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.

In and Out

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ps nose 2The nose knows…

Today, I wondered when it was we acquired a horse.  Not a most appetizing subject but I had this thought, as I picked up from the backyard (with an appropriate tool) two full, heavy, over-flowing scoops of, well…you probably get the idea.  It has to go somewhere after all…but the quantity and scale; I must be feeding Ginger & Buddy far too well, because as Tom pointed out, it wasn’t coming from the wild bunny that frequents the yard.

With Buffy, there was no knowing where the outhouse might be.  It was, generally, outside.  I didn’t question when, what, or see where (as long as it stayed outside).  No leash.  No baggie.  No scoop.  Back then I lived in Alaska though, for the first quarter of her life (minus the first year when I saved her from a certain fate in Oregon); no leash required (back then).

Later, living in Pioneer Square (downtown Seattle), she and I were pioneers again, no leash owned or collar worn (shame on me).  One day my Dad came to visit us, Buffy and I.  He refused to take her outside without a leash (smart man).  I came to realize one of those days, that he had been escorting her to the adjacent park sporting a white electrical extension cord as a leash with a red ribbon as her collar.  Classy.  Later, when I finally met Tom, he did not find this as amusing.

When Buffy was five, she and I moved to an apartment that had a courtyard out front;  and home to many dogs doing their “business”.  The first night we moved in, I took her out there and almost immediately heard a women call out to me from the window of her apartment above.

“Where’s your bag?” She said.

I was confused, what bag?

“Where’s your baggie?” She called out again.

Still confused, I gave her a blank stare.

“Your poop bag; I don’t see one.  You better pick it up!”

So now whenever I watch Kate and Leopold (with Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman), specifically during this scene where Leopold has to do the unimaginable (for an aristocrat), I am reminded of my reaction that night (lack of title notwithstanding).

The memory I flashed on today, as I scooped, was quite different.  I have a vivid memory of my Grandpa Edwards (paternal) heading outside to their backyard in California with a shovel during one of our long-ago summer visits to their house (with five dogs).  I was young and naively, I asked him what he was doing with the shovel.

“Picking up poop.” He said.  Whaaat?  Why on Earth would he do that, I thought?  Yet, this is what I was now doing.

Perhaps this is (partially) why:

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I like to tear the chicken to release the flavor into the liquid.

Chicken Broth for Dogs

Ginger & Buddy recently got their senior blood panels taken (again).  They both had elevated kidney levels which indicated potential kidney disease and dehydration.  Without going into the tedious specifics, they both now seem to be stable and well.  Their doctor recommended we include chicken stock to help get more liquids into their diets.

While I realize there are a few organic, low-sodium options, I got to thinking that most chicken stocks you buy are made using onion, a known toxin to dogs, and too much sodium no matter what they say.  So, I decided to make a version that would not only ensure no onion or excess salt, but would also allow them to feast on the pure chicken and vegetables that provide the stock.

In order to add extra nutrition I sprinkle in a mushroom powder which you can read about here.  You could, alternatively, add mushrooms, along side the carrots and chicken, to the water for an even heartier stock (Ginger & Buddy prefer their mushrooms roasted, on the side, then mixed into the broth).

INGREDIENTS & PREPARATION

There is no specific set of measurements because it can vary depending on the size of the dog(s) and how much/often you plan to feed them this broth plus the solids.  Since my pups are (relatively) small, I usually just cook a small batch at a time that will last two, maybe three days as a supplement to their regular diet.

You will need a chicken breast, or two, bone and skin removed.  A handful of baby carrots, maybe 12-14 (of the snack-pack variety) and enough water to cover the chicken and carrots.

Simply put the chicken and carrots in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer until the chicken is cooked through, the carrots are tender and the broth is flavorful.

Let it cool down in the pan, then transfer the entire contents to a container with a tight fitting lid, or serve right away.

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TO SERVE

If they are thirsty but won’t drink their water (yes, I have finicky pups) ladle spoonfuls of broth into a bowl, preferably white porcelain (they are royalty) and set in the spot their dinner bowl sits.  That’s it.

Unless they are also hungry.  I realize they might think they are hungry all the time, you be the judge.  In this case, remove the appropriate amount of carrots from the broth and cut into dice.

Remove the chicken breast and chop off a lobe, chunk, what have you.  Dice that up too.  Add these bits and pieces to the broth (hopefully sitting in a white porcelain bowl) and set in the place of their dinner dish.  Light a candle (the rechargeable LED variety works well around fur) to make them feel the appropriate sort of atmosphere.

Then watch them slurp it all up as they forget (don’t care) that they are in a fine dining establishment.PS both eat

Follow by reading them a few chapters from Miss Manners, or better yet, Emily Post.

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Buddy comes around the corner to see if Ginger has some more.

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DeeBuDeeBudDeeBuddd, Ttthhaatttsss all folks!

The Mandarin Orange (& holiday lamb)

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It’s snowing mint…

I know it must be the holidays when I see produce bins filled up with little orange balls of fruit, stacked high, spilling over themselves with skin the color of a vibrant pumpkin.  Their shapes give them individuality, a dimple or a dent, perfectly round or slightly squashed.  Maybe it is the green of the leaf and stem still attached that makes them seem so festive.  Green, rigid, beautiful, like that of a holly tree.

MandarinOrangescrop 2Not my photo, but this is what was in my head.

It fits, the orange, perfectly cupped in the palm of my hand; thumb reaching over it’s top.  Poised and ready, my thumb pokes through and penetrates the outer skin which gives freely.  I am rewarded with a short spray of fragrant air.  I peel the skin away, revealing a self-contained fruit held together with a thin membrane, translucent enough to expose the ripe flesh that lays within.  Flecks of pith hang onto the membrane, creating a pattern that resembles a vein.  My thumb digs in deeper now and pulls back a section.  Juice dripping and sticky as it plops into my mouth, flavor explodes and I know it must be Christmas, or at least, a New Year.

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Pomegranate, Kona coffee, Rack of Lamb with Celery Root puree & Mandarin Orange relish

(Mandarin) oranges are like lamb, enjoyed all times of the year, but celebratory at the holidays.  For Christmas, we were gifted a perfect rack of lamb from my Dad and my step-mother, Linda.  It came from a little place back East you may have heard of called D’Artagnan.  Seriously good eats (don’t get me started on their foie gras…).

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My Dad will attest to my penchant for lamb (as will Linda with whom I share a strong affinity).  Whenever my Dad took me to dinner, rack of lamb was what I ordered; it was always a special meal to me.  This particular rack of lamb was exquisite; tender to the bone (which we (the 4 of us) did gnaw on… for the record).

Paired with a simple relish of Mandarin orange, raw celery root and mint, the soft, suppleness of the lamb is shocked into perpetual flavor.

INGREDIENTS 

2 TB pomegranate juice
2 TB pomegranate molasses
2-3 crushed garlic cloves
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
Lots of fresh thyme
1/4 cup fresh mint, torn
2 TB “good” brandy
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 TB ground coffee (Tom shared his beloved 100% Kona)

1 lamb rack (8 bones), denuded

1 dollop (per person) Mandarin orange relish – recipe to follow

PREPARE

Season the lamb with approximately 1/2 tsp salt and many grinds of fresh pepper.

Mix all of the braise ingredients together in a fryer bag, add the lamb.  Seal the bag and be sure the lamb is coated with the liquid.

Refrigerate for at least 24 hours (and up to 48 hours).  Remove from the liquid and pat dry, discarding the marinade.

Heat a saute pan to hot and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom.  Brown the lamb rack on the meaty side, wiping the pan of oil to avoid splatter.

Transfer the rack to a baking sheet and cook in a 400-degree oven until it reads 150 on a thermometer (approximately 15 minutes).

It is important to let it rest for at least 5-10 minutes which allows the juices to distribute from the bones back through to the meat.  A tender morsel awaits.

Mandarin Orange Relish

Combine the following combination (per 2 persons):

1/2 a Mandarin orange, small dice (peel and pith removed)
1 – 2 sections blood orange, small dice (peel and pith removed)
2 slices (1/8″) raw, peeled celery root, small dice
Squeeze of lemon juice
2-3 sprigs fresh mint, chopped
Pinch of sea salt
Small drizzle of raw honey (optional)
1 drop white truffle oil (optional)

TO SERVE:

Slice 2 chops (or 3) per person and plate over a dollop of celery root puree (or mashed potatoes, or polenta… you get the idea).  Set a dollop (or spoonful) of mandarin orange relish alongside (a red wine roasted cippolini onion or steamed green beans works nicely to accompany too).

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Perfect New Zealand lamb, paired with roasted cippolini onion, celery root puree and mandarin orange relish.

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PS buddy1Resolution(s): Play more, party less, continue to eat fresh!

We believe…

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2001: dear sandypaws, my name is ginger and i’m a pup.

What is life without hope?

Without hope, there is no hope and no hope brings dismay.  With a world filled of naysayers and unhappiness, I choose to remain hopeful (period). (exclamation point)!

The mind is a powerful thing.  The power of belief can fuel us to go on, knowing that good things will happen, or we can turn away and know that they will not (necessarily happen).  As children, my brothers (Scott and Mark) and I never questioned our belief in Santa Claus.  Even as we became pre-teens and many of our friends began to pellet us with doubt, we woke up every year to the magic of a child’s Christmas.  The magic was ours to believe in or turn away from.  To this day, we have yet to turn away.

PS_scott staceyScott & Stacey, ages 6 and 5.  Bad Santa, nice kids.

Scott is one year older and Mark, seven years younger than I.  In the past, as siblings so close in age can be, Scott and I were at odds with one another much of the year.  At Christmas though, we were elves together (we even have real pointed ears).  No bickering, or name-calling, just two kids eagerly awaiting the magical day: teaching our younger brother Mark, the traditions that we had come to know.

Christmas in Alaska is a magical place to be that time of year, and of course, is snowy white.  Darkness sets in early but earlier, the sun reflects off the snow and makes everything seem extra-bright.  As nighttime came, the glitter of Christmas used to light up the sky, as well as houses, yards and the trees from Cook Inlet to the mountains.  My Dad always went over the top with our twinkle lights, carefully stringing them up (in September to avoid the real chill) to emphasize the frosty trees.  Our garage was finished with a line of large, red, lit bells, that usually never came down until Spring, if at all.

Our grandparents, on my mom’s side, lived in our neighborhood and we saw them often.  Our paternal grandparents lived in California, so we didn’t see them nearly as much, but as Scott recently pointed out, they came for Christmas, every year; enormous trunks filled with warm, winter clothing in tow (something they only needed on their visits).  We always looked forward to their visit, timed perfectly with our last day of school for the Winter break.  I would come home to find them nestled in the living room, Grandpa in the his favorite lounge chair, dipping Christmas cookies into milk (of which he went through a gallon a day), and Grandma on the couch, awaiting our arrival home from school.

In addition to the trunks filled with long johns and down parkas, without fail, they came loaded with boxes of food to keep us munching happily throughout Christmas and into the New Year.  The line-up was predictably the same, and always anticipated.  There were boxes of fruit (apples, oranges and pears), because we couldn’t get good produce in Alaska that time of year (or ever really) back then.  There were bags and bags of nuts.  Pistachios for my Mom, cashews and almonds for roasting; my Grandpa had a special recipe he liked to make.  Best of all (in my humble opinion) there were mixed nuts, in large quantities, salted and without their shell; filberts, almonds, walnuts and pecans, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazel nuts and peanuts.  Then there were the bags of nuts, still in their shell.   It was one of our family’s past-times to sit around reading novels, telling stories, playing games… a n d . . .cracking nuts.  My mom had a collection of nutcrackers (Tom says, insert clever retort here).  They were put to great use.
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Grandpa also brought candy.  Every year, it was the 5 lb box of See’s chocolates we looked forward to opening; he always brought two.  He also brought stories; never to be one who was short on words.  My brother Scott, would wake up early every morning and sit talking with him for hours.  No matter how early Scott got up, Grandpa would always be there, sitting in the lounge chair, even on Christmas morning, waiting to tell him more stories, of life, the war, and the world.

The night before Christmas, we would all pile into the car and drive the five blocks to our other Grandparent’s house.  After dinner, we would open up presents, of which there were many, we were blessed.  Before heading over, Scott and I snooped around under our tree at home.  The packages kept growing in unison with our anticipation.  Mom always let us open one gift, which she cleverly made sure were our new pairs of pajamas.

It wasn’t just about the opening of gifts that we anticipated though, it was the magic of Christmas.  From the moment the large metal trunk of ornaments was brought out from under the stairs to Bing Crosby’s last verse of White Christmas being sung (and played on the reel to reel) for the last time until the following year, the season swept us up and united us.

PS_2006Ginger’s letter to Santa, 2006.

When we returned home from dinner on Christmas Eve, it was usually much later than Mom and Dad wanted it to be, so after leaving out cookies and milk for Santa, we were expected to go straight to sleep.  Scott and my bedrooms were downstairs, 15 feet down the hall from the tree.  He and I would sit in his room telling stories of past Christmases, making plans to wake up in time to see Santa Claus.

I was always too tired though and ended up falling asleep until morning when Scott would barge into my room, beaming from ear to toe, exclaiming that Santa had come!!!  Hurry, he would urge me, our stockings were filled to the brim, Santa had come and I needed to see what he brought.  We were allowed to look at the things in our stockings but had to wait to open presents until after breakfast (Dunkin Dougnuts or homemade quiche).

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Ginger waiting in anticipation of her stocking.

I would jump out of bed and follow him out to the family room, heart racing, to see what there was to see.  I was always blown away by the sight; packages everywhere, almost entirely filling the large room (no, we weren’t spoiled).  How did Santa make it to everyone’s house in time?  The cookies we left him were always eaten and milk stained the glass that was left for dunking the cookies.

PS_2007Ginger’s letter to Santa, 2007.

When Mark was born and old enough to join us in our Christmas morning ritual, there were even more things filling the room.  Three stockings would be placed next to a separate pile of gifts wrapped in special paper from the North Pole.  There was usually also a sheet covering the presents that “Santa didn’t have time to wrap”.  Santa sometimes also left a large gift for the family, set up and ready to use.  One year it was an Atari console, another it was a foosball table, which kept us busy for hours, filling the time before Mom and Dad could be awakened for breakfast.

PS_drumsApparently one year, little Mark got a rockin’ (?) set of drums! (shhhh…)!

I loved the sight of the packages.  I didn’t want to open them though because I wanted the magic to last all day.  It was usually after 2:00 in the afternoon by the time the gifts were all opened, one-by-one, taking turns from youngest to oldest, stopping to appreciate each item.  I would end up skipping my turn, embarrassed to be in the spotlight and hoping that nobody would notice that my pile was stacking up.

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2011: Dear Santa, I have a brother now??!…

PS_stockingdBuddy’s little stocking joins Ginger’s.

The three of us are all grown up now with children of our own (and yes, mine happen to be furry and four-legged).  The anticipation of Christmas has never wavered.  Now my pups leave a cookie with milk and a note for Santa, plus a carrot for the reindeer.  Ginger awakens early to go peak under the tree and stares longingly at her stocking.  The remnants of Santa’s cookie and carrot are left on the table and my favorite part of Christmas is waking to read her note to Santa and watching her dig under the tree.

IMG_10632013: Dear Santa (I guess my brother’s okay)…

ginger snoopingGinger can always sniff out her own gifts.

This year, my favorite part of Christmas was helping my brother Scott surprise his wife with an Audi TT.  He was like a six-year old kid again, beaming from ear to toe.  After two deals falling through, long conversations and advice, Tom and I went with him to buy the car and drove it home to store in our garage before delivering on the ferry to the island on Christmas Eve.  At midnight, he would sneak out of the house to collect it and place it in the garage with a big red bow and the key haphazardly wrapped under the tree.  The holiday spirit he exuded was infectious and it had been a long time since we spent so much time together near Christmas, reminiscing and plotting the day.  Giving is so much better than receiving and spending time with loved ones is the best gift of all.

GB stocking 1Kiss, kiss…

photo 3Happy Christmas, 2014!  Love, Ginger.

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Christmas Strata – Serves four (easily doubles)

Our Christmas breakfast, growing up, was similar to the whole holiday season.  A good way to describe it is the scene from “When Harry Met Sally” where they are talking about sex fantasies.  Billy Crystal’s character asks Meg Ryan’s character to describe her sex fantasy, so she does (it is classic, yet Sally-predictable) and Harry exclaims, “That’s it?  Some faceless guy rips off all your clothes, and THAT’S the sex fantasy you’ve been having since you were twelve?”.

Sally: “Well sometimes I vary it a little.”
Harry: “Which part?”
Sally: “What I’m wearing.”

Our Christmas breakfast varied by what flavor of donuts we ate.  Each year growing up, our breakfast consisted of Dunkin Donuts and orange juice.  I liked the maple-glazed but sometimes chose the apple fritter; now I am partial to an old fashioned, but Tom is lucky to ever see a donut in our house.  Then in the eighties, breakfast moved into quiche; apparently “real men didn’t eat it”, but we did.  We gave my Mom a hard time and put up a pretty good fuss, but I secretly loved it and still do.  I have never actually made quiche (because there are so many great French bakeries from which I can purchase a far better version).  Strata is our country’s cousin.  It is easy to make for two or for a crowd.  I have experimented with many fillings, but this is the version Tom and I eat about every Christmas morning.

Using high-quality eggs and milk make a noticeable difference; I recommend sticking with whole milk, but skim milk works too.   I used to think it was important to be prepped the night before for the bread to soak up the egg, but I have found that not to be as important as I once did.  As it bakes, the air fills with wonderful smells, Christmas music is played, and gifts are still being opened.

INGREDIENTS

4 eggs (the best quality you can attain, preferably pastured)
1/2 cup milk (I use whole milk from Grays Harbor)
Pinch of salt
Many grinds fresh pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped, caramelized onions
1/4 cup diced, red bell pepper
6 oz diced ham (I used Beeler’s this year)
1 tsp chopped, fresh thyme
1/2 cup shredded gruyere and drunken goat cheese (or a mix of your favorite combination)
3 cups of 1/2″ cubes of crusty white bread

PREPARE

Whisk the eggs, milk, salt and pepper in a medium-sized bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well.  Pour the filling, divided amongst 4 ramekins (or one small baking dish) that have been wiped down with butter or olive oil to keep things from sticking.

I like to top them with a little extra shredded cheese.  Bake in a pre-heated 375-degee oven for approximately 45 minutes.  They will puff up and turn golden.  To prevent them from burning, loosely cover with foil if they brown before being cooked through.

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PS_strata plateServe with tomato sauce for a nice (and yes, blurry) finish! 

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Exhausted Christmas pups “in” their new blankies.

photo 2…and to all, a  g o o d  n i g h t !

Notoriously late…

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maui signSo late!

I’m notoriously late. Truly, notoriously, can count on it, late!

I have a long-time relationship with a car service that has taken me to the airport for the better part of twenty years (wow, has it really been that long?).  Owners of Bellevue Towncar Service, Mark and Natasha, are like family.  As Mark was driving Tom and I to the airport for our Thanksgiving/Tom’s birthday trip to Maui, we were discussing individual behaviors.  He has a client base that, with time, he has come to know their behaviors are unchanging.  I am one of those un-changables; he always schedules in an extra 20 minutes for my tardiness, because he knows I always will be t a r d y .

At first it was a forgotten wallet or one more shirt to pack; five more minutes, please!  Sometimes, it was Buffy, taking too long outside to pee (Wheeee! Now it is Ginger and Buddy).  Early on, I realized that when I told him to pick me up at 5:00 am, he would be outside at 4:45, and I would usually make it to the curb by 5:15.  He never missed a pick-up time, was always early and never late.  I was always late, and never early.

As we were conversing in the car this trip, he eluded that he knows me well.  Some clients are waiting curbside, bags packed, no matter how early he shows up.  With me, he can count on my rushing out the door, with more bags than I need, and never less than 15 minutes late.

So yes, it is December, and as I’m cutting into my Halloween pumpkins, almost six weeks after Halloween (because the Christmas tree has decided to move-in in their place and I don’t want them to go to waste), it occurs to me, I haven’t yet finished writing about O’o Farms.  I started writing about it in November…2013!  Yes, I said 2013 (more than a year ago, for those of you not paying attention).

B & G 1 A little Grinchy (but festive) with the tree waiting to come inside, but no licks on the candy cane.

So, rewind to the beginning…November, 2013, lunch on “the Farm” (this is what I had to say back then):

“I am not one to be caught acting like a tourist, even if I am (which in this case I’m not) nor would I be the one asking for someone’s autograph; that’s like asking for someone to sign my trash.  We are all living life in similar capacity, some just luckier, smarter, or more talented than the others.  Some who need for material things and some that are fueled by love.  Each of us has, or has had, capacity to change their situation or move geography if desired.  I would love to live a million lifetimes, doing something different with each and every one of them.  If asked today what it is I want to do and where, the answer would be upcountry, down country or any country – on a farm; a beautiful, spectacular, breathtaking farm.  I don’t mean a milking the cows or shoveling manure kind of farm (even though that is part of the package for farm life).  I mean a “wow”, I’m lucky to be alive and be allowed to work on this farm kind-of-place!

Now, I can’t say that I’m a gardener (because I’m not); it wasn’t something I ever chose to learn.  I can snip my herbs and appreciate the tomatoes that Tom readies every Summer; awaiting their peak as they ripen in the sun.  I can plant a row of seeds or pick a crop of berries, if not too large a crop.  I do neither of those things particularly well, but I can appreciate those that do.  Those that allow we who appreciate the best the land can offer, to partake.  I appreciate those that nurture, grow and have respect of land and life.  O’o Farms is comprised of just those kind of people.  As with any place that is good, it is the people behind that place that make it a good place.  O’o Farms is such a place.

We had been meaning to go for a few years but could never drag ourselves off the beach for long enough to see how beautiful this farm is and enjoy the deliciousness it has to offer.  When I was on island this (that) past July, I had made reservations online in the wee hours of the night, but apparently, technology didn’t quite make it up the mountain, so we (nieces + Mom) weren’t able to join the farm hands on that trip; much to their dismay.  This trip I used the POT device (plain old telephone) so Tom and I were able to join a group of people to tour the farm, harvest fixings for our salad and consume an undeniably delicious lunch, outdoors, looking down over the valley and out to the beach.

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Yes, this farm is a spectacular place.  It wasn’t always this way though.  It might have been beautiful, always, but hard work, passion and good people made it into the magical place that it is today.

tour start

Ansel begins the tour at his coffee and olive trees.  I was immediately drawn into the enthusiasm he portrayed. He was like a child who was describing (tearing into) a beautifully wrapped gift and simultaneously, a proud papa who had nurtured his child to become prosperous, charitable and kind.  He was like an educator who could discover new things alongside his students.  Ansel is the orchard manager and the pride that he takes shows, in his words, in his eyes and in the crops that he helps nurture; it is infectious.

After Ansel educated us on their farming practices and agricultural efforts and we had taken the walking tour where we harvested bits for our lunch, JJ wowed us with the edibles from his outdoor kitchen; I thought him to be the luckiest man on earth at the time, and us to be the luckiest of diners.  I couldn’t wait to go back.”

Fast-forward to: November, 2014, and our “recent” lunch on the Farm.

On return to the Farm, on the way up the volcano of Haleakala, I breathed in the fresh air and rejoiced.

O’o farms.  A tour and a lunch.

A snack, and a tour, and a lunch.

An education, a snack, and a meal!

tour start ansel

Plus the view, once again, isn’t bad either, of the farm, the distant ocean or the guide.  Ansel, once again greets his crowd at the start of the epicurean adventure and thoroughly recreates the history, past and present, that went into making this farm the special place that it is.  This young man is passionate about the land and the work that goes into cultivating a product special enough to boast itself proudly on menus in Lahaina and at the farm, for which the produce is grown.  It is not found in the markets, which makes it coveted by the lucky patrons that are smart enough to book a table (I recommend the table located on the mountain, under the thatched roof, looking down on the valley and out onto the ocean…at this place, called O’o Farm.

ansel

I could spiel off all the facts he told us, but that would be like giving away the ending of a movie, you just need to go there to hear about the plot yourself.  I will say…compost, chickens, wattle trees, 1,000 crops in rotation…oh my (to the tune of “Lions & Tigers & Bears…oh my).

kitchen 1

What I really want to tell you about, is the food.  Needless to say, the produce is über fresh and this fact alone, well, this coupled with the wood-fired oven, sets the tone for a spectacular meal.  While the group is off touring the farm, harvesting ingredients for the salad, Chef is preparing a glorious feast.  Chef JJ, who was with us last year has moved back to the Mainland.

walking garden

Joining the Farm in October of this year, the sous chef at the sister restaurant Pacific’o (located in Lahaina and definitely worthy of a visit), was Chef Daniel.  We really like Chef Daniel.  Not only is he a fabulous chef, he is a good guy.  He too has that infectious passion for what he does and he openly shares his process with the inquisitives (such as myself) without the airy pretension that can sometimes accompany those donning the coat of a chef.

PS2_buffet 1The Chef

THE FOOD:

wood oven 1After-the-fact, dark now, but still red coals inside. Lovely heat on a cool mountainside (John, I need one of these!).

Wine: Irony chardonnay, BYOB, purchased from our favorite wine shop, Wailea Wine.  You are able to bring with you a bottle (or more) of wine to enjoy with your meal.  They will keep it chilled (if needed) until lunch and then open it and provide stemware.

Simple focaccia bread, doused heavily in olive oil (made from the harvest of Ansel’s olive trees) and baked in the wood-fired oven.  This was so good a fight almost broke out for the last piece (honest, no kidding).

Salad of hand-harvested baby lettuces, spinach, arugula, fennel fronds & purple Osaka (a mustard green that is reminiscent of wasabi) and whatever other stray greens we decided to harvest and throw into the basket on our tour.  The salad is dressed with an addictive lemon vinaigrette made by reducing citrus to a syrup and whisking in oil, infused with kafir lime and lemongrass, all from the site.  I think everyone at our table would have drank it if offered a cup.

lunch 3

Crispy tofu with wood-fired vegetables, rutabaga, daikon, and watermelon radish.  The tofu is memorable, almost magical.  It is seared for almost 2 hours to deplete it of excess moisture then cooked amongst a nest of root vegetables to produce a fluffy pillow of flavor with just the right amount of crisp.  If you think you don’t like tofu (or even if you do), you will (even more-so) after this.

Fresh-caught local Mahi Mahi roasted in the wood-fired oven.  This is finished with a crush of fresh Kafir lime leaf and seared in lemongrass-infused oil, then topped with braised scallions and leeks.  The fish is so fresh that it cuts like butter and melts in your mouth, exploding with flavor.  Never have I enjoyed this type of fish so much.

lunch 2

lunch 4

Rosemary lemon-brined chicken roasted in the wood-fired oven, topped with juices from the pan and chayote squash (which tastes like a cross between a potato and a cucumber).  The chicken was so moist and tender that I almost mistook it for the fish as I put in on my plate.  For a moment, I thought of replicating it for our Thanksgiving supper but decided to keep traditional with our beach grill of Hawaiian fish.  Instead I have semi-replicated it here at home using Cornish hen; my new favorite roasted bird.

buffet 2Chicken with root vegetables in foreground.

Chocolate truffles, Maui pineapple and French-presss coffee, a finale:

coffee choco

THE SCENE:

view 2

The farm tour concludes with a look at the newly built coffee roasting facility, built by hand using eucalyptus and wattle trees fallen from the property.  Again, with great pride, Ansel describes the nuances of coffee production and describes what it takes to go from berry to cup.  The coffee can be purchased on-line at ‘āina Gourmet Coffee and Tom (and I) heartily recommend the mokka roast (that we were just drinking today).

coffee roast house ansel

From there, we walk back to the kitchen, wash our hands at the outdoor sink and gather around to plate up our food that is just being laid out upon our arrival.

sink

The wine we brought with us has been kept chilled and brought down to the tables to be opened.  Long communal tables made from full slabs of tree are all set with china, glassware and silver.  There were three of them nestled under a thatched roof, overlooking the farm, valley below, and of course, the ocean (both the North and South shores).  The air is clean, fragrant and warm, but definitely not hot.  If you breath in deeply, you can fill your lungs with the mountain air and capture the essence of the land.  As you breath out, slowly, actively engaged with the surrounding views, temporarily, you are in a moment of deep zen.

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ROSEMARY, LEMON-BRINED CORNISH HENS

I chose cornish hens here because I had been meaning to roast a few after being served a delicious dinner of said-bird at my mother-in-law’s place this past summer.  Chef Daniel described what he used for the brine and I translated that description into a more humble scale, suitable for four people rather than 20.

This is delicious served alongside just a simple green salad, or also, give roasted chayote squash a try.  The kafir lime leaves infuse a subtle, exotic flavor, but if you have trouble finding them, squeeze over a little extra citrus; either way, you won’t be disappointed with the finished dish.

PS_cornish hen roast

INGREDIENTS 

8 cups water
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup honey
8 bay leaves
4 TB lemon juice
4 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs thyme
1 stalk celery
1 tsp toasted corriander seed

2 cornish game hens (preferably organic, pastured hens), lemongrass, kaffir lime-infused oil (simply heat a pan and add a lemongrass stalk with outer shell removed, a few kaffir lime leaves and some coriander seeds. Let warm, then add some grape seed oil to cover, when the oil is warm, turn off the heat and let the flavor infuse).

PREPARE

Bring everything but the hens and the oil to a boil.  Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, cut out the backbone from the hens and cut the birds into two halves, consisting each of breast and leg.

Add the poultry to the brine liquid.  Let sit, covered and refrigerated for a minimum of 4 hours (maximum 24 hours).

Drain and pat dry.  Put all of the pieces into a stainless steel or glass bowl and cover loosely with paper towels.  Let sit overnight refrigerated (to dry further).

Brush with the infused oil and place the pieces in a single layer in a baking pan.  Toss a few lime leaves into the pan.

Roast in a pre-heated, 400-degree oven for approximately 45-60 minutes.  Turn once or twice during roasting and brush with the pan juices each turn.

When the skin is golden and the meat is cooked through (internal temp should be 165), remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

TO SERVE:

Squeeze lemon juice over the hens and then squeeze the lime leaves over.  Brush with more infused oil and pan drippings.  If you like, you can heat the pan drippings with a little white wine plus more lemon juice and use that as a sauce.

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Shown with roasted leeks and watermelon radish.

Don’t forget, it is perfectly acceptable to pick up the hens with your hands and be sure to lick the bone.  Keep the bones away from your dogs though, as poultry bones can be dangerous to their health.

swing
Always make time for play or contemplation.

The best of both worlds

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As I thought about lunch today, I couldn’t decide what to make. It was just me, if you don’t count the pups. Caught between the hunger pains in my stomach and the awaiting chore of cleaning the garage, I was torn. I could eat something quickly, right from the fridge. It wouldn’t take much, just a nibble or a bite. A slice of cheese, and a swig of beer, a scoop of avocado with a big ol’ squeeze of lime. I could eat the steak I couldn’t finish last night or the pork chop from the night before.

Something warmer was calling me though and as I stood pondering, I found myself opening a can of tuna. I love tuna salad sandwiches; they have been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. Except now I enjoy mine minus the mayonnaise. And no Miracle Whip, no sweet relish, no Wonder bread.

20141126-154715.jpgThe good stuff

Just a really good can of tuna, lots of lemon juice and a drizzling of olive oil. If I want to be fancy, a handful of fresh parsley goes in, perhaps a chopped pickle too, some celery, a little onion, a dab of Dijon. I used to always eat my tuna sandwiches cold, bread un-toasted, like you might take on a picnic.

But I wasn’t going on a picnic. I was cleaning the garage. It was cold outside and out there soon I would be. I wanted my sandwich warm. With a melted piece of cheese. The only bread I had was small and truth be told, one week old. I thought perhaps it would be okay. As I pulled it from the fridge, I saw my Niçoise olive tapenade left over from Mom’s birthday. Next thing I knew I was spreading, just a little bit, over the first slice of bread. I topped this with a good scoop of the tuna salad (which I had mere moments prior-prepared) then added a few thin slices of Gruyere.

I went to turn on the stove and spied one lonely fig sitting next to me on my cutting board. It was a straggler from breakfast that didn’t fit in. As an after-thought, I quickly sliced the fig and added it over the cheese and under the second slice of bread. I put the sandwich in the heated pan, topped it with my cast iron press and anticipated the result.

I was stalling I guess. I have never gone willingly to clean out a garage. When I was young, once or twice a year my Mom would, with very little notice, knock on our bedroom doors early on a Saturday morning and tell us to get dressed; that day would be given over to cleaning the garage.

I always stalled then too.

Our garage was often a mess. I get a little queasy when I recall standing there, unable to determine where I was to begin. The clutter was consuming. I would push a few things around, groaning, then put them back again. I had to look like I was busy but I really didn’t know what I was to do. I am not sure how I ever managed to escape but somehow I usually did. I would come back in at the end of the day as my Mom and Dad were sweeping up the last of the debris and tidying the clutter of the remaining boxes.

I was always amazed at the transformation, and that my brother Scott, managed to hang in until the end. I think he secretly enjoyed the task (and yes, his garage is pretty tidy now too).

Not me.

Yet here I am today, ready to dig in and one by one, go through some old boxes, throw lots of stuff away, and hopefully, I will be the one sweeping up the last of the debris. And hopefully, I will finally get that second car to fit in.

But first, there is the subject of my sandwich.

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I bit in and on my first bite, I knew that I had improved on two old favorites. A cross between a grilled cheese and a tuna salad. I know you think I was eating a tuna melt, but this was different in a few subtle, but important ways. First there was the bread. It was delicate and thin like one should use for a grilled cheese (so that the surface is just browned but remains a little soft within). The tuna was moist and hot but not gooey and it retained the perfect crunch. There was the cheese that melted fully and hugged the tuna as if it were it’s second skin. A tuna melt would not have olives, yet tuna salads sometime sneak them in. Grilled cheese likes to dress up with tomato, which is where fig is standing-in now.

But just as I had bit into my sandwich, I bit into the task of the garage. It was cold outside but I didn’t notice as I lit up from my progress. I thought I would stand frozen in my tracks, unable to find a place to start, but instead I dug-in and found a happy rhythm that ended with a broom. Piotr came over to help with the heavy things I couldn’t manage alone.

All the while, Tom was away on business, unknowing, as he spent his time freezing in Boston, including a brief respite under the Legoland giraffe. His birthday present was being constructed of one clean garage and two cars that actually fit in!!! A first since we moved in, more years ago than I would want to disclose. Hopefully, it would be a happy surprise (and it was).

20141126-152045.jpgTom says good thing it was a girl giraffe…

Thankfully, neither of us are freezing today as we finish editing from the beach in Hawaii (again)(Tom’s other birthday present). So, the best of both worlds, warm cars and warm us.

Grilled (Tuna &) Cheese sandwich

I usually make more tuna salad than needed for my sandwich because inevitably, I will want another one the next day and a salad after that. I always keep out a good pawful of tuna for Ginger and Buddy to share too.

INGREDIENTS for the sandwich

2 slices, sliced sandwich bread
1/4 cup tuna salad (recipe to follow)
1 tsp Niçoise olive tapenade (recipe to follow)
1-2 slices good quality gruyere cheese
1 fresh fig, sliced
Olive oil for cooking

PREPARE the sandwich

Lay out the bread slices:

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This is not Wonder bread. It is whole wheat bread from “The French Bakery”

Spread the tapenade on one slice:
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Top with the tuna salad:

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Layer on the cheese slices and top with the slices of fig. Lay the empty slice of bread over the other and press together.

Heat a small pan with olive oil and when the oil is hot, put on the sandwich and turn the heat down to low. Top with a sandwich press, if you have one, or weigh it down with a small plate. Cook on the one side until browned, 2-3 minutes, then turn. Cook a few minutes more or until both sides are lightly brown and the cheese melted.

INGREDIENTS for tuna salad

2 cans good quality albacore tuna packed in water (water just slightly drained)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 lemon or more, to taste
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, stems removed, chopped
A drizzle of good olive oil
1 celery stalk, diced
1-2 scallions, chopped

PREPARE tuna salad

Mix together all ingredients in a medium bowl. Don’t forget to share some of the tuna with your dog (or cat) first!

INGREDIENTS for the olive tapenade

1/2 cup pitted Niçoise olives
A small handful of fresh Italian parsley
1 TB lemon juice
Drizzle of olive oil

PREPARE the olive tapenade

Place all ingredients into a food processor and purée. You could alternatively chop it all by hand if you don’t have a processor (or use a mortar & pestle).

20141127-100359.jpg
The delicious end result. Can you see the bear or puppy face in the toast?

20141127-105708.jpgWarm cars = warm buns in the morning!

The Big Shake: by ginger

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PS6

Release.  I love to release.  Unless it is food.  If it is food and it has made it to my (not so) delicate mouth, you had better back off!  Or keep at it, tugging and prying relentlessly, until you save me from myself (some food is bad for me but I never learn).

I love to shake.  Shaking is a great form of release, just like a big sigh.  Deep, bottom of the soul kind of sigh.  I love to sigh.  I love to shake.  I love to release.  My brother Buddy (yes, I been known to refer to him as my brother now) has a really unique shaking technique; he always has had.  When he first came to live with us, his shake was a little weak but the technique was fun to watch.  I think it was then that I knew he was one I could love someday.  He needed work though, and by work, I mean what he really needed was love and care.  I didn’t give him obvious love, but I was teaching him (with love) nonetheless.  Mom didn’t think so though; she thought I was jealous of and mean to him.  But I saw it as tough love.  His first lesson of course, was to learn who was boss.  After he learned that, there was a large agenda to fill.

I taught him to stretch.  He came to us crotchety and stiff.

I taught him to sit on the couch, waiting for the snacks to come to us, rather than jumping down and chasing Mom each time she goes into the kitchen.  This has taken some time, but he still does it often enough.  There is a whole syllabus that could be built around etiquette and maximizing the efforts in the kitchen.  It took a while for him to get a passing grade in this class and sometimes I wonder if he could use a refresher course.

I taught him to scratch, fervently behind the ears to get Mom to rub them, or sometimes just for attention.  If that doesn’t work, proceed to chewing your crotch.  That always works for gaining attention.

I taught him to move from room to room, following the sunbeams and switching up which bed to nap in.  Now that he is my brother, I let him take his pick.  And sometimes, I even let him choose first after Mommy and Daddy leave for work.

I taught him to snarf.  Snarfing must come from the nose, and the head needs to tilt with a quick flick of the neck.  It should sound wet but not dripping (although Daddy disagrees with my assessment and continues to declare, “snarf-free zones”, like the front seat of the car; silly Daddy).  It should start softly and get louder until the intended action is taken.  Snarfing is a gentle way of asking for something that you want.  Don’t ask me why it works but I have found that it does.  It is also a good method of release.  Just look at the dashboard.

I also taught him to sigh!

He used to make little sighs that you couldn’t hear, but I’m talking deep down, from the belly to the nose and back through to the toes kinds of sigh.  People pay good money to learn this technique I’m told.

He too likes to sigh big now and we both like to shake.  When Buddy shakes, he looks like a propeller starting to take-off.  It begins at his head and echos down to the small of his back where it effortlessly builds momentum, lifting his little butt upwards and back legs off of the ground ending in his little stubby tail.  This happens very quickly, yet it still seems like it is happening in slow-motion because he is a blur.  I think he used to be a cowboy.  I can almost see him on a bull-ride, hanging onto the reins as it whips him too and fro.  He’s a little scrappy guy but I bet he would hang on, back hunched forward and bottom flying up and down in the air.  His (rather large) nose would be pointing up to the sky, eyes squinted and tongue tucked at the corner of his lip where his missing tooth used to be.

When I shake, it is much more graceful.  It is proceeded by a languished stretch; front paws fully extended, pushing into the ground.  Chest forward, it dips down and my arms buckle, my back arches and my short nose skims the floor.  I sit like this for a bit, letting the stretch work it’s way through my belly from my pelvis to my lungs, then my head guides my chest back up and I shake it out.  A whole body at once, a side-to-side kind of shake.  Legs firmly planted, posture intact and a deliberate motion shake.  I was a dancer before and take movement very seriously.  Even when it appears to be a crazy move; the move is always intentional.  This goes for the moves I make with my eyes, intentional and all-knowing.  I see everything.  I plot out each move.  I work hard each day and then I need to release – sleep, sigh, stretch, then shake!

Time to eat!!!

The logical thing, I realize, would be to make a shake.  I am a dog now though (yes, it’s true) and this is not the thing I think of eating when I say, “it’s time to eat”.  So Buddy and I are off to eat our duck.  It isn’t just duck; there are veggies too, but it is raw.  I don’t think you want to hear about raw duck and I doubt Darwin’s will give up their recipe (or else I might just let Mom make it for me instead), so I think it is best to describe a good little “pick me up” that Mom is making from her “big mistake”.  It happens to be a shake (or at least that icy thing you use to make a shake).

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PS2

Bonefide Tiramisu Gelato
By Stacey

This recipe came about from a bad batch of birthday “cake”, a spark of an idea from my niece, Julia and the leftover batter from said birthday cake.  I should also mention that the cake had not been traditional cake but actually tiramisu.  You can read about that story [here].  When I made it for my Mom’s birthday, it was a bit of a mistake because the eggs did not have enough yolk.  Long story short(ish), at dinner, my niece spoke of a tiramisu gelato being a favorite when she heard that tiramisu was for dessert.  This got me thinking, with all of the leftover cream, I could make gelato (or just ice cream).

ps2_gelati

I could not find my ice cream maker (since it was not in the freezer, it wouldn’t have done me any good anyways).  Remembering that my Blendtec claimed to make ice-cream, I decided to give it a try.  I whipped out the booklet which showed a recipe using batter frozen into ice cubes.  I proceeded to put some of my cream “batter” into the only ice tray I could find, a bone-shaped one for Ginger and Buddy’s Summer frozen yogurt.  Problem…this is a rigid tray and I couldn’t pry them out once frozen so I had to let them sit on the counter and melt enough to release.  By this point, I decided to skip the bother of any device and just put the whole lot into the freezer in a glass container.  Several hours later, it had frozen into a soft, supple, delicious pile of tiramisu gelato.  Julia, this one’s for you.  Ciao Bella!

INGREDIENTS

1 batch of cream batter from My tiramisu (click here for recipe)
1 (additional) 8oz tub of mascarpone
Cocoa powder or carob powder for dusting
Ladyfingers for optional garnish

PREPARE

When you make the tiramisu cream batter, add the extra tub of mascarpone to the called-for-in-the-recipe quantity.

Regardless of whether you end up with a thin or a creamy batter, transfer it to a freezer safe dish with tight-fitting lid.  Put it in the freezer for several hours.

It should be a soft velvety consistency when it is ready to serve. The longer it stays in the freezer, the harder it will be. If it is quite firm and too hard to scoop, simply let it rest on the counter until it comes to the desired consistency.  If you are serving at a dinner party or just know you will be having a little scoop for dessert, plan ahead and set it out about 10-20 minutes in advance.

Sprinkle the scoop with a dusting of cocoa and serve with a ladyfinger.

B & G 1I’m still teaching him…
PS_G & B 2it’s about the zen.

PS_Ginger emotionswhen life is good, open wide and let it in!

Even the best laid plans…

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hat top

Cook what you know.

A good motto to live by when entertaining; one I try to uphold.  This is especially true for me when it comes to dessert.  A course often overlooked as I scramble to prepare all of the others.  Simple is good!  Something in my repertoire and something that requires little to no baking is even better.  For me, that could mean tiramisu.  My recipe for tiramisu dates back to 1998 from my first journal, yet I was making it before I started documenting my kitchen, uh-ventures.  It was my thing.  I could always woo people with my tiramisu; my rendition was golden (and it was the 90’s after all, where it even stole a few lines in “Sleepless in Seattle”).journal cover Journal #1

Okay, so my rendition of Buongusto’s tiramisu was golden.  I came to acquire their rendition specifically from watching (on many occasions) the pastry chef at the long-time defunct, Buongusto Ristorante on Queen Anne, make this dessert for dinner service.  It was often late at night, after hours (because it needed to be prepared a day in advance).  I would watch him work his magic while he told me about the ghosts that haunted the kitchen of the old house in which the restaurant resided… I watched, I learned, I repeated (on a scale more compatible to our small Queen Anne Hill duplex kitchen).  It became my go-to birthday (or special occasion) cake.  I hadn’t made it in years.journal open The entry

Facing the quickly approaching birthday affair we were hosting at our house for my Mother, it seemed appropriate to make this as a birthday cake.  After all, spaghetti and meatballs had been her dinner request and tiramisu seemed like the right thing to make.

I made a very bad birthday cake.

I don’t know that I should apologize about it, because I was not actually making a cake.  As I said, I was making tiramisu.  For my Mom’s birthday (she just turned…well, we were forewarned not to say which birthday it was).

Bad birthday cake nonetheless.

I am blaming it on the eggs.  I cracked open the 7 perfectly large, brown eggs slated for this effort, but was rewarded with a meager bit of yolk in each of them.  I had virtually 1/2 the amount of yolk that I should have had.  However, this did not stop me from proceeding, diligently following each bit of scribble in my dog-eared and tattered journal.

Rather than a thickened, creamy cloud that should have spread loosely over the top of each layer of ladyfingers, I had what “spread” with the consistency of buttermilk.  I added another 8oz of mascarpone, along with two more egg yolks, (happily for them, the whites were cooked for Buddy and Ginger) and I took my hand blender to it again.  Ironically, it was even thinner than what I had before, but it was midnight and I had to move on.

Next, I slopped down a layer of this wet cream, topped it with the first layer of fingers, and poured, as evenly as I could, more of the cream over top.  It disappeared into the pores of the fingers but I topped it with the next layer of fingers nonetheless.  Now it was time for a little, big chill, overnight, in the fridge.  I learned to always make this a day ahead.  Perhaps the new day would show a fluffier reward?

The new day did not reward me with fluff.  Instead, the big chill looked like a big shake.  I should clarify this; it was like the aftermath of a BIG shake, like the kind from a big dog that was left to do their business out in the rain.  There was a puddle of cream slopping out the edges causing a very unsightly mess, and a completely exposed, un-topped layer of cake.  I mopped it up from the sides with a paper towel.  Cake sitting on the counter, I stood over it, deliberating on what would be my next move.  Mom was hanging about the kitchen now and I tried to hide the misery under a wrap of foil until I could formulate a good plan.  Family would be arriving shortly and I was still up to my elbows in mess.  Messy kitchen, messy clothes, messy hair.  Luckily, in my frustration at the state of the cream the previous night, I did not use it all, deciding to wait on topping the last layer until the next day.  Instead, I held it in it’s glass container overnight to see if it would thicken.  It did not.

I had one more 8oz tub of mascarpone and a fresh batch of eggs (because I anticipated making a fix and asked Tom to pick some up at the store).  What I did not have was time, to start over.  Into the Blendtec my extra batter went, along with two more egg yolks.  Yup, you guessed it, the result was thinner yet again.  I thought that surely, the egg yolks plus high Blendtec velocity would produce the equivalent texture of heavy whipped cream.  I was wrong.

So in desperation, I took that (newly purchased) last tub of mascarpone and emptied all but a few spoonfuls into the Blendtec container after transferring the batter back to it’s glass dish.  I then added a modest amount of cream batter back in with the mascarpone, say 3/4 cup.  Whiz, whiz, whiz…but not enough in the container to blend it well so I dug in with a rubber spatula and beat it around a little until it was finally, a lovely, little thick bit of mascarpone cream.  Yes, key word here is little (as in just enough to do the trick, but modest enough to leave exposed ladyfingers).  I spread it over top anyways and then dusted it with carob power to cover the inadequate amount of cream.  Not too shabby.  Not sexy, but not shabby indeed.  A few clever birthday candles, a dimly lit room, a festive table filled with balloons, flowers and dinner aftermath…we had a birthday-worthy cake.  It didn’t hurt that my sister-in-law had also donned the table with a double-tiered plate of Italian dolce (cannoli, amaretto cookies and biscotti).  Added a few perfectly-frothed cups of espresso and we were in business.

Sometimes, you can cook what you know, but you find you need to get reacquainted once more.  Sometimes even the best-laid plans require a change of plan and often times, they work out just fine, nonetheless.

tiramisu (candles edited)
A little rough but…still festive (and tasty).

Tiramisu

I have eaten many versions of tiramisu, some dense and thick, others light and fluffy.  There can be espresso or not, booze or not, but there really should be both.  It is important to use high-quality ingredients (as it always is), but with this dish even more-so due to the minimal flavors that are brought together to sing.  A good, thick espresso will provide a deep flavor and a gentle “pick me up”.  For the booze, a nice brandy is what I prefer, mixed with a small amount of Kahlúa and Meyer rum.  Some people use only rum or (gasp), no booze at all.  The booze is not meant to overwhelm the flavor but to add a nice sweetness and rich complexity that without would be apparent if missing.  I prefer the fluffy over the dense, indicating to me, that it has been delicately constructed with fresh eggs, whites whipped separate from the yolk and not replaced by a commercially convenient concoction.  The ladyfingers should be dipped quickly, not soaked, in the espresso and booze mixture so as to keep them from becoming soggy.  Most importantly, as mentioned earlier, it needs time to chill, preferably overnight, to allow the flavors to connect and the cream to firm.  The result should be a perfectly balanced flavor of coffee and cream with chocolate and spice.  The texture should be soft and fluffy, leaving your palette cleansed and your stomach less than over-indulged.

INGREDIENTS

5 egg yolks
1/2 cup Turbino sugar
8 oz Mascarpone
7 egg whites

1 cup espresso
1/8 cup Brandy, plus a drizzle for the cream mixture
2 TB Kahlúa
1/4 cup Meyer rum
Several grates of fresh nutmeg (or about 1/8 tsp grated)
Cocoa or carob powder

2 packages of ladyfingers

PREPARE

In a large bowl, whip together the yolks and sugar with a mixer until they are pale yellow.  Pour in a few drips of brandy and add the mascarpone.  Mix until blended.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg whites until stiff peaks form.

Pour the egg whites mixture into the cream and stir to blend.  It should be stiff enough to thickly coat the back of a spoon.

In another bowl, combine the espresso and the booze.  Set out a large platter with shallow sides or a sheet pan.  Quickly dunk the ladyfingers into the espresso mix, one side at a time.  Lay each one down on the platter or pan, forming rows until you have a single layer.

Top with half of the cream, spreading it evenly over the first layer.  Sprinkle with carob or cocoa powder then repeat the process again with another layer.

Carefully cover, trying not to let the cover touch the surface of the cream (rigid aluminum foil works well).  Chill for at least 8 hours.  It is best to make 12-24 hours in advance.

If it is an occasion cake, I make it directly on the platter since it will not transfer well other than to individual plates when serving.  Candles look festive and espresso served with is a must (at least for me).

Godere!

hat fullThe traveling birthday hat!

When I turned 40, I had a small outdoor party and my brother, Scott, gave me this hat.  Under (slight) protest, I wore it that night and then passed the torch to the next family member up on the birthday docket.  It became a tradition, passing the hat from one to the next for their birthdays.  I even took it on the plane to Hawai‘i one year and made Tom wear it for most of the flight on his birthday (he wasn’t under protest, the photos show him with a glass of Champagne and guava in his hand).  There is a little pocket on the inside of the hat and I had grandiose plans of each person leaving a picture of themselves wearing the hat, and tucking it into the pocket before sending it down the line.  Now that it is x years (I’m not talking either) later, I wish that we had done that; it would have been lovely to see them all now.  My Mom, under more than slight protest, did wear the hat too.  She looked marvelous.  “No pictures, please“.

Green soup (and ham?)

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PS_egg on wood 2

I have garden envy.  When my brother and sister-in-law moved into their newly-built house on Bainbridge Island sixteen years ago, their lawn consisted of nothing but mud, rocks, old growth trees and dreams.  Over the course of time, we have seen the transformation go from a yard that housed not even a place for Buffy to poop and pee, to many places for children to play and grow-up, adults to luncheon, retreat, tinker and entertain, and the gardener to grow vegetables rivaling those found at the Farmer’s Market.  There is a cleverly designed tree house, an elaborate garden and potting shed, a trellised patio out back with trickling water, beautiful plantings and a resident frog.  There are large trees, two in particular, that in the Summer are the anchoring points for a big screen, where movies are played for a gathering of neighbors, family and friends.  There is a water feature that was built between a neighboring house that resembles a woodsy brook that you’d never know hadn’t been there a hundred years.

But, oh what a garden has transpired.  The first time I encountered it, the vegetables were limited.  There was cabbage, very large and obnoxious looking; yet I suspect they were good.  There was kale.  This, before kale was the “it” veg to eat.  I knew not why someone would want to eat it, let alone grow it in their yard?  There it was though, not particularly interesting to me, then.  Ornamental perhaps?

On one particular visit to their house for dinner, I was taken aback by the progress.  The little garden that once was made up of a strip of property in the proximity to the length of their (long) kitchen, had suddenly become, without my knowing, a white picket fenced area, encompassing actual square footage in their yard.  Christine took me on a mini tour (because it was a mini footprint, but impressive), yes it was.

Quite some time has passed now and it is on the rarer occasion that we make it “on island”.  In the following years though, while we were still somewhat regular spectators and participants, their adjoining neighbor became family, the toddlers became kids and the kids became adolescents…the garden shed was built and the tree house was erected.  There was a dog now, other than our own, that graced the property and he (Snowball) has an orchestrated place to poop and pee.

If trees could talk, they might tell us of the nights that the neighboring families’ children came back and forth with my nieces and nephew, in happiness, in tears, and sometimes in the middle of the night.  The trees might talk of teenage gossip, pubescent fears or the story of a comforting marriage of two homes.  The trees might suggest that this was a place, in modern times, with old-fashioned values and good people.  They would also be grateful, the trees, for the love that sprouted around them and the edibles that nourished the ones within.  For that, Tom and I are happy too.

_PS_1 spoon not edited

We live off-island but fond memories (and occasional visits) still languish in our minds.  Most recently, my Mom, on her recent visit (to them, via our house) brought us home a gift from Christine; the most beautiful bouquet of hydrangeas, each stem capped in a plastic vial of water (a bouquet which made the most glorious appearance in our living room to welcome in the last of the decreasing summer sun) and a large bag filled with kale.  The most beautiful and tasty kale.  And chard. Gorgeous chard.  And tomatoes, so sweet and perfect, they were oooohed and awed upon for the appropriate amount of time before the first one burst and the fruit flies laid claim.  At this point, and not a second too soon, I had the will power and inclination to quit hoarding them for that most appropriate meal (which should always be now), and just dig in eating them raw, with reckless abandon.  So reckless, I will not share the details.  The remainder (because there were many) found their way into a most delightful fresh soup, recipe found here.

From the greens, among other things, I made soup!  Green soup…and ham.

PS_egg in soup1

 

(Almost) All Green Soup
makes approximately 12 cups

As you will find, if you continue to read what I write (in the future, and I hope you do), I am reluctant to give up a good thing…I like to dream.  I like to think about what might be best rather than what would be easiest (at the time).  So with the abundance of kale and chard (still) stored in my crisper, waiting for that perfect purpose, I decided to make soup.  Mostly with the chard, whose beautiful leaves had begun to wilt.  I had used some of them previously, in a sauté with our steak and one with our fish.  I had planned to wrap them over true cod, stuffed with bacon and leeks.  I had thought of mixing them in with ravioli and then thought of layering with eggplant, red peppers and veal.  I had imagined them as forming packets of ground lamb, co-existing with coriander, sweet onions and chopped kale.  I did though, use some to wrap my tuna salad, some to wrap my hummus, and it made its way into Tom’s turkey with cheese sandwich (surprise!).

This soup was a finale to the wonderful gift, harvested from that, now abundant, garden on Bainbridge.  The soup contains almost no fat and is vegetarian, if you leave out the ham bone I decided to throw in (used to flavor another soup effort, simultaneously occurring).  It makes more than one family could possibly eat (unless you live at that house in Bainbridge I spoke of with the two families and friends sharing the meal…but perhaps more than enough even then).  I will be freezing mine, in single serving portions, to eat for lunch at my whim.

The flavor is slightly spicy yet humble and earthy.  The coriander is apparent and the unmistakable texture of lentils adds enough weight to the soup that it tends toward the comfort spectrum rather than the light and healthy.

The health benefits are worth mention though.  There are so many green things in here, it should qualify for LEED (sorry, occupational reference).  It also contains onions, many, many onions; no feeding this to your dog(s), sorry G & B.

Chard:  Has a low impact on blood glucose, making it an excellent choice for diabetics (Linda, please take note of that and stuff it into Dad’s food, shhhh).  (a) Chard stalks: are high in glucosinolates, causing them to be a good thing for inflammatory  purposes, especially associated with surgery (pay attention Dad; I will be sure Linda is aware (heh, heh)).  (b) Chard greens: pack cartenoid which is good for your eyes and vitamin K, which is an excellent way of boosting your cardiovascular health (the stalks contain this too).  They also contain a high level of oxalates, which if you have kidney problems, should be consumed in moderation.  Consult your doctor for concerns.
Kale: Lowers your cholesterol!  Steam your kale for the best cholesterol benefit (darn, I like mine raw and massaged; still cholesterol lowering but not as much as steamed).  Steaming kale helps the fiber components to bind with bile acids which in turn help them to extract more easily (lowering your cholesterol).  Kale is also beneficial in regulating detoxification at a genetic level.  It can help with inflammation and oxidative stress.  Who knew? (Apparently everyone but me!)
Carrot greens:  Are not the tastiest eaten raw (unless you are a bunny or love bitter, herbacious and stringent, which I do) but they do pack this soup with additional vitamins A, B6, C and K, plus folate, manganese, niacin, potassium and thiamin.
Celery:  Is packed with antioxidants which protect against oxygen damage to our cells, blood vessels and organs.  The pectin-based polysaccharides in celery help to protect the stomach lining from ulcers.  However, this nutritional value is better when the celery is steamed or eaten raw rather than boiled.
Cilantro:  Is a member of the carrot family.  It helps to relieve intestinal gas pain, helps treat headaches, coughs and mental stress.  Cilantro also helps combat lead and other heavy metal toxicity (it is even being studied as a natural purification agent for water).
Parsley:  Is great as a digestive aid, natural breath freshener and more…

…I could go on, but I won’t.  You get the idea.

So, if that’s not reason enough to eat this superstar, healthy soup, eat it because it is just damn tasty (personal opinion, of course)!  You can wear it plain or dress it up with a spoonful of scrambled eggs, a dollop of plain yogurt or, better yet, a topping of tender pulled ham.  If you feel indifferent or curious, try mixing all three (green, eggs and ham!).

INGREDIENTS

1-2 TB olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 TB chopped garlic
1 cup chopped carrot (+ the greens if still attached, stems removed)
1 cup chopped celery
1 TB chopped jalapeño
2 cups sliced leeks
1 cup green lentils
2 tsp ground coriander
4 tomatillos
2 kale leaves, stemmed
12 oz chard leaves plus their stems, chopped
Sprinkle of sea salt over greens
2 TB lime juice
1 large bunch (2 cups) coarsely-chopped green onion
1 bunch cilantro, stems and all
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed
1/2 cup fresh parsley, stems and all
Ham bone/shank

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions, garlic, carrot, celery, jalapeño, chard stems and leeks until beginning to soften.  Turn down the heat to simmer and let them sweat until the leeks begin to melt, approximately 15 minutes.

Add the lentils and coriander. Stir to combine.  Add the tomatillos then lay the chard leaves and kale on top.  Sprinkle a little sea salt and squeeze the lime juice over the greens, cover and let cook over low heat to let them wilt and soften, about 10 minutes.

PS_cooking

Add the green onions, carrot greens (if using), cilantro, basil and parsley.  Add the stock, water and almond milk.  The liquid should mostly cover the greens but not overwhelm them.  Add a little more liquid if you feel there is not enough.  At this point, if you are using the ham bone/shank, tuck it into the liquid.  Again, this is optional and while I think it does improve the flavor, it would be just fine without it if you prefer to stick to vegetarian.  Bring this to a simmer then cover with the lid askew.  Let cook over low heat for an hour or so to really draw out the flavors.

Let sit in the pot to cool enough to handle.  Transfer the soup, in batches, to a blender or food processor (I used my Blendtec).  Purée until very smooth.  You should have a very large bowl filled with soup when you are done.  Squeeze in the juice of one lime and stir.  Serve piping hot.

If you would like to add a little texture, mix in some additional cooked lentils.  For a heartier soup, stir in some of the meat from the shank.  Another suitable garnish would be crispy bacon pieces; so many choices, so much soup…

 

PS2_baked egg 5

You can even eat it for breakfast (or this would make an equally satisfying lunch, dinner perhaps?).  Simply heat the soup and ladle it into an oven-proof dish.  Top the soup with a sunny-side up egg, a thin slice of gruyère and tuck in some thinly shaved ham.  Broil until the cheese melts then dig in.

And a happy birthday to my blog friend, Angie.  In honor of your birthday, I made green, eggs & ham!  One Sue(ss) two Sue(ss), happy birthday to you (to the tune of the birthday song, of course!).

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