Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Clean Out The Fridge Pasta

It's been a crazy time. We've been searching for a new receptionist at the clinic, and I seem to be the most computer savvy of the group. Scary, that. But anyway, it falls to me to put the ad in craigslist. A simple part time receptionist job, paying a mere $10 per hour, and I got over 200 responses the first day. After plowing through the first 30 resumes, everyone began to sound alike - all young and enthusiastic and certain that they had what it takes to contribute to our office. "Attention to detail" was often followed by a misspelling. Work history of a month here, a couple of months there.

I began forwarding the ones that sounded like that had at least something going for them to one of my colleagues. I couldn't differentiate on that level - I was drowning in "relevant skills - MS Office, venipuncture (? - I'm an ACUPUNCTURIST!), great ability to communicate, etc." I began paying attention to people who had a background in the arts - at least their resumes were different. And we actually thought we had found someone - a graphic artist with marketing background. But she suddenly realized that she shared a car with her partner and so wound up declining the job.

There is a possibility that we might have found someone. I don't want to get too enthusiastic about this, but one must have hope.

The kitchen is so much easier. Especially before you go away on vacation. You boil some pasta and make a sauce out of whatever leftovers you've got. In this case it was onion, tomato, eggplant and a bit of red pepper. Of course garlic was in there, but I don't consider it to be a leftover. It's like onion or salt - a staple.

I drive to New Mexico starting tomorrow. I decided to take an extra day and go to White Sands outside of Alamogordo. Never been there before, and from what I can tell, it seems like it would be a photographer's heaven. I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, enjoy this Memorial Day weekend. Drive defensively and have fun!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Old World Easter Eggs in San Diego

I live in the best neighborhood. Really - I do! I've never lived anywhere else where I've had such an interesting, diverse and friendly group of people surrounding me. At least, none that I knew. I lived in Manhattan for many years, but when you live in Manhattan, you don't know your neighbors. You might recognize them in the elevator, but you don't invite them over for dinner. Or for coloring Easter eggs.

One of our neighbors has a house here and another one in Colorado. She goes back and forth between the two places, and right now she's here. But she'll be leaving in about a week, so her neighbor invited a group of us over for a drink and to say so long to Patty, our "migratory bird", as she is now being called. As far as we all knew, it was going to be an evening of wine and nibblies. That's it.

But when we arrived, we discovered that our hostess had a more interesting evening planned for us. She's originally from Switzerland, and came to San Diego via Alexandria, Egypt, where she lived for many years. Like all people who tear up roots and relocate elsewhere in the world, she brought certain traditions with her, and one of them was her way of coloring Easter eggs.

We sat around the table in her kitchen, and before us was a bowl of water, in which were all sorts of leaves from around her yard. There were at least 3 dozen fresh eggs for us to use, and a pile of cut up old stockings. Stockings! Remember those? Seems there's a reason not to throw them away - they're useful for all sorts of things, including coloring Easter eggs.

The method is simple. You take a wet leaf and lay it on an egg. Keep any stiff stems on the side away from the egg, and let the wet leaves touch the egg. Use your fingers to spread the leaves out, making sure that the individual elements are separate. When you are satisfied, pick up a piece of stocking, which has been cut in a square, stretch it out and lay it over your egg, pulling the ends together. You will now have an egg, tightly wrapped in a piece of stocking. You may release a corner of the stocking if you wish to re-adjust a leaf, which might have slipped out of place in this process.

When you are satisfied, pull that corner of the stocking back, twist the stocking ends, wrap a thread around the twist and knot it to secure the stocking. The tighter the stocking is wrapped, the less likely it is that the die will get under the leaf. Cut off any extra stocking and thread ends, so that you will have only a very short piece of stocking left and just the tiniest snippet of thread. You will now have an egg, with a leaf (or leaves) stuck to it's side, wrapped tightly in a piece of stocking which has been twisted tightly and secured with thread.

When you've done as many of these as you'd care to do, it's time to die them. The three eggs on the left of the photos up above - the ones that are a kind of reddish brownish color, are died with onion skins. "They hate me in Henry's", our hostess told us. "I just gathered the skins and didn't buy the onions." The other two colors are from natural dies that she brought back from Switzerland. The bright pink color is from something called Cochinille (I have no idea of the spelling) - which is a bug! The dark brown is from a kind of wood. I'm sure you can experiment with local plants.

Eggs were died for at least 30 minutes, and possibly more. After the second glass of wine, no one was counting. We each left with our "nests", and stronger ties to each other as neighbors.

And then I brought them home.........
Does anyone know how to say "This is not a toy" in cat?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Salad days

Remember those currants from the last post? I fell in love with them. Addicted, you might say. Which is funny, because I have no reason to feel addicted to currants.....I mean, why not just plain raisins? But when you add cinnamon and sugar and let them soak? Well, it definitely kicks those puppies up a notch.

So what if salad seems to be all I'm eating these days? (It's not, but it seems to be the only thing I bother to photograph and write about.) We're still having some gloomy weather here, but I'm in one of those "I must have greens!" moods, so salad works for me.......endless variety of ingredients, wonderful contrasts of flavors, all brightened by a zippy vinagrette. Besides, when you're eating by yourself, you don't even have to take it out of the bowl. How's that for easy clean-up?

So this time I marinated some chicken and cooked it on the grill. Someone had given me her home-made guava syrup, to which I added a little soy and some red chili to make a quick marinade. If you don't happen to have a friend who hands you this lovely gift, you can find it at Amazon. Click here for the link.

The rest was easy - assorted baby greens, a small, heirloom tomato, currants, cukes - whatever you've got. The currants worked well with the zesty chicken on the one hand, and a cool cucumber on the other. My dressing was the same as the last post.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Warm enough for salad...

We finally dried out. It was beginning to feel like Portland around here, with rain, rain, and more rain. Don't get me wrong - my garden was loving it, and I was loving not having to do the work of watering. But it was beginning to wear on me, especially since southern Californians do not know how to drive in bad weather. It was scary out there, trying to get to work every day when people are roaring down the freeway, texting or whatever they're doing other than paying attention, and the roads are wet.

So when the sun came back this past week, it felt good, even if the temperatures stayed cool until 3 days ago. Cool was fine with me, and it helped everyone's spirits.
I was able to get outside and yank out a ton of weeds from my garden, as well as get in some walks. The sunsets have been pretty spectacular with the clouds we had....
And everyone migrates to the beach to watch the show.....
With the cool temperatures, winter squash is still an attractive option, but with the sun out and the temperature inching upward, so is a salad. So I was delighted to find a recipe in Food and Wine which combined the two. Needless to say, I tinkered.......

Ginger Roasted Winter Squash


  1. 1/2 cup water
  2. 1/4 cup sugar
  3. 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  4. 1 cinnamon stick
  5. 1/4 cup dried currants
  6. 2 1/2 pounds thick-fleshed sugar pumpkin or acorn squash, halved and seeded - I used butternut
  7. 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  8. Coarse sea salt and ground pepper
  9. One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  10. 2 tablespoons crème fraîche - And if you leave this off, no one will miss it and the fat content will be lowered.


  1. Preheat the oven to 325. In a small saucepan, combine the water with the sugar, vinegar and cinnamon and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the currants and simmer for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat.
  2. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Rub the squash with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Using a fine grater, grate the ginger over the cut sides of the squash and rub it into the flesh.
  3. Transfer the squash to the prepared baking sheet, cut side down, and roast for about 15 minutes, until the squash starts to soften. Turn the squash cut side up and roast for about 17 minutes longer, until tender; transfer to a work surface and let cool slightly.
  4. Increase the oven temperature to 425. Cut the squash into 1 1/2-inch-thick wedges. Lightly rub the foil with oil and arrange the squash on the baking sheet; roast for about 25 minutes, turning once halfway through, until golden and crisp along the edges.
  5. Arrange the squash on a platter. Discard the cinnamon stick from the currants and add the currants to the squash. Drizzle with the pickling liquid and crème fraîche and serve.


One Serving 226 cal, 7 gm fat, 2.3 gm sat fat, 46 gm carb, 5 gm fiber.

I brought this to a dinner at the neighbors. They were still talking about it the next week!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Greetings from cyberspace

It's been forever, I know. Don't know how that happens, other than birthdays and visitors and presentations and a trip to Chicago in the winter - of course - and then there's the matter of my neighbor. He's learned to cook, you see, and so he's always inviting me to join them for dinner. "Hey, I just made some Chinese style spare ribs!" Or "I'm making a chicken stir fry - wanna join us when you get back from work?" And then the next thing I know I look up and it's March.

Truth is, I've been taking lots of walks, and sometimes even taking my camera. I love to traverse Balboa Park and check out what's blooming in the canyons.
There are these wonderful flowers which look like they're in the pea family...
And, of course, there are the beautiful grasses...........
As well as the man-made structures.........
And yes, I've even been eating. Nothing fancy these days, though I did make some amazing French Toast with a dash of orange oil and some grated orange peel mixed in with the eggs...
And one night I concocted an Israeli couscous dish with some sweet potato, cranberries, onions, some cinnamon and slivered almonds. Very Moroccan, I thought. Very tasty.
And this evening I had friends over for dinner. I've been on a chicken craze recently, perhaps because I haven't eaten any in a while. So this evening I made some chicken coconut soup, or tom kha gai. I've made this before and I've always loved it. I made my own stock using both water as well as organic chicken broth, so it was rich. After removing the chicken and saving the meat, I added coconut milk, a chunk of galangal, some kaffir lime leaves and fish sauce, as well as some lemon grass, which I scored from my neighbor who had bought some frozen from our local Vietnamese supermarket. When the whole thing came to a boil, I turned it down, simmered it and added some sugar and crushed about 3 of those tiny green chilis you get in Asian supermarkets. Always a crowd pleaser, even with one of my friends who doesn't ordinarily like soup.

Also made some chicken curry, and because my friends brought their 5 year old son, I made some spaghetti with a red sauce.

But did I have time to photograph our food before we ate it? No. And that has been part of my problem of late. Either I'm eating at the neighbors house or I don't have time to photograph what I just made. Which is why I've dragged my heals on this blog. But somehow, with the time shift, I feel that I can pack more into a day, including some photography at the end of the day. It's no longer dark when I leave my clinic. Renewal is in the air........

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Focaccia - an old fashioned miracle

I love everything about the kitchen - except for cleaning it, of course. But I love the way my kitchen looks. I love the smells that emerge from it when I'm cooking. I love the feeling I get when I walk into it to prepare food - the beginning of an adventure! I love sharing the food I make with others, and I love the food other people share with me. The sharing of our food is the most basic of all activities. It's what makes us companions - those who literally break bread together.

I think of myself as more of a cook than a baker, except when it comes to bread. I'm crazy about bread! But when it comes to baking, I feel fairly restricted. In other words, I tend to follow the recipe. With cooking, I'll throw in whatever strikes my fancy, but with baking, I don't trust myself.

I have a neighbor who has taken it upon himself to learn to bake bread. He's not someone I would have thought of as a baker - he's a real estate entrepreneur. He can grill meat and veggies, but that's usually about it. However, recently he's decided that it's time to learn a thing or two about baking. Not knowing anything about the science of baking, he felt no restrictions whatsoever, and so he just dove in.

One day he came up to my house and we decided to bake focaccia together. He had made a number of them which he had shared with me, and while they tasted great, they all came out rather flat. I suspected that he wasn't letting the dough rise enough. I asked him to bake the bread, and I'd be his assistant. "Do you have yeast?" I gave him a packet. He heated a cup of water, poured it into a large bowl and added the yeast and a tablespoon of sugar. We sat down to enjoy a cup of tea together.

After about 20 minutes he said "I usually start out with two cups of flour. Do you have a regular cup?" I gave him a measuring cup. He looked at it funny and asked "Don't you have a regular cup?" "You can use that - it's OK".

He put flour into it, but didn't fill it. He dumped it into the yeast mixture and began mixing it with his hands. It was too sticky, so he added more flour. And a little more. "I'll need a place to knead this." I cleaned off the island. "Put a bunch of flour on there." As he began to knead, I kept sprinkling more flour on the island so it wouldn't stick. When it finally got to the right consistency, we cleaned the bowl, sprayed it with oil, put the dough in, then sprayed the top of it and covered it with a towel. "I like to let it rise in the microwave." But my micro wasn't big enough, so I put some hot water in a pan, turned on the oven light, and we put it in there.

He left to do a few errands saying "I'll be back in about 50 minutes or so." About an hour later, I pulled the dough out. It had risen to a light, fluffy cloud. I took it out and flattened it down, adding cheese to the top and folding it over like an envelope. I kept doing this until I had what must have been at least a cup and a half of cheese in there -- maybe even a cup and three quarters. All I know is that by the time I had incorporated all the cheese, it kept popping out the sides. I repeated the spray and cover process and put it back into the oven, with some more hot water.

He came back and asked about it. When I told him what I had done, he said he'd be back in a half an hour. About 40 minutes later I took it out, spread it onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and dimpled it. As I was pouring the oil over the top, he came in with a jar of jalapenos. I didn't have any parmesan to sprinkle over the top, so we had to make do with what we had - some sea salt. I turned the oven on and let the dough rise as the oven was heating up.

This must have been more time than he was used to letting the dough rise, because it came out beautifully - puffy and cheesy, with the bite of jalapeno on top.
About 5 days later I got a phone call at work.

"I'm feeling guilty," he said.


"Because I just made this pizza from that focaccia bread recipe. Remember how we talked about it being right to use as pizza dough? Well, it turned out great. I feel I should share it with you."

"Don't feel guilty, I'll be leaving work in about 20 minutes. I'll come right home."

"Come on over right away - I don't want it to get too cold."

I'm sorry, but I couldn't photograph it first. I had to eat some. He had topped it with artichoke hearts, olives, peppers, and I don't remember what else - if anything. I was too busy devouring it. At least I got this shot before we polished it off.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Farewell, 2010

A trip to New Mexico the week before Christmas obliterated all thoughts of blog posting, of work, of being productive in any way. I arrived as I have so many times before - tired, hungry, and in need of some serious rest. I had only two things on my agenda: the annual solstice party I've attended for over 25 years with my close friends, and a Christmas eve party with a group of people I've known for almost as long. The rest was unimportant.

The weather cooperated. It was cloudy for much of the time -- unusual for New Mexico at any time of the year. The winds were ferocious. One day, we had snow flurries, which prompted me to build a fire in the kiva fireplace in the living room. I sat in front of it all day and read "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" by Betty Smith. I've known about that book all my life, and if they made a film of it, I probably saw it. But this was the first time I read it, and what a rich and rewarding read it is. It's the kind of writing we don't see much of anymore - subtle and nuanced, rich in it's descriptions, and a story where not much "happens". No shootings, no drug busts, no gangs, no jet setting around the world - just life as it was lived in the early part of the 20th century in Brooklyn.

So I end 2010 with a wish for all of us: That 2011 brings us all the food we'd care to have on our tables, and enough left over to donate to those less fortunate. All the clothing we need to keep us warm in the winter, with enough left over to give to those who have less. And the warmth of family and friends to light our hearts for the entire year, no matter what the weather. May you all have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.