Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Cure

The Cure: Washington's Islands in January

It isn't just the body that gets thick and soft after Christmas. My soul starts to feel sludgy. Maybe it is just old fashioned cabin fever. It affects me every year just a few weeks after the lights come down and baby Jesus goes back into the box until next December.

The doldrums can only be swept away with the winds of an island storm. I have a need to take a wild winter ride on one of the Washington State Ferries and walk the rocky beaches of Whidbey or San Juan. In a pinch the sandy beach of Point No Point will cure what ails me. What I desire is the sound of waves and wind.

Winter sea birds, in all their flirtatious glory, assure my old eyes that the year is again new, more than the midnight fire-works that shot from the Space Needle on New Years. The Scoters with their neon beaks are sure to come to one of the sea ponds at Keystone or near the Ferry docks. Harlequins will be in the protected waters of Cattle Point. Pied Grebes will surely be found at Pass Lake. Old acquaintance ner' forgot.

Beef and mushroom soup, whole grain popovers, a glass of deep red, all to warm the little trailer. Shelter for body and soul while experiencing the storm. A game of Skip Bo, we never play at home but enjoy it after dinner with a plate of cheese, seedy flat bread and slices of the last of the pears. Bliss.

One of the joys of an island storm is coming out the next morning and finding damage done to the trees. Our God has never let us, or anyone near us, be hurt by falling limbs. Nor from storm surge that likes to sweep in beyond her boundary. Who doesn't belong so far up past the break water, us or the sea? It is always a tossup.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter Lavender on the Road

A Pelindaba challenge.

Wouldn't you think that what would stand out in my mind would be memories of the sea reclaiming the icy sand or ocean fog so thick on the gray shore that my eyes detect the incoming waves only moments before my feet. The saving grace of bone chilling Pacific fog is that it cannot survive before the wind. The air must be perfectly still for the ocean mist to gather on shore. There is no wind to chill us. Even so, the thick mist soaks every strand of hair right to the scalp. It saturates fabric. Long before my feet find the hard sand of the tide, my socks have already wicked in the wet of the air.

Generally I warm up with I walk. Given enough distance I generate internal heat that starts a routine of pulling off gloves, unzipping jackets and loosening my scarf to release the heat. I never get to that point on a north-west winter beach. There comes a point when I start feeling grateful that God is not irritated with me for praying that I will not miss the path back to our trailer with its compact comforts when there are bigger issues calling out for His aid.

Before entering the little camping trailer, everything that came in contact with the sand has to be removed, shoes, jeans, and all that clings to puppy paws. The only way to get the ice cold wet out of my hair is to wash it out. My hair is soaked anyway. The hot water won't last a long time, so no long showers. Relaxation from the warmth of that little shower and I can shut it off for a little while, finding myself in the warm steam with a lavender soap. The scent of the speckled bar lathering in my hands brings my mind back to a hot summer day on a sloped lavender garden, fragrant in the afternoon heat, a pair of eagles flirting above the pond that defines the bottom of the hill. The chill brings me back, so I flip the hot water back on, attempting to absorb as much heat as possible. Before toweling off, I slather a puddle of lavender oil on my wet skin, blotting it with the water. It leaves me feeling soft and fragrant. The sensual scent should make me feel relaxed and sleepy but instead I am energized the way a cat seems to be after a slow stretch. Alive and ready to pounce on the moment.

Darkness comes early to a northwest winter night. Candles are the right light for early night. Our little trailer is full of homespun lavender prizes. The candles gently scent the tiny home with San Juan lavender. The soup on the burner was seasoned with Pelindaba lavender pepper. The soft dough for whole wheat fluffy dumplings that I am about to drop into the bubbling cauldron has been generously flavored from the herbs d'Provence tin. After the dishes have been put away, and everything stashed back in its place, after the candles have been snuffed out, and the air is fragrant with the scent of summer, we tuck deeply in the thick quilt and listen to the storm. The wind is asserting herself and tonight, for as long as we can keep our eyes open, we will see the stars. Security in the arms of the only one whose love I trust. I wonder, does the feeling of safety in the storm come from a full belly and loving arms? Or is it the angels who stand guard against the storm at the bidding of God, perfumed with the sleepy smell of little purple buds.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I made Risotto (my family lived to tell)

How could Perla have been sitting on my shelf all this time and I didn't know about making Risotto?

The thing is I am sure that some of my vegetarian cookbooks had risotto recipes but I was that sure that I did not like white rice. Risotto is NOTHING like the rice that comes with Chinese takeout. Loaded with cream, butter and cheese, so it isn't a happy artery dish. But what it does for the mouth, my oh my.

I wouldn't have made it tonight except that I needed something to go on the platter beside Perla's Chicken with Broccoli. Risotto seasoned with lemon juice was recommended. What a pretty platter that made! Chicken and broccoli on a bed of creamy goodness. And then there was dessert.

A sweet little chocolate thing called, Demel's Chocolate Torte. It was almost the same as the Chocolate Almond Pave except that there were three times as many eggs and it was actually baked. Not really as wonderful as the Pave, but the Pave was so over the top incredible that I can safely say that the Torte is highly recommended. I still think that I'll choose the Pave with strawberries for Valentine's Day.

You do know that there are only 32 days and 2 hours 12 minutes until Valentine's Day. But, who's counting?

Perla does Spaghetti

In March I will be 54 years old. As a child in my mother's kitchen, one of the very first dishes that I ever attempted was spaghetti. It was a cheese layered casserole thick with Mozzarella and a sauce that simmered with fine ground herbs from little tins that were popular back then. As a wife and mother I have continued to simmer sauces, doll up jarred sauces, and even keep an herb garden for the best possible sauce flavor. I have tried spaghetti with all kinds of added vegetables, with and without onions, with garlic salt and different amounts of fresh garlic. I've made it with fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes and tomato sauce and paste. In a pinch I once built a sauce from condensed tomato soup. There is hardly a pasta shape that I have not tried at some time, nor a pasta grain, be it rice, corn, whole wheat, semolina and even buckwheat ramin once. I've made it with ground meats simmered in the sauce and with meatballs that were added after the sauce was made. I have tested all sorts of vegan sauces. I've cooked it in different kitchens, at the beach over a wood fire, in campgrounds on a Coleman stove, deep in the forest from a tomato leather I had made at home that was reconstituted with water from a flowing brook on a tiny blow torch of a stove that was stashed in my back-pack. And lately, in my pretty trailer. When Ray bought me a shiny new set of cookware, the set I chose won out over the others because of a pot that seemed perfect for simmering sauce. After nearly 40 years of spaghetti I did not think there were any surprises left.

There was Perla, sitting neglected on my shelf all these years.

Ray and I went grocery shopping last night. After everything was put away I thought I would make something simple, something I could do by rote, something I don't have to plan for because I always have ingredients in the pantry. Just as I was about to chop into an onion, with my knife in the air like Abraham must have been over Isaac, I wondered, "Does Perla make Spaghetti?"

Does she ever! All kinds of spaghetti. One day soon I will try her Spaghettini in Anchovy and Mint Sauce and will do so with an adventurous attitude. But last night I decided to try the more familiar sounding Spaghettini in Sauce Basquaise.

I did end up being forced into a few changes but I think I stuck to the spirit of her sauce. My Italian sausage was made from chicken instead of pork. I only keep fresh basil in the summer and fall when the days are long enough to keep her happy. And I have tried to like zucchini but I just do not, so I used sliced mushrooms instead of chopped zucchini.

There isn't an onion in Sauce Basquaise. The sausage is cooked in olive oil with hot pepper flakes (what is it that Lydia calls that? Peppercini?) Once the sausage is nicely browned on all sides it is removed from the pan to cool down for slicing. Meanwhile, back at the pan, the mushrooms are fried in the spiced oil with fresh parsley and garlic. Three roasted and chopped peppers are added once the mushrooms have a golden glow. That was new for me. In all my spaghetti making years I have often added peppers to the sauce, but I have never roasted them first. After a couple of minute's sautéing with added herbs, chopped tomatoes are added. About the herbs, when I am out of fresh basil, I like to add crushed fennel seed. It isn't quite the same as bright fresh basil, but it does add a lovely anise flavor to my sauce that dried basil does not deliver.

Finally the sliced sausage is returned to the sauce and the cooked pasta is added right to the sauce. With bread and salad I called it a meal.

The thing about having made so many tomato sauces in my life is that the adventure has disappeared from the eating. My guys sit down and eat spaghetti, fill themselves up, put away their dishes and life goes on. We talk about our latest pursuits; we laugh, or just watch the TV with a plate in our laps. Seldom do we notice the dinner that is the background to the moment on spaghetti nights. Not so last night. They took note. Something was different, something was delicious and they commented on it. Maybe it was the roasted peppers, maybe it was the pepper flakes in the oil. The sauce didn't seem all that special, but they took time to wonder what was different because this is REALLY good. Another win for Perla.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Raw eggs anyone?

I'm starting to worry about Perla's editors. I have made my 4th recipe from her book and maybe it's just a coincidence, but I keep finding what seems to be mistakes. They are just little things, but it is freaking me out how consistently I come across then. Why you wonder am I upset with her editor instead of with Miss Perla? There were a few years of my life when different people would encourage me to write a book. Who me? I cannot spell, I struggle with Language Arts, and I'm not sure what the difference is between "than" and "then". Not to worry say they, it is the editor's job to find that stuff. (Rant over)

Today's food made me feel a little elegant and grown up. I made an appetizer. I had to or my guys would have gone nuts. Dinner was a late affair.

Generally I am not a fan of boiled eggs but made some pretty boiled eggs for a pre-meal snack. The recipe was Hard-Boiled Eggs in Sauce Nimoise. (What is "Nimoise??? And why is only one of these words in a different language) It is sort of a garlic mayonnaise. You start by boiling 10 peeled garlic cloves and blending those with a raw egg and and part of a boiled egg with a drizzle of olive oil before blending in vinegar, chopped onion and anchovy fillets. I actually bought anchovies! Here was the odd part in the directions. I think I got it right…."Cut one hard-boiled egg in half, remove the yolk, and add it, together with the raw egg, to the food processor or blender"…. At first I was confident that it was the yolk that went into the blender. But the more I read it, the more I wasn't sure. It was all good. The eggs are cut in half and arranged prettily on lettuce with veggies and little pickles, then drizzled with the sauce. I wasn't crazy about the sauce. It all was eaten but we like to eat.

The soup was good. Red Bean Soup a la Cubana. Not sure what made it Cuban but it was good. I had a nice meaty hambone left from Christmas that was good in the soup. When I read through the recipe I was afraid it would be totally bland. But I think that the problem was that I have made so many vegan bean soups that require a heavy hand with seasoning. This one sucks the flavor from the ham. I am guessing that most of the soup eating world realizes that. It was new to me. Served it with Jalapeno corn muffins from Emeril L's Cookbook.

Finally I made a dessert. Chocolate Almond Pave. What is a Pave? First you make a sponge cake in a jelly roll pan. Then you melt chocolate with 2 Tablespoons of Coffee and 4 tablespoons of rum or Grand Mariner. Since I keep orange liquor on hand for baking, I used that but cut it down to 2 tablespoons instead of 4. Butter and sugar are whizzed together with two egg yolks. The whites are whipped and folded into the chocolate, which is folded into the butter with a handful of ground almonds. The sponge cake is cut and fitted into a loaf pan. It was supposed to be sprinkled with 2 more tablespoons of liquor. Instead I brushed it with a lavender simple syrup. Next you dump the chocolate mixture into the loaf pan lined with sponge cake, cover it tightly and refrigerate it over night.

Did you notice what I did not until I was putting it into the fridge? THERE ARE TWO RAW EGGS IN THIS!! Scary. Maybe all the booze is supposed to protect me. In addition, when I whipped the egg whites the directions said to gradually add the ½ cup of sugar. Latter I was supposed to add the rest of the sugar to the yolks. There was no "Rest of the sugar" I triple checked. Raw egg and all it is delish!

Want to know what I think? I think the edit mistakes are part of what makes this fun.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I was gonna toss it out…

Made a chicken dish from the new issue of Fine Cooking magazine (Feb/Mar 2010). It was fun to make but I didn't really like the dish so much.

This was the magazine that was on my case about not making very much of what they sent me. To be honest, there are some terrific recipes in this issue. It was just that I happened to have the ingredients for Orange and Soy Glazed Chicken Thighs. It was extremely easy to make from pantry ingredients. But I really wasn't crazy about the dish. It was chicken thighs cooked hot, then broiled to crisp up the skin before setting the thighs on a plate of rice and glazing with sauce and sesame seeds. But that sauce, oh my goodness, it was SO salty! It was soy sauce and marin with orange zest and just a whisper of orange juice. If I was going to do it again I would use far more orange juice and way less soy sauce.

Ray was cleaning up for me and asked what he should do with the left over sauce. I told him to "toss it out". All three of my guys protested because they liked it so much. Hummm. They liked the whole meal. Here I am thinking that was one I wouldn't do again and they want more. Who knew?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Julie and Julia

Since I share my home with three adult men, I have put off renting "Julie and Julia". Everyone was busy this afternoon so I found it on direct TV and settled in to watch. It is, without a doubt, a chick flick. You have probably already seen it and know that it is a foodie chick flick. Even though all of my guys were home before it was over, I did enjoy it, being that I am both a foodie and a chick. I am guessing that there is a book and if I had read the book I would have better understood the fight and the mom. The move has a somewhat weak ending but most movies do end with a sigh rather than a powerful message. The premise is that Julie cooks and blogs her way clear through Julia Childs original cookbook, while also telling the story of a younger Julia and her husband. Not long ago I was reading one of my foodie magazines which included a survey wanting to know what percentage of their recipes did I make each month. Very few. I have a large collection of cook books but with a couple of notable exceptions, there are three to four recipes that I go to in about 30% of them. The rest look like new. I am inspired to try everything in just one of the many cookbooks on my shelf.

One of the first cookbooks that I bought as a young bride was a monster by Perla Meyers. Within weeks of buying "From Market to Kitchen Cookbook" I made a decision to go vegetarian. I read for the travel and the market writing. She is a very good writer. But I cannot remember ever making anything from this highly recommended volume. It is not vegetarian (never mind vegan) cookbook. After a twenty year romance with both vegetarian and vegan kitchens, along with a large collection of well used vegetarian books to guide me I have come back to reexamine Perla. Really, I was inspired by the movie.

I had shell steaks in the refrigerator. That in itself is not common for me but they had been crazy cheep at my favorite Mexican market. I had planned to just broil them with olive oil and herbs, toss them down with a baked potato, salad and some kind of bread. Who doesn't know what to do with the original fast food? Instead, lugging out Perla, I opened the index to find "steak". Nothing. Looking again in the beef section I found two titles. One for "Grilled Steaks in Herb Butter" and one for "Sautéed Steaks in Mustard Sauce" Mustard sauce is a personal favorite but I decided to go with the first one. That was a whole lot of butter! But two steaks served four people. That doesn't usually happen in our house. I took the plunge. Chopped the shallots (you can get a whole bag of nice firm, pink shallots for about 5 dollars at the cash and carry. Lasts me most of the winter usually), chopped the parsley and creamed them into the butter. Half the butter went on a plate that set over simmering peanut potatoes, half stayed at the ready in the bowl. Perla uses 1 and ¾ inch steaks. Mine were only 1 inch so I cut back the time per side to keep them rare in the center. High heat for three minutes then low for 7. Even cutting back the time seemed to produce to crusty of a steak before turning it over for another (4) minutes. What looked like ruined steak went on the hot plate of now melted herb butter. The reserved herb butter was spread on top of the steaks which were then covered with foil while I finished the soft cooked potatoes in the reserved pan font. Tossing them about to crisp up the skins. The steak is thin sliced before serving with the potatoes and the salad. Extra butter-herb sauce is drizzled across the sliced meat with a sprinkle of course salt and fresh pepper. Absolutely mouthwatering. I don't even want to know what my arteries are saying.