Ambrosia Salad

ambrosia title

As much as I am interested in new food trends, there are a few classics–especially those that I grew up with–that will always have a special place on my table.  As a child of the ’90s, some of these dishes waver on that edge of decidedly old-school, especially as we look at cold salads.  Ambrosia is one of those.  I am seeing this creamy fruit salad less and less these days, but, in my mind, ambrosia is one of those quintessential summer dishes.  Due to the lack of vegetables and the inclusion of fruit, it was a universal favorite in my house while I was growing up.  It also made an impression on our extended family (here is the recipe, finally, Lizzie!)  Ambrosia was always a true sign of summer (even though, using the canned options, it can be made almost any time of year that grapes are in stores).

ambrosia fruit

I’ve sampled a few ambrosia salads at various barbecues, either a store-bought salad or by someone else’s recipe.  And I was always disappointed, if not disgusted.  They were always horribly sweet.  There are rules about Ambrosia Salad (in my adamant opinion! 😉 ).  Rule #1: no maraschino cherries.  Listen.  I love maraschino cherries.  Especially the un-natural, bright-red ones.  A visit to any fro-yo place usually ends with most of my money paying for at least one extra ounce of weight made up entirely of half a dozen maraschino cherries.  However, they do not belong in ambrosia salad.  The juice makes it all vaguely pink and the flavor just doesn’t fit.  No maraschinos.  Rule #2: no vanilla.  This is often linked to the third and most important rule: Rule #3: don’t cover the fruit with a sweet topping.  I’ve tried this dish made with whipped cream, cool whip, vanilla yogurt….all of those options will leave your teeth aching and your mouth crying out for water from the sugar.  The marshmallows and the coconut and, you know, all the fruit, provide plenty of sweetness.  Even vanilla extract adds a heaviness to the salad.  You just don’t need it.

In adhering to rule #3, I will finally admit the ingredient that may give you pause.  Yes, the topping that mixes everything together into creamy goodness is…. sour cream.  Gasp!  I know!  Just reminiscent enough of those terrible 1950s recipes calling for mayo and shrimp and jello and other horrors to make you stop and reconsider.  But hear me out:  Sour cream is great here.  The tang balances the sweetness of every other ingredient and after a couple of hours, the marshmallows break down into soft little pockets and the sugar on the outside of the marshmallows has blended with the cream to make the whole thing perfectly sweet.  Yes, I suppose I would allow swapping plain yogurt for the sour cream, if it really rattles you.  But let’s be honest with each other.  Sour cream achieves a texture of delightfully-creamy-without-being-heavy that no other dairy product can.  Greek yogurt would be too thick and heavy, regular yogurt would be too watery, especially combined with the juicy fruit.  Sour cream is the best option.  Just don’t think about it too much and do me a favor: try it with sour cream first.  Trust me.

ambrosia close

I was delighted, in fourth grade, when I started learning about Greek mythology, to learn that ambrosia was the food of the Gods.   Having had this dish for many summers, I couldn’t imagine anything more appropriate to feed Athena, Artemis, Zeus, and Apollo. So try it out…it is the food of the gods, after all!  Not to mention a really great addition to any barbecue or potluck and the perfect option for a summer evening!

ambrosia mixed

Ambrosia Salad

Serves 6-8 | Prep time: 10 min. + resting | Cook time: N/A

  • 1 c. mini marshmallows
  • 1 c. crushed pineapple, drained (or 1 c. fresh, finely chopped)*
  • 1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 c. shredded coconut (sweetened is traditional, but unsweetened would be fine)
  • 1 c. grapes (red or green), slice in half
  • 3/4 to 1 c. sour cream**

*My pineapple is fresh, but chopped too large in these photos.  As soon as I took a bite, I knew I should have chopped it much finer, when using it fresh.

**Depending on how juicy the fruit is, you may need less or more.  Gently fold in the smaller amount first, and then decide if you need the rest.

Combine the fruit, marshmallows, and coconut in a large bowl.  Gently fold in sour cream, being careful not to break up the mandarin orange pieces too much.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving, to allow flavors to meld.


Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble Bars (and an unexpected nomination)

straw rhubarb title

Did you know that I am a finalist for “Best Mom Blogger” in Washington Family Magazine’s 2014 “Best For Families” Awards?  Yeah, that took me by surprise, too.  While I am honored to be in the ranks alongside The Bloggess, The Pioneer Woman, Honest Toddler, and Momastery (the winner)…as you may or may not have noticed, I am not a mom.  Nor do I plan on becoming one anytime soon.  No babies, thank you very much.

The WFM’s “Best For Families” Awards span a huge amount of categories, covering all facets of family life.  My company is eligible for several of these categories, and have won the awards in the past (and we won this year, hurray!)  However, gathering the votes is based primarily on a huge write-in paper ballot (as the WFM’s online ballot is notoriously finicky).  We often make these paper ballots available to our friends, family, and customers if they would like to fill one out.  And my mother did just that.  And her friends did just that.  And (possibly) my friends did just that.  Since a certain percentage of these ballots must be filled out to make the ballot valid, we are often spent picking one another brains–“Has anyone gone to an allergist?”  “Anybody know a good tutoring service?”–to fill in enough categories.  This reason is why my boss and other members of our staff have been nominated for several odd categories: “Best Interior Designer”, “Best Electrician”, “Local Hero”, “Person You Wish Would Run For Preseident”.  Blanks needed filling, and people got a little silly.  I suppose now it is my turn.  As the only blogger some of my acquaintances know, presumably the “Mom” part of the category was ignored..  (Thanks, Mom.)  To wind down this story, if, by some coincidence, you have found your way here through the WFM’s BFF Awards, I am sorry to disappoint you on the lack of “Mom” status.  I can offer you delicious gluten-free food, but no commiseration or celebration of life’s joys with little ones.  Wait!  I have a dog…does that count?

straw rhubarb bars pan side

Finalist-status aside, M and I are on the road again, taking a meandering route down to North Carolina for his nephew’s birthday.  We’ll spend a few days at the beach on our way down.  This will be our last chance to get away before our work schedules return full swing.  It’ll be nice to meander and take our time as we go down the coast.  If the weather holds, we will try to get out to kayak!  I went kayaking for the first time on our cruise in January and loved it!  M has been kayaking since he was young, so it would be great to have a chance to go out again.  M’s nephew is having a water party.  With five year olds as the main attendees, I expect a lot of chaotic fun!  North Carolina also means a visit to Saxapahaw, our favorite tiny strip of town.  After coffee, we will poke around the general store to see if we can find any fun local products.  This time, finally, we will be prepared with a cooler for transport back home.  Last trip, I was a little concerned for the local steaks that we found.  They had been frozen, so they just barely made it home while still cold…

straw rhubarb bars cut

Many, many weeks ago, before camp, I mentioned some rhubarb bars.  They are made with the same base crust and crumble as my Caramel-Oat Cookie Bars, with the gooey caramel replaced with soft, sweet strawberry-rhubarb fruit filling.  You might be able to snap up the last stalks of rhubarb before the season ends, but you can also replace it with more strawberries, or another kind of fruit.  Without the tangy rhubarb to balance the sweetness, you may find you want to exclude the sugar in the filling as well. These are perfect when served warm with a spoonful or two of vanilla ice cream!

straw rhubarb bars topview

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble Bars

Serves: 15-24 (depending on cut size) | Prep Time: 15 min. | Cook time: 30 min.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and prepare the base according to recipe directions.  For easy removal, line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper, and allow the edges to lay up the sides of the pan.

While the cookie base is cooking, combine the diced fruit and sprinkle with remaining ingredients.   Stir to combine and let mixture sit until the bar base is removed from the oven.  Allow the base to cool for five minutes, then spread the fruit mixture evenly over the base.  Sprinkle with reserved crumble topping.

Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes, until fruit is bubbling and the crumble is golden.  Allow to cool for about 15 minutes, then slice into bars.  Allow to cool completely.  Bars can be stored in a tightly-sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.


A Journey of Taste and a Simple Peach & Marscarpone Tart

Grain-free

One of my mother’s favorite tales to tell is the phase when E and I were quite young and we wanted waffles and (canned) green beans for breakfast every day.  Usually, this story was told during my later childhood and teenage years when I abandoned the green beans for a pickier palate.  While E, S, and I were not anywhere close to the picky eaters in parent’s horror stories, by the time the three of us were in elementary school, food choices were limited.  Carrots, corn, and fried potatoes (definitely not mashed) made regular appearances at dinner, plus the occasional salad with the tomatoes left on the plate and a few celery slices if I was feeling generous.  Cucumber if I was forced. Gravy was definitely not on my plate for many years, and that also knocked off any sort of stew as well.  Tuna out of a can was accepted, but only in a tuna salad sandwich, tuna mac & cheese, or tuna fish on toast.  Macaroni and cheese, while we’re on the subject, was something I could only eat fresh off the stove, refusing to wait until my family came to the table–any sort of thickening of the sauce as the dish cooled made it unpalatable.  Most meats were okay, depending on their preparation, and all three of us devoured fruit.  At restaurants, the pickiness returned full force.  When my sister and I were young, we often felt ill after eating away from home.  For a while, we thought it was lactose intolerance, but it was never truly consistent.  To this day, we are not entirely sure, but I suspect that it was mostly a nervous stomach, but perhaps even a reaction to gluten early on.  I don’t remember feeling unwell after eating gluten-filled food at home (be it homemade, or take-out).  E has always reacted worse than I did, and even now, doesn’t seem to respond as I have to a gluten-free diet.  But whatever the reason, this meant that E and I almost exclusively ate chicken tenders with honey mustard at every restaurant we frequented.

peach prep 2

In high school, for whatever reason, I made myself try and begin to enjoy shrimp (only in the form of cold shrimp cocktail or alfredo pasta) and tomato basil soup (the first soup I ever remember eating).  When I finally ate the chili mac that my mother made for dinner, I realized that chili was actually tasty.  One night I decide to add a single sliver of pepper and onion from my fajitas to the chicken, cheese, and sour cream in my tortilla.  Trying new foods in my teenaged years was the start a long slow process of exploring food that I still continue today.  College, in particular, worked its wonders.  I distinctly remember that day in my freshman year, when, unenthused with the dining halls choices, I picked a baked sweet potato.  It was the first sweet potato I have ever tried…and it was delicious!  In my junior year, I finally returned to green beans–fresh, instead of from a can–and managed to enjoy the green vegetable with a squeeze of lime juice and cracked black pepper.  I discovered pomegranates, figs, persimmons, asparagus, beets, goat cheese, broccoli, spinach, fennel, and lamb, just to name a few.

peach mini top

Many other foods fell into my range of “delicious and acceptable” over the years of college, and even now, I’m continuing to try new things.  It helps that M will try anything and everything.  His willingness instills a much needed dose of bravery in me.  With M, I’ve tried oxtail, curries, oysters, paté, crab, chestnuts, banana peppers, several types of fish, and many others.  As I found cooking and baking to be such a joy, reading and researching through cookbooks and blogs has inspired me to try even more foods, and use the ones I am familiar with in whole new ways.  Now, I am excited to purchase my first tomatillos, even if I am not quite sure, at that moment, what I will be doing with them.  I am eagerly continuing my quest to find a preparation and flavoring for cooked greens that will make me like them as much as M (he is happily eating his and my portion of the ‘failures’ along the way).  I am saving the seeds I spoon out of squash to roast the next day, craving freshly steamed artichokes, and cooking beans and lentils from scratch.  I’m making the list of foods I’ve yet to try (jicama, eggplant, swiss chard…) and figuring out just how to try them.  I’m making zucchini lasagna. I am mixing butternut squash into flour and eggs to make my own gnocchi on a Thursday night, while planning when I can attempt making bone broth from scratch.  I even let my macaroni and cheese cool and thicken as I stir in tuna and peas on the nights when I am especially lazy with dinner.

peach full top

Last night, M and I went out to dinner with his mum, as a late celebration of my birthday.  She was tied loosely to a community event, so we chose the indian restaurant in the plaza where her group was performing.  I didn’t have anything as daring as you might expect to have inspired this post–the lamb kebab and the seafood sampler–but I reminisced about the first time I had ever eaten indian food (M all but forced food court butter chicken into my hands one rehearsal when he found out I hadn’t eaten dinner–it was delicious, though it might have been the hunger talking).  When M admitted that he ate just about anything, even as a child, he made me think about how little I actually ate, and, subsequently, how far I’ve come.  I still have a ways to go, especially with some strange palate and texture preferences, but I’d like to think I’m making progress.  I can, on occasion, drink soup out of a cup or thermos, nowadays (is it weird for anyone else to drink something savory, instead of using a spoon?  This is the same reason that I can’t stomach bloody marys–if somewhere served them in a little bowl, I think I’d do just fine).  As much as I am learning new techniques and recipes in the kitchen; I am learning even more about the actual foods that make up those recipes.

peach tart top

Today I am sharing a recipe that is far from revolutionary and, ironically, is made with ingredients that I would have readily eaten as a child.  But, it is slightly updated to be entirely grain-free and significantly less sweet than my high-school self would have expected.  Peaches are everywhere this summer, like every other summer, and I am sure that, by now, every food blog has some recipe for peaches with pastry.  This recipe was thrown together one morning a week after seeing Shauna post an instagram photo of the birthday tart her friend made for her.  Peaches, blueberries, and marscarpone, resting lightly on a crumbly tart shell.  It looked delicious.  So I thought about the tart as I bought peaches and marscapone, and I thought about it more over the next few days, until I had the morning off.  M and I were preparing to visit my mother’s house, then go to Ikea (for my first visit ever!) to look for a new mattress and bedframe.  And the peaches were ripe, and the little note on the marscarpone was needling at me (“marscarpone is a delicate sweet cheese, blah blah, enjoyed as soon as possible after purchase, blah blah blah”).   Since I hadn’t yet worked out how to bake the tart with the peaches without turning the marscarpone into a puddle that doomed my tart crust…I decided to make a breakfast tart and leave the fruit uncooked.  I didn’t want anything too sweet, but I did want the added benefit of a little more protein than the marscarpone could provide.  And I had coconut flour in the back of my fridge and almond flour in my pantry.  With a few more ingredients, I pressed a crumbly crust into my tart pans and baked it off while I sliced my peaches.  After a layer of marscarpone and a spread of fruit, this tart became a perfect light breakfast.  I even took a little into a mini-tart pan to bring Mom breakfast!  Also, the lovely printed tea towels in these photos are a birthday present from E and A.  Isn’t the heart print the perfect background for this tart? They got me a stack of linen-type thin towels in all sorts of fun, vintage-type prints.  I love these thin towels for covering rising bread, rolling summer rolls, and–obviously–photographing dishes, and have been at a total loss with the thick kitchen towels that I have at the new house.  Now I have plenty (though I couldn’t resist grabbing one more at Ikea).

peach slice

Peach & Marscarpone Coconut Tart

Serves: 6-8 | Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes

For the Tart Crust:

Adapted from Elana’s Pantry

  • 1 3/4 c. almond flour
  • 1/4 c. coconut flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. shredded coconut
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut butter
  • 2Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 egg
  • up to 3 Tbsp. sugar (optional)

For the Filling

  • 8 oz. marscarpone cheese
  • 2-3 medium peaches
  • 1 tsp cinnamon + 1 tsp sugar (optional)

Set the marscarpone on the counter to come to room temperature/slightly soften.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt together coconut butter and coconut oil in ramekin.  Cool. Combine almond flour, coconut flour, salt, cinnamon, and shredded coconut in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed.  Add beaten egg and coconut oil/butter mixture and mix well with spoon or hands until the dough is crumbly, but sticks together when pressed between fingers.  Press dough into a tart pan.  Prick bottom with fork in a few place.  Bake tart crust for 10 minutes, until lightly browned.

While crust is baking, thinly slice peaches.  Remove crust from oven, allow to cool for a few minutes.  Spread marscarpone gently over crust (it’ll be a little crumbly) before completely cool.  If using cinnamon-sugar, sprinkle over marscarpone before spreading peaches over top.  Serve cold or room temperature for a barely-sweet breakfast or dessert.

peach slice peek


Catching up with Almond Flour Scones

scone top

It has been over a month since I last posted, in spite of my best intentions.  My summer camp, as mentioned, ate up a considerable portion of each day.  With our move, M and I are further away from this job, so that meant that we were up by 5:30am every morning to walk Punc, pack lunches, and get ready to leave the house by 6:30.  We usually didn’t get home until 5:00 or 5:30pm, and by then, quite truthfully, it took all of my remaining energy to put together some semblance of dinner, then shower, and sleep.  On the very first day of camp, I came home and simply couldn’t move for four hours.  I adore my job, especially the summers, but it takes constant energy.  After twelve hours of acting, blocking, stretching, singing, dancing, planning, memorizing, and leading; it was an achievement to keep my eyes open until 10:00pm.

scone stack

We have one week left, but I can confidently say that this summer was the best one yet.  We had truly outstanding staff and equally outstanding students.  I have spoken about teaching before, touching briefly on how inspiring my students are to me, and how teenage culture is played out before me only a few years after I left it, myself.  I always feel as though I learn as much from my students as they (hopefully) do from me, and this year, as always, I had several particularly inspiring students.  I will not go into details–the privacy of my students is the most important thing–but I can say that, a physically exhausting as camp has been, I know after a few days of proper sleep, all of this inspiration will have me refreshed and ready to dive into our fall classes.

scone pile

I did manage to have a few adventures in the kitchen, mostly inspired by our farmer’s market finds.  I hope to share those adventures soon–just one more week of camp (and my birthday) to get through before the schedule returns to normal!

With all of my early mornings, filled with harried lunch-packing (though I tried my best to pack the night before, so much of our sliced veggies and fruits or sandwiches, etc would have suffered from sitting overnight, leaving me with some prep every morning) and even quicker breakfasts, it was important for me to find something quick, portable, and protein-packed.  Our camp has a nut-free policy, but I rely so much on the handy protein of nut products that I often found myself searching to pack them into my breakfasts, and then thoroughly washing my hands upon arrival.  These scones, with their tantalizing mix of whole-grain flours and almond meal, were the perfect fit for my breakfast bill.  The scones are exceedingly flexible in terms of add-ins–I made another batch of white-chocolate blueberry scones, as well as cherry pecan, using the same recipe.  Those eluded photographs, but I do have my first batch of blueberry lemon spice scones to show off.  These scones freeze beautifully.  I was able to grab a few, microwave for ten seconds for a quick thaw, and then carry them to eat in the car on the way into work.  These scones are easily vegan.
scone duo

Almond Flour Scones

Serves: 8 | Prep time: 15 min |Cook time: 10-15 minutes

  • 1 1/4 c. almond meal
  • 3/4 c. oat flour, teff flour, or additional almond meal (and any mixture therein of the three)
  • 2 Tbsp. corn starch (or potato starch)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 Tbsp. boiling water
  • 1 Tbsp. flax seed (ground)
  • 2 Tbsp. milk of choice
  • 2 Tbsp. honey or agave (granulated sugar may be used, but you must add an additional Tbsp of milk)
  • dash salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or citrus juice, for citrus scones)
  • up to 1 Tbsp spices or zest of choice, optional
  • up to 1 c. of add-ins (dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, fresh fruit, etc), optional*

*If only one type of add-in, I usually ended up using only 1/2-3/4 c.  If using two types, I used up to 1/2 c. of each.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Combine boiling water and ground flax seed in a small bowl, stir together well and allow to rest, thicken, and gel for several minutes.  Combine almond meal, flours, cornstarch, baking soda, salt, and any spices (if using) in a large bowl, stir until thoroughly mixed.  Combine milk, vanilla/juice, and honey and any zest (if using) in small bowl.   Add liquids, plus the gelled flax mixture, to the dry mix and stir until fully incorporated.  Stir in choices of add-ins*.

*For the scones pictured, I stir 1 tsp of cinnamon into the dry mixture, 2 tsp. of lemon zest and 1 tsp of lemon juice into the milk and honey mixture, and 3/4 c. of dried blueberries into the dough.

Dump the dough onto the lined baking sheet and shaped into 1 large or 2 small round circle(s).  Cut each circle into eight triangles, but do not separate the triangles.  Bake for 9-12 minutes, until lightly browned.  Remove from oven, recut at the lines, but, again, do not separate scones.  Allow to cool.  Store in a tightly sealed container on the counter for up to one week, or in the freezer for up to one month.

If you would like glaze the scones, wait until completely cool, then mix 1/2 c. powdered sugar (with up to 1 tsp. spices) with 1 tsp. vanilla extract and 2 Tbsp. water or citrus juice.  Drizzle over cooled scones and allow to harden.