They’re Coming! A guest post about family and food from The Buffer Zone

Each month, Small Potatoes will be inviting a guest blogger to share  stories, recipes, and relationships to their food systems. Enjoy this first one from Diane at The Buffer Zone. Would you like a side of dysfunction with that turkey? 

H_bushesThey’re Coming!

Diane, of  The Buffer Zone

Buffer  n. 1. Something that lessens or absorbs the shock of an impact.  2. A neutral area between two conflicting powers.

Buffer Zone  n. 1. Where you can hide when you realize the “conflicting powers” are your dysfunctional relatives.

Lately, I’ve been trying to follow a diet I like to call the “Don’t Eat Crap Diet.” You know, no processed foods, no Diet Coke, blah, blah, etc., which is why I check out this blog about eating locally grown, right-from-the-ground type food.  However, Thanksgiving is upon us, and that means relatives breaking our established Buffer Zone to join us for dinner. I’ve been in a baking frenzy, and must confess to eating about 1/3 of each batch of cookies that come out of the oven. If I could think of a way to snag a few pieces of cake or pie without the missing section being noticeable, I would be doing that also. It’s called comfort food for a reason.

A ratio of two somewhat healthy menu items to 17 menu items loaded with some kind of cheese, cream or otherwise, seems pretty reasonable. Because I’m trying to be optimistic that we can get through Thanksgiving dinner, and at least into the first football game, before an altercation occurs, I feel like sharing the two somewhat healthy recipes.

This appetizer that’s adapted from Southern Living is perfect, because you can make it ahead of time, freeze for up to 3 months, and reheat in 10-13 minutes at 350F degrees, AND the main ingredient is cheese.  Just stick your baking sheet in the freezer till the little puffs of goodness are rock hard, then plop them in a freezer bag.


1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (about 6 oz.) shredded Gruyere cheese
2 tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp ground red pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Bring first 3 ingredients and 1/2 cup water to a rolling boil in a 3-qt saucepan over medium heat; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add flour all at once, and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon 1 minute or until smooth and pulls away from sides of pan, forming a ball of dough. Remove from heat, and let stand 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer dough to bowl of an electric stand mixer. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating at medium speed until well blended after each addition. (If dough separates, don’t freak-it will come back together.) Add Gruyere cheese and next 3 ingredients; beat at high speed 3 minutes or until dough is smooth and glossy. Drop by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto 2 parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  3. Reduce oven temperature to 375F, and bake gougeres 10-12 minutes, placing one baking sheet on middle oven rack and other on lower rack. Switch baking sheets, and bake 4-6 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets 5 minutes. Repeat procedure with remaining dough after your guests gobble these down.

The other recipe I’m enjoying lately is Gingersnaps with Barley Flour which can be found on this site. Technically, this is a cookie, but because it’s made with barley flour, I’m considering it somewhat healthy.

Wishing all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving! I am so thankful for healthy friends and family, and the fact that I have a one thousand mile Buffer Zone most of the year.

Thanks, Diane! Good luck getting through your meal! 


Pumpkin Sandwich Treats

We were in NYC not too long ago and happily spent some time doing nothing in Sweet Melissa’s Patisserie. One of my favorite spots in the city, this laid back bakery and cafe has pastries, ice cream, light meals, and lots of interesting hot drinks (complete with homemade marshmallows.) Melissa’s baking book is one of the treasures of my collection and a book that I think any baker should have on her shelf. Every recipe is reliable, a little unique, and solidly delicious. The directions are always clear and uncomplicated, so you can have confidence that even a beginning baker will find success.

On the search for a new pumpkin dessert that would use up some of the pumpkin I’ve roasted for Thanksgiving pies, I decided to make Sweet Melissa’s Pumpkin Cookie Cakes.  I was curious to see molasses in the ingredients list and was afraid that it might overpower my sweet, fresh pumpkin. Having faith in the book paid off, of course, and the cookie cakes turned out to be a lovely balance of flavors. My homespun variation on the recipe was to add some yogurt cheese to the filling.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies, 2 dozen sandwiches
(You’ll want to serve 2 per person.)

6 tbls. homemade yogurt cheese
6 tbls. unsalted butter, room temperature

I usually have a cheese hanging hook installed under my cabinets but haven’t done that yet in this new kitchen. Here’s my improvisation: small skillet as hook, large skillet as weight. Worked!

3/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Sandwich cookies:
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
8 tbls. unsalted butter

3/8 c. molasses
1 egg
1 cup pumpkin puree

2 c. AP
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. fresh nutmeg, ground
3/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 c. milk

  1. To make yogurt cheese:
    Place a large piece of cheesecloth over a bowl and scoop the yogurt into it. Tie or rubber band the ends and hang for about 10-12 hours, letting the whey drip into the bowl. (You will know that it is done when it no longer looks wet.)
  2. Cream the butter and sugars until fluffy. Add the molasses, egg, and pumpkin. Mix until smooth.
  3. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl. Add, alternating with milk, to the pumpkin mixture.
  4. Using a 1 1/2 inch cookie scoop, drop carefully onto a baking sheet covered with parchment.
  5. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. Cool.
  6. To make the filling:
    Be sure that your butter is at room temperature. Beat with confectioners’ sugar. Then, beat in yogurt cheese and vanilla. (If your filling appears lumpy, it is because your butter was not quite right. Fix this by blending it in the food processor just until smooth.)
  7. Sandwich a small dollop of frosting between two cookies and serve!


  • These cookies could certainly be eaten as a breakfast treat.
  • They are pretty sticky, once cooled. Be sure to place the bottom of the cookie on the cooling rack. Tops stick. When packaging, add a layer of parchment between cookies or they are likely to stick together.

Make Ahead Green Beans

Well, tomorrow the food prep begins in earnest. We’ve been assembling ingredients for weeks. When you want to have a locally based Thanksgiving, you really have to plan ahead to be sure that you have (or preserve) the things that you want on your table. We’ve got things stored in the root cellar (ok, the garage, affectionately renamed), the freezer, and in jars. Tomorrow, we’ll reunite them all in one big meal planning session.

There is one way that I’m sadly cheating on my local producers this holiday, though. Green beans. I’ll be buying a few pounds at Pike Place tomorrow. I just can’t figure out a way to preserve them well, and I really must have them.  Green beans are such a treat in November.

This recipe is great because you can make it ahead, then finish it off in the last minute. It comes from a Cook’s Illustrated article (Nov./Dec. 2001) which also includes a fantastic recipe for a shallot and vermouth topping.

Make Ahead Green Beans with Hazelnuts

1 pound green beans, washed and ends snapped
4. tbls. butter
1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped
salt, pepper

  1. Blanch the green beans. Bring a pot of water to boil, add green beans, and cook for about 3 minutes. (Beans should be bright green.)
  2. Drain the beans and plunge them immediately into ice water. When thoroughly cool, pat dry with a towel. At this point, beans can be held in the refrigerator, sealed, for up to 3 days.
  3. When ready to dine, heat a saucepan (that is large enough to hold your beans) over medium. Toast your hazelnuts for about 4 minutes, then remove from the pan and set aside.
  4. Add the butter to the pan and cook for about 4 minutes or until it becomes brown and fragrant. Add back in the hazelnuts.
  5. At the same time, in another pan, heat 1/4 cup water and beans. Use tongs and toss for about 2 minutes, until they are warmed through. Remove to pan with toppings.
  6. Toss all together and season with salt and pepper. Serve.

What else will be on our table?

Fullproof Roll Recipes

Fact: No one eats bread on Thanksgiving. Fact: If you don’t have bread, everyone will ask, “What? No bread?” So, make some quick and easy rolls and enjoy them with leftovers. Here are my favorite recipes.

  • Parker House Rolls – Light and a little chewy, these rolls have a a squirt of butter in the center. Dress them up with garlic or herbs or just leave them plain. They’re easy to make and taste best when fresh from the oven. You can freeze them, however, just undercook them a little and then heat them in an oven on a baking sheet when ready to eat.
  • Whole Wheat Rosemary Rolls – These rolls, despite being made with whole wheat, are not too heavy to eat at the end of the meal. Be sure to pinch the bottom of the fans together before you place them in the muffin tins. If you do not, they will peel apart in the bread basket. Again, these can be dressed up with any herb you like.

Just Pumpkin Pie

pumpkinsThere’s a lot of ways that you can dress up pumpkin pie. Recipes are always trying to entice you with odd ingredients. But, on Thanksgiving, what’s really needed is just plain and simple tradition. Here’s a pumpkin pie that is exactly that – fullproof, reliable, and delicious.

Makes 1 9-inch pie, about 8-10 slices.

sugar pumpkin, about 2 pounds (about 1 1/2 c. puree)
your favorite pie crust recipe, one crust

2 eggs, plus 2 more yolks
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 c. milk
3/4 c. cream

  1. To make pumpkin puree:
    Rinse pumpkin. Remove stem. Cut it in half. Remove seeds and filaments. Turn the halves cut side down onto a baking sheet. Bake for about an hour at 350F or until the flesh is tender. Cool. Puree.
  2. Roll out your crust and place in a buttered, 9-inch pie plate.
  3. Whisk eggs into the pumpkin puree. Whisk remaining ingredients in, until smooth.
  4. Pour the filling into the crust.
  5. Bake at 350F for 1 hour in the center of the oven.
  6. Cool and refrigerate until dessert time.


  • Save your pumpkin seeds for a crunchy snack.
  • Pumpkin puree can keep for several days, stored in the fridge.
  • Serve with sweetened whipped cream, of course.

Poached Pears with Cranberries

Thanksgiving is fast approaching! We’ve been assembling our ingredients for a locally-based Thanksgiving for some time now. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of our favorite holiday recipes with you.

poached pears with cranberriesOn the first Thanksgiving that we spent in Seattle, my brother-in-law made poached pears. They were a lovely and a refreshing addition to the meal. Now, I make this version that includes cranberries. (We were lucky to be able to purchase some local cranberries at the U-district market.) This dish can be prepared the day ahead and benefits from sitting in the refrigerator overnight. It doesn’t usurp the cranberry sauce on the table but adds a little extra bite of fruit, just when you think you can’t eat any more heavy food. This also serves well the next day for breakfast with yogurt.

This year, I plan to use my home-canned pears. I’ll decrease the first simmering time by a few minutes.

about 8 pears
2 tbls. sugar
1 cinnamon stick
5 tbls. honey
10 oz. fresh cranberries
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla

  1. Peel and slice the pears into halves. Put in a medium sauce pan and just cover with water (about 4 cups).
  2. Add sugar, cinnamon stick, and honey. Bring to a boil, stir to dissolve sugar, and immediately reduce to a simmer. Simmer for ten minutes or until pears are tender.
  3. Add cranberries and simmer for an additional 3 minutes.
  4. Transfer the pears and cranberries to a bowl. Stir in the lemon juice and vanilla. Ladle as much syrup as you would like over the pears. Store covered in the refrigerator when cool.