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

cooking summer vegetables in the morning! . . .

raw eggplant, quarter-cut

eggplant cooked in garlic, peanut oil, soy, honey & grated fresh ginger root

Since I came home last Thursday with an armload of fresh vegetables from the local farm, I’ve been meaning to cook the slender asian eggplants, not wanting to have them languish too long in the fridge. I’ve discovered that cooking in the morning after breakfast suits me very well because it’s still relatively cool and most of the cooking for supper is done before lunch!

So today, I washed and sliced the golden beets in half and put them into a Japanese donabe pot with lid and about an inch of water. I placed the vessel in a cold oven and brought it up to 350 degrees and then 375 degrees, setting the timer for an hour. I’ve been putting off cooking these too because it’s too warm to heat up the oven around 5 o’clock in the afternoon. So, I’ll dress the beets in a Japanese vinegar, honey dressing when they’re cool for a side dish tonight.

In the meantime, I heated up a deep pot with a layer of peanut oil and chopped up a huge clove of garlic, letting it cook gently while I quarter cut the thin eggplants (cut on a diagonal, turn 1 quarter, cut diagonally, in chunks) until the vegetables were cut up and ready to toss into the simmering garlic oil. I used four slender eggplants and cooked them, adding just a little more vegetable oil over high heat midway, and a dressing of Ohsawa soy sauce (organic from VitaCost.) Mixed the eggplant well and added a dollop of honey (vs. sugar) and let it cook. Taking a large piece of fresh ginger root, I hand grated it on the large holes of a box grater (microplane was too small) and added a hefty amount into the cooked eggplant. Stirred it around and turned off the heat.

The eggplant and the beets will stay at room temperature on top of the stove until supper time to serve with bowls of hot jasmine rice.  Right before serving, I’ll chop up some fresh cilantro leaves and sprinkle it on top of the eggplant. So the only thing left to do is to start the rice cooker before dinner. Sounds pretty good to me!


thank you, “mother earth”! . . .

I’ve debated about joining a CSA for the growing season and this year, I decided as usual to take my chances going to farm stands for vegetables and fresh corn when it’s in season. Berberian’s Farm is about 20 minutes drive from my house and today, I was especially impressed with the produce – locally grown at the farm and picked at the peak of perfection – small beautiful eggplants, rosy radishes, patty pan squash, golden beets and of course ears of their wonderfully sweet butter and sugar corn. (They also have Silver Queen white corn later in August which is even sweeter and more succulent than the B&S they have now.)

This armful of freshness cost less than $15.00! The end of July and beginning of August is sweet corn season – and some years, we’ve had it available all the way to November, believe it or not! Rolled on a stick of chilled unsalted Kerrygold butter and sprinkled with Maldon Salt, bathed in freshly ground peppercorns: this is heaven for everyone – whether you’re going on vacation in August or staying home like us to savor the bounty of Mother Earth in the peak of summer! YAY!

green gazpacho! . . .

For the last few years, my granddaughter has given me a subscription to the cooking magazine, “Bon Appetit,” for Christmas and I have consistently found recipes to try out in almost every issue that I have received. It arrived in the mail yesterday (thanks again, Anna!) and I saw a recipe that I wanted to make right away: “sippin” green gazpacho made with cucumbers!

This morning, I pulled together the ingredients: two large English cucumbers ($1.29 each at Trader Joe’s,) fresh arugula, fresh parsley and cilantro, wine vinegar, salt and extra virgin olive oil. It looked appetizing even before I put them into the large Cuisinart. I filled the processor to the brim with chopped cucumber, greens (fresh arugula, parsley, cilantro, basil leaves,) two large cloves of chopped garlic. Started the motor up and waited for the greens to emulsify and then added lots of Maldon salt, 4 tablespoons of wine vinegar and  3/4 cup of olive oil.

I opened it up and tasted a spoonful – a little grainy because I hadn’t peeled nor seeded the cucumbers but it was refreshing and tasty. I ran it a little longer and put in a little more vinegar and salt according to the recipe which advised it should be saltier and more acidic because when it cools down a few hours in the fridge, its taste will be more muted.

As I transferred it into a container to chill, I also put two glasses in the freezer to use when it is served. I might add a slice of fresh lime and some fresh basil leaves on top!

Wow! So easy and appetizing – plus, it could be a healthy substitute for lunch too!

zucchini cake with orange, ginger and pecans

The other day, I came across an interesting recipe on the NYTimes Food section. It was authored by Molly O’Neill and offered up a combination of zucchini, orange zest/juice and hazelnuts. I used chopped pecans in my cake this morning – and also made some other tweaks based on comments attached to the article. It’s baking in the oven now and there’s one more thing I noted about this recipe – it’s supposed to go in a tube pan (which I couldn’t find in the pantry) and is too little batter for a 9 X 13 baking pan, and too much for a loaf pan (soggy middle.) So, I used my trusty fluted white porcelain baking pan which seemed like just the right size!

Here’s my version:

In one bowl, mix together dry ingredients: 2 cups flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 3/4 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, heaping 1/2 cup of sugar (the NYT recipe called for 1 and 1/4 cups of sugar but most of the comments cut that amount in half.)

In another bowl, combine wet ingredients: 2 tsp. grated ginger root, 2 tsp. orange zest, 1/2 cup of orange juice, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, 2 eggs and 1 1/2 cups of grated zucchini (I squeezed out the juice and added a little more grated zucchini.)

Add mixed wet ingredients into dry and combine. My batter seemed a little dry so I added a little more orange juice. Chop up 1/2 cup of pecans (or toasted hazelnuts) and add to the mixture. Scrape batter into buttered pan and bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Test for doneness and leave in 5 minutes longer if needed.


super cheesecake pie! . . .

photo courtesy of NYTimes recipe

our cheesecake pie for dessert tonight!

Years ago, I made a refrigerator pie with a cream cheese filling. It was a favorite and I hadn’t made it in a long time. The other day, I saw a recipe on the NYTimes food chain provided by Amanda Hesser’s mother. It used a handmade Nabisco wafer crust with melted butter and cinnamon, 2 packages of cream cheese, 2 eggs, sugar and a sour cream topping.

I simplified it and used a prepared Nabisco oreo crust from the grocery store, brushed it with melted butter and sprinkled a little cinnamon on it. I baked the crust by itself at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes. I think this baking step makes the crust crisp so that later it can be cut easily and the cheesecake slice easy to lift out of the pan.

The filling is made by using a mixer and beating two eggs with the two packs of room temperature cream cheese. If it’s too cold, the little lumps are hard to whip out of the filling. Instead of 2/3rds cup of sugar, I used less and mixed it in with some vanilla before filling the cooled crust and baking for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

After the baked pie had a chance to cool, I stirred together 12 ounces of sour cream with about 2 tablespoons of sugar, spread it evenly on the top of the pie and baked it for 7 minutes in a 450 degree oven. I let it cool to room temperature and then put it in the fridge on a cork pad to chill for a few hours before serving.

As I mentioned above, it cuts cleanly and comes out of the pie pan easily. Plus, it tastes divine! It’s appetizing for a summer meal dessert and is so easy to make.

improv jasmine rice dish! . . .

Tonight, it’s a little less humid than it’s been, but it’s still pretty warm. At the local seafood mart, I settled for some frozen Cape scallops when the frozen crabmeat I usually buy there wasn’t the same brand – and it said “Jonah crab” – what’s that?!?

I didn’t want to make a heavy side dish to accompany the scallops, each little nugget worth its weight in gold, cooked in butter, garlic and fresh parsley – and I finally settled on making a rice pilaf kind of dish using jasmine rice. Instead of cooking it in a rice cooker, I found some tips to finely grate some fresh garlic and fresh ginger root into an olive oil, butter mixture in a pot with a lid. As it gave off its aroma, I measured in about 3/4 cup of jasmine rice and stirred it around in the pot until the grains were coated. Then, I added a cup and a half of hot chicken stock and stirred to combine. At the very end, I threw in a handful of golden raisins!

The rice cooked for awhile and I stirred it with a spatula so it wouldn’t stick. After it steamed for awhile and absorbed all of the broth, I stirred it again and lifted the lid for the rice to settle in and for the liquid to evaporate. I wasn’t sure how it would taste, but it was a hit – chewy grains of flavorful rice and plump golden raisins!

Very tasty! And as easy as could be to make!

spinach quiche – sort of. . .

Spinach is one of my favorite green vegetables. It requires rinsing/soaking in cold water, then drying and taking off the longest stems. I store the cleaned spinach in a large container with a paper towel over it. Today, I decided to make a quiche but in a slightly different way. Instead of making a pie shaped quiche, I used a fluted oval baking dish that I use at least once a week, buttered it and lined it with a sheet of puff pastry.

In a skillet, I sauteed some chopped shallot in butter, then added the spinach and cooked it down, adding a couple twists of grated nutmeg. Drained the spinach, chopped it up and layered it on the puff pastry sheet. A handful of shredded swiss cheese was sprinkled on top. Since the baking dish wasn’t very big, I beat four organic eggs with about a half cup of heavy cream, adding a pinch of sea salt. Once I poured the eggs into the quiche, I folded the pastry crust over the top, leaving room for the eggs to cook on their own.

In a 400 degree oven, the quiche cooked for about 35-40 minutes, puffed up and nicely golden brown on the top. After turning off the oven, I left the quiche to settle in the heat for about ten minutes. When we cut into it, it was like having a crostata or a calzone – except the pastry was light, layered and crispy.

On the side, we had a butter lettuce salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and carrots. Staying the course so far on eating less rich foods. . . but it isn’t easy.

a “macrobiotic” soup recipe of my own. . .

Since the beginning of this month, I’m resolved to hunker down to a healthier food regimen for the next eight weeks. As help for doing so, I’ve gone back to my macrobiotic books and cooking lifestyle that I encountered years ago when I wanted to recover from viral encephalitis. Western medicine couldn’t help me then except to admit that there wasn’t much they could do for virus infections except to let them run their course. So, I signed up for a macrobiotic cooking retreat at Kushi Institute out in western Massachusetts. At the time, I remember losing weight, eating a lot less and feeling healthier in general.

Now, it’s time to try it on again. What I would like to do is to incorporate flavor and a feeling of eating enjoyment to more stringent-seeming macrobiotic recipes. I know myself well enough to understand that too much austerity won’t last very long.

So today, on a glorious cool Sunday morning, I rescued vegetables from the fridge that needed to be used up – and made this vegetable soup. What I’m aiming for is a basic process for making vegetable soup that’s really tasty and that we won’t get tired of. Since macrobiotic cooking suggests that we eat a bowl of soup a day,  it seemed like a good idea to experiment with a basic soup I could make often, using whatever vegetables I have on hand.

Here’s what I put into my “mac soup” today:

chopped vidalia onion (a leftover piece)

chopped celery (ditto)

chopped organic carrots (leftover from making carrot/hijiki last night for dinner)

1 1/2 chopped roma tomatoes

collard greens (2 stalks with rib cut out and green parts sliced up)

1 medium zucchini (sliced lengthwise and then cut across in bite-size pieces)

a handful of fresh spinach (already washed and stems removed in the fridge)

chicken broth gelatin (Knorr – which I use as needed and store the remainder in a jiffy bag in the fridge)

spring water as broth making medium

After cooking for awhile (20 minutes,) I put a lid on the soup and turned the heat down to very low. It’s important to taste the broth after it’s had a chance to simmer awhile. If it’s too bland, you can add a little more chicken broth or dashi granules if you prefer. If it’s already too salty, then add more water to taste. Usually, I am cautious not to add too much sodium – either in the chicken broth gelatin, soy sauce or salt. After all, the sweetness of the vegetables in broth are what macrobiotic cooking might be after, isn’t it?

I was also considering whether to add some barley, rice or asian noodles (like somen or soba noodles) to the vegetable broth. Maybe some other time. We’ll just have it for lunch in its more basic form.

With the soup, I might make grilled muenster cheese sandwiches with sesame Ezekial sprouted bread. This flour-less bread can be found in the freezer section of health food groceries in many markets.  It’s also tasty as toast in the morning spread with cashew butter. Yum!




creamy corn polenta . . .

I’ve been experimenting with making polenta for a couple of weeks. At first, I was put off by recipes that said you had to stir it for an half hour over the stove. You don’t have to.

In August, I’ll use fresh corn kernels cut off Silver Queen or Butter & Sugar corn. In the meantime, I add a small can of creamed corn to enhance this dish. It’s yummy!

Here’s the recipe:

  1. Measure 1 cup spring water (not tap) and 1 cup milk or light cream in a non-stick skillet or pan. Bring to a boil.
  2. Gradually add 1/4 to 1/3 cup of fine yellow cornmeal (I use Quaker Oats brand.) I find that remembering it’s about a 4:1 ratio of liquid to cornmeal that helps not to have to look up the recipe each time.
  3. Stir until the cornmeal is blended well with the liquid. Cook over medium heat until it bubbles and thickens slightly. Keep stirring – usually takes about 10 minutes which goes by quickly.
  4. When the polenta has thickened and cooked for about 15 minutes from when you started, take it off the heat and open a small can of creamed corn. With the pan still off the heat, add the creamed corn and stir it into the polenta and mix well (gently.)
  5. Add a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter and stir to melt.
  6. Add about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
  7. Let the mixture cool at room temperature. Taste for seasoning – I added some sea salt because it was rather bland – up to you.
  8. Serve warm in small plates as a side dish.

This creamy corn polenta goes well with grilled kielbasa or barbecued chicken – and a green salad with a tangy vinaigrette. Enjoy!


banana bread . . .

Today, I had two very tired looking bananas in the fridge and rather than waste them, I decided to make a recipe from my trusty McCall’s cookbook that I bought before I was married (the first time) eons ago.

I scrounged around in the pantry and came upon two packs of opened glazed salad pecan bits which would add richness and dress up the top of the loaf when it’s baked. Here’s the rest of the recipe:

  1. Soften 1/2 stick of unsalted butter in a mixing bowl; add 1 cup of sugar, 1 egg and beat with an electric mixer until creamed together.
  2. Measure out a scant cup of milk and fill to 1 cup total with some orange juice and set aside.
  3. Peel bananas and trim dark spots – cut the fruit into small pieces into the creamed mixture; beat the mixture until bananas are incorporated and smooth.
  4. Add the milk/orange liquid into the bowl and combine. If I had a navel orange in the fridge, I would have zested it and added the orange zest (next time!)
  5. Measure 2 1/2 cups flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, large pinch of salt and mix it well with the rest of the ingredients.
  6. When the batter looks combined, stop the mixer and add some of the glazed pecans and stir by hand.
  7. In a buttered bread pan, spoon the batter, smooth the top and sprinkle the remaining glazed pecans across the top.
  8. In a preheated oven at 350 degrees, bake the banana bread for 60 minutes or a few minutes more, testing the center with a toothpick for doneness.

Smells heavenly, baking on a rainy, damp, New England day!