Friday, August 29, 2014

A Break In The Heat By Way Of Duck Creek

Last weekend I spent a couple of days with three of my best girlfriends up at the cabin.   Notice I italicized cabin.  This is because the one friend, to whom this cabin belongs, used to employ herself as an interior designer.  Needless to say, while there is definitely a rustic feel to the place, it is nothing like the cabins my little sister and I used to sleep in during our summers at Rancho Verde camp.  An oasis of outdoor merriment and adventure for kids aged 7-16, (counselors were 18-20), tucked away in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  The rustic cabins at camp had wooden floors with holes so large they served as grand entrances for spiders and other creepy, crawly things.  Karen’s cabin also has wooden floors but hers are finished and shiny, and no holes.  I don’t recall our cabins at camp having windows.  Karen’s cabin not only has several very large picture windows, they are draped with charming fabrics and blinds.  And her cabin doesn’t have that woody, hot musty scent our cabins had.  Don’t get me wrong, my sister and I loved Rancho Verde.  Every summer spent, we had loads of fun and made wonderful friends we swore we would keep forever.  We rode horses, well my sister did.  I cried when my horse threw me off, so I committed myself to archery instead.  We swam, we rowed, we made lanyards with colorful strands of plastic folded over and over in a kind of braid and the geometric gum wrapper chains.  Tons of wood carving and jewelry making with an assortment of beads in multitudes of patterns.  Lest I forget, every camper’s favorite and most looked forward to event, our monthly field trip to the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk.  Departing after dinner and wearing special bracelets that allowed us to ride any ride in the park as many times as we wished was so freeing and blasted cool.  All along our way to the Beach & Boardwalk we raised our voices in song about 100 bottles of beer and Mary-Mack, but by late evening, the ride back to camp in rickety vans, hardly a sound was heard.  Sleep was already upon us as we shuffled and stumbled our way back to our cabins. 
My grownup girlfriends and I slept in beds with complete sets of sheets, as opposed to bunk beds and mattresses with sleeping bags thrown on top.   Mornings at Rancho Verde started early with a real bugle blowing reveille.  By whom we never knew, but they blared the universal signal to rise and shine!  It was time to meet at the flag pole for the pledge of allegiance and calisthenics.  We’d make our way through the morning mist then march into the mess hall for runny scrambled eggs, fatty bacon and very, (or sometimes barely), brown toast and a tepid glass of Tang.   Our mornings at Duck Creek started out with whispered conversations regarding the beauty and grandeur outside our windows with watchful eyes for deer as we sipped hot coffee, later followed by light and fluffy feta cheese omelets. 
 Rancho Verde offered chilly evenings of spooky stories and roasted marshmallows around the campfire.  But last weekend we enjoyed more adult camp night-time activities such as crocheting, chatting and sipping wine while nibbling on French cheeses, fruits and pieces of bread torn from a baguette.  Summer camp was great! – Girls’ weekend at the cabin provides those things we crave and almost need as we grow older; comfort with solace and grace, shared with good friends.  Every day, the girls and I engaged in a vigorous morning hike and riding Rhinos, (RTV’s).   On Saturday, we took a little afternoon trip to the shoppy-shops at Duck Creek Village and purchased a few treasures.  Karen picked out a most vibrant scented candle bowl, one that will only accentuate the woodsy, pine and earthy aromas that sweep and swirl around her cabin.  I chose a handcrafted ceramic hand.  In its open position I can use it a most unique cookbook holder.  I also found an antique-looking magnifying glass.  The silver handle is ornately designed yet perfect for holding onto while reading the smallest of prints. 
  Best of all, each day ended with a well thought out meal prepared with care and gratitude.   
While all four of us are cognizant of our overall health, and yes, a couple of the gals are dieting, holding ourselves in a culinary check didn’t mean we ignored our lusty appetites. 
The menus were pretty much “lean and green” with the exception of that wine and cheese.   Saturday night we feasted on Portobello Mushrooms stuffed with a slimmed-down version of Spinach Dip, finished off with grated cheese in the broiler.  I prepared Red Qunioa with a Medley of Roasted Vegetables and for something different, my gal-pals allowed me to experiment on them by serving a root vegetable I discovered called Malanga. 
Malanga is a staple in the Cuban diet.  Its skin is a rough, patchy, brown with a white or yellowish interior.   This high calorie root is purported to be one of the most hypoallergenic food on the planet!   This is due to the small starch grains, making for an easily digested complex carbohydrate.  Those who suffer from certain food allergies would do well with malanga flour. 
I simply peeled 2 large tubers, rough cut them into chunks and boiled until tender.  Then served them up as a side dish topped with only a sprinkling of salt, a dab of unsalted butter and lightly garnished with chopped parsley.  But the rave reviews were all about my Red Quinoa.  
Recipe for Red Quinoa
1 cup Red Quinoa                                                             2 cups vegetable broth
½  each; sliced red onion, halved small mushrooms, sliced yellow bell pepper
cubed eggplant, scallions                          2-3 garlic cloves – peeled & smashed
½ cup crumbled goat cheese                      ½ golden or mixed raisins
1)      Rinse and drain Quinoa
2)      Place prepared veggies, (you can also use a medley of your own choice-great way to use left overs) and garlic on a foil lined cookie sheet.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.   Roast in 375-400 degree oven until edges are slightly brown
3)      Meanwhile, pour Quinoa and broth into a 2 quart saucepot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.   Don’t stir while cooking.     
4)      The Quinoa is done when the grains appear soft.  Fluff with a fork  into serving bowl/s
5)      Stir in raisins, top with crumbled goat cheese - taste for seasoning if needed.
                                                                                              Makes 8  4-oz Servings

Red Quinoa w/left over carrots grren beans and cipollini onions


Portobello stuffed w/low-cal spinach dip and Malanga on the side

Sunday, August 10, 2014

An Introduction

Dancing Legs Asparagus


     You may, or may not be aware of this, but I wrote a book in 2002 entitled “Cooking With Granddad,” which you can still purchase on Amazon.  This was my first attempt at writing an entire, (though small), book.  Up until then I had only published food and nutrition articles locally.  This children’s story-recipe book, is the first in a series, the second is still in the works.  While I will admit the reception to my literary coming out party was rather tepid, like many writers and good cooks, I am as preserving and patient as slow-roasted pork, turning on a spit. I will continue to taste and season my work until it is just right.   


     It is in that spirit, that I’d like to make a preliminary introduction to an entirely  different style of book I have written, “One Four Ounce Serving.”  This story begins with two women, Rose and Gilda, a set of fraternal twins who share a love of food but are on opposite ends of an unbalanced scale.  Rose cooks, Gilda eats, setting into motion events that take them from diets to live-its all within a few miles of home while surrounded by kindred spirits.  It is with personal understanding that I wrote “One Four Ounce Serving” a project I’ve been working on since 2009, researching, interviewing, writing, editing and re-writing.  This book embraces a mixed genre of storytelling and recipes, where I share with readers the delectable details of Rose and Gilda’s monthly supper club gatherings with featured recipes of the dishes the club members prepare.  Readers get an inside view of the efforts the Friends Amid Food employ to entice, interest and please one another by way of braising, sautéing and grilling, stuffing, wrapping and fluting.  Original recipes and adaptations are taste tested and exchanged within this group of cooking companions, many of whom have unique dietary needs.  But that doesn’t slow down the flow of creative culinary adventure or the gusto of epicurean experience.  The outcomes always find everyone at the table fervently licking their lips. 


     What makes this story-recipe book so special is inferred by the title . . . a clue!  Here’s an appi-teaser from the book;


Dancing Legs Asparagus


2 bunches fresh asparagus (thicker ones are best)

1 cup roasted red peppers, drained

½ goat cheese, crumbled

¼ cup vinaigrette, your choice                                        salt and pepper to taste

Fresh lemon zest                                                            large bowl of ice water


1)    Cut off the woody bottoms of the asparagus, ensuring all are the same length. Then using a peeler, shave and trim spears.

2)    Place prepared spears in large skillet of boiling, salted water

3)    Cook asparagus just until tender but still firm, about 3-4 minutes, (you will probably have to do this in two batches).  The spears should be still be firm in shape and not droop over when held.

4)    Immediately plunge asparagus into bowl of ice water for another 3-5 minutes, then place on plate lined with paper towel to drain

5)    Meanwhile dice bell peppers and zest the lemon – set to the side

6)    When ready to serve, arrange asparagus spears on large platter mimicking a chorus line of legs.  Sprinkle diced peppers along lower third of asparagus, then sprinkle crumbled goat cheese along same line as peppers. 

7)    Season to taste with salt and pepper then drizzle lightly with vinaigrette, finish with lemon zest all over dish.

                                    Serve Chilled – Makes approximately 12  4-oz servings
Just a reminder - it is actually quite acceptable to eat asparagus with your fingers.

 A different kind of Chorus Line - delicious




Saturday, August 2, 2014

Before and After

     I’ve been thinking a lot about before and afters lately.  I’ve realized the space between the two can be as deep and wide as the Panama Canal, a 427 mile long, 55 mile wide, man-made wonder of the world.  Which by the way seems to be on the Conde Nast Hot List, and why not?  With cuisine reflective of the Spanish, American and Afro-Caribbean influences, one has to only close their eyes and imagine the delight of being presented with a robin’s egg blue plate, framing a crispy fried corn tortilla topped with mildly spiced shredded beef.  Should this plate be served to the vacationing recipient on a warm and balmy morning, the only sounds heard would be the lapping of ocean waves and the buzzing of humming bird wings, the dish would be crowned with a perfectly soft boiled egg, mimicking the bright yellow, rising sun.   Of course lunch would likely be the traditional sancocho.  The Panamanian version of chicken soup, almost a stew really.  The chicken is slow cooked in a simple broth, then stirred with a wooden spoon while adding corn, rice, and exotic herbs such as culantro along with a starchy root known as name, (accent on the e).

     Or the change between the before and after can as imperceptible as the gait of a Galapagos tortoise.  250, (females), to 500 pounds, (males), of ancient reptile, averaging 16 hours of rest and relaxation per day.  Periodically they open their eyes and meander around in search of munchies, such as cactus, grasses and fruits.  Though I would never, ever consider using these treasured Testudines, they do bring to mind another favored first course . . . turtle soup.  Specifically my go-to recipe the rich and somewhat spicy version offered in New Orleans.  It starts with a well-balanced, dark roux then the holy trinity and fresh herbs.  This soup is also slow-cooked, (at a snail’s pace – oh! another delectable creature living within a protective shell), about a pound and a half of diced turtle meat, a splash of sherry, and there you have it.  Don’t wrinkle your nose until you’ve tried it my friend, the flavor can only be described as soft and salivating, with just a little kick in between. 
     But back to my fixation on before and afters.   Whether the transition is as demonstrative as rising bread dough or the slow progression used when curing bresaola, the results are consistent.  What we end up with afterward is very different from what was before.        Before I was kind of chubby.  After my diet I was thinner.  Before I was married.  After my divorce I wasn’t.  Before, when I was younger I thought I knew everything.  After I turned fifty-something, I realized I didn’t really know anything.  This brings to mind the ongoing shift from before and after for my students at the youth center.  I don’t know anything about their lives before they came to the center, except there was a wide variety of epicurean knowledge when I arrived.  Now after  six years of monthly group gatherings, I know the students that have passed through here can better feed themselves and those they care to share with. 
     This past week our lesson was focused on fresh produce as it comes to our kitchen from the market.  Providing my group with a balance of some common and a few less familiar greens we embarked upon the task of making salads.  We discussed how it is still only lettuce, until we use it to make a salad.  My students excitedly inhaled the grassy scent of Kale, Romaine, Chinese snow peas and a rainbow of bell peppers.  They julienned, sliced and small diced fresh carrots, scallions, English cucumbers and strawberries.  They minced fresh garlic and blended seasonings to doctor up bottled dressings.  And finally, these most creative of culinarians, set about filling their plates, cups or bowls with their vision of a compound or composed salad.  One young man assembled an eye-pleasing deconstructed salad without even realizing it.  But after seeing what he did, everyone learned the details of deconstructed salads, (and desserts). 
     With only a brief demonstration and a few dollars’ worth of produce my amazing students engaged in a lesson that integrated food with art.  Before we started our group that morning, most were only familiar with iceberg lettuce and huge bowls of compound salads.   After our one hour lesson, every one of them had created a feast for the eyes and nutrition for the body.  I don’t know where these young adults go after they leave our communal kitchen, but I am so proud of them!  Here are the afters of the lesson:
 Where before there were only empty paper plates, bowls and cups, after . . . .

No this isn't culinary school, this is Life Skills, in real life!