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This year, our pecan tree yielded a lot of nuts. Apparently, trees only produce pecans every two years, which was just as well because last year I was pregnant and couldn’t really climb up on the car port to forage: this is where the majority of our nuts fall. But this year, I was back in action and for the past two months or so, every few days Walter and I went out to collect pecans. We ended up with 38 pounds of unshelled pecans, about 3 large brown paper grocery bags. After taking them to the mom and pop shelling operation I use (thanks Brooke’s Pecans), we had two brown paper bags of nuts that still had to be hand-processed a little and pried out of the cracked half shells. So for about 4 evenings, this is what David and I worked on: we both still have the repetitive stress injuries in our wrists and shoulders to prove it! Then it was on to roasting, the other fun part. Collecting is also fun, it’s the middle step that kind of makes you wonder why you are doing this). Two years ago, I tried out all kinds of recipes, but this year just made a ton of the real favorites:

* Cinnamon Chipotle Pecans

* Chocolate Pecans

Both recipes are from the Southern Living Christmas Cookbook (2011), pg. 97.

After roasting, it was on to the other fun part: packaging them as gifts and giving them away! We sent a bunch up north to family. Here are some pics of the whole adventure, ending with a trip to the post office with a lot of boxes and one very good and patient baby boy who made waiting in line much more fun. Happy holidays!

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When you live in Texas but live with someone from New York, you have to do things like this. This is a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, so you know it’s good. And I know it’s probably sacrilege to say this, but these cookies were better than the ones I’ve had in NY. Fresher, moister, lemony and vanilla-y and totally great icing. Pure yum. And practically as big as your head. You can find the recipe I used here. 

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When friends visited Santa Fe and we watched their cats for them, they brought us back a bag of blue corn pancake mix. It was delicious. But what were we to do once the bag was finished? By then we were hooked. So I found this recipe for blue cornmeal pancakes online. We really love them and they have become a Sunday morning staple. Orange segments on top are an extra good addition.

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A friend recently shared this wonderful recipe for Monkey Cupcakes with me. These are not only the cutest cupcakes, but they are really delicious. We made them today and will make them again for sure. The cupcake base is like a banana muffin, because they are monkey cupcakes: get it?

Here’s a link to the recipe: http://www.food.com/recipe/banana-monkey-cupcakes-with-chocolate-icing-416621

One thing I would change in future is to use vanilla wafers instead of the gingersnap cookies (the store-bought ones are too snappy and hard). A softer cookie on top works better. Plus I used store-bought frosting.

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Most people in my life are now tired of hearing me go on about my exciting adventures in pecans, but maybe not the interwebs, so here we go:

About two months ago, a friend who is a native Texan informed me that our newly purchased house also had a pecan tree in the backyard! Surprise, surprise. Being from New England, I had no idea that the tree dropping all of those annoying and spicy-smelling pods all over the backyard was a pecan tree. I never saw one before. Now that I know what they look like, I realize they are everywhere here.

This pecan tree is now one of my favorite things about our house. Collecting pecans makes me feel like a pioneer, which I love. I only used to get that feeling from: a) baking bread and b) making chicken stock.

I immediately set about making the most of my bounty. Since late October, the pecans have been falling out of their shells and each weekend I’ve spent some time foraging and collecting them. I’m amazed at how many nuts one backyard tree has yielded. Each weekend, I figured I would only collect a half bag more or so, and each weekend I collected more than a whole shopping bag full.

Now it looks like the nuts have all dropped out of their pods and I’ve collected as much as I’m going to collect. The total haul: 4 completely full brown paper grocery bags full of nutty goodness.

I shelled enough nuts myself to do a test batch of cinnamon-and -sugar roasted pecans, to make sure they were delicious. They were. This also convinced me I didn’t want to shell any more pecans at all, ever, much less our entire haul.

Fortunately, there are places in San Antonio where you can get your pecans machine-shelled. Today, I took mine to a place called Brooke’s Pecan Cracking and Shelling Service. I ended up with 51.5 pounds of nuts in the shell. I opted for the full shelling service, which ran $0.70 a pound. Well worth it. The total cost was about $38.00. And though they warned me that only about 50% of the nuts would be good, we got way more than that: about 75% of the nuts were perfect. That means we now have about 38 pounds of shelled pecans. It goes without saying that everyone I know is getting vast amount of roasted pecans, prepared in all kinds of different ways, for holidays gifts.

Brooke’s Pecan Cracking and Shelling Service was a pretty bare bones operation. Though I found out about the business through an internet search, there was no sign on the building: I had to call when I was close because I couldn’t find it. But it worked out fine: Mr. Brooke just came out to the street and waved me on in. And the people that worked there were incredibly nice and definitely know their pecans: they taught me a lot about how to store them and told me what kind of tree we have, and explained the difference between varieties of pecan trees. They also said I did a really good job only picking the good nuts, at least, “for a first timer.” They also had a pretty calico cat who seems to live in the shop.

But my favorite part was when the nice lady who works the counter — and looked like my grandmother — asked me what my last name was, so she could write it on the grocery bags with my pecans in them. I told her my last name and started to spell it. She got her pen ready, but then just stopped, stared at me, cocked an eyebrow and said :”You got a first name?”

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This culinary adventure must be credited to the The New Spanish Table, by Anya Von Bremzen (Workman Publishing, 2005, pg. 403). I recently decided to make a dessert from this book that looked intriguing but possibly bizarre: a tart made entirely from oranges. You boil Valencia oranges, slice them thin, and layer them in a tart shell, on only a thin bed of marmalade. Essentially, this means eating the oranges, rind and all, though Valencia oranges only have thin skins. When the tart was finished, it was admittedly beautiful, but I wasn’t sure how it would taste. Bitter? Orange overload? Turns out, it was perfectly delicious: light, sweetly orange, and the combination of the sticky but very soft oranges and the buttery, slightly salty, crust of the tart was sublime. Honestly, it kind of tasted like the best possible version of buttered toast and marmalade — I mean that as a compliment.

Plus, as everyone agreed, it’s rare that you make something that looks exactly like the picture in the cookbook.

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We recently took a trip to Dublin and one of the highlights was the traditional Irish breakfast that our hotel served every morning. We awoke each day to eggs, sausage, rashers, beans, and porridge. Also, the (misleadingly named) black and white pudding: it’s actually blood sausage. But the highlight for me, and the thing that I was still craving after we returned to San Antonio, was the brown bread. We had it with a lot of meals, but I especially enjoyed it with breakfast. It’s a kind of soda bread, but unlike any that I’d had before because it was made with stone ground whole wheat flour. It had a cakey, crumbly, texture and a wholesome, nutty kind of flavor. Yesterday, I decided to make it myself and after one failed attempt, I found a recipe that tasted just like the kind we had each morning. Even better, David thought. I used this recipe from a blog called Our Best Bites, but I also want to eventually try this slightly fancier version from Epicurious. 

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