list and referred to this as "Learning Time," it was very easy-going and snuggle-filled.  We also joined a local homeschooling co-op that year, and met some other families and gingerly felt our way along.

For kindergarten, we used much of the Sonlight kindergarten curriculum, and expanded our Learning Time to two-to-three hours per day.  Things got a big dicier that year, as I at first tried to force some of the materials even when they stressed out The Boy Wonder, but we found an easier rhythm as I gained confidence and learned to take cues from my son.  We added a weekly homeschool P.E. class to our schedule, along with a weekly homeschool academy that offers drama, art, music and history; took advantage of classes for home schoolers at the Nature Center and the Botanical Gardens, and joined with other local groups on various field trips.

This year is First Grade for The Boy Wonder, and though there are still days when I threaten to enroll him in public school (because sometimes I think we have all lost our mind, and if we haven't yet, homeschooling will surely cause us to do so), we have finally settled into what seems to be a comfortable and lovely pattern to our days:

8am Both of my children tend to sleep until 7:30 or 8:00, and it takes us a little while to pull ourselves together, so we start our day with a cartoon while we all snuggle on the sofa and I get some time to sip coffee, check the calendar and my to-do list, and generally get all of my neurons firing.

9am The kids and I gather at the table for a hot breakfast and spend some time chatting about nonsense and about the day to come.  We do not rush.  My children will not be rushed.  It can be maddening, but I am letting them teach me the value of intentional living.

10am - noon We do the bulk of our Learning Time during these morning hours, while Princess Hazelnut (our resident temperamental three-year-old) either sits at the table drawing & coloring, causing general chaos, or participating as she sees fit.  I start by reading a Bible story from one of our children's Bible storybooks or a devotion from Adventures in Odyssey, and then we spend a few minutes on a memory verse and reciting our phone number and address.  We follow this with Science (Sonlight) and then with a few minutes of math (usually a worksheet from or from Comprehensive Curriculum).  Then we spend about an hour on Spelling, Reading and Handwriting, using a mixture of Sonlight, Comprehensive Curriculum, and good old-fashioned creative expression.  Reading is really clicking now with The Boy Wonder after more than a few fitful starts and tearful meltdowns (from both mom & child), and I feel we are finally getting to have fun with Language Arts.

Noon We push the Learning Materials out of the way and eat a long, leisurely lunch.  Sometimes we talk more about something we learned during the morning, or some new topic that The Boy Wonder wants to learn more about, or we plan out our afternoon.

1pm Our afternoons vary.  On Tuesdays, The Boy Wonder goes to P.E. for an hour, and then we go play with our friends until dinnertime (this is as much for me as it is for them).  Thursday afternoons are spent at Master's Academy, where he has drama, music, art and history (on those days, we do not do morning Learning Time).  Friday afternoons are spent at a local gymnastics center where the kids learn Spanish and Sign Language, and get plenty of time to jump around on the equipment, followed by some quiet time at the library.  On Mondays and Wednesdays, I try to let the kids lead the afternoons.  We might do a science project or a craft, but just as often, the kids go off and play with Legos or walk around the yard or organize themselves into some other sort of mischief.

5pm We eat an early dinner together, usually by 5:00, and as this tends to be the only time of the day that all four of us are together, it can be fairly boisterous while we all try to talk about our day, and what we learned, and who we saw...

6pm - 7:30pm  I head off to my home office to work while I can, and my husband spends time with the kids.  The Boy Wonder generally spends another 15 minutes or so reading to my husband to strengthen his reading skills, and then Princess Hazelnut sits down with a stack of books she wants to have read to her, and then they all snuggle up on the sofa and watch a cartoon together.

7:30pm I take Princess Hazelnut and snuggle her down to sleep.

8pm The Boy Wonder and I snuggle up in bed for storytime.  Right now I am reading The Chronicles of Narnia to him, and so we also spend some time defining new words and discussing our thoughts on the story.  This, also, is as much for me as it is for him.  Such a precious time.

9pm Both kids are asleep.  Finally, blessedly, asleep and quiet.  Sometimes I have to return to my office to wrap up some work, but usually my husband and I read together on the sofa or watch a TV show after we get some time to decompress and talk.

Some days are frustrating, some are fulfilling, most are a combination of the two.  And while it can be a challenge to juggle it all sometimes, it is at the end of the day that I can look with some perspective on all the learning and loving and living that was done throughout the long, busy day and can rest assured that, for now at least, we are doing exactly what we should be doing.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am thinking pretty seriously about changing the title of this blog to 'Recipes for a Postmodern Cookie.'  Or, if tonight's epic snow event lives up to the great expectations of our weather forecasters, maybe I shall change it to 'Recipes for a Post-Apocalyptic Cookie.'

Only time will tell, really.  Though I'm kind of leaning towards the former.

It is just that I like cookies, you see.  My grandmother likes cookies.  My children like cookies.  We all like cookies.

And I make a lot of cookies.  I use the old-fashioned Toll House recipe, or I bake Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies or White Chocolate, Strawberry and Oatmeal Cookies.  When ingredients are low, I might bake the Easiest Peanut Butter Cookies In the World.  And when I am trying in vain to take a photo of a cookie, I sometimes bake multiple batches of those lovely Hazelnut Espresso Cookies.

It is as if I had a problem.

This weekend, in preparation of our impending Snow Event of Mythic Proportions, I did what I always do in a time of crisis.  I baked cookies.  First, of course, I made sure we were stocked on firewood and candles and ground up coffee beans and other basic necessities.

Of course.

But for the sake of this conversation, the most important of all of my storm preparations was the baking of these cookies.  I finally, finally and at long last, had gotten my hands on Good to the Grain, a cookbook I have a stalker-like crush on for an absurdly long time.  Orangette wrote about it, as did 101 Cookbooks, The Wednesday Chef, and a handful of others.  And I coveted it.  A whole cookbook on baking with whole grains?  With beautiful photos, raving reviews, and a long list of recipes I couldn't wait to try?

It was painful for me.  My local libraries did not have a copy.  It wasn't going to show up at yard sales anytime soon.  Hints that were dropped around important holidays fell on obtuse ears.  Used copies weren't showing up on Amazon.  I practiced patience.  Patience and long-suffering.  You might think I would have attempted one of the recipes posted by other bloggers, but, in some sort of pique to further my separation from what I was sure would be the greatest cookbook of all time, I held out.  I self-punish well, you see.

I held out for close to forever, and then I figured out how to put holds on books from anywhere within our library system, and after a few more weeks or so, I finally got the notice that The Idolized Cookbook was in.  I may or may not have thrown my pajama-clad kids in the car so we could run to the library right away to pick it up.  Fresh from some vague town in middle Georgia.

And while I had sort of hoped that there would only be one or two recipes that I wanted to try (as is so often the case for me), because then I could just make copies of them and forget about the cookbook altogether, right before I had to return the book to the library, I had no fewer than 20 bookmarks sticking up from the spine like so many crumpled petals on a flower.

I can think of more than one college textbook that had received less page-saving notations than this single book.

The wealth of Kim Boyce's knowledge regarding different grains and their individual quirks and flavors was nothing short of amazing.  I didn't see any way I could survive without having Good to the Grain on my menu desk as a source of ongoing reference.

I gave in to temptation.  I found a used copy and ordered it before returning the library copy.  And I don't think I have ever been so happy to own a single cookbook.

But back to the cookies, yes?  We cannot possibly survive Snowmageddon '11 without a fresh batch of cookies on hand, so I set to work.  After hearing so much about her whole wheat chocolate chip cookie recipe, and the not-so-small fact that I already had whole-wheat flour on hand, this one was a no-brainer.

It seemed a bit like cheating, though, since I tend to be fairly die-hard about the Toll House recipe when it comes to chocolate chip cookies, and I had already doctored up that particular recipe with the substitution of whole-wheat pastry flour and dark chocolate chips.  So truly, would this one be that different?  And would it be worth the use of whole-wheat flour when it is common knowledge that nothing can kill a perfectly good baked good quite as easily as using 100% whole wheat flour?

It was, of course, that different and that good.  Whole-wheat flour has a lovely taste, kind of a nutty taste really - not nutty in the odd sense, but in the tastes-like-a-nut sense, you understand - and these cookies fairly embody that flavor.  They also, amazingly, make perfect use of the nubby texture, giving the cookies a sort of crackly, to-the-tooth bite that takes everything a good chocolate chip cookie should be, and makes it better.

The first bite, of a warm, oozy cookie straight from the oven was, in all honesty, a disappointment, and I was fully prepared to admit defeat on this recipe without holding it against Boyce, but then I followed Orangette's advice and waited until they cooled to try again.

And that was when I fell in love.  They more than rock.  See, there may be whole wheat flour in these cookies, but there is also a whole lot of sugar, some dark chocolate, a perfect amount of coarse salt, and two hypnotic sticks of luscious, God save us all, buttah.  So what you end up with is a big cookie that is crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, both salty and sweet, rich with butter, and bursting with the absolute best kind of whole wheat flavor.

Trust me on this.  I am an expert on bad, brick-like whole-grain baked goods (I was a child of the seventies, after all) and I know of which I speak here when I say this is what I have always wanted in a cookie.  Cross my heart.  And this is not just because I was raised by hippies.

These cookies are the bomb.  And when the world as we know it ends tonight during The Ice Storm of the Century, I can be relatively sure of our chances of survival since we will be well-stocked with a platter of cookies that are both sweet and, if you can overlook the sugar and the butter, are actually healthy, too.

Well, sort of healthy.

Actually, not really healthy at all, but they do have fiber.  And that has to account for something.


WHOLE WHEAT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES, adapted from Kim Boyce (makes 20-40 cookies, depending on size, see note below)

Note: cookies made from about 1 Tbs (using a big rounded teaspoon) of dough make thin, wafer-like, very crispy cookies.  Cookies made with about 3 Tbs of dough (using 1/4-cup measuring cup) yield large, crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, more traditionally-textured cookies.  I loved them both ways and can't pick a favorite.

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder (try making your own)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 8 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces, or use bittersweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, or 325 degrees if cooking with convection heat, and butter two baking sheets.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar on low speed until blended, about two minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. Add eggs to bowl of stand mixer, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  5. In three or four batches, add the flour mixture to the wet mixture, mixing on low speed just until blended.  
  6. Add the chocolate, mixing on low speed, just until evenly combined.
  7. Remove bowl from mixer, and use your hand to turn and gently massage the dough, making sure all the flour has been incorporated into the mix (especially that little dusty puddle that always gets stuck in the bottom of the mixing bowl).
  8. Scoop mounds of dough onto the baking sheet (read note above about size - 1 to 3 Tbs-sized scoops).
  9. Bake the cookies on the top and bottom racks of the oven, for about 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through, until cookies are evenly browned.
  10. Repeat with remaining dough, or refrigerate (or freeze) the remaining dough for later use.
  11. Cool completely before eating.  These taste best when fully cooled.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Consumer Anarchy: Dishwasher Soap Edition

I have been drawn to a lot of minimalist blogs lately, not due to the minimalist aesthetic per se (my own decorating strategy leans more towards the Howard Finster school of thought), but because of the anti-consumerist tendencies that define the movement.  Goals like the 100-Thing Challenge may go beyond the scope of what I'm aiming for with our little family, but the concept, along with that of Project 333 (which I am participating in), are fairly life-affirming in their affront to consumerism, especially in this recent season of general societal over-consumption.

For us, this has been the Year of the Dwindling Shopping List.  Late last spring, the kids and I stopped using commercial shampoo and conditioner with rather lovely results, and that has provided much of the impetus for searching out other homemade alternatives to common products.  Homemade deodorant was a dismal failure (painful rashes are deal-breakers), so it hasn't all been successes and fragrant roses around these parts, but we were easily able to replace toilet bowl cleaner, scouring powder, and glass cleaner with various solutions of vinegar and baking soda.

Long live vinegar and baking soda.  By themselves, those two inexpensive, simple and safe items (which were already on our shopping list for food purposes) have eliminated five other products with complex lists of ingredients.

The items that cause me the most grief are the ones that are never questioned in their necessity.  As with shampoo, there are countless other products that we all add to our shopping list without stopping to wonder whether or not there are alternatives.  The latest item on the shopping list chopping block: dishwasher soap.

This one has long plagued me.  I was thirty before I got my first (and thus far, only) dishwasher and there has been a learning curve.  I realize most people have the ability to properly comprehend a dishwasher and it's accompanying decisions, but I've been a bit slow on the uptick.  To wit, during The Great Drought a few years back, I was sure the dishwasher was using too much water and so I resorted to hand-washing dishes for a few days before someone set me straight and I subsequently did the research to find out that, in fact, the dishwasher is far more water-efficient than any hand-washing techniques will ever be.

I followed that particular conundrum with questions over which soap would be the safest for our septic field.  See, out here in rural-ville, anything that goes down our drain ends up in the ground not far from our house.  One must take a little ownership of one's own actions when one's own waste ends up in one's own yard, yes?

I tried a leading, high-cost, environmentally-named, low-impact dishwasher soap, but alas, found that I had spent a pretty penny on a product that did not actually get my dishes clean.  'Twas an expensive and grump-inducing lesson.  Finally, I settled on a mass-market dishwasher soap that had a conscience-soothing greenwashing environmental word in it's name, and while it was affordable and phosphate-free and actually got the dishes clean, it still had a distinct, bleach-like odor, and I found that disconcerting at best.

Enter Crunchy Betty, a blog I stumbled upon while searching for bath product recipes.  And took a gander at her free online recipe cards for everything from facial scrubs to - wait for it - homemade dishwasher detergent.

I heard angels singing.  It hadn't even occurred to me that I could make my own dishwasher soap.  And did you know you can do it with only three ingredients?  One of which I keep on hand anyway (the castile soap, for bathing purposes) and the other two of which I had planned to buy for making my own laundry detergent (in another 10 years or so, when I somehow finish this 900-gallon sized laundry detergent that was gifted upon us a few millennia ago).

After a little more internet searching, I ran across a few fairly similar permutations of Crunchy Betty's recipe, and then, of course, I did a little experimenting on my own to see if I could simplify the recipe.  I did simplify it, of course, by eliminating the fourth ingredient in her recipe (the essential oil), but found that the recipe does not work if the castile soap is skipped (as was done in many of the other recipes I ran across).

So the recipe ends up being a simple mixture of borax and washing soda, both easily found at any grocery store,  and the castile soap that can be found at health food stores, most supermarkets, and very inexpensively at Trader Joe's.  We have been washing our dishes with this concoction for about a month now, and I love it.  Love/adore/covet it.  The ingredients are safe for my yard, the only smell is the peppermint from the pure castile soap, the expense is virtually negligible in comparison to commercial dishwasher soap, and the dishes are clean.  Super clean.

I have also learned a few useful tips in regards to the previously-flummoxing dishwasher machine.  First, according to an appliance repair guy who blew my mind with this little tidbit, you need to make sure the water in the dishwasher is hot.  Since dishwashers are so water-efficient, the water does not have time to heat up once the machine has been started, and so you often end up washing the dishes in barely warm water.  To fix this, simply run the hot water tap in the kitchen sink until the water is hot, then turn off the tap and start the machine.

Also, the automatic heat-drying cycle on the machine is an energy-waster.  Did you know you can turn off the heat-drying with the simple push of a button?  Until I read the manual, um, seven years after I began using the machine, I had no idea.  Now I turn off the heat drying and just leave the door open for a while after the machine is done and let the dishes air-dry.

Last, if your glasses tend to come out a bit cloudy (and if that actually bothers you), a bit of distilled white vinegar added to the rinse aid well (where it is dispensed slowly and is used for countless loads before being fully depleted), should solve this problem completely, without imparting any sort of vinegar smell.

I made a new batch of this soap today, and will be filing this recipe under Random Acts of Consumer Anarchy.


HOMEMADE PEPPERMINT DISHWASHER DETERGENT (adapted from Crunchy Betty, makes enough for about 40 loads)

Note: borax is a naturally occurring mineral, and is non-toxic when used in recommended amounts, but it is officially classified as a poison and is also used as a "safe" pesticide, and thus should be kept out of reach of children.  Washing soda is also naturally occurring and is non-toxic.

  1. Mix ingredients in a heavy storage container with a tight-fitting lid.
  2. Use scant 1/8-cup per load.