Aunt Mary's Spiced Pumpkin Bars

My Great Aunt Mary was a meticulous and brilliant woman, who also happened to have a stellar repertoire of holiday baked goods. She passed her recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Bars down to my mother years ago. I returned to Aunt Mary's recipe after a run of failed pumpkin bar experiments. Aunt Mary's Spiced Pumpkin Bars are a homey old-fashioned bar, with a soft texture, warm spices and gooey cream cheese icing. With only a few minor tweaks from the original, I present to you, the best pumpkin bars you will ever eat. 

Aunt Mary's Spiced Pumpkin Bars

Crisp Thai Cucumber & Peanut Salad

A Caribbean flu hit our household in Haiti this week. First Paul, then me, now the kids. Sigh. During times of illness, my go-to comfort food is the reassuringly simple, cool, and refreshing cucumber. Cucumbers are my vegetable equivalent of chicken soup. As I gradually felt better throughout the week, my cucumber salads became more elaborate and flavorful. This Crisp Thai Cucumber & Peanut Salad, a Thai-inspired riff, is crunchy, sour,  and salty, with a hint of coconut sweetness.

Crisp Thai Cucumber & Peanut Salad

Pittsburgh Style Haluski

Just over a week ago, Hurricane Irma swept past Haiti; bringing heavy rains, wind, and flash flooding to many of the communities we work in. These have been busy days of travel, hearing the stories of survivors, seeing the damage first-hand, and responding with food and emergency supplies to families who lost everything. My final trip last week was to the small community of Goyave, high in the mountains overlooking the coastal city of St. Marc. Goyave is a farming community that had been devastated by Hurricane Matthew last year. I was there to join in the celebration of a successful harvest and the end of an MCC project to help these farmers rebuild their gardens and livelihoods. Each of the 200 families who participated in the project brought a symbol of their good harvest. Soon our outdoor meeting area was filled with piles of beautiful fresh produce: cabbages, militon squash, corn, beans, avocados, onions, leeks, sour oranges, bananas, plantains, passion fruit, pumpkins, bell peppers, hot peppers, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, and yams. As we finished our meeting, a community elder stood up to speak, he reiterated his thanks for the project that had helped the community rebuild, and added that we all must remember the Haitian proverb, "Men alemen vini, fe zanmi dire." This essentially translates as 'reciprocity is what makes for lasting friendships.' He advised that there were times when one needed to receive help, such as after a Hurricane, but that one must always work to give back. "It is bad for friendships if only one side gives," he said. So the community celebrated their rebuilding and their harvest by giving freely, to each other and to our group of visitors. It was humbling and beautiful to witness and receive this generosity. Arriving home late at night, dusty and tired, with a bag full of fresh cabbages and onions, I thought back to other celebrations and shared meals. I remembered many potlucks and meals with friends from our Pittsburgh days, and one of the region's classic comfort foods for shared celebrations -- Haluski. While there is much debate on whether Halsuki is authentically Polish (as is claimed by most Pittsburghers), there is little controversy about how simple it is to make, and delicious to eat. It is comfort food at its best: caramelized onions, cabbage, and kielbasa mixed with buttery egg noodles. A hearty and rustic crowd-pleaser, and a celebration of the season's bounty.

Pittsburgh Style Haluski

Praying for Haiti -- Hurricane Irma

This evening, Hurricane Irma, a category 5 Hurricane and one of the largest on record, is churning westward towards Haiti. The most serious of its effects will likely reach Haiti Thursday evening. Across Haiti people are praying for a miracle. While the eye of the storm is unlikely to make landfall in Haiti, its winds and rains are expected to bring tremendous suffering. In river valleys across northern Haiti, families are bracing for floods. On windswept mountains, people are looking out to sea, praying for protection. New parents are holding their children tight, praying that their roofs will hold during the storm. The farmers we work with across the Artibonite and Central Plateau are anxiously watching their crops, hoping they will not be washed away. We pray tonight for the safety of our staff, for our partners across Haiti, for the tens of thousands of people in the storm's path without protection or a safety net. We pray that in the months ahead, Haiti and her people will have the strength for the slow and painful work of reckoning and rebuilding. Just eleven months after Hurricane Matthew, we pray Haiti has the resilience to struggle back to its feet, once again. Please pray with us.

Praying for Haiti -- Hurricane Irma

Rich and Salty Coconut Blondies

Blondies, for those of you unfamiliar, are a brilliant dessert creation that takes a chocolate chip cookie, and mashes it into bar form, reminiscent of its brownie cousin. My Mom made blondies for us growing up, and they have remained a key dessert on my easy-and-failsafe shortlist; requiring only that you dump ingredients into one bowl, mix, add in some treats, and bake. These Rich and Salty Coconut Blondies are a densely gooey treat. As many of our North American readers have cool temperatures this long weekend, consider firing up your oven to bake these decadent Rich and Salty Coconut Blondies.

Rich and Salty Coconut Blondies

Orange Cilantro Grilled Chicken Skewers

We love the flavor of grilled food. When we moved to Haiti, we missed our decade old baby Weber grill so much that we ended up bringing it with us to Haiti -- impressively packed by Paul's Dad in his suitcase. We debated admitting this embarrassing dependence, recognizing the ridiculousness of bringing our grill to Haiti. But wow, do we love to grill. Local oranges and herbs make a lovely punchy green marinade for these Orange Cilantro Grilled Chicken Skewers. A light zesty marinade to add to your summer repertoire.

Orange Cilantro Grilled Chicken Skewers

Market White Bean Salad

As a way of settling back into our life in Haiti, I have been visiting local markets. I love the challenge of putting together meals with my daily market finds. I had a pot of beautiful local white beans soaking at home as I headed out to shop for this weeknight salad. My market haul yielded local cherry tomatoes, kale, green beans and shallots. I made a bold citrus vinaigrette for my Market White Bean Salad, and served it with grilled fish. A fresh hearty salad to round out a meal with new friends. 

Market White Bean Salad

Slow Roasted Ginger Honey Pulled Pork

Since our last post, Rebecca and I have been in transition mode, moving back to our life here in Haiti from the US. With bags fully unpacked, two kids settled, and a week of work under our belts, it was time to celebrate this weekend. Meat in Haiti is free-range and very flavorful, but also tends to be quite tough. This lends itself to low and slow cooking. This Slow Roasted Ginger Honey Pulled pork is deeply flavored, and easy to make; perfect for weekend sandwiches under the mango tree after the kids are down for the night. It is good to be home again! 

Slow Roasted Ginger Honey Pulled Pork

Returning to Haiti & Tuna Sandwiches for the Road

Growing up, car trips were synonymous with delicious, homemade pickle-filled tuna sandwiches. In our own small family, we've continued the tradition, and tuna sandwiches are inevitably present on trips and during life transitions. Next week we'll be returning to Haiti after our medical sojourn and remote work from the US. After much road trip inspired research and development, we've honed our favorite flavor combination: crisp apple, sour pickles, fresh dill, green onions, lemon and mustard. Onward to Haiti.  

Returning to Haiti & Tuna Sandwiches for the Road

Homemade Blueberry Soda

In less than two weeks, we will be back home in Haiti, with both a chattering toddler and tiny newborn in tow. On my bucket list of foods to enjoy before we leave are the delicious peak-of-summer blueberries that line our local farm stand. So this week I boiled up a batch of blueberry syrup to make into tall frosty glasses of Homemade Blueberry Soda; a thirst quencher on these steamy Indiana days. For more blueberry additions to your cooking, try: Summer Chicken Waldorf Salad, Blueberry Bay Leaf Quick JamHoosier Milk Tarts with Berries, and for a blue tinted breakfast, Blue Corn Griddle Cakes with Lime Butter.

Homemade Blueberry Soda

Marinated Tomato Mozzarella Salad

It has been a bit of a blur since Gideon's arrival, as we remember what it's like to go weeks without a full nights sleep. Little Gideon and Mom are both doing well, and so we are on track to returning to Haiti in early August. As we wrap up our last weeks here, stateside, we are relishing the tastes of North American summer: impossibly good sweet corn, tart local blueberries with a dash of cream, and fresh peak-of-summer tomatoes and herbs. This Marinated Tomato and Mozzarella Salad has been a frequent highlight on our table these last few weeks. It is ready in minutes, bursting with summer flavor, a balance of bright sweet tomatoes and creamy fresh mozzarella.

Marinated Tomato Mozzarella Salad

Summer Chicken Waldorf Salad

Gideon just crested his second week of life, and we are happily adjusting to the logistical maneuverings of being a newly minted family of four. We have tried to eat most meals together as a family with Madeline, and now little Gideon has been joining us. As Madeline holds court from her highchair, swinging her legs and filling her cheeks to capacity, her little brother sleeps soundly in middle of the table. Recently, I have found myself craving sandwiches, and their one-handed portability is especially great for multi-tasking with small kids. This week, with my father-in-law's delicious barbecue chicken and some classic Waldorf ingredients in the fridge, I decided to make my own non-traditional version of a Summer Chicken Waldorf Salad. I started with a classic base: chicken, celery, grapes, and apples. Fresh produce from a nearby farmstand inspired some summery additions; a smattering of blueberries, fresh sweet corn on the cob, and parsley. I cut the thick mayonnaise base of a traditional Waldorf dressing with greek yogurt and seasoned the salad before pouring over the dressing with extra lemon for brightness.

Summer Chicken Waldorf Salad
Paul Shetler Fast

Baby Gideon

It is with great relief and joy that we welcome the newest member to our family. Baby Gideon, a healthy baby boy, was born at 1pm yesterday in Goshen, Indiana. Both mama and baby are doing well now, and sleeping peacefully beside me as I type. Given the complications of the pregnancy, the risks of delivery in Haiti were simply too great; a painful reminder of how so many families lack access to good quality healthcare. We are overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness for our little boy, and all the people who helped he and Rebecca get through a difficult surgery and recovery.

Paul Shetler Fast
Baby Gideon

Rhubarb Strawberry Cake

Madeline is quite focused on her Papa these days. We hear her little voice calling out 'Papa' from her crib when she wakes up in the morning; she sits riveted in her highchair in the middle of the kitchen to watch Paul cook; she babbles on early morning walks with Paul, trying out her new words of the day; Madeline bangs on the door when Paul is working, shouting 'book... Papa;' and she maintains a steady chant of 'Papa....home,' as we drive home after an overnight at her grandparents. My favorite though, is her own made up game of Marco-Polo with her father. Throughout the day, Madeline will frequently interrupt her playing, eating or reading to say; 'Papa?' with a questioning lilt. Paul will respond 'Yes, Madeline.' and she will give a small nod of satisfaction, and go back to her play. 

This year our Father's Day celebrations will be spread over both this weekend and the next, as we plan to welcome our new baby next Friday. For me, celebrations bring to mind cakes, and given my dislike of baking, fool-proof is a requirement. This Rhubarb Strawberry Cake has a rustic moist vanilla base, with jammy pools of cooked strawberry and rhubarb dotted on top, and a sweet crunch of caramelized sugar.

Rhubarb Strawberry Cake

Mediterranean Beef Kebabs

"COOK!" "COOK!" .... "Mmmmmm!" Our 16-month-old daughter will proclaim as she urgently points to the stove around meal times. Our Madeline is both patient and persistent in her quest for food, and will next proceed to helpfully list all her favorite foods for us to cook, meat...blueberries...strawberries, with the ever present refrain; "COOK!" Yes, our daughter is a voracious carnivore who swings her little legs and claps her hands in delight when she gets meat for her meals. These Mediterranean Beef Kebabs are one in a long-line of meat dishes Paul has concocted for Madeline, and they are as delicious as they are simple to make! And if you give them a try, you might just find your guests swinging their legs in delight too.

Mediterranean Beef Kebabs

Simple Rhubarb Danishes

It is high rhubarb season here in Northern Indiana where Rebecca and I are spending these last weeks of her pregnancy. Since rhubarb is something we can't find in Haiti, Rebecca has been doubling down on it while we are here. We eat rhubarb strawberry jam on our toast, in yogurt, and as a topping for ice cream. We make batch upon batch of rhubarb strawberry jam bars, and of course many a rhubarb cream pie. These Simple Rhubarb Danishes are easy (for a pastry), delicious, and elegant -- great for a crowd, or in scaled down version for a weekend breakfast.

Simple Rhubarb Danishes

Honey Citrus Grilled Chicken

Three cheers for the Memorial Day weekend. This week has felt long with work during the day, and preterm labor most nights. While my appetite has been weak lately, I have had an odd hankering for sweet and sour flavors. With this craving in mind, Paul has been working on this delicious and simple Honey Citrus Grilled Chicken, and it is a knock-out win for me!

Honey Citrus Grilled Chicken

Old-Fashioned Rhubarb Strawberry Jam Bars

We made these Old-Fashioned Rhubarb Strawberry Jam Bars five times in the last two weeks. Each time we swore to ourselves it would be our last. But then another picnic would pop up on the calendar. Each time we turned to the jars of crimson hued roasted strawberry rhubarb jam perched in the fridge, tempting us. And so another batch of Old-Fashioned Rhubarb Strawberry Jam Bars would hit the oven, followed by much happy gobbling.

Old-Fashioned Rhubarb Strawberry Jam Bars

Spring Picnic Orzo Salad with Asparagus & Feta

We love outdoor eating, and as temperatures rise in Northern Indiana, we've been honing our pasta salad line-up for the picnic season. Spring Picnic Orzo Salad with Asparagus and Feta is an edgier alternative to the traditional picnic classic. In our pasta salad, we replaced the larger pasta with small rice shaped orzo, added crunchy asparagus, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes, and tossed it with an assertive garlicky lemon vinaigrette, herbs and feta. Enjoy this early picnic season with Spring Picnic Orzo Salad with Asparagus and Feta.

For other grain based picnic ready salads try our Hearty Quinoa & Chickpea Salad, Spring Buckwheat Grouts Salad, Wild Rice & Quinoa Salad with Mushrooms & Asparagus.

Spring Picnic Orzo Salad with Asparagus & Feta

Henan Citrus Chicken Broth

Henan Citrus Chicken Broth is Paul's non-traditional adaptation of the famous aromatic Daokou chicken from Henan province, China, near the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. Already a deft broth maker, Paul has honed his technique and varied his flavor profiles during my pregnancy, in empathic response to my near-daily nausea. I love this broth's bold citrus aroma and flavor, subtle honey sweetness, and rich background spices. Its a great broth on its own (Paul's favorite), or with fresh steamed veggies and rice (the way I like it best). This recipe is adapted from Carolyn Phillips' wonderful new Chinese cookbook All Under Heaven.

Henan Citrus Chicken Broth

Roasted Rhubarb Strawberry Oven Jam

Every year, in the hot months of summer, my Oma would make oven jam. My Opa would buy her bushels of fresh apricots and plums from the farmers markets, and she would slow roast the fruit until they caramelized and the juices thickened, creating silky fruit jams that she tucked into layers of her torte cakes for celebrations throughout the year. In the years since she died, I find myself craving the custardy texture, and caramelized fruit taste of her jams. I started experimenting with my own oven jams recently, and found them to be simple, fail-safe, and delicious. My favorite is this tangy spring rhubarb strawberry jam, with rhubarb fresh from a friend's garden.

Roasted Rhubarb Strawberry Oven Jam

Birthday Joy

I turned 31 today, ate cookies, watermelon pie, and ribs, and I had to change my clothes three times because our daughter's outdoor play got unusually messy! It was a great birthday. Two years ago on my birthday, Rebecca and I were living and working in Pittsburgh. Last year we were new parents, in a new country, in new jobs. And this year we are expectantly waiting. Rebecca is pregnant, and due to a complication in the pregnancy, we are both working remotely from the US during this last trimester. If all goes as well as it can, our baby will be joining us about a month ahead of schedule towards the end of June.

Birthday Joy

Maple Black Pepper Oven Spareribs

It's 80 degrees in northern Indiana today. The sky is blue, the trees are budding, and our daughter is happily smeared from head to toe in the mud she's dug out of the backyard. To kick off spring, I whipped up these Maple Black Pepper Oven Spareribs. These spareribs are easy to make, don't require a smoker or any complicated equipment, and are absolutely delicious! These ribs forgo the traditional tomato-based sauce, and bring to center stage the fresh maple syrup Rebecca was given a few weeks ago from a local Amish farmer. Celebrate the changing of the seasons with Maple Black Pepper Oven Spareribs. 

Maple Black Pepper Oven Spareribs