Thursday, June 28, 2007

Soon to be Yellowstone-bound...

... and boy, I can hardly wait! Deep blue skies, shiny stars, clear air, my dear pal Miss NoNo, our dogs, Miss NoNo's mom Ann, no less than 4 gourmet chefs in the kitchen, copious amounts of wine, sleeping late, hiking, and best of all, exploring one of the most beautiful places these United States have to offer (is that correct grammar??!).

Two words: OH YEAH!

I'll probably drop a line or two before then, since I'm not leaving till next week. But damn, I do believe that my mind has already started vacation.....and that's all I have to report tonight!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Greek Meets Italian equals the Perfect Salad for a Summer Night

It's been real hot lately, causing me to have some fleeting moments of feeling totally uninspired to cook. I hate that! Especially when I just spent more than $100 on groceries!

But alas, last night was one of those nights.

So it's a good thing I happened to have all sorts of half-filled jars and containers of this and that in the fridge, plus a few staples like cucumbers and tomatoes, because before I knew it, I had a beautiful, refreshing, delicious salad that required very little effort to put together.

And here is how it came to be:

First, I chopped a few roma tomatoes and half an armenian cucumber into nice chunky bite-sized bits. Then, I emptied the contents of half a jar of kalamata olives and sliced them, sending them on their merry way to mingle with the cucumbers and tomatoes.

Next, I remembered that some time ago I'd made pickled red onions, which have a very long shelf life, because they're pickled, duh! Into the bowl they went.

I was just about to use the last of some crumbled feta that had been sitting around waiting for me to notice it, when a chunk of fresh mozarella obscured my vision and planted crazy ideas in my mind! So instead of the feta, I cut the mozarella into chunks, and added it to the salad along with slivers of fresh basil and mint...because fresh herbs make most everything better, especially salads!

Fortunately, I had a nice big jar of citrus vinaigrette that I'd just made the night before, so I tossed the salad with a little of that, plus a generous sprinkling of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. And now, 5 minutes after I began, my work was done. If only all of life were so simple, yielding such tantalizing results....

Monday, June 25, 2007

Let's get Back to the Spinach & Pluot Salad, shall we?


Last week's festivities just kicked my ass. By the time Saturday rolled around, I was blotto. Gone, daddy gone. It was a day of recovery. Sometimes that is simply what a person needs.

And it's a good thing I rested on Saturday, because by the time Sunday arrived, I was fully ready to spend the day shopping, chopping, zesting, squeezing, pureeing, and grilling the day away.

The day's activities included homemade peach ice cream, vegan oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, steamed beets & beet greens with citrus vinaigrette, and grilled tofu & shitake mushrooms with homemade muhammara*. I made sure to make extra citrus vinaigrette to go with this salad I'm going to be eating a lot of this week.

This salad is an adaptation of a recipe from a recent issue of Food & Wine magazine. I've included the exact proportions for the dressing here:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
Coarse sea salt, preferably red
Coarsely crushed black pepper

Now here, the recipe called for drizzling this divine dressing over a combination of baby spinach, basil leaves and plum slices. And it is unbelievably good exactly like that.

However, you can easily substitute arugula for the spinach, and fresh mint slivers for the basil. And it's oh-so-nice with a little crumbled feta. And of course, good old plums are perfectly acceptable, but pluots just put it over the top. So go ahead and be creative! Use what you've got! Make up your own combination! Throw in a light sprinkling of toasted walnuts, go right ahead! Have fun. Eat your greens. Just make sure to save room for dessert.

*More about muhammara later!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sweet Success

Well, I've only been talking about it for a week. And I finally did it: I made my very first batch of the most

homemade chocolate ice cream.

I've heard it said that once you make your own, you can never go back to the store bought kind. And now, I am a believer, thanks in part to the clear-as-a-bell instructions in the awesome book The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz. He talks about this particular recipe being the one that ended his search for the perfect chocolate ice cream, and now that I've tried it, I can see (and taste!) what he means.

One thing I love about following recipes is that usually, if you follow the directions, you get good results. You get what you expect and hope for. Sometimes what you get exceeds your expectations. I find this so incredibly comforting, not unlike chocolate ice cream.

So much of life is uncertain and comes with no recipe or tour guide. I feel like I spend the great majority of my time trying different approaches and bouncing off the walls, as if my life were taking place inside a pinball machine. Sometimes I hit it just right, and other times, I just bounce around randomly. It's certainly never boring, but I feel frequently bewildered. That's why a single moment of culinary perfection is so utterly satisfying. Sweet success indeed.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Homemade Ice Cream, and Pearls of Wisdom from my Dad...


This one's for you. Even though we just got off the phone, I can't help but reiterate that I wish you were here tonight to enjoy my very first batch of homemade ice cream. Knowing that it's over 100 degrees in the Phoenix area right now, I can't help but think that this would so hit the spot for you. I went with the deep, dark chocolate flavor for my maiden voyage with the new ice cream maker. It is churning its chocolate-y magic as I write these words.

There are so many reasons why I am thankful for you, Dad - not the least of which is all the ways you've helped to instill in me a deep appreciation of food. People, you need to taste my dad's meatballs and homemade pasta! How lucky am I that I got to grow up eating this stuff??

Dad, I wish I could enjoy a plate of pasta with you right now, and a glass of spicy red wine. And THEN after that, we could eat the homemade chocolate ice cream!

Another thing you taught me is the simple practice of common courtesy. You taught me to always say "hello, goodbye, please and thank you". This simple but essential practice has stayed with me throughout my life and still serves me well to this day.

I still remember so fondly how when I and my siblings were small and had already gone to sleep, you'd wake us up to eat popcorn and watch Johnny Carson. This was important business! You can't sleep when there's fresh popcorn in the house!

And it wasn't that long ago in fact, that I was whining about my love life (or lack thereof), feeling really lonely. It was you who told me that maybe it was just less complicated that way. Well, the jury is still out on that one, but I sure am glad that I can talk to you about such matters, and always appreciative of the wisdom that you share with me. Hell, I'm happy that I am lucky enough to have two parents who love me and have always been there for me. That is never something to take for granted.

So happy Fathers Day, Dad! The ice cream is still churning, just like the wheels in my head. I do look forward to the day that I can make homemade ice cream for you and Mom, and we can eat it out on your patio on a 90 degree summer evening in the desert, under deep blue, star-filled summer skies.

Until then, I am sending my love...

If I were in Charge...

... people like Joe Rut, the High Diving Horses, and Yard Sale would be famous.

Joe Rut would be like one of those people whose songs get covered by the likes of Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello, and whose own shows would swarm with thousands of rabid fans. And I'd still be performing at his special living room concerts, singing harmony on that beautiful stage.

The High Diving Horses would be like as famous as Beck, rocking the festivals and the airwaves, with every last damn person in the crowd singing along. When they played their hometown gigs, I'd be their special guest bass player and we'd sing in 3 part-harmony.

People all across the world would be baking pies to the sweet, soothing, down home 3-part harmonies of Yard Sale. Denise, Mel & Jill would make tons of money just for being amazing songwriters and delightful singers and entertainers.

Also.... if I were in charge, everyone would have minimal aches and pains, and plentiful home cooked meals with the ones they love. And lots of time to nap. Everyone would have a high quality stereo with Joe Rut, the High Diving Horses, and Yard Sale in their record collection. All of this just for starters. And this is just the tip of the iceburg, my friends!

What if you were in charge? What would we eat, drink, and listen to???? Come on... I know you're out there. Comment anonymously if you wish, but make your voices heard, won't you?

Inquiring minds would like to know.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tamales, Ice Cream, and the Further Destruction of George


I'm too exhausted and delirious to write very much. It's been a long and fruitful, sleepless, exciting, draining, inspiring, utterly manic week. I am all too happy to spend Friday night with my butt parked on the couch, reading my newly acquired books: Tamales 101 and The Perfect Scoop,
while Miss Spider happily continues her job of tearing poor old George to bits.

Thanks to Bob & Magali for leaving Spider the gift that keeps on giving!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Summer, Slaw, and a Big Sigh of Relief

My life is like a rollercoaster. When I'm down, I'm WAY down in the bottom of the well. But when I'm up, damnit it's a glorious thing.

Take today for instance. After a long stretch of having lots of physical pain and back issues, I FINALLY woke up feeling good.

And after work, for the first time in weeks, I felt strong enough to take a good, long hike in the redwoods. And suddenly, everything in my world felt right again. This whole day has been like one long sigh of relief.

After my hike, I whipped up a perfect light salad for a summer evening, which I adapted from the most awesome cookbook Super Natural Cooking that I recently picked up (check out the recipe for Crunchy Slaw Salad - I adapted it by using both green and red cabbage, and added a tiny bit of finely diced jalapenos, and a few sprigs of cilantro).

Then, I hauled my sweaty self, along with a bag of food and other treats, over to a friend's house. This friend has been feeling a little under the weather and I wanted deliver a little summertime sunshine (and hell, I gotta do that while I've got it, cause who knows when I'll fall back into the well???).

As I was headed over, the air was warm and blustery, and the sky was pink and grey and blue and intoxicating, and I couldn't think of anywhere else I'd rather be, or anything else I'd rather be doing.

After a short but sweet visit with said Friend (and two other Friends whom I adore and who happen to live there too, one of them being furry and four-legged!), they sent me home with freshly baked brownies. And as I got into my car & drove West, the clock read 9:18 pm, and the sky was just barely turning deep dark blue above me, and ahead of me far in the distance, the sun was just fading away, leaving a beet-red smear on the horizon. I rolled the windows down and let the warm air rush in, and yes, it truly was a glorious thing.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Short Attention Span

As I write this, I've got a strawberry-rhubarb pie in the oven, beets steaming on the stove, Schubert playing on the stereo in the kitchen, and KALX on the radio in the bedroom.

I don't know what to tell you about first - my short but sweet visit over the weekend with Bob Wiseman and his wonderful wife Magalie, or my personal chef gig debacle on Saturday in which I accidentally left the uncooked fava beans that I was using to weight the pastry crust IN the quiche!

And what about that dang recipe for arugula and mint salad with pluots and feta in citrus vinaigrette?

And hell, did anyone even notice this evening that the sky was still light tonight at 9 pm?

God I love summer!

Yesterday I baked apple pie, and tonight it's strawberry-rhubarb. Yesterday's pie was a test...

and couldn't hold a candle to the famous apple pies that Lucio Loud makes, but hell, it wasn't bad either.

Tonight's pie is being baked as an offering to the KALX DJ Meaty Paws, on behalf of Loretta Lynch, who'll be live in his studio tomorrow evening. Tune in around 10 pm California time, and you just might hear some siren sounds.

But, I digress. Pie is tricky stuff, as I am learning. But learning can be so much fun, and so delicious in the process!

Magalie and Bob left me with some lovely parting gifts, one of which was a George W. Bush squeaky toy for my dog Spider to destroy.

Actually, they left it for both Spider and Dean, but Spider was very selfish and simply wouldn't share poor George.

And speaking of short attention spans, I fear the strawberry-rhubarb pie may be burning, and the beets turning to mush, so I better get my ass back into the kitchen.

To be continued...

Reunited and it Feels so Good...

.... oh yeah. That about sums it up. There is much, much more to report. But right now, my coffee awaits me.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Pluots Make me Happy

It's that time again...pluots are in season! Pluots are "a complex cross hybrid of plum and apricot, being 3/4 plum and 1/4 apricot in parentage". Or so says Wikipedia.

Juicy and lovely ruby red - the color alone is enough to make me swoon.

I like to eat them alone, but I also love to eat them in salads.

The one I cut up for my salad tonight was so striking that I couldn't stop taking pictures.

And the taste is succulent and sweet as nectar. A simply perfect offering.

Later I will post the recipe for the salad I had tonight, featuring baby arugula, pluot, fresh mint slivers, feta, and a citrus-balsamic vinaigrette. It's the kind of salad that makes me happy to be alive.

I'm a simple kind of gal. Like my dog Spider, feed me and I'll love you more. Never mind that I fed myself tonight. Plenty of love to go around! Stay tuned for the recipe.

Right now, I gotta go see my friend Bob Wiseman play. He's finally in town, and he and his wife Magalie are staying at my house even! I wish they could've been here to enjoy this salad with me. But with any luck, there will be some juicy pluot slices in the fruit salad that I'm making them for breakfast before I rush off to do a personal chef gig where I'll be making brunch for 12. Yikes! I'm being hired to make brunch for 12 tomorrow morning! May the quiche fairies smile upon me.

Wish me luck! And go find a pluot and eat one right now!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

When I am 69...

... I want to still be slinging the guitar, like Cordell Jackson.

The singer, songwriter, guitarist, engineer, producer, label owner, and rockabilly pioneer put it perfectly herself when she said...

"If I want to wang dang rock 'n' roll at 69 years old dressed up in an antebellum dress, it ain't nobody's business but mine.".

Enough said.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Life without Coffee

I miss my coffee. It's been 5 days now. Shouldn't I be waking up all bright eyed and bushy tailed? Instead, this is how I feel:

Of course, I used to feel that way every morning anyway. But then, I would stumble into the kitchen, put the water on to boil, pour copious amounts of Cole coffee into my little gold filter, and before too long, I was like a happy little junkie. All was right in the world.

But now, mornings feel all surreal and I feel disoriented. In fact, that feeling carries on into the day. I keep waiting for the day when I'll wake up and just feel good. And if that day doesn't come soon, then those 3 days of caffeine withdrawal headaches will have been for nothing, cause I'm going back on the coffee.

At least now, I've proven to myself that I can stop. Granted, it was hellish. But I did it. I wouldn't want to have to go through that again, so maybe I'll just decide once and for all that I'm never giving up coffee again. Next time I get a bright idea like this, somebody please slap me.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Last Supper

Ok, it wasn't the last, not by any stretch of the imagination. But it WAS the last completely indulgent meal I'll be having for awhile. No shaky hands today, and although I do have a caffeine withdrawal headache that feels like someone driving nails into my head, I feel otherwise alright.

I'm still a little giddy from the meal I had at Aziza last night with a small posse of my friends from work. The restaurant is beautiful inside, and every single dish was exquisite. Seriously! Moroccan cuisine is so alluring, with an artful way of combining spices and fruits and herbs. It's the kind of food that just thrills and inspires me.

I have long been drawn to this type of cuisine, although I've never really gone out to eat it before! So, you might as well start with the best place in town, and that is exactly what we did.

We tried many different dishes from the menu, with ingredients like saffron broth, green olives, preserved Meyer lemons, cumin-orange glaze, mint sauce, cranberry-cumin couscous....oh just go look at their menu and see for yourself. Or better yet, go eat there!

Our after dinner tea combined fresh lemon verbena and crysanthemum leaves with rose petals, and it practically made me swoon! Dessert was cayenne-chocolate custard. Oh god, I was so full already, but I couldn't help myself.

So yes, I think this just might be my new favorite restaurant. Go eat there and tell me what you think. Or better yet, wait till I finish my detox diet and then take me with you!!