A zen moment

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PS2_lemon cake

Sometimes, life happens around us.  We are there too, experiencing the life but not participating in it, other than observing.  I am looking out at the Arizona sky, from Grandpa’s backyard.  The wind is whipping warmly across my face and I am an observer rather than a participant.  For this moment I am zoning out the requirements of life.  The cooking temperatures or timing.  The dry or moist feel of my skin.  The lizard that may be crawling toward my leg.  I am unaware of the savory waft of smells from the kitchen.  These smells, I set in motion.  Subconsciously, they add to this moment of zen.  This zen that is now.  I breathe in the air.  Through my nose.  I release through my mouth.  Thanks to Cristina for teaching me this life altering move.  All of the noise is shut out…momentarily (seconds, or minutes or for whatever you make time).  I actually see the beauty, not just hear about the beauty.  I feel it on my skin.  I smell it wildly tickling my nose.

As quickly as I allow it to begin, it ends.  And off I go to make sure the kitchen is not burning.  Make sure the food is happy.  The people are eager to partake.

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Lemon curd cake

This cake is dense and slightly dry without a nice spread of lemon curd on top.  It is based off of a rosemary olive oil cake that I love to make, but I changed it up to try and utilize as many lemons as I could from my Grandfather’s plentiful lemon trees.  There is little fat or sweetener in the cake, but the curd makes up for the lack of fat with its wealth of egg yolk and butter.  It makes for a light dessert, a “zen moment” mid-day snack, or a prelude to brunch.

The lemon curd will keep a week or two, covered tightly, in the fridge (if you don’t use it all up on the cake).  You can add fresh strawberries, cooked into the center, or leave it plain.  Either way, it is best warmed, then sliced and spread with a healthy layer of the lemon curd, which unless short of time, you hopefully have made

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup reserved lemon curd batter – recipe follows
2 TB honey
1 egg yolk
2 oz goat cheese (chèvre)
1/3 cup milk (or yogurt)
5 egg whites (4 reserved from the lemon curd and 1 from this cake)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 TB chopped fresh rosemary
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt

10 strawberries, diced (optional)
Lemon curd for glazing

PREPARE

Combine the uncooked lemon curd, honey and egg yolk.  It is best to use an electric mixer for several minutes.

Add the milk and goat cheese.  Continue to beat the mixture until creamy; a few minutes more.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff.  Stir into the yolk mixture then add the olive oil and blend with the mixer until well combined.  Stir in the rosemary.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet, slowly mixing it in 1/2 cup at a time.

For a moister cake, you can add in the cooked lemon curd, reserving 1/4 cup to spread on the top and on the cut slices for serving.

Butter 1 loaf pan (or two mini-loaf pans) and pour in the batter.  If using the strawberries, pour in half the batter then add the berries.  Pour in the remaining batter.

Cook for approximately 30 minutes at 350 or until a toothpick poked in the center comes away clean.

Brush some lemon curd over the top and let cook another 5 minutes.

Let it cool slightly in the pan.  Turn it onto a rack.

Serve warm, sliced, slathered with lemon curd…and perhaps, a cup of tea or a crisp glass of Albariño.

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Lemon Curd

House-made lemon curd is far more delicious than that from a jar.  I like mine on the tart side so I use just enough honey to keep me from crinkling my nose.  Leftovers can be used to spread over your morning toast instead of jam, or an english muffin and a slice of ham.

I used freshly-picked lemons from the lemon trees outside my Grandpa’s house in Tucson during our Easter weekend with my Mom.  They were large and juicy and produced thick zest.  Oh how I wish I could grow a lemon tree!

INGREDIENTS

4 egg yolks (whites reserved for cake above or another use)
1/4 cup honey
The juice of 4 large lemons (approximately 1/2 cup) plus their zest
1 stick of butter

PREPARE

Bring some water to simmer in the bottom of a double boiler; it should not be able to touch the saucepan that sits on top.

Using an electric mixer, in the saucepan of the double boiler (or in a stainless steel bowl), beat the egg yolk and honey together until smooth.

Add in the lemon juice and zest, continuing to mix.

Set the saucepan over the simmering water in it’s counter-pan and whisk briskly until the batter becomes pale yellow and smoothly cooked, 6-8 minutes.

Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter, 1 TB at a time, as if making a butter sauce.

Transfer to a clean jar or container and cover tightly once cooled.

cactus bloom
It’s all zen until you come across a little prick…

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but when life gives you lemons, make lemon curd!

our happy place

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PS_muffin cover

There comes a time of day where nothing feels quite as good as the heaviness of blankets, mixed with fluffy pillows, soft cotton sheets and a familiar smell.  In the wee hours of the morning, I can burrow myself in and feel as if I never have to leave.  In the late hours of a long afternoon, I can dream of the moment I will be cocooned once again.  As I shed my clothes at the end of a day and finish going through my usual bedtime routine, I anxiously await the moment I will fall into bed, snuggle between the sheets and feel (safe) as if the burdens of the next days can wait.

Ginger, sleeps in our bed too, but she has always had a bed (or four) of her ownI think it must be a similar kinship that dogs have with their beds as we have with our own.  Her first bed was three sizes larger than her small, 8-week-old puppy self.  She was in it so much though, that we used to pick her up while she was still laying on it, fold her up and take her with us to the next room or in the car.  For that reason, it became know as “the taco”.  If she was not in “the taco” and it was time to go in the car, all we had to do was set it near the door and she would jump into the bed, waiting for us to fold her up and be whisked away to another adventure.

Buffy’s last bed was only a few months old when she passed and Ginger wanted nothing to do with it; perhaps because it was monographed with Buffy’s name?  At one point, (obviously) unable to throw the bed out, we decided to see if Ginger would at least use it outside.  For similar reasons as her first bed, this bed (aka the blue bed) became known as “the outdoor taco”.  Next came “the raft” (her new inside bed with high sides and cute pinstripes), then the replacement “raft” (which really just meant that the first “raft” went to the bedroom and second one replaced the first in the living room.

Then, along came Buddy.  His first steps in the house (before he was even “ours”) led him straight to the “living room raft”.  Ginger must have set him straight early-on when we were not home, because he didn’t make himself comfortable in that bed again, for many years.  Buddy did however, resurrect the taco.  It had long-since been abandoned by Ginger.  It had not been removed from our office however.  Once Ginger realized how valuable the “taco” still was, she decided she liked it again too.  Buddy was again without a personal bed.

I was at Mud Bay one day and saw a little teeny bed with tall fuzzy sides and a goofy (but appealing) bone design in the middle and it was on sale for all of $14.00.  I thought it might be nice to bring home, just to see if Buddy might like it next to our bed since we noticed he jumped off in the middle of the night. We usually found him laying on the floor, all alone, no bed, (which broke our hearts as he was our family now).

I brought it home, set it on the open end of our L-shaped couch, where Buddy always laid (because of a rookie move I made, placing him there in the first days he was in our home, before he knew his boundaries); he hopped right in.  Problem was, he didn’t want to leave and he didn’t want the bed to leave the couch, ever!  We were stuck with that bed (not pretty either or frankly, even meant for permanent use), sitting on our couch, for over a year.  Ginger had her “raft” and now Buddy had his “dinghy” (very appropriate in a Gilligan sort of sense).  It was his and his alone.  Ginger let him have it and he held on as if it were bringing him to shore, no matter how long the journey.

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The “dinghy” was finally replaced by “sheep” one Christmas, who is large and apparently a pretty cozy friend (plus much more chic on the Italian couch).  Still, Buddy had no bed.  No real bed of his own, that is.  We paraded many new beds into the house and set them on the floor next to “raft”; all were rejected and returned.

Sheep makes an obligatory visit outside.

Sheep makes an obligatory visit outside.

As for the “outdoor taco”, Buddy hopped off of it the second we put him on.   One summer, I am not sure which, maybe only the second Summer, Buddy began using “outdoor taco” when Ginger was sitting elsewhere on the deck, basking in the sun.  We had bought another outdoor bed for him, which Ginger took control of too.  When we saw Buddy laying on the “blue outdoor taco”, one sunny afternoon, our hearts melted from love.  He was so small on it that he looked lost in a pool of comfort.  “Buffy” was monogrammed above his head; it was then that we started calling him Budfy.  He fell in love with “outdoor taco”, so Ginger fell back in love with it too.

A long time coming!

A long time coming, Buddy finally wins a spot!

Ginger shared the new bed too...

Finally, in an attempt to retire “outdoor taco” for good, after many, m a n y years of excellent service, we ordered a new outdoor bed.  It was from LL Bean (excellent, long-lasting rough-and-tumble beds).  It was the same exact bed as “outdoor taco” except it was one size smaller and had a cuter outfit.  We planned to let Ginger and Buddy share the most recent outdoor bed with this one and retire “blue outdoor taco” to a needier home.  The new monogram for “orange taco” is “BuG” (Bud (ff) y  +  Ginger).

blue bed

That was last summer.  Since then, as Fall came around, then Winter, and currently into Spring, Buddy finally, now, has his bed.  There is no catchy, silly name attached (other than the rarely-used “orange taco” when clarity is needed); It just belongs to Budfy.  In it, he sits alongside his sister, in her “raft”.  Side-by-side (something we never thought we’d see to this extent).  When Ginger leaves her raft, he often jumps from his bed to hers, depending on his mood.  He hops from bed to bed, around the house and in the car.  He is never scared or shy and Ginger let’s him have his way.  It is this new orange bed though that he has claimed to be his own.  He has not only found his bed, he has found his happy place, his forever home.

This is not a recipe.  Because there are no recipes in my Happy Place, just good food + love.  I found some love, in these English muffins. did not make these English muffins.  My lovely friend, Paula, hand-carried them to me from North Bethesda, Maryland, where some clever people at Summer House made them.

They blew my mind.

Wow.

Yes, really.

Wow!

Mind-blowing English muffins.

Really!  Take my word for it!?

I have no photos, of the muffins.  Because I (we) ate them (and it was one of those opportunities where the moment(s) didn’t need interrupted with fussing with a camera).

The first, just toasted, near midnight, slathered in butter and a little bit o’honey.

Next, as a bun for hamburgers (thanks Pete, for the tip).

This morning (er…afternoon), we brunched on a most exquisite breakfast sammy (AKA – sandwich).  It had procuitto, crisped to just the proper crisp.  It also had an egg, organic, farm-fresh (like, actually, really farm fresh…makes a difference, yes!).

The egg, fried.  Just.  Not too fried, but just fried.  There is a difference!

It also had cheese.  Beecher’s Flagship cheddar.  This doesn’t slice well so it was partly sliced and partly just chunked on.  Makes no difference in the yumminess factor.

Chunked on = thick, gooey cheese (yum!).

But, back to the muffin.  Oh my.

Paula, thank you!  Next visit…pleeeeese?

Happy place

our happy place!

 

 

It’s NOT complicated!(?)

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half cut

I am standing behind the line, toes angled toward the net post, feet positioned inches apart with the left slightly forward of the right.  I take the ball in my left hand; small, yellow, fuzzy, and cup it with my fingers, as if we are making friends.  The racket is low to my side, gripped lightly with my right hand.  I lift my left hand, giving it an upward motion to toss the ball.  As the ball releases from my cupped fingers, the racket simultaneously glides back and swings up until my elbow is pointed straight back, upper arm parallel with the ground, hand so close to my head I look as if I might be scratching my ear.

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It is that moment, that defines the serve.  Has the ball gone high enough, straight enough into the air?  Are my eyes following the yellow ball of fuzz while my racket reaches toward it with the intention of sending it strategically over the net to the opposite court with great force?  Will my mind stay focused and shut out the noise of negativity in my head that stands in the way of the mechanics of all these motions?

Thwackk!!  My wrist snaps forward and the strings make contact.  The ball sails through the air toward my opponent, landing just inside the line.  It’s not complicated…or is it!?

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Tennis is like a BLT.  The ingredients are simple, but if you leave out one of the parts, it just doesn’t work.  Or, if you have all the parts, but don’t put them together properly, it doesn’t work out well.

I practiced that motion, my tennis serve, oh so many times today, that as I came home to make lunch, I realized, I needed a BLT.  I needed to assemble something perfect today, something I was so familiar with that I could “ace” it without giving it much thought.  S o m e d a y , I hope my tennis serve will be as easy as making a BLT, but for now, I think it is time to eat.

PS_full on

Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato (sandwich)

I can’t decide which of these pieces makes it my favorite.  Is it the cool tanginess of the tomato cutting through the salty bacon, the crispy crunch of the fresh lettuce between my teeth, or the creaminess of the mayonnaise stepping up, washing over and bringing the flavors together into a harmonious blend of sweet, salty, creamy and crispy tang?

There is something magical about the mixture of these simple ingredients, but the mixture must be correct; fussed enough, yet not over-fussed.  The bacon should be crisp, but not burnt.  Thin slices of quality bacon provide the perfect texture; uneven, limp-cooked slices should be avoided (on and off the court).

The tomatoes should be full of flavor and sliced to a 1/4 of an inch.  The lettuce need be crisp; good choices are Boston, Romaine or Bibb.  Sometimes I use Arugula because I like the bite of pepper it provides, and then again…sometimes I only have mixed greens.

Mayonnaise is an e s s e n t i a l .  It does not need to be homemade.  I use Wildwood Aioli which is readily available now in stores (refrigerator aisle) and is basically a good-quality mayonnaise.  I really think the sandwich should be renamed the BLTM (Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato and Mayonnaise sandwich), because without the mayonnaise, the trio will not properly mix.  In fact, I think it might just be the magical ingredient.  They call it mixed-doubles, not mixed-singles for a reason.

I don’t know where you stand on the bread thing, but I am of the camp that feels it must be toasted.  Not too much; just enough.  The right amount of crust will hold the juices in and give way perfectly, softening the bread without falling apart.  A thickish slice is best and something hearty like a como or batard is preferred.  I usually only eat whole wheat bread, but this is one place I like to make an exception…unless of course, I can’t (today it was Campagnolo, from Grand Central Bakery, because that is what I had).

Contrary to the order for which the sandwich is named (B, L, T), the bacon should not be first.  The tomato and the lettuce should make contact with the mayonnaise, with the bacon pillowed gently in-between.

There is no recipe required to make a BLT, just a few simple mechanics that should be followed:

1. Cook the bacon

I like to use 3 slices per sandwich.  I heat the oven to 400-degrees.  I set my slices on a tin, lined with foil and cook it for approximately 10 minutes, or until it has rendered the fat and turned a nice shade of brown.  I then set it aside on a paper towel until the rest of the fixings are ready.PS_bacon

2.  Toast the bread

I like to use a loaf from which I cut the slices myself, to a thickness of 3/4”.  Although I do love burnt toast, for this sandwich, the bread should be toasted lightly and look the color of a very-light golden brown.

3.  Slather both slices of bread with mayonnaise, on one side

4.  Slice a tomato into 1/4” slices and lay them out over one of the slices of bread

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5.  Sprinkle, ever-so lightly, with sea salt

(This is optional)

6.  Lay three slices of bacon over the tomatoes

7.  Lay a few leaves of freshly-rinsed and dried lettuce on top of the bacon

8.  Top with the second slice of bread

9.  Push gently together

(This helps coax out the juices)

10.  Slice and SERVE

…yes, you heard me – SERVE!!

THWACK!!!!

(15-love)

Happy discovery: #1

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Yesterday morning for brunch (a somewhat late brunch), we resorted to pancakes and bacon.  Not to say that we don’t like pancakes and bacon because we really do.  I say “resorted to” because once again, even after buying the obnoxiously large 24 pack of (organic) eggs, I found myself this Saturday morning, left with only one egg.  I didn’t even get around to thinking about brunch until much later than usual because Tom and I woke up, showered and each went to our computers to work with a mug of coffee in hand.

Next thing we knew, it was 2:00 pm and I was starving (not Tom, I think he might be part camel??). Lunch-like foods were not sounding that good to either of us; it was Saturday and we felt deprived of brunch!

So, knowing what I could do with one egg, I began to make pancake mix; only to discover that I was without dairy. I rarely have milk, unless it is buttermilk, but I had no plain yogurt or cottage cheese either.  I eyed a suspiciously empty jar of Wildwood aioli (our substitute for mayonnaise) and decided that adding water to the jar was a bad idea, for many reasons.  I quickly moved on, scanning the fridge one last time before giving up, when I spotted a possibility.

My eye had stopped at the tapioca pudding from Trader Joe’s (TJs).  I had choices here; I could just drive down to TJs and buy milk, but then I would also buy eggs… which would make me question what I had already decided to prepare.  Pancakes, because I only had one egg.  It was only minutes away though.  Yet I knew that I would not stop at buying milk; I would obviously buy eggs too (well, not obviously) and then it would snowball from there, arriving home an hour later with just as much time needed to put everything away.  Then I would begin making dinner instead. Okay, okay, tapioca!

I looked at the label and the first ingredient was milk; this was promising.  I decided that it had enough sugar to not need more and it was also flavored with vanilla; this might actually be good.  Turns out, it was!  Really good!  Happy discovery #1 – enjoy with a glass of prosecco!

Tapioca Pancakes

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INGREDIENTS

1 (not quite full, packed or fussed over) cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda

1 TB butter, melted (I like to do this in a Pyrex measuring cup put in the microwave, because then I can just whisk in the egg and stir in the dairy without fussing too much).

1 egg – whisked into the butter
A glob (technical term, no?) of TJs tapioca pudding – I had about 1/4 of the package left so I estimate it was about 1/2 cup – whisked into the butter and egg.

Water – whatever is needed to bring the consistency to a good pancake batter (I probably added 1/4 cup)

SIDES and GARNISH

Strawberries, cleaned, hulled and quartered to go alongside
Maple syrup and butter for serving

Bacon –  2-3 slices for each, preferably thicker cut (we like apple-smoked from Whole Foods the best, but there are many good ones to choose from).

PREP

MIX all of the dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl.

WHISK TOGETHER the melted butter, egg and tapioca, adding just enough water to make it fluid.

PREHEAT THE OVEN to 400-degrees.

PLACE THE BACON, on a baking pan lined with foil.

COOK

HEAT A CAST IRON SKILLET over medium heat.  Lightly DRIZZLE with olive oil and spread evenly over the surface.

MEANWHILE, POP THE BACON into the oven for about 10 minutes.  Be sure to turn on the fan, and don’t forget that it is in there and pull it out when done.

DROP DOLLOPS OF BATTER onto the skillet and cook until it starts to bubble.  Flip and cook until cake-like and done.

SERVE

Pile the pancakes into a stack of three or so per plate.  Butter and drizzle with maple syrup.  Serve sliced strawberries and the bacon alongside.

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Arriba!!!

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It’s been a while since I’ve visited my friends at Fiesta Friday so I thought I would stop by the party and bring a little flavor of Mexico.  Since I have my little “jumping bean” and his sister, back (no pun intended) to feeling well after a tag-team bout of bad backs and slipped discs, I feel like there is reason to celebrate.

Couples acupuncture session with Dr. Rice

Couples acupuncture session with Dr. Rice

Yes, yes, I know it is Sunday but as you might be aware, I am self-proclaimed to be notoriously latesometimes, it is better late than never.  These ribs are some of the best I have had (Mr. Fitz, you should appreciate that) but this is really about the quinoa salad because so many are vegetarians at this little Fiesta.

My sister-in-law, Irma is from Oaxaca, Mexico and her Mom makes the best mole sauce that I have ever tasted.  I’m hoping she (Irma) will bring me some when she returns from her visit (hint, hint), but until then, I have found a really good product that I do recommend.  I am not one to like bottled sauces since I am big on making my own, but every now and again, I do find one that is well worth it’s weight in gold.  This one was a “must-try” since it is, in fact, “Smoked Oaxacan Mole Sauce” from a company called Bunches & Bunches.  It is no “Mama Elowina Cardona’s” sauce but it will definitely, always have a place on my shelf (and in my food).  Yum, yummy, yum!

Spicy quinoa & pozole salad in an acorn squash bowl, served with a side of Oaxacan-kissed ribs

The sum of the parts can all be prepared far in advance, making this perfect for entertaining; just the kind of thing I love!  Making one cup uncooked quinoa will yield more than you will need if feeding only two feet and eight paws; the rest can be used as a do-ahead for weekday lunches (bonus!).

You can cook your own cacahuazintle (AKA pozole) or use canned.  Again, you won’t need the whole lot but now you can use the leftover pozole to make a fabulous (true) pozole stew, (Irma, when will it be ready?, I’m/we’re coming over!).  If we ask really loud, perhaps she will share her process?

The avocado should be added carefully to only the amount of salad you will be serving.  Leftovers should be saved without avocado (if possible) and added at the time you will be eating them (otherwise they will turn slightly brown; no real big deal).

The squash is not added to the salad but rather scooped up bit by bit as you are eating out of it’s natural bowl.  The sweetness of the squash is a welcome partner to the spiciness of the mole sauce.  Tom even proclaimed it to be delicious and he is not a particular fan of squash (or quinoa).

INGREDIENTS (for 2 servings, easily multiplied)

1 acorn squash
1/4 cup cooked, drained cacahuazintle (AKA pozole,)
3/4 cup cooked quinoa
2 TB lime juice
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 roasted red pepper, diced
1 green onion, diced
1 TB Bunches & Bunches, Smoked Oaxacan Mole sauce (or another delicious mole)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 avocado, 1/4″ diced

Oaxacan-kissed Ribs (recipe to follow)

PREPARE

Cut the squash in half, lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds (I save these to cook like a pumpkin’s).

Cook the squash, wrapped in foil, for approximately 45 minutes in a 350-degree oven, or until soft.  Set aside.

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In a bowl, mix the cacahuazintle (AKA pozole) with the lime juice and sea salt.  Let sit for 10 minutes then add the rest of the ingredients.  Stir and season to taste.  That’s it, simple huh?

SERVE

Divide the salad between the cooked halves of the squash.  Garnish with some whole cilantro and serve alongside the ribs, if you wish (Tom insists you wish).

Squash, similar to sweet potatoes, is very healthy for the canine connoisseur.  It goes without say that I scoop some of the squash meat out for Buddy & Ginger which they eat mixed with some of the plain, cooked quinoa.  Bon appe-pup!

Oaxacan-kissed ribs

INGREDIENTS

1 slab baby back pork ribs (I go for quality over quantity and favor small over large)
Sea salt and pepper to season (I roast sea salt, pepper and coriander for my own “seasoning”; ground with my molcajete or in my Blendtec)
Juice of one lime
Enough mole sauce to evenly coat the ribs (approximately 1/4 cup) (as mentioned, I used Bunches & Bunches “Smoked Oaxacan Mole Sauce”)

PREPARE

Wash and pat dry the ribs.

Season evenly and then squeeze over the lime juice.

Line a sheet rack with foil and place the ribs on the rack.

Brush evenly with the mole sauce.

Add a 1/2 cup water to the bottom of the sheet rack (for moisture) and cover well with foil.

Cook at 375-degrees for 2-3 hours or until tender and succulent.  I like to check in on them every half hour or so just to see how they are coming along.  Baste with a little more sauce if they seem receptive.

When tender and succulent, uncover and cook 10 minutes further.

Let rest a few minutes before cutting between individual bones and serving.

These can be cooked in advance and reheated, uncovered, or grilled.

Muy Bien!

Irma, por favor, tráenos salsa de mole de tu madre y más “botella de coca cola”. Te queremos y enviar mis mejores deseos para la salud de su hermana y su familia!

Irma,Buddy sueños de ustedes

Irma, Buddy sueños de ustedes

Buddy Hop

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PS2_hash on pink plate

Buddy can’t jump up or get down our bedroom step in the dim light anymore (but Tom says he can still get down and get funky). There is only one step but he will stand looking at that step, whining, until he is rescued from it to the wool carpet or to the comfort of the bed, fluffy with down and warmly coated with a thick wool throw. The bed is only a foot and a half high but he has trouble jumping up to that too… even more-so if the covers are untucked, because he then has no access to the lower perimeter ledge of the upholstered frame.

Somewhere between 3 weeks to a month ago, he stepped up his game (yes, pun intended), and flew down the stair (singular), without a blink in the dimly lit room, but because I had food (in bed). The movement was quick, so determined, yet graceful and swift; he landed in the proximity of my lap (up on the mattress top, plus fluff, bed) all before I could blink. He landed even before Ginger could get to the step. I think he likes cheese!

I am always amazed at how much time I can spend just watching my dogs. They aren’t always doing anything especially exciting and there is rarely a time that they do something new, or something I have never seen them do at least a dozen times before.

Yet there I sit, watching, never growing tired of what I see. The slight movement of one’s head will have me smirk or smile as the nose on that head nestles under the nose of a stuffed bear, or as a tiny paw tucks underneath their own wet, cold nose. Watching them sleep is an activity I am particularly fond of; I like watching their inactivity.  Particularly the newer activity of sleeping next to each other, sometimes even touching back to back; a sight we never thought possible a few years ago.

There is a sound that comes out of Buddy as he sleeps that I find myself listening to as intently as if there were a jazz band jamming on a new tune. It is somewhere between a snore and a groan but it is rhythmic and undulating, moving his breath in and out. Ginger doesn’t snore, she rests softly, until she lets out a large sigh. The sigh is so long, peaceful and cleansing that it reminds me to let my breath out and breathe, yes, yes,  b r e a t h e.

Ginger is still active for a gal of fourteen. She loves to play like a puppy and she spends many moments flopping to and fro on her back. Ginger is a ham (which, of course, goes well with cheese). She likes to perform and she wants all eyes on her. Buddy is more of an onlooker. He sees all and makes sure he is always in the know. I can’t walk two steps in the house without him following frantically behind (tap, tap, tap, tap, hop).

If there is food, or even if Buddy thinks there should be food, he makes it a habit to levitate while letting out an enormous squeal. The sound should have me cringing as I would from the sound of a slow, d e e p scratch over a chalkboard. However, watching a small, furry, live cartoon character, lift off the floor, all fours at once, is amusement enough to let the sound become overlooked and to send me to the kitchen to get food.

Buddy has a hop to his step. Sometimes, when he gets excited, his hop becomes higher and more pronounced, like a bunny. He is animated in his movements and I can see how he might be considered the real inspiration of “jumping beans”. He would also make a good fencer because he is agile, plus quick to duck back and forth to get out of my way as I swiftly prepare a meal in the kitchen or two-step at the bathroom sink getting ready each morning.

Some days, I think buddy is a puppy, but others I realize he is an old(er) man. Sadly, recently we had one of those “old man” days. Last Saturday morning we awoke to a hunched back, little/old furry guy. No telling why but the skip and the hop were not present; in their place were moans, agitated snoozing and hesitancy to move. He looked disoriented, uncomfortable and (gasp) old.

At least he has his friend

At least he had comfort in his friend.

The severity of our concern escalated for 24 hours without apparent relief or restitution of symptom. No more leaping at cheese (on the bed or elsewhere), hopping, skipping or otherwise enjoying the usual happy pursuit claiming food. This could not end well, I thought. I was once told (and believe for myself as well as for my pups), that without the rudimentary, yet essential yearning of food, it is time to be concerned. In other words, as long as one has an appetite, it can’t be too bad. Luckily, his appetite did remain, it was simply the lengths to which he would go to obtain the food that had changed.

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Come Monday, we were able to secure an acupuncture appointment with Dr. Rice. We were hopeful that relief was in store but not convinced that it was going to provide complete recovery. Thankfully, we were proven wrong (about complete recovery). Within mere seconds of the first needle going in, a large, dumb, tongue hanging grin appeared on buddy’s previously tortured looking face. I don’t think Tom or I could have smiled any larger than we did at the sight of that toothless grin.

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porcupinePin cushion Buddy

We are avid believers in the practice of acupuncture, both for dogs and of humans, after experiencing it first-hand for ourselves; if ever skeptical about the effectiveness of it though, this was proof enough for us. At the exact moment that the smile appeared on Buddy’s face, relief washed over us and we realized the power was deep and even more powerful than we first had believed. We brought in an old man and went home with a pup.

Pitter pat, pitter pat….pat..pat…pat….pat! To and fro, up, down, hop…skip…jump!

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Duck confit hash with poached egg, roasted mushroom & cauliflower sauce
Serves 2, easily doubles

Buddy and Ginger used to eat duck and potato kibble from Prescription Diet; this was due to Ginger’s early allergies that were suspected to be due to food. Apparently, this is a very common thing for canines to suffer from and it was(is) believed that by feeding them sources of food not readily available to their ancestors, there bodies would be less susceptible to allergy. Hence, duck to replace chicken and potato to replace traditional grain. It has been awhile since they have eaten that food (since Buddy’s first scare) but their newer diet does still consist of duck (raw, from Darwin’s). We try to lay low on potatoes but they love them and are sometimes allowed to still have them snuck into their meals (boiled, not fried).

Last weekend, while brunching at Sitka & Spruce on Valentine’s Day (a day I have long ago sworn off from eating out on, but this brunch was spontaneous), we stopped into Rain Shadow Meats. For those of you who have not been to Melrose Market on Capital Hill in Seattle, you must go. If you live here, you probably have been, if you haven’t, it is worth a trip. The brunch at Sitka & Spruce still has me drooling and attempting to recreate the roasted carrots with rhutabega puree.

Our duck confit

Our duck confit from Rain Shadow Meats, pictured on the counter to the right

With several brown packages tucked neatly under my arm, we looked forward to our dinner. Plans always sound better with a cocktail and a good meal. We ended up eating pizza, but did make a series of delicious meals on the days to follow as we pursued using up all of the meats that we bought that day. The remains of their house-made duck confit was still in our fridge the following Saturday morning (yesterday), so I decided to make a duck hash for brunch.

The hash is topped with a poached egg drizzled with roasted mushroom and cauliflower sauce. The sauce is actually a soup that I made mid-week for Ginger and Buddy but it works nicely over the egg, and they enjoyed it this way for brunch too (sans hash for them).

This starts with my breakfast potatoes, then gets layered with caramelized onions, roasted pepper and the duck. Cooking low-and-slow helps everything to remain soft while developing a nice crust. You can purchase duck confit from a good grocery store or your butcher if you aren’t in a position to confit it yourself. This would also be equally good with a roasted duck leg which is really easy to do and less expensive to buy.

INGREDIENTS

3 potatoes, cut into 1/2″ dice, parboiled in salted water
1 TB butter or duck fat
1/2 of a roasted red pepper, cut into strips or 1/2″ diced
A handful of caramelized onions (approximately 1/4 cup)
Meat from a 1/4 leg duck confit (approximately 3-4 oz.)
1 oz chèvre
2-4 poached eggs (1-2 per person)
3-4 spoonfuls roasted mushroom & cauliflower sauce per person (recipe to follow)

PREPARE

To a very hot pan over high heat, add the butter or duck fat. When it has melted, add the potatoes and turn the heat to low.

Let the potatoes cook, undisturbed for about ten minutes then stir them around to brown the other side.

After a few more minutes, when the potatoes begin to soften and color, add the bell pepper, onion and duck. Stir to combine then let cook, undisturbed for another 10 minutes or so.

Stir again, then cover with foil and continue to cook over low heat while you poach the eggs. Turn on the broiler before poaching the eggs.

As you remove the eggs from the poaching water, crumble the hash with the chèvre and place the pan under the broiler for just a minute or two.

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TO SERVE

Divide the hash between plates, top with an egg (or two) and drizzle with sauce.

Roasted mushroom & cauliflower sauce (or soup)

This makes a delicious soup both for us and our dogs. You can adjust the thickness by adding or omitting chicken stock. Vegetable stock works too if you want to keep it vegetarian or use water if you don’t have any stock. When I serve myself this as a soup, I drizzle the top with truffle or Argan oil. You could also slice raw mushrooms very thinly, season them with sea salt and pepper, then marinate them in lemon juice, truffle and olive oils. Add these as a garnish on top of the soup.

The quantities below are just a suggestion. Using more or less vegetable will require more or less liquid. There are so few ingredients that the roasting and coloring of the mushrooms and cauliflower are what will yield the intensity of the flavor. I like using a ratio of more mushrooms than cauliflower to bring out the nutty earthiness but it is the cauliflower that smooths the consistency nicely enough to use it as a sauce. I use my Blendtec to puree which turns it velvety smooth.

INGREDIENTS

10-12 oz Crimini mushrooms, stems discarded
1/4 head cauliflower, large stocks removed and discarded, florets separated
Olive oil
2 cups chicken stock (from this recipe if serving to pups)
Approximately 3 TB lemon juice
Sea salt and pepper to taste (limit this if serving to pups)

PREPARE

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put the mushrooms and cauliflower on a sheet pan and drizzle with a little olive oil. Roast them in the oven until the mushrooms are slightly crisp but not burnt and the cauliflower is browned, approximately 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and let cool slightly. Transfer to a food processor or blender (again, if you have a Blendtec or similar, use that). Add the stock or water and lemon juice.

Puree until completely smooth. Add more liquid if needed or desired. The consistancy should tend toward the thickish-side. Season to taste and serve warm as a soup or a sauce.

Brunch is good!

Carrots at Sitka and Spruce

Roasted carrots at Sitka & Spruce

roasted carrots from Sitka and Spruce

Brussel sprout, flora & parsnip fritatta at Sitka and Spruce

Brussel sprout, flora & parsnip fritatta at Sitka & Spruce

Duck confit hash at Chez Stacey

Duck confit hash at Chez Stacey

Happy pups, begging for more at Chez Stacey

Happy pups, begging for more at Chez Stacey

From the Journals: #1

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IMG_0676Grilled Lamb Chop with Three Bean Ratatouille
Volume 4, Page 146
January 29, 2004

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I made this 22 years ago on my first date with my (then future) husband.  It was a very simple dish that I developed for serving with lamb chops (my absolute go-to for a special occasion, or had the night off from working at the restaurant, or wanting meat); this prep, was by far, my favorite at the time.  What I didn’t know, that night, was Tom did not care for lamb, detested eggplant, and was no fan of beans, in addition to having an aversion to anything in the squash family.  Did I mention, he married me anyway?  Plus, he came back for dinner the next night, and the night after that…?IMG_0651

Must have been true love, because I hadn’t made it since that first date (until the 11th anniversary of said date) but now (and even then at year 11), his tastes have developed and become more accepting, so I decided to re-create it – never having written it down.  In this present day and time however, I would most likely cook my own beans, and I have been known to use my basic, homemade tomato sauce, but back then, I only used canned.  Not that there is anything to apologize for about that.

Three Bean Ratatouille

This can be made in advance or eaten right away.  The leftovers are wonderful for lunch the next day and perfect for making soup.  I often use my leftovers to make ratatouille and hummus soup with lamb sausage.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup cooked, drained chick peas*
1/2 cup cooked, drained kidney beans*
1/2 cup cooked, drained white beans*
3-6 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 Japanese eggplants** cut into 1/2” dice (3-4 cups)
2-3 zucchini** cut into 1/2” dice (3-4 cups)
2 TB chopped fresh rosemary
1 can (16 oz) Mur Glen fire-roasted tomatoes
Balsamic vinegar to taste

*  If using canned beans (as I did then and do often) you will have leftover beans that can be used in salads or put to good use in soup).

** You should have equal zucchini to eggplant, but exact proportions are not critical to the end result of this dish, so relax.  I slice them in half and then into quarters (depending on the circumference).

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PREPARE

In a skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom.  It is ready when it moves freely about the pan.

Add the eggplant first, sautéing a few minutes before adding the garlic along with a little seasoning of salt and pepper.

Next add the zucchini along with the rosemary and another little sprinkle of salt and pepper.

A few minutes later, add the tomatoes, stir.

Now add in the beans and allow to come to a bit of a simmer.

Cover with a lid and let cook for 20-30 minutes more.  Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if needed (it will likely be needed), more pepper for sure and more rosemary if it is not an obvious flavor.

Now check the consistency; the eggplant wants to be soft and the zucchini slightly crisp yet tender.  The sauce should thicken slightly.  Check to see that the seasonings are balanced; not too salty, not too bland; adjust as you see helpful.

Add 1 – 1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar to help brighten the flavor.  If you are one to like garlic (as we do), it is nice to add a little extra raw, chopped garlic at this point to help elevate the loveliness of flavor.  Continue to cook, covered, for another 10-20 minutes.  It is done when you feel it is done (how cool is that?).  Go by taste and texture with a little instinct mixed in.  Do know this however, it will always be more flavorful the next day.  Heinz nailed their campaign when they introduce the song which highlighted the word…a n t i c i p a t i o n…

Grilled Lamb Chops

Ask your butcher for a rack of lamb with 5-6 ribs (for two) or 10-12 ribs if making for four.  Have him/her cut the chops apart and trim away the excess fat toward the stem of the bone.  I like to use the skinnier boned chops for this.

Sprinkle the chops with “seasoning”.  I make my own seasoning by roasting peppercorns, sea salt and coriander seeds, then grinding them down in my Magic Bullet.  You could also just season with good sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  Don’t overwhelm the chops, just a light seasoning.

In a mortar with a pestle, smash 3 cloves garlic, add in a handful of fresh rosemary (minus the stem, approximately 1 TB, chopped), a little sea salt, pound, pound, pound.  Now add approximately 1 tsp Dijon mustard.  Massage this mixture well, and evenly over each chop.

Cover and refrigerate until an hour before you are ready to grill them.  They will want to sit at room temperature for an hour before cooking so that the meat can cook to the perfect temperature inside without burning the outside.

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On a hot, oiled grill, cook the chops approximately 3-minutes per side.  You can tell they are done by touching the center.  It will harden and have less give the more done they are.  Cook them to your liking; I like mine rare and Tom prefers his medium-well (silly, silly boy).  Tent them with foil while you plate the ratatouille.

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TO SERVE
(goat cheese and truffle oil are optional garnishes)

Place a good-sized spoonful of ratatouille in the center of each plate (or pasta bowl).  Put 2-3 chops, crisscrossed, on top.  Crumble over a little goat cheese (chèvre) and serve with a nice hunk of good bread.

I like to drizzle my plate with truffle oil because I love truffle oil; Tom does not.

I noted that we served that particular meal with 2000 Dynamite Cabernet.

I also noted that on 6/9/2004 (AKA our wedding anniversary), I made this dish and had two leftover lamb chops, so I served it as an appetizer the next night (1 chop over a small dollop of ratatouille).  This made me realize that it would be a good thing to serve for a multi-course dinner party.  The ratatouille could be made a day in advance and heats easily.  The lamb chop would only require one chop per guest; so it would be budget friendly + easy to cook – brilliant!

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Ciao Bella! 

A Day in the Life: The dogs (and food) of Santana Row

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My Utopia would be a place in which our dogs were welcome to accompany us anywhere.  A place that was warm, but not hot, comfortable, but not staged.  It would have cafes with good food and well-made drinks. There would be music and energy, not simply noise.  The people would be interesting, colorful and friendly; rich or not rich, well-dressed or happily clad in that odd garment that only they could wear well. The dogs of course, would be central to the community, more plentiful than young children, yet less dominant than the surrounding flavor.

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When music was involved, we would dance, even if only in our heads (well, not all of us).  The days would pass by the minute, not the hour, slowly and with full awareness.  We would be with others but also be happily alone, together. The food would be good.  I know I already said that but it is important enough to mention again.  More important though is the service, the delight in making others have a good time, especially the dogs.  The service is not just from those employed to serve us, but from those that wish to serve others, just because.

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People would connect and interact; both strangers and friends (often with a shared love of dogs).

IMG_0162(And a shared love of food. Isabelle’s Mom is going to teach me how to make rabbit paella someday, I hope).

In this Utopia, there are many layers, which I prefer to unfold softly and with purpose, rather than irrationally, all at once.  I think of Paris; a city to which I have never been.  I dream of the cafes, bustling with…well, I don’t know but I imagine them bustling.  The smells fragrant and rich, the people sophisticated and flawed but perfect and quirky or perfectly quirky and weird. The dogs are there; always there are dogs.  It is a way of life rather than anything else; they are part of the family, why wouldn’t they be there?

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This particular utopia is nomadic, not specific to just one location because in my Utopia it is not a make-believe place, rather, a way of life, that just happens to be localized to a certain parcel of land, for this moment in time, and hopefully the next moment, and the next moment again.  Most recently, I experienced a little slice of utopia called Santana Row.  This strip of land nestled amidst the San Jose Valley is a gathering place for both people and dogs. Everywhere we looked, there were dogs!

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And some looked back.

And others went about their business.
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Dogs playing and sleeping, sitting, standing or being carefully cradled and held.  The restaurants, bistros and cafes that lined the cobbled walks all seemed to have someone furry and four-legged mixed in.  The dogs were part of the character, part of the Place.

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Some more fashionable than others.

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Whether we were waking up to our cappuccino at the French bakery,

IMG_0198(He looks like he needs his coffee.)

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sipping on a cocktail under the trees at the tequila bar in the park,

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munching on a basket of frites and picking at a plate of charcuterie at the Left Bank,

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or washing down our tomato bisque with a glass of rosé at the Wine Bar,

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we were accompanied by dogs.  Cute, loving, likable dogs.

IMG_0165Joey

Meet Joey.  Sweet Joey.  It is hard to believe he is quite sick, with late stage cancer that will steal him away too early.  On this sunny day though, in that moment, he was enjoying the world around him, breathing in fresh air surrounded by his loved ones as well as strangers, and still willing to share a kiss.  He added joy to our day just by being there.

PS_IMG_0302Then there is Coco, whose life is just beginning.

IMG_0232This one is Sasha, who is just as beautiful as and looks like…

PSIMG_0237…her Mom.

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I am sooo thirsty!

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Thirsty for more!

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Thunder

PS IMG_0309Casey (reminds us of our Buffy).

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Just a day. In the life, at Santana Row.

Paula Rees (Tom’s mentor and our dear friend), of Foreseer (formerly Maestri Design) is the visionary behind making this particular utopia successful.  If only everyone could see what Placemaking really brings, to a community, to our lives!  Paula and Jeff, thank you for sharing this magical Place!  Thank you for bringing us here!  And, keep doing more of… this thing that you do, so well.

PS_IMG_0132The crew, hanging out at the Valencia Hotel (minus me, the makeshift photographer equipped only with an iPhone) plotting our assault on the streets below…(and lunch, or was it brunch, or brunch, then lunch? Of course dinner also was divine).

IMG_0379Check-it kids, that’s a wrap.  Get in the d**n car!

Hot Nuts

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When I was young, I loved to fly; or more specifically, I loved going to the airport when we had to fly, or went to pick somebody up.  Why?  Because of the “nuts”, I mean “club”, the club.  The Horizon Club was a destination in itself (now known as the Alaska Airlines Boardroom).  I loved that you had to ring the doorbell as if entering a secret hideaway, then were whisked away to a room that had swanky furniture and private TV’s (swanky as it got in the 70’s).  A women dressed in uniform would come by and take our beverage order, letting us know that we should help ourselves to the food.  Yes please, I’m in.

Of course, me being me, even back then, I was in it for the food!  The winning combination, I could always count on, and highly anticipated, was the fresh orange juice, warm doughnuts and hot roasted nuts.  There was a bright red electric wok that kept a vast quantity of cashews warm, as if just freshly roasted.  I don’t think a hot nut ever passes my lips without recollecting the satisfaction I got from scooping them out into my own little cup, salt hanging onto the warm silken skin that was toasted to the color of perfection.

The doughnuts were warm too, which I realized, made them the perfect texture and elevated their standing into that of a decadent dessert.  The orange juice was not what we drank at home; it actually tasted of orange and exploded with flavor and substance that went equally well with the doughnut or the hot nuts.

I remember thinking how clever it was to use the electric wok, which elevated the deliciousness of the nuts, and noticed we had a similar vessel tucked up near the back, over the top of our refrigerator.  I never got it down though, to try it at home.  The sight of it made me crave nuts, specifically, warm cashews, and I now wonder why I haven’t done this myself, for a party, or a potluck (not that I can truthfully say I’ve attended any in recent memory, but I might just do it!).  I rarely eat warm nuts anymore anyway and even though I look, I don’t see them in “the club” anymore either.

Rosemary & Black Pepper Roasted Cashews

Recently, I had purchased a bag of organic raw cashews from the bulk bin and decided they might benefit from a little time in the oven.  So, I emptied them out onto my baking tin (AKA, pizza pan) and drizzled just one drop of olive oil over the center.  I then rolled them with my hands to coat, ever so slightly, so as to welcome the flakes of salt to hang on.

Sea salt (the flaky kind), just a pinch, was rubbed between my fingers to break up the crystals and distribute over the nuts.  The pepper, copious amounts, ground fresh from my mill.  Next up, fresh rosemary, my favorite Winter friend, was removed from it’s stem, chopped, sprinkled over and massaged onto their skin.

The oven was waiting at 350-degrees, to make them golden and warm.  Ten minutes later, they emerged and asked for a moment of rest.  More salt was rubbed over, a little pepper again and a final rub from a fresh stem of rosemary (break the pines with your finger to release the oils from the herb).

Once they have rested, ever so briefly to develop their crunch, they are best eaten as every good roasted-nut should be eaten, right then and there, whilst still warm (or even hot).

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Rule of thumb:  Make your own “club” in the sky.

This snack traveled to California with us over the weekend (don’t worry, the pups were well taken care of by “Unca” Pete).  Albeit cool, rather than hot, I still shared them with my traveling friends.  We weren’t sitting in “the club”, but fresh orange juice still washed them down.

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