Thank You, Dear Readers

OK­, I’ve been putting this off long enough. My ride on the merry-go-round of blogging is coming to an end – I’ve felt it slowing down for some time now – and just like the kid on his favorite wooden horse, that sense has brought me mixed feelings. It’s been great fun – and really served me well in this phase of my life – certainly one needs an activity which will keep one’s mind at work. And if you’re going to look for something to meet that criterion, why not combine a few of your life joys – in my case, food and writing – it’s been wonderful.

But that same sense also brings a real sadness – no one can just stop doing something they love and still escape a feeling of sadness – I think it’s one of the paradoxes of happiness; one never comes without the other.

Yes, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I’m comfortable with my decision. And I wanted to share that rationale with you – hey, we’ve got a mutual investment here – don’t we? Sure we do. And as I’ve said several times before in these pages, if I was ever to give this up, I’d at least leave a note explaining why – to me, that’s part of the deal.

I’m not a ‘bucket list’ kind of guy – not that I’m against goal setting as a part of life – but to me, it’s a little sad to wait until the time when you know it’s coming to an end to do something you should have been doing all along – to me, the bucket list is a part of life, maybe with a different name. But then, anyone with a basic understanding of strategic planning would feel the same. Even so, the advent of my retirement brought with it an opportunity to do things that had here-to-fore not been possible – and yes, I made a mental list of those things I’d now be able to do. Is that a bucket list? OK – whatever.

High on my list was an effort to perfect my bread-making skills, although I suspected that no baker would ever feel as if they had ‘perfected’ their skills – but I knew I could get better with experience. I also planned to begin to work my way through my collection of cookbooks, with the intent of using them in the daily preparation of the evening’s meal. Both of those goals have played out successfully, even if I probably cheat most of the time by using the internet to flesh out the details for our meals, rather than taking on the ofttimes laborious task of searching through my own cookbooks for the same. (Yeah, I know Glenda has a great program/service which provides a search index of her own cookbooks – and if that was a free service, I’d use it!)

I also had hundreds of other things I intended to spend time at – lots of travel, for one, but we soon discovered that requires a lot more money than we had available. And then there was all that experimental horticulture stuff I wanted to do, a la Luther Burbank (one of my heroes), and I suppose there is some of that I do engage in – but the science often alludes me. And then there was the nature stuff – the trips to the woods to hike, and gather wild foods, or just to absorb the mystic – or to the beach to do the same. But those 5 and 10 mile hikes on wild woodland trails never did materialize. In fact, few of my assumptions about how I’d use my freed up retirement time actually panned out – it was the accidental and surprise activities that took up most of my time – and chief among those was blogging itself.

I don’t remember including blogging in my initial activity plans, but I did want to do some writing – and I thought I’d like to get paid for doing that! Hey, why not. In my career work I was doing a lot of writing and I sure as hell was getting paid for that – so, why not?

I began making inquiries to the obvious online sources and soon learned that if I were to write for pay, I’d have to adjust my writing style – to a more journalistic form rather than the laid-back discussion style I was using. At one point, one of my potential editors suggested that my writing style was more appropriate for blogging than for formal writing. It was only then that I began investigating what blogging was all about – and it wasn’t long before I started thinking, ‘If this is my comfortable style of writing, than maybe I should be blogging.’

Over the past 4 years, I’ve averaged better than a blog post a week – I think that’s a pretty good rate – but it’s also one that exacts a price. Not that there isn’t a whole lot of satisfaction – yes, there is. There is something about the act of expressing oneself that is cathartic, resulting in feelings of great satisfaction, and even liberation. I think it’s a secondary human need, and perhaps shared universally by all – although perhaps not to the same driving emotional force for everyone – especially at those times when the downside begins to play out.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here – every fellow blogger knows exactly what I’m saying – and I suspect that almost all readers of this post will also be bloggers themselves. Still, this is essentially the emotion that has been working at me for the better part of the last year, and I cannot let the opportunity pass without giving voice to it – and for just the reasons I have expressed above.

There is a rule of life that came late to me – essentially, that the degree of satisfaction we receive from any endeavor is roughly equal to the amount of physical and emotional investment we are willing to put into it. Simple enough – and I’m sure most of us would readily agree. But I think this simple rule may be the essence of maturity – and no one ever said I matured early. And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about one’s career, or that same person’s leisure time activities – the rule still applies. And it surely applies to blogging!

As I look back on my early blogging days, I can see that I tripped over this rule time and time again. I overemphasized the joy of expressing myself and discounted my contingent responsibilities. Sooner or later, it dawns on you as a blogger that you owe something to your potential reader – even if you don’t have, or ever will have, any potential readers! Yeah, the early days of a blog are tough – you pour yourself into every post, and you have absolutely no idea if anyone is even seeing it. Yeah, WordPress is good at telling you how many ‘hits’ your post has had, but you still don’t know if those were intentional or just accidental drive-by’s and spammers. And then comes the day when you get your first comment (I mean of course, your first comment from a non-relation!), and your education into what readers are looking for really begins.

But even now, after almost 5 years of steady blogging, I’m sure my brand of food-blogging is only attractive to a very small, distinct audience of readers – and I think most of those ‘regulars’ keep reappearing in the Comments section because they’ve become friends – and this is one of the by-products of blogging that I didn’t consider when starting. But it is one of the elements of blogging that keep you going – it keeps you invested and rewarded too. And it is this ‘friendship’ part that gives me pause when I begin to consider giving up blogging – but then I realize that almost every one of my blogging ‘friends’ are themselves a blogger, and our contacts will stay alive through their own posts and comment discussions.

So, what is it that I won’t miss about blogging? Not a hard question – more than anything, I won’t miss the photos. Have I ever told you how I hated having to take pics of the stuff in my posts? I really did. Not so much the bread posts – ’cause you can take a bread shot anytime, unless you too quickly eat it! But the shots of dinner always gave me trouble – what I discovered was that you could either get some good dinner shots, or you could enjoy a hot meal – not both! And those shots of dinner are easily the most difficult of all food photos to take – and some of my blogging friends were taking shots with cell phones that made my stuff look lame. I tried, but I just never caught on to the photo part of blogging.

Have you noticed yet that there are no pics on this post? A new first for me – and a belated celebration of sorts – humor me.

I won’t miss having to worry about not having an idea for the next post. Every blogger knows this is not because you don’t have a list of ready topics for your next post – we all have one. But food bloggers don’t do posts from lists, they do posts from inspiration – and once your inspiration wanes, you need to be looking for a new muse.

I also won’t miss having to try to rescue a poorly written post – every writer knows the feeling – and it’s always the stuff which was so hard to get out the first time – and when it’s done, you let it sit for awhile, and then you read it again – and you know. It’s just not good writing. Can it be redone? Often, the only reason why we think it can is because it was so damn hard to get done the first time! If our writing head is on straight, we know the right thing to do is to simply toss it, and start all over again – or go do something else while we wait for the next influx of inspiration. Nope, I won’t be missing that.

And for those many times when I couldn’t bring myself to listen to my own inner voice of common sense, and I put out a post that never should have been made public, please dear reader, forgive.

There isn’t much more I can add – except to say a heartfelt Thank You to all my blogging friends who so faithfully tagged along week after week, and most importantly, engaged in a follow-along discussion – often when one was not even worthy. I look forward to keeping in touch via your own continuing efforts.

Now, another one of my lists awaits the newly freed up time I am creating; my list of books I’ve not yet read – I used to have such a reading list, and I really enjoyed pecking away at it. But when blogging came along, I just didn’t have the time to invest in continuing my reading list. So, I’m eager to restart that effort. I guess you could say that’s my bucket list – or as close to one as I’m going to get.

Now dear reader, stay well, try to live a simple life, and work hard at being happy. And thanks for being a part of my world.


Posted in Musings and Mutterings | 18 Comments

The Whole Leek, and Nothing But the Leek

This has nothing to do with my post, but it's my Louisa Weeping Crab apple tree in full bloom - Gorgeous tree!

This has nothing to do with my post, but it’s Spring, and this is my Louisa Weeping Crabapple tree in full bloom – Gorgeous tree!

I’m a slow learner. I realize now that my mother was well aware of this, and it must have been difficult for her, from a frustration end I mean. Were my education to begin today, I’d probably be labeled with one of the popular learning disabilities which seem to be so freely given out these days. At least, that’s the way I feel sometimes – and this is one of those times.

My latest confrontation with my own slow intellect involves my garden – and it seems to me that the garden is a really good place to come face to face with one’s intellectual failings, because it seems to have no end of opportunities to learn new facts – not that these new facts weren’t there all along, but somehow you just missed them. We slow learners are constantly coming upon these new facts – and the first thought that comes to me at such times is, ‘why in hell didn’t I realize that before?’

Of course, it’s also quite possible that these new facts were once well known to me, and just fell down that empty well of forgetfulness in the middle of your -excuse me, my- brain. But that’s just another element of my aforementioned learning disability – whatever!

So, what am I talking about? Leeks – that’s what. Leeks have always been one of my favorite members of the onion family. And strangely, although I love onions, and I use a billion or more a year (OK, an exaggeration!), I can’t grow the damn things in my garden. I don’t know what it is – an onion curse of some sort. No matter what I do, they never seem to bulb for me. But leeks are different – they do not get huge for me, but they’re usually big enough for use as an onion substitute or in any classic leek usage. And whenever I’d make something special, it was always impressive to say ‘I made it with leeks from my garden.’


But for all the many years I’ve been growing and enjoying things made with leeks, I’ve always cut off and thrown away the green parts. My cookbooks all seemed to be in agreement, they all said, ‘Use the white part only, discard the green end’. So that’s what I did. Not because I think cookbook authors are always right about everything – that’s not the way I think! But I’ve long thought that leek greens were tough and stringy – don’t know why, just did. Like I said, slow learner.

And then I saw something on a website. Can’t remember where (sorry!), but they simply said that leek greens made a very nice side dish when braised – and although they may not be as tender as scallion greens, they can be braised to tenderness. So I stuck the idea into my head and made a note to try this next time I did a leek dish.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this new fact was just another piece in the puzzle that had been putting itself together for some time now – and that puzzle is not even new to this blog – this is not the first time I’ve done a post on how much perfectly good and edible garden produce we simply toss away instead of using for our own or others’ benefit – look here. (Apparently, I’m discovering that leeks make great stock, but not yet that they can be cooked up as greens!) And here I discover that Brussels Sprouts actually sprout twice – with equally delicious result.

I think I learned this lesson well, for every spring now I watch all my winter garden greens, to catch them all at that precise moment when their tender seed heads are ready to pop open – that’s the perfect time to snip them off and quickly steam them for dinner.

And I remember too that the puzzle is multifaceted, for each gardening year, I learn more about plants I thought were just weeds, but now know that many of those too deserve to be picked in their prime and eaten along with their more cultured kin. And somehow, we gardeners are of the opinion that if the seed we use didn’t come in commercial packets, it isn’t worth planting. I had one of ‘those moments’ recently while watching a documentary on the Middle Ages when they mentioned in passing that every house in the village had a garden, and that just beyond the garden was the area of edible weeds! Well, guess what? Many of the seeds in those commercial packets got their start in a Middle Ages’ weed patch. Like leeks. I’ll betcha.


I grow leeks from seed which I start in my so-called greenhouse in Feb or March – then I transplant them into the garden in about June or July – there they sit right through the winter. I dig them any time they attained some size, but I have a slow garden (limited sun) and the leeks generally are still small come autumn – so I let them grow right through the winter, and the cold doesn’t seen to phase them – they may not grow much in winter, but they don’t lose any growth either – and come spring, they wake up and start getting downright chunky – mine don’t get huge, but they’re respectable size, sweet and delicious. What more can you ask from a leek?

Hey, let’s braise some leek greens – if you want, you can also add the white parts too, but I’ll assume that you’ve made some other dish with the white parts, and you’re left with the greens. So, first gather your tools and ingredients – you’ll need:

  • a good sized heavy pot,
  • about 4 cups or more of leek greens,
  • a cup or more of chicken stock,
  • a medium onion,
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves,
  • and some olive oil.

Wash the leek greens well and chop them in pieces about 2 or 3 inches long – now wash and drain them again (leeks are world famous dirt collectors, and unless you take pains to wash them, you should enjoy eating sand.). Chop the onion in a medium mince, and smash the garlic cloves and peel and mince them finely. Now heat that heavy pot, and when hot, add 2 or 3 Tbs of olive oil (or more to taste) and the washed greens – let them begin to get brown before stirring, but don’t let them burn – after a few minutes of stirring, add the onions and garlic and the chicken stock – stir all in well and bring to a boil – now lower the heat to keep a simmer going, cover the pot, and allow the greens to braise for about 10 minutes or more (depending on how old and mature your leeks are!) – if they are not tender when you taste them, give them more time. Keep an eye on the amount of liquid in the pot – if it gets dry, add some water, not more chicken stock to avoid getting it too salty.


If you want to use the white parts too, just cut them into smaller pieces but don’t add them until after the greens have braised for 5 minutes or more – they are more tender and will cook more quickly.

Serve as a side dish, sprinkled with sesame seeds – or mix with some bow tie pasta to serve with fish or roast meets for something special.

Remember this next time you’re about to throw away that handful of leek greens.

Posted in Braising, Food, Garden | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

At Last, The Salmon Post

"Salmon So Thick You Could Walk Across on Their Backs"

“Salmon So Thick You Could Walk Across on Their Backs” (photo courtesy of

I’ve never done a post on salmon and I don’t know why – it’s something we make sure we never buy frozen (or previously frozen and thawed), and we avoid farm raised in lieu of better tasting wild fish. But although most of the world thinks Oregon is home to lots of salmon, I doubt we’re ever getting an Oregon caught salmon at the fish market – most of our wild salmon is coming from Alaska these days – and that’s wonderful stuff, so we don’t complain.

There are many reasons our Oregon salmon is dwindling – the construction of hydroelectric dams on many of the rivers – destruction of habitat through forest clear-cutting and alternative uses of the land – the diversion of river water for agricultural purposes – and the impact of overfishing throughout the last century. All of these and more have resulted in a once vibrant and active fleet of commercial salmon fishing boats in the Pacific Northwest (more than 4000 in 1980 landed more than 11 million pounds of salmon) shrinking significantly (less than 385 boats in 2011 landed less than 500,000 pounds).

salmon_boatsAlthough the recent catches noted above reflect mandatory restrictions and quotas, and the fishery is actually improving, it’s still surprising when we see ‘Oregon Wild Salmon‘ in our fish markets these days – and that’s sad. And most people would be surprised to learn that when they did buy a true Oregon Chinook salmon, there was only a small chance that it was a real wild salmon rather than a hatchery raised and released fish. Yup, an estimated 80% of all wild salmon caught today began their lives in a fish hatchery (the majority only after having the eggs removed from a natural wild mother salmon)!

Equally amazing is the fact that only a little more than 1% of all those hatchery salmon actually survive their sea going experience to one day return to the river of their release – another sad fact. Yet legally, all hatchery raised and natural wild salmon can both be labeled as ‘wild caught’ – only differentiating them from farm raised (aka Atlantic) salmon.

Is there some way you can tell if the wild caught salmon you just bought at the fish market was a natural born or hatchery fish? The answer is no, if you bought your fish as a fillet –  but if you bought it as a whole fish, yes, there is a way. Every hatchery raised salmon has their ‘adipose’ fins (the small fin on the salmon’s back) removed prior to leaving the hatchery, and amazingly, every salmon commercially caught is checked and logged as to its adipose fin status. adipose

However, a fish seller is not mandated to make that known distinction to the buyer, and if you buy your fish the normal way -by the piece- you just won’t know. But you will know the salmon’s geographical origin of catch -that much the fish seller is mandated to tell you- and if that origin was Oregon, there’s only a 20% chance it’s a natural wild fish – and if it’s an Alaskan salmon, the percentage climbs to 50% (yes, Alaska too has salmon hatcheries).

Does it really make a difference? To a purist, maybe – to me, no. I’m not going to worry over it. As long as we have something called wild caught salmon, I’ll buy it and be happy.

I’d have to admit that one of my earliest images from the Oregon county was that from the writings of the pioneers arriving on The Oregon Trail, as they described seeing their first view of the fall salmon migrations up the rivers – they talked about huge fish, so thick in the rivers that one could walk across to the other side on their backs! Even though as a child I knew this was hyperbole, there was also a core expectation that there was at least some truth in these stories – and I had to have some of that same experience some day! And when that chance finally came to me, it was only after several years of trying -and some personal assistance- before I actually had my first sighting of a salmon jumping up a waterfall – and I have yet to see salmon so thick in the rivers that their backs were visible as they swam – but I live in hope.

I have had what is probably a once in a lifetime salmon experience however – the area where I usually do my mushrooming is a section of the BLM forest called Cherry Creek – and that creek is so small that often at the end of the summer, it almost disappears. Yet, as testimony to the amazing innate drive and zeal of the salmon to return to the place of its birth, I was witness one autumn day to a huge salmon (perhaps 25 lbs – huge for the two foot wide, 6 inch deep stream in which it was attempting to swim) trying as best it could to make its way up a stream woefully unfit for such an effort by such a noble creature. It’s a vision that will go to my grave with me, and perhaps will fill the void in my brain of the vision of fish so thick that one could walk on their backs!

As each fall season descends on us, I begin spending many days at the crabbing dock in Bandon – that particular dock also contains one of the few -and one of the nicest- public fish cleaning stations in our area. My crab catching efforts also coincide with salmon catching season, and it is not unusual to see a fisherman using this prime station to his just caught salmon. I’ve been lucky enough on several occasions to be leaving at the same time as a salmon was being cleaned and dressed – and on each of those occasions I’ve stopped to ask the cleaner what they intended to do with the salmon carcass, and my query has always been answered the same – if I wished to put the remainder of their beautiful fish to good use, they would be happy to oblige.

And what does one do with a salmon carcass? Some absolutely delicious things, that’s what. I consider it a crime that most of those freshly caught wild salmon ‘remainders’ are simply thrown away. These are premier fish, and you will never find any fresher! From that perspective alone, every morsel should be experienced. But there is more! I’ve yet to receive a fish from a cleaner that was ‘expertly’ filleted – I suspect most fishermen are just not that good at cleaning a fish well, and they leave far more fish on the bones than a professional would. But even a good fish filleter will still leave a carcass with plenty of usable meat – the head alone is a treasury of goodness.

What do I do with my salmon carcasses? I once made Thai fish head soup – a delicious use, but what we keep going back to is to simply give the carcass a quick, hot roast and then to strip off the meat from the bones – and then to make salmon cakes from this wonderful recipe, which anyone could also make, since it uses canned salmon – but of course, if you can get a fresh salmon carcass, you’ll have something special:



Salmon Cakes I

(I apologize that I did not record the source of this recipe – please forgive)

Recipe Ingredients
3 teaspoons butter , divided
1 small onion , finely chopped
1 stalk celery , finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
15 ounces canned salmon , drained, or 1 1/2 cups cooked flaked salmon
1 large egg , lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon prepared mustard
1 3/4 cups fresh whole-wheat breadcrumbs (see Tip)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 lemon , cut into wedges

Recipe Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray (or see alternate method below).
  2. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in parsley/cilantro; and remove from the heat.
  3. Place salmon in a medium bowl. Flake apart with a fork; remove any bones and skin. Add egg and mustard; mix well. Add the onion mixture, breadcrumbs and pepper; mix well. Shape the mixture into 8 patties, about 2 1/2 inches wide.
  4. Heat remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons butter in the pan over medium heat. Add 4 patties and cook until the undersides are golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a wide spatula, turn them over onto the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining patties. (If using precooked salmon, you may wish to simply continue the saute of the cakes in the skillet until nicely browned and thoroughly cooked through.
  5. Bake the salmon cakes until golden on top and heated through, 15 to 20 minutes. (Alternatively, you could continue to saute the cakes in butter over medium heat until nicely browned and crisp.) Serve salmon cakes with sauce of choice and lemon wedges.

Prepare through Step 3. Cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.

Tip: To make fresh breadcrumbs: Trim crusts from firm sandwich bread. Tear the bread into pieces and process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. One slice makes about 1/3 cup.


As I often do, I seem to have interrupted myself and strayed from my initial intention, which was to share with you our usual method of preparing a couple of beautiful slices off the filleted side of a salmon – let me remedy that now. Personally, I prefer a fillet over a cross-cut piece, only because I have become a lover of sauteed salmon skin, and a cross-cut does not allow that. For some reason, in my fish market, the tail section of the salmon sells for less than does the fillets from the midsection – but I see no actual difference, except that you are getting more of the delicious skin on the tail.

Salmon_Collars_rawAnother reduced price part of the salmon I look for is the collar section – a salmon collar is located right behind the gills of the fish, and when the head is separated from the rest of the fish, there is still quite a bit of meat left on the head, and a good fish monger will cut the collar away from the rest of the head – and some lucky customer will get it. Why are the collars good? Because they contain more fat than do other parts of the fish, except for the belly, both of which are prized sushi ingredients. Sometimes you can buy the entire collar, skin and bone included – but my fish market only sells the big chunks of meat from the very top of the collar – on a big salmon, a chunk of the collar may weigh 4-6 ounces, just enough for a good serving!

OK, here’s what we do almost exclusively to prepare our salmon – you can use this method with any of the cuts I’ve described above, but it is most effective with a skin on fillet cut from the midsection. salmonskinWe simply turn on the oven broiler to high, and heat an oven-safe skillet to as hot as it will get (smoking!). Once the pan is hot, sprinkle a little salt over the bottom and lay two salmon fillets, skin side down into the pan. Allow them to sear for a minute or two, depending on how you like your salmon done (we like it to be rare in the middle, so we may even shorten that time). While it’s searing, paint the surface of the fillets with Oyster Sauce liberally – once that’s done, and the salmon is seared, move the skillet into the highest rack your oven will allow (without the pan touching the broiler element) – don’t shut the oven door tightly, lest the broiler go off, prop it open with a metal spoon – allow the tops of the salmon to begin to brown some, but don’t leave them in the broiler for more than a few minutes – unless you want well done salmon (You don’t want well done salmon, do you?). Remove and serve.

glazedsalmonDo you think this may be just a little too simple? Well, if we listen to the best chefs, they all seem to say, ‘Get the best you can and cook it as simply as you can.’  Very true.

Sometimes we add the juice of half a lime to the Oyster Sauce – and sometimes a tsp of sesame oil – frankly, any way we do it, it always seems equally delicious. So, just use your imagination and enjoy!

Posted in Fishing, Food, Oregon | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A Lifetime of Muffin Evolution

It has occurred to me recently -again- that we as Americans do not have much of an understanding of history – at least not in the European sense, and certainly not at all from the Asian perspective. We tend to think of our own history, say of the ‘old west’, as ancient – yet a figure as central as Wyatt Earp in that old west history only died as recently as 1929. 1929! For god’s sake, I came into this world only a few years later than that.

In the grand scheme of things, that is not history at all. It’s just amazing how quickly we tend to see things as historical, old and outdated.

I suppose as we grow and mature, it is human nature to get enthused and energized about all the ‘progress’ around us – I certainly did – we must have everything new that has just been developed – it is not acceptable to continue to use outdated things. And I guess it is also human nature that as we grow older, we either tire of the effort of trying to keep up, or we slowly realize the folly of doing so – or both.

Is it really progress to have rejected quality for speed and to have traded taste for convenience? For the most part, our current society has answered Yes to these questions – and the old ways are relegated to history – and history is bad.

But now that I am old enough to pause, I think it’s important to try and rethink and recapture at least part of what we’ve missed as a society by our rejection of the way things were done historically. And a good part of our ‘old fashioned’ culinary history is the unique way that cooking and baking was done historically – I often speak of the ‘granny method’, and what I mean is simply that in olden times, cooks and bakers did not use recipes –cookbooks are a relatively new invention– they simply had a feel for the ingredients they used, and for the dishes they made – it was all in their head. And if they didn’t have a particular ingredient, they knew just what they could sub for it, and how much. That was the granny method – and it is my contention that even today, a real cook or baker has not matured into self confidence and self respect until they have reached this level of expertise – their own personal granny method at work.

In my own evolution as a baker, the one item associated most in my experience with the granny method was the bran muffin. I’ve loved bran muffins for as long as I can remember, and I have baked them for almost as long. If one is interested in learning how to bake something from memory, it should be something they bake often – and for me, that meant a bran muffin.

As I’ve suggested above, when one utilizes the granny method, it means that one has learned which parts of the process are inviolate, or absolute rules – having said that, I learn every day about exceptions to baking rules I once thought absolute, but surely, good bakers attain consistency by adhering to certain rules – so it’s a wise practice to follow, until experience suggests otherwise. The flip side of that is that there are parts of the process where all sorts of substitutions can, and should, be made. Put together, these two elements of the granny method result in the baker gaining a ‘feel’ for the creation of the product in question – in my case, the bran muffin.

My mother made her bran muffins by using a bran cereal, as do many even now – but cereals all have unneeded additives and heavy doses of sugar, so I choose to use raw bran instead – I don’t know if raw bran was available in my mother’s time, but All Bran cereal was (introduced in 1923), and that’s what she used. But the use of raw bran gives one more control over creation of a more natural muffin, and I think that’s a meaningful goal. So for me, one rule is the use of raw bran in my bran muffins. Besides, it is very good for you.

Raw bran is a very interesting product – it is, of course, the outer coating of a kernel of wheat. In the case where the miller is making a white flour, the bran is removed and is sold as raw bran (raw bran is probably a misnomer, since most available ‘raw’ bran has been toasted to increase its shelf life – truly raw bran would quickly go rancid unless refrigerated). When I first discovered raw bran, it was in a grocery bulk food section, and I remember it was .19 a pound – the nature of raw bran is such that you’d need a pillow case to get a full pound! I filled a big plastic bag that day for .12. So in this case, going natural will not cost more than going processed. (I think raw bran is up to about 50 cents a pound now – still damn cheap)

Rule two – purely personal again, I always use molasses in bran muffins – not only is it much less processed than white sugar, which I truly believe is toxic, and will one day be banned from human consumption, but molasses also adds a depth of flavor complexity completely missing in sugar. Because I’m using a relatively small amount of molasses, I bump the sweetness level up a notch with a few tablespoons of Splenda, and together these two sweeteners do a nice complete job – at least to my taste.

I also employ a third rule when I make muffins, any baking powder muffins, and that is to mix all your dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, and only at the last minute put them together. The reason for this is that baking powder does it’s job of leavening both by application of heat, and by application of wet ingredients – so if you mix in your wet ingredients too early, half of the rise reaction will be over by the time the muffins hit the oven.

With those rules in hand, and my bran muffin granny method in mind, here then is my current iteration of my lifelong love,

Whole Wheat Molasses Bran Muffins

Turn on your oven to 400 degrees F before starting

Dry Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour (you may use any kind of flour you wish here)

  • 1 ¼ cups of raw bran (do not sub this)

  • 1 Tbs baking powder (try to use an aluminum free kind like Rumford, to avoid the nasty taste)

  • ½ tsp baking soda

  • 1 ½ tsp sea salt, or 2 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)

  • 2 Tbs Splenda (yes, a small amount will still create a sweet taste, but not any aftertaste)

  • ½ cup toasted and chopped walnuts (toast in heating oven for 8-12 minutes, or until you can smell them)

  • ½ cup raisins or cranberries (or any kind of dried fruit, chopped to size)

Mix all above in a medium bowl and set aside. Now take a large 2nd bowl and mix the following together.

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 cup buttermilk (any liquid can be used, but ‘acidic’ buttermilk is especially good here)

  • 1 beaten egg (a 2nd egg will add richness, but will also make the muffins rubbery – a tradeoff)

  • ¼ cup molasses (Tip- coat the inside of your ¼ cup measure with oil and the molasses will slide out easily)

  • 3 Tbs of melted butter (or my current favorite, coconut oil)

  • ½ cup of applesauce (or any mashed ripe fruit such as banana, pear or peach)


  • Liberally grease the cups of a 12 cup muffin tin

  • add the contents of the dry bowl into the larger bowl of wet ingredients, and mix together well

  • this should be a firm batter, but not overly so

  • if need be, add a few Tbs more of buttermilk

  • if it’s too wet to hold it’s shape, add a tiny bit of flour

  • quickly fill the cups of the muffin tin – the batter will fill the cups

  • get the muffin tin into the hot oven as quickly as possible

  • bake for 22-25 minutes @ 400F, turning muffin tin halfway through baking

  • when you think they may be done, test them with a toothpick (nothing should stick to it)

  • remove from oven when done and let them cool on a rack for 5 or 10 minutes – you may want to loosen and tilt each individual muffin in the tin while cooling to keep the bottoms crisp

And after you’ve made these a few times, you can begin making your own variations, such as adding a few Tbs of cocoa and coffee powder (for pumpernickel muffins) – or chocolate chips instead of dried fruit – or oats and dried blueberries with a streusel topping. Whatever your imagination can come up with. And best of all, you’ll soon be able to make them without looking at a recipe, because you will have developed a feel for how to make muffins – any muffins.

A nice feeling.

Posted in Baking, Comfort Food, Food, Our Favorite Dishes | Tagged , , , , , , | 24 Comments

If That’s a Dandelion, Then it Must Be Spring

A True All-American Spring Dandelion

A True All-American Spring Dandelion

I have a small stack of brand new cookbooks next to my corner in the living room (you know, big comfy chair, and all my ‘control’ devices close at hand). These were given to me at Christmas time by my L.A. daughter, who always seems to know what my interests of the moment are – I think Sandee leaks them! It’s probably time I began breaking into them to give me some new kitchen inspiration, and to feed my addiction for vicarious travel adventure. I’ve known for a long time that it’s far more fun to plan a travel adventure than it is to actually do it. And it’s a lot cheaper too.

So most of my travel these days is the vicarious kind – and I really love a good food-travel book. And Melissa has included a beauty among the Christmas books she gave – ‘Burma, Rivers of Flavor’, by Naomi Druguid. And what makes it even more exciting is that none of us know much about Burma – do we! For years, it’s been almost like Burma didn’t exist any longer – that it just went away. And what makes that even more meaningful is that even when Burma was wide open and accessible, I doubt there was a city with more mystery and intrigue than Rangoon – even its name would send chills of excitement through you – at least me. Yeah, I know the names Burma and Rangoon have been officially changed, but I’m betting the rest of the world continues to use them for a long time.

And I have never seen a Burmese restaurant anywhere, have you? So, the food of Burma is just as much a mystery as the country itself – it is with this level of excitement and anticipation that I bring you my discoveries. And the first will surprise you a bit, I’m sure – and require a little background.

Burma is a land of heat – some things grow well, and some, not at all. Potatoes are one of those in-between kind of plants – they don’t take a lot of cold, but they don’t like a lot of heat either. In Burma, there is a short period of time each year of two months or so when potatoes will grow well, and then the rains come to put an end to them. The Burmese enjoy their potatoes with a spicy edge, and a touch of bitterness too, which they traditionally get from hibiscus flowers – Druguid suggests a good alternative for those of us without access to exotic tropical flowers is a bitter green, like sorrel or even dandelion greens.

Currently, in my part of the world, it is dandelion season. Some people hate dandelions – you can always tell who they are because their lawns are awash in dandelion flowers each April – those of us who would love to have a sea of dandelions in our lawn of course do not. Oh, I have plenty of non-grass kinds of things growing out there, but sadly, not a lot of dandelions.

When I went looking for dandelions, I first had to spend a good deal of time researching just what a dandelion looked like, because unfortunately there are many look-alikes out there – fortunately, none are toxic, but then, few are as good tasting either. I’m betting that you think you know exactly what a dandelion looks like; and I’d bet you really don’t know!

Here’s some help.

Dandelion Look-alike # 1

Dandelion Look-alike # 1

Another Good Candidate - But No

Another Good Candidate – But No

Don't Be Confused By the Single True Dandelion Leaf, The Main Plant is Not a Dandelion

Don’t Be Confused By the Single True Dandelion Leaf, The Main Plant is Not a Dandelion

Surely This is a Dandelion - Nope

Surely This is a Dandelion – Nope

OK, Here's Another Real One

OK, Here’s Another Real One

The identification problem arises from the fact that a dandelion grows from the top of taproot in a rosette form – in our minds, we associate this unique plant form with a dandelion, but actually there are maybe hundreds of other plants which grow the exact same way – and look very similar. But there’s an easy way to ID a dandelion from all other look-alikes, because a dandelion sends out leaves with sharp points on them (from whence its French name has evolved – Lion’s Tooth), and the ends of those points always point back toward the ground, at least the bottom set of teeth do.  No other of the look-alikes do this!  So, now you know.

Let’s celebrate spring (at least in our part of the world) by making use of nature’s gifts – get out and pick some of those prime dandelion greens before they start flowering, for then their leaves turn even more bitter. But, and it’s a big BUT, that doesn’t mean they become inedible – those like me even enjoy the increased bitterness, especially if you are cooking them (as in this recipe) since the cooking tones down the bitterness.

So here’s a Burmese, Naomi Druguid adaption of a springtime variation of a very basic side dish – and for many of you, a good introduction to a springtime veggie you should have been eating all along.

Spiced Burmese New Potatoes and Dandelion Greens



  • About 2 lbs. small new potatoes, or small fingerling potatoes (in Burma, since the potato growing season is short, smaller potatoes are more common – it’s OK to simply cut up the new potatoes – but do use new potatoes)

  • About a cup and a half (1 ½) of chopped dandelion greens (use the larger leaves for this, and reserve the smaller leaves for salad use)

  • 3 – 4 tbs shallot oil (* see below)

  • 1 green or red fresh hot pepper, seeded and minced (or if your hot peppers are not really hot, leave the seeds in there)

  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste


  • Place the potatoes in a pan with just enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil, and lower the heat to medium low for a low boil. Continue until the potatoes are cooked through but still firm. Drain, place back in the pan – cover and set aside for 10 minutes.

  • Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the minced peppers, and as soon as they begin to sizzle, add the chopped dandelion greens – stir as the greens wilt and everything gets mixed together – add the potatoes and mix all well while the potatoes get well heated – add salt to taste and remove to a serving bowl. Sprinkle some crisped shallots over all and serve.


* All over Southeast Asia, the use of flavor infused oils is common – most often, they are very hot, with a chile base. But in this case, Druguid is suggesting one where the oil is infused with shallots – so not only do you get a more flavorful oil with which to cook, but a byproduct of crispy shallot – which can add another layer of flavor to this dish.

In her book, Druguid provides a process for making a cup of shallot oil, and a corresponding large amount of crisped shallots – but for our purposes here, I’ll give you a trimmed down recipe for a smaller amount appropriate for this dish.

Take 2 or 3 shallots and trim and skin them – cut down the middle and slice into thin slices, and place into a skillet in which you’ve heated ¼ cup of neutral oil (peanut or grape seed is good) over medium-high heat – stir – as soon as you see some of the shallot slices getting dark edges, lower the heat to medium, or lower – stir the shallots often while they are cooking – during their first 5 minutes of cooking, you want them to begin to take on a light golden color – continue occasional stirring, but do not raise the heat. Continue cooking another 2 or 3 minutes, as the shallots become more golden – be careful here, as they will quickly turn from golden to dark brown (burned!) if not watched. As soon as you sense them getting nicely brown, remove them from the heat. Strain the oil from the shallots, and place the shallots on paper toweling to dry and crisp for a few minutes. The oil is now ready to use – you should have just enough for this dish, and maybe more than enough crispy shallots too.



 I know what you’re thinking – and I agree – maybe this was not the best Burmese representative recipe in Druguid’s book, but I wanted to do the dandelion thing too – you know how we bloggers are – I promise I’ll go back and dig out a few more down the road. But it was a really good recipe for expanding our horizons a bit. When was the last time you made a potato side dish that included bitter greens? If like me, maybe never – but it was simply delicious, and I’ll surely use it again. I hope you’ll give it a try, even if you adapt it a little – yeah, it’s OK.

Posted in Food, Foods of the World | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments