mulberryshoots

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

Category: Life & Spirit

“Potager” asparagus bread pudding . . .

This was the first meal I made for my husband-to-be when we first met. The recipe can be found in Georgeanne Brennan’s classic cookbook, “Potager.” It consists of asparagus, old bread soaked in milk, swiss cheese, eggs and parmesan cheese.

Tonight, we’re having an early supper before driving into Lexington for a concert performed by the Concord Chorus of Bach B-Minor Mass at St. Brigid’s church. The weather has cooled off considerably, the sun is out and the sound of birds is loud and clear through our open windows.

I’ve been saving about a third of a loaf of my home baked oatmeal bread in the freezer. Warmed up in the microwave this morning, I took a portion and zinged up bread crumbs in my little Cuisinart food processor, noting that I use that kitchen appliance probably more than any other with the portable electric mixer coming in second. The ingredients are laid out in the kitchen and ready to go later this afternoon to put together.

Mid-afternoon, I quarter cut some fresh asparagus – about 10 spears and cooked them gently in some unsalted butter. I soaked the bread in a cup of whole milk and prepared a buttered casserole dish. After about 20 minutes, I hand squeezed the milk from the crumbs and arranged the milky bread in a layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Then, I added half the sauteed asparagus, seasoned with salt and pepper. On top of the asparagus, I sprinkled some grated swiss and parmesan cheese. Then, came another later of bread (squeezed dry,) asparagus and cheeses.

To this layered casserole, I added three extra large eggs beaten with about 3/4 cup of light cream (or you could use milk too) and poured it carefully all over the casserole so it was well combined. Into a preheated oven of 375, this asparagus bread pudding dish puffed up and looked golden brown in about 45 minutes.

Note: Sometimes the middle of the dish is not cooked as well as the ends, so another 5 minutes or so in the oven will ensure that you won’t get any soggy egg when you cut into the casserole. If it IS soggy, just serve the ends to yourselves and put the pan back into the still warm oven. When you take it out again – it will be cooked through.

Very delicious!

 

“a birthday cake for the ages”. . .

I don’t know where these ideas/recipes come from but I saw a photo of this cake on line the other day and my jaw dropped. I’ve been baking and cooking for a very long time but what I liked about this one was it’s miniature size (3 X 6 inch cake pans); a chocolate “filling” PLUS a hazelnut chocolate “frosting” PLUS a dark chocolate hazelnut glaze with twirly decorations and chocolate sprinkles. W-O-W!!

Mixing the cake batter. . .

Mixing the cake batter. . .

Well, as it happens, we’re celebrating a family birthday tonight and I am just about ready to take the three six inch cakes out of the oven. They smell heavenly by the way. I also gave in and followed the recipe to the letter. I was going to “cheat” with prepared icing but after seeing the cakes, I had all the recipe ingredients just in case – and I melted semi-sweet baking chocolate and butter for the filling; and then the coup de grace: frosting with butter, cream cheese and Nuttella HAZELNUT (the last jar on the shelf in the grocery store) beaten together. Honestly, it’s SO DELICIOUS! – not too sweet with the cream cheese and highlighted by the subtle hazelnut flavor and creamy smooth.

the "filling" - semi sweet chocolate & butter

the “filling” – semi sweet chocolate & butter

For the glaze, I have a bar of Ghiardelli dark chocolate with hazelnuts which will be melted and poured over the cake after it has been filled and frosted. Amazing, huh? If you’re having trouble with all these filling, frosting and glaze terms, I was too.

the frosting - butter, cream cheese, confectioners sugar and Nuttella Hazlenut spread

the frosting – butter, cream cheese, confectioners sugar and Nuttella Hazlenut spread

There are two layers of filling: the melted semi-sweet chocolate plus frosting on top but not all the way to the edge of the cakes. The glaze is poured over the top of the unfrosted cake top and then frosting rosettes are added on top of the glaze. Chocolate sprinkles on top (just in case, I guess.)

Cool for 15 minutes, invert on plate and tap gently - Invert and frost the flat bottom side when putting the cake together

Cool for 15 minutes, invert on plate and tap gently – Invert and frost the flat bottom side when putting the cake together

So here is a small tower of chocolate-ness with hazelnut,  rosettes added with a decorating tip that I got at A.C. Moore yesterday along with the 6 inch cake pans. Well worth it!

Happy Birthday, C.!

finished cake . . . the sprinkles got a little away from me!

finished cake . . . the sprinkles got a little away from me!

a sushi handroll feast! . . .

fullsizerenderOur family gathered yesterday for a sushi handroll meal. I cooked up a batch of brown and black rice, added vinegar/sugar while it was still warm and stored it in a wooden bowl with a damp kitchen towel on it before we used it to make sushi maki and handrolls. Other ingredients included: fresh tuna, salmon, beautifully ripe avocado, watercress, wasabi mayonnaise, shrimp tempura, and toasted nori sheets.

Made an eel sauce that we dipped some of the fish in before wrapping up with the avocado and other goodies. The shopping and pre-prep were time-consuming but the results were extraordinarily delicious! My favorite was a toasted sheet of nori cut in half, spread with brown/black sushi rice, crisp tempura shrimp, avocado and wasabi mayonnaise rolled up. It was crunchy, crispy, unctuous – the crisp contrasting with the unami flavor combo of shrimp, avocado and wasabi mayo. SCRUMPTIOUS!!

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spinach souffle! . . .

 

souffle-5I’ll admit that making a spinach souffle sounds daunting. . . but it’s really not when you break up the process into sections. I bought some beautiful fresh spinach yesterday at the market and thought that cooking it down with onions, adding it to a bechamel sauce and then adding eggs for a souffle would be a nice dish to enjoy for supper.

I used Ina Garten’s recipe for the most part. Here are my steps:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees:souffle-1

  1.  SPINACH PREP: Rinse and clean half a bunch of fresh spinach; chop off the stems and coarsely chop the leaves
  2. Melt a tablespoon of unsalted butter, brown half a chopped vidalia onion and add the chopped spinach
  3. Stir gently as it cooks down until everything is soft and cooked through; sprinkle with grated nutmeg (yum!)
  4. Drain it of all the juices, place on a cutting board and chop with a cleaver alternately crosswise until it resembles frozen chopped spinach (just kidding!) You could also use frozen chopped spinach, draining it of all the water, but I like the idea and taste of fresh spinach!souffle-2
  5. CHEESE: Grate half a cup of parmesan cheese. I have a gorgeous chunk of it and grated it on the large holes of a box grater. It will give a nicer lift to the cheese than Ina’s recipe (cheddar and fine parmesan.)
  6. SAUCE: Making the bechamel sauce and incorporating the eggs:   Melt unsalted butter (2 Tablespoons) in a skillet; add 3 tablespoons more or less of flour and incorporate it into the melted butter. Add 1 cup scalded milk into the mixture, slowly incorporating 4 egg yolks one at a time, mixing gently. Add the grated parmesan and the chopped spinach. Combine and let the whole mixture cool.
  7. EGG WHITES: With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff. A little at a time, fold the egg whites into the spinach mixture, making sure that it remains light and airy. Butter a souffle dish well and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Lightly fold the mixture into souffle-3the prepared souffle dish.
  8. Make a circle in the top of the souffle with a knife to encourage the souffle to rise more. When you know everyone will be ready to eat in about a half an hour, place the souffle in the oven and turn the heat down to 375 degrees (nothing is more exasperating when the souffle is done and people take 10 minutes to get to the table!)
  9. Bake the souffle for 35-45 minutes until done. Let it rest in the oven after turning off the oven with the door open; move immediately to the table when everyone is ready to eat!souffle-6

This is a truly delectable meal! . . . Bon Appetit!

 

mushroom barley soup for lunch! . . .

mushroom-barley-soup

I’m still on the search for a steady way to lose weight and have come full circle back to trying out some semi-macrobiotic recipes. The other thing we have decided to do is to forego sandwiches at lunch and to eat soup or salad instead.

So yesterday, I made a simple onion soup which is a tried-and-true easy recipe that is astonishingly tasty based on the simple steps below:

  1. Slice up a Vidalia onion (they’re sweeter and juicier than the yellow ones)
  2. Brown the onion in unsalted butter in a small soup pot
  3. Add a packet of Knorr’s homestyle beef broth (or a can of beef broth)
  4. Cook until the onions are soft

I used to heat up some leftover bread sprinkled with parmesan cheese under the broiler and serve it on top – but am going without it during this bread-less time.

Since macrobiotic cooking features hearty grains in the diet, I bought some millet, brown rice and barley at the store yesterday. This morning, I thought I’d parboil some barley in water to make a mushroom-barley soup for our lunch. I let the barley soak while I prepared the rest of the soup:

  1. Heat up a small soup pot and melt a tablespoon of unsalted butter
  2. Cut up half of a vidalia onion and brown in the butter
  3. Cut up a box of white button mushrooms (I had about 2/3rds of a box to work with) into quarters, not small bits and pieces. I like these big pieces of mushrooms because they give the soup a more robust quality
  4. Cut up a carrot into small pieces – stir fry the mushrooms and carrots with the onions until nicely browned.
  5. Add two Knorr homestyle beef broth (oval gelatin-like concentrate) plus water to cover
  6. Drain soaked barley and add to the soup
  7. Cover and cook very gently for an hour, checking there’s enough liquid as the barley expands in the soup. Taste that the soup is not too salty by adding more water
  8. Taste for seasoning and serve with cracked pepper for a hearty Fall lunch!mushroom-soup

Very low in calories, hearty, warming and delicious! Not that time-consuming to make either if you start early enough in the morning.

BTW, here’s a funny article about a guy in New Zealand who proved it’s the amount of calories that you consume that allows you to lose weight, not what you eat. He cut his intake by a third to 1600 calories and ate nothing but pies and low-cal beer – and he lost over SIXTEEN POUNDS in just four weeks!! Hmmmmmm

 

october table . . .

leaves from the front and back gardens

leaves from the front and back gardens

Instead of buying bunches of flowers at the Farmers’ Market today, I remembered a very simple arrangement I saw years ago at a Zen retreat in Western Massachusetts where leaves and pods from the garden were arranged on a bare wooden table.

Here’s my version from our garden today. Feels so good to clear off the entire table and clean the curly maple surface! Almost like taking a deep breath and clearing the air in our lungs and in the visual space around us!

picked-from-the-garden-2

 

ramen bowls for dinner! . . .

ramen-bowl

For the past weeks, I’ve been making bone broth in my new Instant Pot and also reading about how to make appetizing ramen one-bowl suppers. So today, I’m combining what I’ve made and learned for our first try at a customized ramen bowl for dinner. Here’s what I have to start with:

  • a lovely piece of char-sui pork (barbecued) from the Asian market that I’ll heat up in the broth before slicing and serving;
  • a container of bone broth to which I’ll add a scant spoonful of dashi powder and a spoonful of Ohsawa soy sauce for the “ramen soup base”;
  • fresh Chinese spinach – unlike Western spinach (see photo) – which I will stir fry, drain and cut up before placing with the other ingredients on the bowl;
  • 6-minute jumbo eggs with yolks that are still slightly runny, braised in a red-cooked sauce (soy, sherry, sugar) and cut in half just before serving;
  • fresh Chinese noodles from the Asian market – boiled ahead of time, rinsed and drained before adding to the ramen broth

I happen to have all of these ingredients on hand to prepare ahead of time and assemble to make our noodle bowls for dinner.

Here are some photos along the way ~

chinese spinach and fresh chinese noodles

chinese spinach and fresh chinese noodles

Chinese spinach (raw and cooked) to add to the ramen bowl

barbecue-pork-eggs

 

Char sui pork (barbecued) from the Asian market & braised 6 minute eggs

 

 

 

freshly cooked Chinese noodles

freshly cooked Chinese noodles

penultimate ramen bowls . . .

penultimate ramen bowls . . .

constant change . . .

my miniature maidenhair fern plant on the kitchen counter. . .

my miniature maidenhair fern plant on the kitchen counter. . .

The only predictable thing in life is change. Many of us don’t like it. Some of us welcome it. I’m one of the latter.

Maybe because while observing life’s vicissitudes I see patterns that I didn’t notice before. Or, reading books that offer limited points of view that are either-or, black-and-white or some other bilateral nonsense – such as a) if you don’t like it; b) leave.

Being Asian, a student of Taoist thought and reading the I-Ching, Or Book of Changes,  I’ve been introduced to holistic thinking that isn’t bilateral or even 3-Dimensional. It’s not as simple as Western either-or approaches to everything and I highly recommend it as an alternative way to live one’s life. I know it has profoundly impacted my own for the past twenty-five years.

The other day, I consulted the I-Ching about what outcome there might be regarding a family situation that I’m experiencing and I laughed out loud when the line it gave me was number 5 in the Hexagram #12 called “Standstill.” Here it is:
“Standstill is giving way.  Good fortune for the great (wo)man. ‘What if it should fail, what if it should fail? In this way s(he) ties it to a cluster of mulberry shoots.”

The time undergoes a change. The right man/woman, able to restore order, has arrived. Hence ‘Good fortune.’ But such periods of transition are the very times in which we must fear and tremble. Success is assured only through greatest caution, which asks always, “what if it should fail?” When a mulberry bush is cut down, a number of unusually strong shoots sprout from the roots. Hence the image of tying something to a cluster of mulberry shoots is used to symbolize the way of making success certain. Confucius says about this line:

Danger arises when a (wo)man feels secure in h(er) position. Destruction threatens when a wo(man) seeks to preserve h(er) worldly estate. Confusion develops when a (wo)man does not forget danger in h(er) security, nor ruin when (s)he is well established, nor confusion when h(er) affairs are in order. In this way (s)he gains personal safety and is able to protect the empire.”

I guess that says it all. The Universe is here for us to learn from if only we will pay attention to it before it is too late. This reading from the I-Ching has also relieved my feelings of disappointment and replaced them with a neutrality about what the future might bring. And that, my friends, is a really big deal!

 

a pair of ‘mums’ . . .

a pair of 'mums' in our kitchen . . .

a pair of ‘mums’ in our kitchen . . .

Finally, we’re getting a few days of rain this week. After a summer of dry, hot weather, it’s a real shift to grey days with intermittent rain.

I like it.

It makes me think about what is truly meaningful in one’s life . . . And it’s pretty simple it seems:

A home that is a haven from the vagaries of the external world.

Meals that are easy to prepare and enjoyable to share with someone you love every night for dinner.

Not watching the news on television when the harpiness of it all gets to be too much.

Not chasing after what’s unavailable or can’t be changed – not in the past and not in the present either.

Being content with who we are and what we have – and being thankful for it all.

A couple of chrysanthemums from my favorite florist that cost me $2 a stem.

Beautiful!

 

 

looking for fulfillment? . . .

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In our generation, we read books like “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” “Catcher in the Rye,” or “On the Road” while we were growing up, looking for what our purpose in life might be.

In today’s Sunday New York Times was an article that describes a course offered at Stanford University called “Designing Your Life.” Instead of prescriptive rules that you should follow, its approach is to guide you through a way of thinking about process as experimental and experiential ~ and that it’s okay to fail along the way to finding what floats your boat in life. It gives permission to make mistakes too.

I haven’t read it yet because it will be released on Tuesday, September 22nd, but I’ve pre-ordered it on Amazon. And I’m also thinking about giving a copy at Christmas to my granddaughter and others in my extended family who might find something useful in the search for themselves.

We could all use a little of this, couldn’t we?