Archive for October 2011

A Cake for Miranda the Tropical Storm

October 31, 2011

My friend Miranda came and helped me in the garden last week.  She’s a miracle out there, doing what she refers to as “aerobic weeding”, keeping pace with me, maybe even working a little bit faster!  We ripped out juniper, dug and pulled weeds, clipped back iris and lilies and moved perennials, filling barrel after barrel to dump into her truck.  When lunch time rolled around, I dragged her away from the garden and into my kitchen.  I assembled elaborate chickpea salad sandwiches on toasted sourdough bread.  She was pushing herself away from the table when I made it clear we would not be returning to work until we ate dessert.

“Pumpkin gingerbread.  You have to try it!”

“Oh, twist my arm,” she said with a grin.

I cut us each a thick slice.  She took her first bite.

“I have to have this recipe.  I will read your blog if you put this recipe on there!”

“No problem.  I’ll get it up there today.”

Or not.

I saw Miranda again Saturday night at a Halloween costume dinner party.  She wore a fantastic costume—a tropical dress and blouse, Mardi Gras beads, a straw hat with the side pinned up as if the wind was right in the room, holding it up in place.  She carried a devil’s red pitchfork, a last minute addition to the outfit, making the name of her costume the Tropical Storm from Hell.  She looked gorgeous, with her face pink from spending the day outside gardening in the cold autumn wind.

Because I knew she would be at the party, I made the cake again.  I brought it warm to the table; the smell of pumpkin, ginger and lemon filled the room.

“Please, please.  I want this recipe!”

After dinner, I wrapped the leftover cake and gave it to her to take home.  I have a feeling that, although she is not fond of the kitchen, she will make this herself.  After she reads my blog to get the recipe, of course!

Pumpkin Gingerbread


1 c sourdough starter (optional)* (See note at bottom of recipe)

3 T ground flax seed whisked together with 1/2 c plus 1 T water

scant 2/3 c extra-virgin olive oil

2/3 c sugar

1/4 c molasses

2 T fresh grated ginger root

zest from 1 lemon

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/4 c cooked fresh pumpkin* (You can use canned pumpkin, but in this recipe, the fresh really makes a taste difference.)

2 c whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

2 tsp ground dried ginger

cinnamon sugar for sprinkling the baking pan


Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

First, whisk together the ground flax seed and the water.  Set aside.

Oil a bundt pan or pretty cake mold pan with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. (I use a pretty flower cake mold pan.  You can also use a 9×13 baking pan.)

In a large bowl, combine starter if you are using it, sugar, molasses, vanilla, and oil.  Use a large whisk to combine well.  Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the flour, the salt, the baking powder, the baking soda, the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and dried ginger.  Combine with a fork or a dry whisk until all the dry ingredients are well incorporated into the flour.

Whisk the starter and sugar mixture again, then stir and add the ground flax seed mixture and whisk vigorously for 1 minute. Whisk in the lemon zest and the fresh grated ginger.

Add the fresh pumpkin and whisk until the pumpkin is pretty well incorporated.  A few chunky pieces are okay.  If the pumpkin is very chunky, use a fork to mash it a bit and whisk again.

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl.  Stir the wet and dry together using a large wooden spoon or spatula.  You don’t need to over-mix, just watch to be sure that all the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Pour the batter into the bundt or cake pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the center is just firm to the touch.  You can also test by inserting a toothpick into the thickest part of the cake and pulling it out.  It should come out dry.  If you are using a 9×13″ baking pan, bake for about 30-35 minutes.

Allow cake to cool in pan for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  If you use the 9×13″ baking pan, just cut into squares and serve right from the pan.


Since we have become vegan, I have changed the starter only by changing the cow’s milk to either almond, soy, or hemp milk.  It has not changed the flavor or affected the fermenting process.  For the other cake recipes that stem from the starter, the ground flax seed and water mixture substitutes for the eggs.  The basic sub is:  1 T ground flax seed whisked together with 3 T water = 1 egg.  So far, this has worked perfectly for all baked goods.

Never cooked a pumpkin before?  No problem!  Select a sugar pumpkin—those are the little ones, not the ones we carve for Halloween.  Wash the pumpkin and cut it in half vertically.  Scoop out the seeds and strings with a big spoon.  Line a cookie sheet with foil, oil the foil lightly, and place the two pumpkin halves, cut side down, on the cookie sheet.  Bake at 425 º F for about 40-45 minutes, or until soft.  (The skin will turn light brown, maybe even a little bit darker in some spots.)  Remove cookie sheet from oven and, when the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop/scrape the flesh from the skin.  Mash with a fork.   You can puree the pumpkin flesh in a food processor if you like your pumpkin very smooth.  Pumpkin freezes well, too.  Measure by cupfuls and freeze in containers or freezer storage bags for up to 6 months.


The Bad, The Good, and the Ugly

October 21, 2011

I’m in my kickboxing class, the only class I take.  Training numerous clients all week is fun, but I have discovered that hitting an 800 pound bag or boxing pads held by a strong sparring partner lets off steam and releases anger and frustration I never knew I had—or at least had never been in touch with before.  My teacher is a pretty, tiny woman whose husband owns their fitness business.  She is a certified boxing and kickboxing instructor who is good at what she does.  She takes time to demonstrate the left-hand version of everything; more than half of us in the class are lefties!  We talk in between rounds; she knows I am a personal trainer and respects my level of fitness.  She tries to find challenges for me during the core training segments of our class.  She makes comments about my muscle definition that make me feel great about my body.  I trust her.

One. I jab, straight out in front, with my shoulder rolled and my right fist curled tightly in my glove.   One, two.  I  jab again with my right fist, then pivot on my back leg and punch across with my left fist. One, two, hook— the same one-two, then I pivot back, bringing my bent right arm in front of and across my body, elbow high, the fist cutting the air with a whoosh.  Front kick, two, upper cut, that punch powered by a fast, shallow squat with my right fist pushing up and out, clipping someone’s imaginary jaw.  A fine glaze of moisture forms on my brow and she smiles at me.

“You’re mist-ified!”

Mist-ified.  That makes me grin.  I love the feel of sweat running down my back and down my shins as I throw each fist forward, punching the heavy black bag, dancing around it as if I am in the ring with a relentless partner.

“I’m thinking of running that marathon that’s starting in Rockport on October 23.  Haven’t run one before, but I feel pretty ready.”

“You should talk to Aldo about it.”

Aldo, her husband, has been a trainer for 14 years.  He has run marathons, boxed professionally, works his clients as though it’s his (and their) last day on earth.  I don’t know him, but I see him in passing when boxing class begins, and sometimes when he starts a session with a client at the end of our boxing class.

“Well, I guess I could.  My running partner thinks I’m ready.  She’s run more than her fair share of marathons.  I feel comfortable with her input.”

“I still think you should talk to Aldo.”

But I don’t.  I run by the sign advertising the marathon every morning and know I will go online and register.  I run 17 miles one day.  I get home, eat a pile of food, shower, then go out with my husband and spend the rest of the day shopping.  If I can do that, surely I can run 26 miles.

Back in class, my instructor looks closely at my face.

“Aldo doesn’t think you should do it.  He doesn’t think you are ready.”


I shove the words aside and punch harder than usual, wondering how he could possibly assess my readiness without looking at my training log, without watching me run.  Yet I begin to feel doubt.

Another week goes by.  I run mile after mile, throw punch after punch.  I do plyometric drills.  I throw the P90X DVD in and do the Ab Ripper segment. I can do the entire segment straight through.  Then I go out for another run.  I think about the marathon.  I do not register.

“So!  Are you going to run that marathon?”

“No, I don’t think so.”  No I am not.

I run with my friend Eric another day and we run 11 miles.  It’s easy for both of us—in fact, he tracks our pace, trying to keep us to 9:30′ miles, and we struggle to go that slowly.  We talk about his upcoming half marathon in Newburyport and somewhere during the run, he mentions not having a cheering section and running alone.  I get ready to hint that I would like to run it with him.  Before I can finish, he says it would be great to run it together.  A rush of relief washes over me.  If I’m not going to do the marathon, at least on that day I will have a race—a race I can easily do.  A race with a friend.  We run the 11 miles in a figure 8, and on the second loop, we keep trying to back off, to slow down so we can complete the distance and when we are finished, he sends me an email saying maybe a better goal for the half marathon would be 9:10′ per mile.  I go online and register right away.

So, that’s the bad and the good.  Now for the ugly.

I let someone who doesn’t even know me influence my decision to run my first marathon.  That’s not like me at all—just ask my mom, my husband, or my kids how often I take their advice.  I appreciate their advice, yes, but I make my own decisions.  Why would I let anyone plant a seed of doubt in my mind, let alone allow it to grow into an invasive vine of questions that overgrow my trust in myself?  That is the ultimate ugliness, far worse than not finishing my first marathon, or limping pathetically over the finish line.  I am in the best shape of my life.  I know that.  How could I have let that knowledge be smothered?

For now, I will toss that ugliness aside.  I an thrilled to be running the Green Stride Newburyport Half Marathon this Sunday morning with Eric.  We will keep each other company, cheer each other on, and finish proudly.  This will be my second half, so when I see the next advertisement for a full marathon, I will keep my sense of self intact and sign up to run.

Sweet Potato Chowder with Blood Orange Oil and Sage

October 3, 2011

It’s the very end of corn season (last day at our local farm stand) and sweet potatoes are just coming in.   This chowder is absolutely delicious, the blood orange oil complements the sweet potatoes, the sage lends a real fall flavor, the sweet corn is a perfect foil for the smokey chipotle pepper.  It’s easy to make, and dressy enough to serve to guests on a cool fall evening.  It only takes about half an hour to prepare, so there’s plenty of time to put together a cranberry cornbread to serve on the side.

Sweet Potato Chowder with Blood Orange Oil and Sage

1 sweet onion
1 red bell pepper
1 rib celery
2 carrots
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (any grocery will have them in the ethnic food section)
3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
3 sprigs fresh thyme
20 fresh sage leaves
4 cups low sodium vegetable stock or broth
2 tbsp. orange juice concentrate
3 medium sweet potatoes
3 ears fresh corn or 3 cups frozen corn
1 cup cashew cream
3 tbsp. blood orange oil
salt and pepper
1 ripe tomato
2 scallions


Finely chop the sweet onion, red bell pepper, celery and carrots.
In a dutch oven or soup pot, heat 2 tbsp. of the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the chopped vegetables, the chipotle pepper, and the sprigs of thyme.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.  Take a wooden spoon, find the chipotle pepper in the pot, and mash it against the side of the pot to crush it.  If there are any big pieces left, remove them, mince them, and add them back in.

While the onion mixture is cooking, peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into 1/2” dice.  Shuck the corn and cut the kernels from the cob.
Mince half of the sage leaves.

When the vegetables in the pot are soft, add the vegetable stock, the orange juice concentrate,  the minced sage leaves, and the sweet potatoes.  Turn heat to high and bring the chowder to a boil.  Turn heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are tender.

Stir in the corn, the cashew cream, and the blood orange oil.  Simmer for about 5-10 minutes more.  Turn off heat.  Remove the thyme sprigs.  Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the remaining tbsp. of olive oil to a small skillet.  Lay the remaining whole sage leaves  in the skillet in a single layer and fry them over medium heat, watching carefully, until they change color and shrink down a bit, being careful not to let them burn.  Remove sage leaves from skillet and drain them on a paper towel.

Cut the tomato into medium dice.  Wash the scallions well and finely mince the green ends.  Combine the tomato and onion in a small bowl.  Crumble the fried sage leaves.

To serve:  ladle chowder into bowls.  Place a heaping tbsp. of tomato and scallion in the center of each bowl of chowder.  Sprinkle with the crumbled fried sage leaves.

Serve with warm corn bread.