the cookie diaries, day one

the cookie diaries, day one

With the holiday season in full effect, it’s time in our kitchen to start making cookies. For years now, Mike has taken an old sugar cookie receipt, changed the procedure completely, added a couple of new ingredients, and ho ho ho—a holiday tradition was born.

This year, Mike’s mission is to create a vegan, gluten-free holiday cookie that emulates his original receipt as close as possible while using all vegan, gluten-free, holistic ingredients. It’s a project that has proceeded in fits and starts over the years, and it was inspired both by Mike’s Natural Chef training and by the consequences of Kathy’s collagenous colitis. Now Mike has a co-worker in his day job who has become a vegan, so the time has come to shower some holiday cookie love over our vegan/gluten-free/holistic friends.

We expect to be baking at least one batch of cookies every day until Christmas comes. With that in mind, we’d thought it would be fun to keep a running diary of how the process is going. Mike started to do this last year, but only managed one entry. However, it was a pretty cool entry:

“Standard recipe, except for toasted almonds & no red sprinkles. Correction: red sprinkles found! Apparently, we are also awash in vanilla extract. The guides on the silicon baking sheets I’m using are perfect for making uniform-sized cookies. Twelve in the oven, with dough for more…


“Using the traditional ice-cream scoop yields 18 ‘good’ cookies.

“Oops…baked them at 350º instead of 375º—no wonder they took longer to bake!”

You get the idea. And as a holiday present to our patient readers, we’ll reveal both of our holiday cookie receipts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!


some thoughts about Thanksgiving

some thoughts about Thanksgiving

It is suddenly Thanksgiving again, and some thoughts (and a receipt) crept into our heads.

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, created out of whole cloth by Presidential proclamations and based on an idealized history of Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a meal of thanksgiving many Novembers ago. (Things weren’t always so cozy between the two.)

The idea of a meal of thanksgiving comes from the Puritan and Pilgrim groups who emigrated from England to modern-day Virginia and Massachusetts. As religious people, they wanted to thank their God for the blessings of the harvest. This religious sense has evolved into our modern-day “official” recognition of a God to whom thanks should be given.

We’d prefer to use this sense to celebrate Thanksgiving as “a day of gratitude” for the blessings we have enjoyed over the past year. This year, we’re grateful for having paying jobs, each other, and relatively good health.

Still, it’s a holiday specifically about food. Thanksgiving began (and continues) as a harvest festival, a celebration of the bounty of a season’s farming. It’s also the biggest meal of the year in America in terms of how much food is actually consumed. The Thanksgiving menu of today is directly descended from the first recorded Thanksgiving meals; it’s remained surprisingly consistent over the years. (Check out this wartime Thanksgiving Day menu from the USS Wake Island, including cigars and cigarettes!)

Our Thanksgiving menu is much simpler: roasted bone-in turkey breast, turkey gravy, a pot of our rice, and a hearty green salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, and shredded cheese and balsamic dressing. For dessert: our Thanksgiving staple, Pumpkin Spice Rice Pudding. And your dessert? Our very first published receipt…for Pumpkin Spice Rice Pudding. Try it out; let us know what you think.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Spice Rice Pudding ~ a newdeal kitchen receipt

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

This has become a Thanksgiving staple for us. Using almond milk eliminates the dairy, while pumpkin spice provides the flavor of pumpkins without the prep work required to cook pumpkins. Warning: This recipe is time- and labor-intensive. Be prepared to give up an hour of your time, and be prepared to do a lot of stirring.

By Michael Reardon 


3 cups vanilla-flavored unsweetened almond milk

¼ cup brown sugar, packed

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon pumpkin spice

a pinch of kosher salt

1 cup Arborio rice

(optional) ½ cup vanilla-flavored unsweetened almond milk, for reheating

(optional) additional pumpkin spice and brown sugar as garnish


  1. Combine almond milk, brown sugar, vanilla, pumpkin spice, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to boil.
  2. Reduce heat by a half and stir in Arborio rice. (Note: Do not let the mixture boil over. Adjust heat level as needed.)
  3. Continue stirring mixture until most of the liquid is absorbed and the mixture becomes thick and smooth. (Note: This will take approximately 20-30 minutes and you must stir constantly during this time.)
  4. Let mixture cool. Refrigerate until serving.
  5. The rice pudding can be eaten cold or can be reheated by adding the optional ½ cup of almond milk and stirring under medium-low heat until the milk is absorbed. Garnish with additional pumpkin spice and brown sugar.

how we cook rice

Rice is a staple in our kitchen, especially for Kathy, who relies on rice as one of the few starches in her diet (collagenous colitis is no fan of fiber). So we have to keep up a supply of cooked rice. We grew tired very quickly of cooking rice in a pot: the results didn’t last very long, and were inconsistent in quality—that due to us smershing together every rice recipe the two of us had ever heard of and trying to improvise a result.

Then we heard that some folks use their slow cooker to make their rice. We did some experimenting and actually came up with a reliable recipe we could use every time. It would take an hour and a half to cook, but at end of it, we would wind up with restaurant-quality sticky rice.

And then we broke the slow cooker. Mike put the ceramic part in a precarious location in the refrigerator; when Kathy opened the door, the ceramic part slid out and onto the floor, breaking it.

Naturally, we wondered how we were going to cook our rice. We took to the Interwebs with the magical phrase “how to cook rice”, and found this amazing recipe and video on the Real Simple website . We followed the instructions and were rewarded with perfectly cooked rice.

But we still had to get another slow cooker, and we did: a six-quart monster with recipes that would feed an army. We repeated our ingredients and procedure from the previous slow cooker (which was smaller) and we were quite happy with the results. We think we’re going to increase the amount of water a bit, because some of the rice on the edges looked overcooked, but otherwise we now have two reliable ways to cook rice.

neighborly decorations

neighborly decorations

If you may recall, we gave you a tour of our very small kitchen. We can now announce that we have an update to the decorations of our kitchen, courtesy of one of our very special neighbors.

We like to call him “the wee one.” He’s about six years old and is the son of our next-door neighbors. And he’s quite the precocious child: once he stopped by the sliding glass door to our apartment (we share a common balcony), opened the screen, and threw in a paper airplane. We retrieved and unfolded it, and found an invitation…to meet his baby sitter, who would be watching him the next day while his parents were out of town.

We accepted his invitation, to the puzzlement and delight of his baby sitter (and his parents as well). This young man has quite the outlook and vision on life, as we discovered a few months ago.

Again, he stopped by our sliding glass door and asked Kathy if she would like some “things” he had created. “I’ve made a lot of them,” he said, “and these are the ones left over.” Curious, Kathy said, “Sure, we’ll take them. Thank you!” The wee one excused himself, went back to his home, and returned with a stack of what looked like construction paper. He solemnly gave the stack to Kathy and left.

When we examined what he had brought us, we were shocked and delighted. The stack contained drawings in multiple media and paper assemblages. They are all very clever, creative, and delightful. We knew we had to display this art somewhere, and then the thought came to us: Why not decorate the archway that leads into our kitchen? And that’s what we did.

Check it out: artwork by “the wee one”.



A beautiful rainbow over our eternal mistletoe.




This is the most amazing piece of all: a 3D paper flower mounted on construction paper. I took the photo from underneath the kitchen archway.

a free plug for good people

a free plug for good people

One of our favorite pieces of kitchenalia isn’t a gadget, or a cute looking creamer, or even the proud and honored whisk. It’s a refrigerator magnet with a very special message.

We bought it at a thrift store. As soon as we saw it, we knew we had to have it. It’s been a feature of our kitchen ever since, and its message is one of the main inspirations behind newdeal kitchen.


We were curious about where the magnet came from, so a brief search of the Interwebs revealed that the magnet (and the message) comes from Penzeys Spices, a retail spice merchant based in Wisconsin.

The message is part of Penzeys Spices’ corporate culture, which emphasizes cooking as an act of love and kindness. The cover of their Thanksgiving 2016 catalog bears the motto: “Heal the world – cook dinner tonight.” Their corporate tagline is “Love to cook – cook to love.” Members of the Penzeys team summed up their philosophy this way:

So much good happens when people cook for each other. We like to encourage everyone who cooks to be happy and comfortable with whatever their cooking interests and experiences might be. So we share a simple, yet important message to love the people in your life by cooking them food just the way they like it.
[“Penzeys Spices Sprinkles Kindness with Stickers,”, December 13, 2011]

This philosophy is just as we like it. We downloaded the Penzeys Thanksgiving catalog from their website and we were very impressed.  A huge assortment of spices and spice blends are available (including “Frozen Pizza Seasoning” – whaaaaaat?). Plus original recipes. Plus stories which emphasize “the goodness of cooking.”

By the way, we don’t have any kind of advertising relationship with Penzeys. We just like putting in a free plug for good people. Check out today!

the power of an apron

Some of the most profound things come out of the some of the most simplest things. Take an apron, for example. For some cooks, it’s a necessary piece of equipment. For others, it just gets in the way of what they’re doing.

For us, an apron is a profound symbol of the life Kathy and I chose together, from the very beginning of our marriage. As one of the two wedding shower gifts we received from Kathy’s friends and co-workers almost ten years ago, the apron represents everything that newdeal kitchen stands for: a passion for eating well always, and a desire to share that passion (and our food) with others.

So we believe there is something to an apron…a power, let’s call it, to transform others. The apron is an invitation to work, to join in with others to make things right and share them with others.

This power is not limited to the kitchen. Kathy works part-time for a major retailer, and as part of the job, everyone is required to wear aprons with the retailer’s logo. For some folks, it’s definitely a burden to wear; and for those folks, the power of an apron holds little interest.

But for one of Kathy’s co-workers, the power of an apron was everything. One day Kathy lent an extra apron to this young lady. A couple of weeks later, an envelope was left at Kathy’s work table. Inside it was a card from the co-worker, who had just left the company.

The note in the card began: “Thank you for the apron. It was my most valuable piece of equipment….” And it ended with these words:

“[A]n apron is essential and you are very kind.”

In nine words: the power of an apron.

the best-ever chili!

You think we’re about to drop a recipe on you? Not really.

The best-ever chili has no recipe. You have to be willing to put just about anything in your chili without much regard for measuring it. So this is more of a laundry list of ingredients and techniques than an actual recipe.

Let’s be clear, however: the only ingredient that we believe is mandatory in any chili is some form of chile pepper—fresh, dried, powdered, it doesn’t matter. Texas chili has no beans; vegan chili has no meat; Cincinnati-style chili contains cinnamon. Those are all fine examples of chili, but the best-ever chili must at minimum contain at least one form of chile pepper, in whatever form you can find.

Beyond this one requirement (and perhaps the inclusion of a little cumin) the ingredient list is yours alone. Ours always includes some form of an allium, whether it’s the old standby onion, or shallots, or garlic, or a combination. A mirepoix including celery, carrots, or bell pepper is great as well. Start by sautéing these chopped veggies (or others) in oil, stock, wine, beer, or some other liquid.

Once your veggies are transparent and soft, start adding any dry seasonings you may want to use: basil (!), dried coriander, and Mexican oregano are great standbys. Let those seasonings marry into your sautéed vegetables.

Then you can add wetter vegetables like tomatoes, as well as tomato sauce or paste, as well as any pre-cooked meat and any other liquids. (If you have dried chiles, this would be the perfect time to drop them in to reconstitute.) Add salt and black pepper to taste. We’ve also added tomato juice, tomato soup, and even leftover chili into ours.

Finally, just add love and a little time. It’s done when it smells like chili.