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

OakTreeRobertsRoad

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).

AcornFlour

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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 Meals.com 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.

Ingredients

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

Directions

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 Meals.com 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).  

vietnam2000

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.

 

 

 

 

Waffling Over Waffles

My mom’s 1950s-era Sunbeam waffle iron has moved with us from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and to Glen Ellen, California. It still works. And it’s still a warm (literally and figuratively) reminder of a very special mother and her cooking.

But, of late, it’s been displaced in our kitchen by a Hamilton Beach Flip Belgian Waffle Maker with Non-stick Removable Plates, Browning Control, and Drip Tray.

It’s been a bittersweet decision. And we’ve waffled about it.

waffle (n): kind of batter-cake, baked crisp in irons and served hot,” 1744, from Dutch wafel “waffle,” from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German wafel, from Proto-Germanic *wabila- “web, honeycomb”   Waffle iron is from 1794.

waffle (v.) 1690s, “to yelp, bark,” frequentative of provincial waff “to yelp, to bark like a puppy” (1610); Figurative sense of “talk foolishly” (c. 1700) led to that of “vacillate, equivocate” (1803), originally a Scottish and northern English usage. Late 17c. Scottish also had waff “act of waving,” variant of waft, which might have influenced the sense.

(thanks to The Online Etymology Dictionary for that definition help)

Marie Kondo can preach about decluttering – but maybe the harder part is figuring what to do with what’s been decluttered.

What do I do with my mom’s waffle iron? Post it on NextDoor or Facebook Marketplace? Sell it on eBay? Put it in front of our house with a “free” sign? Give it to the Goodwill (which in our area has become pretty selective!)? Search for a needy person or grateful friend to bestow it upon? OR just keep it, tucked away, in hopes that one of our offspring will find it at some later date and treasure it?

There’s a fun website – and NYC store – with vintage toasters and waffle irons that have been refurbished (and sell for lots of $$!). It’s ToasterCentral.com, should you be in the market for one. Unfortunately, the owner doesn’t want to buy old toasters and waffle irons, so I’ll cross that off the list of possibilities for riddance.

I just learned about the Buy Nothing Project after reading the comments made on this recent NYTimes article about decluttering; admittedly, I feel a little out-of-touch that I’d never heard of it before. According to their website, two friends from Bainbridge Island, Washington, started the project in 2013. According to “BuyNothing 101″…

BuyNothing offers people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide gift economy network in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people. We believe that communities are more resilient, sustainable, equitable, and joyful when they have functional gift economies.

My first reaction to the name – the BuyNothingProject – was “I can’t do that! I LOVE to buy things.” But after reading a little more, it appears I don’t have to quit buying to be a part of the group. Maybe I just need to cut back, which isn’t such a bad idea.

BuyNothing continues:

Rethinking consumption and refusing to buy new in favor of asking for an item from a neighbor may make an impact on the amount of goods manufactured in the first place, which in turn may put a dent in the overproduction of unnecessary goods that end up in our landfills, watersheds, and our seas. It most certainly creates connections between people who see each other in real life, not just online, leading to more robust communities that are better prepared to tackle both hard times and good by giving freely.

Andy – ever and always the social scientist – wonders how many manufacturing jobs will be lost if we all start cutting back on our purchases. There’s never an easy answer, is there!

As for our waffling over which kind of waffle we prefer, Andy decided to focus on the kind of waffle he really finds yucky. In fact, today’s Andy’s Corner focuses on how one person’s yucky food is another person’s yum food.

Our current yummy Belgian waffle recipe makes use of Andy’s sour dough starter, which is a good thing, since the sour dough bread-making around here has gone missing. What a relief that we found something else to do with that starter. If you don’t have sour dough starter and don’t have a friend to get some from free – and you don’t want to buy it or make it, try our favorite Buttermilk Waffle recipe, which comes from the 1989 New Basics Cookbook and uses the traditional waffle iron – or try Emeril Lagasse’s Belgian Waffle recipe, another favorite of ours.

If you find yourself waffling over whether or not to buy a waffle iron, think about your local BuyNothingProject (here’s a list of the USA groups and be aware that the Project is transitioning away from Facebook to their own App). Perhaps a neighbor is decluttering and wants a home for their used waffle iron. Think of the rewards: there’s less stuff in the landfill, you make a new neighborly friend, they declutter, and you get a free waffle iron. It’s a win win situation. No waffling necessary.

Meanwhile, I wish I could send off my vintage Sunbeam waffle iron to the British artist Joe Rush, who uses old metal items in his sculptures. His most famous work, done with recycled electronic items, must be the recent Mt. Recyclemore, depicting the 2021 attendees at the G7 Summit. What a way for metal to go! That’s Biden, BTW, on the right. The one on the far left is a gimme, if you look at the hair!

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Emeril Lagasse’s Belgian Waffles

We blog about this recipe here.

Emeril Lagasse's Belgian Waffles

  • Servings: makes at least eight 7 inch waffles
  • Print

  • 2 c flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 T butter, melted
  • 2 c milk
  • non-stick cooking spray

Preheat the waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  In one medium bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.  In a second bowl use the wooden spoon to beat together the egg yolks and sugar until sugar is completely dissolved and eggs have turned a pale yellow.  Add the vanilla extract, melted butter, and milk to the eggs and whisk to combine.  Combine the egg-milk mixture with the flour mixture and whisk just until blended.  Do not over mix.  In third bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.  Using the rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the waffle batter.  Do not overmix!  Coat the waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray and pour enough batter in iron to just cover waffle grid.  Close and cook as per manufacturer’s instructions until golden brown.  Serve immediately

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Biden Thyme

From Rye Bar in San Francisco – “Biden Thyme” – thyme-infused gin, citrus shrub, lemon and lime

Need I say more? Yes, it is time. It’s Biden Time.

This fabulous in-oh-so-many-ways cocktail was brought to us by our daughter, Sara, for a post-election treat. In addition to the Biden Thyme, we got a Jamaican rum-based cocktail which was labelled “I’m Speaking.” Guess whose face was on that! That spoke to Andy. Check out today’s Andy’s Corner.

Well, this is a food blog (of sorts), so let’s talk first about thyme. Clearly, there are lots of food bloggers out there who like the thyme/time idea. To name a few, there’s AheadOfThyme.com, MotherThyme.com, Tummy-Thyme.com, MyDarlingLemonThyme.com (ahhhh, cute!), SavoringTheThyme.com, ThymeToChange.com, – and maybe my favorite – NeverEnoughThyme.com (which, should you be interested, is a domaine name that’s for sale – for about $3400).

I thought it would be fun to try to replicate the Rye Bar’s thyme cocktail, but I decided to infuse the shrub with thyme, rather than the gin. Shrubs were already on my radar, since we find them a nice alternative to wine in the evening – topped with soda water or tonic water, rather than mixed with alcohol. And if you’re wondering what a shrub is – other than a big leafy bush – it’s “drinking vinegar” – best made by mixing equal parts sugar, fruit and vinegar – and then allowing the mixture to sit for several weeks. Once mellowed, you can make whatever cocktails or mocktails suits your fancy. And you can use it to create an easy vinaigrette just by adding a little oil.

The other kind of shrub

About the time I was mixing up my thyme and lime (a rhyme) shrub, our 15-year-old grandson, Moss (of blogging fame), sent me a photo of a chocolate cake he had just made. And it said, “BYE!” (explanation point is mine). Perfect. Though Moss was saying goodbye to a friend off to Chicago for college, I had other thoughts. It was BYE to Trump. BYE TRUMP!!!!!!!

from Moss in San Francisco “Bye” Coffee and Chocolate Cake

Moss is a way fancier baker than I am; I’ve never made little frosting rosettes in my life. For that matter, I never make layered and frosted cakes any more. But I do make snacking cakes, which I define as a single layer unfrosted cake that is easy to make and keeps well. The kind you snack on.

I suggest you make Moss’s lovely masterpiece for a special occasion (like the end of the pandemic or to celebrate the first week of Biden and Harris in office). He used 3 6″ cake pans and filled the layers and frosted it with Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Then he drizzled over a homemade Salted Caramel Sauce.

For my snacking cake, I took the same coffee and chocolate cake recipe that Moss uses (which comes from Ina Garten) but I downsized it from 3 layers to a one layer cake. And I just used powdered sugar to top it. I’d put my cake’s photo next to Moss’s, but I don’t need to be embarrassed by having mine compared mmmm…unfavorably…with my grandson’s.

As we look forward to “A Better Thyme” (not to suggest that the current thyme varieties are lacking), there’s a line from Amanda Gorman’s inspiring inaugural poem that seems to be the perfect conclusion; the first line references both the Hebrew Bible and the musical Hamilton; the second is all Gorman:

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.

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