Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mexican Fiesta

One of the things I want to do to improve my overall life, is to entertain more. I used to do it a lot, but for the past few years, I've stopped cooking, let alone entertaining and I want to bring that kind of positive energy (both cooking and entertaining) into my life. I want my home to hold memories of friends and family laughing, eating, enjoying life. So after spending a few months this spring and summer making things more presentable around here (we took up worn out carpet to discover spectacular wooden floors- since the carpet was here when we moved in we didn't know what we would find underneath it). I also spruced up my garden so our backyard patio is perfect for outdoor dining. Last night we invited out two best friend couples over for dinner. I wanted to make a Mexican meal, so I grilled fresh salmon with limes and tequila served with a black bean and grilled corn salsa. I wanted to try my hand at chile rellenos, so I stuffed pablano peppers with a potato and cheese mixture, dipped them in an egg white mixture and fried them (they were my favorite part of the meal- a little spicy but very tasty). I made a citrus and jicama salad, sticks of crunchy jicama with orange slices and lime juice squeezed over all. This was a very nice contrast to the spicy peppers. For appetizers I served tortilla chips with a trilogy of salsas, mango, pico de gallo, and guacamole for the kids. For the adult appetizer I made goat cheese with dates, fig, and cilantro served on toasted baguette. I was going to make flan for dessert, but one of my guests brought a cake instead. We had hibiscus tea with lime and orange slices to wash it all down. We had a lovely evening under the stars with good friends and good food and good conversation. How's that for spiritual rejuvenation?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Money Diet

Least anyone get to thinking this is a food blog, I have to remind you (and myself) that it is actually a self-improvement via spiritual rejuvenation blog- so all my entries can't be about food. This one is about exercise. It's been about two weeks since I've been to the gym. When it came time to make the quarterly membership payment, I found that my revenues had been reassigned to take care of little things like replacing my totalled van (thanks 18 year old), replacing our dryer that had given up the ghost, and paying freshly arrived medical bills incurred last month by a sick child ( and I won't even mention the stack of greenbacks it took to get 5 kids 'back to school' - they should call it 'back to broke'- the sports physicals, the eye exams, the dental appointments, the haircuts, the school supplies, the book fees, oy vey- you get the picture). Oh well, such is life. So in place up early morning trips to the gym, I've had to come up with a home workout. Good thing I happen to own an entire collection of workout equipment and tapes purchased over the years. I just blew the dust off and away I go...
I start with 15 minutes of morning yoga with Rodney Yee. No one holds my yoga mat space sacrosanct, so it's interesting with cats walking across my belly as I lay in relaxation or toddlers grabbing my legs as I try to hold a downward dog position. The trick is to get up earlier than the cats and toddlers I suppose. After my yoga I do a 20 minute workout called Beach Body. I really like these energetic aerobic workouts and I really can work up a sweat. Some days I skip both of these and choose to walk to work instead, about 2.5 miles. I also own weights and bands, which I prefer to use in the evenings, but I rarely get a moment to myself in the evening, so the weight bearing stuff isn't done as regularly. So as long as my finances are on a diet, it's nice to have a back-up plan.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

River Market

Today I got to engage in my favorite passtime. I went to the local farmer's market. Though we have several small ones sprinkled around town, I prefer to go to the big one downtown in the River Market area. I especially like this one because in our notoriously segregated town, this is one of the few places where you can really see a microcosm of our city. The Vietnamese vegetable vendor in her cone shaped hat, selling her wares next to the Amish woman with her tidy little bonnet selling baked goods. The spice vendor bags up little scoops of spices as his wife shrouded head to toe in Muslim garb stands watch. I picked up dill, bay leaves, cinnamon, dried hisbiscus flowers (for tea) cumin seed and dried cilantro. I found some beautiful yellow tomatoes, some peach amarillo preserves, and fat little green cucumbers for making tatziki sauce. I also bought blueberries before the season escapes for another year, and fresh baked pita bread from the Mediterranean bakery. I shop with a wicker basket that I carry atop my head when it becomes to heavy to hold by the handle. I love the sensory experience of a natural basket full of fresh produce and flowers. I go early, buy my fresh produce, baked goods, and spices, then find a little nook to sit and watch humanity go by. I usually go to a funky little retro restaurant called Succotash that serves up a great breakfast, but this morning I selected the Habashi Market. I ordered grilled pita with hummus and rice, and a side a baba ghanoush. It turned out to be an excellent choice. I sat, ate the best darn baba ghanoush I've ever tasted and enjoyed the sights and sounds of humanity. A guy with long hair and mustache played country music and his violin (or should I say fiddle?) nearby while I noshed on pita bread and inhaled the smells of freshed brewed coffee from the coffee shop next door. I selected a nice bouquet of flowers to deliver to my favorite cousin (today is his birthday) along with a redvelvet cupcake from a shop called Babycakes for us to share. My Saturday morning trips to the River Market are one of the best thing about my so-called big life.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Last weekend was on orgy of too much meat, too much wine, and too many rich sauces. I had to calm things down with more veggies and more fruit juices. I appear to have fallen into an illicit affair with cheese. I feel like I'm discovering it for the first time. After a life time of cheddar and Swiss (I won't even mention the non-food, non-cheeses like American and Velveeta) I am discovering a world of cheeses. Literally around the world with Italian Fontina, French Brie, Spanish Mantegna, Swiss Gruyere, and English Stilton. I can't get enough, goat milk, sheep milk, cow milk, doesn't matter. I've been eating cheeses baked into casseroles, smoothed on crackers, dipped into fondues, or just smooth, tasty little buttery tidbits popped into my mouth to really savor the true unadulterated flavors. I'd love to get some recommendations as well as recipes for all these cheeses I can't stop buying! (No kidding, at the checkout in the grocery store the other day, the cashier said, 'and here's your bag of cheese ma'am.")

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Guess who's coming to dinner


Baked Brie with Mushrooms and Thyme

Mixed Greens with Caramelized Walnuts, Dried Cranberries, and Goat Cheese

Poulet Saute Aux Herbes de Provence


Baguette with Butter

Reine de Saba

Le Faux Frog Chardonnay

The French dinner was a great success. Despite the fact that one guest cancelled and the other rescheduled, two other guests (2 young men invited by my 18 year old) showed up and we all had a great time. I started around 4pm with the chicken, while my 11 year old put together the salad of mixed greens, sun dried cranberries (couldn't find the figs in the store) caramelized walnuts and goat cheese. I filled my cruet with extra virgin olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, gave it a shake and that was that. I was skeptical about frying the chicken in butter as the recipe called for. Surely it would just burn and be a mess. But it actually worked. I think the fat from the butter clung to the chicken so that all that what was left in the pan was clarified. Anyway, I browned two batches of chicken wings and thighs with crushed fennel seed, fresh time and basil, and left the butter and spices in the pan to become the sauce later. I made the sauce about an hour later by mashing some roasted garlic gloves into the pan of butter and herbs, pouring in half a bottle of white wine, and letting it reduce until the volume of wine was cut in half. I beat 3 egg yolks with the juice of a lemon, and slowly started adding in the wine reduction, spoon full by spoon full. When the egg yolks were more wine sauce than egg yolks, I poured it all back into the pan, added more wine, and let it cook until thick. Next I made an appetizer of brie, smothered in mushrooms that had been sauteed with red onion, garlic, and reduced with red wine. I used an assortment of button, crimoni, shitake, and portabella mushrooms. Baked it in the oven until the brie was nice and melty and served it with sliced baguette. The 'boys' (17- 21 yrs old) really loved this dish. They tore into it as soon as it was out of the oven, even though the rest of dinner was about 2 hours away. I have to agree, for something so simple it was quite delicious, reminded me of fondue only simpler. The boys ate the appetizer and then left to go on a walk. My 11 yr old and I then made the chocolate cake, and last the ratatouille. For the cake we ground almonds, whipped egg whites, melted chocolate and coffee, sifted flour, stirred together sugar, egg yolks, and almond extract, and butter, then carefully put all the ingredients together, poured into a greased and floured pan and voila. I was supposed to make a chocolate coffee frosting for it, but we didn't have as many chocolate chips as I thought, so instead I made a sauce of apricot preserves, yogurt and cinnamon, all heated gently and placed in a pool on the plate before being topped with a slice of warm cake. The ratatouille I made last, as everyone was having their salad course. I had cut the eggplant and zucchini into sticks, salted them and left them in a bowl to drain off all the excess liquid. While everyone was eating their salad, I sauteed them in olive oil with sliced green peppers, garlic, and chopped up tomato. I tossed in a sprinkling of capers and a splash of white wine. This is a delicious dish and was a wonderful accompaniment to the savory chicken. I thought it might be kind of a heavy side, but it was perfect with the chicken. The salad was actually quite sweet with the cranberries and walnuts. The balsamic vinegar added the right amount of tang and the goat cheese helped to balance it all out. This meal had all the balance of flavors to it. Of course there was plenty of french baguette and butter for every course. The wine I selected was a French Chardonnay, very light and sweet, and quite lovely with the fennel of the chicken. I also purchased a Beaujolais (couldn't help myself), but as I was the only one drinking, I only had a few sips of it. All in all I had a great time cooking this meal over about 4 hours. We actually sat down for the main course at 8 pm. Dessert was served at 9. So this was my French meal, me and 8 kids ranging in age from 2-21 (my husband was working). There was lots of fun and lively discussion (none of them knew who Julia Child was- can you believe that?), and lots of appreciation for a nice meal. They even helped clean the dishes. Perhaps there is hope for the next generation after all.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Julia

In honor of Julie Child's birthday today, I am making a French meal from her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I am on my way to Whole Foods Market to get the ingredients for Poulet Aux Herbes de Provence, Ratatouille, Mixed Wild Greens with Figs and Goat Cheese with Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil (my addition), and Reine de Saba (chocolate and almond cake). I have invited a missionary friend who is visiting from Japan, and another old friend who I find spiritually uplifting. I'll also head over to the Beer Cave and pick up a suggested Rose to go with the chicken, and a port or a sherry to go with dessert. I'm trying to allow my shopping to be a part of this whole spiritual experience (so yes, I'm leaving the kids at home!) of lovingly preparing a meal for friends- a spiritual discipline if you will. An entire body, mind, and spirit experience. I'm going for European style which is a slow meal consumed in courses over several hours (Americans never eat like this- but we probably should- we wouldn't be so fat). One of the very best meals of my entire life happened when I was in Europe- The Netherlands to be exact. The food was all prepped, but the hosts didn't even start cooking until about 2 hours after we arrived! We had the best conversation and went through 4 or 5 bottles of wine between 5 people. It was the most amazing experience. Another interesting tidbit, we arrived with wine and flowers, but they didn't open our wine. They insisted on aging it for at least 6 weeks, and served their own pre-selected bottles. Those Euros are so classy. We Americans are just as likely to take our unopened bottles of wine back home (ghetto!). So here goes my effort at being more spiritual and more classy all rolled into one. I think Julia would be proud.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Less is More

So what's all this French food got to do with weight loss? Plenty. I'm trying to incorporate more quality and less quantity into my life. That's Victoria Moran's take on it. She says plenty about this in several of her books- eat better food and less of it. I'm not a calorie counter- or a dieter. I just want to consume a better quality of food, in smaller portions. For me this will mean, more vegetarian, grain and vegetable-based meals- but I don't want to be legalistic about it. If I want to make a choice to consume some meat- I will. I want this choice to be reflected in my entire life- more quality, less quantity. Do fewer things, but do them well. Add more weights and do less repetitions. Have fewer friendships, but cherish them more. Take on fewer commitments, but persist until completion. Make the best choice possible, then be content with it.
Last night I was watching a movie with my beloved (he really wanted me to see "I Love You Man"- so much for adding quality to my life!) and I got to craving something savory. I was going to grab cookies, even though I wanted salty and not sweet just because they were handy. I was considering letting the craving pass and eat nothing. But I feel strongly that this whole thing is not about deprivation- it's about making better choices. So I said to myself, no, I don't want store bought cookies- I want something savory. So after perusing the fridge and cabinets, I made us cheese and crackers with slices of zucchini and cherry tomato (and this is the best part) with a leaf of fresh basil and a dollop of dill dip on top. Paired along side a small glass of red wine- it was really the nicest snack. I got to cuddle with my honey on the sofa, enjoy a (somewhat) healthy, tasty snack, and watch a really funny movie. That's time well spent.
(Now in case my life sounds too idyllic, allow me to pull back the periscope, for you to hear two teenagers yelling at one another in the background, observe the cup of milk the toddler spilled all over my Bon Appetit magazine- yes, the Julia Child issue, and notice two days worth of dirty dishes germinating in the kitchen sink.) But all in all, it's a pretty good life.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Julia- It's Your Birthday

I got a hold of the latest issue of Bon Appetit magazine. It has a huge article about Julia Child in it and the movie that I just saw. It has several of her recipes and mentions that Aug. 15 is her birthday and that lots of people prepare her food as a tribute on her birthday. I decided right then and there, I would be one of those people. After perusing the recipes, I've decided I'm going to make Poulet saute aux herbe de Provence (chicken provence- for those who don't read French), served with Ratatouille (a tasty melange of eggplant, squashes and tomatoes) and a nice crusty baguette (which I plan to secure from the French Bakery in Westport- the grocery store versions just won't do). For dessert, Reine de Saba, a near flourless chocolate, almond cake. I'll return to the aforementioned Beer Cave to get some wine suggestions. Yum, can't wait to prepare my fully French dinner. Now, whom to invite???

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Not Quite French meal

Tonight I made a rare departure from my vegetarian ways. My husband purchased some beef spare ribs and left them in the fridge for me to prepare for dinner. I know he expected me to just suffocate them in bar-b-que sauce and grill or broil them- and ordinarily I might have done just that. But that was before I saw a movie about French cooking. I even got as far as throwing them in the pan and removing the cap from the bottled sauce. When I thought- I'll just brown them a little first- it will make the meat more tender. So I pulled out my cast iron skillet, glazed it with canola oil and lightly powered the chunks of meat with flour. Why not chop in an onion for flavor, I thought? While chopping the onion, I spied the fresh garlic. Just a few heads won't hurt I thought- it will enhance the bar-b-que flavor. By the time I pulled the mushrooms out of the fridge, I knew that bottled sauce would be history. After the meat was browned, I set it aside and filled the sizzling pan with the chopped onion, garlic, and mushrooms. I doused the whole melange with the last of my cooking sherry, and emptied the 1/2 carton of half and half into the fragrant mix. I quickly ran into the back yard to my potted herb garden and plucked a mix of rosemary, sage, thyme, and parsley and hot asian basil. A quick chop and they were sprinkled over the bubbling sauce and vegetables. When it had simmered and thickened, I added the meat back in and placed the skillet in the oven. While the meat roasted, I made a batch of cornbread and threw it in the oven also. Then I looked around my kitchen thinking, what would Julia Child accompany that with? Potatoes of course! Now the French might cook their potatoes in sherry and cream, but since that concoction was taken, I remembered back to my cooking days (as a sous chef in my 20s). Aha! Roasted potatoes with olive oil and rosemary. I eyed my 20lb. sack of potatoes thinking how sophisticated this particular recipe is without a bunch of added fat (downfall of the American prepared potato). I peeled about 5 large potatoes, sliced them thinly and put them on to boil until they were just so. I didn't want them to get to soft or turn to mush. When they were just done, I strained them, laid them out in a baking dish (only 1 or 2 layers- they should all feel the kiss of the broiler), and laced them with a gentle swish of extra virgin olive oil, fresh plucked rosemary, salt and pepper, and for extra measure, a thinly sliced red onion sprinkled throughout. Into the oven they went. While the potatoes roasted, along with the spareribs in cream and sherry and the baking cornbread, I thought, wine would be perfect with this meal! I grabbed a twenty from my beloved (who agreed a glass of wine would be nice) and drove around the corner to the nearest wine shop (inaptly named 'the beer cave'). Not to be deterred by the name, I found the proprietor to be quite knowledgeable. When he inquired about the occasion, I said, oh, it's for dinner- and described the delectable feast roasting at home in the oven, he made some very nice suggestions. I love reds, and had thought to fall back on my same old favorites of a winsome Cabernet Sauvignon, or a spirited little Beaujolais. But the proprietor told me of a Argentinian wine made from 'lost grapes' and at $9.99 a bottle, I couldn't pass up a good adventure and a great story. I spent the other $9.99 on a nice looking Robert Mondavi Merlot. Back at home we eagerly opened the Argentinian Alamos Malbec wine first, and though I know I'm supposed to let it breathe first, I couldn't wait. At first whiff, it seemed heavy and vinegary. But the first taste was absolute divinity. The 'beer cave' guy said it was smooth, but the taste was the gustatory equivalent of a baby's bottom (that's smooth for those who haven't been near a baby's bottom lately!). After tasting our wine, dinner was ready! I took the spare ribs out of the pan and sliced them, and placed them back into their bed of sauce. The cornbread was golden and fragrant (okay I know it's not French, but neither am I!). The potatoes were crispy and golden brown with little ringlets of fragrant rosemary and red onion. This dinner was too pretty to simply sling on a plate, so I got out the 'good' dishes and plated it all up with sprigs of fresh verigated oregano to top things off. "Ooh, it looks like a restaurant," my 11 year old said, in awe. She was right. It looked and tasted superb. Not bad for an almost bar-b-que, impromptu not quite French meal, and an Argentinian lost grape wine. As Julia would say, Bon Appetit!

Dinner with Julie and Julia

Last night I saw the movie Julie/Julia. What a sweet delight. I love food movies (remember Babette's Feast?) I guess I'm just a foodie at heart. Anyway I went with my girlfriend Rebecca and she thought it would be a good idea to have some French food beforehand. It turned out to be a great idea. We went to a great funky little French restaurant in the River Market called Le Fou Frog for Happy Hour. We spent a small fortune (for working girls and for Happy Hour) but it was well worth it. We started out with a huge plate of steaming muscles cooked in a wine and cream sauce (to die for). There was a french baguette on the table constantly with butter- we plowed through several of those and used it to soak up all the delicious sauce that the muscles were served swimming in. Rebecca had a nice glass of Merlot, but I was driving so I had mineral water, but I would have LOVED a glass of wine with this food. Our second course was soup. I had lobster bisque- a delightful pool of reddish creamed soup with little flecks of lobster floating in it- heavenly. Rebecca had potato and leek soup, also a creamy delight. Both soups were pureed so they were just bowls of unadulterated liquid bliss. We soaked up any still clinging to the bowls with our baguettes. The third course was salad. I ordered greens with a citrus vinaigrette and warm goat cheese on a crouton. Rebecca ordered a fabulous looking crab cake served atop greens and slathered in a delicious sauce that was not romoulade. We shared our salads between us. The crab cake was divine. The warm goat cheese generously dolloped atop a buttery crusty crouton, was a delectable accompaniment to the tangy citrus-y greens. I was in heaven. For dessert we split my favorite: creme brulee. Damn those skinny-assed French with all their fabulous sauces. The tab came to $60 including the tip, which we split down the middle. But who can put a price on time spent with a good friend over good food?


I walked to work yesterday. Just about two miles. In the heat. I really think an ipod will help me keep it up. I love to listen to my music and it distracts me as I walk. I don't have one yet so I just played music in my head the entire walk to work. I've been researching what type of music playing device to get. I thought I'd try a music subscription service, but I found out they were not ipod compatible. Any suggestions anyone??? I've been diligent about my circuit training at the gym three days a week. Now I need to add in my yoga. I've been chicken about taking a class and just doing it here at home with a video. Who knew it took such courage to be fit?