Sweet 61% Darkness

I don't like buying gifts when I go on trips. I always wind up looking for "the perfect gift", spending more of my time searching for that special something than enjoying my trip. It's always there in the back of my mind, nagging me, "What can I bring for So-and-So??"

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.

Lesson learned.

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 :)

Autumn Weekend Tofu Scramble

Here are some photos from our weekend at the lakehouse. The tofu veggie scramble at the bottom of the mosaic is what fueled the autumnal work. The colors of nature made it all a pleasure.

Time Flies –- Eat a Good Breakfast!!

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)

Sliced tomatoes

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.

Le Parfum du Pain - Paris, Chapitre Un

Another whirlwind vacation -- Paris -- has come and gone. A week in the City of Lights, walking, talking, eating, shopping, taking in the sights, laughing, and having a great time with my mom.

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.

We arrived in Paris the next morning, took a taxi to our hotel in the sixieme arrondissement (6th) on the Left Bank, the Hôtel de Chevreuse, quickly unpacked and headed out to explore our Parisian wonderland.

Fast forward to 2009. We arrived in Paris in the morning, took the Air France shuttle to our lodgings in the seizieme, the Gentle Gourmet B&B, unpacked, had a cup of tea and some gluten-free biscuits, chatted with Deborah (the lovely and gracious owner), then headed out for a relaxing week of whatever we wanted to do. No plan, no agenda, except to have fun together.

And we did just that. Each day we set out on the Métro in one direction or another, thinking we might like to visit this or that museum, or shop here or there, or eat at this or that vegetarian restaurant. In fact, we'd get on at either the Argentine (Ligne 1) or Victor Hugo (Ligne 2) stop and head towards our destination, exit the subway, and act like we knew where we were going. I guess we looked like locals because quite a few times we were stopped and asked in French (by French tourists) if we knew where a particular monument or metro stop was.

Désolée. Nous ne sommes pas d'ici. "Sorry, we're not from here," Mama might say.

Or, Oui, le Petit Palais c'est la. "Yes, the Petit Palais is there," pointing in a given direction towards the museum.

A constant in our daily adventures were the boulangeries/pâtisseries, the bakery/pastry shops. Windows laden with beautiful golden baguettes and other pains (breads), like pain au chocolat (chocolate-filled croissants), or Rubenesque braids of mixed grain. Then there were the little jewelbox pastries and tartes, fruity gem-like concoctions presented like crown jewels. I was oohing and ahing each time we encountered a new neighborhood bakery. It is said one eats with the eyes first. To be sure, these "daily breads" were beautiful to behold. But, to me, it was the scent wafting around the bakeries that was intoxicating.

I've always thought I could truly live on bread alone. I l.o.v.e. bread in just about every form. All the different flatbreads, like the yeasted pita, barbari,and crackers. Unyeasted chapattis and sprouted corn tortillas. Black and whole grain breads. Challahs, Stollens, sourdough and sweet yeast loaves. Caramel cinnamon rolls, injera, naan. Scones and muffins, both the quick and English types. Name any bread -- I love it. Mm, mir läuft das Wasser im Mund zusammen. Mm, my mouth is watering.
I used to bake breads all the time, too. Especially yeast breads. I guess it's the activity of the yeast that I really love to smell. There's no more comforting scent to me than bread baking. It evokes warmth and satisfaction, and every good memory possible.

And that's what I smelled at around 2:45 a.m. of our last morning in Paris. One sleepless second I was breathing in the scent of one of the perfumes I'd been spritzed with at the Galeries Lafayette department store and the next I inhaled the perfume of bread. And inhale I did. Inhaled till I couldn't distinguish the smell anymore and wondered if I'd actually dreamt it up.
It may as well have been a dream because of all the breads I saw in the shop windows, I couldn't eat a single one. Surrounded by some of the most incredible breads on the planet, and I couldn't have even a single, teeny tiny little bite, as not one was gluten-free.

Well, I actually did have some nice bread while in Paris. Deborah found some gluten-free loaves made with quinoa, teff, and chestnut flours. Dense and flavorful, they were wonderful sliced and toasted for breakfast. Although I couldn't have the breads of my dreams, I feasted on some rather tasty and nutritious gluten-free ones. One morning we were discussing whether or not these breads could be made into french toast. Deborah mentioned making vegan french toast with a banana and soy milk batter. Not sure if that would work with those dense breads, but it got me to thinking about how I hadn't made my vegan french toast since I went gluten-free. So guess what we had for breakfast this morning? Vegan french toast made with Udi's bread. It was perfect!

One of Firefighter's friends in high school was a vegetarian from India. He spent the night once and fairly early the next morning I heard him getting ready to leave. I guess he thought I'd be serving eggs and bacon with biscuits and gravy for breakfast. I assured him I'd been vegetarian longer than he was old and would make him some breakfast without using dairy or eggs. I whipped up some french toast served with maple syrup and tempeh "bacon" -- he ate every bite. A few days later I had a call from his mom, wanting to know if I could give her my recipe because Shubham kept talking about how good it was.

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 :)

Without further ado, here's my vegan pain perdu, or french toast...

French Toast - Vegan and Gluten-free
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
1 cup coconut or soy milk
2 tablespoons brown rice flour (or gluten-free or other all purpose flour)
1 teaspoon sugar or maple syrup
Sliced bread
Coconut oil for pan-frying

1. Mix the tahini and flax seeds; slowly stir in the milk. Whisk in the flour and sugar.
2. Heat a large saute pan.
3. Soak as many slices of bread in the batter as will fit in your saute pan. Turn to make sure the bread is covered. I usually soak mine for about 5 seconds per side.
4. Add about 1 teaspoon coconut oil to the pan and swirl to coat.
5. Lift the bread slices from the batter and carefully lay them onto the pan. Flip the toast when the underside is golden and crispy, and allow the second side to saute until crispy golden brown.
6. Serve hot.

I like to serve mine with maple syrup and apricot-applesauce.

NB: I like to use raw tahini, but any good tahini, or even cashew or almond butter, will do. This makes enough batter for about 4 or 5 slices of bread, but it also depends on how long you soak the slices. I don't let mine get too soggy, otherwise the slices are too hard to lift out of the batter and are custardy inside.

Colorado 2009 -- The Working Vacation

40+ years of knitting

Like most knitters, I've got lots of projects going simultaneously; never have enough sets of needles; keep buying yarn even though I've got tons of unused balls and hanks stashed; and enjoy drooling over the beautiful patterns and items that craft bloggers post -- all the while, plotting more projects. In other words, too much yarn and too little time.

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?

Fall is here....and it's dudh chia time!!

Ah, fall has arrived in North Texas. I saw the signs in late August. One yellowing pecan-tree leaf was spied butterflying through the air while I was walking the girls on the greenbelt. When I got home I announced to J that fall was upon us.
"It's 95 degrees outside!!"
"Yeah, but it feels different."
A few days later I noticed that Leia seemed to be shedding a lot. Chicken Little made another pronouncement, quickly and deftly refuted by J -- along with a look and shaking of the head that suggested I might indeed be "off" in more ways than one.
So we packed up the car, loaded the girls, and headed off to Colorado. I like to think that I was tracking down autumn, but we were in fact headed out on vacation. Can you say working vacation?
We drove up to Buena Vista where we'd rented a cabin with easy access to some of the Collegiate 14ers: Mts. Yale, Oxford, Harvard, and all their ivy cousins. And we were going to climb a 14er (my first) this year.
Last year while in Colorado, we stayed in Leadville (first and last time) and attempted several of the 14ers, but the weather was so rainy that we didn't have much luck in getting up any of them. We did Pike's Peak, but it didn't really count because we drove up most of the way, parked at one of the trailheads, then climbed the remainder. You walk a short way along the road, cross over, and then hike up a path to the boulders that separate you from the peak. As we got to the boulders, it started raining. Then the graupel started. Then the lightning. But we made it. And it was such a let-down because, as you're sucking in those deep breaths in that 14,000 foot thin air, you realize you're inhaling pure car exhaust. We snapped a few pics at the summit, by which time the sleet was coming down in sheets, and then a couple generously (as mountain people are wont to be) offered to drive us down to our car. Pike's Peak - proof that no 14er peak should be accessible by car.

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.

A kiss from J. Hugs for Leia and Sonoma. A few summit photos. A delicious sandwich and big gulps of water. Five and a half miles back to the trailhead. Drove back to the cabing. Mugs of dudh chia. A long, hot shower. A great day.

Will post more pics.

Dudh Chia

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.

Spice Mix:

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!!

Off to the Land of Fairy Slippers and Pipsissewas

Good morning, good morning ~

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.

Zwetschgendatschi...mmmm fall is in the air

There are moments in life when we crave that certain something to eat. Crave beyond just crave. Maybe I should say long for something to eat. And not just to eat because we have a craving or because we need to put food into our bodies. It's a longing that has to do with nourishing our self.

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:

Bayerischer Zwetschgendatschi
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)
pinch salt
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)
prune plums
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?

Kicking and screaming....for chocolate sauce??

When we moved to the States over three decades ago, I got sucked into American pop culture. Just because that's all there was. I mean, we moved from Northern Italy to Big L in East Texas. In the 70's. Kicking and screaming all the way.

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?!"

Ah, commercials during a show -- unheard of growing up in Europe. At first I thought they were the greatest thing since sliced bread -- catchy tunes, great way to get to the loo without missing a beat of the show, time to dig in to my snack. That love affair was short lived. Now I'm thinking of letting my cable subscription go -- all because of commercials.
For lunch today, we had sweet potato vermicelli with broccoli and tofu. Yum, just hit the spot with all its spicy goodness. Some iced yerba mate with cardamom and kaffir lime to ease the heat. And all the while, I was craving ice cream. With chocolate sauce. Where that craving came from, I know not, but it had to be satisfied.

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.

Stressed?? How about some wool and chocolate?

I've always got knitting projects going (like the scarf pictured here made with light moss-green Icelandic Lett-Lopi wool). Always got one scarf or another that I'm working away on. I love to knit long, wrap-around-you-numerous-times scarves. Don't know what it is about knitting scarves, but....but yes, I do know: it's completely de-stressing. It's like luxuriating in a bubbly, frothy bath of, ahem, wool.
Wool?? No, I know that doesn't sound de-stressing, especially having grown up wearing wool tights that sometimes itched so bad I thought I was going to hurl. Patterned wool tights that left their rows and curlycues so deeply grooved on my butt and thighs, only to keep me scratching hours after I got to take them off. Remember those?? They were fine outside where it was so cold that you couldn't feel most of your body anyway, but get indoors and sheer woolen terror would set in. Geez, the thought makes me shudder!!
But, pour moi, knitting scarves is kind of mindless. All I have to do is pick up my kneedles and start click-clacking. Well, that and remember what row I'm on if I'm following a pattern -- because I can not memorize a pattern to save my life....but I have a written pattern, so memory stress is not an issue. Plug in a movie, pour a glass of wine or hot cuppa, and before I know it, a quarter is done, then half, then nearly there, then bind off. Ahh, I feel so much better.
And with scarves you don't really worry about tension and gauge, or knitting with anything other than what feels good against your own skin. You can easily make up your own "patterns" by incorporating a few types of stitches, a cable here, some stripes there, and repeating rows quite mindlessly till you get the length you want -- or you run out of yarn. Colors and yarn types are infinitesimal, too. Silks and silk blends, merinos, cashmeres, bamboo, cotton. You name it, it's out there to buy.
Tart 'em up with all kinds of beads, tassels, crocheted or felted flowers and such. The right scarf looks great with anything: chunky merinos with jeans to glittery rayons with cocktail attire.
Need a great gift? Knit a scarf because just about everybody loves scarves. A gorgeous tweed for guys; rufflle-edged chenille or cashmere for the girls. Usually when I'm buying yarn, I've got someone special in mind when I pick out a hank of this or that color.
Also, I read about a cool project the other day that involved knitting (or crocheting) red scarves for orphans leaving the foster system. Gotta Google and look into that before I forget about it. I know it involved getting the scarves to an organization, I believe, from September to November of this year and they would then match them up with kids and give them out. Sounds great! I think some yarn shops may be involved, so check with your favorite shop if you want to participate.
Don't know how to knit or crochet? Check out www.ravelry.com because they have all kinds of tutorials and inspiration out of the wazoo. When I'm stumped or just too stressed to come up with something on my own, I head to ravelry. There are also tons of knitting/crocheting blogs written by some of the most (enviably) creative men and women on the planet. It's absolutely amazing what some knitters have on their needles, and how prolifically productive they are. Blows me away. And don't get me started on the hand-knit socks.
Of course, if I'm super stressed, I head to the kitchen. There's always chocolate in there and just a piece or two of that edible darkness can start the soothing, calming process. Mm, I put it in my mouth, letting it warm in the cradle of my tongue, then let it start melting and flowing like slow-flowing lava to the back and sides of my palate....ahh. Seems to fill every stressed and craving pore of my body.
My oncologist is always telling me to gain a few pounds. According to studies, she says that underweight women score as poorly as overweight women when it comes to cancer. Ack, is that a stressor or what?!?! Why she doesn't write me a scrip for chocolate is beyond me. Wouldn't it be cool to head into the drug store and drop off a scrip for a pound of Michel Cluizel Noir aux Ecorces d'Orange dark chocolate, TID, no generics accepted? And 12 refills, please?
Nini Belle and I went shopping today: sushi for lunch (delicious), tennis shoes for her (2 pairs -yay!), hikers for me (woohoo!), and groceries for both of us. The Plano Whole Foods had its usual Saturday sampling going on, most of which I don't ever get to enjoy because it's not gluten- or meat-free. But today, there was a beautiful young vendor, raw food chef Susan O'Brien of Hail Merry, sampling her raw coconut macaroons and chocolate mint tarts. Oh, wow, they were both super delicious. One bite of the tart and I knew why chocolate was called theobroma, food of the gods. However much I was wanting to sell my soul for one of those little 3-4" tarts, though, my one-salary-household couldn't quite justify the price, so I came home and made my own. And it's wonderful!! I made mine mint-less, but I'm sure you could easily add mint extract, or any other kind of extract, to flavor the chocolate tart. Hm, fresh orange or tangerine zest?
It's raw. It's vegan. It's gluten-free. It's chic. It's satisfying. It's delicious. It's got lots of coconut oil, with all it's MCFAs (middle chain fatty acids) so it's extra good for you!! My doc would be so proud.
It's kind of like a scarf: Dress it up for a special occasion dinner, served on a gorgeous plate with maybe some fresh raspberries, chocolate curls, and some champagne. Or do the chunky tweed version like J and I do and cut yourself a chilled slice and chow down, baby ;) And, yes, lick those fingers!!!
Banana's Raw Chocolate Ganache Tarte
Makes 1 8" tarte -- in about 10 minutes from start to finish! Or you could make smaller tarts, or even fill mini muffin pans, or.....
Crust ingredients:
1 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup raw macadamias
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 grinds of coarse salt
1. Place all crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse, occasionally scraping down, till all is blended. You can decide how chunky you want the nuts to remain, but I like them about the size of coarse polenta meal.
2. Turn the crust into the tarte pan (with removable bottom) and press evenly into the bottom and sides.
3. Refrigerate while preparing the ganache and clean out the processor bowl and blade.
Ganache ingredients:
2/3 cup cocoa
2/3 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
1. Put all the ganache ingredients into the processor bowl and whirrrrr for 5-10 seconds.
2. Pour the ganache into the prepared crust and refrigerate for several hours.
3. Once it's cooled and hardened a bit, decorate as desired.
4. When ready to serve, cut into wedges and let sit a few minutes before serving.
Notes: I ate my first serving of tarte with a small scoop of coconut ice cream. It would be great with strawberry or any other flavor. I ate several slices after that, directly out of hand.
The unchilled ganache would likewise be delectable over a scoop of ice cream, or over a slice of vanilla pound cake.
Although I haven't tried it, I bet a jar of the chilled ganache (which could be eaten straight out of the jar) could be made softly spreadable by placing the jar in some warm water.
Like a scarf, it would be a great gift.
Let me know what you think.

Seeing Things

So I'm out on the patio a few days ago, smiling away at the rainbows I'm creating while I water my little flower and veggie garden, when I saw an odd looking rock under the tomato-moonflower-cucumber 'monstosity' we've got growing in one corner by the house. Sonoma is our 'rockhound,' always trotting around with a rock of some sort in her mouth, moving rocks around in the dry "riverbed" we created to run around the patio. I stood there for a minute trying to figure out which rock that might be....

I need to explain here that we collect rocks from wherever we go. Big rocks, like the boulder-sized crystals we've found while cruising around on some Eastern Oklahoma lakes to rugby-ball-sized granite chunks from the Texas Hill Country to river rocks from the Traun in Bavaria to pieces of various summits we've reached. All my friends know what to bring me whenever they go on a trip: a rock. No, not something from a neatly landscaped shopping center or hoity-toitily coifed hotel grounds, but a real rock they might spy while out hiking around. Like the heart-shaped rock from the cathedral in New Orleans or the bushrock from Australia (shhh! you're not supposed to take bushrock out of Oz).

The night J first brought Sonoma home, he took her for a little let's-get-better-acquainted run through her old neighborhood where she was being fostered. Sometime during the run they stopped and J petted and 'talked to' her, explaining that she was going to be going with him to her forever home. There at their feet was a little granite landscaping rock, probably kicked out of someone's yard by some bored kid. Sonoma grabbed it up with her teeth and J let her carry it for the rest of their run. But she didn't drop it when they hopped in the car to come home. And she didn't immediately drop it when she walked into our house. She carried it around with her as she inspected her new digs room by room. So J started calling it our rock.

"Sonoma! Where's our rock?" he'd sing-song as he played with her.

She's not like Leia, absolutely obsessed with anything even remotely resembling an orb. No, she likes her shredded towels, any one of her dozens of stolen socks, any stuffed anything she can grab while you're running after her like a crazed person, yelling "Drop it!!!"
But she does like her rock. And she considers any rock on our property her property. Is that where the term 'rockhound' comes from??

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.
So when I saw this odd-shaped rock under the tomato-moonflower-cucumber conglomerate, I couldn't help but wonder why it didn't appear familiar. Where'd this thing come from??

Well, upon closer inspection, I knew immediately and exactly where it came from -- it was another compost bin 'dividend.' That wasn't a cucumber vine so gracefully intertwining and birling 'round the tomatoes and moonflowers. It was a canteloupe!! Ha!

Now why did I go through all that when I wanted to blog today about arepas?? Um, I think it's because when I looked through the camera lens to shoot the arepas on the placemat, I saw dots. Colored dots on the placemats; dots of arepas on the plate; dots of corn in the salsa; lots of dots. And then my mind 'moseyed' in its own peculiarly rambling way to the canteloupe rock. Yeah, mhm, that's exactly how it was.
We had arepas for lunch a few days ago. They're pretty quick from the mixing bowl to the table. They taste great. They're homemade. They reheat well. All definite and welcome pluses in my summer (non)cooking book. So we had them again for lunch today.

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.

I've read all kinds of ways to make the different kinds of arepas. I've found that the recipe on the bag of masa precocida para arepas (pre-cooked masa) is perfect: 2 cups masa, 3 cups warm water, and salt to taste (I grind in about 1 teaspoon). Mix all together till you have a soft dough; let sit about 5 minutes (it will firm up); then shape and fry. Doesn't get much simpler. They can then be sliced in half, filled as desired, and served with everything from ham, cheese, eggs -- anthing savory -- to butter, jam, honey. The choices are endless.
Most of the time, however, I fill my arepas with cheese. Sometimes I use manchego slices, other times crumbled cotija, other times chipotle cheddar. Here's how I make my arepas:

I wet my hands, take about 1/4 cupful of dough, roughly shape it into a disk, lay it onto a cutting board and top with some cheese, making sure to leave the edge clean. Then I take another 1/4 cupful of dough, shape a disk, and press it onto the cheese-filled dough. Seal it well and pat it all into a disk about 1/2" thick. Set aside and make several more.
Heat a large saute pan over medium, spoon in about 2 teaspoons coconut oil, and layer in a few arepas. They should be golden brown on the bottom; flip them over till the other side is golden brown and serve. Mm, muy ricas!!

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!!
How do you like your arepas?

Got the Munchies? Mmm, Hemp Brownies...

C and I finally went to Bliss, the raw cafe on Greenville and Park in Dallas. Had the Bliss Salad....hmmm, okay, but nothing to really blog about.

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
sea salt

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.

Redemption, thy name is sprouted buckwheat granola

Did I really edit in my former life?? I did?? Ugh. You couldn't tell by yesterday's post. Shall I chalk it up to stress? being tired? quick fingers? joie d'ecrire? Maybe it was the 3 glasses of iced mate?? It certainly was something because there was one mistake after the other. As if the words and letters were racing to make it onto the page. Embarassing! Humble apologies.

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.
Make it. It's delectable. You'll be hooked. Instantly.
Banana's Sprouted Buckwheat Granola -- naturally gluten free :)

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
few handfulls coconut shreds
1 cup sunflower seeds
about 2 cups coarsely chopped dried fruit - I used cherries, mulberries, dates, and green raisins (yes, green raisins from Iran)
about 1 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
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
By the way, I'll apologize right now for how this post looks. I can't seem to master the gentle art of paragraph spacing. They look fine on the preview, but once they're published.....oh well...
See?? That's the kind of stress that drives me to the granola :)

It's so easy being green....

Oops! I don't really believe that was I blog is worth posting twice in one evening, it's just that it's been so long since I posted anything that the verbal horses were out of the gate before I knew that I'd accidentally hit "Publish Post" instead of "Save Now". Sorry 'bout that!

I had a friend whose compost pile grew the most ginormous papaya plant in one season -- all from a rotten papaya she tossed onto thepile. I was fascinated and hooked. I wanted to compost, too, doggone it!!

When we bought our composter last summer, I was hoping that within a few year's time, we'd (rather, it) would produce some really potent, jack-and-the-beanstockesque growing medium for us. It didn't take years at all. By this spring, we had enough to replant some of our plants that actually survived the infamous December snow and ice storms.

One day soon after the repotting, as I was watering one of the crown of thorns, I noticed something growing alongside one of the little seedlings -- seedlings that definitely were not crown of thorns. They looked more like tomatoes? And in another pot was what looked like peppers?? And the pesky little "weeds" that I'd just pulled from around the gerber daisies were basil. Well, I'll be!

Composter + kitchen scraps + x = soil and surprises

All the stuff we'd been throwing into the composter just needed that x of sunshine to produce, like magic, the most incredible growing medium and little surprises: seedlings of all the stuff we loved to eat.
So we now have potted jalapenos, campari tomatoes, and basil. And a mini clementine. And some other surprises that I haven't yet been able to identify. All thriving happily amongst eachother.
Man, the way we go through bananas, I wish I could get some of those to grow :)
And today was our first harvest!! A beautifully fruity jalapeno for our fresh salsa. Afraid I couldn't get a pic of the salsa....it was gone before I could even think to take a photo. Honest, it was that incredibly delicious. I tossed about a cup of tomato chunks with a handful of garbanzo sprouts; added a cobful of fresh corn kernels, a spoonful of cilantro chutney, and the minced jalapeno. A couple glugs of lemon olive oil, lime juice, a few grinds of salt and pepper. Voila! Before I could get the cheese-stuffed arepas heated and off the griddle, J was already spooning the salsa onto some chips. I will most definitely be making that salsa combo again.
Well, this time it's not the horses chomping at the bit, it's the girls. They're ready for the evening snack. Tonight it's coconut and blueberries for my little fruit lovers.
Remind me to blog about the arepas (well, I call them arepanadas) and raw buckwheat granola I've been making. Wowzer!! And, yeah, the girls love those, too ;)

Life is good

Nine Belle made it through her surgery!!!
Prayers are answered....
'Nuff said :)

Raw -- it does my body good :)

I DID IT!!! One week of raw!!!

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!!

Cococcinos...and Peace

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.....


In the Raw :)

It has been way too long. And, I know, the cookbook giveaway is way overdue. And before I delay announcing the winner by going into a long sob story......it's Ms Latida!! So, ML, please send me an email -- and maybe we can finally meet!!!!

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!!

Peace out!!