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When the Rubber Meets the Road — or putting my acorns where my mouth is


Majestic oak where my rubber bike tires frequently meet the road.

[Before I launch into my corner of this blog, I want to assure you that you don’t need a bag of acorn flour in your pantry to continue; I will provide non-acorn bailout suggestions along the way.]

While Ann has moved on to crunchy salads, I am still up barking up the oak tree (is it coincidental we named our dog Oakley?). I recently made the case for giving acorns their just deserts relative to other edible nuts even though I had never cooked with an acorn. That has all changed.

It started with our Christmas gift exchanges which I mentioned in my last post. You can imagine the scene around the tree as one by one family members feigned excitement upon unwrapping presents from Ann of bags of pecans, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and almonds! But the crescendo of the excitement reached its peak when Ann opened my gift to her – a pound of acorn flour (purchased online from Royce Native Orchards).


Eating acorn flour might do all this – PLUS “keep you bright-eyed, bushy tailed, and improve your tree climbing agility!”

What does this have to do with a blog on crunchy salads? As it turns out, lots! Although Andy’s Corner generally is bereft of practical contributions to the Big Little Meals’ mission of testing and turning out fun recipes, this time around I decided it is time to get my hands dirty in the kitchen. In short, the rubber will meet the road and I will put my acorns where my mouth is (hence, the clever title for this blog entry).  Actually, I am putting Ann’s acorn flour (which she gladly allowed me to use) where my mouth is.  I will introduce you to acorn-based desserts that can be an effective counterbalance to our salads. To do this I will share with you two very cool recipes, one for not-so-crunchy acorn brownies and the other for ever-so-crunchy acorn lace cookies.

But first, a cautionary note. This blog could go viral and threaten our wild acorn resources. Much like near depletion of the Louisiana redfish population following the publication of Paul Proudhomme’s blackened redfish recipe in the 1980’s, I can see these acorn brownie recipes creating a demand for acorns that endangers our oak woodlands.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at the Scientific American article we posted in Food for Thought which suggests that widespread harvesting of acorns could have an adverse effect of the sustainability of our oak forests.

Prudhomme Redfish Mag

Prudhomme’s famous blackened redfish nearly depleted the redfish population in the 1980s

With that in mind, here is my first foray into the acorn baking arena. The recipes I am recommending are by Wendy Petty which I found on the ZesterDaily blog.  I pretty much followed her recipes with just a few small tweaks. I have to admit that both turned out to be awesome and won rave reviews from those lucky enough to try them. By the way, Petty’s own blog, Hunger and Thirst, has some great recipes (as does the Royce Native Orchards facebook page) .

When I first saw the photo of Wendy Petty’s acorn lace cookies I assumed that as a novice baker I would never be able create cookies as gorgeous as that, at least on my first try.  Much to my surprise the cookies came out perfect and tasted even better than they looked.  Ann was just as astounded as I was that I could pull it off.

We liked the cookies so much we hated to see anyone without access to acorn flour miss out on such a treat.  So I experimented with a gluten/acorn-free version by substituting 2 1/2 T fine almond flour for the acorn and wheat flours.  The cookies came out just as crunchy and delicious, although without the picturesque laciness.


Acorn Cookies

My results using Wendy Petty’s recipe for “Acorn Lace Cookies”

Almond_orange cookies

My alternative almond flour version of the acorn cookies.

If these sweets don’t make you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, nothing will.  Enjoy!

Acorn Lace Cookies

  • Servings: makes approximately 16 cookies
  • Print
Note: if you do not have acorn flour on hand you can substitute 2 1/2 T almond flour in lieu of the acorn and wheat flours. Alternately, for acorn glucose-free cookies you can leave out the wheat flour and add an additional 1/2 T acorn flour.   Adapted from a recipe by Wendy Petty.


  • 2 T butter
  • 1 T heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • zest from half an orange
  • 1 1/2 tsp flour
  • 2 T acorn flour
  • pinch of salt


Preheat the oven to 375 F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat.

Add the cream, sugar, and orange zest.  Stir to combine the ingredients, then increase the heat to medium-high, and let it bubble for 2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flours and salt.

Let the mixture stand until it is solid but not completely cool.

Make the dough into teaspoon-sized balls (more like lumps to me) and place them onto a small sheet of parchment paper (you should get about 16 lumps of dough give or take one or two).

Place 6 of the balls onto the parchment covered sheet pan, allowing plenty of room for them to spread as they bake.  Do not try to cook more than 6 at one time.  Bake the cookies for 8 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking.  Watch them very carefully over the last two minutes so they don’t burn.  When fully cooked, the cookies will be a deep caramel color (if using acorn flour) and shiny.

Remove the cookies from the oven and let then sit on the sheet pan for at least 2 minutes before handling.  Once you can slide a spatula under them without deforming their shape, they can be transferred to a cooling rack.

Recipe brought to you by Big Little and Andy and Ann.

The “100% Acorn Brownies” are a chocolate lover’s dream.  But if you just have to have brownies and do not have any acorn flour on hand,  you can substitute almond flour for the acorn flour, or, you can’t go wrong with the Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies we blogged about last April.

Acorn Brownies Batch

Wendy Petty’s “100% Acorn Brownies”

100% Acorn Brownies

  • Servings: makes 16 pieces
  • Print
Adapted from a recipe by Wendy Petty.


For the Brownies:

  • 10 T butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 c sugar
  • 3/4 c plus 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup acorn flour (almond flour may be substituted)

For the swirl:

  • 3 ounces goat chevre, room temperature
  • 2 T sour cream
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 T flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla


Preheat the oven to 325 F and make a parchment paper sling for an 8″x8″ pan, so that the bottom and two sides are covered.  This makes it easer to remove the acorn brownies once they’ve finished baking.

In a large bowl, stir together the still-hot melted butter, sugar, cocoa and salt.

Beat in the vanilla and eggs until the batter looks shiny.  Then stir in the acorn flour.

Pour the acorn brownie batter into the prepared pan.

To make the swirl, in a bowl, beat the goat cheese, sour cream, and sugar with an electric mixer until they are smooth.  Add flour, egg, and vanilla and continue to beat until they are fully incorporated.

Drop a spoonful of the cheese mixture at nine points atop the brownie batter.  Drag a table knife through the brownies in swirl patterns to partially mix the cheese and brownie batter, making a pleasing marbled design.

Bake for 30 to 45 minutes.  Traditional brownies would bake for less time.  Acorn brownies need a bit longer so they don’t come out to the oven with the appearance of raw batter.  [note: it took my brownies a full 45 minutes to bake].  When cooked, a toothpick inserted 2/3 of the way to the center will come out clean.

Once cooled, you can lift the brownies out of the pan using their parchment sling (which I found to be a very effective trick), then cut them into 16 pieces.

Recipe brought to you by Big Little and Andy and Ann.


Bike Lessons from Vietnam

I don’t recall exactly why Travis and I got it in our heads that we should do a bike tour of Vietnam but I do know that ever since being deployed there in 1969/70 I had wanted to return under more pleasant circumstances.

viet tour group 2

Our Vietnam tour group.  Sorry for the poor photo quality.  I used cardboard disposable Kodak cameras (no smartphones in those days).

That wish became a reality in 2000 when Ann came across an article about VeloAsia, one of the first tour companies to organize bicycle tours in Vietnam after the war.  She thought it would be an opportunity for Travis and me to do a father/son bonding trip.  Coincidentally, VeloAsia was headquartered just around the corner from where our daughter lived at that time in San Francisco. So on one of our visits to her I dropped into the VeloAsia office and came away convinced that Travis and I were meant for such an adventure.

Viet bike tour map

Our cycling tour route.

Arrangements made, we packed up our bikes and flew to Hanoi to meet our tour guide team and the 10 other tour participants.  We spent the first day off our bikes sightseeing in a rather austere Hanoi and then we flew down to Hue to begin the real cycling part of the tour (see above map).  You might say that this is where the rubber met the road because none of us were quite prepared for what was coming.  However, we ultimately learned some valuable lessons about cycling in Vietnam and about Vietnam itself.  

The first time we actually got on our bikes was outside our Hue hotel. Our guide told us that we would begin by riding through the intersection across from the hotel, which to all of us looked like a bicycling nightmare. Literally hundreds of pedestrians, bicycles, and motor scooters were all funneling through the intersection with no visible stop signs, traffic lights, or other mechanisms of social order.  If chaos had a name, this intersection must be it.  Hence, lesson #1.

intersection from heck

I didn’t take a photo of the intersection from hell, but this one from the web captures the feeling of the moment.

Lesson #1 – Stay calm and be predictable

Our guide told us that getting across the intersection actually would be quite simple. The key was to remain calm, deliberate, and predictable.  Ride at a steady pace without veering or braking.  So, I pedaled headfirst into the morass with some serious deep breathing. To my surprise, like the parting of the Red Sea, an opening seemed to continually materialize to the front of my wheel and immediately close behind me. Clearly, there were mutually understood informal rules of pedestrian/bike engagement.  The seeming chaos turned into a fluid commute.   We all did high fives when we emerged unscathed on the other side. After that, getting through busy intersections was almost fun.

Lesson #2 – Horn blowing is a sign or courtesy, not a venting of anger.

Once we got to the outskirts of Hue and headed on our weeklong ride down the coast highway toward Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) the scene was totally different – and much more frightening.  Because this was the only major paved (I’m using the term “paved” loosely) highway down the country, we encountered a constant stream of trucks, busses, and other assorted motor and human-powered vehicles.  A large proportion of the motorized traffic consisted of what appeared to be relics of the 60’s, belching black plumes of exhaust.  Plus the drivers leaned unrelentingly on their horns as they careened down the highway. Because much of the road was two lanes, these lumbering trucks and busses were sharing very tight quarters with the many bicycles and other vehicles on the road.

big pickup

U.S. horn honker.

At first, the cacophony of blowing horns coming up behind us was unsettling.  In my U.S. cycling experience the hand on a blaring horn from behind likely belongs to an angry young male in a pickup with wheels taller than a bike who, with his non-honking hand, is deploying  the universal digital sign of anger (okay, I know I’m profiling here, but this has happened to me more than once).  We quickly learned that this was not the case in Vietnam. 

viet bus

Vietnam horn honker.

The incessant horn blowing was a way of communicating a helpful, albeit gratingly loud, warning to cyclists and pedestrians that a large and potentially lethal vehicle was about to pass within inches – out of necessity rather than anger.  After a few miles I got used to the honking and even began looking forward to seeing what kind of vehicle would be brushing by my left arm.  The numerous vintage busses, which were the most colorful vehicles on the road, often were packed to overflowing with passengers and luggage piled high on the roof.  Plus, they often had what appeared to be at least one designated driver’s assistant hanging off the right-hand side, alerting the driver to hazards ahead (such as American tourists on bikes!). 

Lesson #3 – Bringing your road bike and lycra from home may not always be cool.

Both Travis and I brought our road bikes.  The VeloAsia folks told us that most riders on the tour probably would have some sort of mountain or cross bike, but road bikes would be fine if we preferred.  It turns out that we were the only two with such bikes in our group (and for all we could tell, in the whole of Vietnam).  So, here we were with our 23 mm (read “skinny”) tires and fender-less bikes.  When the highway was in good condition and dry (which was rare) we were the kings of the road.

au dai on bike

However, much of the time it was raining, which forced us to negotiate water-filled potholes that often came up to our axles. I am sure that the local Vietnamese cyclists got a great kick out of seeing us struggling along on our fancy bikes, spattered with mud from head to toe.   A lingering and vivid image from one of those mud splattery days is of the sweet smile (or was it bemusement?) from a young Vietnamese woman in an impeccably clean áo dài riding her “clunky” bike (with its fenders and upright handlebars) .

Lesson #4 –  Kids are the hope of the future, hopefully.

One of the most gratifying parts of the tour was the outpouring of warmth and enthusiastic welcome from the local population, especially in the rural areas.  This turned out to be major benefit of traveling by bike rather than being encapsulated in a bus or car.  Every time we rode through a village crowds of young kids would materialize, cheering and wanting to show off their command of English (did they do that for German or French cyclists also?).  Even though I have never been a rock star, the excitement we created along the way is about as close as I probably will ever get (until BigLittleMeals goes viral, of course).  


Vietnam population – median age = 24.2

The former sociology professor in me can’t help but point out that it was no fluke that we were cheered on by so many kids on our tour.  Just a glance at the age structure of Vietnam is revealing (see the population pyramid above).  The median age was about 24 years old which means that more than half of the population when we visited in 2000 was born after the U.S. left Vietnam in 1975.  These enthusiastic young folks were the Vietnamese millennials that Elisabeth Rosen writes about in a 2015 article for The Atlantic.  She suggests that with no direct experience of the “American War,”  this generation is more interested in their own future than on dwelling on the past.  I doubt if we would have fully appreciated this point if we had been touring in motor driven vehicles instead being on our bikes.  Lesson learned.

Since our Vietnam cycling tour Travis and I have ridden together a number of times.  We have tooled around Amsterdam on big heavy rented bikes, done an overnighter up the Hudson River, biked through Brooklyn and Harlem, and ridden along the Russian River and Sonoma coast.  More recently our “bonding” has been in the form fly fishing excursions (which I wrote about in an earlier Andy’s Corner).  However, out of all of our great adventures, cycling together in Vietnam remains my favorite.





An Infinitesimal Speck

It took the soundtrack for a recent TV series to make me understand what a seemingly infinitesimal speck we are in the universe.

Should I blame my parents for sheltering me? After all, you’ll recall that my dad is the one who didn’t allow me to take high school biology (WHY I wasn’t allowed remains a pressing question, never to be answered) – and my mother forced me to take high school Home Economics so I could learn to iron a man’s shirt – and cook – and probably be a stay-at-home housewife.

My parents didn’t realize I was tougher than I looked.

Or maybe I should blame Colorado College, my alma mater. Didn’t they want their liberal arts students to be well-rounded and knowledgeable about the world…and beyond?

Whoever is to blame (obviously, I don’t want to blame myself), the fact is that I know nothing NOTHING about the universe – or even about the Milky Way Galaxy.

As seen from space: the earth is the bright speck (beside Andy’s arrow).

Carl Sagan wrote: “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Sagan also was sure that the spacecrafts Pioneer 10 and 11, launched in 1972 and 1973, had the following plaque – so that any alien finding it would know who we are and where we’re located.

The plaque aboard Pioneer 10 and 11.

Maybe that all helps explain why the “Galaxy Song” from 1983’s The Meaning of Life by Monty Python absolutely blows my mind. Maybe it blows my mind because I didn’t take biology so I didn’t know that’s how sex and birth happen – and I’ll add an “R” rating to this video, just in case. :). But mostly I’m just overwhelmed at those numbers. “Our galaxy is one of millions of billions” and “our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars” and “it’s a hundred thousand light years side by side” (I estimate that’s about 620,000,000,000,000,000 miles; correct me if I’m wrong). Coming right after Easter and Passover, it’s tricky to fit that into religion – as we know it and preach it – don’t you think? Coincidentally, religion is a topic in today’s Andy’s Corner – but on a more utilitarian and down-to-earth level.  Think “Manna from Heaven.”

You’ll love the Python video – just be sure to read all of the lyrics. They’re impressive…and funny.

Released in 1983

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown,
And things seem hard or tough,
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft,

And you feel that you’ve had quite eno-o-o-o-o-ough,

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour.
It’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
The sun that is the source of all our power.
Now the sun, and you and me, and all the stars that we can see,
Are moving at a million miles a day,
In the outer spiral arm, at 40,000 miles an hour,
Of a galaxy we call the Milky Way.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars;
It’s a hundred thousand light-years side to side;
It bulges in the middle sixteen thousand light-years thick,
But out by us it’s just three thousand light-years wide.
We’re thirty thousand light-years from Galactic Central Point,
We go ’round every two hundred million years;
And our galaxy itself is one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

Our universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding,
In all of the directions it can whiz;
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth;
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!

Songwriters: Eric Idle / John Du Prez

What made me think of Eric Idle’s song after almost 40 years? Well, Andy and I have watched all of the episodes of the TV series Better Things, and the beginning of the final season uses the song as the backdrop to Sam Fox, the mother, as she begins a new day. Sam has reached middle age and is feeling a little unmoored.

Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox. I’ll bet she taught HER daughters about the universe; we’re sure she tried to teach them about sex.

On top of that, Sara, our daughter, who has reached middle age and is feeling a little unmoored, sent me this quote, flying around the internet (with no apparent author). And voila. This blog was born.

Python’s The Meaning of Life concludes with the Lady Presenter being given the envelope containing the answer to What Is the Meaning of Life. And what is the answer? “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

We’ve got you covered! If you want to be nice to people, have them over. We all need to get out. And then serve up a fat-free and delicious slice of homemade Angel Food Cake with some lightly-sugared, fat-free strawberries or chunks of mango. Talk about books you’ve read. Might I suggest Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (which is on my list to read)? And then take a walk (if in Glen Ellen, we recommend the Sonoma Regional Park or the Jack London State Historic Park).

We’re sure you’re already trying to live in peace and harmony. Or as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently expressed it – inspired by “the better angels of our nature.”

Remember – every peaceful, harmonious fraction of a dot counts.

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Angel Food Cake

We blog about the recipe here.

Angel Food Cake

Note: this really requires a tube pan; a bundt pan won’t do.  The cake needs to stick to the sides, so don’t use a non-stick pan. Updated from my 1965 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  • 1 c cake flour (spoon the flour into the measuring cup and then level with a knife)
  • 1 1/2 c sugar (divided)
  • 1 1/2 c (about 12) egg whites
  • 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla

In a food processor or blender, pulse 3/4 c of the sugar until fine and powdery.  Add the cake flour and salt to the food processor. Pulse 5-10 times until sugar/flour/salt mixture is aerated and light.

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Add the remaining 3/4 c of sugar about 2 tablespoons at a time, continuing to beat until the mixture holds just barely stiff peaks (don’t overbeat).

Put the sugar/flour/salt mixture into a sieve and sprinkle about 1/4 of it over the beaten whites.  Fold it in using a rubber spatula.  Sprinkle another 1/4 over and fold in – and continue until all the sugar/flour/salt mixture is used up.

Scrape batter into an UNGREASED 10″ tube pan.  Level the top with the spatula.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until done (the top should be golden).  Invert the pan and let the cake cool.  Remove from the pan by using a knife to run around the inside of the pan and around the tube to release the cake and unmold. Then use the knife to release cake from bottom of pan and remove.

Of course, strawberries are great with this – but for a change try mangos – 1 large mango diced, 1 T sugar, 1 T lime juice, and 1 T cointreau.  Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.

Y’all Come Back Now

Who says you can’t go home again? And is a picture really worth a thousand words?

Baton Rouge’s 2022 St Patrick’s Day Parade – and we missed it! But we’ll be back in 2023 for this Wearin’ of the Green parade.

Today’s BigLittleMeals blog is all about Louisiana, our home for 26 years. Today’s Andy’s Corner is all about weather – but not really about Louisiana weather (which has been a little scary).

We just returned to Baton Rouge with the entire family to celebrate our upcoming 55th wedding anniversary, and the trip was nostalgia-filled! Where to begin? With partying pictures of the St Patrick’s Day parade we just missed and which everyone was still raving about? With the 50 pounds of crawfish 18 of us devoured? With the restaurants which appear on practically every street corner with names like “Parrains” and “Beausoleil Coastal” and “Cou-yon’s Cajun BBQ” and “Louisiana Lagniappe” and “Roux61” and, of course, “Raising Cane’s?” or with Louisianans, the people?

So warm and so friendly. That’s how the family describes Louisianans. Our 92-year-old Baton Rouge friend, Katie, said it all. “In the midst of the pandemic, I just wanted to stand in the street with a sign around my neck that said ‘I need a hug.'” Katie is still missing the hugs she gets on a daily basis from her mailman (who is out on paternity leave).

And huge hugs were everywhere, Covid be damned.

Warm and friendly aren’t the only adjectives we’d use for Louisianans. How about fun-loving partiers?! “Laissez les bon temps rouler” (pronounced “Lay-say le bon tom roo-lay”) – “let the good times roll” – aptly describes not only New Orleans but the mood of the southern (i.e., Catholic) part of the state.

50 POUNDS of crawfish were totally devoured by the 18 of us…and 2 or 3 guests weren’t even eating them.
Yum. Lunch at Zeeland Street in Baton Rouge
We had to wait for a party of 35 and a party of 40 and a baseball team to be seated at Roux 61
Speaking of roux…here’s Emeril explaining how to make one.
A brown roux can also be described as “dark” or “chocolate.”

If you’re in the mood to P-A-R-T-Y (and who isn’t inclined that way after all this pandemic stuff?), here are some suggestions for a Louisiana-style celebration.

And today’s recipe for Barbecue Shrimp Dip has been a favorite of mine for years. I can’t believe it took me this long to post it. It’s the perfect dish when you’re ready to “let the good times roll.

If you want to party with the best of them, head on down South (unless, of course, you’re already there). We recommend a visit to the Baton Rouge/New Orleans area in the spring, so you can have crawfish at its best. In New Orleans be sure to see the National WWII Museum, enjoy some music at Preservation Hall, tour St Louis Cemetery No.1, shop on Magazine St, and eat at Seafood Sally’s.

The fam relishing the seafood at Seafood Sally’s

Oh – and take a tour at Jean Laffite National Park and Preserve; you’ll love the alligators and snakes!

New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp Dip (thanks to The Food Network for the photo and the recipe)
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