Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Thanks, Everyone

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts, concerns, prayers. The smoke has cleared from the air here in San Diego. We can walk outside without smelling it. When I flew to New Mexico on Thursday, the entire city was blanketed in smoke, and we were able to look out the window and see the flames. Flying back to town this afternoon, the air was clearer and I was able to see miles of charred mountains. I'm one of the fortunate ones who still has a home to return to. My heart goes out to all those who lost their homes and animals in the fires.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Photos for latest post

Thanks to Terry over at Blue Kitchen, and Ann at A Chicken In Every Granny Cart, I learned that my photos didn't seem to make it into the last post. So here's my second try, without comment:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fires and the need to bake

The worst seems to be over, but the last 2 days have been eerie, weird and frightening, even though I don't live near where the fires have been burning. It started on Sunday, while I was cleaning the house. I kept going into the kitchen, wondering if I had left something on the stove. Nope. So I went back to my cleaning, but a little while later I came out again. Maybe I left something in the toaster? Nope. But I definitely smelled something burning. I turned on the radio, and that's when I heard about the fires.It was 4 years ago, almost to the day, when the Cedar Fire began. That was one of several fires which burned in San Diego in 2003, and by the time it was over, approximately 20% of the county had burned. The fires we've had these days are far worse. The Santa Ana winds have been blowing with hurricane force at times, driving these fires at incredible speeds. This time they evacuated about 350,000 people!

They've been recommending that people stay indoors if possible, and I've been happy to comply. I've kept my windows shut. But today I had to get out around 4pm to see what the city looked like.

heading towards the airport at around 4:40pm

After heading east towards the fires, I headed towards the airport, which is by the bay. San Diego Bay at around 4:45pm

These images are not photoshopped. The sun turns red as it descends into the smoke.

The sun became a red eye, straight out of Dante's "Inferno"

But the moon was a beacon of hope in the gray sky...

The television has been on nonstop, and the images of the fires have left all of us restless and uneasy. What do you do when you feel restless and uneasy? I find that baking is a wonderful antidote to this angst. Unlike Nora over at Life's Smörgåsbord who can bake to soothe anger, I bake to soothe the jitters. I had just read Cynthia's post at Tastes Like Home where she described various ways to grate fresh coconut, and then offered a compliment of dishes to showcase coconut.

Coconut was always a favorite flavor in my childhood. I loved coconut cake and coconut ice cream. (I think I inherited this from my dad who would always request a coconut cake for his birthday.) Just reading about grated coconut made me remember my childhood - a gentle memory for an edgy time. I didn't have any fresh coconut to grate and didn't want to go out to get some, but I remembered that I had some unsweetened dry coconut in the back of the pantry. I had been eying the two bananas which were aging gracefully on my counter and had already earmarked them for banana bread. Hmmmmm.....What about banana coconut bread? I had never added coconut to my banana bread, but it felt tropically right.

The recipe I use is the permanently place marked one from the Joy of Cooking. It's simple and no-fail. Just right for someone who does little baking of sweet things. While I tend never to fiddle with recipes for baking, this one is like an old friend. It forgives me. It understands me. I have, over the years reduced the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup, substituted 3/4 of a cup of whole wheat flour for the all white version presented, and have discovered that the bread gladly accepts chopped apricots. Now I've learned that it embraces 1/2 cup of shredded coconut with no hesitation. Who can resist such a flexible friend?

Preheat oven to 350

Have all ingredients at about 75 degrees Farenheit
Sift before measuring:
1 3/4 C all-purpose flour

Re-sift with:
2 1/4 tsp double acting baking powder

Blend until creamy:
1/3 C shortening
2/3 C sugar
3/4 tsp grated lemon rind

Beat in:
1 to 2 beaten eggs
1 cup ripe banana pulp

Add the sifted ingredients in about 3 parts to the sugar mixture. Beat the batter after each addition. Fold in:
1/4 C chopped apricots
1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut

Place batter in a greased bread pan. Bake the bread for about 1 hour or until done. Cool before slicing.

(I use more than 1/4 C of apricots. I don't measure - I just make sure there's plenty!)
Thank you, Cynthia! This turned out to be the best banana bread I've ever made!!!! And you know what? The fires are more under control, too!

This will be my entry into this week's Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Pille at nami-nami.

I will be going to New Mexico on Thursday for an extended weekend of breathing clean air!

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Breakfast Leftovers, or Another Reason to Love Fritatas

So I had this tomatillo left over from my pork and tomatillo stew. Now, I know people who just don't bother with leftovers. They throw anything leftover away. Many of them are good people, and I like them in lots of ways. But this one characteristic makes me......well....a little bonkers. I don't get it. Perfectly fresh food, cooked that day, and whooosh! Into the garbage it goes. I would understand it if the ingredients were on their last legs - if they were just this side of wilted or gamy or whatever - and they were used in a casserole or some such thing, which would serve as their last rites. But I've seen perfectly good, delicious food get tossed. I wasn't even born during the Depression, and I don't save aluminum foil bits and roll them into balls or anything....but food? C'mon! I love the stuff too much to throw it away while it's still fresh!

I remember when I was in my 20s and living in New York City. I had numerous jobs in those days and finally quit all of them to be a potter. I made both functional and decorative things out of clay in a loft in New York. I knew I wasn't going to get rich on my art, but I had had it with working for others and needed a break from the craziness of working in politics (my last "real" job.) Now, in order to survive as an artist in a place like Manhattan, you needed to be clever and frugal. My friend Wendy taught me how to live with grace and flair on very, very little money. For one thing, there was Chinatown. In those days, you could get a bowl of congee for under a dollar. I'm sure it costs a lot more than that now, but I'm also sure it's still -
relatively speaking - cheap. And what is congee? It's all the leftover rice they have which they then boil into a thick porridge. To that they add the leftover meats and veggies of the day, and what you wind up with is a simple, filling, satisfying meal. When we added to that a little plum wine which we kept in the pottery studio, we felt like bohemian royalty.

For me, no meal is that fancy that it's out of the reach of leftovers, and that includes breakfast. Lately I've been on a fritata kick. I find that when I have a fritata for breakfast, I'm not hungry for hours and hours. Since my acupuncture practice has been off the wall busy these days, I need something that will keep me going 'till I can sit down for lunch at 1pm. To make one, I just open the fridge and scour around for whatever I've got. This day I had that tomatillo in the veggie bin, as well as a slice of ham and a couple of leftover zucchini slices I had grilled on the barbecue the night before. Good start. And then I found a small piece of leftover feta cheese and a half an onion. I was livin' large!

To make the fritata, I used 3 eggs but only one yolk. (My lower fat version.) I cut a dollop of Earth Balance into the pan and sauteed the onion first because I like my onions cooked very well. Then I added the tomatillo and the ham. I poured the scrambled eggs into the pan, and after the bottom set a bit, I tossed in the cut up chunks of zucchini and feta. When the eggs set just a bit more, I popped the pan into my 350 degree oven and put on a CD of Clara Montes music to get myself moving.

What's your favorite way of using leftovers? Do you find that you prefer the dish you've made from the leftovers even more than the original one?
For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share what natural remedies work for you and which don't, visit my other blog: Second Opinion

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pork and Tomatillo Stew to Celebrate Fall

It's fall at last! The mornings are cool and the light has changed. Not only does it get light later, but the slant of it says fall. My garden is more shaded now by the elm tree in the neighbor's yard. I can still eat outside at my glass table, but I need a sweater. The only thing that's missing are those breathtaking colors I grew up with on the east coast. Here in San Diego, the trees don't start turning until November, and even though I've lived here since 1986, I still find that strange!

Fall is by far my favorite season. When I was a kid, my brother and I used to help my dad rake leaves in the fall. We'd pile them high in the back yard, not far from the hedge between our house and the neighbor's house. When we were just about finished raking and just about to set a match to them, we'd look in time to see a tan streak, shooting through the bottom of the hedge. Rudy, the neighbor's boxer, was waiting for this moment. He'd tear into the yard, run round and around and around the pile of leaves, and suddenly take this enormous leap, landing in the middle of the pile. He'd come out grinning, and then take off and do it again. We'd stand there and laugh each and every time he flew into the air and landed in the pile. He loved it, and so did we!

The meals of fall always smell good, too. I love walking inside and smelling something bubbling on the stove or in the oven. It says "home" and "comfort" to me. When I lived in New Mexico, a pot of food on the stove and a pile of wood out back were the equivalent of money in the bank. We didn't cook much with tomatillos when I lived there. I don't know why. But I've discovered their delicious greenness here in San Diego. They taste slightly tart, and add such a wonderful counterpoint to meat and potatoes.

I looked at Wikipedia to learn something about tomatillos. Here's what it said:

The tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa or Physalis philadelphica) is a plant of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name. The tomatillo fruit is surrounded by a paper-like husk formed from the calyx. As the fruit matures, it fills the husk and can split it open by harvest. The husk turns brown, and the fruit can be any of a number of colors when ripe, including yellow, red, green, or even purple[1]. Tomatillos are the key ingredient in fresh and cooked Latin American green sauces. The freshness and greenness of the husk is a quality criterion. Fruit should be firm and bright green, as the green colour and tart flavour are the main culinary contributions of the fruit.

I find it amazing that herbs are so incredibly versatile. Oregano, which is used in this recipe, is an herb I grew up associating with Italian food. But it's versatility is astonishing. One minute it's Italian, the next it's Greek or New Mexican! What I love most about it, other than it's flavor, is it's meaning: "Delight in the mountain". Don't you just love that?

I found this recipe in the October Food And Wine magazine. Of course, I've tinkered with it, but I'll give it to you as it's written first, and then tell you what I've done to it.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin, cut into 3-inch chunks
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large celery ribs, finely diced
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 Anaheim chile, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons mild chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • Pinch of dried oregano
  • 2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1 cup 1/2-inch-diced carrots
  • Two 6-ounce russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
  • One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 pound tomatillos—husked, rinsed and cut into 1-inch dice
  • Hot sauce
  • Chopped cilantro, for garnish
  • Corn tortilla chips, for serving
  1. In a medium casserole or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Season the pork with salt and pepper and cook over high heat until browned on 2 sides, about 2 minutes per side. Add the celery and onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the diced chile, garlic, chile powder, cumin and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and tomatillos, cover and simmer over low heat until the pork is cooked through, about 25 minutes.
  2. Transfer the pork to a plate and shred with two forks. Meanwhile, simmer the stew over moderate heat until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir the shredded pork into the stew and season with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Ladle the stew into bowls, garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with a few tortilla chips.

MAKE AHEAD The stew can be refrigerated overnight. Reheat gently.

Notes: I added string beans to my stew. Also, I didn't use Anaheim chilis - they have no heat. I used my green chili from Hatch, New Mexico. The best! When you use good chilies, you don't need to bother with chili powder or hot sauce. Also I left the pork as cubes instead of shredding it, as I find that more satisfying. And I didn't bother with the cilantro or the tortilla chips.

I'm entering this post in Kalyn's Kitchen Two Year Anniversary of Weekend Herb Blogging. Can you believe it's been 2 years since she started this event? Congratulations, Kalyn!

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Shrimp in Escabeche, and a refusal to let go of summer.

The weather may be saying "fall", but my senses are telling me "summer". How could it be otherwise, when I see mangoes and avocados in the store? Of course, I live in San Diego, where it's kinda hard to tell the seasons anyway. Well, I've gotten better at it, actually. There actually is a difference between summer and fall and winter here. We may not need down parkas in the winter, but we do get to enjoy a prolonged fall. Leaves haven't started turning yet (they won't until November), but the air has changed. But when you can still dine al fresco in the evening, can you truly succumb to fall's harvest foods? They still seem a little to heavy for our current weather. So I'm still eying the salads and seafood like someone who refuses to leave the cruise ship even after we've pulled into home port.

When I found this recipe on epicurious, I knew this was what I was hungering for. This simple recipe turned into a salad by the time I ate it. A salad with my mom's stamp on it, actually. My mom was the one who taught me to add mangoes to a salad to give it a little something extra. Every time I do this, people comment on what a cool idea it is. Thanks, Mom!

So here, without further ado, is a shrimp in escabeche salad.

In Spanish, escabeche refers to placing already cooked seafood into a marinade—a pickling of sorts—but this subtle shrimp salad is gentler than anything you might expect from the term pickled. Complemented by silky thin-sliced onions, the shrimp get their tender-firm texture from slow-poaching followed by marinating.


1 small red onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 pound large shrimp in shell (21 to 25 per pound), peeled, leaving tail intact, and deveined


Toss together onion, vinegar, oregano, and 1 teaspoon salt in a shallow glass or ceramic dish.

Simmer oil, bay leaves, garlic, and peppercorns in a small saucepan 10 minutes, then let stand until ready to use.

Add shrimp to a medium pot of boiling salted water (2 tablespoons salt for 4 quarts water), then remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Drain well, then stir into onion mixture along with oil mixture.

Chill shrimp in escabeche, covered when cool, stirring occasionally, at least 12 hours. Discard bay leaves and serve shrimp cold or at room temperature.

Cooks' note: Shrimp in escabeche can be chilled up to 2 days.

My additions: I used a bag of baby spring mix lettuces, an avocado and a mango - both sliced. I served it with a dressing of olive oil, raspberry vinegar, salt and pepper.
Makes 8 servings

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share which natural remedies work for you and which don't, visit my other blog, Second Opinion