Thursday, July 21, 2011

Going. Going. Gone.

I have moved the blog to Word Press, and have a new more sophiticated design thanks to Kristina! But, somehow we cannot get Feedburner to act correctly. Please visit and sign up for automatic updates agian.

You won't be disapointed.



Friday, April 22, 2011

Falling: Part One of the Art of a Stubborn Life

A few days ago I took a fall. I wished I could say that this was a prelude to a romantic interlude, but no.

It was a literal fall.

It was a simple move: step up one stair, put a bucket on the porch, swivel to the left, take a step down. Nope. I knew I was going to fall before I did. I knew I could do nothing to stop it. But being stubborn, I tried to. Twisted back, and over compensated. Ended up doing nothing but wrenching few more muscles.
I recall, as I hit the cement, ( first on my hand, elbow, then my knee, then on my hip) that my first thought was: This is really gonna piss me off.
It just took a few seconds, and I could see it all happening in slow motion.  Really, that does happen.

I ended up on my left side, curled like a shrimp on myself. Huh. I didn’t hit my head. Good. I flexed my left leg. Not broken, doesn’t seem sprained. Good. Damn! This is gonna hurt so much later, and I am not gonna ever live it down. Jim wanted to teach me how to fall right, and I said later. Dumb.

I rolled onto my back and shaded my eyes with my arm. Huh. I could lay here forever and no one would know. Middle of the day and everyone at work, good thing that I didn’t hit my head. Did I hit my head? Nope. But crap, my neck is gonna be really bad. Good thing I am seeing the chiropractor on Thursday.

I should get up and move inside. Nah. I continued to lay there and stare at the sky filtered by the shiny green of the pittosporum leaves intertwined with the big cedar. I thought: “why don’t’ I lay on the ground more often?” I answered myself “ Because the neighbors already think you are crazy. Laying on the ground in the front yard will just confirm it.”

What I saw.

Before I could really enter into this argument with myself I slowly sat up. Ok. That works. Elbow is scraped, knee, well rather yucky. Hip-really sore already. Hand, a bit scraped. But no blood. Good. I got up. Looked at the steps. Stuck my tongue out and turned around and went to the gym. Because I am stubborn.

My lessonon this type of falling: I don’t need to hurry, and everything, everything can wait a few minutes—

and ice, Aleve and more ice, not the gym, after a fall. Hmmm. Will ice work on a bruised heart?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Daddy Made it: On Baking Bread & other matters of importance

My father came to baking bread late in life.
Born in 1920, he was of that generation of men who did not come into the kitchen unless it was to get more beer. Sure there were exceptions: a particularly good cut of venison, or a BBQ.

Occasionally as we were growing up, he would have intense attacks of wanting to cook something “different”. Particular memories surround his desire to make real Indian food in a neighborhood filled with Italian, Portuguese and Greeks. Oh, yeh, that went over big with all of us. But cook it he did, and found as many of those then hard-to-find spices as he could. And we ate it.

After all, Daddy made it.

Looking back I can see that these adventures into culinary madness usually happened after some life trauma and probably kept him sane in a tough time.

My father was curious too, about everything. He liked to think about things, and how they worked and how he could make them work better. He liked to learn. He once told me that he wanted to learn something new every day, otherwise, why get up?

We talked every Sunday. My mother would go to 8 am mass, and like clock-work he called me at exactly 8, and we would talk. Didn’t matter where I was, if I was in the country, we talked. I could be walking down 5th Ave in Manhattan and my cell phone would ring, and we would talk about “stuff”. Sometimes, all I had to say was “Dad I was thinking about ______”, and he would take off telling me how to do it, do it better or that he would think on it and come up with something for me. And he always did.

I don’t really remember when he started baking bread. Sometime after my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I think.

He baked bread every three days. It was his ritual and such a ritual it was. He would set everything out, and follow his steps and bake a pretty damn good loaf of bread. Sometimes, I would send him different flours to try or we would talk about putting things in the bread that would make it interesting. When I was up there with him and Mom, which was not as often I wanted to be, he would not let me help. This was his thing.

He would fuss over it so, he set timers, and wait in his chair leaning back, waiting for that “ding” so he could go to the next step. Every three days.

Not bad for a man that was blind, crippled from arthritis, and whose left hand didn’t work as well as it could since he cut 4 fingers with a table saw.

He baked in the morning, and would start right after he made the coffee. (My Dad made coffee every morning of their married life and took my mother a cup to the bedroom, so it would be there when she opened her eyes- but that is another story.)

He would measure ingredients, and feel the measurements with his fingers. Everything he used was in a certain place, and when my mother would move it, which was inevitable because of her disease, everything stopped until he could find "his stuff". He managed the oven, he managed the dough, and because he could not see, he made (don’t even ask how) a bread slicing template so the slices could be even like my mother liked them.

Every 3 days he made bread, and every day they had toast for breakfast.

Most of the time the bread was just fine, sometimes really good. He couldn’t see what it looked like so pretty did not enter into it. It tasted good, and really what else matters? At the end, Mom didn’t know good from bad, so it didn’t matter to her. She liked it because Daddy made it.

And Mom-she saved the crumbs.
Dad made them toast from his homemade bread every day, and they had homemade jam and that really cheap margarine because “butter was just too damn expensive”. He put the toast on paper plates—another ploy to keep Mom from rewashing dishes all day.

And every day she saved the crumbs. No, really. She would carefully sweep the crumbs from the table and the plates and the cutting board and put them in a jar. Nothing could deter her from this-she was going to use them, and they were hers, and it was easier to let her do it then to battle her over crumbs.

Bread and breadcrumbs.

Dad got something profound from his bread making ritual. A sense of control, a sense of still learning perhaps. It was something he could do; after having so many things taken away by age and disease, he could still do this. And Mom, well, her frugality was well known before the disease, and Alzheimer’s catapulted it into legend. Saving the toast crumbs was as much a part of her as her pretty smile.

The reasons why people bake bread are as different as the bread bakers themselves.

Years ago I always kept a starter on my counter, and now I wanted to relearn how to make good bread from sour dough wild yeast. No extra commercial yeast, just flour, water, salt. How those few ingredients could be changed into something so delicious that just the aroma brought me to swoon is a wicked good time. Just flour , water and salt: and the variations can be endless. Fascinating.

Today, I bake bread every 3 days. I experiment and occasionally hit pay dirt, and occasionally the fail buzzer just screams. I have gifted my neighbors with fragrant loaves, and tasty slices. Sometimes the birds get a treat of a loaf going stale. I cannot eat all I bake, but I yet I continue this adventure/science experiment/baking. It’s a soothing ritual, and I think I am gaining more understanding of what attracted my father so. My brother got bitten by the sourdough bug when he came for Thanksgiving, and he is baking every few days too. We talk about bread and its various nuances a lot.

Imagine my delight when I discovered a recipe for Bread made from flour and added breadcrumbs. ( I could hear my mother whispering, “see, see—I told you they could be used”)

Channeling both Mom & Dad, I knew I had to make this bread. A big thanks to Susan at whose blog in an inspiration to any baker. The original recipe for the bread can be found there, and I urge you to visit her blog if you have a yen to bake with sourdough.

Here is the recipe that works for me.

Bread for Dad, Crumb for Mom

2 cups starter on the up-approximately 2-3 hours after feeding
½ cup coarse bread crumbs
2 ¼ c unbleached white flour
2/3 c water

Mix for a minute, then let rest in the bowl for 20 min. Add 2 teas salt and mix for 3-4 minutes. Put in an oiled container-I use a plastic shoe box, or the proofing bowl, put in the proofing box.

Let rise for 3 hours with folds at 60 min & 2 hours.

Punch down, and roll into ball. Rest for 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a boule, or put into a loaf pan, and let rise again for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 475, and prepare it for steam.( use a shallow pan on oven floor) When the oven is hot, make quick slices in the top of the bread, and then slide the boule onto a hot stone, or put in the loaf pan.
Put a small amount of cold water in the shallow pan. Watch out for the steam. Quickly close the oven door and turn the oven down to 425. Bake for 25 minutes, or until done. Let cool for at least an hour befroe slicing,  if you can.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Risk: What I did today

Today I saw a man from the back, shuffling. no really--Shuffling across a parking lot. Slightly bent and shuffling. Well, sure, my eyes automatically started to avert. Eww—who wants to be confronted with a) old b) poor c) ugly ???

But I couldn’t avoid him. Our paths were going to bi-sect right at my car, so as my eys slid back to him I noticed more: Old black cloth slippers scraping along, old gray khaki pants, a bent back and hands scrambling to what? Keep his pants up? NO-keep them away from his body: he had soiled himself.

Oh god, what do I do? WHAT DO I DO? I so wish I had lingered just a little longer in the bank or the store. Oh hell, I am gonna run right into him. Oh, damn damn damn double damn. He shuffles like my father. As that thought hits my brain like a speeding train, I know I am lost.

He is lightly ahead of me so I speed up and as we intersect I catch his eye. Are you alright I ask? He is facing me now, and his hands continue to scrabble over his chest and waist and pants, his eyes are watery but bright, and he breaks my heart by giving me a thumbs up, all the while shuffling, shuffling along in his soiled khakis.

He will not stop so I walk beside him asking if he needs help. He says nothing, just gives me thumbs up and points in the direction of the corner, mumbles something and keeps shuffling. I think he knows that he has soiled himself, and he just wants to keep going—somewhere. I know I cannot grab him and hold on. Something doesn't allow me to interefere wiht his journey in that way. I smile at him and say OK. His almost toothless smile lights up his face. He points and shuffles and mumbles and smiles. He is not “here”, but he knows how to give a thumbs up, and somehow he has a destination.

But, I am afraid for him and I get in my car and go to the assisted living home down the street, and pound on their locked back door until someone answers. Perhaps one of their residents has escaped. To their credit, one of the attendants gets in a car to check it out—he finds my shuffling friend and when I pull up, he tells me that he is not one of theirs, BUT he will stay with him until he can find out where he lives or the police come. He is trained to help.

Good. Nice. The old man looks at me and grins and blesses me with another thumbs up. I see him waving at me in the mirror as I pull away.
I pull around the corner and stop the car as I burst into tears. He will be safe. I am not so sure about me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rose Petals: smell good, feel good and taste good

WOW! Rosewater really comes from roses.
I love cosmetics. I really do. I have never seen a Lancome deal that couldn’t seduce me, or an Ulta store that didn’t sing a siren’s song for me.

BUT I hate spending the money for things that should be simple and pure. Yes, I am conflicted.

One thing that really irritates me is toner. Really good for your skin, but geez, why so much for what looks like just water, right? I set off to research why, and how I could avoid that expense.

The answers I found were so simple I am embarrassed to say. No I am not telling all, but I will say that anyone can make the following toner at home.

The distilled rose water can also be used in many deserts, marmalades or other such goodies.

Here’s what you will need.

• A BIG stainless steel or enamel pot with lid

• Fresh picked rose petals, or some that have been recently picked and refrigerated.

• A brick

• Stainless steel bowl that fits inside the pot

• Water
• A bag of ice

• A clean glass bottle or jar

Put the brick into the pot, and surround it with rose petals.

Put in cold water to just cover the petals.

Put the bowl in the pot, and then cover with the upside down lid.

Bring up to a slow boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.

When it starts to boil, put a few trays of ice in the upside down lid. Voila! You have created a still, crude but effective. When the steam hits the lid filled with ice it will condense and fall into the bowl.

Every now and then remove the rose water that has condensed into the bowl, and fill a clear glass container. You can keep in the fridge. Depending on what you will use it for, put a few drops of witch hazel or white vinegar to make it last longer. I use witch hazel drops to use as a face toner.

Do you think Lancome will miss me?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Remembering Pork: bbq, old road trips and "the chinese guy".

I have been thinking a lot about food lately.

Real food, fake food and good food. Just food. It’s Memorial Day weekend and most folks consider this to be the start of summer, so lately BBQ food has been coming up a lot.

I am a California girl, where it is summer 350 days a year. The other 14 don’t count. We can fire up the grill whenever we want. I have been known to do it in the rain.

Like most kids growing up in the 50s and 60s California (ouch!) we used our built-in BBQ a lot. Chicken, pork beef—everything could go on the grill and did. Once my Dad brought home a small live goat—well you know the end of that story.

Outdoor cooking was a big part of family dinners. Family beach parties often involved cooking over an open fire using an old refrigerator grate. I have the best picture of my brother and me, and while that is another story, the picture is too good to pass up.

But it was never BBQ. Really. My family is Italian, and open fire cooking did not involved anything as complex dry rubs and slow cooking pork for hours. BBQ’d chicken was brushed with a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt. The “brush” was made up of rosemary, just picked and tied with string.

Pork was rolled with herbs and garlic and cooked quickly. You’re getting the picture. Handmade pasta, big wheels of Parmesan and handmade olive oil from the neighbors were every day food to me

While I was thinking about this just before Memorial Day, I was trying to date when I had REAL BBQ and where was I ? I think it was Austin 1988-I was there to celebrate my friend Joe becoming the President of Houston-Tillotson College. As I thought about all of us sneaking away from these very formal activities to scarf up spicy saucy BBQ, I remembered another, much earlier event where open fire cooking and pork played a big role.

During my childhood, whenever my dad went hunting and he passed thru Sacramento delta area, he always stopped to pick up some pork from “the Chinese guy”. I think maybe I was 13 when I first tasted this pork. Spicy, and well marinated, it melted on to the grill, the outside becoming crusty and the inside moist and tender. This pork was loin, covered with a fine layer of white fat on one side. He kept it in the marinade in a barrel.

A small wooden wine barrel I recall, and he picked it up out of the thick dark sauce, and let it drip, then put it in foil and wrapped it tight. As a teen, it tasted, well, exotic, to me. It would be almost a decade later when I finally learned what the flavorings and spices were. But I never forgot the taste of it, and on and off have worked at recreating that flavor for my own marinades.

Another event that I remembered this weekend about that same pork loin was this: late fall 1969 or 1970, and my then husband and his best friend, just back from Viet Nam, and I were going hunting with my parents up near the Idaho border. We would then meet our friend Tim in Boise for a few days. It was the first time that I had taken any time away from our almost year old daughter, so it was an EVENT.

I am sure that there are other tales to tell of that trip. Losing a favorite quilt in a motel in Alturas CA. Meeting up with Tim in Boise and the hilarity that ensued there. But the thing that sticks out is the pork loin we cooked outside over a pit fire.

The three of us shared sleeping in a modified VW bus (of course) and my folks in their camper a ways away. We ate with my folks the first night in camp, and after a fruitless second day of deer hunting, we built a cook fire and decided to drink some wine and cook the pork loin we had brought. We were going off to Boise the next morning.

We drank a lot of wine, and although I don’t remember what else was on the menu that night, I do recall to this day how good that pork tasted. Threaded on a crude spit, and fire roasted, the marinade forming a wonderful crust, it may have been the best thing I had ever eaten—up to that point. We ate it with our fingers and finished all the wine. Life was good.

Could have been the wine. Could have been the fire and it could have been the pork, but that was the night I really fell in love with BBQ pork. And unlike the marriage, have never fallen out of love.

So it made perfect sense to me that when Jacqueline Church, Twitter handle @LDGOURMET, web site said she was looking for guest bloggers to do some BBQ cookbook reviews for her blog, I jumped at the chance. You’ll see my review on her blog later this week, and a riff on that well remember inspiring marinade from long ago. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, tell me about your first time with BBQ.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Real Food, Eggplant and Cooking for One

I live alone.

I say this not for sympathy, but to set the stage.

This is not a food blog, but food is a great deal of my life-so this musing is about that. Food.

Discussion recently is loud and long for feeding your family real food, taking the time to cook, growing your own, etc. I take no exception to any of these, and welcome the company in that point of view.

There is no question in my mind that the best way for every family to eat is to eat closer to the ground. Sometimes that hard, and it can’t be done all the time. However, I can tell you from personal experience that just planting one or two vegetable plants can excite any child, and add to the family table. And anyone can do that on a window sill. A whole garden? The neighborhood comes alive.

In my neighborhood, 65 years ago, all the households planted gardens, front and back yards, meridians, everywhere. They shared the harvest. But I digress and that is worthy of a post on its own.

But I live alone, and what I don’t see among all the posts and chats is how damn hard it is to cook for one. I love to cook, and am damn good at it. My favorite meals to cook are what is now known as Sunday Dinner, and that can be any night of the week when I can grab an ever-evolving cast of family and family-friends and cook.

When you cook for one, it’s pretty hard not to get bored. It hard not to just eat cereal every night. It’s hard to think of what you can do differently with ONE chicken breast. Give me dinner for 12 any day. Really. I am a child of the 60’s-we invented real food eating AND dollar stretching!

I cook everyday-well, almost everyday because I like to eat. And what tastes better to me are those meals created from fresh ingredients, and the best are the ones are from ingredients I grow myself. But, you got it now, I live alone and for the past 10 years haven’t been home enough to maintain a garden. So with some herbal exceptions the big vegetable garden is more than likely a thing of the past. Not sure, but think I will live my vegetable garden fantasies though my daughter.

These tomatoes? They are from one day in my garden circa 1997.

Now that I am home again full time I can think about meals and what I can cook with more creativity, and less feed-me-fuel attitude.

This past Sunday when marketing at my favorite independent grocer with my favorite only daughter, I spied the MOST beautiful eggplant. Dark purple, glossy and firm-is there anything prettier?

I was consumed by a craving for eggplant caviar and decided then and there I would make and can a batch. Yes, I can “put up”. It’s a craft that any food lover should learn. You can have your garden right there in January.

Eggplant caviar has as many recipes as there are people that make it. Thomas Keller makes one, and so do I. And you can too.

This is a snack that doubles as an entreeat the drop of a hat. There is no limit –I think, to what you can do with this versatile food. What follows is my recipe for eggplant caviar, and one of my favorite pasta dishes that I make from it.

Eggplant Caviar

5 firm eggplant
1/2 red onion fine dice
½ red pepper fine dice
½ green pepper fine dice
Garlic to taste (I used about a tablespoon minced)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Squeeze or two of lemon juice

Placed eggplant on a foil covered cookie sheet and poke several time with a fork. Roast at 400 degrees until they collapse. Remove and cool. When cool, take a sharp knife and split the eggplant as you would a baked potato. Scoop the inside into a bowl. Take a sharp knife and run it thru the soft eggplant to “chop” it coarsely. Set aside.
Take the oil and juice that has come from the roasted eggplant and put into skillet with about 2 Tb of olive oil, heat to medium.
Prepare the remainder of the veggies. I use the food processor and just pulse a few times. Put the processed veggies in the heated pan and sauté for about a minute. Throw in the garlic and sauté for another minute.

Combine the eggplant with the sautéd veggies and salt and pepper to taste. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten if need. You can refrigerate for up to a week in a sealed container—if it lasts that long! Or you can process in small jars. Follow normal canning instructions.

Shells and Caviar

1cup cooked small shells
½ cup eggplant caviar
Fresh grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta and drain. Add the eggplant caviar and toss, add cheese and season to taste. Eat.

If you make some Eggplant Caviar, let me know your favorite way to use it.