Sad, because I love to bring back the perfect gift.
I don't want to just settle for that last-minute airport quickie -- the shotglass, keychain, or t-shirt. They're fine for people who collect them (like me), but even among shotglasses, keychains, and t-shirts, there are the good, the bad, and the "gee-thanks".
Before I left for Paris, I asked J what he wanted me to bring him. Years back someone had brought him a tie from Hermès. How do you top that? Certainly not with a t-shirt, shotglass, or keychain. So I bought myself a lovely bottle of Un Jardin sur le Nil. After all, J would get to enjoy the second-hand scent, right? Close to the perfect gift, but no cigar.
We love to collect local honeys. And I found some beauties, like Provençal lavender, eucalyptus, limeflower, and thyme. But I kept imagining having to lick it off my clothes after landing and discovering the bottles had broken mid-flight.
I found some wines. Same mid-flight-explosion nightmare.
And then, miracle of miracles, I found Kaoka, chocolat noir biologique éclats de fèves de cacao caramélisés!! Doesn't that sound mysterious? 61% of purely delicious chocolate darkness, blissfully laden with caramelized (!!!) cocoa nibs. And it's organic and fair trade!!
I keep trying to convince J that this perfect gift must be shared, but we don't quite see eye to eye on that one. Now why didn't I buy a whole case of these, the perfect gift??
J keeps asking me if I'm absolutely sure this isn't available in the US. I've not seen it before, but believe me, I'm now scouring the internet for it. If you come across some, buy it -- it's perfect!!
From now on, trips will be much less stressful. It's simple: Buy chocolate.
Matter of fact, I think I'm going to approach Whole Foods to see if they will consider ordering and carrying it. That way I can perfect the lesson with weekly purchases :)
It's been a long work week, and I found myself on more than one occasion wishing I was still on vacation. That got me to thinking about how vacations are little milestones or markers on the highway of life and how we so often measure time relative to our vacations.
First we look forward to our trip, counting down the months, then weeks, then days and even hours before the vacation. Right now I’m counting my five more weeks till Boston.
Then it comes and goes and we begin counting the time since the trip. So it's been more than a week since we've been back from Paris. About 6 weeks since we've been back from this year’s annual trek to Colorado. Two years since Broken Bow. Four years since Australia? Seven years since Antigua? Eleven years since Germany?
What? That long?? Already??? Really????
Wow, tempus fugit...at a mind-numbing speed. Must be why we feel jet-lagged all the time, eh?
Spring ‘09 - gone.
Summer ’09 - gone.
Fall ‘09 – whoosh. It’s flying by as quickly as the colors are turning on the trees. Ah, we’re tumbling through autumn. As are the leaves. Piles and piles of leaves.
In the city, we’ve got a huge oak tree in the backyard that is so very generously raining its fruit upon everything in its shadow. The roof sounds like an old typewriter as the acorns drop from the branches that overhang the house. Walking in the backyard is a veritable acupressure treatment for the feet. And the sloping driveway has turned into a roller rink, with wham-bam roller derby sound effects as the car tires crunch over the acorns.
At the lakehouse, we’ve got everything from flowering maples festooned with deep pink flowers to Japanese maples cloaked in brilliant scarlet, to oaks cloaked in shades ranging from umber to chartreuse, to redbuds which have nary a leaf left on their little branches. The ground is a crazy quilt of all the above.
With each falling leaf, I thought I could wax poetic this morning, rambling on oh so metaphorically about the falling of the leaves corresponding to life.
But looking at it all just makes me hungry. Because I know that each one of those brilliant little palettes of color eventually has to be raked and bagged.
Thus, the need for a nourishing breakfast of champions. Breakfast today is going to have to last us till dinner time, till our acre of autumnal splendor is packaged into stuffed recycle sacks neatly stacked at the curb.
So, as I head out into the ukiyo-e of East Texas autumn leaves, feeling a little bit Renoir and a little bit chain-gang, I leave you with the Tofu Scramble I made this morning. I used the veggies I had on hand. Like the colors of the leaves, mix and match the ingredients as you like.
Veggie Tofu Scramble
2 tablespoons oil (I like coconut or evoo)
1 baby-fist-sized shallot, chopped (or ½ cup chopped sweet red onion)
2 small potatoes, cooked and cubed (I like Yukon golds with the skin on)
1 zucchini, diced
½ teaspoon freshly ground comino
1 package tofu, well-drained (I like firm, but any type will do)
1 teaspoon turmeric
Salt & pepper, to taste
Sprouted corn tortillas
Cheese (I like Alta Dena’s raw goat cheddar)
1. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium high. Add the shallot, potatoes, zucchini and comino, stirring till all veggies are golden.
2. Crumble in the tofu, sprinkle with turmeric, and stir so it doesn’t stick.
3. Season with salt & pepper.
4. When the tofu is heated through, heat another small skillet over medium and heat the tortillas on both sides, one at a time. After I flip the tortilla over, I layer on some of the cheese and allow it to melt slightly and the tortilla to crisp a little.
5. Plate the tortilla, spoon on some tofu scramble, layer on some tomato slices, try to roll up or fold in half like a taco, and enjoy. It’s messy, but it’s good and filling.
NB: You can use fresh mushrooms, cooked eggplant chunks, diced tomatoes, shredded cabbage, peas, cauliflower. You can use different spices, as well, like marjoram, curry powder, chiles. The combinations really are endless. Instead of rolling into tortillas or wraps, this can be served alongside bread and jam for a more formal breakfast. It can be served for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner, depending how it’s served up.
Lastly, we’re at the lake where the internet is too slow to upload photos. So, pictures will be posted later.
The last time I saw Paris was in 1973. Mama, Nini Belle, our French teacher Camille Kessler, and Nini Potter and Julie Neil, two other French students at Vicenza American High School, boarded the Orient Express in Vicenza, Italy, bound for Paris. We had reserved seats for each segment of the trip to Paris (Vicenza to Milano, Milano to Lausane, Lausanne to Paris) -- a must if you didn't want to stand for the 12-hour trip. We got on in Vicenza, or tried to anyway. We never got to our seats, because the entrance to the train, the little section between cars, was packed full. How full? Passengers were shuffling chicken crates and bundles of goods to make room for the 6 of us to squeeze in. Squeeze in for the one-legged ride to Milano. Each of us stood the whole way, one leg on the floor, the other bent-kneed on our little suitcases. Mama was fortunate enough to be packed in face to face with a gentleman who understood enough English to laugh heartily every time one of us spoke. Unfortunately for Mama, this gentleman had consumed a hearty, bowl-you-over dose of garlic before getting on the train and she was stuck there enduring one hellacious dose of ozostomia. Fortunately for Mama, there was no way she could fall over :) Thirty six years later, we still laugh about that one.
I don't remember how I came up with the recipe -- no doubt it's a combination of many different vegan versions I read about in books and on the internet -- but it's a good one. Best of all, it's vegan and gluten-free, and good enough that I just might make it again for breakfast tomorrow :)
French Toast - Vegan and Gluten-free
A few weeks back, I was glancing through The Nerd and the Needles blog and saw a photo of a cute little scarf. Every once in a while a pattern hits the craft circle and everybody is making it, gifting it, and/or wearing it. Baktus is one of those. It's nothing fancy or special, but it's fast and easy, and takes very little yarn to complete. There are lots of variations out there -- some are striped, some have a simple lace component added, some are larger, some smaller. Google "baktus" and you'll see what I mean.
Hm, I thought, think I'll try it with that grey sock yarn. Maybe stripe it with the orange sock yarn? Hmmm...
I've been knitting since I was about 10 years old. Sounds impressive, but in reality I had to knit when I was 10 years old. I'd been crocheting, which I really enjoyed because it creatively facilitated my inability to coordinate two-handed projects. That's why I never could play piano. How do you work the left and right hands at the same time?!
The year my dad was in Viet Nam, Nini Belle and I attended German college prep school -- 1. Klasse Oberschule at the Annette-Kolb-Gymnasium in Traunstein. And in the 60's, that meant we'd be learning to knit, crochet lace for hankies, weave baskets, embroider, and all sorts of other things that would ensure that we were proper young ladies -- all for a grade. And 10 was a good age to start building a trousseau, ja? My aunt, Tante Marie, had attended a convent school and had made some of the most beautiful needlework projects, a few of which I still have. Her linens (actual finely woven linen and hemp) were embroidered with her initials, MW (a beautiful combination of letters for artwork), and had hand-made crocheted, tatted, and bobbin lace insets. Just gorgeous. Same with her pillowcases and hankies.
I had hopes and aspirations (severely misplaced, I now realize) of producing similar quality school projects. I could see my teachers oohing and aahing at my natural talent. Mm, wunderbar gestrickt und bestickt. It didn't happen. Oh, my crocheted lace was nice enough - a relatively simple shell pattern crocheted with sewing thread (yes, that fine). But then I had to engage both hands (right and left? at the same time??) for a knitted scarf and hat, and in that two-needle swoop my trousseau dreams were felled. I tried, and cried, and in the end, my mom and grandmother finished my scarf and mittens. They both got passing grades ;)
So, I have been knitting since I was 10, just not continuously. I picked it up again some 20 years ago when I was pregnant with Firefighter. I wanted to make him some booties and sweaters and all the patterns I liked were for kniting. I tried it and it actually wasn't bad. I think my brain-hand-eye coordination benefitted from that 20 year hiatus. Well, if you don't count my first attempt at mittens a few weeks back. One fits me, the other fits J. How embarrassing! I just wasn't paying attention.
I picked up a few beautiful merino lace yarns while we were in Buena Vista, but I'm saving those for something special. Not yet sure what, but Ravelry's got plenty of patterns to choose from. So, maybe the blue sock yarn for the Baktus? Or the malabrigo merino?
I settled on the sock-yarns: a self-striping grey (grey, toffee, pistachio, and pumpkin) alternated with "tequila sunrise" (pumpkin, wine, gold, peach, blue, and olive). Got out some 4.5mm needles and went to it. The original pattern calls for using a skein of yarn, using half of it to increase to the middle, and the remainder to decrease till done. It involves weighing the yarn at the start, then weighing again once you think you're about halfway done so that you have enough to finish. A little too exciting for me, so I just knitted the basic pattern till I had 55 stitches on my needles, then I started the decreases. Larger than the original, but more to my liking. Check out the slide show (on the right side of this page) and let me know what you think. Isn't Sonoma cute? The colors suit her.
The pattern was great for mindless knitting (my kind of knitting) and I had it done in a few evenings. Certainly will be making a few more of these. Maybe I'll try the Karius variation, which is stockinette stitch vs. garter stitch. I even thought about running a cable along the increase / decrease edge, or maybe a leaf pattern. Check out this Karibak (a combination of Karius and Baktus) on Knitorious. Love her yarn choice!!
Have one really special project on the needles. Special project for a special person for a special occasion. When done, it'll contain about 9,000 stitches. Worth every one. You'll see when I'm done and it's gifted.
Do you knit?
We attempted Mts. Belford and Elbert, but decided we didn't want to experiment at being human lightning rods and high-tailed it down as fast as one can "run" down a mountain, through wooded switchbacks, over streams with slippery log crossings, and to the dry safety of the car. Whew!
This year we were going to give Mt. Belford another try. We were going to start early (around 3 a.m.); do the switchback route (that I didn't want to do last year because it looked tough and like there were "exposed" areas); take the alternate route back; and hopefully be back to the car by 1 or 2 in the afternoon. The route is an ankle-twisting, torture-every-fiber-of-muscle-in-your-legs 11 miles long -- 5.5 miles of which is up, up, and more up.
I hadn't prepared myself at all for the climb. First of all, I really hadn't done anything resembling a workout since last December's surgery. Then, two additional surgeries were plenty of justification to go ahead, take it easy. So my body's been through the mill with surgeries and healing, I haven't done anything physical to speak of, and I'm about to embark on a trip to Colorado to do some hike/climbs that are listed as "moderately difficult." See, I said it was a working vacation. A moderately difficult working vacation.
So about 2 weeks before we left, I decided I should probably start walking, doing squats, riding my bike. Something. Anything. But it was so hot. Fall, but hot nevertheless. And so I put off my training hoping that somehow I could miraculously make it up the mountain.
Instead, I concentrated on our food. I mixed up the spices for our sweet milk tea (Nepali dudh chia); mixed up our mueslis (oat groats for me, rolled oats for J); gathered and packed our breads (gluten-free for me, foccaccia for J); sliced cheese and Quorn roast for sandwiches; made tempeh chili; made arepas; made wonderful little rice crispy treats from Heidi's recipe (you MUST try these); packed the girls' food and treats.
Ah, the day of judgment was coming. Fast.
In Buena Vista we checked the weather, meticulously, over and over, and determined that Monday the 14th would be the day. Meantime, we did a few little hikes on the trails above the rec center park, walked from our cabins to the farmer's market, to Serendipity yarn shop (often, heh heh), and just enjoyed being in the mountains.
"Doesn't this place feel like home??" J kept asking. "I want to move here. I need to move here."
Leia and Sonoma love it, too. J played ball with them every day at the soccer fields.
Fast forward to the day of judgment. Up at 2 a.m. Fed the girls, grabbed our muesli to eat in the car, and drove to the trailhead. Good thing we had dudh chia to start it off, because 3 a.m. at 9,500+ feet in September is ch.ch.chill.ly. Got the girls' backpacks on, got ours on, quick photo (the reflective strips on the girls' stuff lights up brilliantly!!), and hi-ho hi-ho it's up the mountain we go.
If you've never done it, you need to start off on a hike while it's still dark. And cold. It's quiet. Peaceful. Headlamps help you navigate the trail, as you feel the excitement and energy of a new adventure.
The girls felt it, too. Both of them were pulling so hard that I felt out of breath just trying to keep up their breakneck pace. After just a few minutes of this, I seriously regretted my lack of physical preparation. OMG and we still had hours to go before daylight....
Daylight did come and it was magnificent. Hard to describe, but whenever I get to watch a sunrise, even after I've already put in a few hours of hard labor, it feels like all is right with the world. You're not thinking about phone calls and emails you have to return, or what needs fixing around the house, or whose sales are hitting forecast. You just know that this earth, terra firma, is home and you're connected to it and every living thing on it. It's all good.
Out of the trees, into the daylight, and the switchbacks are directly ahead. Take a deep breath, because you're gonna need it. Well, I needed it. I needed it to energize myself. I needed it to focus myself on the task at hand -- a few thousand feet of switchbacks and dizzying heights. Did I mention I have a horrible fear of heights?? It was at this point that I started my mantra: Look up and ahead. Take it one quiet step at a time. Left. Right. I didn't dare even suggest to myself not to look down. I was trying to be positive and think only about up and ahead, and that each step would get me closer to the top.
By this point, J had taken on both Leia and Sonoma. I couldn't deal with the heights, the exposure, and the thought of having one of them pulling me....right off the side of Mt. Belford. So J and the girls sped ahead and every once in a while would take a little break while I huffed and puffed my way toward them. By the time I reached them, they were rehydrated, snacked up and refreshed, and ready to move on.
I, on the other hand, never stopped. I kept going, one step at a time, looking up and ahead -- till I got to the spot. The exposed spot. I saw J up and ahead looking down at me, and I had the feeling he wanted to say something, but he just kept watching. Yeah, he was thinking this was the spot where I call it quits. I was thinking the same thing. Only I had begun to crouch in toward the side of the slope and knew that there was no way I could walk back down the switchbacks (because that would mean looking down, not up and ahead!!), and that to get off this mountain I had to get to the summit. Heartrate speeds up. Or call in the mountain rescue and chopper me out. Heart beats faster. And where did I propose they land?? Heart beats a lot faster. So, it's up the mountain or...
Out of nowhere, this guy comes running up the switchbacks and says, "Perfect day, isn't it?"
I took a deep breath and on the exhale quietly said, "I'm terribly afraid of heights" in a voice that made him stop and say, "Yeah, it's a little exposed here. Wanna take my hand and let me help you around this spot?"
At which point J calls down, "Sir, could you please help my wife around that spot?"
J thanked the guy and explained to him about the cancer and the surgeries, and that Nini Belle was going through chemo, and that I was climbing this mountain for us. Telling the guy how strong I was. And the guy was saying how great and inspirational that was. Yadda yadda. Totally obligating me to beat the mountain since I'd beat the cancer.
And the rest is history. Well, herstory. But not that fast!
It was a long, cold haul up there. Made it through the icy graupel patches. Through the shivering wind. I never stopped moving till I reached the sunshine-swathed summit. Then I cried. Cried hard. Because I made it. Because I beat it. The cancer and the mountain.
Will post more pics.
In Estes Park, there's a little family-run restaurant we've always gone to eat called Nepal's Cafe on Elkhorn Avenue. The family serves delicious hot spiced milk tea the way it's made in Nepal. While I don't know exactly how they make theirs, I played around with spice combinations and this comes as close to our memory of their tea as I can imagine. First you have to make the spice mix. Then, mix that with milk, water, sugar, tea and enjoy. Take a sip, close your eyes, and pretend you're at Base Camp on Everest.
1 tablespoon each of ground cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Stir the spices together and keep in an airtight glass jar. Obviously, the fresher the spices, the tastier the tea.
To make the hot tea, heat 1 1/2 cups water, 1 cup milk (I use coconut or soy), and 1 tablespoon sugar (or honey) in a saucepan till boiling. Stir in 1 heaping tablespoon of black tea (I like Earl Grey) and 1-2 teaspoons spice mix (I use 2 because I like it spicy). Allow to simmer about 5 minutes, strain into heated mugs, and serve. Makes 2 servings.
** Editor's Note: Editor-schmeditor -- the layout is virtually impossible to control. Sorry!!
We're heading to Colorado on Friday morning for some hiking/climbing in the Buena Vista area. Fourteerners, here we come with the girls!!
We're renting a cabin this year, which will make my food issues of the past virtually disappear. We still have to take some and cook some, but it won't be "camping style" with the Jetboil, Coleman stove, and such. We can come down off the trail, shower, put on the girls' food, and cook and eat a real meal in our own little cabin. This will make all the hard work worth all the while.
And I get to eat real sandwiches this year. No more sweet bar after sweet bar after sweet bar while on the trail. Now, I love my sweets, but when you're working your body really hard, carrying a heavy pack, walking and climbing uphill for miles, you just get to where you dread another sweet granola or protein bar. you want something you can sink your teeth into. About a week back, we discovered Udi's Whole Grain Bread which our Plano Whole Foods market now carries.
"Eh, let's give it a try," I said. "If it sucks, we can compost it."
Ha! It's sooo good!! It will never seee the inside of our composter. Even J is going to be eating Udi's bread this trip. Of course, he'll pack his with turkey and stuff, I'll just do sliced cheese. I thought I'd have to be baking wrap bread for us, but Udi saved the day.
We're bringing along muesli with fruit and yogurt for our breakfasts; snacks and the sandwich stuff for the trail; veggie/tempeh chili, arepas, and salad fixings for dinner. We'll probably sleep in a little on Saturday morning and allow ourselves to adjust to the altitude. Neither one of us has ever had problems with it, but we like to take it slower on our first day (J's got an "easy" 8-mile hike to some mining cabin planned) and ease ourselves into the 7-8,000 elevation gain from Dallas. So, I'll probably bring along enough scone mix to whip up a quick batch. Or maybe we'll make pancakes. That'll be our one relaxed breakfast that we get to eat in the cabin; the rest will be eaten early mornings at the trailheads. Gotta hit the mountains early to make the summits before the early afternoon thunderstorms.
Even if we don't make any summits, we'll still see incredible things. Last year we got a late start on Mt. Belford and got rained off at about 13,000 feet. Some hikers we met on their way down told us about these little mountain orchids , fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa), that they'd seen somewhere in the saddle between some of the fairly close peaks. We were so disappointed that we wouldn't see them but the lightning was a pretty diligent taskmaster at getting us down the mountain. I had thoughts of tossing my hiking poles lest they become lightning rods -- but we made it. But we did see them hiking down from the Maroon Bells trail on our last hike last year. Incredibly beautiful little orchids. I tried to take a few photos of them last year, but they turned out blurry. Maybe this year we'll see them again.
My favorite alpine flower is the pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata). Most people miss it because it grows a bit away from the main trails, usually in shady, moist areas. The tiny white or light pink blossoms are so sweetly fragrant that I wish I could bottle the scent. We look for them every year.
Most likely won't be posting till after our trip, but hope to have some great photos to put up then. Meanwhile, I'm off to munch on my delicious breakfast scones, courtesy of Pamela's Baking mix (and basic scone recipe) mixed with Bob's Red Mill Biscuit mix. I use about 1 1/2 cups Pamela's, 3/4 c Bob's, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, cut the sugar waaay down to about 1 tablespoon, grate in 5 tablespoons frozen butter, stir in a good 2/3 cup icy cold coconut milk mixed with an egg, toss in a handful of dried cherries, shape (drop by large tablespoon and ever so slightly flatten) and bake for about 22 minutes at 375 F. Makes about 8, which means 2 for me, 2 for J, and 2 each in the toaster tomorrow morning.
Ta....and enjoy your brekkie.
Nourishing that longing that is associated with a memory. Usually a good memory; thus, the longing. And thus today's post.
I know it's not officially fall. And here in Texas, dipping down to 89 degrees during the day certainly doesn't mean fall has arrived. But there's something going on that I just can't quite put my finger on, and it's telling me fall is upon us.
A few more leaves than usual are falling, and they're golden, not drought-shriveled.
Leia and Sonoma are shedding more, and I just know they're getting ready to blow their coats for fall. How do I know? Why, all of the above.
And the truest harbingers of fall for me, prune plums, are sitting like dark purple velvet mini footballs in produce sections all over town. I like how they describe them over at The Kitchn: "little baby-fist-sized plums." Perfect description.
We grew up eating Pflaumen, plums, during the summer. But in fall, the farmers' markets began to display these dark bluish-purple plums, Zwetschgen, more football-shaped than round, with a silvery-blue sheen to them. Kind of like damson plums, but more oval. And Zwetschgen, of course, meant one thing: Zwetschgendatschi!
If you know anything about Zwetschgendatschi, you fall into one of 2 groups: those who like the yeasted dough or those who like the tart pastry dough. Our family has only ever baked the tart pastry version. Sure, most bakeries make the yeasted version, as do some home cooks. Why? I don't know. Certainly, making a perfect tart crust is an art that rivals yeast dough making. I personally don't care for yeast dough fruit tarts because the dough always gets so mushy. I love yeast dough and have made more than my share of yeast-raised breads and pastries in my life, but for Zwetschgendatschi it's got to be tart crust for me.
When I went gluten-free, I knew there'd be things I could probably never eat again, simply because the dough must have gluten to be right. That's fine. The trade-off of feeling good is worth it. But there's that occasional longing that comes from deep inside and just leaves a pit in my core, followed by a deep sigh. The memory alone has to suffice. Like the memory of Apfelstrudel, or a crusty Schwarzbrot.
It's been 40 (!!) years since one of the most memorable autumns of my life: fall of 1969 my daddy came home from serving in Viet Nam. Times have certainly changed because now soldiers are returning from the various war theaters and being hailed as heros. When my daddy came home in '69 it was a different story. Even though my mom, Nini Belle, and I were living in Germany while daddy was in Viet Nam, he'd had enough of a non-heroic welcome when he arrived in San Francisco to not wear his uniform while traveling on to meet up with us in Europe.
Politics meant nothing to this 10 year old. Our daddy was coming home and that's all I cared about. Nini Belle and I got to skip school for the day. We got to wear our long hair, which was always braided, down. We got to wear these beautiful raspberry red dresses with gold-buttoned epaulets our Omi had sewn for us. And I can't say for sure, but I'd be willing to bet that Omi had made my dad a welcome home meal of Leberknödel (liverdumplings in broth) and Zwetschgendatschi.
When I went to Whole Foods the other day and saw the prune plums, I picked out a few pounds and sighed as I thought of making a Zwetschgendatschi. I sighed, because the memory of my daddy would have to suffice as the last 40 years would come rushing by with each mouthful of Zwetschgendatschi.
I got home, got out my recipe, converted it to gluten-free, and it worked beautifully. Matter of fact, I got a bonus from this recipe: I decided to use the butter "trick" below to make my scones and biscuits and it produces the most incredibly light pastry. Here's how I made it:
Prune Plum Tart -- gluten-free
1/3 cup rice flour
1/3 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca or potato starch (or a mixture of the two)
1/4 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, freeze for about 30 minutes
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
2 egg yolks
2 tablesoons chilled coconut milk (or any other kind of milk)
sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling
1. Mix the flours, salt, and sugar together in a large mixing bowl.
2. Butter trick: Use a grater and grate in the frozen butter. Stir lightly to coat the butter.
3. Mix in the vanilla, lemon peel, and egg yolks. Add enough of the cold milk to make a smooth dough, but avoid handling too much.
4. Press the dough into a 9" spingform or tart pan with removable bottom. Refrigerate.
5. While the dough is chilling preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and pit and quarter the plums.
6. Place the plum quarters onto the tart dough in concentric circles, starting at the outside.
7. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and pop into the oven for about 40-45 minutes. The dough should be deep golden and the fruit bubbly.
I know you'll want to do like I do and burn your tongue with a piping hot piece, but believe me, you'll be able taste it much more if you let it cool slightly. Place a voluptuous dollop of whipped cream onto each serving and savor a generations-old Bavarian tradition.
What kinds of food memories do you have?
Texas in the 70's was not the Texas of the 21st century. Especially, East Texas. Sometimes I think East Texas still isn't quite in the 21st century, but that's part of its charm, n'est-ce pas? But at 16, it was anything but charming.
My first day in my new high school I was fielding questions, prompted by the overly anxious world history teacher to a sea of typical bored adolescents, suspicious of this girl from "where's she from??" who just might be interested in stealing the star football player from the voluptuous, but highly insecure, cheerleader. No, of all things, I had, up till this point, actually enjoyed school for pure academic reasons and hadn't considered that social activities might be the sole reason for attending?? Thanks, but no thanks, I wasn't interested in Mr. Muscles in his tight jeans and cowboy boots or in high-kicking my way through high school in a white-fringed green bolero and tutu, white go-go boots, a cowboy hat, and toy pistol.
"Do they drive cars there?" someone asked.
"What kind of clothes do they wear?" ventured another.
Sigh. It was pure infanticide. How could my father have brought us to wilt away in these hinterlands?! I now understood why the history teacher was anxious: Finally someone in class who understood that the Roman empire really and truly existed and preceded the guy on the packaging of Roman meal bread.
I kicked and screamed my way through high school in Big L.
There were no "foreign food" restaurants in Big L other than the El Chicos and the token Chinese place, which always looked like a B-movie set that got left behind. The former served meals that seemed like they'd been scooped off the frozen dinner trays onto your plate, and garnished with the sprinkling of shredded iceberg, and the latter served everything coated in a garish, sweet and sour red sauce.
Oh, and there was the occasional tamale place where my dad would buy himself a dozen tamales. He was the only one in our family who ate them. I think I never quite trusted that they weren't made with roadkill, or someone's missing family pet. They always smelled really good, spicy and corn-y, but I couldn't get beyond the vision I still had of those canned tamales that Daddy would buy at the commissary on post, heat up and devour. They were just so "wrong" -- nothing edible should slide out of a can the way those babies did!! With that little "pffuoph!!" sound when they eased out.
Every day after school, I did the stereotypical teenage routine: Plopped my books on the table, opened the fridge, stood there staring for a few minutes, then slammed the door shut. Went to my room, put away my books, turned on the TV, and headed back into the kitchen to check if anything "edible" had miraculously materialized in the fridge since my last inspection.
A few sighs and head-scratches later, I'd pull out some leftovers, maybe a slice of my mom's homemade pizza, or Reisauflauf, a sort of rice souffle. Remember, this was Anno 1973 PM, pre-microwave (and microwavable food), so afternoon snacks had to be something that could be eaten cold. Sometimes I'd grab the saute pan, toss in a buttered tortilla, heat it and roll it up with some chutney and sour cream. Or a heaping bowl of ice cream topped with some Magic Shell....
And then contentedly plop myself down for some episodes of Gilligan or the Brady Bunch. Ah, time to relax. Yep, and I'll admit that I loved those shows. The problems the Brady kids had and all those silly attempts Gilligan and his shipmates made to flee the island and a myriad of pirates were such sweet escape. Sometimes there was even an afternoon movie on, with beautiful star-crossed lovers and their (truly) impossible options. I'd get so engrossed in this heartrending distraction that the noise of cracking through the Magic Shell, or even chewing, was often too loud.
"Shhhhh!!!" I'd shush my mom if she happened to interrupt during such fragile and dramatic TV moments. "Can't it wait till the commercial?!"
I used to love the way Magic Shell created a, well, a magic shell on the ice cream. That's the part I loved on the drumstick ice cream cones. Maybe because it reminded me of the frosty layer that's created by whipped cream layered onto ice cream. I don't know how many Eiskaffes, iced coffees, I've had in my lifetime, just because I love that icy layer of whipped cream freeze-bonding to ice cream. Eiskaffe is a "dessert" in Europe: tall sundae glass filled with small balls of vanilla ice cream, topped with strong coffee, maybe a shot of cognac, and topped with clouds of (usually and preferably) unsweetened whipped cream. Ooh la la!
When my son was little and I had tons of time to cook and craft, I used to make some incredible tortes and roulades, filled and garnished with homemade whipped cream: Heat together 3/4 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup best quality unsalted butter. Pour into a blender and blend on high speed for about 2-3 minutes. Pour into a clean glass and chill overnight. Whip and use as needed. Yeah, incredibly easy and incredibly delicious!!
Sometimes I'd pipe rosettes of homemade whipped cream onto a small baking sheet, freeze, then plop the rosettes into a freezer bag. That way I would always have fresh cream toppings for my hot coffee drinks.
I wanted to post about my chocolate sauce today, and I keep getting side-tracked. So without further ado, let me just tell you that I wanted coconut ice cream, which I had. I wanted it topped with chocolate sauce, which I didn't have. So, I went to my chocolate box (yes, while others have bread boxes, I have a chocolate box), picked out a (3 ounce) dark chocolate bar with sea salt and broke it into a glass marmelade jar. I considered butter, but decided instead to use coconut oil (because I love coconut oil and thought it would keep the sauce liquidy) and spooned about 3 tablespoons of it over the chocolate pieces. About 1 minute in the microwave, stir, and like magic, my chocolate sauce was.....Magic Shell??? Ha, it sure was and it was delicious and good for you all rolled up in one deep, dark, pourable mixture. And that little sea salt crunch.
Mmmm, left me (and J) kicking and screaming....for more :)
Sorry, I didn't get around to snapping a pic of the chocolate sauce, just the mate before brewing.
"Sonoma! Where's our rock?" he'd sing-song as he played with her.
And I like my rocks, too. Enough to know just about where each one is at any given time, and whence its provenance. Yeah, I took Geology :) Actually, I did my honors thesis on rocks from the Caribbean island of Antigua, "Sourcing Lithics in Antigua". Earned me a Summa cum Laude, thank you very much.
I used to buy them at a South American cafe downtown. I always had the cheese-filled. J always got the ham-and-cheese and/or ham-cheese-fried egg-filled. They serve them with a fresh tomato salsa and lots of napkins. But I can make 6 for the price of one. So now, unless I happen to be driving by the cafe and starving, I make my own.
Cool any leftovers, wrap, and refrigerate. To reheat, heat a skillet over low-medium (no need to add oil) till both sides are crispy. Great for breakfast with guava jam!!
You know, when you're vegetarian, you get really picky about your salads. It's got to be fresh, all of it. No limp leaves, no black spots -- yuck -- both of which appeared on my plate. It was garnished with some finely shredded carrots, oil cured olives, sun dried tomatoes. It was ok.
C had the corn chowder, and it was delicious. I think I would've spiced it up a bit more, but it was cool and soothing. Her sandwich looked a lot like the one I made several posts ago.
I also ordered the raw soft tacos, but I took them home to J -- it was just too hot to eat. We were sitting outside; I could feel little rivulets of sweat trickling down my back and pooling around my backside. TMI?
Well, J ate the tacos and pronounced them "yeah, really good!" So I guess I need to go back and order them, or anything besides the salad.
I did also get a dessert. The server ran through a short list of cheezecakes, ice kreme, and something else, but I chose: crunchy hemp brownies. They came 4 little brownie "dice" surrounding one of the most delicious strawberries I've ever eaten, and gilded with 4 dabs of a lovely little sauce. And they were truly delicious. Compact, yet light; intense, yet not overpoweringly raw. Really good. Really.
I ate one little die. Mmm, yummy chocolately crunchiness. And so good for you, right?
"Don't you want one," I offered to C. I was (secretly) so glad she didn't want to taste one of the little morsels of mmm-ness.
Mm, I had another one. Should I bring the other two to J? Gosh, the dilemmas we face in life, right?? :)
I was good; I brought the remaining (yes, two) brownies home and J pronounced them....what else?....good. He's NOT like Mikey: he likes everything!!
I'll admit, I was secretly wishing he would decline my offer to partake of the little brownie bites. Now I was stuck with my sweet tooth and nothing to feed it. What to do but hit the internet and find a recipe. There were lots of them, but most of them were basically the same. I settled on the one at gone raw and changed it up slightly to suit moi.
I actually made a sauce, too, which I spooned into a little dish and promptly and clumsily dropped onto the floor. The girls loved it :)
Here's my version of...
Banana's Crunchy Hemp Brownies - raw and gluten-free
10 dates, pitted and quartered
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/4 cup hemp seeds, plus some for sprinkling
1 tablespoon mesquite powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup cocoa nibs
1. Process the dates, then toss in the remaining ingredients.
2. Blend all well and then gently press into a 6" square. It'll only be about 1" tall.
3. Sprinkle on more hemp seeds and, yep, a grind or two of sea salt.
4. Chill well.
5. To serve, cut into little squares and eat "as is" or plate up with fruit and sauce
Sweet Sauce -- which goes well with everything
2 tablespoons raw tahini
2 tablespoons maple or agave
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Stir all in a small bowl.
2. Taste and adjust. Mm, taste again.
However, I will try to redeem myself with today's post/recipe.
I know, I know. Two posts, two days in a row?? Well, it's been stressfully busy around here: Nini Belle's surgery on Monday, a sick dog (took Nomi to the vet this morning -- it's colitis), work out of the wazoo, out of work husband... Please stop me from droning on....
What fuels me during the crazy times? Whatever it is, it's got to last me through a couple of mealtimes. You know what I mean: you eat breakfast, start doing "stuff" and, before you know it, you turn around and it's 3 or 4 in the afternoon. What? How'd that happen? And then you realize you're kinda hungry.
That fuel of late has been a bowl of sprouted buckwheat granola with coconut milk and lots of fresh fruit - chopped strawberries, blueberries, mangos, bananas, cherries. Whatever I've got on hand and in random combinations. I first tried sprouted buckwheat granola at Daily Juice Cafe in Austin. You must go there -- sooooo good!! They served it with cinnamon hemp milk, sliced bananas, and diced strawberries. Delectable. Hooked. Instantly. Wanted more. Controlled self. But still wanted more, much more.
The whole time I was eating it, the gears were turning: Since I don't live in Austin, I've got to make this at home. How do I make this at home? How do you sprout buckwheat?
Well, I got home and did the 21st century thing: hit the internet. I have a dehydrator, but I had no idea how to sprout buckwheat. Read all about it and along the way also read a few posts with recipes for sprouted buckwheat granola. I played around with several recipes, tweaked here and there, threw in some add-ins I like and happened to have onhand, and, well, the rest is history. Herstory, actually :)
So, here's how I make my all raw, all organic sprouted buckwheat granola. It's great with your favorite milk, yogurt, fruit. On ice cream. (Have you tried the Luna and Larry's Organic Coconut Bliss ice cream?? Honestly, it does not get any better.) Out of hand.
3-4 cups raw buckwheat groats - sprout these (you should have 6-8 cups sprouted)
1 cup ground flax seed
1/2 cup sesame seed
1/2 cup hemp seed
1 cup sunflower seeds
about 2 cups coarsely chopped dried fruit - I used cherries, mulberries, dates, and green raisins (yes, green raisins from Iran)
1 cup agave
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla
few grinds of salt
Mix it all up in a large bowl. Spread the granola about 1/2" thick onto oiled dehydrator sheets and dehydrate till dry and crispy. My dehydrator is an older Magic Aire II and it took about 18 hours. Just keep checking till it's the crispness that you like.
Note: Make sure to use buckwheat groats (they're a creamy green color), and not kasha
Well, I say I did it because I'm nearly there! Today's my last day and I'm off to a great start: A delicious bowl of oat groats muesli with cherries, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, sun-dried mulberries, and a sprinkling of chia seeds. Yum yum!!
And pictured at left is part of last night's dinner: Raw flax-sunflower seed bread generously filled with chatni geshneez (spicy homemade cilantro chutney), artisanal butter lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sunflower sprouts, lime-spiked sweet onion slices, avocado slices, and a dash of Himalayan salt. Although J conked out on Raw Day 1, he did volunteer to become my personal cup-bearer.
The muesli got the taste-test. "Mmm, make me some for breakfast tomorrow, would you? And let's mix in blueberries and strawberries."
The salads got the taste-test. "Wow, these sprouted beans and dried tomatoes really make this thing, don't they? Hey, pass me some more basil."
The raw goodies, like the carrot cake with cashew cream frosting and the date balls, all got the taste test. "These are raw?? What's this frosting stuff? I could eat this by itself."
And my dinner sandwich last night got a huge chunk taken out of it -- "Well, for testing purposes only," of course -- immediately after I snapped the photo. Sorry it's so bright, but it got pretty mangled with the taste-test.
Everything was tested and pronounced "fit" for me to eat. The dehydrated bananas, raw crackers, all of it.
Seriously, it was not as hard as I thought it would be. Having a dehydrator really helped, though, because I could make bread for a sandwich or snacking. I love salads and fresh fruits and veggies, but sometimes it's nice to really be able to sink your teeth into something.
I didn't get around to making "cheeses" or really fancy dishes and desserts, but I will definitely be trying some of them. And I won't be doing raw for weeks at a time -- I just love hot foods, even in summer -- but it will be a big part of my life. Especially the bread. Being gluten-free, it's hard to find really great bread that travels well. Last year's climbing trip to Colorado, I took brown rice flour tortillas along and rolled them around all sorts of filling combinations: cheese slices, tomatoes, cucumbers, hummus, herbs, you name it. But before I could get two or three bites down, the tortilla was dried, cracking, and peeling -- like bad paint. All I did was complain that I'm about to call it quits with road trips because I can't ever find good road trip food. I didn't like myself on this trip -- all because of the bread ;)
Along comes this raw bread (I used Ani Phyo's black sesame sunflower bread) which is fantastically supple. I know it will be what I'll be taking with me on ALL future camping and road trips. It's delicious, adapts well to flavor variations, and holds up to all kinds of fillings. Thank you, Ani, for saving me!! Can't wait to get on the road now :)
Besides all the great tastes, I've felt really good and "light," with an amazing amount of energy. You know, whenever you tell your physician, or anybody else for that matter, that you're vegetarian, or that you're doing a raw diet, the first thing they challenge is that you won't get enough protein. Oddly enough, these are usually also the same people who drink diet sodas and eat fat-free, low-carb, preservative-rich and chemically-fortified food. There are so many sources of protein, other than animal, that if you're halfway educated about food and do minimal research, you'll get plenty of protein....complete proteins, and vitamins, and enzymes, and fiber, and the list of pronounceable ingredients goes on.
For the first time since my last surgery (nearly four weeks ago), we took the dogs out for a walk. J was desperate for a breakfast burrito with sauteed onions, jalapenos, bell peppers, tomatoes, and veggie brekkie sausage. Of course, we had no bells, so at 9pm, we geared up Leia and Nomi and headed out to the supermarket. After meandering through the neighborhood, we ran across the main road, and just kept running. I was running. I, the non-runner, was running and it actually felt like I could've run a long time. I wasn't panting; I wasn't saying, "Stop! Stop! That's all I can do." Well, to be honest, I was saying, "Stop! Stop! That's all I can do" -- because I'm not supposed to be bouncing "the girls" around yet.
My point, though, is that I had a lot more energy than I expected. No headaches. No body aches. Sure, the prep time is consuming, but so is prep time for any "regular" fresh food. The cost is probably the same; haven't calculated.
The cost to my body? Priceless!
Raw -- it does my body good :)
Ok, gotta go. I'm off to make a batch of Sun-dried Tomato Cheeze for my dinner salad & sandwich tonight.
Oh, last but not least, I must apologize for not having a give-away this month. Just way too much going on, including work, work, and more work, and therapy for my injured rotator cuff, and my niece is graduating next week from University of Texas (hook 'em horns!!), and my firefighter son bought a new house and "mom, please" got volunteered to wait as all the appliances were delivered one by one, and....oh, what they hey!!! Next month's giveaway is:
THE MILLENNIUM COOKBOOK: Extraordinary Vegetarian Cuisine by Eric Tucker & John Westerdahl, with dessert recipes by Sascha Weiss. The back cover reads, in part:
"This is vegan eating at its lush, sensual best, a gourmet feast for the eyes and senses. The recipes draw on a world of culinary influences, bringing together glorious flavors from Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and beyond, in intriguing appetizers, wholesome soups and salads, creative pizzas and pastas, satisfying entrees, and truly decadent desserts."
You WILL want this book!!
Tomorrow starts "raw food week" chez moi. Yesterday afternoon my sis, mom, and I prepped ourselves some goodies to snack on as we blaze our way through our 7 days of edible freshness.
Mama peeled and "thirded" (run your finger down the center of a peeled banana and watch it separate into 3 beautiful strips) a huge bunch of bananas. Onto the trays and into the dehydrator they went.
Nini Belle had read about pesto-stuffed mushrooms, so she busied herself processing the filling of walnuts, basil, garlic, and seasalt for stuffing the caps. Wow, they smelled sooo delicious!! They were also loaded into the dehydrator.
I'd seen the recipe for mulberry jam cookies at Raw Epicurean and decided they would be a perfect snack, or even breakfast. I love toot (as they're called in Iran) and always have a bag of dried ones tu yakhchalam (in my fridge). They're sweet, chewy, and have a taste that's reminiscent of late summer. Lacking the fresh mulberries the recipe called for, I soaked dried ones overnight. I also added a bit of lemon zest and a touch of cardamom to the mixture. We formed them into little "thumbprints" (coconut oil on the palms helped shape them) -- albeit a bit more "rustically" than the directions called for (yep, those are mine above). I noticed one of the comments on these cookies on Raw Epicurean mentioned that they barely made it to the drying stage -- yeah, the "batter" tastes delicious in its rawest form. But I exercised some self-discipline and we got them shaped, filled, and loaded into the machine.
The last dehydrator entry was Ani Phyo's Black Sesame Sunflower Bread. We added a bit of chili to the mix, as we all love things a bit (actually, a lot) spicy. Engines were started and all systems go.
We also made little carrot cake cookies (carrot pulp from juicing, walnuts, coconut, agave, cardamom, cinnamon, lemon) topped with creamy cashew icing. They're so cute and, darn it, so edible :) They were packed up into airtight containers and went into the fridge to await our snack attack.
After all that work, we poured ourelves some Shiraz, sat out on the back patio, and just chilled for a bit. Literally chilled -- the weather had turned downright cold yesterday evening. I grabbed a jacket for each of us and we discussed the curry plant, how great the San Augustine was doing, the roses, the myrrh plant. "Omi hat a Myrtekraenzchen auf g'habt wia's g'heirat hat," ("Omi wore a crown of myrrh at her wedding") my mom said. I love to hear and speak Bavarian -- a dying language that not too many people, especially outside of Southern Germany, speak anymore.
We chilled a little longer then decided to come back inside, make some tomato and avocado salads, and watch a movie. Foreign, naturellement. The French film De Battre Mon Couer s'est Arrete, "The Beat That My Heart Skipped." Certainly not what I expected from the description. Naturellement. But just "chilling" with Mama and Nini Belle was the good part :)
Armed with an arsenal of snacking yumminess, I've now just sat down for an afternoon snack: a most lovely & delicious cococcino (I decided to make myself a capuccino with steamed coconut milk -- a very winning combination that I'll definitely be making again after raw week) and a mulberry jam cookie. The cup says it all.....
So, on to my sob story, chapter 1....well, I'm not really going to torture you with that, but suffice it to say that it's been a rough few weeks. Had my reconstruction surgery a few weeks back with the most incredible plastic surgeon, Dr. William Carpenter (and his fantastic staff) at Baylor. The man's a creative genius when it comes to breasts! How else do you explain why my "girls" look like they belong on a 20 year old :) They look great and feel great; I look great and feel great! Wish I could post a picture!! But the best part is, I feel like the Big C is finally and forever behind me -- and what an incredible feeling that is. Three surgeries in 4 months is tough, and the older I get the tougher it is to bounce back. I've been in an anesthesia fog since December....
Chapter 2 of the sob story is that my big sis has had a recurrence of the Big C!! This time I'll be taking care of her (hopefully as passionately and compassionately as she did me) as she deals with this thing. This had better be it, though, because neither one of us likes this game very much!!!
One of the positives along this road has been to read about and connect with other women, and men, going through various stages of various cancers. It's empowering to be encouraged by others who have "made it" or who are fighting hard to get through something so ravaging. Even reading about how some are struggling to be positive or not cry all day long or deal with whatever painful or humbling therapies they're undergoing...it feels good to belong to this group because it truly grounds you. We can't always be in the house of mirth; sometimes it's good to take a tour of the house of pain and sorrow. It certainly equalizes people and things.
One of the websites I've found most useful during the past months is Kris Carr's My Crazy Sexy Life. It's full of invaluable information in the form of personal pages, rocking blogs, inspirational and encouraging tips, even recipes that promote healthier eating, and some pretty groovy music and artwork. It's just a great resource for anyone who has cancer or knows someone who does. One of my good friends bemoans the fact that she didn't find her "therapist" (read My Crazy Sexy Life) last year when she was diagnosed and undergoing treatment, because it would've made the battle a lot easier. I'm telling you, it's that good!!! Check it out -- you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be glad you did!
Another positive is that I've become even more aware of what I eat. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm not sure that I could ever give up chocolate or cakes and cookies (all gluten-free, of course). But I'm really investigating and reading a lot about raw food diets and their effects on a body dealing with cancer. So, drumroll.....I'm going to give it a try next week! Can I, the starch and carb lover make it?? Please check back and see; or, better yet, shoot me a "you can do it" email.
I've got J, my sister, and my mom all on board -- happiness loves company, right?? And with the weather turning warmer (was it really 92 today?!), it actually sounds downright appealing.
There's a whole list of stuff I'm shopping for tomorrow, all raw natch: cashews, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, tahini, buckwheat, and, as the King of Siam said, "etcetera etcetera etcetera." Of course, there'll be the usual salads and lots of fresh fruits and veggies. The juista will be manning the Green Star for our daily libation. Ooh, I'm excited!! I already made some super delicious raw date cookies (check out this irresistible recipe by Emilie) that I guarantee will not see the light of Monday ;)
Another of the "raw" websites I found has the most delicious-looking food: Choosing Raw. And Gena is giving away a "spiralizer" that makes these fantabulous "noodles" out of veggies and fruits. Check out her website and sign up for her giveaway, and don't leave without promising yourself to make one of her wonderful dishes. You'll know what I mean when you catch yourself drooling over her blog :) I'm making her zucchini noodles with pesto tonight -- can't wait!!
So, if you're feeling funky, try going raw with me for a week. I'm offering a 100% guarantee you'll feel better!! If you're not 100% satisfied, let me know and I'll send you a chocolate goody in the mail :)
And I haven't forgotten my "goal" to give away a cookbook a month. I may slack off a bit, but I'm going to try and get another one together for an end of May giveaway. Not yet sure which it'll be, but it won't disappoint. Keep posted :)
Last, but not least, Sonoma and Leia grace this post as they swim through the yard at the lakehouse. You heard right, they swam in the yard at the lakehouse! We had so much rain there last weekend that the water came over the seawall and eventually was a good 2 feet deep at the edge of the yard. The girls loved it!!