Monday, December 29, 2008

New Mexico for the holidays

I'm back in New Mexico, and feel blessed to have had some snow for the holidays!
Not much snow, but enough to have made it a white Christmas. Enough to have put a damper on sound. Enough to make it appealing to build a fire in the kiva fireplace. Enough to turn the lines of trees into Japanese etchings...Or the lines of a chair into an abstract...
Every year I come here for solstice. My women friends gather for a pot luck and we usually do a gift exchange. You know the kind - where each person brings one gift and you get to pick the one you want? Well, this year it seems that everyone is fed up with "things." No one wanted another thing. So someone came up with the brilliant idea of doing a poetry exchange instead. The poems had to be positive, hopeful, possibly about renewal - whatever. They just couldn't be downers or political.

This year I drove. I decided to take the rest of the year off and spend it here, and with that much time it makes sense to drive - especially with gas prices being so low these days. When I drive in the winter it makes sense to go through Tucson. I have a friend who lives there so I usually stop there for the night. It's about 6 hours from San Diego to Tucson, and about another 6 from Tucson to Albuquerque. I was lucky that I didn't get any weather. There was snow on the ground in southern New Mexico, but none coming out of the sky - just one of the most sensational sunsets I've seen in my life. (Since I was driving - no photos!) It was 360 degrees of spectacular, with golds, oranges, pinks, mauves, blues and grays all transforming into each other.

So now solstice and Christmas are over, and the snows have passed, though we still have some on the ground. The sun is blazing in a brilliant blue sky and there's ice melting and dripping off the roof. My family is due to arrive this evening. We will celebrate New Year's Eve together. I have been able to cook a large pot pork and red chili and eat that for the majority of the time I've been here. In the morning I heat it up and put two eggs over it. In the evening I heat it up and mop up the juices with a soft flour tortilla.
There is no recipe for this dish. I simply took an onion, cut it up and put it in a pan with garlic. When it was soft (about 5 minutes), I added some cubed pork, some cut up potatoes and red chili. I bought this red chili at the local grocery store. If you want red chili, the best usually comes from Chimayo, New Mexico. (For green, it's Hatch, New Mexico.) It comes in a plastic tub, like the ones margerine comes in. I dumped probably 5 or 6 big tablespoons in the pot (I like mine hot!) and stirred, lowered the flame and covered. Oh yes, I put in some water. About 25 minutes later, I opened a can of corn (Yikes! Don't fire me for using canned corn - it's winter and I didn't have any frozen!), strained out the liquid and dumped it in. Stir, cover and let simmer another 5 minutes or so until the corn is warmed up.

And, as my niece Rachael would say over at Fresh Approach Cooking, taste the joy.
Oh, and if you're curious about what poems I brought to share, I brought the Ferlinghetti poem that I posted here back in May. I also brought everyone's favorite Mary Oliver poem -

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I wish every one of you a healthy, prosperous and joyful new year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Cookies

I was invited to a cookie exchange party yesterday. Now, this might seem odd to you, because I know that most of you bake quite a bit, and so I'm sure you've gone to LOTS of cookie exchange parties. But This was my first one. Yep. Didn't know what to expect. But Kibria, who works for me, told me that she and her mom do this every year, and that there would be about 30 people coming. THIRTY PEOPLE???? Holy Smackrels! I had to bake a LOT of cookies!!!

Fortunately, the weather has turned here in San Diego. YEAHHHHH!!! Let's hear it for rain!! And people are talking about how cold it's been - it's been about 54 degrees in the middle of the day.

OK. I'll wait for you to stop laughing. (But here in San Diego, that's considered cold.)

Now.....back to the cookies. Because I'm not really a baker.............but I've always wanted to play one on TV -- I decided to go to a really good source for cookie recipes. That would be Susan, over at Food Blogga. Last year she did a Christmas cookie event, and I saw the most mouth watering cookies imaginable! So good, in fact, that I remembered it a year later when looking for cookie recipes. I honestly wish I could photograph them as beautifully as the original entries, but ever since my fast macro lens was stolen a few years ago, I've never replaced it. So I find myself shooting everything with a telephoto. It's not as good, but at the moment a fast macro is out of the question for me. So the telephoto will have to do.........

And the cooler weather, the gray skies and the rain make the idea of baking so very, very appealing. And then there's all that color just waiting to be a part of the cookies - cranberries and pistachio biscotti anyone???

I got the recipe from over at Nook & Pantry, and the moment I saw them I knew I had to try it. Because I am not a baker........I've never made biscotti before. But the recipe looked easy and it was. So easy, in fact, that I think I will have to bake these while I'm in New Mexico. I have the feeling that they will be my breakfast every day during the holidays. There's a great description of the various kinds of biscotti in this post, so I will let you read that on your own. The only caveat I have is that these are genuine dunking cookies. They aren't like the kind you get at Starbucks - the ones you could eat as is without dunking them. Oh no. Do not be fooled. These are most definitely the break-your-teeth-unless-you-dunk kind. But once they've been dunked - even for a short time - they will reward you with the most amazing combination of flavors you've ever had in one biscotti. Promise.

Orange Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2 C AP flour
3/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 Tbsp grated orange zest
1/2 C dried cranberries

1/2 C pistachio halves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, pistachio halves, and cranberries. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, and orange zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until everything is evenly incorporated.

Divide the dough in half and form two logs that are about 10 to 12 inches long and 2 1/2 to 3 inches wide. Bake for 30 minutes, rotate the pan halfway into the baking time.

After baking, cool the loaves on a rack until they are cool enough to handle.

Then using a serrated knife cut the cookies about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick at an angle. The length of your cookies will depend on the angle at which you cut the cookies.

Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Place the cut biscottis on a rack placed on a sheet tray and continue to bake for about 20 minutes, until the cookies have completely dried. If you don't have a rack for your pan, place the cookies directly on the pan and bake for 10 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 10 minutes.

Let the cookies cool completely before storing them. Or dip them in some chocolate if you prefer.


Now.......Because there were going to be 30 people at this exchange, I decided that one tray full of biscotti would not be enough, even though I doubled the recipe. So what else was I going to bring? Well.......let's face it. Chocolate rules. Christmas, New Year's, Memorial Day, Fourth of July - it doesn't matter. One can never have too much chocolate as far as I'm concerned. So I turned to one of my favorite bakers/food bloggers - Patricia over at Technicolor Kitchen. Now, I have no idea what all of you do with your time, but mine is constantly overbooked. It's the reason why I've recently fallen way behind in my blogging. There have been other projects, and then the beginning of the Christmas parties, etc., etc., etc. So I've barely kept up with blogging.

And then I go over to Patricia's blog, and she's not only blogging, she's doing it in 2 languages - Portuguese and English! I have no idea how that's possible to do, but she's doing it. And furthermore, she does a sensational job - with her imaginative recipes and her drool-inducing photographs. How could I not use one of her recipes??? Even the simplest cookie - a chocolate star - in her hands made me know that I HAD to have it!
So here's the recipe for these yummy creations. A word of advice here......she says that the recipe makes a lot. That depends upon the size of your cutter. She used a 2" cutter, halved the recipe and got over 40 cookies. My cutter is larger, so even though I increased the recipe by 50%, I still wound up with only about 30 cookies. (Actually, there were a few more, but "quality control" got to them before they made it to the party!)

Brownie roll-out cookies

3 cups (420g) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (226g/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened + pinch of salt
1 ½ cups (300g) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup (60g) unsweetened cocoa

Preheat oven at 180ºC/350ºF. Whisk flour, ½ teaspoon salt and baking powder in bowl and set aside. Mix butter, pinch of salt, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa in mixer. Gradually add flour mixture, and mix until smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour.

Roll out cookie dough on floured counter (I rolled it between lightly floured sheets of baking paper) until it is ¼ inch (about 0.60cm) thick. Cut into desired shapes, brushing extra deposits of flour off the top.
Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 11 minutes or until the edges are firm and the centers are slightly soft and puffed.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

I am going to enter these in Susan's Eat Christmas Cookies event this year. Check it out. It will become your go-to source for Christmas cookies from now on!Oh......And just so you know, there's a Roundup Page, where you can keep checking back to see the latest entries. You want to know how popular this event is? It started today, and there's already a gagillion cookie recipes there! Seriously, folks, it's time to check it out.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Yin/Yang Mashed Potatoes and a Happy Thanksgiving

OK, I know I'm into this yin/yang thing lately. But I just can't help it when it comes to mashed potatoes. It's a case of a good idea that just begged to be expanded. And since it's the day before Thanksgiving, I thought I'd add this little idea to the menu, as well as some ideas as to how to not gain weight over the holiday season. Do those two things go together - mashed potatoes and not gaining weight? I'll try to connect those dots.......

This basic recipe is so simple it's hard to call it a recipe. But that's what we need during the holiday season - something simple enough so as not to be stress-inducing. First of all, there's the question of what kind of potato to use. You can actually use russets, but I prefer Yukon Gold when it comes to mashed potatoes. There's something so utterly creamy about the texture of Yukon Gold potatoes, that it takes this comfort food to an even more comforting level, if that's possible.

I'm not going to be good with amounts here, and after all, it does depend on how many you'll be feeding or how much you want leftover. I started with about 2 pounds of peeled potatoes and put them in a large pot of water. I added about a tablespoon of minced garlic - out of the jar this time. (I told you this was going to be a de-stressor!) Brought it to a boil, turned the heat down and waited. When the potatoes were soft enough to be easily pierced by a knife, they were done. You don't want your potatoes mashing themselves in the pot, and you don't want mash-resistent lumps. I strained them through a fine seive rather than a colander in order to keep the garlic with the potatoes.

The only thing left was the mashing, which I've always always done by hand. If you prefer to use your food processor, great! I'm just old fashioned when it comes to mashing potatoes. The only thing we add to mashed potatoes is butter and milk - right? Well, these days I use Earth Balance, and just a dab of butter for that extra rich flavor. You won't notice that it's not all butter, and your arteries will thank you. For the milk, I used buttermilk.

Why buttermilk? It adds a tangy interesting flavor to these potatoes, and despite it's name, it happens to be low in fat. (Whoever named it should be examined!) No, I don't drink the stuff, and in fact have a hard time watching anyone else drink it. But when it comes to cooking, there are some dishes which just shine a little brighter with buttermilk in them.

But then you're left with a problem. What do you do with the extra buttermilk? Well, one possibility is that you make some mashed potatoes.

Huh? I thought I just did!

Ahhhh....but did you use blue potatoes?

I'm reminded of a George Carlin routine where he asked "Where's the blue food?" Other than blueberries, it's hard to come up with food that's blue in color. Except for those lovely, deep deep blue potatoes. I had roasted some of them to go with my roasted veggie medley, but I still had some leftover. I was standing at the counter mashing those Yukon Golds when I happened to notice that bag with a few blue potatoes left in it. Hmmmmmmmm..... I wonder what they'd taste like? So I repeated the above process with the blue potatoes.

Do you know that when you peel blue potatoes, you can get a mostly white looking potato? I had a moment of panic, thinking that all the blue was really in the skin, and that somehow it transfered to the potato during the cooking process. But no! When I cut them in half, there was that almost purple center. And you know what? They made an absolutely scrumptious batch of mashed potatoes! For those of you who are color obsessed, or just want to surprise someone with something different, give them a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.And now, how do you keep from keeping those mashed potatoes with you into the New Year? Well, for one thing, you might try going for a long walk before you sit down to eat your Thanksgiving dinner. You'll find yourself a little less hungry that way. Start your meal with a glass of water - a good way to hydrate and an antidote to the wine. Then - and this is the hard part - you have to say to yourself that this isn't the Last Supper. You can actually get by with only one spoonful of anything, and if eaten slowly, you will find yourself full by the time you finish your plate. And remember - only one plateful per meal. You don't really need that second helping!

And speaking of your plate, did you know that the size of the dinner plate in America has gone from 9" to 12"? Back when your parents were your age, dinner plates were smaller. So when people filled their plates back then, they naturally ate less. They also walked more in those days, since not everyone owned a car, and many people lived in houses with stairs. So daily life included a lot more mobility than we have now. These days, we drive a heavy, expensive vehicle about 3 blocks to buy a loaf of bread. Maybe you cut down on your driving when gas prices were skyrocketing, but now that they've gone back down again, are you still walking? Don't give up the habit. It's one that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

For more health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture.

Have a very happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yin/Yang, Spring-Fall Meatloaf Rebellion

Global warming is getting to me. It's been hovering in the 80s here in San Diego. It's the middle of November already - what's it doing in the 80s, may I ask? Now, for some of you who are shivering with cold, that might seem like a terrific idea. But let me ask you this: What can you trust, if not the calendar? In the northern hemisphere, November is supposed to be cold. Or at least very crisp.

This weather has got to stop!!!!! I mean, here I am hanging Christmas lights in the pepper tree in my yard in weather which inspires people to think about hitting the beach. And next week is Thanksgiving! Whatever happened to "Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go! The horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh, through the white and drifting sno-ow"??? Hello? My patients have been coming in complaining of sinus problems due to the Santa Anas, and this heat has given force to the fires burning north of Los Angeles.

So you wouldn't think that this kind of weather would inspire anyone to turn on their oven. But that's exactly what I decided to do. This past weekend, I went to the local farmer's market and found THE most adorable baby squash! The weather said spring, the size of the squash said spring, but the calendar said November. I needed to roast something. Those squash had my name written all over them. Perhaps they brought out the teenage rebel in me, I don't know. But when I found the small white pumpkin in the next booth, I had no other choice. Here was an opportunity I don't get very often - a way to combine a fall pumpkin with spring squash.

So where does the meatloaf come in? Well, I was going to have dinner with some friends and their (almost) 3 year old son. I usually go to their house and bring something, and they usually do the cooking. Well, this time it was going to be baby Andrew and Dad only - and Dad thinks the kitchen is broken if the micro doesn't work. So I offered to bring the dinner. This is only part of the dinner.........the rest will be in the next post - promise!

Now, when I was growing up, my mom used 2 different words to describe meatloaf. If there was no tomato sauce on top, it was meatloaf. If there was, we called it skednick. Don't ask. It's a family thing. I guess it was a way of bring variety to our meals without having to cook something different. I love the word skednick, but I confess I've never made it. I guess I've outgrown the whole tomato thing on meatloaf. But that doesn't mean that you can't dump ketchup over this and call it skednick. Be my guest! For me, though, Lea and Perrins works better. Or making a mushroom sauce would work well, too, but I didn't have the time.

I bought a pound of ground beef, a pound of ground turkey, a pound of ground buffalo, and a half a pound of ground pork sausage. Dropped in an egg. I minced an onion and sauteed it in some canola oil. Meanwhile, I softened up about a cup of oatmeal in a cup of warm mushroom broth. When the onions were done, I dumped them into the meat with the oatmeal, ground some fresh pepper, sprinkled some kosher salt over it and began to play with my food. Mush and squish until it all came together. I had enough so that I could put part of it in a square glass baking dish, and the rest in my favorite little ceramic baking dish pictured above. Pop them both into a 350 degree oven for about an hour.

Now, if you're going to roast a pumpkin, it depends entirely on the size of your pumpkin as to how long you want to roast it. Keep an eye on it, and a sharp knife nearby. When you can pierce it, it's done. It should offer a little bit of resistance. That way you know you haven't created pumkin puree. The rest of the veggies (and yes, that included, in my case, tomatoes) go in closer to the end of the cooking cycle. Think in terms of 15 minutes or so. Some olive oil and a little kosher salt is all you need. When the veggies are this fresh, you don't want to overwhelm them with a sauce. Their freshness plays well against the meatlof which - with the use of oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs - has the consistency of a cloud. Seriously.
Maybe combining spring and fall isn't the worst thing. But I'm really looking forward to winter!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veggie Paella after an exhausting week

Shhh....I stole this photo from Lydia over at Perfect Pantry.

Let's face it, last week was exhausting! I've made it a point not to get political in this blog, but this time I can't help it. No matter what your political persuasion, this election season has been a time of tension. Personally, I couldn't allow myself to trust the polls. I've seen the polls be wrong before, and I didn't dare allow myself to be lulled into a false sense of security.

But then last Tuesday night, a miracle happened. Americans, old and young, Republicans, Democrats and Independents from every corner of this country, cast their ballots and voted for change. I had patients who told me that they were registered Republicans who could not, in good conscience, vote for McCain and Palin. I have a dear friend who has always been a registered Republican, who told me that he liked Obama and had voted for him.

The collective sigh of relief was heard not only in this country, but could be heard around the world. And once again, the world looks upon our country as the miraculous place it is. Not just because we voted for an African-American, which was miracle enough for people, but also because of the way the transition is taking place. We've heard stories of people in other countries who are amazed at the incredibly gracious concession speech made by McCain on election night. I've heard audio clips of people suggesting that their countries could learn something from that.

And on and on it goes. Life does not seem to have returned to "normal" yet, but the tension is gone. I look around my house and realize that so much has been put on "hold". I spent a few hours today poring over paperwork, throwing out old envelopes with "soy milk, eggs, cereal, onions, pork chops" scribbled on the back. I emailed people I've been meaning to get back to and phoned the neighbor regarding tree trimming. I can't stop smiling.

So when I saw this post over at Lydia's Perfect Pantry, I decided it was time to treat myself to something festive. Oh, how I love paella! I had never seen a vegetarian version of it before, but it looked so good in that photo that I had to restrain myself from trying to stab the computer screen with a fork. And don't you just WANT that pan??? Puh-leeez! (Actually, you can post a comment on her blog to be entered to win it!)

Now here's the thing: She says you can use bomba, Valencia or Arborio rice. I couldn't find bomba or Valencia rice, but I had Arborio rice, so I opted for that. It's not that it was a mistake, exactly, but I can tell you that if you decide to use it, reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe. It tastes good, but it turned out a little too gluey for me. And as for the number of servings? HAH! is all I can say! Serves 6-8??? You could serve the Turkish army with this dish!! And I mean as a main course - not as a side dish! So far I've brought it to a pot luck with 9 people, all of whom loved it, and I brought some over to my neighbor's house this evening and three of us ate it for dinner. And she got the leftovers, and I have another pan of it in the fridge!

Oh, and the reason I stole Lydia's photo? Because none of mine turned out. I don't know why, but they didn't. I think I was still in a post-election fog of euphoria. So rather than post this recipe photo-less, I opted to grab a great photo and use it.

MUSHROOM AND ASPARAGUS PAELLA

Inspired by Paella! Spectacular Rice Dishes of Spain, this vegan recipe is a dramatic centerpiece to a meatless meal. Serves 6-8.

1/4 tsp crumbled saffron threads
Kosher or sea salt
4 Tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of smoked sweet paprika (pimenton)
6 cups vegetable broth, store-bought or homemade (I used Swanson's Garden Vegetable Broth)
8 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 lb thin asparagus spears, chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 medium onions, quartered
4 artichoke hearts (canned or frozen), quartered
3/4 cup dry red or white wine
1-1/2 lb mushrooms (a mix of white, cremini, cepes, etc.), brushed clean, stems trimmed, very coarsely chopped (or, if small, left whole)
1 cup canned chopped tomato (I use Pomi)
3 cups bomba, Valencia or Arborio rice
12 strips piquillo or roasted red pepper, for garnish

In a mortar or miniprocessor, mash to a paste the saffron, 1/4 tsp salt, parsley, garlic and smoked paprika. Heat the broth in a large pot over the lowest heat.

Preheat oven to 400F for gas oven, 450F for electric.

Heat the oil in a 17-18 inch paella pan, or in a shallow casserole of similar size, over 2 burners if necessary. Saute the asparagus and onions over medium heat until softened, then add artichoke hearts and mushrooms, and cook 1-2 minutes more. Add the mushrooms and tomato, and cook 1-2 minutes. Pour in the wine, and boil away most of the liquid, then stir in the rice and coat well with the pan mixture. Pour in the hot broth and bring to a boil. Add the mashed saffron-parsley-garlic paste, taste for salt (it will likely need a bit), and continue to boil, stirring and rotating the pan occasionally, until the rice is no longer soupy and sufficient liquid remains to continue cooking the rice, about 5 minutes. Arrange red pepper strips like the spokes of a wheel, on top of the rice.

Transfer to the oven and cook, uncovered, until the rice is almost al dente, 10 minutes in a gas oven, 15 minutes in electric. Remove to a warm spot, cover with foil, and let sit 5-10 minutes, until the rice is cooked to taste.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Spicy Fall Stew Baked in a Pumpkin, Pepitos and an Announcement

Well, the calender says it's fall, but you wouldn't know it if you stepped outside. Here in San Diego, we've been having a heat wave. I mean.....a REAL heat wave! For someone who grew up on the east coast, this is unspeakable. To deprive me of fall - true fall - is criminal. I may be one of the few people here in San Diego who feels this way, but to me, fall is the very best season of the year. I used to love taking out my sweaters and adding another layer. The days were sunny but the air was crisp. I love crisp. What we've got here is tank top hot. Shorts and flip-flops hot. It's almost November, but it seems like perfect weather for a barbecue.

But I'm not going to let this crazy weather deprive me of my seasonal cooking. I went to the store and they had pumpkins stacked up outside in homage to the season. Everything from tiny orange and white pumpkins to the most ginormous pumpkins I've ever seen. I have friends with a 3 year old son who weighs less than some of those pumpkins. If I had a chain saw, I suppose I could carve one and make a small house for this child. Fortunately, there was a bin with pumpkins which weighed somewhere between 2 and 3 pounds. Perfect.

Periodically, new magazines show up in my clinic. I have no idea how they get there. I never order them, but sometimes they're inspirational. These days, it's the Vegetarian Times. They had a photo on the cover of their October issue which reinforced my decision to eat vegetarian meals a couple of times a week. It was of a beautiful pumpkin, stuffed with a yummy looking stew and topped with an interesting salsa. I looked at that photo and realized that I had never actually baked a pumpkin and eaten it. I've just used it in pies. I've used practically every other form of winter squash in various recipes, but for some reason the lowly pumpkin escaped my attention. Until I saw the photo.

Now, it's perfectly possible to make this stew in any number of squashes - kabocha, red kuri or buttercup are just some possibilities. The only thing which seems important is that you choose one with a skin which is firm enough to hold up. And the added bonus? You get to have some pepitos when you're done making the main dish. I'm amazed that they lasted long enough for me to photograph them!

Ingredients:


2 TBS olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced (1 cup)
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, minced (2tsp)
1 tsp chili powder, preferably New Mexican
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 lb. tomatillos, husked and quartered (1 1/2 cups)
1 15oz can of hominy, rinsed and drained
1/4 tsp salt
1 3-4# pumpkin
2 oz grated sharp Cheddar cheese (1/2C packed)

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350. Heat 1 TBS oil in pot over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic. Saute 7 minutes or until softened. Stir in chili powder, cumin, and oregano, and cook 3 minutes more, or until spices darken.

2. Add tomatillos, hominy, 1/2 cup water, and salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, nad simmer, partially covered, 10 to 12 minutes or until tomatillos are softened. Uncover and cook 5 minutes more to thicken stew if necessary.

3. Meanwhile, cut the top of the pumpkin around the stem to make a lid. Scoop out pumpkin seeds and strings. Rub inside of pumpkin with remaining oil and sprinkle generously with salt. Sprinkle cheese on the bottom of pumpkin.

4. Fill pumpkin with stew, then top with pumpkin lid. Place on parchment covered baking sheet and bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until pumkin flesh is fork-tender. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Scoop stew including pumpkin into bowls and serve hot, topped with Poblano-Cucumber Salsa.

Yes.......there's salsa......

Ingredients:

1 poblano chile
1/2 cucumber peeled, seeded and cut into dice
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 TBS lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp)
1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 ripe avocado, diced.

Preheat oven to broil. Roast poblano chile 15 to 20 minutes, or until skin is blackened, turning occasionally. Cool until easy to handle. Remove charred skin, discard seeds and stem, and cut into small dice. Combine with the rest of the ingredients, leaving the avocado for last. Genly fold in avocado and season with salt and pepper.

I didn't have a separate photo of this, but it's what you see on the top of the stew.

As for the pepitos, I rinsed the seeds of the pumpkin, sprinkled them on a baking sheet sprayed with oil, sprinkled sea salt over them and roasted them in the oven along with the pumpkin. Periodically I took them out, smooshed them around and put them back. When they looked toasty, they were done. These are some of the better snacks I've had in a long time!
And now for the announcement........................................
Drum roll, please....................................

My New Photo Website Is Finally Done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Is this possible???? Can it be??? OMG! It seems to me that I've been working on this forever!!! I can now actually get out of this chair and move around and get back to my garden! For anyone interested in checking it out, here's the link: wanderingeye-photo

I just might have time to start posting more regularly now. I actually made something tonite which is post-worthy for more than one reason. I'll share the story with you next time.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A quick meal, a lousy photo

What can I say? It's been difficult for me to take the time to photograph the food. I'm usually starved by the time it's done. I find myself working away at the computer for hours until my butt tells me it's time to stand up and move. Then I move to the kitchen, throw something together from whatever I've got around and get back to the computer again. The only saving grace is that I love to shop for food. For some women, it's shoes, and while I also love shoe shopping, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods or Henry's (our Wild Oats) is where I prefer to spend an hour or so. Hey - it's cheaper than a pair of Jimmy Choos!

I finally figured out how to make the different galleries for my website. Now I'm involved in the tedious details of that task, and I'm not a woman who relishes time spent in the details. But when I look at a completed gallery......well, I'm hooked. So I plod on. I'm not sure it's the best way to maintain a critical eye, this plodding. But it IS a way to get the job done.

So in the meantime, I turn to my pantry and find a package of red chili fettuccine. Fast and spicy - gotta love that! That prompted a trip to Point Loma Seafood - the best seafood in San Diego. Besides, it got me out of the house! A few clams, some scallops and shrimp and a bottle of clam juice and I was set to go. Is there anything easier than fettuccine with seafood?

Saute some garlic in a glug of oil. Canola is actually better for this, as it can be heated to higher temperatures without changing it's chemical structure, and therefore losing it's health benefits. Add some clam juice and white wine. (One for me, one for the pot.) Add fresh clams if you have them - canned if you don't. Or if you've got a small army to feed, you can add a can of clams in addition to some fresh ones. Cover the pot and reduce the heat. Cook until the clams open - about 6-9 minutes, depending upon the size of your clams. When the clams start to open, add the scallops and shrimp, stir and cover the pot again until the clams are done.

While you are doing this, you should have the pasta boiling. Drain when it's al dente, and that timing depends upon your pasta. Add the drained pasta to the sauce, stir to coat, season to taste with salt and pepper and divide into bowls. (One for me, one for the cat.) (Only kidding!!) Grate some fresh parmesan cheese over the top, sprinkle with fresh parsley, and force yourself to stay away from the computer while you eat!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Project, A Hiatus and Fall Vegetables

It's been a while, I know. I've been consumed with work on my photo website. You see, for someone who travels for pleasure rather than for business, and for someone whose passion is photography, I get a lot of complaints from people. "When can we see your pictures? When do we get to see the pictures of your trip?" You've got to understand, this has been going on since 2006 when I went to Vietnam. I had given 2 slide shows prior to that (yes - actual slides!) of my trips to the Galapagos and to Turkey. People seemed to like them. (No pictures of "Here we are in front of the Blue Mosque")

Now that I've gone digital - no slide shows. But people still want to travel with me without having to get on the plane, you see, and that's fine with me. I just haven't had a vehicle to share these images with others. I don't have a digital projector, and even if I did, I'd be clueless as to how to use one. So the best I can do is work on a website. That's something I know a little about, having created one for my business.

But a photo website is a little more complicated, it seems. It takes everything I've learned plus more. So I've hired a web geek to help me out. Of course, I'm not her only client, and it's been slower than I'd like it to be. But we are inching forward. To give you a tiny teaser, here are some school kids I photographed in Shalimar Gardens in Srinigar - the capital of Kashmir:
These kids, plus another group who sat in a big circle on the grass and clapped and sang for me, touched my heart. They were smiling and warm and they loved having their pictures taken.I asked the teacher who accompanied these kids "Do you have an email address? Do you have access to the internet?" I wanted to send them some of the photos I took. He said "No. But I have a cell phone!" I guess I was kind of shocked by that response. It wasn't like we were in a remote village. We were in the capital of Kashmir. It would be like being in Sacramento, here in California, or Albany in New York, and not having access to the internet. Not even in the schools. Can you imagine your kids going to school and not having access to the internet or email?

So I'm working on this website, and out of the Kashmir section of the website I hope to develop a project to take to Microsoft or Qualcomm here in San Diego. Get internet access to these kids and their schools and teachers and parents - either via cell phone or through computers. That way, when violence erupts, as it has since I've left, and the schools have to shut down, the kids can still get an education. I have no idea how this will happen. But I don't need to know how. I just need to focus on the results I want and keep working.

So you'll forgive me, I hope, for not posting too many recipes recently. It's not that I've been out of the kitchen. But I confess I've turned to store bought roasted chickens or cooked shrimp, and I've just been adding some side dishes. Like this wonderful recipe for roasted vegetables in harissa marinade. Perfect for fall, perfect for when I need to spend more time in front of my computer than in the kitchen.
Harissa is a North African garlic-chile sauce used to flavor couscous and stews.

Ingredients:

1/4 C harissa
5 TBS olive oil, divided
3 TBS chopped cilantro
2 TBS lemon juice
1 TBS grated lemon zest
1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/4" rounds
1 red bell pepper, quartered and seeded
2 zucchini squash, halved
1 yellow squash, quartered
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed

Preparation:

1.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together harissa, 3 TBS olive oil, cilantro, lemon juice and zest in a large bowl. Add veggies and toss to coat evenly.

2. Arrange veggies on a baking sheet, brush with remaining 2 TBS olive oil and harissa mixture. Roast 25 minutes or until veggies are tender, turning once. Serve over couscous or rice.

Kitchen Notes:


I didn't have asparagus, but I did have carrots. And I didn't like the halved zucchini idea, so I chunked mine. This dish lends itself easily to anything you've got in the fridge which could be roasted. If I had had any mushrooms, I would have thrown them in as well.

Addendum: If anyone has any bright ideas which would help me with my project, I'm all ears! You can contact me through my email. Thanks in advance for any help you can give.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chickpea Tagine

Seems that everyone's interested in eating a little lower on the food chain these days. Maybe it's the price of groceries that's gotten people's attention. Or maybe it's the burgeoning awareness of the carbon footprint we leave by our food choices. (Read this article in the New York Times for why Italian wine makers are now putting their wine in boxes!) Or maybe it's finally sinking in that a diet high in red meat is a diet which has serious health consequences. But whatever the reasons may be, people seem to be eating more vegetarian meals these days. If you don't believe me, check out Terry B's post at Blue Kitchen. Even the staunchest of omnivores has decided that a vegetarian meal now and then is probably a good idea!

But let's face it: If it doesn't taste good, why bother? I don't care how healthy a meal might be, if it chews like rubber and tastes like a tree root, I'd rather die young and happy. Fortunately, we don't have to make those choices. For two years running, I've taken trips to India, and have found many terrific dishes which are strictly vegetarian. There are even many dishes there which are vegan, and I've left the table feeling completely satisfied. Well.....minus the dark chocolate, of course. But that's another story....

This last trip to India ended with a dinner in Delhi, at the home of Tapas Baneerji, his wife Krishna and their son Arjuna. Tapas was the man who put together our trip to India last year, and the part of our trip this year which included Kashmir. The man who took us to Tapas' house also ate dinner with us, and when we all sat down for the meal, Krishna asked him if it was a day where he would be eating meat. Yes, in fact it was. I asked him about that and he told us that one day a week he eats vegan and the rest of the time he eats whatever he wants. I thought about that one. It seemed like a gentle approach to lightening up. It didn't require him to give up too much too often. After all, it was only one day a week!

So I've decided to incorporate that idea into my own lifestyle. I had already made the decision to eat a vegetarian meal each week - or perhaps even two. This was just a simple step further. But I knew that I didn't want every vegetarian or vegan meal to be inspired by the cuisine of any one country. I know myself well enough to know that boredom would set in too quickly. And then, as if the universe heard me, I received a copy of the Vegetarian Times in my clinic. This was the October edition, and it contained several recipes based on Morrocan cuisine minus the meat. I saw a couple of recipes for tagines and I was in! Besides, these were recipes which could be made in 30 minutes, more or less - perfect for a weeknight.

This first one I tried had me hooked. It plays the sweet of honey against the spice of cayenne pepper, and I've always loved that combination of flavors. Try it and enjoy! If you want to make this a vegan meal, you can skip the yogurt. I've eaten it without and trust me - you won't miss it.

Ingredients

2 TBS olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 TBS)
2 14.5oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1/4C dried currants
1tsp ground turmeric
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2tsp hone
1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
3 TBS finely chopped parsley

Procedure

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garllic and saute 2-3 minutes, or until onion slices are soft. Stir in chickpeas, carrots, currants, spices, honey and 2 C water. Coer and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Divide tagine among 4 bowls. Garnish each serving with a dollop of yogurt and sprinkle with parsley.
The good news? This dish is listed as having (per serving) 414 calories, 14gm protein, 12.5 gm of total fat (3.5 saturated - if you add the yogurt), 65 gm carbs, 5 mg cholesterol (again - only if you add the yogurt), 601 mg sodium, 12 gm. fiber!, and 13 gm sugars.

For more health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Shrimp with tomato and garlic

The shrimp were on sale. The tomatoes came from the garden of a friend. I had a friend coming to dinner. It was a slam-dunk.

Sometimes I turn to recipes for ideas. This time I didn't need to. The ingredients practically formed a chorus and yelled "USE US TOGETHER!!" That's one of the nice things about being very busy. I spent a great deal of the day gardening. I raked and clipped and hauled 6 huge bags of yard waste. Back in the old days, I used to turn this into compost. I will do that again someday when I get my landscaping finished and have some space for a compost. Right now, I'm working towards clearing enough space for a tree trimmer to chop back this wild overgrowth of ficus and elm trees that have invaded my yard, swallowing up all the light as well as my canyon view.

But with company coming, I didn't have time to think about much other than the clock. Needed to finish the yard, the laundry and get something going for a meal. The beauty of being this busy is that you just keep moving, and things get done. The beauty of this dish is that it doesn't take much time. The only thing that took time was shelling the shrimp. The ones that were on sale had the shells on, so that meant a little more work. But that was basically it.

To make this, I used something like a pound of shrimp, shelled and deveined. I used a rounded teaspoon of chopped garlic out of a jar, threw it in a pan with some canola oil, added some chopped tomatoes, cooked them for about 3 minutes, then turned the flame off. I chopped a little basil from the garden and put a mixture of wild and basmati rice on to boil. When it was time to turn it down to a simmer, I tossed in whatever I had available in my herb collection, which was thyme. When the rice was done, I added some frozen peas, fluffed the whole thing with a fork and put the lid back on.

By then my friend had arrived, so I poured us a glass of wine, and we sat outside, sipping some cab and eating macadamia nuts. When it was time to serve the meal, I turned up the flame under the tomatoes, added the shrimp and the basil and cooked until the shrimp was pink - about 3-4 minutes. A clean yard, clean laundry, a gourmet meal and time with a friend. How good can it get?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Rememberance

Today we remember.........Today we honor the memory of those who died that day, and we extend our thoughts and prayers to the families of those who lost loved ones.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Restaurant review and much, much more...

OK.........I've got my images now....I am posting this from the parking lot of a motel in Albuquerque. I've only got dial-up at home, and it seems to not remember me. I forgot to bring my cable which would allow me to upload my photos, so you'll have to wait for them until I get home. But in the meantime......

This is the beginning of my favorite season in New Mexico. We are in the midst of our monsoon season, and fall is approaching. The skies dominate now, and the aspens in the high mountains will soon be blazing gold. Sunlight drenches the landscape every day, and the sides of the roads are lined with wild sunflowers.

Clouds gather – huge, billowy clouds, reminding me of the Joanie Mitchell line “These are the clouds of Michelangelo…”

You can see storms in the distance – well defined areas of rain, with sunlight on either side of the storm – and if you’re lucky, you can catch some lightening flashes. Sometimes in the evening, when the sky is turning all sorts of colors, the rain turns pink. No, I’m not hallucinating. I saw it this evening on my drive back from Taos. Pink rain, off to the north of the road as I was driving south.

I drove to Taos the back way – through the village of Chimayo north of Santa Fe. I was thinking I’d stop at Rancho de Chimayo for lunch, but to my shock it was closed due to a fire they had had. This is the first time I’ve ever seen that restaurant closed. The building was obviously still standing, so the fire must have done some internal damage.

So I pushed on, figuring that I’d have to wait until Taos to get something to eat. I was hungry, but there are only small villages between Chimayo and Taos. I figured that the most I’d see would be a Dairy Queen. The road snaked upwards through the mountains, past the villages of Truchas (where they filmed “The Millagro Beanfield War”), and Las Trampas and Peňasco. It was in this last town that I spotted a building on the side of the road that made me slam on my brakes. I read the sign: Sugar Nymphs Bistro. I flipped a U and drove up. I wanted more than dessert, but the “Bistro” part gave me hope.

Serendipity is one of the rewards of travel. I walked into a charming old building which had obviously been someone’s home at one point. Now it houses the bistro as well as a theater. Yep. A theater! In Peňasco, of all places! You’ve got to understand – this is a village that time seems to have forgotten. There isn’t a gas station here. I don’t recall seeing a general store. (Forget supermarket. Those are for cities.) In fact, I don’t recall what else might be in this village other than perhaps a tire repair place. All other automotive needs seem to be taken care of in the front yard.

But here was a bistro, whose lunch special today was local vegetable stew served with grilled chicken sausage. All the veggies were locally grown. The salads were all organic, and the foccacia was house made. Salads, soups, sandwiches and burgers – all served in a cheerful atmosphere. There’s even a request printed on the menu “Please step outside to use your cell phone.”

My grilled summer veggie sandwich came with a choice of soup or salad, and some tortilla chips. I chose the salad with sesame ginger vinaigrette, and asked them to add some green chile to the sandwich. Sorry, but I was too hungry to photograph!!! Afterwards, I checked out the theater. It was too dark inside to photograph (even with flash!), but the room outside the theater had enough charm all it’s own.The trip had much, much more to it, including a drive to Acoma pueblo....perched high atop a huge rock...If you look very closely, you'll see the buildings on the right hand side, on top of that outcropping. Now you know why Acoma is called "Sky City".

Perhaps these photos will give you an idea why I tell people that going to New Mexico is going as far outside the United States as I can get without needing a passport. The landscape, the people, the food....all distinctive, and to me, all spectacular. It's no wonder they call it "The Land of Enchantment".



Saturday, August 23, 2008

Food Blogger Partaaay

Right now I'm stoked on Vietnamese coffee, phenomenal food and new friends. I just came back from a food blogger party thrown by Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple. I didn't bring a camera. Hey! They said there'd be plenty to drink, so why bother? In my world, alcohol and photography don't really go together - everything just gets blurry. But I DID bring my appetite, as instructed. Good thing, too, because the food was awesome! Do you think I can remember everything I ate? HAH! I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast this morning, and that was before the champagne and wine.

Good thing they served Vietnamese coffee!!

There were spring rolls - lots and lots of spring rolls, which we wrapped in lettuce with mint and basil and dipped in a variety of sauces. I think I could have stopped there. Except for the fact that I didn't. No WAY was I going to miss out on the creamy cucumber salad, the corn salad, the pear salad, the Vietnamese pork sliders, grilled prawns with "secret" sauce, or the build-your-own "flat breads". (Diane, honey, I think those are called mini pizzas. Just not a la Dominoes!)

And then after stuffing ourselves silly, they brought out the grilled fish! She wasn't kidding when she said to bring an appetite! I should have brought a couple of friends, too!!!

But please don't think that Todd and Diane were so uncivilized as to not serve us dessert! Puh-leez! Have you ever eaten jack fruit? I've only seen it growing in Vietnam, but hadn't tasted it fresh before. You have to oil your hands first, because the inside has some very sticky white resin in it. You plow through that, pop out the big seeds and then dig in with your hands, extracting the fruit. Diane told us it wasn't completely ripe, but you could have fooled me. Apparently, if it's riper it pairs well with blue cheese. I can see that it would, but I hardly felt deprived. After all, she DID serve us a cheese plate with fresh lychees and fresh longan fruit.

Now, all of this was phenomenal in and of itself, but it leaves out the other crucial elements of this party. One was the setting, and the other was the people. Todd and Diane's garden is the kind you just want to hang out in. Like, forever. And there are comfy chairs strategically placed in various areas to allow just that. And while you're hanging out, you'll notice that you're surrounded by a garden designed to feed your senses, as well as your appetite. Somewhere on their site they have a video they made of their garden. Check it out. You'll love it!

So then we get to the best part: the people. First of all, Diane told us that her friends told her that she was nuts having a group of total strangers come to her house. Well, she obviously knows a thing or two about how to screen people. We may never have met before, but the mix of people worked beautifully. It's such a treat to meet people who you feel you sort of know because you've been reading their blogs. And there were people I had never heard of before, but enjoyed them so much I'll be adding their names to my blogroll soon. This was a group dedicated to enjoying themselves - with food and drink and laughter.

So if you're looking for some cool food blogs to check out, here's a list. Some you may have heard of, some might be new to you. I hope I haven't left anyone out. If I have, blame it on the champagne....

spicysaltysweet.com
wanderingchopsticks
sushiday.com
foodwoolf
julieskitchen
mattbites
burntlumpia
wrightfood
tastespotting

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tomato Heaven

I used to garden. Back in New Mexico we had a huge garden. We grew corn and beans and squash and chili (of course), grapes, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, onions, garlic, tons of herbs, and, of course, tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. My husband would start them from seed in the greenhouse and they'd be vigorous plants by the time the last frost had passed and we were able to plant them outdoors. By the time of the fall frost, we'd have picked and eaten many beautiful tomatoes, but we always had tons more on the vine. Some would ripen when we pulled the plants and let them hang indoors, and some would stay green. That's the way it is when you garden at 7,000'. Growing season is barely 4 months long. You learn the art of making green tomato chutney, fried green tomatoes, and green tomato and chile sauce.

Here in San Diego, we have perfect weather and a long growing season, but unfortunately my yard also has lots of shade. I mean, lots of shade! I have a small patch in the front which gets sunlight for a few hours during the summer months, but that's it. I've tried growing tomatoes here in the past, but they don't like it. Which saddens me more than I can say, because to me, there is absolutely nothing more heavenly than a ripe tomato picked off the vine.
I wrote about my father's tomatoes in an earlier post, and those memories come back every summer when fresh, vine ripened tomatoes are available in the farmer's markets. I find myself hauling back arm loads of them, and when I get home I look at the cat and realize that she will not be helping me out here. I must figure out how to deal with them by myself. But tomatoes are one of those fruits which have so many possibilities that I never worry.

When searching for the perfect tomato recipe, I turn to the Mediterranean. I mean, that area of the world can make tomatoes, garlic and bread into a seemingly endless variety of food. You sit down to eat something scrumptious, and then your realize that it's another version of tomatoes garlic and onion. DUH!

These days the weather has been hot and humid, so my thoughts turn to things which don't have to be cooked. I will fix my chai in the morning, but I'm really not loving the idea of turning on the oven for any reason. So when I came across this recipe for an Andalusian style gazpacho, I knew I had found my solution. So simple, but sooooo much better than any other gazpacho I've ever made. In the past, I've always thought of gazpacho as a kind of a salad in a bowl. Cucumbers and onions were always in there. I didn't realize that you could make it without these ingredients until I found this version, which highlights the tomatoes and the olive oil. For best results, try to use mostly fresh tomatoes, and preferably the low acid kind which are sweeter. If you must add to that, it will be fine - especially if you can swing it so that at least 50% of your tomatoes are fresh. The quality of this soup is totally dependent upon the quality of your tomatoes and olive oil. Use the best stuff you can find. You won't be disappointed - I promise!
Gazpacho "El Faro"

The classic Andalusian gazpacho is found all over the region with surprisingly few variations, except for the addition of cucumber and onion — ingredients that have fallen out of favor with chefs who prefer to allow the pure taste of the tomatoes, Sherry vinegar, and olive oil to shine through. In this version, cumin lends an intriguing, subtle flavor.

Active time: 30 min Start to finish: 3 1/2 hr

Servings: Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients:

1 (2-inch-long) piece baguette, crust discarded
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar (preferably "reserva"), or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
2 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
1/2 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Andalusian hojiblanca)

Garnish: finely chopped red and green bell peppers

Preparation:

Soak bread in 1/2 cup water 1 minute, then squeeze dry, discarding soaking water.

Mash garlic to a paste with salt using a mortar and pestle (or mince and mash with a large knife). Blend garlic paste, bread, 2 tablespoons vinegar, sugar, cumin, and half of tomatoes in a food processor until tomatoes are very finely chopped. Add remaining tomatoes with motor running and, when very finely chopped, gradually add oil in a slow stream, blending until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute.

Force soup through a sieve into a bowl, pressing firmly on solids. Discard solids.

Transfer to a glass container and chill, covered, until cold, about 3 hours. Season with salt and vinegar before serving.

Kitchen note:
• Gazpacho can be chilled up to 2 days.
• I had leftover cucumbers, so I used them as a garnish. Avocados would be a terrific garnish as well.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Cucumber Season

It's cucumber season, and after eating chicken and mutton, mutton and chicken, chicken and then some mutton, cucumbers are a gift from the gods! India and Kashmir are not really a foodie's destination. We had some good meals, but overall, I'd say I get better Indian food here in San Diego than we got in India. Strange, I know, but true. One of the exceptions was when we stayed on a houseboat on Dal Lake in Kashmir.(It was hot and humid - I tried keeping the lens wiped clean, but the moisture kept coming back - sorry!) Every day, Hilal, who managed the houseboat and was our "host", asked us what we wanted to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every night, our choices were chicken or mutton, but at least he also offered veggies. The meals were home cooked, awesome, and eaten in the dining room.
After our breakfast, and before our guide showed up, we would often be told that "the tailor is here", or "if you need to change money, there is someone here". We'd go into the living room, and there would be someone who would fix our clothes, make us clothes, do the laundry, or change money for us. All in the comfort of the living room! (I can't remember ever having the bank show up in my living room before!)
But returning home meant returning to fresh vegetables, and lots of them. It also meant eating more salads. The markets were filled with cucumbers and their cool green beckoned me like a siren's song. I found myself buying them by the armload! But I'm only one person, and my cat doesn't particularly care for cucumbers. So when I found this recipe (and wonderful story!) on Katie's Thyme For Cooking I knew I had found the solution to my cucumber dilemma.

But then there's always another cucumber. And another. And oh - what's that in the back of the drawer? Another one? So when I found myself over at Bread & Cie the other day, I saw a new sandwich on their menu: Cucumber on fig and anise bread. They made it with an herbed cream cheese. I had neufchatel in the fridge, and thyme and mint growing right outside. I didn't have fig and anise bread, but I did have a fig spread and a multigrain bread. I was in! I slathered my home made herbed neufchatel on one side, the fig spread on the other and laid in the cukes. How simple is that? The play of the fig against the cukes and herbs worked well. I just might play around with this idea in a salad. Stay tuned....

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Back From India, I Think

I'm back. Sorta. When you go to the other side of the world, it takes a bit of time to readjust. It's about the clock, but it's also about life itself. I love my little home, my gardens and my cat. I love getting into my own bed at night. I love walking down the streets and looking at other people's gardens. I love the smell of clean clothes, and the feel of the cool breeze. I love the morning clouds and the afternoon sun.

And then I look at the container of Kashmiri green tea I brought back, and the green cardamom pods, (green is for tea, black is for cooking, I learned), and I'm transported back to the Himalayas. I'm whitewater rafting down the Lidder River in Pahalgham, or I'm riding a small pony up into the high meadows on a cloudy afternoon. I'm on a small, brown horse and my sister is on a larger white one. Our guide, Ishfaq is riding a third one. He is the only one of us who doesn't have a local man, holding the bridle of his horse. We pause in a vast meadow to take a few photos before climbing higher... There are gypsies who live in the mountains. They have no permanent homes. They live in tents. No computers, no hospitals, no schools. Just sheep, cows, and horses. We sat down and rested a while, listening to the wind. A Himalayan man came walking by. He lived in a small hut during the summer, several valleys away. He was walking over to where his cattle were grazing. He paused for a photo, then sat and talked to one of the men who was leading our horses. Other than the sound of their voices, we were in complete stillness. And then he got up and walked off. When I turned to look for him a couple of minutes later, he had vanished. So yes, I'm back. And I look around me in amazement at all the "stuff" we have here - our shiny cars, our movie houses, our manicured lawns and our manicured hands. I love all this stuff. And I also know that a simple cup of Kashmiri green tea with green cardamom and cinnamon will bring a smile to my lips. To make it, you put a teaspoon of tea into boiling water, break open a few green cardamom pods and add them along with a small chunk of cinnamon stick. Brew to desired strength. Strain into a teacup, add sugar, put your feet up and know that you are blessed.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Potato Salad, Fourth of July and another trip to India

It's that time of the year. I just want to go to the refrigerator, find something cool and filling, and eat it with a fork right out of the container. I'm not in the mood for fussy food. I want the basics. I'd rather eat outside on the deck than in the house. I want to be surrounded by my plants, and not care if something drops on the ground.

I think it's called summer. And I've got a case of summer going on right now. I spend all my spare time clipping the dead flowers off the roses and daisys, and then sitting down and reading. I just finished Jeanie Cheathem's autobiography "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On". An amazing life story of a woman with immense talent and determination, and what it took to create a life in music. She and her husband Jimmy have been giants in the world of jazz and blues, playing with giants such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Jimmy died last year, but Jeanie is still playing piano and singing with her Sweet Baby Blues Band.

Along with reading and gardening, summer means potato salad for me. The perfect, eat-it-out-of-the-fridge food. The perfect I'm-not-that-hungry-but-I-want-something food. Cool, filling, and a great dish to share, since it's not worth making if you're not going to make a bucket of it.

So when Mary called me and told me that our neighbor Dierdre was having a Fourth of July party at her house, I knew what I was bringing. I had made a bucket of potato salad and had enough left over for the Turkish army. This is the kind of potato salad that I learned to make from my husband. He called it German potato salad, and told me that what made it German style was the fact that you put vinegar on the potatoes while they were still warm. The main difference between this and the way he made it, was that he used to say that he didn't like "hippie style" potato salad. Translation: He didn't like the skins left on the potatoes. Well, I'm a little lazier than he was. I didn't intentionally remove the skins, but most of them did come off by themselves.
I used red potatoes, since they were on sale. I bought a red onion, and then began scouring the fridge for anything I could throw in there. A couple of scallions and some celery were left over in the drawer. Capers on the shelf. No peas. Oh well.......I had enough.

Quarter the potatoes and boil them in salted water.
Meanwhile, start chopping: scallions, celery and red onion in this case.
When the potatoes were done, I cut them into smaller pieces, threw them into a big pot, and periodically slosh on some white vinegar over the layer of potatoes. When I finished with all the potatoes, I mixed up some mayonnaise, mustard, a touch more vinegar, and a small blob of cream I had left over from something. (Who can remember?) The only reason the cream went in was because it was there. Otherwise, it's unnecessary. Mix everything together, chill and serve. It's better the next day, and probably even better the day after that.

I'm leaving on Tuesday. This trip has required more planning than I thought it would. I had to measure myself for a saree. The parents of my nephew's bride decided to make sarees for all the women who would be coming to India for this wedding. I chose peacock green for my color, and then had a neighbor help me with the measurements. So far I've packed, unpacked and re-packed twice. I'm trying to pare it down to the minimum, leaving room for something irresistible, which I'm sure I'll find in Kashmir, as well as my new saree!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Too Hot to Eat

Ah declay-ah, it is hot. Too hot to think about much of anything. I'm not interested in cooking. I'm barely interested in eating! (Now that's hot!!) It reminds me of when I was in Greece a number of years ago. We didn't stay anywhere that had air conditioning, and it was June. Imagine, if you can, being in Greece, surrounded by some of the world's best food, and not being interested in eating. Torture? I think so. The only thing I could eat was Greek salad, and for breakfast yogurt with honey. (The BEST!!) But other than that, it was just too hot.

Well, here in San Diego, I don't have air conditioning, either. I have 2 ceiling fans - one for the bedroom, one for my office. I just came back from buying a third one for the living room. Usually I don't need these fans until August, but then came global warming, and my cat and I pass out on the floor together almost every day. Salads. Cold shrimp. A glass of chilled white wine. It's all I've been able to manage.

Then I remembered that I hadn't posted about the 3rd bread I made, back when I could stand the idea of turning on the oven. I saved this bread for last, because this bread made me stop dead in my tracks. It is from Peter Reinhart's book "The Bread Baker's Apprentice", and it's his "Pain a l'Ancienne". In his first chapter "What Is It About Bread?", he tells of visiting a friend of his who lives in Paris. He informed his friend that he would bring the bread, and his friend replied "That's OK, we have a great boulangerie around the corner." But Reinhart insisted, telling him that his bread was from Poilaine, a master bread baker.

When Reinhart arrived, he noticed that there was already a baguette on the counter, next to the pot of boef bourguignon his friend had made. They all sat down and decided to compare the 2 breads. They started first with the loaf from the local boulangerie, which Reinhart described as "pleasant". Next, they tore into the bread Reinhart brought. The first thing Reinhart noticed was that the holes were larger than the typical baguette. It was also creamier, not as white. I'll let him describe the rest of the scene:

"Michael chewed off a bite, the crackle of crust slightly cracklier than the local bread's. I watched his face as he chewed, the realization that there was another level, never experienced even here in the baguette center of the universe, that was now entering his orbit. He visibly displayed a series of emotions on his face, swinging from smiling sublimity to furrowed anger, than back the other way. He was on a pendulum ride as the room grew silent and all attention focused gravitationally on him, getting weightier by the second. In my memory I see the lights getting dimmer, with a spotlight on Michael's face, but I know this is just a trick of my own mind. But what did happen was this: He slowly picked up his local baguette and looked at it, then looked a the a l'ancienne baguette on the table, then back to the one in his clenched hand. As if in slow motion, he threw the local loaf against the wall, where it smashed and fell to the floor. His wife said sharply, "Michael!"
Michael turned to me and said, 'You've ruined me. Are you happy?'
'Yes, actually. I am happy,' I said.
Then we all smiled and enjoyed dinner."

Until I made this bread, I thought that was a charming, if exaggerated story. Now I know better. I've used this dough to make pizza (sensational!) as well as to make this bread. I have no idea how Reinhart get's his loaves to form baguettes. The best I could do was to make ciabattas - best served with a really good olive oil.

Makes 6 baguettes, 6-8 pizzas, or one 17x12 inch focaccia

6C (27 oz) unbleached bread flour
2 1/4 tsp (.56 oz) salt
1 3/4 tsp (.19 oz) instant yeast
2 1/4C plus 2 TBS to 3 C (19-24 oz) water, ice cold

semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting.

1. Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and 19 oz of water in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix for 2 minutes on low speed. Switch to the dough hook and mix for 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed. The dough should be sticky on the bottom of the bowl but it should release from the sides of the bowl. If not, sprinkle in a small amount of flour until this occurs (or dribble in water if the dough seems to stiff and clears the bottom as well as the sides of the bowl). Lightly oil a large bowl and immediately transfer the dough with a spatula or bowl scraper dipped in water into the bowl. Mist the dop of the dough with spray oil and cover bowl with plastic wrap.

2. Immediately place the bowl in the refrigerator and retard overnight.

3. the next day, check the dough to see if it has risen
in the refrigerator. It will probably be partially risen but not doubled in size (the amount of rise will depend on how cold the refrigerator is and how often the door was opened). Leave the bowl of dough out at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours (or longer if necessary) to allow the dough to wake up, lose its chill and continue fermenting.

4. When the dough has doubled from its original prerefrigerated size, liberally sprinkle the counter with bread flour (about 1/2 cup). Gently transfer the dough to the floured countre with a plastic dough scraper that has been dipped in cold water, dipping your hands as well to keep the dough from sticking to you. Try to degas the dough as little as possible as you transfer it. If the dough is very wet, sprinkle more flour over the top as well as under it. Dry your hands thoroughly and then dip them in flour. Roll the dough gently in the sprinkled flour to coat it thoroughly, simultaneously stretching it into an oblong about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. If it is too sticky to handle, continue sprinkling flour over it. Dip a metal pastry scraper into cool water to keep it from sticking to the dough and cut the dough in half width-wise with the pastry scraper by pressing it down through the dough until it severs it, then dipping it again in the water and repeating this action until you have cut down the full length of the dough. (Do not use the blade as a saw, use it as a pincer, pinching the dough cleanly with each cut). Let the dough relax for 5 minutes.

5. Prepare the oven for hearth baking, making sure to have an empty steam pan in place, and a pizza stone if you have one on a shelf. Preheat the oven to 500 degreesF (or 550 if your oven goes that high). Cover the back of two 17x12" sheet pans with baking parchment and dust with semolina flour or cornmeal.

6. Shape the dough by cutting each half into 3 strips. Flour your hands and carefully lift one of the dough strips and transfer it to the back of the pan, gently pulling it to the width of the pan (or to the length of your baking stone). Score the dough strips, slashing the tops with 3 diagonal cuts. Because the dough is sticky, you might have to dip the razor blade or serrated knife in water between each cut. You may also omit the cuts if the dough is not cooperating.

7. Take 1 pan to the preheated oven and carefully slide the dough, parchment and all, onto the baking stone. Or bake directly on the sheet pan. Make sure the pieces aren't touching. Pour 1 C of hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals. After the final spray, lower the oven setting to 475 degreesF and continue baking. Meanwhile, dust the other pan of strips with flour, mist with spray oil, and slip into a food-grade plastic bag or cover with a towel or plastic wrap. If you don't plan to bake these strips within 1 hour, refrigerate the pan and bake later or the next day. If you'd like to bake them as rustic, ciabatta-style breads, leave them at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours and then bake. As the loaves proof, they will resemble and perform like ciabatta.

8. The bread should begin to turn golden brown within 8 or 9 minutes. If the loaves are baking unevenly at this point, rotate them 180 degrees. Continue baking 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the bread is a rich golden brown and the internal temperature registers at least 205 degrees.

9. Transfer the hot breads to a cooling rack. They should feel very light, almost airy, and will cool in about 20 minutes. While these are cooling, you can bake the remaining loaves, remembering to remove the parchment from the oven and turn the oven up to 500 degrees F or higher before baking the second round.