Saturday, June 26, 2010

Father's Day Pasta

For Father's Day I decided to give Paul a break from grilling and I cooked up a shrimp pasta dish using tomatoes and basil from the garden. It was simple and tasted great!

I sauteed onions until they were golden.


Then I chopped up some fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden.

I added a pound of peeled and deveined shrimp and cooked until they were a nice shade of pink.

Last I added the tomato and basil and cooked for just a couple of seconds more.

Drizzled the pasta with olive oil and added a generous amount of parmesan cheese.

All that was left to do was toss it all together and serve it. I made a cucumber and tomato salad to go with it and I also had fresh melon and berries on the table. It was a wonderful summer meal!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blend Until Smooth


In the summertime my blender becomes my best friend. Not only do I make salsas and such for all the summer cookouts... but I also whip up a lot of summer drinks. Yesterday I had a huge watermelon in the fridge and so we decided to celebrate Mexico's awesome victory over France in the world cup games with a dinner of chicken fajitas, beans, rice and a jarra of agua de sandia (a pitcher of watermelon juice). Aguas are a popular and healthy beverage that you can find all over Mexico. They are sold in large jars on street corners and served in a plastic bag (or cup) with a straw. My kids also love it when I make smoothies and liquado (fruit and milk mixture similar to smoothies that are served all over Latin America).
Right now we have so much fruit available in Central Texas that it is hard not to go overboard when you go to the store. The great thing about blender drinks is that they taste great made with frozen fruits. During the spring and summer I can freeze fruit that is starting to look over ripe or just whip up a smoothie or agua on the spot... and in the fall I can use the huge variety of frozen fruits available to make blender drinks... they are a year round treat. I usually keep a bag of frozen overripe bananas in the freezer for just this purpose.... Strawberries and other berries also freeze quite well.

Recipes:

Agua de Sandia

This recipe can be made with any type of melon, or even other fruits like pineapple, mango or papaya.

Fill the blender with chunks of watermelon. Add water to cover about 1/2 to 3/4 of the watermelon. Add a few tablespoons of sugar if you wish... although most of the time the watermelon is sweet enough on it's own. Blend until smooth, strain (if desired... I usually skip this step) and pour into a pitcher. You can also blend in some ice cubes to make an extra thick drink. Garnish with mint if desired.

Smoothies

This recipe is subject to artistic interpretation so use whatever seasonal fruits are available.

2 bananas
2 C. orange juice
10 ice cubes
3-4 T. plain yogurt

Place all ingredients in the blender and blend. Pour into 2-16 oz. glasses and garnish with nutmeg or cinnamon. Adding fresh berries to this base makes a wonderful variation.

Liquado

Like the other recipes this one can be made with the fruits of your choice... just blend away and find that perfect combination!

16 oz milk
1 whole banana (frozen or fresh)
A handful of fresh (or frozen) berries (optional)
sugar to taste
1 t. vanilla
cinnamon and nutmeg to garnish

Place milk, banana, berried, sugar and vanilla into blender and blend until smooth. If you use a fresh banana you might want to throw in some ice cubes. Pour into glasses and garnish with cinnamon and/or nutmeg.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hush


I just need to relax a little... do some yoga breathing... and relax. We are leaving on a trip to Honduras soon and I'm trying to get all my ducks in a line. I need to gather documents, pack, confirm house/dog/kid sitters, calm the children's nerves, and take a cleansing breath. The beginning preparations for a trip are so much fun... booking a flight and dreaming about all the possibilities... but then the reality creeps in, lists are made and I start to get the pre-trip jitters. I know that everything is going to be alright I just need to concentrate on taking care of myself and the kids and working through the list.
Which... as always... brings me to food. During times of stress comfort foods come to mind. For many people comfort foods are high in fat, sugar, and/or carbs. Rich desserts, fried foods, and simple carbohydrates... But do these foods really soothe the soul or simply weigh down the body and lull you into sleepy inactivity?
I think a healthy diet is in order to calm my mind and help me get things together. When I start to crave something deep fried and covered in chocolate... I'm going reach for some fruit instead...it is time to exercise and concentrate on getting a good nights sleep...It's the healthy life for me from now on!

Then at the end of a hard day of planning and crossing things off lists I'll reach for a bar of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate and a heart-healthy glass of red wine and make a toast to healthy living...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Full Bodied

I was enjoying a glass of wine last night after the kids were in bed and I was thinking about why I like full bodied red wines rather than lighter white wines. It brought back a memory of a wine tasting video that I watched a while back. In the video they talked about people called supertasters. For someone who prides hereself on her cooking abilities this term sounded like some super power that I just had to have... Like I could sweep in and save the culinary day somehow with sensory prowess and sensitivity. Supertasters are not the ones you invite to your dinner parties, however. They tend to be picky eaters... because when you taste too much you can be overwhelmed by almost anything. A plate of spaghetti with a rich tomato sauce might make your head spin... so you might opt for the butter sauce instead. This is not who I am... I like my wine red, my beer bitter, my coffee strong, and my chocolate dark. I like my gumbo spicy and my curry... well... curried. I love intense flavors... but I'm not so sure that I want to taste them more intensely. Watching my 2 and half year old experiencing life makes me think about what it must be like to live in a world of hightened senses. It would be interesting for sure... but overwhelming in the long run. Me... I prefer to stumble through life half blind... eating my spicy foods and drinking my rich beverages and being just a little bit numb to the sensory overload that is this world.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Drizzle

This is the first tomato from my garden... Well actually it's the second (the first went into a care package to some friends who just had a baby), but it's the first tomato I've had the pleasure to enjoy. My daughter picked the tomato, we sliced it up, drizzled it with olive oil, and sprinkled on a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper. I'm not really that much of a raw tomato fan. I probably would be if tomatoes weren't sold year round... in season or out. I've had too many experiences of biting into a sour or mealy tomato and being completely turned off to the flavor. I'm pretty sensitive to off textures in tomatoes. That said a perfect tomato... perfectly in season... grown by my own hands is a work of art.



I have a whole vine full of tomatoes that are beginning to turn red. Most of them will probably be served exactly like this. It looks like tomato salad is on the menu for the rest of the month. Maybe I'll buy some fresh mozzarella on my next trip to the store... or just chop up some the basil and oregano I have growing so plentifully.... ahhh the taste of summer.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fly (in my soup), Ornament, and my busy life...

Saturday and Sunday were days 7 and 8 of my creativity workshop. It was a busy weekend... with new arrivals, unexpected visitors, and lots of brainstorming about an upcoming trip to Honduras. I didn't have much time to dedicate to the projects for the weekend... but I did give them some thought... if not a lot of action. I know myself well... and I fear that if I get too far behind on this workshop then it'll stall me and I won't finish it... so in the interest of moving forward here are my thoughts on the words for the weekend.

Fly

I was talking to my husband about the creative prompts for Saturday and what they made me think about within my medium... airline food, poultry, and those pesky insects that invade the kitchen every spring. Flies in the kitchen are usually not a good thing... and he immediately thought of this old gag...

Customer: Waiter... is that a fly in my soup?
Waiter: Why yes it is sir
Customer: Well what is he doing in there?
Waiter: It looks like he's doing the backstroke, sir.

Yes... yes I know it's not really all that creative... but it is foodlore which is the subject of this blog. The joke is an old one... surely not as old as soup... but possibly as old as waiters. With a little web search I found the joke credited to a witty New York waiter or possibly a comedian in the Big Apple in the late 1800's... It has also been credited to an old belief that having a fly fall in your food or beverage was a good omen (a classic case of finding the silver lining). I'm not really sure where it comes from... but it exists in countless variations...

Waiter is that a fly in my soup?
Shhhh do you want everyone to want one?

Waiter, there is a fly in my soup!
Don't worry sir that spider on your plate will get him.

Waiter, there is a dead fly swimming in my soup.
Don't be silly, dead flies can't swim.

Waiter, there is a fly in my soup.
What do you expect for $2.50, a beetle.

Sopa da Ajo (Garlic Soup)

Garlic is know for it’s healing and regenerative properties. Next time you get a cold I recommend trying this instead of the traditional chicken soup. For a main meal this serves two, but for a soup course it serves 4.... serve with our without the fly!

4 thin bread rounds, toasted with olive oil.
4 C. chicken or vegetable broth
6-7 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 small onion
olive oil
1 1/2 T. paprika
1 T. cumin seeds
2-4 large eggs, beaten
parsley or other fresh herb, to garnish

Coat bread rounds lightly with olive oil and toast. Place a bread round in each bowl (two in each bowl for a main course). In a sauce pan cook the onion in olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until lightly golden. Add the cumin seeds and paprika Until blended with the garlic mixture. Add broth. Season with salt and cook for at least 5 more minutes. Stir in beaten eggs slowly (like in egg drop soup)*. Ladle soup over bread sprinkle with parsley and serve at once. Or for a more interesting presentation ladle the soup into oven proof bowls and break an egg into each. Place the toasted bread on top of the egg and place in the oven for about 3-4 minutes, until the eggs are set. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Of try garlic noodle soup by adding uncooked pasta to the soup before the egg. Cook until the pasta is tender. Add the eggs if desired and serve with the bread rounds on the side.

Ornament

I might come back to this one at a later date. I was planning on doing some sort of a decorating project for my kitchen... but I ran out of time. For now I will post a couple of pictures of dishcloths and dish towels that I've knit as practical ornaments for the kitchen... I started writing a pattern and I will probably post it on my worth a knit blog as soon as it is finished.



Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fluid

SUN TEA

It would be a stretch to call sun tea a work of art... although on a hot day in Central Texas it is certainly something that can bring you closer to the divine. Making sun tea is an act of creativity, however... blending herbs and teas to make something special. It was a fun creative project that I could share with my kids that had a finished product that could be enjoyed by all...


It stared with a trip to the garden.


Mint and lemon balm were chopped (by me) and photographed (by my daughter).

Now everything is ready to go into the tea ball.

The "tea kettle" is an old pickle jar with the label scoured away, cleaned with baking soda to remove the vinegar flavors and sterilized in bleach.

Now all there was to do was wait. It doesn't take long in the hot Texas sun. We had tea ready to go in a clean pitcher and cool down in the fridge after only a few hours. It was nice and cool by dinner time last night.

Making sun tea brings to mind Hiroyuki Morita movie The Cat Returns...and the Barons "special blend of tea" .... I can't guarantee the flavor...it's different every time.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Grow

My project from yesterday's creative prompt... the word "grow"... isn't something that I can fit onto the pages of a blog... There was also a journal prompt that had to do with reexamining my youth through music and going back to the desires of youth to find creative inspiration...that will probably be an easier topic to cover here although it has little to do with food, foodlore, or my medium. I'm not a particularly nostalgic person so my musical tastes of the 1980's might remind me of a specific person or inspire certain memories... but they don't really bring me back to the desires of my youth. It is not that music doesn't inspire me... I just don't feel like I felt things more deeply when I was young or that my desires for the future were more "wide open" than they are today. I'm just a month shy of 40 right now and I feel like things are more dynamic in my life now than they ever have been. At my age I'm more likely to cook without a recipe, sew without a pattern, write for the joy of it... or just sing a silly song. Youth has it's own restraints.


What the prompts did, however, were to coax my guitar out of the closet. I haven't picked it up since my guitar class ended for the summer. Instead of listening to songs of my youth I decided to play a few. For my creative project about growth I ended up writing a song....not really my medium I know... but the song mentions food in it so it'll have to do. I don't currently have a way to present it here... and since the words are only half of it I will just wait until I can post a recording... but until then here are a few photos about growth... Our first tadpoles are turning into frogs.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Heavy Metal

My cast iron skillet is one of my constant companions in the kitchen. I use it to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Last night I made spaghetti and meatballs in my favorite skillet. It is certainly heavy and most definitely metal so it seemed like the best choice of topics today. I can't say that is was a totally original idea. While pondering the prompt for today I found a lovely charcoal drawing of a cast iron skillet that someone did for their project. But isn't that what this creative workshop is all about? Finding inspiration where you will... especially in the creative works of others? I plan on painting a different portrait of the cast iron skillet, however. My medium is not charcoal but words and food. I love to look at the lore behind this most basics of needs. The cast iron skillet is brimming with lore and I will share a little of it here today.

Cast iron has been around for a long time. Cast iron pots were being used in China as early as the 7th century. They made their way to Europe by the 1700s. They are great for cooking in because they go from kitchen to campfire so well. With proper seasoning you can fry an egg in one, cook a delicious stew, fry some chicken...or just about anything . There are many folkways in the southern United States about the proper ways to season and care for a cast iron cookware.

There isn't much dispute on the proper way to season cast iron. The essential ingredients are oil, heat, and to a certain extent time. When you buy new cookware you have to clean off the protective coating, coat it in a new layer of oil, and then heat it up to create a seal. Most of the debate on this topic centers around the right type of oil. Some say lard, others Crisco and still others use coconut oil.... but basically any oil will do. The last ingredient... time... is simple. The longer you use a cast iron pot the more seasoned it becomes.

Cleaning cast iron is a topic of very "heated" debate. Cleaning methods range from merely wiping it out with an old rag and hanging it on the wall to washing it with soap and water. Supporters of the soap and water approach point out that oil does go rancid eventually... so there is a need to wash it and re-coat it with clean oil occasionally. The White Trash Cookbook suggests using dry cornmeal to rub of the leftover food and oil... it also suggests using that "seasoned" cornmeal for corn cakes. To each his own... but I think I'll sit on the fence on this one. I clean my cast iron pan out using all of these methods... it all depends on the last time I cleaned it and what I made in it last. When I cook meats in it I like to wash it out with soap and water. I don't want to risk getting sick from rancid oil just to have that authentic southern flavor. Hopefully my southern grandma isn't rolling over in her grave.

In addition to it's uses in the kitchen cast iron skillets also have a reputation as an instrument of violence...as murder weapon, instrument of domestic violence, or as home security for those of us southerners too squeamish to pack heat. With that I will leave you with these words from off the Dizzy Gillespie album Jambo Caribe:

Poor Joe... he tried to beat his wife
Poor Joe... he nearly lose his life
Poor Joe... everytime he raised his hand... she knocked him in the head with a frying pan.
Poor Joe... he got up off the floor
Poor Joe... tried to make it for the door
Poor Joe... but she caught him as he ran and knocked him in the head witha fring pan.

Here are a few more photos of metal in the kitchen...








I took the following photos on my way out to the herb garden to gather herbs for dinner. Not exactly a nature walk... but we had storms all day and when I was out walking I wasn't able to take a camera with me. I took several pictures using the prompt heavy metal... garden tools, a horse shoe, and a rusty chain. The other photos are just snap shots of my dogs, the tadpoles that we found in a muddy puddle that are beginning to sprout legs and hop away, and the tomato just a day or so from ripening (my first one this year).
















Multilayered


My creative prompt on Tuesday was the word multilayered. When you think of food and layers the first things that comes to mind are a towering wedding cake, a pan of steaming lasagna, a stack of pancakes, or maybe even an impossibly tall Dagwood sandwich topped with a skewered olive. An onion may spring to mind with it's papery skin and pungent insides or even the edible bud of the artichoke.
The thought that I kept coming back to, however, was not food created in layers...but to the many layers of sharing a meal with family and friends. Sitting down to a meal with my family is not just about supplying nutrition for our bodies it is a multilayered event. It is a time to talk about our day, to learn about etiquette and manners, to try new things, or to learn about foreign countries through their regional dishes. There are so many elements to a family meal... so many ways to add creativity into our lives through this daily experience.
My kids are coming back this afternoon after spending a couple of nights at grandma's house. I am looking forward to making a simple meal of spaghetti and meatballs and sitting down at the table to hear about their many experiences. Mealtime has been so quiet without them.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Picnic



We had a wonderful picnic by the river yesterday for dinner. The kids are staying with grandma so it was a lot quieter than usual. We had peel-and-eat shrimp, potato salad, strawberries, french bread, brie, and a couple of cold beers. It was nice taking a swim in the cool spring water and then lounging on a blanket and eating a nice meal. We really should have picnics more often.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ivory to Plantains

I'm working through a course on creativity for the next couple of weeks. Each day I will be given a creative prompt that I am suppose to turn into some sort of creative project in my chosen medium. My medium is food and food writing and my prompt for today is the word Ivory... I wasn't really sure what to do with this word so I started by brainstorming... What exactly is ivory? There is the color, the tusk of an elephant, a bar of clean smelling soap, or it could also be Ivory Coast. Since soap and elephant tusks don't make good eating... I will concentrate on the color and the country. Here it is....

It just so happened that today I had a craving for fried Plantains... I was dreaming about our upcoming trip to Honduras and I was thinking about how nice it was going to be sipping on a beer and eating fish and fried plantains. I was considering a trip to the store to buy one that I could fry up for breakfast... but I changed my mind when I started thinking about the starchy plantains that you get here... What I really wanted was something fresh and closer to the source... A plantain that had flavor... a plantain that I could sink my teeth into. I was craving an experience from my past and I was also thinking about creating a new one. The desire wasn't so much about food, but about the memory of the breakfasts I made when I lived in Mexico... and that stirred up a desire to create new memories (possibly ones involving steaming plates of fried plantains served with cold beer) when I travel this summer.

Plantains are a versatile food. They can be starchy like potatoes or sweet like their cousin the banana. You can eat them boiled, grilled, fried, steamed, or baked. You can make them into chips, stir them into a stew, eat them mashed, or turn them into fritters. Plantains are common all over Africa, Mexico, Central and South America. The following recipe is simple and found all over the world.

2-3 medium size plantains
oil
salt and pepper

Peel plantain by trimming ends and making a slice from end to end (plantains are more difficult to peel than a banana). Cut the plantain into 1-inch slices. Heat the oil and fry the pieces until they start to turn light brown. Remove from oil and drain slightly. Place each piece on its flat end and crush into small patties of chips. Return to oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you prefer you can cut the plantains into thinner slices and omit the crushing and re frying. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

What do plantains have to do with Ivory you ask? Why did I jump to this tangent? Well it is simple. Alloco (fried plantains) just happen to be the National dish of the Ivory Coast. Also when you cut open a plantain the fruit is.... well... ivory colored. A stretch I know... but sometimes you have to stretch a little in order to flex your creative muscles.

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