Thursday, May 31, 2007

New Mexico dreamin'

Sorry for the silence, but I flew out of town for a long holiday weekend. And when you've only got dial-up within a reasonable distance from home, well....things like blog posting tend to suffer.

For some people a holiday is a weekend getaway to the beach. For me, it's New Mexico. When I need to "get outta Dodge", I head for my beloved mountains in New Mexico. Imagine my delight when I found that my wild roses were in bloom, as well as the plants I purchased last fall at a local nursery!This is the view from my front door to the courtyard. The portal keeps the heavy sun out in the summer....The tree is on it's last legs, unfortunately, having had a heavy infestation of mistletoe. But it's still alive, so I will let it pass away naturally. Then it will become firewood.
But in the meantime....Yellow roses, yellow irises, pink and white flowers, and the air smells better than perfume. A turquoise sky in the day, and the moon so close at night you can practically hear it spin...

I spent my time in New Mexico painting the ceiling in the living room. (No pictures of that till it's done!) The living room tends to be a bit dark - especially the ceiling - from years and years of using a fireplace. It's amazing what a coat of white paint can do to brighten a room! I've kept the log beams (vigas) natural wood and am painting the boards between them.

And in between climbing up and down a small step stool (low ceilings) and climbing on furniture to paint around light fixtures, I ate chili. Enchiladas, for the most part. Chicken enchiladas in Santa Fe, a chicken enchilada for dinner at a local restaurant called Kokopelli's the night I got there, and one bean and chicken burrito with a margarita for lunch with a friend on Memorial Day.

And then it was back to painting.....

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Salmon Encore

I seem to be stuck on a theme here. Salmon, salmon and more salmon. What is it about this orange fleshed fish that makes it so addictive? For me, eating is first and foremost about the senses, and this fish has them all. The color draws me in like those of a Gaugin painting. Odd that a fish of the cold northern waters should be reminiscent of the tropical scenes of a French painter, but who am I to argue with color? The flavor can stand on its own, unadorned except for a squeeze of lemon. Or you can dress it up in something more sophisticated - the satiny texture of a sauce dotted with dill, for instance. Or something a little more rustic, such as the rub I wrote about last time.

But here's the thing: If you're cooking for one, as I often am, there's always that leftover portion. Now, some people feel that fish will not withstand even a day in the fridge. I find that if wrapped well, fish can stand up to 3 days in the fridge with little or no degrading of flavor. Of course, this pre-supposes that you've started with the very freshest fish.

In my clinic, which I share with others, we have a rule that we cannot heat fish in the microwave for lunch. It makes the room smell like fish, and there will be patients who will be using that room when we're done with lunch. So the obvious answer here is salmon salad. I adore salads, especially when the weather is warm. I have gone in two different directions with my salads - one direction is to throw everything but the proverbial kitchen sink in it, and the other is to keep it simple. I like both approaches, but this time I chose the simplicity, if for no other reason than to allow the salmon to take center stage again. The star of the show shouldn't have to worry if she's being upstaged by a bit player, should she?
For this salad, I decided to keep the Northwest theme going. I was in Trader Joe's and saw a box of blueberries. It winked at me. No, really, I swear it winked at me! What was I to do? I looked at those deep blue berries and thought how beautiful they'd look next to my salmon. I was building my palette. I had been whittling away at a jicama for a couple of days, and decided that a bag of baby spring mix salad would provide the perfect, dark purple and green background for this painting.
For the dressing, I kept it simple.....Some olive oil, a touch of sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.

I decided that the salad needed a side dish -- something thicker and denser. So I picked up some garlic hummus and those wonderful pita chips - this time just toasted with some sesame seeds. Yes, this was a meal which was made mostly with stuff I bought at TJs. The salmon was my only addition. But you know what? Sometimes, that's all this girl wants.
For more health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture

For a place to share what natural remedies work for you, visit Second Opinion

Monday, May 14, 2007

Still Life With Salmon

I have taken to eating outside again. I've cleaned off the little table, and I bring out my book (The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy), and sit and read while I eat. I have a hummingbird that zips over to say hello before dashing off to his next appointment. This is also the season when the crows convene a summit in the eucalyptus tree next to my neighbor's house. Occasionally a red shouldered hawk will try to muscle his way in, but the crows make a great fuss over chasing him away. And after the commotion is over, there's the sweet sound of finches and warblers filling the air.

Sometime last week I noticed that I had run out of gas for my barbeque. Somehow, that item on the "to do" list actually got done, so I was ready when the urge for salmon struck. Salmon is one of those foods that just fits with so many moods. I love it off the grill. And I love the salad I create the next day. And if there's anything left over, there's always pasta - a perfect starting point for any kind of leftovers. I managed to find some wild caught salmon - always an extra treat!

Terry B over at Blue Kitchen created a beautiful, springtime sauce for salmon last Wednesday. I bought the salmon thinking I was going to try it, but somehow my taste buds were asking me to do a rub for the fish instead. So Terry's beautiful sauce will have to wait until next time.

I love the simplicity of putting a bunch of dry ingredients into a bowl, mixing them up and rubbing them on meat, poultry or fish. I have a friend who lives in Oregon, right on the banks of the Rogue River. He catches salmon in his back yard! One time when I was visiting him and his family, he made a salmon that practically brought tears of joy to my eyes. It was simple, it was flavorful, and of course, it was very, very fresh. I asked him for his recipe and he just laughed. He didn't really have one, of course. He told me he just put some brown sugar, red chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, and salt together and rubbed it on the fish.
I've been using that basic recipe ever since. The sugar cuts the heat of the chili, so the hotter the chili, the more sugar you'll need. Other than that, it's up to you. The proportions were never given to me, so it's really a matter of personal taste.

For more health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share what you've learned about herbs, vitamins, or any other natural remedy, visit Second Opinion

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Butternut Squash Gratin, and further thoughts on vegetarian meals

Have you ever gotten a craving for a particular ingredient, and then found yourself putting it in everything? Sometimes it's a spice - like nutmeg or paprika - and you begin to wonder what that sauce would taste like with just a dash of it. Sometimes it's a nut or a seed, and suddenly everything you cook has to have sesame seeds or almonds in it.

Now, in the alternative medicine community, many would say that's because your body is craving something that's in that ingredient. Maybe that's true, but I don't buy it. If, for instance, my body was craving iron, there are many sources of it in the food world. The kind that's found in fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts is not as easily absorbed as the kind that's found in meat, for instance. So wouldn't it stand to reason, then, that if my body was craving iron, I'd be standing in front of the meat counter, hungrily eyeing a rib-eye? After all, if my body needed iron, wouldn't it want the most it could get, as easily as it could get it, and in the highest quantity it could get it? But that's not where you'll find me these days. You'll find me, of course, in the produce section. Lovingly selecting the freshest, greenest veggies, and wishing I had more mouths to feed so that I could buy more produce and use it before it goes bad.

You see the problem.

For me lately it's been spinach that's been seducing me. I've been putting it in my scrambled eggs. I've been making fritatas because I had to use some more. Salads, of course. And most recently, a winter squash gratin from one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks, "The Greens Cook Book", by Deborah Madison with Edward Espe Brown. Yes, spinach is a source of iron, as well as other nutrients. But for me it has to do with it's taste. There's something about that dark green flavor, with a slighty earthy, maybe even metallic edge that has me buying it by the bucket load. I'm sure this will pass, but for now I'm delighted to adulterate any recipe I come across with the addition of spinach.

My renewed interest in vegetarian meals which followed on the heels of my India trip, hasn't abated. In fact, it's been a source of creative inspiration to me. (Along with my project of mortaring the stones in my front yard and inlaying shells and stones in a kooky "mosaic" sort of way. But that's another story....) It's like looking for new ways to enjoy old friends. I'm delighted when I hit on something that's easy and fresh tasting, while at the same time being filling. Since I've decided to eat vegetarian meals at least half the time (and staying pretty low on the food chain the rest of the time), I need food that will satisfy me and not leave me craving snacks all day long.

Enter the gratin.
This dish has the potential for a great deal of depth. When I made this, I didn't have any gas for my grill, or I would have grilled the tomatoes first. There's that certain something that happens with grilled veggies - the intrigue of a smokey flavor that murmurs something of the past without defining it. Without that touch, this dish had a decidedly fresh, American flavor. An innocent, guileless look with surprisingly more to it than the list of ingredients would suggest. But then again, who goes by a list of ingredients? This is a dish which can withstand Yankee ingenuity - and spinach.
Winter Squash Gratin

2 TBS olive oil
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp thyme or 4 to 6 thyme branches
1 bay leaf
1/2 C dry white wine
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or 1/2 tsp paprika
1 LB tomatoes, fresh or canned, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
sugar, if necessary

1 winter squash, weighing 2 1/2 to 3 LBS
oil for frying
4 oz Fontina or Gruyere cheese, sliced
Fresh herbs: pasley or marjoram, thyme, finely chopped

Heat the olive oil and add the onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and a little salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft; then add the wine and let it reduce by half. Add the cayenne or paprika and the tomatoes. Cook slowly for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick. Taste, add a pinch of sugar if the tomatoes are tart, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare the squash. Cut it open, scoop out the seeds and strings, and then, with the flat cut surface resting on the counter, shave off the skin. (Butternut squash can be easily peeled with a vegetable peeler before it is cut in half.)

Slice the peeled squash into large pieces about 3 inches long and 1/4 inch thick. Heat enough oil to generously coat the bottom of a large skillet, and fry the squash on both sides, so that is is browned and just tender. Remove it to some toweling to drain; then season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

(At this point, you can add the spinach to the tomato sauce. Turn off the heat and press it down until it's covered by the thick sauce. The heat from the sauce will cook it, in addition to it's trip to the oven.)

Preheat the oven to 375 F. To form the gratin, put a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce on the bottom of individual gratin dishes, or us it all to cover the bottom of one large dish. Lay the squash on top in overlapping layers with slices of the cheese interspersed between the layers. Bake until the cheese is melted and the gratin is hot, about 15 minutes, and serve with the fresh herbs scattered over the surface.

And oh, by the way, this is why I haven't posted in a while. I've been playing in the mud!!!

For more health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture.
For a place to share what works for you regarding vitamins, herbs or natural remedies, visit Second Opinion