mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

easter . . .

 

French macarons . . .

French macarons . . .

G. and I are enjoying a quiet, sunny day today. The kids are visiting in-laws and so we will have a quiet day and a simple supper tonight. Right now, I am listening to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and feeling like snapping my fingers to the music–it’s so much fun to listen to it! Earlier, I went to the piano and played the 2nd movement of the C minor Fantasie by Mozart. The makeshift wooden board that G. placed over the pedal worked well with my leg that still has a heavy cast on it.

Last night, with absolutely nothing to watch on TV (unless you wanted to tune into a four-and a half hour view of the “Ten Commandments”,) we decided to watch “Amadeus” the 1984 movie which won 8 Academy Awards. It’s a little grating to me with the Mozart character’s neighing all the time (from Tourette’s Syndrome)? But F. Murray Abraham (who won an Oscar for best actor in this best picture) plays Salieri, a rival court composer whose works are banal compared to Mozart’s and who is obsessed both by God’s gift of talent to Mozart and his equally strong belief that God has shortchanged him of same. This assignation of “blame” to God for Salieri’s shortcomings is one of the amusing conceits of the film. Reading about Salieri online, he is purported to have taught the likes of Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt so he must not have been as lightweight a musician as the movie, “Amadeus,” makes him out to be.

Anyhow, seeing the period instruments (since G. specializes in all things piano) is a treat to watch. I was also reminded again hearing excerpts of Mozart’s great Mass in C minor with its rousing opening “Kyrie” how great a composition it is. So, I listened to it this a.m. before segue-ing to the more upbeat and laid back jazz of Dave Brubeck’s quartet and Paul Desmond playing saxophone. Did you know that it was actually Desmond who composed “Take Five?” I didn’t until recently when I watched Clint Eastwood’s masterful biographical DVD of Dave Brubeck which we saw on PBS a couple of years ago.

For lunch today, I’m going to heat up some frozen Korean dumplings with chives and make a piquant dipping sauce of Chinese black vinegar, Japanese seasoned rice vinegar, Ohsawa soy sauce, sesame oil, chopped scallions and grated fresh ginger root. Afterwards, we’ll try a tiny sliver of the dark chocolate sour cream cake that I made yesterday afternoon. I had to bake it ten more minutes than the recipe called for and even then, the beautifully rounded middle sunk when cooled so it looked like a miniature tube cake!

I also had difficulty broiling a miso eggplant dish for dinner last night–you couldn’t chew it and it felt and tasted like wet cardboard. I even tried frying it afterwards but to no avail. Then, I remembered the pizza stone the other night didn’t seem hot enough even though heated to 500 degrees. And that instead of the pizza taking 3-5 minutes to cook, it still wasn’t done at 15 minutes and I had to turn on the broiler to finish it. So, dear reader, it occurred to me that perhaps my stove/oven isn’t heating up properly. (DUH!) It’s about a dozen years old and I cook a lot, so it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s losing its legs, heat-wise that is.

So, I dug out my oven thermometer and will be double-checking whether it preheats to 425 degrees when I get ready to roast the rack of lamb that we’re going to have for dinner tonight. I use Julia Child’s recipe for a mustard (Grey Poupon Country Dijon), olive oil, soy sauce, fresh rosemary chopped and lots of minced garlic–the marinade coating applied for the room-temperature lamb before going into the oven. The lamb on the rack looks miniscule so I’m hopeful that there will be something tasty there when it comes out of the dubious oven.

better nomaYesterday, I don’t know what came over me–perhaps it was re-reading a cohort of British cookery books in the last few days–I decided to cull out and reorganize my bookshelves, one whole section of which is dedicated to food. One of the shelves now includes a set of Terence Conran, Roald Dahl, Jane Garmey and Time-Life volumes on making galantines, terrines, meat pies, trifles and aspic with eggs. In this group, I rediscovered the absolutely wonderful simple and yet appealing recipes in Nigel Slater’s cookery books. Slater’s recipe for roasting chicken wings suffused with fresh lemons and cracked pepper until the wings are caramelized to the baking sheet is one I’m going to try next week, I think. SLATER

Even though they were somewhat pricey, I went through some books yesterday that had recipes I know I would never try (too conventional, complicated or took too much work/ingredients) so they went into the carton that will be donated to our local library. That is the only way I can justify ridding myself of books–which is to recycle them at an institution that will either catalog them or sell them in their bookstore.

Back to the reorganization, the revised bookshelves also hold a section of what I call “Celebrity Chefs”: David Chang’s “Momofuku”, Rene Redzepi’s “Noma”,Thomas Keller’s”French Laundry”, Daniel Boulud, Stanley Tucci, Jane Grigson, Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Cafe Cookbook and the River Cottage series by that guy who has an un-spellable name.

On the top shelf (for most usage) are short stacks of cookbooks featuring Asian noodles, tofu, dim sum, Chinese snacks, Bento box and Japanese Zen/Temple cookery. There’s also a smaller section down below on macrobiotic and raw vegetable ideas. Right now, I think I’ll be cooking more recipes out of the Nigel Slater books than anything else. Not only are the books now better organized, there’s now room for more!better asian

The photos above and below are of an order of French macarons that I made and had sent to C. and her husband for Easter. She teaches high-school French so these little treats seemed like the perfect thing for Easter. She’s going to share them with her in-laws after their luncheon today. The funny thing about them is that I ordered them from a baker on Etsy (one of my favorite places to find homemade things,) and in finalizing the purchase, I noticed a Chinese name in their email address. Sure enough, she was trained in France to bake these macaron specialties but like me, she’s Chinese. I meet many artists who are Asian on this site. And in the oddest of places too–like with these macarons. They’re made of egg whites and an almond paste filling–somewhat like marzipan, I think. They arrived in time and C. said they shared one macaron before bringing them to the Easter luncheon and it was delicious!macarons 2

rack of lamb with mustard, rosemary, garlic glaze . . .

rack of lamb with mustard, rosemary, garlic glaze . . .

In addition to the mustard/rosemary rack of lamb medium rare (hopefully,) we’re having artichokes with a curry mayonnaise as a starter, the lamb, small yukon potatoes crisped in butter and garlic salt, and parsnips (G.’s favorite vegetable.) And for dessert, the dark chocolate sour cream cake with chocolate frosting.

So, here’s hoping you have also had an enjoyable day filled with reading the paper, Easter egg hunts and some nice wine and tasty food!

shepherd’s pie . . .

shepherd's pie

Instead of making hamburgers tonight, I decided to make a shepherd’s pie. There are some shortcuts along the way and I thought maybe I’d write them down in this post. First of all, I’ve been learning from watching a lot of cooking shows to keep flavors separate until you want to blend them. So, instead of frying the ground beef with onions, I cut up a whole onion and browned it in some oil and butter after two garlic cloves had been toasted and removed. Then, I cut up three huge button mushrooms into chunks and added them to the browning onions. I scooped them into a separate bowl while I browned the beef in the skillet, breaking it up so that it browned evenly. (Dropped the spatula on the floor, flinging onions around twice!) Then, added the chunky onions and mushrooms, gently folding them into the beef. Sprinkled with Maldon salt and cracked pepper. Finally, I made some mashed potatoes, enriched with milk and butter, smoothed over the top of the meat, onion and mushroom mixture, dotted with butter and sprinkled lightly with parmesan cheese.

Washed and dried my favorite fluted baking dish that I bought years ago in Gloucester. It’s just the right size to hold a casserole dish for two. Plus, it’s so elegant on the serving board when we have dinner. There’s a huge bag of fresh spinach that C. brought from the organic farm last weekend that I’ve been meaning to cook before this. I thought I’d heat up a few garlic cloves and cook a mound of it in the skillet, letting it disappear to almost nothing as fresh spinach is wont to do. Then, drain the liquid out of it, cut it up in the skillet with a sharp knife and add some light cream, a little salt and pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to dress it up a little.creamed spinach

I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been dropping things and finding the logistics of cooking from a wheelchair more challenging these days. Maybe it’s because it is getting near the tail end of the dozen weeks that I’ve had my cast on and I’m impatient to have it off next week. My short fuse might also be due to the many dishes that I’ve been cooking of late–a cumulative culinary journey that has occupied me during these long days sitting on the couch for most days since February when I broke my ankle.

The weather is turning warmer, the light so much brighter and it will be nice to be able to navigate the stairs so that I can go outside more often. G. has been doing heavy lifting for grocery shopping, getting things out of the pantry, raising and lowering the shades, doing the laundry and helping me all day long, with good humor and so much patience. We will enjoy our supper tonight together and, as usual, give thanks for the simple things in life.

shepherd's pie from the oven

 

 

 

homemade pizza . . .

homemade mushroom pizza . . .

homemade mushroom pizza . . .

For the past few years, I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making home-made pizzas. When we had a winter rental more than two years ago in Rockport, MA., I ordered Jim Lahey’s book on making pizzas along with a pizza stone but never got around to following up. We are still looking for that pizza stone downstairs somewhere, but I ordered a second one which arrived last night. (If the first one turns up, I’ll give it to C.) My interest to make homemade pizza was piqued once again last week when a full page article by Sam Sifton appeared in the  NYTimes food section. In the online article, there was a video that showed a Brooklyn pizza maker handling the dough (gently,) putting on tomato sauce (sparingly) that was made just from canned tomatoes, not a prepared salty-full-of-additives-and-preservatives-jarred-pizza sauce; and thin slabs of fresh mozzarella cheese. Fresh basil leaves were placed on top of the baked pizza after it came out of the oven.

an online margherita pizza photo

an online margherita pizza photo

Simple tomato/cheese pizzas (Margherita) are my favorite kind of pizza, I think–just very simple and clean, chewy but not heavy. So this morning, I followed the NYTimes recipe for pizza dough that combines Italian pizza flour (00) and regular flour with yeast, water, salt and olive oil. Jim Lahey just uses all-purpose flour.

The key to making tender pizza dough is the same instruction for making tender scones, rolls or bread: handle gently and as little as possible. When you push out the dough, or let it stretch to make the pizza later on, you’re supposed to handle it “like a baby.” Gently does it. A very little bit of tomato sauce is added, then fresh cheese. Flour the surface that you make the pizza on so you can transfer it easily onto a wooden or bamboo peel (a flat surface with a long handle.)DSCN6364

fresh basil and pizza dough

fresh basil and pizza dough

In the meantime, a pizza stone is gradually heating up in an oven turned up from an initial heat of 350 degrees to 400 and then finally to 500 degrees. Open the oven, stand back and slide the pizza from the peel to the heated stone. Some recipes say to turn off the oven and turn on the broiler on high to “broil” the pizza (Lahey) if you have an electric stove. Sam Sifton in the NYTimes article says to just let it bake at 500 degrees for five to eight minutes, watching it carefully. When the pizza is baked, use the peel to remove it from the stone and onto a board where you can add fresh basil leaves and cut it into serving pieces.

DSCN6366I guess it seemed daunting to make pizzas from scratch because of the equipment required: having to bake it on a pizza stone so that the crust would be light and crispy; transferring it with the use of a large peel, etc. etc. In fact, dear reader, the stone was about $15 and the bamboo peel cost about $12 on amazon.com with free shipping (I have Amazon Prime.) Oh, and I ordered the special Italian pizza flour (00) last week online too. These three ingredients/tools are what I have been waiting for to make pizzas that will hopefully taste like those $18-$22 babies in specialty pizza restaurants (of which there are NONE in the working-class town that I live in–but I have been treated to them in Minneapolis when I visit family there.)

When it came time to assemble the pizzas, I was surprised (chagrined) to find the plastic wrap sticking to the dough. I had to peel it off and knead the dough a little with some extra flour. Then, the hardest part was getting the “baby” yeast dough to thin out and stay stretched out rather than shrinking back again as soon as you let go of it. So, I ended up with a pizza about ten inches in diameter, not twelve. I added a little tomato sauce made from pureeing San Marzano tomatoes with a little olive oil and salt in the Vitamix. There’s plenty of this tomato “sauce” to use later in the week on cappellini pasta with shrimp or to decorate another round of eggplant parmigiana.

The pizza on the stone in a 500 degree oven didn’t bake as fast as the experts said it would. After fifteen minutes, I turned off the oven and turned on the broiler to finish cooking the mushrooms and cheese on top of the pizza. Meanwhile, there were crumbs, flour and basil leaves decorating the front of my clothes and all over the kitchen floor. By the time G. returned home, I was more than a little cranky, mollified later only by the clean taste of the pizza once we got it off the stone and onto a board. Half a glass of ice-cold Miller Lite beer helped a little too. Was it worth it?

Sort of, I would respond, knowing that there’s another pizza dough resting in the fridge for a second trial run at this sometime later this week!

a slice of mushroom pizza . . .

a slice of mushroom pizza . . .

variations. . .

raw sweet potatoes with peeler . . .

raw sweet potatoes with peeler . . .

One of the things we most enjoy eating is Japanese sweet potatoes. Have you ever tried them? They have a thick red outer peel and a white/yellow very sweet interior. Once you taste them, it’s really hard to go back to the more commonly found yams, sweet potatoes or even garnet yams. Sometimes these Japanese sweet potatoes are found in smaller sizes, just right for a single serving at dinner. Other times, these tubers come in large sizes and seem too large to bake. All of these comments are by way of introducing the idea that tonight, I’m going to try making Japanese sweet potato FRIES!! Peel the red outer skin off; use the large Samurai carving knife to cut the peeled potatoes into slivers, dress in vegetable oil and sprinkle with Maldon salt. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and bake until crispy, golden brown.

fresh out of the oven!

fresh out of the oven!

My daughter, C., also bought some boneless, skinless chicken thighs this weekend which I will dredge in flour, dip in beaten egg and enriched panko crumbs to fry gently in a combination of vegetable oil and unsalted butter.

pan fried chicken . . .

pan fried chicken . . .

A quick swizzle of fresh cut asparagus in some butter with cracked pepper and fresh lemon juice will complete our supper for tonight. Later, we’ll finish off the key lime pie that we still have two servings of in the fridge.

It’s been a breezy Spring day today. Last night, I tried the occipital bone massage on myself (and G. did too) before I went to bed. I didn’t take ANY sleep tablets of any kind and woke up close to the time we usually do. I must be letting go of some subliminal anxiety about how my foot is doing inside the heavy cast that has been on my leg for almost three months. In anticipation of two feet being available, I ordered a pair of graceful taupe, nubuck Birkenstock sandals that have closed fronts and easy to slip on backs.

I’ve also been toying with what to do about the length of my hair; whether to trim it tight and shorter in the back, tapering longer on the sides to the front. I’ve been tempted to try cutting it myself but caught myself in time from what is clearly foolish thinking!  Anyhow, there’s still plenty of opportunity to vacillate back and forth before I can get outdoors to a hair salon next week. In the meantime, my injured foot feels better inside the cast: fewer painful episodes, more freedom of movement when wiggling my toes and moving them back and forth with the cast on.

With the Boston marathon heading our way next week, all the stories on TV about the wounded who lost limbs has reminded me of how marginally injured I have been by comparison and how fortunate I am that it wasn’t much worse. Lots of perspective gained by lessons learned all around. It’s been a quiet transition from Winter to Spring, the white snowdrops in the yard and flowering tulips in the markets a harbinger of more colorful times which are soon upon us.

DSC_0503

 

 

 

a good weekend . . .

yellow tulipsToday is Sunday and my daughter C. has been spending the weekend with G. and me, arriving yesterday afternoon with lovely yellow tulips and a large box of fresh groceries from a local organic farm. For dinner last night, we roasted a small chicken with fresh thyme and rosemary; a bread salad made up of a torn up ciabetta roll and fresh greens, asparagus and later on, some chocolate cream pie.

After dinner, we watched the Walt Disney movie, “Frozen,” for the first time together and were impressed with the radical themes and fresh approaches to life for young children (no, Virginia, Prince Charming is no longer the end-all, be-all savior of all damsels in distress; and yes, girls, you can find it within yourself to “let it go” AND also show true love to those whom you don’t understand, rather than waiting/relying on others to show love to you first in order for you to believe life is worth living!) A woman wrote the script, you can be sure. I kept waiting for the movie to deliver not only the song, “Let It Go,” but a message that would illustrate how this movie would justify the over 1. billion dollar worldwide gross it has achieved since it was released in late 2013. With the aforementioned radical shifts to “happily-ever” scenarios, I could see why the movie has caught on.

The song, “Let It Go” itself is not easy to sing, given the harmonic shifts and irregular meter–sometimes in four beats and then extending to six. Despite these challenges, the song seems to have taken over the world (winning best song at the Oscars.) Here is a link to a Youtube clip of “Let It Go” sung in 25 languages by 25 exuberant women vocalists:

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+%22let+it+go%22+in+25+languages&qpvt=Youtube+%22let+it+go%22+in

shitake mushroomsThis morning, (with “Frozen” running on replay in the background,) we made more of my home-style panko crumbs and C. prepared eggplant parmigiana to take home and bake tonight for supper. Afterwards (you must be thinking that all we do is cook and eat, which is pretty much accurate) I sliced up some huge fresh shitake mushrooms, sauteed them in butter with shallots, dressed with fresh thyme and rosemary afterwards.herbs I made tender scrambled eggs, still runny in curds, piled into a plate, the mushrooms on top as our lunch, eaten with leftover French onion soup, bread and taleggio goat cheese. Yum!

scrambled eggs with fresh shitake mushrooms. . .

scrambled eggs with fresh shitake mushrooms. . .

The rest of the morning was spent leisurely reading the New York Times, side by side with our cups of tea and coffee. We skyped the Minneapolis contingent mid-morning and visited, catching up on our weekend and showing J. my canary, whom she has been waiting to see because I haven’t been as mobile with the laptop as usual due to my ankle injury.

Last night, C. massaged my occipital muscles at the base of my head and my shoulder muscles. I could tell right away that this kind of touch might allow me to sleep better than any of the remedies taken by mouth, herbal and otherwise. And sure enough, I woke up this morning after sleeping better than I have in awhile.

The afternoon air coming through the windows and back porch is refreshing as I finish writing this post. It’s been such a pleasure to visit together and to spend time chatting, watching movies, reading the Sunday newspapers, cooking and eating meals together.

chocolate eggsSoon it will be Easter (next Sunday!) And soon enough afterwards, my cast will be removed (!) in favor of a replaceable boot if all goes well with my X-rays. Hope you have had a good weekend too!

 

silver linings . . .

Loon & orchid 1Being laid up (translate immobilized) in order to allow my injured ankle to heal, the pace of our days in the past weeks has been transformed. Our priorities shifted in favor of settling into a new routine. Appreciation for each other and our lives has emerged in ways we might not have experienced so poignantly without the injury. We are thankful.

In the mornings, there are brief stints of activity that I carry out each day: cleaning off the kitchen counter of yesterday’s cooking ingredients and used dishes; wiping off the stove top and cleaning off detritus unseen before but now so newly visible at eye level from a wheelchair; straightening off the large curly maple table we use for our meals, emptying crumbs and spills from the braided hemp placemats; watering the plants, replacing spent flowers with a just-in-bloom orchid plant from those flowering in the other room.

There are moments of quiet joy, watching the morning sun move across the large kitchen/great room from the skylights illuminating the wide board pine floors. Today, I noticed those moments that probably would not have come to the fore of my consciousness without the imposed quiet of staying still:

1.  Listening to Peter Serkin’s recording of Bach Inventions Part I & II, the simplicity of these compositions more fitting (than the preludes/fuges, partitas, suites) to the reduced tempo of the day.

2.  After two fruitless tries (each day taking apart the day’s knitting) to make something that finally pleases me from leavings of Noro “Mossa” yarn, casting aside (80%) of the yarn’s over-fluffy white and purple bits, finally knitting a scarf of the most beautiful lichen, moss, gentian and twig brown colors. A glorious little (emphasize small) piece that justifies having spent the money to buy the yarn in the first place that didn’t quite measure up but has at last yielded some beautiful textures (like nuggets of gold after sieving lots of washed dirt.)knitting swatch

3. Learning that my granddaughter has been accepted to, visited and is overjoyed with her college of choice, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. where she may pursue her interests in applied math, biology and all sorts of arenas such as international affairs.

4. Looking forward to my daughter, C.’s visit tomorrow. She teaches high school French and tells me she’s at the end of the quarter with grades due but will have some time to spend with us this weekend.

She’ll be doing some shopping at an organic farmstand on the way between her house and mine and arrive in time for a late lunch. I’ve been waiting for a pizza stone to arrive and if it does, I’ll make up some homemade pizza dough and we’ll try our hand at making a Margherita pizza tomorrow with San Marzano tomato sauce, cheeses and fresh basil leaves on top after it comes out of the oven.

We have also saved up so that we can watch “Frozen,” the Walt Disney animated movie together. My granddaughter, Josie, (who is four)  has taken to swaying and singing “Let It Go” on Skype this past week. I sent the Disney Golden Book versions of “Frozen” to her and I’m told she sings along while being read to and looking at the many illustrations from the movie.

5. Catching up with my daughter M. on Skype along with Josie (above) I heard about an  effort to communicate becoming a positive catalyst for change and improvement all-around in her nursing school classes. A busy Mom and student, M. somehow manages to be centered while making healthy juices from organic vegetables and fruits to take care of her own needs.

Tomorrow night, I’m planning to roast a small (under 3 lbs.) organic chicken with fresh rosemary and thyme for our dinner tomorrow night along with carrots, onion and yukon potatoes to cook alongside the bird. For dessert, we’ll have some chocolate cream pie that we devoured the last time she came out to visit G. and me.

yellow roseThis is a long list of things that gladden my heart. Plus, during my idle time last week, I won an eBay auction for a song and a wonderful loon decoy arrived yesterday. Then, G. came home last night with a single yellow rose at suppertime along with the fresh cilantro and lime I asked him to pick up to go with the Pad Thai I was making.

There are so many blessings for which I am thankful. It has been raining good fortune ever since I took that fateful fall and broke my ankle. Who would have known?

 

good things . . .

eggplant parmigiana ~ the best ever!

eggplant parmigiana ~ the best ever!

I’ve had a craving for tender, crisply fried eggplant recently and bought a medium sized one at the store last Friday on the way home from my hospital visit to have the sutures taken out.

The first step I took this morning was to make some enriched panko breadcrumbs: melting a dollop of unsalted butter in a skillet, pouring in a fresh packet of panko crumbs, stirring gently to distribute the butter; a couple of sprinkles of Lawry’s garlic salt from the gigantic container I bought at Sam’s Club, and dried parsley to provide some nice color. On low heat, I stirred the crumbs until they turned slightly golden and smelled fragrant from the garlic salt. Cooled and then transferred to a plastic container for future use.

panko bread crumbs toasted in butter with garlic salt and dried parsley

panko bread crumbs toasted in butter with garlic salt and dried parsley

In the afternoon, I washed and sliced up the eggplant into slightly thinner slices than usual so as to ensure tender crispiness and also to avoid having to fry thicker pieces longer and then have to drain the slices of fat. Sprinkled the raw eggplant with Maldon salt. Let sit for an hour or so on the kitchen table. Then wiped the salt and liquid clean, drying the eggplant slices. Then, the three-fold dredging steps, dipping each slice of eggplant in flour, beaten eggs, and prepared panko breadcrumbs. Oil simmered over medium-high heat in the skillet, a quick fry, turning the slices over when golden and then draining the fried slices on paper towels. I had to clean the pan halfway through to avoid burning the eggplant and started over with clean oil, not smoking. I set the slices aside to rest.

breaded eggplant slices . . .

breaded eggplant slices . . .

Then, I opened a can of San Marzano tomatoes and ran them through the Vitamix, adding some leftover diced tomatoes that were in the fridge used earlier in vegetable soup. Tasted the tomato puree for seasoning. It was simple and free of additives found in brand name sauces, just Italian tomato taste. Spread a thin layer on the bottom of an old oval copper au gratin pan. Placed eggplant in a thin layer, added scant layer of sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese and hand-grated fresh parmesan cheese.

San Marzano tomatoes. . .

San Marzano tomatoes. . .

Turned oven to 375 degrees. When almost time for supper, slid the copper pan into the oven and baked for about half an hour until golden brown on top. Made a salad of lettuce, cucumber and red onion.

While i was dredging and frying the eggplant slices, I had a fleeting thought that maybe making this dish was too much trouble. Later, however, G. and I agreed that this was probably the best eggplant parmigiana we’d ever had. I think it might have been due to a) thinner eggplant slices encased in tasty breadcrumbs; b) very little unprocessed and simple tomato sauce that did not drown the eggplant nor made it soggy;  and c) real parmesan cheese hand grated at the last minute, added to the mozzarella cheese.There was no salt at all except for what had been wiped off the raw eggplant after curing it of its innate bitterness. We’re so glad there’s enough left over for us to eat again tomorrow!

eggplant parm in the oven. . .

eggplant parm in the oven. . .

For dessert, there were still two pieces of the sour cream chocolate cake that I made the other day–half a recipe in a small square pan, frosted with ready-made chocolate icing. “Delicious!” G.’s mother commented after they finished theirs last night. His mother is ninety-five and lives across the street with G.’s brother, J.

This afternoon, G. handed me his Nikon to download photos of the cardinals who sing outside our home and flit around in the trees and bushes. We feel they are a positive sign from the universe and protect us with their colorful presence. G. maintains there are two pairs of cardinals whom he has observed squabbling with the chickadees for territory. Here are some images to enjoy!

Cardinal 2cardinal 3

sunday . . .

leek and potato soup . . .

leek and potato soup . . .

It’s a calm, sunny Sunday today. No snow. No rain. The sun shines through the windows and the skylights, shimmering on the wooden floors in the kitchen and our sitting room. The sun basked, warming our backs as we sat at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper and finishing our breakfasts.

Today is a slower cooking day: this afternoon, I’ll peel some russet potatoes, rinse a bunch of leeks carefully separating the leaves to make sure that dirt goes down the drain and not into the soup. Chop the leeks into small pieces and brown gently with a generous dollop of unsalted butter in a heavy pot; then add the cut up potatoes, stirring in some chicken stock. Simmer the whole thing with the lid on top, the fragrant soup finished off with light cream after it has been pureed in the VItamix and cooled on the kitchen counter. I’ve been looking for some vintage silverplate soup spoons with rounded bowls which we will use for the first time with tonight’s supper.

fresh out of the oven!~

fresh out of the oven!~

In the meantime, I’m mixing yeast, milk and honey with oats, flour and butter to start a loaf of oatmeal bread. I’ll time it so that the loaf will rise once, then shaped, risen again in the white stoneware loaf pan, baked to a golden hue, topped with a sprinkling of oatmeal. Resting for ten to fifteen minutes or so to slice thickly, spread with cold unsalted butter and a little honey, sliced into triangles, eaten with bowls of leek-potato soup.

I’ve been trying a different soporific (translate sleeping aid) every night and so far, the vexing pattern of tossing and turning, trying dreams and flopping my heavy cast back and forth has continued unabated. I’m hopeful to try a different regimen today/tonight that may result in more rest. Side effects of pain medication and insomnia have plagued me more than the amount of pain emanating from the ankle injury.

Noro "mossa" yarn . . .

Noro “mossa” yarn . . .

To while away the three week wait to have my cast removed, I’ve ordered some musky taupe Noro Mossa yarn with purple, green and brown colourways which should arrive this coming week. Planning to knit a simple garter stitch cardigan that will pass the time and give me a project that I can wear outside once my leg gets better and as Spring showers bring May flowers.

noma . . .

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Noma, but it’s reputedly the “best restaurant in the world,” located in Copenhagen, Denmark and run by a young chef named Rene Redzepi. My daughter, M., surprised me with a gift of his latest publications by Phaidon, a journal, photos and recipe book of a year spent developing new recipes for the restaurant after being named “the best. . .” for three years running.

His initial offering, a large album book called “Noma” was already in my bookshelves, my having opted to purchase it when it first came out due to the unusual and unusually beautiful photographs of food that you could not ever fathom tasting. Even so, I find it rather inspiring to read and look at, if only because it is so independent of mind in the development of flavor and taste which is supposed to equal, food.

Maybe it’s whimsical of me to partake in the experimentation that this kind of culinary pursuit takes, but it appeals to my sense of other-li-ness that I welcome in anything that is tried and true. I mean, of course, people can go and treat themselves to a tasting menu at Daniel Boulud’s restaurants in NYC. or, for that matter, go ramen tasting at Momofuku, David Chang’s hangout that is now being challenged by other ramen spring-ups all over town.

In fact, Redzepi writes fondly about a visit by David Chang to his restaurant when Rene’s second child was born–the very same weekend–and he seems much more interested in how Chang unpacks his cooking knives than belaboring the fact that he’s become a father of two at the same time. It’s an inside look at how cooks, or at least this cook, thinks, nay, is absolutely obsessed with developing something novel and delicious.

In the Journal that Redzepi keeps, he is alarmed that the restaurant is spending more than it is bringing in. For a few months in a row, the ink runs red. Then, he begins to gather the facts that:

a.  They serve 20 dishes to each customer.

b.  Each dish has at least five ingredients–most of which require advance preparation.

c.  There are 111 purveyors from whom they buy supplies; keep track of, pay and store ingredients from.

d.  They also forage, clean and store a huge amount of ingredients.

e.  Sometimes they are surprised by their suppliers who bring in fresh snails or seafood on a Saturday that is inconvenient because it won’t hold until Monday and the menus are already set for the weekend.

f.   Besides preparing menus of 35 plus dishes for 500 customers a week; there is a staff of 70 to feed and clean up after everyday.

One late night after the flow of new ideas from the 35 cooks has gone well, Redzepi noticed a foul smell in one of the rooms downstairs. Someone has neglected to clean fish remains in one of the sinks. Another area was unscrubbed. In a good mood, he starts to clean it up by himself and then blows a fuse, calling every cook at 1:30 in the morning to gather in the kitchens, the whole crew cleaning up EVERYTHING until the place sparkles. This kind of story about how nudging a group to a higher level of teamwork can at the same time also result in backsliding for the most basic of tasks (cleaning things up after yourselves) is apocryphal and amusing.

And Rene Redzepi is only in his mid-thirties. Honestly, I can’t see myself cooking reindeer moss. Or cooking something to resemble or remind one of reindeer moss. But the very stark, austerely beautiful platings that adorn his books, and that same aura which permeates his restaurant are a treat and a treatise for one’s imagination.

So, today, after my hospital ankle appointment when the cast was taken off so that the sutures could be removed, then a new cast put on for another three weeks, I was a little more restrained than usual when we went to do the grocery shopping afterwards. I picked out a couple of endives and a radicchio to make a bitter salad with a honeycrisp apple, walnuts and golden raisins. Maybe a little sour cream and honey in the vinaigrette. Bunches of beets to roast, leeks to cook with potatoes for a creamy Sunday soup; parsnips to accompany a small boeuf bourguinon cooked in the new pot that our friend, B. gave us last week, with some tiny yukon gold potatoes, boiled, sliced in half and slowly browned with a little garlic salt and dried parsley. These ideas are in no way anywhere close to let’s say, experimenting with lamb’s brains but, c’est la vie!

What I have taken away from these armchair adventures of food developed in the cold and wintry land in Scandanavia is to concentrate on flavors, small portions, beautiful settings, eating less, eating better, having fun trying new ways with old habits that still work. All this from reading a few books! Voila!

comfort food . . .

wonton soupAfter a miserable day yesterday, tired out from not sleeping well for almost a week, I decided to start taking Tylenol again (just a half pill) to take the edge off of my ankle pain. G. also went out last night and rounded up some Sleepytime herbal tea which we brewed up and I drank with a spoonful of honey before going to bed. Although the night was unsettled and I had to get up a few times, there was a discernibly rounder edge to the way I felt when I woke up this morning. Translated, that means I woke up feeling more clear and a little more rested than I have for a week.

Resolved to have a better day today, I washed my hair and changed to lighter weight Spring pants and top. I sewed up the tear on the back collar of my favorite lightweight sweater and wound my freshly rinsed hair into a loose knot and put a clip to hold it off of my neck to dry.

We had some freshly ground pork in the fridge and some frozen shrimp in the freezer. I felt so much better than I had yesterday that I decided to make some of our favorite Asian comfort food for dinner: shrimp and pork wontons.

G. bought some wonton wrappers, scallions and napa cabbage at the store and we’re now good to go. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try making them yourself:

Shrimp-Pork Wonton Soup:

1. Clean and peel 4-5 large (16-20 count) shrimp; chop into small bits

2. Mix 1 lb. fresh ground pork with minced shrimp.

3. Chop 3 green onions into small slivers, add to meat mixture;

4. Finely chop 3 leafy parts of Napa cabbage and add to meat mixture.The cabbage all but disappears in the filling but adds moisture and sweetness. Without it, the wonton filling shrinks and is less tender.

5. Season mixture with 2-3 tablespoons Ohsawa soy sauce and  1-2 tablespoons mirin.

6. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons corn starch lightly over the mixture and work in with your hands until mixed well. The cornstarch tenderizes the filling.

Let marinated meat/cabbage/shrimp mixture sit for about an hour or two before wrapping.

7. Take a wonton wrapper and put a dab of filling in the center; wet two adjacent edges of the wrapper with cold water and fold, press the edges together of the dumpling so that you have a triangle. Take the right end of the triangle and fold it under the left, securing with a dab of water. It should look like a little bonnet. Set the folded wonton onto a plate and cover with a clean dishtowel. Fold the rest of the dumplings so that edges are sealed.

folded wontons ready to cook . . .

folded wontons ready to cook . . .

8. Bring a pot of water to a boil. When boiling, drop the wontons one at a time, stirring gently so that they don’t stick to each other. When the pot comes to a boil again, add a glass of cold tap water. Then bring to a boil once more. Add a second glass of cold tap water. When the wontons come to a boil a third time, they’re done.

9. I sometimes make a separate pot of soup consisting of chicken broth, a little water, 2 tablespoons soy; 2 tablespoons mirin. Transfer the cooked wontons into this broth, adding a little of the cooking water to enhance the soup.

Serve big bowls of the steaming hot wontons, providing chopsticks and chinese soup spoons. You can also add some baby spinach at the last minute when serving the soup.

These shrimp/pork filled wontons will make your heart sing, never mind that they’re also very tasty and easy to eat!

 

 

 

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