Category Archives: Culinary Delights

Instead

pie porn IV: apple pie baked

The Poet’s Occasional Alternative
by Grace Paley

I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead      it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft      a poem would have had some
distance to go      days and weeks and
much crumpled paper
the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor
everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it      many friends
will say      why in the world did you
make only one
this does not happen with poems
because of unreportable
sadnesses I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership      I do not
want to wait a week      a year      a
generation for the right
consumer to come along

Sweet Connections

one serving every day

My mother had a sister who was two years younger than she. My Aunt Reta. The evening of February 27, 2019, eleven days after her 83rd birthday, Reta decided she wanted a bit of ice cream. She got out of her chair to go to the kitchen, and she collapsed. She died of a heart attack.

Last Monday, March 16, my mother was feeling very unwell and in pain (she was terminally ill). She did not want any supper. My father asked her if she wanted some ice cream. She replied that yes, that sounded good. My father helped her to the dining room chair. Before he could get the ice cream, she began to fall over. He caught her, helped her to the floor, called 911 and a neighbor. She died shortly after.

I like to think they are enjoying ice cream together in a parallel universe.

English Toffee Recipe

homemade toffee

English Toffee

1 cup butter
1.5 cups white sugar
3 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
2 cups toasted almonds (slivers or flakes)
8 oz. semisweet baking chocolate (bar, chips, etc.)

Candy thermometer
1 qt. pot
2 qt. pot
double boiler pot
13×9 inch pan
cookie sheet
silicone spatulas
parchment paper

  1. Grease a 13 x 9 inch pan with some butter on bottom and sides. Put 1 cup of almonds in a bowl handy by the stove. Keep the pan close by.
  2. Put parchment paper on a large cookie sheet.
  3. Put water in the larger pot and set the double boiler on top. Put chocolate in. Break up if it’s baking bar chocolate. Turn heat on medium. The water will heat up and the chocolate will melt.
  4. Put butter, sugar, water, and corn syrup into the smaller pot. Turn stove on to medium. Affix the thermometer inside the pot so it makes contact with the melted ingredients but doesn’t touch the bottom.
  5. Stir constantly while mixture cooks. When it reaches 300F on the candy thermometer, remove from heat, add almonds and stir quickly, then pour the entire mixture into the 13×9 pan. Use a spatula to spread it evenly on the bottom of the pan. It cools quickly.
  6. Let the candy cool in the pan. (You can put it in the fridge to speed it up.)
  7. Once cool, gently turn the pan over onto the parchment paper and press. The candy should drop onto the paper.
  8. Using a spatula, spread half of the melted chocolate on the candy, then sprinkle .5 cup of almonds over the top. Allow it to set. (Again, refrigerate to speed it up.)
  9. Turn the block of candy over carefully and coat that side with remaining chocolate. Sprinkle with remaining almonds. Let set.
  10. Try not to eat it all at once.

This can be broken into smaller pieces for gifts.

Simply Pay Attention

Existence is hard; it is literal suffering. It has wonders and joys, amazements and fascinations, yes. And it has love. All of this along with suffering, which happens to us and which we inflict on others and our own selves. Claire once asked me, if life is suffering, what is the point of being alive? In the end it seems simple enough: we are Life experiencing itself. We are Consciousness holding everything. We are the Mystery. It doesn’t bear too much thinking about, because thinking is a distraction. Better to simply pay attention to what is happening right now, what is right in front of me, and to meet it as fully and with as much attention as I can.

Taking my own advice, I happened to notice the sunlight on freshly washed grapes when I made my lunch. After visually appreciating them for a time, before relishing them in my mouth, I snapped a photo to share.

grapessun

The Reason I Love to Bake

There is another reason for the priority of pastry: pastry chefs are the only ones in the kitchen who are alchemists by necessity. Where the rotisseur or the man with the sauté pan does his best work when he does least, it is in the nature of pastry-making that you begin with ingredients that don’t at all resemble what you end up with. It is de rigeur for the fish chef to say that he wants his fish to shine through, but the cake maker does not want his cake to taste anything like the flour that constitutes it. Baking is always making new.

–Adam Gopnik

Red Beans and Rice

I think Popeye’s Red Beans and Rice dish is incredibly yummy. I’ve searched for their recipe without luck, and so I’ve been experimenting. I believe I have discovered the closest approximation to their dish. It came out so savory, with lots of umami.

Red Beans and Rice (Crockpot)

1 pound dried red beans
2 to 2.5 lb. smoked pork shank
3 bay leaves
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 bell pepper (any color), finely chopped
2 large onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp. bacon fat
1 tsp. thyme
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. salt
1.75 to 2 quarts water
3/4 cup instant mashed potatoes

This can be made in a pot on the stove as well but requires more attention.

Sort and rinse beans, then soak overnight. Drain and rinse beans. Put the ham shank into a 4 qt. crockpot and add the beans and bay leaves. Melt the bacon fat in a saucepan; add the finely chopped vegetables and sautee until onions are translucent and veggies are softening. Mix in the thyme, cayenne, black pepper, and salt with the vegetables and stir. Pour this over the beans and ham in the crockpot. Add the water. It’s okay if some ham is exposed; it will cook down. Cover and turn the crockpot onto high for about six hours. (If using stove top, bring the mixture to a boil, then turn it down to simmer.) The goal is for the veggies to melt away into the broth as much as possible.

Remove the ham shank (it will be very tender and fall apart). Let cool a bit and then chop into small pieces. Throw away the extra fat and bones. Use a masher and mash the red beans in the pot, then return the meat to the crockpot and stir. Turn heat down to low and add the instant mashed potatoes to thicken. It is ready to serve then, but it can cook on low or warm for another hour or so.

Cook white or brown rice of your choice according to the directions on the package. Spoon rice into a bowl and ladle beans on top. Enjoy!

More Summer Fun

We’ve been busy climbing and splashing and creating! Claire had a total of three weeks of swimming lessons. She is still shy about getting her face in the water and going under water, but she had a blast with her teachers. She very specifically insisted on lady teachers “because they are more gentle.” (She had a man the first day and cried, and refused to even allow a man to put her into the pool.) She practiced floating on her back and kicking…

back kick

…and jumping into the instructor’s arms.

ker-splash!

We’ve also been playing with our food:

dinner
lunch

One day Claire asked for a knife and began slicing up pepper slices I’d given her. Once she cut them all, she ate them. Never before had she asked to do this, and she demonstrated real dexterity at cutting. That brain of hers is always growing!

slicing pepper

Yesterday we took a day trip to Mount Madonna County Park. It’s a gorgeous park, and they also have campgrounds, which we may reserve for later. Here’s the scenic view of the valley:

view from mount madonna

And up-close views of beautiful mosses and lichen:

such a variety of green

We saw California banana slugs:

banana slug view 2

And a Santa Cruz Gartersnake basking in a spot of sun:

cool snake

The redwoods are amazing:

hollowed out giant

These were the Twin Giants:

beauty on high

We had fun hiking the trails:

mommy and claire

We visited the Henry Miller Summer Home ruins, and Claire hopped around:

in the miller house ruins

A view from within the former house:

room with a view

Claire had many questions about the former house and why no one took care of it anymore:

miller house 2

We walked and walked, and later she had a nap on the way home:

strolling

We’ve played with paint and paper plates:

paper plate ladybug
paper plate fish

And we’ve started collecting our spare change in a jar which we decorated. We’ll empty it periodically and use it to donate to the food bank, or the Family Giving Tree, or some other worthy organization.

our collection jar

And so our summer continues!

Transformation

We’ve been busy lately. There have been little-girl sleepovers, outings to the park, and a field trip to pick strawberries. So, without further ado, let me show you the results of our latest outing. We start at this and this:

picking
tasting

We picked nine pounds of strawberries!

And proceed to this and this:

prepping
canning

A sticky, boiling mess!

Ending in this and this!

garnet red jam
11 pints

My first time canning, ever. I ended up with 11 pints of strawberry jam!

We All Scream

There’s an ice cream truck that rolls through our neighborhood at a speed that makes it impossible to catch if we’re inside or the back yard. We’ve pretty much given up on it. There’s a man who walks through our neighborhood with a cart and a bell, whom we usually can reach in time. But yesterday we didn’t dash out at the first sound of his bell; by the time we did, he was well down the street — beyond shouting distance. Claire was sad. We drove around a few minutes to see if we could find him (my suggestion, I thought we’d succeed). When we couldn’t find him, Claire dealt with her sadness by suggesting we make a stop sign for the ice cream guys. She painted the sign (including the edge) and I painted the words:

letting the ice cream man know what we want

Now we’d best be ready to follow through!

‘Tis the season for daisies… At the park yesterday, Claire ran up to me with both hands overflowing. I love being a mother!

flowers from claire

No Half Measures

As my husband says, nothing is ever halfway with me. After reading Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, I’ve wondered exactly how to follow his advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I recently purchased a small pile of books, several of which feel intuitively revolutionary to me. The titles:

Green For Life, by Victoria Boutenko: This book explains nutrition in a very accessible manner, providing scientific data and references to studies to support its claims. I am skeptical of a few claims (such as gray hair returning to its natural color after adding green smoothies to one’s diet), but the majority of information makes practical sense and is upheld by general standards of nutrition. The book is concise and printed on high-quality paper.

Green Smoothie Revolution: The Radical Leap Towards Natural Health, by Victoria Boutenko: This second book by Boutenko provides the core information on the benefit of green smoothies. The majority of the book contains recipes (i.e., inspiration for mixing) of smoothies. (It’s also concise and printed on high quality paper, meaning it will hold up over long-term use and doesn’t take up much kitchen shelf space.) In both books, I like the author’s voice. She writes in a way that is educated yet understated.

The Green Smoothie Diet: The Natural Program for Extraordinary Health: I returned this one to the bookstore. It’s a regurgitation of Boutenko’s general ideas (even the title) but without any references to scientific or medical studies. It read an awful lot like a sales pitch for Blendtec, and rather than a bibliography of resources at the end it contained pages and pages of testimonials. While they make for entertaining reading, they are anecdotal, and I’m not going to base my nutrition decisions on the hallelujahs of strangers. The paper was also cheap, the kind that will yellow and grow brittle in a couple of years.

Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker, by Robin Robertson: while I browsed the shelves, struggling to decide whether to purchase Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (an enormous book and pricey), I came across this one. I use my slow cooker quite a bit. I was pleased to see a book chock full of delicious dishes to make. They can be adapted for vegans as well, although I’m unlikely to ever take that route.

Vegan Unplugged: A Pantry Cuisine Cookbook and Survival Guide, by Jon Robertson: While I just wrote that I won’t become vegan, what intrigued me about this book was its niche — a book specifically written with the question of how to survive if the power goes out for a long time. The book explains how to create a pantry full of goods for the recipes it provides. There are about 17 recipes requiring no cooking at all. Different methods of creating heat (wood, gas stove, sterno) are discussed. There’s also a five-day meal plan for vegans who might drive somewhere; they can bring their own food to the in-law’s (for camping this is good as well). (I once dated a vegan and we had the hardest time finding places he could and would eat.) Most of the recipes sound delicious and are ones I’d make anyhow.

The other day I roasted a whole chicken. I noticed something in my reaction while preparing and later eating it. As I took it out of the wrapper, for the first time it felt a little weird to be handling flesh. Not quite obscene, but a little foreign. Claire asked what it was, and I said it was a chicken. She pointed to the wings and inquired of them; after I answered she laughed and said, “Food with wings! That’s silly!” (Claire is almost vegetarian; the only meat she eats are kosher hot dogs from Trader Joe’s, Oscar Meyer baloney, my pulled pork, the rare fish stick, and an occasional strip of bacon. She refuses milk still but will once in awhile eat cheese or yogurt.)

Anyhow, once the chicken was roasted I was ravenous to eat it. What I wanted and enjoyed the most was the crispy seasoned skin. I ate the meat and it was tasty, but I was satisfied with one portion. The next day I used the meat to add to dinner salads, and while it tasted all right it seemed superfluous. I ate a chicken sandwich today, and again it was all right, but not the tasty concoction I used to salivate over. Now I’m cooking the carcass for soup, but it smells odd to me in the house. It smells like… flesh cooking. It smells slightly revolting. Hmmm.

I wonder what’s up?

News and Change

Hi dear readers (all 5 of you who are left). I know I hardly post here anymore. But today I have good news to share. The saga of the breast cancer question has been answered. I had the genetic test done for BRCA 1 and 2 (thanks to insurance paying), and the result is I have neither mutation! This is a relief. The oncologist still thinks I should consider taking Tamoxifen because of the family history and atypical hyperplasia I have. I’m not so sure, given the potential life-ending side effects. So for now I am cancer-free and I have options for trying to remain so.

There are other, less toxic avenues I started down. One is to consume green smoothies. I’ve not done much research for scientific findings of the health benefits of green smoothies (particularly regarding cancer prevention), but from so many books I’ve read (Michael Pollan, Mark Bitman, etc.), an increase in consumption of these foods can only promote health.

I don’t have the high-tech blender suggested for this (they are pricey at $400, though I’m told worth it). If I stay the course, maybe I’ll get one. Depends on how many blenders I burn out. The cool thing is that so far the smoothies I make taste good. I’m told some of the greens I might end up using make for a less sweet concoction. But thus far this is the recipe I’m using: two generous handfuls of spinach; 1 small banana; 1 pear; 1 cup grapes. (Or I could go with more pears, no grapes, etc.). About a tablespoon of grade B maple syrup, and 1.5 cups of water. I blend the hell out of it for two minutes.

DSC01742

Voila! A truly tasty beverage (even comes in my favorite color!).

DSC01747

A New Dish

I’ve decided I need new ways to make couscous dishes. Plain couscous is boring and tasteless. The boxed mixes are ridiculously expensive.

Fruity Couscous Salad

2 & 2/3 cups dry whole wheat couscous (or regular)
3 cups orange juice (or water, or a mixture)
1 cup packed dried apricots, chopped
1 & 1/3 cups dried cherries, chopped
1 cup of dark or golden raisins (or a mixture)
1.5 cup chopped dates (remove pits)
1 & 1/3 cups slivered almonds or chopped pecans, toasted
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Bring the orange juice/water mix to a boil and remove from heat; add couscous, stir, and cover for five minutes until liquid is soaked up.

Put the dried cherries and raisins in a container and cover with water, then microwave for one minute to soften. (Dried apricots and dates are typically soft enough.) Drain the cherries and raisins.

Put the couscous into a large bowl. Add cherries, raisins, chopped apricots, chopped dates, and nuts. Mix. Add the cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper by sprinkling over the entire bowl. Mix thoroughly.

This tastes good just made, but it tastes especially good after it sits and chills awhile. It makes a large amount, so for smaller meals cut in half.

Makes 16 servings

Playing

Feeling quiet on the blog these days. Did a painting on a 24×36″ canvas — my first one. All that blank white canvas felt a bit daunting, but I did enjoy mooshing paint around. I also used oil pastel on details.

forest

Claire and I are getting into the spirit of the next holiday:

love is in the air

And we are continuing to create our way through the alphabet!

owl and octopus

We’ve had an abundant crop of Meyer lemons (as well as other lemons and oranges). I usually juice them and freeze them in cubes. But this time I wanted to preserve some and use them for later cooking. I made four jars. It was simple, and making them was such pleasure. They are gorgeous!

jar up close

One day, about a week ago, Claire desperately wanted to celebrate a birthday. She wanted it to be hers, and she cried a bit over the fact that it wasn’t. But she wanted cake and to sing the song. So I did a little research for a literary figure born on that day. I found the poet, Helen Hoyt, was born on the day in question. We explored the poetry a little at the Poetry Foundation, and I baked each of us a little cake. We sang happy birthday to her. We’ll be doing that again, I’m sure!

celebrating a birthday

Lastly, I bought fresh gnocchi on a whim. I didn’t have a tomato sauce to use, and I wanted to do something different with it. So I sauteed zucchini in olive oil with basil and a few sliced preserved Meyer lemons. I really enjoyed it, but two-thirds of the household diners did not like it as much. One said the lemon made it bitter. I’ll need to find other uses for the lemon.

gnocchi

So, if you’ve been wondering why I’ve been quiet here since January 19th, this post is your answer!

Shortbread and Raspberry Heaven

Raspberry Almond Thumbprint Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 Tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and white sugar until smooth. Mix in 1/2 teaspoon almond extract. Mix in flour until dough comes together. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Make a small hole in the center of each ball, using your thumb and finger (I used a 1/2 teaspoon measure, round side down), and fill the hole with preserves (I used 1/4 teaspoon to scoop).

Bake for 14 to 18 minutes in preheated oven, or until lightly browned. Let cool 1 minute on the cookie sheet.

In a small bowl, mix together the confectioners’ sugar, 3/4 teaspoon almond extract, and milk until smooth (adjust milk amount if needed to get proper consistency). Drizzle lightly over warm cookies.

(Recipe from AllRecipes.com with a few adjustments)

raspberry almond thumbprint closeup
raspberry almond thumbprint - with flash