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 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

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 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 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 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.