Autumn Tea Blend for Samhain

Blessed Samhain to my friends who celebrate! In this season of pumpkin spice, I sometimes find myself craving something a bit deeper, so I thought I’d share a little tea I blended up for myself today.

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I’ve long had a complicated relationship with traditional “pumpkin spice” blends, as I’m not often fond of cinnamon, except in very specific contexts. More often than not, I prefer to focus on other spices, such as the cardamom and allspice in my Regency-inspired drinking chocolate recipe. And allspice, to me, is that certain je ne sais quoi that defines autumn spice. So my blend keeps allspice, but eschews the rest.

But what it lacks in spice, it makes up for in a deep, rich roasted quality that brings to mind cool forests and evening fires. Dark roast hojicha from Hojicha.Co gives that deep, smoky campfire note, while wild rooibos from The Rare Tea Company marries with the hojicha in a beautiful and inseparable way. I spoke yesterday about my previous dislike of rooibos, but this wild rooibos tastes of earth and wood and reminds me more of a good whisky than the insipid and artificial caffeine-free flavored blends I’d had previously. Combined with hojicha and allspice, this blend tastes like autumn in a cup.

I’ve left this recipe relatively unadorned, but I imagine it might be delicious with some additions. Add a splash of apple cider or maple syrup if you prefer something sweeter. A cinnamon stick wouldn’t go amiss, if you’re into that kind of thing. The most important thing is to experiment and have fun.

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Dark Samhain Night Tea Blend

2.5g dark roast hojicha
2.5g wild rooibos
0.5g allspice berries

Add the ingredients to a teapot or infuser mug and pour 250ml of boiling water over them. Allow to steep for five minutes. Sweeten to taste, if desired, and enjoy. May be resteeped at least once with delightful results.

NB: All ingredients were purchased by me with no incentive to feature.

Adventures in Historical Baking: Bath Buns

As I mentioned in my “Tea with Jane Austen” video this weekend, one of Austen’s favorite treats was the Bath bun, an enriched, brioche-like bun that has been referenced since at least 1763. Austen wrote in her letters of “disordering [her] stomach” with them. So as part of my video, I wanted to try to recreate them.

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I’ve been able to find many 18th- and 19th-century cookbooks freely available on Google Books, and it’s not only been a boon to my historical series, but also just great fun. So I looked through a book from 1805 called The Housekeeper’s Instructor by W. A. Henderson and I found this recipe for “Bath Cakes or Buns”:

“TAKE a half pound of butter, and one pound of flour; rub the butter well into the flour; add five eggs, and a teacup full of yeast. Set the whole well mixed up before the fire to rise; when sufficiently rose add a quarter of a pound of find powder sugar, an ounce of carraways well mixed in, then roll them out in little cakes and bake them on tins; they may be eat for either breakfast or tea.”

It seemed straightforward enough, and because much of the recipe is given in weight, there was little confusion as to how much of things to use. The one confusion was the “teacup full of yeast.” Of course, it was not calling for a cup of dry powdered yeast, as we use now, but likely meant a cup full of the liquid yeast slurry known as “barm.” James Townsend has a great video about yeast, in which he gives a recipe for an approximate substitute from the barm that would have been used (jump to 3:40 for that). Barm was a by-product of beer brewing and using it in bread-making allowed for the production of sweeter breads, rather than the sourdoughs that would have been produced before. For our sweet Bath buns, “yeast” likely meant barm, which also accounts for the lack of liquid in the dough, apart from the eggs.

As this was considered a relative of modern brioche, which is a milk-based dough, I decided that instead of making barm with beer and yeast, I would simply replace the “yeast” in the recipe with a packet of dry yeast activated in some warm milk. So I warmed a cup of milk, added the yeast, let it sit for 15-20 minutes and then proceeded with the rest of the recipe.

And I was left with an incredibly loose batter, rather than a dough! I ended up having to add much more flour to make it into a dough, which threw off the ratios of the sugar and butter as well. So it seemed the recipe required more sleuthing.

The first thing I realized is that I didn’t actually know how big a “teacup” was in early 19th-century cooking. I simply assumed it meant a cup, but looking at most of my teacups, that seems a rather poor assumption. So I found this list of somewhat obscure cooking measures, which helped. It turns out a teacup is the same as a gill and is equal to two wineglasses (or a half a cup, in modern terms).

Next, I looked at my eggs. I use standard large eggs in my baking, and most recipe I find these days call for large eggs, but in the past, eggs would have been smaller. So I hunted around for references and found that 19th-century chickens probably produced eggs that today would be considered small-to-medium. Now, rather than buy different eggs, I looked up conversions and five small or medium eggs is about four large eggs.

Thus armed with new knowledge, I took up my recipe again. This time, I produced a very loose, sticky dough, but it was cohesive enough to be picked up and formed roughly into blobs, which I baked in a muffin tin. They look a bit like muffins, but inside, they have a fine-crumbed, enriched bread texture, with a lovely sweetness and a good flavor from the caraway seeds. I can see why the caraway seeds fell out of favor in modern incarnations, but I rather like that old-fashioned flavor. They are, indeed, lovely for breakfast or tea, especially slathered with a good bit of soft butter.

Bath Buns
makes a dozen buns

Ingredients:

1 lb. of flour
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) of salted butter, at room temperature
1 packet of dry active yeast
1/2 cup of whole milk, warmed to 100F
4 large eggs
1/4 lb. (4 oz., by weight) of granulated sugar
1 oz., by weight, of caraway seeds

  1. Mix the warm milk and yeast together and set aside for 15 or so minutes.
  2. Rub the butter into the flour well, until it resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. Mix up the eggs and the milk mixture and then add to the flour and butter until a loose dough forms.
  4. Cover with a damp towel and set in a warm place for an hour or so, until it doubles in size.
  5. Preheat your oven to 375F and put paper cases into a 12-cup muffin tin.
  6. Add the sugar and caraway seeds to the dough, and mix well.
  7. With damp hands, to prevent sticking, form the dough into 12 buns and place each in a muffin cup.
  8. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until risen, brown, and hollow-sounding when tapped (or until a thermometer reads at least 190F).
  9. Enjoy with tea.

A note on the amounts: I kept the ingredients by weight and I mixed the dough by weight, except where specified otherwise in the original recipe, so I don’t know how much I used by volume. I highly recommend you get a kitchen scale for baking, but there are a few sources online of the approximate conversion of weight to volume for each ingredient. Remember that a pound of flour and a pound of sugar will be different volumes, so you will need to look up each separately.

An Autumn Recipe: Pumpkin Loaf

I’m not a pumpkin-spice latte kind of person, but one spiced offering I do love is pumpkin bread. When I was in college, my favorite afternoon snack was a thick slice of pumpkin bread with a little pot of cream cheese to spread on it from the cafe in the library. During the years I lived alone, I would often make a trip up to the library for a cup of tea and a slice of pumpkin bread during exams, simply because I would otherwise not interact with another person for days on end.

So with the turning of the seasons, I felt it was time to bake a pumpkin bread to enjoy with my tea. I like mine with cream cheese. This is a very lightly-sweet bread, so if you prefer a sweeter snack, perhaps pair it with a sweetened cream cheese (beat a few tablespoons of maple syrup or honey into eight ounces of cream cheese for a sweeter spread). But I like it barely sweet, made with hearty whole-grain flours, and studded with pumpkin seeds instead of nuts.

Pumpkin Loaf:

(based on this recipe from Cookie and Kate)

1 cup of sprouted spelt flour (or whole-wheat white flour)
3/4 cup all-purpose einkorn flour (or regular all-purpose flour)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4-1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs
1/2 cup dark maple syrup
1/3 cup ghee, melted
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (I use soaked, salted, and dehydrated pumpkin seeds)

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease a loaf pan and line with parchment (I used an 8.5″x4.5″ pan).
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients: flours, spices, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Whisk together the eggs and maple syrup until well-mixed, then add the pumpkin puree and mix well. Drizzle in the melted ghee while whisking to emulsify.
  4. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, along with a 1/4 cup of water, and stir together. Fold in the pumpkin seeds.
  5. Spread the mixture in the prepared pan and bake for 60-75 minutes, until a tester comes out with only moist crumbs (or until it reaches 190 degrees internally).
  6. Allow to cool for a half an hour or so in the pan, and then turn out. It slices better when it’s cool because it’s a very tender quick bread. Slice into thick slices and serve with softened cream cheese or butter. I got eight thick slices out of my loaf.
  7. If you don’t eat it immediately, slice it and freeze it with parchment between each slice. Then, you can microwave a frozen slice for about 45-60 seconds to defrost and heat.

My Favorite Souvenir from Barcelona

Anyone who watched my Instagram Stories while I was on vacation in Barcelona might have noticed the meal at Bodega 1900, where I waxed rhapsodic about pretty much all of the food. But I think my favorite part of that meal was the part that I could actually kind of take home with me: their tomato salad. Now, their tomato salad were special, locally-grown tomatoes that were served with their house-made feta cheese. But the most striking thing about them was their simplicity. The tomatoes were simply peeled, cut into chunks, and served with a pinch of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Upon returning home, I decided I needed to keep this marvelous salad in my life. So for the past few weeks, we’ve been eating tomato salad at least once a week. I’m fortunate to have access to a plethora of farmers markets that still have abundant tomatoes, as well as a local grocery store that sells local heirloom tomatoes. So I thought I’d share my “recipe.”

The thing about this recipe is that it’s not really a recipe. It’s all about the individual ingredients. It’s pretty common culinary wisdom that the fewer ingredients a recipe has, the more important it is to get the best of those ingredients. Now, I only use freshly-ground peppercorns and mineral-rich sea salt in my kitchen, so those are pantry staples for me. But if you don’t, this is where you’re going to want to break out that fancy box of flaky sea salt your mom gave you for Christmas when fancy sea salts were the in gift (just me? okay). And get the best olive oil you can find. Again, I have a great local grocery store that recently put in a bulk olive oil bar, so I can get very fresh olive oil every couple of weeks for a very reasonable price, so that’s what I use. It’s a Napa Valley olive oil with a fresh, buttery flavor and none of the acidic bite that can indicate the olive is starting to turn.

And then there is the tomato. I have made this salad with Roma tomatoes, standard slicing tomatoes, and a few heirloom varieties, and I have to say, I vastly prefer the heirloom varieties. I will say that, despite the giant honking tomato in the picture above, it does best with a medium-sized tomato. Basically, you want to be able to cut the tomato into pointed chunks. If I use an heirloom tomato, I will usually skip peeling it, as the skins are so thin, but a regular slicing or Roma tomato will get a little X cut in the non-stem end, a quick dip in boiling water, and a quick peel. It’s not as fussy as it sounds, I promise. Then, you dress it simply, right before serving, and marvel at the masterpiece.

Simple Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

1-2 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes
good sea salt
freshly-ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Wash your tomatoes (and peel, if desired). Remove the stem and white core around the stem, and cut into 6-8 wedges. Cut each wedge into 2-4 chunks. Arrange, skin side down, on a large flat plate or bowl, in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Consume immediately. Serves 2-3 people.

Matcha Week! Matcha Pancakes

This week, I’m celebrating Matcha Week to highlight all the ways I use matcha besides in my morning bowl of traditional thin matcha. I’m promoting my Volition Beauty campaign for a matcha-infused dual-targeted hair mask, which has just over a month longer to get all the votes it needs to go into production. Help me out by voting here, and maybe share my campaign with your friends and followers to help make this product a reality.

To close off the week, I thought I’d share a matcha food recipe. I wanted to make a matcha bundt cake, but my previous tests with the recipe were unsatisfactory and I ran out of time. So I present to you: Matcha Pancakes!

This was a spur-of-the-moment idea when Mr. Tweed and I decided to make pancakes for our Sunday breakfast. I decided to add a little extra sugar and some matcha powder to our pancake batter, which made for a delightfully green batter and a pleasantly subtle matcha flavor in the resultant pancakes. It was a fun change to the standard breakfast pancake, and I’d definitely do it again sometime. Although, be warned, that with a full tablespoon of matcha in a relatively small batch of pancakes, so there is a non-negligible amount of caffeine in a stack.

Matcha Pancakes:

Dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp. culinary matcha
2 Tbsp. sugar

Wet ingredients:

2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups buttermilk

Directions:

Sift together the dry ingredients and whisk together the wet ingredients. Add the wet to the dry and mix. Cook over medium heat in a buttered pan. Makes about 10-12 pancakes.

One final note: As you can probably tell by my erratic posting schedule, I’ve had some things going on that distract from this blog. One is a project that will be announced tomorrow, but the other is a bit more personal. While I don’t know how much I’ll feel like sharing in the future, know that I am physically fine and will return to blogging regularly as soon as I can. Thanks to all my readers for making this a positive part of my life. I should still be on Instagram, if you feel like checking in (at the very least, I tend to respond to messages, even if I’m not posting).

 

Weekend Meal Prep, plus Navy Bean and Potato Soup Recipe

As you may know, I’ve undertaken to eat healthier lately. To this end, since my latest show closed and I’ve found myself with more free time on the weekends, I’ve started prepping food for the week. I’ve found that it’s much easier to eat healthfully if I have easy, delicious, healthy options at hand, rather than having to wake up and spend time prepping a lunch in the morning. Bentos are adorable and delicious, but my patience with spending 20 minutes in the morning wears thin rapidly, particularly in the dead of winter, where we are now.

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Because the aforementioned winter has continued to be cold enough, I find that hot lunches are preferable, and what is more comforting than soup? The past few weeks, I’ve been prepping a big batch of a hearty soup and freezing it in jars. Then, I need only remember to take a jar out of the freezer the night before and pop it into my bag before heading to work.

I’ve also found that breakfasts happen more regularly, and with fewer croissants guiltily acquired from the cafe near the train station, if I prep a little ahead of time. This weekend, I made two berry-yogurt smoothies (I can make another two on my work-from-home day mid-week) and a batch of pumpkin muffins. The muffin will defrost quickly to eat as I get ready, and the smoothie will thaw slowly in my bag as I go to work, making an ideal second breakfast at my desk.

But back to the soup. This navy bean and potato soup was designed particularly to push iron and potassium into my diet, nutrients that I apparently lack, as I’ve discovered by charting some of my intake. Over the last week, I’ve made a concerted effort to increase both and have found a positive effect on my mood and energy levels. Of course, not being out until all hours at tech rehearsals and performances may also help. Whatever the case, the soup is delicious, filling, and relatively cheap to make.

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Navy Bean and Potato Soup
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

3 thick strips of bacon, chopped
1 sweet onion, diced
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp smoked hot paprika
1 can of navy beans, drained
3 cups of chicken broth (I used a long-simmered bone broth)
2 medium red potatoes, diced
1 10-oz package of frozen cut-leaf spinach
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Saute the bacon until the fat starts to render out. Add the onion, and saute until translucent and starting to brown.
  2. Add the spices, beans, and broth. Simmer for 15 minutes or so.
  3. Add the potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Add the spinach and cook through. Season to taste.
  5. To freeze, spoon into 16-oz jars or containers and seal tightly. Chill in the fridge and then freeze.

The “Butter on My Bread, Cream in My Coffee” Diet

It’s the new year and once again people are talking about dieting. In particular, I’ve realized that I’ve let my health go a bit, and would like to remedy that before my wedding. That said, I have a long, tumultuous relationship with dieting.

I suppose it begins in childhood, when I was very sick and actually had trouble keeping weight on. My mother used to make me a milkshake every afternoon when I came home from school to help me gain some weight. I got to choose the flavor (I like chocolate best, and it’s how I discovered that I’m not a big fan of strawberry ice cream). But at the same time, I watched my mother struggle with her own weight.

When I was older, my natural perfectionism and detail-oriented nature, which would later be diagnosed as OCD, led me to try to help her in her efforts to lose weight. I poured over Weight Watchers cookbooks and made her recipes so she could have treats within the strictures of her diet. I even made a batch of cookies that I marked in 1/4″ intervals so she could slice and bake them herself and have cookies that were only 1 “point” each. Soon, I found myself hitting puberty and “filling out,” as it is so distastefully called. I realized that I was no longer “the skinny girl” necessarily. It was strange; I had spent my life reveling in how much I could eat without gaining weight, and insisting to myself that I wasn’t worried about dieting or my weight. But now, I was terrified of not being skinny anymore.

So I started to diet. I started to count calories and make up the same special restricted recipes for myself. I’ve since come to realize that part of it was about trying to maintain a sense of control over something in my life during a time when I felt like I was losing control. I had changed schools and had no friends in my new school, plus the changes of puberty can be a bit off-putting, to say the least.

I will skip over the middle, where I drift in and out of disordered eating for 20 years, and instead come to now. I’ve tried a lot of different diets and detoxes and elimination diets and things, and my number one lesson learned is that I cannot restrict what I eat. The healthiest thing for me is to allow myself my indulgences, but try to focus on eating the healthy stuff. So that means looking at it as adding a salad to my lunch instead of removing a fried chicken sandwich. I still have butter on my bread and cream in my coffee. And I try to move around and do things more often than not. I eat and do things that make me feel good. And that is now my “diet” philosophy.

And, yeah, I’m not skinny anymore. I’m on the low end of the size spectrum, and plenty of people still consider me thin, but in a group of women, I’m rarely “the skinny one.” And that’s okay. I have so much more to my identity by now that I don’t need to be identified by what I weigh or what I eat or what I do for exercise. Instead, I can identify with my love of fiber arts or theater or skin care. I can be “the one with the good skin” (maybe not this week, though), or “the theatrical one.” And that’s pretty good, I think.

Quick Recipe: Apple Porridge for a Chilly Autumn Morning

Well, it’s certainly getting cold around here lately. Yesterday, we had sleet and rain all day. By the time I got home, I was soaked through and chilled to the bone. It was a nice evening for curling up under blankets with hot tea, hot cocoa, and hot food. FiancĂ© grabbed a heating pad to help with a sore muscle he had and TweedCat discovered that he was extra-cozy because of it, so he got the cat. But I had plenty of warmth with blankets, shawls, and warm things in my belly.

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This morning, the rain had passed, but it was still quite chilly. I always find myself gravitating towards porridge the instant the temperature dips below any semblance of warmth, so I put together one of my favorite quick breakfasts to take to work. I add diced fruit to my porridge before cooking it, which bulks it up, adds a bit of nutrition, and sweetens it lightly. I also added some warming spices, and topped the whole thing with nut butter for protein and fat. It preps in minutes, cooks in minutes, and is a lovely, hearty, warming breakfast for a chilly morning.

Apple Porridge

1/4 cup quick cooking steel cut oats
1/2 apple, diced
scant 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. each of ginger and allspice
3/4 cup of water

Add the ingredients to a tupperware or mason jar in the order given. It’s important to put the oats at the bottom to ensure they’re thoroughly hydrated. Seal up the container and take wherever you are going. When you are ready to cook them, give the container a little shake and empty the mixture into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 3 minutes on half power, then stir, and then microwave for another 2-1/2 minutes on half power, or until cooked. Top with butter, nut butter, sweetener, or whatever strikes your fancy. Makes one serving.

Holiday Recipe: Maple Pecan Pie

Yesterday, we celebrated Thanksgiving in the States. Now, being the technically-Southern woman that I am, one of my favorite Thanksgiving treats is pecan pie. Of course, the traditional version is mostly corn syrup and sugar, with eggs for body, and some pecans. Apparently, one of my uncles loves pecan pie, but when he eats it, he picks off the pecans, which invariably float to the top of the filling, and then just eats the sugar-corn-syrup goo underneath.

Appetizing, no? Well, I’m not a fan of corn syrup goo, so when I was developing my own recipe, in addition to adding many more pecans than my traditional family recipe, I also decided to swap out corn syrup for maple syrup. Because even though I’m technically in the South, I’m a Northern lady at heart, right? Anyway, maple syrup also lends a delicious flavor and richness that blends beautifully with the pecans. Here’s my recipe, if you’re in the mood for an American holiday treat.

Maple Pecan Pie
serves 8-12

Crust:

1 cup flour
1 stick butter, cold
1 pinch salt
1/8-1/4 cup cold water

Filling:

2 cups chopped pecans, plus more for the top
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup Grade B maple syrup
3 eggs
good pinch of salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract

  1. Make the crust by blitzing together the flour, salt, and butter in the food processor until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water a little at a time until a dough just forms. Squeeze together into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least half an hour.
  2. When the dough is chilled, roll it out into a large disk and place in the bottom of a 9″ pie pan. Trim and crimp the edges. Pop back in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350. Mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt. Whisk in the eggs until smooth.
  4. Scatter the pecans in the pie crust and top with the filling. Arrange more pecan halves on top to make it look pretty. Bake for an hour or so, or until the filling is just set. Cool completely before eating. Can be made a day ahead, chilled overnight, and brought to room temperature before eating. Enjoy!

Five Things I’ve Been Enjoying Recently

I still have a backlog of photo-editing and post-writing to deal with since I’ve been busy and stressed, so here’s another quick, unplanned post. Spring has definitely sprung in the city! Trees are fluffy and pink and white and yellow and purple. There are hyacinths and daffodils out on my walk from the train station to my office. And it’s even getting a bit warmer. So I thought I’d share some of the things that I’ve been particularly enjoying the last couple of weeks as we move into spring.

  1. Magnolia Oolong tea from Simple Loose Leaf: I’ve talked about this before, but this really is a lovely tea. It’s the same Jade Oolong I reviewed a while ago, but with a very light magnolia floral scent and flavor added. I love it as a daily cup when the weather is warm, but not hot, and the sights and scents of spring are everywhere. It’s very seasonally-appropriate and helps remind me that the rich, warming black teas of winter are no longer needed.
  2. Hada Labo UV Perfect Gel: Sunscreen, guys! Since it is now fully light for both my morning and evening walks to and from work, it’s the perfect time to mention my new favorite sunscreen. It’s Japanese and unfragranced and sinks in beautifully. It does leave a bit of shine initially, but I give it 20-30 minutes before applying makeup and it settles right down. It’s a lovely gel texture and I think the hydrating ingredients offset the alcohol that gives it its lovely texture and ability to absorb weightlessly into skin.
  3. Pink and coral lip products: I love a red lip. But lately, I’ve been reach for spring-y lip colors, which means pinks and corals. Coral has been tricky for me, as I’m not generally a fan of orange, but I’ve found some products to help ease me into the look. I’ve also been loving sheerer lip colors for the spring, as it’s a much fresher look. Plus, my lip color matches the azalea bush that’s already started sprouting buds: Coral Bells.
  4. Pink clothing: I own a lot of black and dark-colored clothing. It’s rather a go-to color for me. But the warm weather has me feeling light and youthful, and to me, this means pink and pastels. I wore a pink chiffon dress from Mod Cloth the other day to work and got so many compliments, I wore it again a couple weeks later!
  5. Veggie noodles: One of our most unexpected holiday gifts was a Veggetti from Boyfriend’s parents. I’d looked at spiralizers before, but never decided to actually buy one. So when we got this, it seemed like a neat way to try spiralized veggies without shelling out for an expensive machine. But who wants to eat a lot of raw veggies in the dead of winter? Plus, a lot of the good veggies for spiralizing aren’t available until spring. Well, the zucchini and cucumbers are here and I’ve started spiralizing. We had a spiralized cucumber salad with sushi on Saturday and spiralized zucchini and carrots as a base for grilled chicken yesterday after a heavy Easter lunch called for a light dinner. It’s a lovely way to eat raw veggies, especially now that the warmer weather has me craving fresher food.

What is everyone else loving for spring?