Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Holiday Season Homestretch


Ladies and gentlemen we are in the holiday season homestretch. We have had a lovely time thus so far, and I hope you can say the same. I say that with all honesty. Making food gifts as opposed to the quest to find meaningful gifts for everyone and their mother made for a very easy gift giving season...and for Lil' Bit and Chef, well lets just say thank god for Amazon Prime.

We did a little entertaining last week. Christmas Eve we had Chef's mom, aka Gan Gan, and Ari our restaurant manager over for a traditional dinner. We started with Julia Child's stuffed mushrooms, compliments of Gan Gan. Scrumptious is an understatement. We scarfed them as we waited for the main course to rest.

Chef cooked a prime rib, Thomas Keller style, which of course was perfection. Cooking it at 275 degrees until it hit 127 degrees, makes for a piece of meat that is perfectly pink mid rare all the way through with no gray ring around the edge. Accompanying the beef were roasted potatoes, creamed spinach which was to die for, flakey buns, and a lovely salad. Chef was going to make our usual Yorkshire pudding, but with only one oven we decided to keep it simple and not stress. What a novel idea...I think it will be my new holiday mantra.

With the meal we drank a bottle of Achaval Ferrer, a single vineyard old vine Malbec. It was extraordinary. And to top off this glorious feast Gan Gan brought a chocolate roulade. It was the length of my arm and the width of my leg topped with chocolate shavings...light, creamy, gorgeous.

After Gan Gan and Ari departed we put Lil' Bit to sleep in her new owl pajamas. It has always been a family to tradition to sleep in new PJs every Xmas eve. Since Chef cooked, I cleaned. I suppose it is a fair deal. I pulled a stool up to the sink, sat my prego self down, and set to work scrubbing blue and white china, sterling silver, roasting pan, pots, the whole gamut. Any other evening, I would have let it go until morning, but we had a quick turnaround for Christmas brunch. Around 11 pm we retired for the night.

Lil' Bit woke up at 6:30, brunch was at 10 am. This gave us time to open presents and prepare the meal for company. We invited my father, grandmother, aunt, and friend Teri over for a celebration. It is our family tradition to make Gorilla Bread every Xmas morning...monkey bread on steroids (stuffed with cream cheese) it is beyond delicious. Chef whipped up bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuits, a nice salad, and a encore of creamed spinach...given two of our guests were vegetarians. It was a lovely meal with loved ones.

Christmas was rainy this year, which worked well. Family and friends left around 2 pm, and Lil' Bit gave us the greatest gift of all...a three hour nap. Chef and I stretched out before the fire and read. At one point I looked at him and said, "This is one of the best Christmas Days ever." After such a huge late brunch, decided to go easy for dinner...tomato soup and BLTs. It was perfection.

So this week wraps up the season, and the year. It is hard to believe that 2010 begins on Friday. So much has happened in 2009...don't you think? I am more than curious to see what the next year has in store. I have three resolutions. 3 is a reasonable number, is it not?

1. Make time for stress release aka. baths/exercise/yoga/wine...etc.
2. Create little rituals, or systems if you may, that act as tools for organization.
3. Take more deep breaths in a day.

Do you have any resolutions to share?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Sweet and Saucy Holiday


Last night I was terrible, but being in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy I believe my behavior to be excusable. As Chef whipped up our holiday gifts, namely sea salt caramel sauce and bourbon chocolate sauce, I dealt with Lil' Bit who was being intensely needy due to a giant molar boring through her tender gums. As we wrestled through our evening routine, my patience for life in general began to wear thin. I informed Chef that I was going to indulge in a glass of wine this evening and I was craving something sweet. He put a bottle of Muscato D' Asti in the fridge to chill as I persevered with the trappings of a teething toddler at her witching hour.

While I dragged as mommy, Chef was whisking, mixing, boiling, and canning glorious sundae icecream toppings. Once I finally put Lil' Bit down to sleep I came into the kitchen and helped funnel what was left of the sauces into jars. Once all 24 jars had been topped off I had a stock pot of chocolate sauce and a dutch oven of caramel sauce all to myself. A pregnant woman's dream come true.
I took a large spoon from the silverware drawer and began spooning both sauces into my mouth alternating from pot to pot.

The chocolate was the perfect combination of sweet and bitter, and the caramel was so buttery it coated my throat as it oozed down. After eating about four spoonfuls of each, I licked my spoon clean and gently placed it next to the caramel pot on the counter. Every time I entered the kitchen over the following 2 hours, I returned to the sauce pots and the ritual began again. It was marvelous.


In each basket aside from the sauces we threw in an ice cream scoop and bottle of beer or wine for the drinkers... but the sauces make a dandy gift all on their own. It took chef maybe an hour and a half to make both sauces. They are easy, the ingredients inexpensive, and of course unbelievably delicious. I had to go to 4 stores to find mason jars, which tells me that many people are canning food this holiday season...and that pleases me greatly. Here are the recipes for both sauces...as promised! Happy pot licking!



Sea Salt Caramel Sauce/ Multiply the recipe by 3 to fill 3 12 oz jars/ Add a pinch of sea salt
Bourbon Chocolate Sauce / Multiply the recipe by 3 to fill 3 12 oz jars / Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of bourbon


Put both in mason jars and label "Refrigerate for 2 weeks or Freeze forever!"

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Real Food Class


I am not sure what it is about this time of year but no matter how hard you try to simplify and not let things get crazy...they do. I am going to give you a quick run down of the past two days of my life just to give you a little idea...starting with Tuesday.

I woke up, breakfast, dropped Lil' Bit off at a fellow mama's house, went and judged a public sculpture contest, picked Lil' Bit up, brought her home, lunched, she napped, worked on a class plan for a nutrition course, took Lil' Bit to her Gan Gan's (who made a delicious Julia Child chocolate cake which I took 1/2 home and devoured in less than 24 hours ), went to teach the nutrition course, rescued a stray dog on the way home, got home and celebrated Hanukkah, went to bed, woke up Wednesday, took Lil' Bit to doc for checkup, went to a play date, went home met human society guy to pick up dog, lunched on Hanukkah leftovers, put Lil' Bit down for nap while cat peed on guest bed, stripped bed and started on mound of laundry, went to grocery store, returned home, celebrated Hanukkah early so Chef could go back to work, fed Lil' Bit, bathed her while I bid and won an amazing 9x13 Persian rug on Ebay (now that is multitasking!), read her stories, put her to bed, ate dinner in 15 minutes while reading Food + Wine, had an hour long phone interview with a couple for a wedding story article, stripped the master bed which has been Chef's flu den for the past week, washed the bedding, made the bed, and crashed out at 11:30 pm. Jeeeeze.

Of all the things that I did this week the nutrition class was by far the most entertaining. I was scheduled to teach the class to low income high school students from 5 -7 pm Tuesday night at a recreation center kitchen. I showed up at 4:30 to set up and the place was filled with elementary school students having a holiday party. The woman told me the class was postponed until 6 pm. Now if this was a poetry writing workshop, no problem...but I had an entire meal to prepare and cook with these kids.

So I left, and came back at 5:30. The kitchen was empty so I set to work doing all the prep work so when the kids came we just had season and pop the food in the oven and then talk nutrition. I wanted the menu to be simple, with few ingredients, easy for them to prepare at home and easy for me to prepare in front of an audience...something I had never done before. Yet I also wanted it to cover all the major food groups sans dairy (There was no need to have two proteins on the plate and dairy is something to be eaten in moderation). Roasted vegetables, broiled chicken with pineapple salsa, and couscous. Easy, healthy, and delicious. Well, almost.

The prep began. I chopped up sweet potatoes, green peppers, and carrots because the green and orange veggies are the most nutritious and put them in a bowl. In reading the recipe for the pineapple salsa my hormone fogged brain made a terrible mistake. The salsa called for 1 to 2 canned chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, drained and seeded. I read this as 1 to 2 cans of peppers. I cracked open the first can of peppers and tasted for heat...Yowser. Spicy as all hell. I thought to myself there is no way these kids, or any adult for that matter would want to eat a whole can of this tossed in pineapple. I read the recipe again and still misinterpreted it, but I used my own judgment and decided just to use 2 peppers for the recipe which I was doubling in quantity. Mixed in with the chopped pineapple and honey, I gave it a taste and it had a little kick, but it didn't seem too hot.

The kids arrived. 6 girls and two boys all about 14 or 15 years old. They pulled chairs up to the counter and we began talking about nutrition. The definition of nutrition is the way our body processes food in order to grow new tissue and maintain its functions. I told this crew of teens that the best way to do this is to eat "real food." I asked them what they thought was real food, the first response was from a chatty young lady who said, "fried chicken." I said, "Fried chicken is real food if you cook it at home, if you go to KFC it is fast food and that totally not real food."

I went on to tell them where you can find real food. "You can find real food at the grocery store, but usually it is only on the outside aisles...all the stuff in the middle is full of crazy stuff in boxes that is not real food." The cous cous I brought was in boxes and I passed them around and told them to look at the list of ingredients. "If you are going to buy food out of a box the best way to know how nutritious it is not looking at the nutrition facts, but instead check to see how many ingredients it has in it. If it has a bunch of crazy long words, it is probably not real food. The less ingredients the better for you."

We also talked about the farmer's market, only one or two of the kids had ever been. Live music, free samples, and lots of real food that is less expensive than the grocery store were my selling points. Plus the food is more nutritious because it doesn't have to travel as far.

I asked them what the word organic meant to them, "stuff that grows from the ground, vegetables, healthy food" were all answers. I busted out organic chicken from the refrigerator. I told them that organic food is just old fashioned food, that it is what our grandparents ate before farms became factories. I tried not to freak them out too much about the realities of factory farms, but at the same time instilled in them that eating organic meat is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

I encouraged them to try and eat one organic food a week. I explained that it is a bit more expensive, but only by a couple of dollars. "How much is a Coke from a vending machine?" I asked. "1.25" Someone answered. "That is right. And you drink it in like ten minutes. Why is it that people will spend a $1.25 on single can of soda, but not throw down the same amount for a better quality gallon of milk they will drink in a week?" That got them thinking.

The next topic was the easiest and most nutritious way to cook real food. The holy trinity of the Mediterranean....olive oil, salt, and pepper. It is what I tossed the veggies in before roasting them, and basted the chicken with a sprinkle of fresh thyme before broiling it. I made them repeat the three ingredients over and over as we talked about what we were cooking. I passed around sprigs for everyone to smell. Some of the girls requested thyme to take home to their moms and grandmothers.

When the food in the oven was finished we ate. The pineapple salsa after having sat on the counter for the hour seemed to have really heated up with spice...and it was too much for most of the kids. "AHHH!" I heard as they took their first bites. "Sorry guys! That is why it is important to taste you food as you cook it. It is the only way you will know if it tastes good." With every mistake a lesson learned.

Most of them didn't touch the cous cous, even though I tried to sell it as "like grits"... but there were a few clean plates...and everyone ate their chicken (sans salsa), sweet potatoes, and carrots. They told me that they really liked the class and asked if they could do it again...some even offered to cook me a meal.

Earlier that day I was in total Grinch mode complaining about how I am at a point where I don't have any "free time." Volunteer work, which has been a staple of my adult life, seemed uber overwhelming to me. "I have play time, pay time, and down time...but no free time. Play time with Lil' Bit, pay time to write meaningless articles, and some down time to rest my big pregnant self...but time just to hand out for free. Nope." But I had a blast doing the class, and I of course offered to teach again any time. It is all about generating that good karma.

As I pulled away from the rec center I thought what a great way to spend an evening. And then I pulled up to a busy unlit intersection where a large dog was running hog wild as cars whizzed by him barely missing him...none of them trying to help him to safety. I stopped, jumped out, and hobbled my pregnant self into the road and grabbed him by the collar. I couldn't put him in the trunk with the dirty pans from class, so he made himself at home in the back seat on one of Lil' Bit's blankets.

Just when you think you have done your good deed for the day there is always another one lurking. Tis' the season right? On a totally other note...foodie holiday gifts...we are going to jar sundae toppings...caramel and chocolate sauce. Recipe will be forthcoming this weekend! Easy on the wallet and pallet.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Radio Live

To have my own radio show has always been a dream of mine. Over a cup of coffee, I shared this little secret with my friend Tara Meyer-Robson, aka The Transformation Diva, who has her own blogtalk radio show. About a week later she sent me an email with a link that lead me to America's Radio show listing for people with garden experience for various shows. I sent them an email and landed my first radio time! Tomorrow...Saturday December 12 10 am - 11 am EST that is...I will be doing a radio interview on the show America's Homegrown Veggies. You can listen to it at www.radiosandysprings.com.

Just goes to show what happens when you let your dreams out of the closet.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Holiday Circus


The holiday season is in full swing...as in I feel like a sparkly trapeze artist that has lost her grip as she dangles from a narrow bar swinging above a crowd of people. Is she going to gracefully pull herself up and finish the act, or just let go and fall into total chaos? So far, I seem to have a grip, but the act is far from over.

Thanksgiving was rough. Chef got a stomach virus and Lil' Bit caught some version of the flu. Luckily both bugs struck the day after Thanksgiving, so we at least were able to enjoy the feast day. There is nothing like being pregnant and locked in a hotel room nursing the ill. There was a lot of overpriced mediocre room service, bodily fluids, and troubled sleep, but I did manage to finish the book Water for Elephants, which is fabulous and you haven't read it do.

Tomorrow is the first day of Hanukkah, and I am looking forward to having an excuse to eat potato latkes for the next eight days. They are by far one of my favorite holiday foods, and being pregnant I have no qualms demanding them during the entire week. Potato latkes are fried potato pancakes. Many traditional Hanukkah dishes are cooked in oil, symbolic of the miraculous oil in the Temple of Jerusalem that burned for eight days after the Jews reclaimed the holy site.

As an adult I have found my own unique understanding of spirituality, but I was raised in the Christian faith, and Chef was raised in both Christian and Jewish faiths so as a family we celebrate both in honor of tradition. Heck...any reason to celebrate anything is reason enough as far as I am concerned!

The gift giving tradition of Hanukkah is relatively new, and there is something special about it in comparison to its Judea-Christian holiday counterpart. The act of giving one single gift every day over the course of eight days makes for a more thoughtful exchange for both the giver and receiver. You can't just choose a couple of great gifts and sneak some chintzy gifts in to the pile to beef up the quantity. No, during Hanukkah each gift has to be thoughtful because it is presented alone, and therefore there is a level of appreciation that is sometimes lacking during the Christmas gift exchange.

I find shopping for men harder than women, but having Chef as a partner, I do have the benefit of being able to give him anything kitchen related...which is an easy out. Although, it gets subsequently harder each year because the man has everything. Now I find myself thinking..."He doesn't have this appliance, but if I get it for him where the hell are we going to store it?" I find myself being drawn to small strange tools that can easily be tucked away in a drawer. Chef is an avid cookbook collector and actually gets an alert from Amazon whenever a new cookbook comes out from certain chefs, which he then he immediately purchases. Vintage cookbooks though....now there is an idea.

Gift giving is such a juggling act. In recent years we have found that for all purposes special food items are the best way to go for family when it comes to Christmas. Food gifts that people can use throughout the year are a wonderful way to give something thoughtful, resourceful, and economical. The biggest benefit is that it really simplifies things. When you have to go out and but a bunch of different gifts for different people it is like juggling a bowling ball, a banana an M&M. I have seen it done in Vegas, but the guy was getting paid. Dealing with mall madness out of the kindness of your own heart is about as far from the spirit of Christmas as you can get.

I have three brothers and a sister, some with spouses and some with children, and two sets of parents, and a variety of aunts and uncles and cousins with which I am close...and that is just my family. Chef has a whole brood as well. One year we slow roasted tomatoes with herbs and jarred them, making a beautiful tomato spread or sauce as a gift, and last year we made tins of chocolate truffles. This year...we are still brainstorming. Next week we will have it pinned down and I will tell you...my gift to you...recipe included!


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Apple, or Death Sentence?


What do Snow White, Eve, (the Nudist from the Bible, not the pop star) and Chef have in common? To these three people, and millions of others, the apple, the humble fruit is down right dangerous. Lethal, in Chef's situation.

My darling Chef is deathly allergic to a certain protein found in raw apples, peaches, plums, cherries...all stone fruits. He developed this allergy as a child and it has grown progressively worse as he has aged. Chef had the chance to indulge in stone fruits in his youth, their wonderful tastes and juices, so he understands their flavor profiles well enough to use them in foods, although there is the occasion when he asks me try a cherry for sourness, or a plum for sweetness, in which I happily oblige him.

When cooked, he can indulge in these delectables, but I admittedly am nervous when he chooses to do so.
What if it is not cooked enough? What if he goes into shock? I don't have an Epi Pin! Why didn't he just order the chocolate cake?

The man can not even handle these foods raw without gloves...they make his skin itch. Needless to say, this is somewhat of a nightmare for a chef. Although, being a chef in this sense has its perks. He is a virtual library of recipes so he is quick to recognize a dish that may have ingredients that may be hazardous to his health.

When you have a food allergy dining out is always risky. It is important to alert your server regardless of whether or not you are ordering something that contains the lethal ingredient. This way the kitchen can safeguard your food against all possible contamination. All it takes is the juice of an apple on a knife then used to cut an orange used in your dish to trigger a reaction.

I have a friend whose Uncle croaked in a restaurant due to ingesting pineapple. He was in his late 40's and wasn't even aware he had an allergy to pineapple. Fate just had it in for him. He left a wife and two young children.

So what is a food allergy? A food allergy is when your immune system tweaks out and attacks a food protein by mistake thinking it is something dangerous, rather than something nourishing. It is like a biological version of "friendly fire." In reaction to the mistake your body produces histamine and other chemicals, or antibodies, which cause all the terrible symptoms associated with allergies.. itches, swelling, even death. It is estimated that 1 in every 25 Americans have a food allergy and there is no prevention or cure...the only way to beat it is through abstinence.

What if you just really don't like something, like lets say you despise cilantro? You are not alone, to many people it tastes like soap, but whatever you do...don't tell your server if you are dining out that you are allergic to it. I know that this little white lie for many is the only way to be sure cilantro does not sneak its way on to your plate in a restaurant, but let me tell you what a restaurant kitchen has to do if they are under the false impression that there is a food allergy at table 9.

In the middle of service the cooks preparing food for your table have to stop what they are doing. Scrub their cutting boards, clean their knives, get clean utensils, and have the dishwasher produce fresh untouched pots to cook your food because a food allergy is a life or death situation. It is taken very seriously by a kitchen. It is a major endeavor, so please unless you have an actual allergy just drill it into your server's brain to write in big black letters on the order "no cilantro at all" and save the kitchen the stress.

Just a lil' insider's tip.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Easy Perfect Holiday Dessert


Ok...so last week I blogged about a certain pineapple upside-down cake debacle, and the recipe is from the above book by the brilliant Thomas Keller. The beauty of this recipe is that it is really simple and you can use any fruit in it. After making ten of these cakes with fig, I can assure you it works perfectly and makes for a really lovely seasonal dessert. Way easier than making a pie...way easier. So, here it is. The dessert you should make for your friends and family come Thursday. No thanks necessary! The only thing you need that you may not have, but should have anyway so it is a good excuse to buy one is a 9 inch silicone cake pan.



Fig Upside-Down Cake
/ Variation of Thomas Keller's Pinapple Upside-Down Cake

Ingredients:

For the pan shmear: (which you can make days before you bake the cake)
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick/4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temp
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark rum
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste/vanilla extract
  • kosher salt
  • 6 Figs
For the cake batter
  • 1 1/3cupscake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick/4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temp
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoonvanilla paste/vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of milk

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine butter honey, rum, brown sugar, and vanilla and beat until smooth and well blended.
  • Spread 1/3 cup of shmear over the bottom of the cake pan. (you will have leftover smear that you can freeze and use again for the next holiday feast day)
  • Sprinkle the shmear with salt.
  • Cut 4 figs in half and then place around the edge of the cake pan face down with the tops of the figs facing inwards.
  • Cut 2 figs into quarters and place a quarter slice of fig at the top of each half slice, making a sort of flower in the center of the cake.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder together and set aside.
  • Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle and mix on low speed to combine, then beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes until light and creamy, scrapping down the sides as necessary.
  • Beat in the milk. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, beating until just combined.
  • Pour the batter into the pan and spread over the figs. Bake for 15 minutes then rotate the pan for even browning and bake for anohter 20 to 25 minutes until a wooden skewer or knife comes out clean.
  • Run a butter knife around the edges of the cake, put a plate over the top of it and flip it over onto the plate.
Ta Da! A delicious little cake perfect for any occasion. This is an easy cake to dry out by over baking, so I would check it early and if there is a few crumbs on the knife pull it out. Have a Great Thanksgiving Everyone! If you make this cake let me know how it worked out!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Upside Down Debacle


In the past 2 weeks I have made 12 upside down cakes. This long yet entertaining odyssey began with Chef's longing for Thomas Keller's Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe from his new cook book Ad Hoc, which by the way is fabulous and if you have anyone in your family who likes to cook get them this book for the holidays. It is full of recipes that are simple, beautiful and brilliant...I mean it is Thomas Keller, and I will always shamelessly promote his genius as a matter of patriotism.

The simple pineapple upside down cake is one of Chef's favorite cakes of all time. He decided he was going to make it himself one weekend, but then I told him that "I love to bake, I will make it for you babe." This little offering led to a much bigger baking extravaganza than I could have ever imagined.

I didn't get around to making the first cake until about 2 weeks later. It was remarkably easy and I was proud of my lovely little cake. Three mamas and lil' ones came over for a coffee play date and I served it up. Of the four of us women, three are pregnant and I had to put the brakes on because we would have devoured the whole thing, and Chef had not had a slice yet.

The mamas left and I went to put Lil' Bit down for a nap. I left the cake perched on my grandmother's crystal cake plate sitting dead center in the middle of our dining room table, with only one chair anywhere near it. When I returned 10 minutes later the cake was gone but for a trail of crumbs and our little mutt Pumpkin was scurrying out of the dining room. Never underestimate any dog with Jack Russel in their blood.

I felt terrible that Chef who had waited patiently for this cake would not have a bite to himself. That being said, I went ahead and made another one that day. This time it turned out even better than the last. I gave half of it to my grandmother and the other half Chef, Lil' Bit and I enjoyed together.

Five days later, Chef threw me a curve ball, and of course I took a swing. We were doing a special 4 course prix fixe at the restaurant this week in honor of Douglas Gayeton's new book Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town, and the dessert course was a fig upside down cake. I asked what I could do to help, because that is my nature. "You know what would really help...if you could make the fig cakes." I took the bait.

"Okay, I can make the cakes." Why? Why do I do it to myself?

This was on Sunday and the cakes had to be made by Wednesday. My mood over the following three days immediately soured. Chef kept asking "Are you aggravated with me?" And I would say "No, our daughter has unleashed her inner toddler and I am having a tough time with her." Which was true, but the reality is that I was wicked stressed out about the cakes. I have never baked ten cakes at once before, and given that they had to be fresh it really left no room for error given that the only time I could focus my hormone fogged brain well enough to follow the recipe was when Lil' Bit was asleep. Ugh.

Monday night I made the shmear which goes on the bottom of each cake. It is the yummy golden caramel like goo that the fruit bakes in at the bottom of the cake. Tuesday night, with all my ingredients laid out I began the great cake bake...hoping to do all ten before 10 pm. Fat chance.

I put the first five in the oven at around 9 pm, and prepared to start my second round of batter. 15 minutes later I smelled smoke. One of the cakes had bubbled over, maybe 2 tablespoons of batter was burning at the bottom of the oven. I opened the door and the smoke came billowing out. Knowing that it is a big no no to pull a cake out of the oven before it is done, I saw my 5 beautiful cakes and panicked. I frantically called Chef at work. He told me to pull them out, which I did but the batter in the oven kept burning. I slammed the oven door shut and locked the smoke it, but it was too late a haze had filled the house.

I threw open all the doors and windows and turned on the fans. I was terrified that the smoke alarms were going to go off and wake the baby. Chef came home and looked at the cakes. "I think we are going to have to throw them out." I gave him the death stare and responded, "No way. You are going to take those cakes to the restaurant right now and finish baking them and try to salvage them." There was no discussion. There was no way in hell I was going to let those cakes go down without a fight. He loaded them up and raced off to the restaurant.

As I watched the headlights pull out of the garage I heard Lil' Bit on the monitor. She was screaming. At this point I wanted to sit down and cry, but I put on my game face and when to her. I thought maybe the smoke had snaked its way upstairs and that she was choking and gasping for air, but she had just crapped her pants in her sleep. Poor thing. I changed her, sang her a lullaby and put her back down to sleep. Her room was smoke free.

Downstairs was terrible. The kitchen was a mess. There was no way to continue baking because Chef had made the executive decision to put the oven on the cleaning mode. This was one of those moments when I thanked God for dishwashers. I loaded everything imaginable into our machine and hit the start button. Then, I decided it was time for me to go to bed. Around 1 am Chef came into the bedroom and told me that the cakes were perfect and amazingly delicious.

The day of the event, Wednesday, I whipped out the last five fig cakes four hours before the dinner, and they too were wonderful. Our customers devoured them, and Chef told me our fellas in the kitchen said "Nan killed the cakes!" Code for...amazing job done. Whew.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Meatloaf Virginity Lost


I recently popped my meatloaf cherry. Yes, I now feel like I have entered the hall of true domesticates. I made my first meatloaf, and in some strange manner reminiscent of the Nuclear Age, as I pulled it out of the oven I felt as if some right of passage had taken place.

Being that this blog is about ecology, our relationship with the world around us, and food...meatloaf is a definite dish that has a reputation in the world. In its various mutations, meatloaf is a comfort food, a hearty meal that sits in the stomach and has blessed family dinners for thousands of years. Ground meat mixed with bread crumbs or stuffs has been utilized throughout history as a means to spread meat out in times of hardship, to utilize leftover meat rather than waste it, and to make less appetizing meat more edible. Meatballs, the mini meatloafs, have been around for ages.

While most ancient meatloaf recipes used already cooked meat, left overs, variations of mince, or what have you, thanks to the industrial revolution raw ground meat was made inexpensive and readily available in the 19th century for American culture. But it wasn't until the 20th century that meatloaf made its way into the cannon of American cookbooks, probably due to better refridergation, (ground meat is more perishable.)

My current pregnancy craving is ground meat...which admittedly is disgusting to confess, but there you have it. I made spaghetti and meat sauce one night and the next decided that meatloaf was in order. I chose an Ina Garten recipe because her recipes are fool proof, and have a certain elegant panache that I felt would some how make this humble dish a bit more interesting, without compromising its essence.

Meatloaf is a phrase that for some reason I find slightly unsettling. It just sounds slovenly in some way, and I don't think it is necessarily due to the stage name of a certain musician. As I took the five pound of ground meat into my hands to knead and shape into a loaf, I tried to stifle the gross feeling that filled my gut...because while a meatloaf may not be pretty to look at, by god it is delicious.

The recipe I chose used 5 lbs of ground turkey, which being 95% fat free made the loaf a little lighter in theory than its beef counterparts. But let me tell you, this massive wedge of steaming meat fresh out the oven is far from what would classify as a light meal, but the amazing thing is that this is a relatively healthy dish! I mean look at it...would you ever guess?

According to Chef, it was cooked to perfection. "And now you have a meat ball recipe too!" Two dishes with one bird...the possibilities are endless. I encourage everyone in these upcoming cold months to indulge in this timeless dish. It is pure satisfaction.

Good Life Recipe #14 / Turkey Meat Loaf / Ina Garten
Ingredients:
  • 3 cups chopped yellow onions (2 large onions)
  • 2 tablespoons of good olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 5 lbs of turkey breast
  • 1 1/2 cups plain dry bread crumbs
  • 3 extra large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 ketchup
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  • In a medium pan cook on medium-low heat, cook the onions, olive oil, salt pepper, and thyme until the onions are translucent but not browned, approx. 15 minutes
  • Add the Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, and tomato paste and mix well
  • Cool to room temp.
  • Combine the ground turkey, bread crumbs, eggs, and onion mixture in a large bowl. Mix well and shape into a rectangular loaf on an ungreased baking sheet.
  • Spread ketchup evenly on top.
  • Bake for 1 1/2 hours until the internal temp. is 160 degrees and the meat loaf is cooked through.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ohhh Rats!


The other night I was on the phone with one of my best friends who had just had a baby. She was telling me her harrowing story of a home birth that resulted in an emergency C-section, and at one of the most climatic moments I heard a strange noise coming from our dining room. I went to check it out, flicked on the light and there I found Mazy, our persnickety tabby, crouched over a dead rat chewing off its head.

With Chef at work, I was on my own to deal with the situation. I interrupted my friend to tell her my shocking discovery and she said "Eww. Do you want me to let you go?" Without hesitation I replied, "No, I am going to just let her do her thing and deal with it later." With that I turned around, flipped off the light and left her to her gnaw. Granted, I could have shooed her away only to have to deal with the remains myself, but knowing Mazy I knew she would handle them herself in her own way.

Mazy and I have a long history of her bringing game into the house...birds, rats, moles, the whole gamut, and me having to deal with the aftermath. She is a well fed cat, and like many people, she hunts for sport and then indulges in her prize. She always chews the head off, leaves two organs which I think are the liver and stomach, and then takes the rest of the carcass back outside through the cat door.

When you live with a predator, there is little to be done about its natural instincts. You can't exactly punish a cat for being itself. Mazy is an indoor/outdoor animal and sometimes she forgets the distinctive difference between the those two worlds.

Sure enough, I returned to our dining room half an hour later and the rat and the cat were gone, and there were two organs laying on the sea grass rug. I picked them up and threw them out. I decided to wait until Chef got home before figuring out how to get the rat blood off the sea grass.

You can not scrub sea grass with soap and water the way you can other rugs. In fact, you can't even spill water on sea grass without having to clean it up by pouring starch on it and vacuuming the moisture out of it. I am all about natural fiber textiles, but do not recommend sea grass to anyone who has children or pets, or an f$%@&ing life for that matter.

About an hour later I h
eard Mazy vomiting in our living room. My first thought, You have to be kidding me. She puked up pink tinted bile, and at that point I lost it. I called her a disgusting animal and threw her out of the house, shut off all the lights, and locked myself in the bedroom for the rest of the evening. I was done.

There are many ecological benefits of living with pets, but primal dining experiences are not one of them.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Hog from Hell


Happy Halloween! So this is pumpkin #2. I carved it yesterday with a dremel. This was my first time using a power tool on a gourd. It was remarkably fast, but I definitely had to be careful because a slip of the hand would have been disastrous.

I decided to carve a butchers diagram of primal cuts of pork as an homage to our famous pork chop at 29 South. I spent the afternoon working on it and Chef whisked it away to the restaurant when the clock hit 5.

At around 8:30 he called me to report that they lit the pumpkin, and the word "hell" was blazing through the design. My response, "Perfect."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Jack O' Lantern Boos


I carved a pumpkin Sunday. I find the process of carving pumpkins really cathartic...coming up with a design, transferring it to the pumpkin, the first stab of the knife to make the lid, scooping the gook, and the careful chiseling. All of it I enjoy. There is something wonderfully primitive about carving a gourd. I have carved spooky, animals, ghosts, ghastly faces... all the usual characters into pumpkins, and some unusual things as well. One year I even carved Dick Cheney's frightful mug into a gourd. Too bad I only make time for this type of activity once a year.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. It is one day out of the year where we let loose, celebrate the bizarre and supernatural. It revolves around trickery and sweets and I love it. Any day where we are expected to become something other than ourselves...costume our identities...I think is good for the soul.

Chef, Lil' Bit and I went to Conner's A-Maizing Acres with friends and cheated our way through the corn maze, drank sweet tea, pet cows, talked to chickens, and Lil' Bit and her best play pal spent a good 45 minutes playing in a giant corn kernel pool with a multitude of other children. It shed a whole new light on yet another use for corn the ever resourceful industrial grain.

It was wild seeing all these kids blissed out in a sea of golden kernels...it was like a farm style sensory deprivation chamber...or whole grain cesspool. Needless to say this little jaunt involved a lot of hand washing. At the end of the trip, we bought two pumpkins from the Conner's pumpkin patch...glad to support our farming partners in any small way possible.

This year for our pumpkin at home I cheated and used a stencil. With time constraints, and a pumpkin to carve for the restaurant as well...I chose a witch from the stencils that came with the carving tools. I spent two hours carving the crafty Wiccan into the face of the pumpkin. I proudly set it out for display on our porch and went to bed. Looking, back I hate to say it...but how wonderful would it have been to carve Michael Jackson's face into my pumpkin. A whole new meaning to the word Jack O' Lantern. There is still time....

The following day Lil' Bit and I went to visit family and friends in Sarasota for 2 days. 2 days. When I returned Wednesday my pumpkin was moldy and was full of flies. The 90 degree weather and rain were a recipe for rot. Although, the mold does give it a special effect don't you think? I didn't even get a chance to light a candle in it. Boo.

Jack O' Lanterns actually come from an Irish folktale about a belligerent drunk named Stingy Jack. He liked to play tricks on anyone/anything, and one day he tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree. He put a bunch of crosses under the tree so the Devil was stuck. He cut a deal with the Devil. If the Devil did not take his soul when he died, he would let him down. The deal was made...Satan freed. Stingy Jack died a lonely drunk and when he went to heaven he was turned away at the pearly gates for being such an asshole. So he went to hell, and the Devil was true to his word, but he gave him a little ember to help him light his way through limbo. He put the flame into a hollowed out turnip, his favorite veggie...and wondered limbo for all eternity.

The Irish actually carve out gourds, turnips, rutabaga and beets and put candles in them. Irish immigrants brought the tradition to the USA with them. Little illuminated beets sound fabulous...hmmm...something to think about for next year.


Good Life Quest #9/ Carve a Pumpkin

Get a pumpkin, and a carving kit. The right tools are important to this job...if you want to go hi-tech use a dremel. Think of your pumpkin as a little sculpture. Think of an unexpected design. As you scoop the gook think about the texture. Perhaps save the and toast the seeds. As you carve it, think about the last time you did something creative in 3D. Think about this tradition and what it means to you. Any memory associations? Light it with a candle and take a picture. Set it out in a place of prominence and enjoy.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Sleep Soup


The photo above sums up my state of mind this past week...namely it has been a doozy.

I mailed off six revised manuscripts of the book I have been working on for years now...and it felt so good. Until I left the post office, after a twenty minute wait in line, and realized that in a relatively empty parking lot I parked the car in the handicap space...and the short bus was waiting for me to move. I felt terrible. The bus driver threw his arms up at me as I raced to strap Lil' Bit into her car seat. I mimed an apology and sped off to the nearest coffee shop. Sleep deprivation had obviously taken its toll, and caffeine seemed the only way I could feasibly survive the day without drifting into total oblivion.

Lil' Bit is learning how to fall asleep on her own this week, which has been a nightmare. There is no other word for it. Watching your toddler cry and scream for you to pick her up out of her crib for 45 minutes straight is a true trial of love. Chef and I sit and sing and talk to her until she finally gives up and settles down to sleep. It is my fault for having rocked her to bed every night of her fresh life, but I would not give up that bonding time with her for a million sleepless nights.

Now that shades of reason are slowly beginning to wrinkle her brain, she has become more adept at understanding and it is time for her to understand that drifting off to sleep is a lovely skill, and totally necessary to sanity for all concerned.

The weather finally broke. For about 36 hours the temperature dropped 20 degrees and it felt like fall. It was wonderful. The windows at home were thrown open and the curtains billowed in the cool breeze. I wore scarves and sweaters and was just about to sport boots when climate change reared its ugly head. Alas, the brief respite from heat is over, it is now back in the 80's. The wisp of seasonal change was such a tease. For those of you living in cooler climates, the following statement may seem a bit naive, but I long for winter.

Chef made a delicious pozole on one of those fleeting fall nights. It is a dish that his Hispanic kitchen staff has made him as a treat throughout his career, and it is one of his favorite comfort foods. We both love Mexican food, and this dish was perfection.

Pozole is peasant food, a soup made of pork, hominy, and dried red chiles. A classic Mexican supper. What makes it fabulous is that it is topped with radishes, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, onions, ...and usually eaten with a tostadas. The cool crisp toppings blended with the hot hominy stew creates the perfect balance of light and hearty. It is like soup and salad all in one.

Chef chose a Rick Bayless recipe, because it's rooted in the true anthropological nature of peasant food. Pozole comes in many variations, this recipe in particular is for red. If you are not into eating pigs head, you can substitute pigs feet, if you are not into pigs feet, you can just double the quantity of meaty neck bones...which is what I requested Chef to do being that as a pregnant lady I can only stomach so much.




Good Life Recipe # 13/Pozole Rojo/Rick Bayless from his book Authentic Mexican

Makes 10-12 large servings

Ingredients:



  • 4 quarts of canned hominy, drained and rinsed
  • 3 medium (2 1/2 lbs) of pigs feet well scrubbed and split lengthwise plus 1 1/2 lbs of meaty pork neck bones
  • 1 1/2 lbs lean, boneless pork shoulder, in a single piece
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 large (about 2 ounces total) dried chiles anchos, stemmed seeded and deveined
  • 4 large dried chiles guajillos, stemmed, seeded and deveined (if you can't find the two mentioned chiles use 9 California or New Mexico Chiles)
  • Salt, about 1 tablespoon
Ingredients for condiments:
  • 1/2 medium head of cabbage, cored or very thinly sliced or 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, cored and very thinly sliced
  • 8-10 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup dried oregano
  • 2 to 3 large limes, cut into wedges
  • 15 to 20 tostadas
Directions:
  • Measure 7 quarts of water into a stockpot and add the pig's feet and neck bones, the pork shoulder, garlic, and hominy. Bring to a simmer and cook until the corn is tender



  • Tear the chiles into large, flat pieces and toast them, a few at a time, on a heavy skillet set over medium heat, using a metal spatula to press them firmly against the hot surface until they crackle and blister, then flipping them over and pressing them down again. Remove to a bowl, cover with boiling water, weight with a plate to keep them submerged and soak for 30 minutes.
  • Drain, place in a blender and add 1/2 cup of water. Blend until smooth.



    Strain through a medium-mesh sieve into the simmering soup, then mix well.
  • Generously season the soup with salt, and let simmer for another hour or so.
  • Remove the bones, feet, and shoulder from the simmering broth. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, feet, and shoulder. (For pigs feet remove and discard the cartilage and bones, then chop what is left into 1 inch pieces). Roughly shred all meat
  • Just before serving season soup with salt. Add the meat to the pot and let simmer for a few minutes to reheat.
  • Ladle the soup into large bowls, top each one with a portion of shredded cabbage or lettuce and some sliced radishes. Pass the onion, oregano and lime wedges separately for each guest to add to his or her taste. The tostadas are a crunch accompaniment to enjoy between big spoonfuls of the soup.




Thursday, October 15, 2009

Small Farms, Big Ideas: The Dirt on Pigs



Today is a good day. Namely it is in the 80's and the weatherman is promising it to drop ten degrees this weekend. It is about time. This Saturday we have the First Coast Slow Food Chapter coming to 29 South for a field trip. Perfect timing, the radishes, carrots, beets, and collards are all sprouting in the garden thanks to Jeannemarie's handiwork, and our first bed of salad mix is almost ready to harvest.


Today also marks the first of my Small Farms, Big Ideas posts. I asked Del Conner of DelKat Family Farm, the pig farmer that supplies the restaurant with the most delicious pork, a few questions about his life and the world of grassroot farming. I feel like he and his fellow farmers have so much to teach about food, life, and American heritage...small farms have spend the past sixty odd years dwindling in numbers, but thanks to localvores across the country there is a rekindling of interest. So, here I give them a platform to share their knowledge...enjoy.


Question 1: Tell me about your farming heritage? How long has your family been farming, and what have you learned from previous generations?
My great-grandfather purchased the property of our farm in the 1800's. He had 15 children, 13 lived to adulthood. They grew vegetables and raised beef, pork, and chickens to provide for the family. They also grew sweet potatoes and made syrup from sugar cane. These were the 2 products they could sell to generate income. My grandfather, David Hodges, was born in 1908 and he was the only person in our family that had a job during the great depression. After the death of his parents he purchased the property from the other children. My grandparents reared me from the time I was 7 years old. My grandfather worked in construction full time. We grew and canned many kinds of vegetables and raised all our own beef, pork, and chicken.

Question 2: Why pigs? What makes the Berkshire breed special?
Pigs are intellegent and inquisitive. Each pig has a different personality. All children love a littler of nursing pigs. Hogs can make me mad because they can destroy anything if given enough time, but the overall enjoyment weighs out the bad. This is a seven day a week responsibility. I could not do this if I did not enjoy it and belive that there is some value. (side note: Del works full time at another job as well). I raise Berkshire hogs. They are one of the few breeds that has not been influenced by factory farming. Packers want animals the same color, size, etc. A good safe healthy piece of meat cannot be produced like parts in a factory. The Berkshire breed originated in England. The meat has some marbling because those traits were not bred out of them as in other breeds. There are minor breeds such as Mulefoot, Hereford, and Tamworth that remain as they were many years ago. Berkshire and these breeds do not fit the mold for confinement agriculture.



Question 3: What traditional methods do you use in raising livestock and why? New methods?
Traditional methods are common sense to me. Let a hog be a hog, outside in the sunshie, freshair, and mud. They have shelter, but hogs love rain and mud. Animals are here to provide meat, but it is our responsibility to treat them humanely.


Question 4: Why is it important to you as a farmer to raise animals without chemicals or other pollutants?
Farm animals do not need medication or antibiotics. Like people, they do not need medicine unless they are sick. Feeding hormones for faster growth is unnatural. Confinement farms feed antibiotics because so many animals are kept in close quarters with poor air quality that one animal will spread a sickness to other animals. Antibiotics should not be fed as a precaution...sunshine is very good at cleansing bacteria.


Question 5: As a small farmer, what are some of the challenges you face today that previous generations of farmers didn't have to deal with? What can consumers do to help?
Government regulations that supposedly protect the consumer basically protect the interests of agribusiness. Government subsidies are welfare for the large Ag corporations. All I would like from the government is for them to leave me alone and not regulate small farms to death. Salmonella and Ecoli always come from large vegatable farms or packing houses that slaugher 20,000 plus animals per day. Consumers should realize that products produced on small family farms are a totally different product than is produced in factory farming.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Californiamastication: The Final Chapter


It is wild to think that I was in California on Wednesday. It seems like eons ago. The South just sucks you back in, sops you up like mud in a marsh.

Last Monday was a magical day of eating. Above is a beet salad I had for lunch at Chez Panisse. Chez Panisse is one of those place where I think it is truly impossible to have a bad meal. Alice Waters and her kitchen know exactly what to do with fresh organic, local ingredients...as they should since the restaurant has been in full swing for over 30 years. Namely, they don't do much to them because they are more or less already perfect.

At our garden at 29 South our beets are sprouting, and butter lettuce is on the way. I plan to recreate this salad come December from our homegrown veggies. Can you believe the color of that beet above? Nature's candy.

After lunch at Chez Panisse, that evening we had a romantic dinner at Kokkari Estiatorio. You know a restaurant is going to be fabulous when there is a huge fire place with a rotisserie laden with meat slowly turning above the flames. Chef and I celebrated our anniversary at this San Francisco hot spot over unbelievably delicious Greek food. As much as I love our daughter, after literally 20 meals in restaurants over the course of a week with her by my side, it was wonderful to be able to sit and have a meal without the little barbarian.

We started with Dolmathes, grape leaves stuffed with rice, mint and dill. I am a bit of dolmathe snob and these were the best I have ever had. Next course, I had an appetizer of grilled artichoke and eggplant that was simple and exquisite. It was sprinkled with herbs, drizzled with olive oil with house made Greek yogurt on the side that was the most creamy yogurt I have ever tasted. Main course, I had a fish similar to snapper, but can not recall the name through my pregnancy fog...Chef the lamb. For dessert, we had 2, but the most memorable was a fig tart topped with some sort of cheese that was unbelievable. To make the experience even better, the service was fantastic. Kokkari. It was the best meal we had during our entire trip. Kokkari. Remember it if you are in the Bay Area.

Now we are back in the dirty 'Dina. It is 90 degrees in October. Why?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Californimastication: Part II


Above is one of the best chocolate milkshakes to ever grace my mouth. Chef, Lil' Bit and I dropped a pretty penny on this small classic American meal. $50 bucks with soda and water at Taylor's Refresher. This burger joint always has a line, and for good reason. It is a place where you can get the traditional burger with special sauce alongside a $150 bottle of wine. A little something for everyone.

We have had a number of great meals on our trip thus so far, one of which Chef cooked Friday night. I will be posting that feast in its entirety sometime in the near future. Today we are going to catch a grape crush in the garage of the next door neighbor's house. Pete and his wife Meg make Shypoke wine...and it is phenomenal. Then off to brunch at Thomas Keller's family style restaurant, Ad Hoc, wrapping up the day in San Francisco.

It is a rough life I live.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Californimastication: Part I


Wednesday was delicious. It was our first full day in Napa, and it began as our first days here usually do...a caffeinated beverage and pastry at Dean and Deluca. Lil' Bit and I shared an apricot brioche that would make you slap your grandma it was so good.

Chef and I celebrate our anniversary every October in Northern California. We stay at my dear friend Meghan's gorgeous family home in Calistoga, and truck it back to San Fran for a few nights at the end of our visit. I look forward to this trip every year...this year makes number 4.

There is nothing like waking up at dawn, which is Lil' Bit's morning ritual here since she is stuck on EST, and watching the sun rise over a gentleman's vineyard as quail scurry about pecking at mounds of fallen grapes scattered under their vines. Megs and I have been in cahoots since we were ten years old and she is family to us, Lil' Bit's godmother to be exact. Her father has been in the wine business as long as I can remember, which is not a bad business to be in from what I can tell, and we are so lucky to have such remarkable folks in our lives.

Lunch at Mustards, Cindy Pawlcyn's Napa flagship restaurant, is a new must for us every time we are in this part of the country. Sean Night, Pawlcyn's partner, is a friend of Chef's from growing up in Atlanta whom he reconnected with on our last visit. The food at Mustards is quintessential California cuisine fresh, casual yet elegant simplicity. Basically, perfection. One of the most famous dishes on their menu is the Lemon Lime Meringue Pie, which is pictured above. The meringue on top is something Suessean in nature. You have to see it to believe it, and yes it tastes better than it looks. Lil' Bit couldn't keep her hands off it. She is such a trip to eat with. Mustards has a fantastic kid's menu, from which we ordered her a chicken panini, but she preferred our duck entree to her infantile fare.

We schlepped to Sebastopol to meet our friends Marcy and Roger, who recently moved back to California from Amelia Island. Two smart people if you ask me. We met them and then drove to Sonoma to have dinner at The Girl and Fig. The menu was classic French infused with the pioneering California spirit. Owned by Sondra Bernstein, this restaurant is a gem. We dined al fresco on a lovely patio with lanterns draped about and fires blazing in table side pits and out door fire places. We sat next to a minimalist water fountain that held Lil' Bit's attention off and on through out dinner. Lil' Bit immediately engaged a man whom I supposed was the manager of the restaurant with her girlish wiles. She knows who to work in the room. Lil' Bit targeted the manager at Mustards earlier in the day and was awarded a special plate of sesame seed crackers which she splashed about in as if it were a dog bowl of water.

When we arrived she was in a bit of a mood after a long car ride, but as soon as the little dish of olives hit the table she was cracking the whip. "More. More. More." I couldn't pit them fast enough, and had to enlist Chef to help. She devoured all but five olives, and a caper berry which she sucked on like a lollipop for a while. Quite a palette our little one is developing.

I am not sure if it is pregnancy, well that is a lie, it is the prego factor that is making me dessert obsessed. At the end of this lovely dinner I had three scoops of fig and port wine ice cream nestled in a homemade cookie bowl, which Marcy summed up perfectly after a spoonful exclaiming, "Holy shit that is good!" Actually, she basically described our entire day of dining with those five words. It was a wonderful, wonderful Wednesday.



Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bushes of Basil


Basil. It is a lovely word. It has a lovely smell. I even like it as a name, and I have a particular aversion to naming children after food or drink. At the 29 South garden we will harvest all of our basil in the next two weeks. Today I cut off three branches, two for myself and one for Gan Gan as a thank you for being so good to Lil' Bit.

When you walk past this bed in the garden the fresh scent of this delectable plant cuts through even the most humid air. It just hangs there in the thick heat...giving the insufferable stagnant air a whiff of vigor.
Today I spent an hour pulling buckwheat and grass out of one bed in the garden. It is the end of September and 90+ degrees in Florida. Hell, I tell you. In the garden right now there are few edibles...the basil, some scraggly eggplant, and a few tomato plants on their last leg.

We are spending the next week cleaning it all out and preparing for our fall planting.
We...being myself and Jeannemarie...the newest edition to the 29 South team. She is our new gardener, and has impeccable timing. I have been stressed out about how the garden will be maintained alongside the impending birth of a new babe. Jeannemarie appeared at our door seemingly out of thin air, with an appreciation for organic food which is rare in this neck of the woods. To say I am glad she is here is an understatement.

While she yanks the rest of the plants out of the garden, our Chef Mike and his kitchen team will harvest all the basil for pesto. Pesto freezes amazingly well, and I am curious to see how many pounds of it he will get from our bushes. I am going to whip up a batch myself this weekend. It is so easy to make...and a little goes a long way.


We are off to the land of milk, honey, and fine wine next week...Napa Valley and my favorite city in the US...San Francisco! We will be eating our way through...stay tuned!


Good Life Recipe #12 / Pesto/Alice Waters/The Art of Simple Food
*This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto. I like to make a lot of pesto at once, add a little lemon juice to keep it from browning, and freeze it in ice cube trays for later use. It freezes perfectly, and it is a sauce you can use on almost anything! Alice Waters uses a mortar and pestle in this recipe, but tossing all of the ingredients in a new fangled food processor has the same effect. If you go that route, add all of the ingredients but the olive oil and give it a few pulses, then add olive oil slowly at the end while the processor is running.

Ingredients:
  • 1 Bunch of basil, to yield about 1 lightly packed cup
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts, lightly roasted
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin-olive oil
Directions:
  • In a mortar and pestle pound 1 garlic clove and a pinch of salt into a paste.
  • Add and continue to pound 1/4 cup of pine nuts, lightly toasted (toast briefly in a pan over medium heat)
  • Add 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Transfer this mixture into a bowl. Coarsely chop basil and put in the mortar.
  • Pound the leaves into a paste.
  • Return the pounded pine nut mixture into the mortar and pound with leaves.
  • Continue pounding as you gradually pour in 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
*You can use walnuts instead of pine nuts.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Constant Craving





Yes, that is pimento cheese on fried chicken. I have a disgusting thing to admit. In the past five days I have eaten a pound and a half of pimento cheese. It is an uncontrollable craving...lustful even. It is as if the little human growing inside of me has tapped into my subconscious, whispering "pimento cheese, creamy and delicious" over and over again until I am forced to go the refrigerator and eat more. And more. I imagine pimento cheese is like heroine. There is no having just a taste.

Personally, I prefer pimento cheese on crackers. The classic sandwich is all well and good. It is something I will settle for in a pinch, but I like the spread on a cracker because of the crunch. The added texture, the little bit of crisp, lightens it up a bit.


Pimento cheese has a long history as a Southern snack of choice. It has found its place on grocery store shelves in the South since around 1915. It really took off as a food of choice during the Depression. For more info on pimento cheese and some quality recipes check out the
Southern Foodways Alliance. Oh, but pimento cheese is not just some provincial confederate delight. It is a worldly cheese spread. It is very popular in the Philippines, where they refer to it as cheese-pimento. Who knew?

I figure if I eat this terribly wonderful cheese spread on whole grain crackers it somehow justifies the indulgence. Well, actually pregnancy is the perfect justification...but so many store bought pimento cheese spreads are made from processed food stuffs that I have decided to go wholesome with
I am on a mission to find the perfect pimento cheese recipe.

This week I will indulge in a recipe of the Southern Queen of Indulgence...the one...the only Paula Deen. I left the house seasoning out of my batch for fear of too much salt. From here I will explore some of the recipes from the Southern Food Ways Alliance Pimento Cheese Invitational. This will a be a six month journey, unless another craving conquers all.




Good Life Recipe # 11/ Bobby's Pimento Cheese / Paula Deen


Ingredients

  • 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, room temp
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar
  • 1 cup grated Monterey Jack
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon House Seasoning, recipe follows
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons pimentos, smashed
  • 1 teaspoon grated onion
  • cracked black pepper


Direction
  • Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth and fluffy. Add all of the remaining ingredients and bat until well blended. It can be used as a dip for crudites or a sandwich filling.
House Seasoning
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup black pepper
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.