Monday, November 26, 2007

Quinoa Risotto on the Fly

Aw yeah, I love those kitchen gods and goddesses. Tonight was one of those “Shit-I’m-hungry-what-the-hell-could-I-possibly-throw-together-with-what-I-have-in-the-house?” kind of nights…the kind of night that also occurs in the midst of my frantically trying to complete my cranking out of 50,000 words this month (and happily I am up to 43,351 as of this very moment!).

So there I was, starving and in a hurry. And then this magical recipe happened. And while I am surely not the first to make quinoa risotto, I was darn pleased with the results, cause I don’t usually whip up things like this without lots of planning and grocery shopping.

Here is how I did it, and I have to give credit to my dear friends Steve Lucky and Miss Carmen Getit for recently bestowing me with a fat bag of dried porcini mushrooms – a key ingredient in this recipe!

First, I sautéed half a yellow onion in some olive oil with a little slab of butter. While that was sautéing, I dry-toasted the quinoa in a separate pan (don’t forget to rinse your quinoa well, boys and girls!).

While the two skillets were doing their respective thangs, I soaked a fat handful of said dried porcinis in hot water. Then after about 10 minutes, I took the porcinis out of the water (being careful to reserve the water!) and coarsely chopped them and added them to the onions, along with a couple splashes of Madeira wine. That sautéed for a few minutes and when the onions and mushrooms were golden brown, I added the toasted quinoa, plus the reserved mushroom water (about enough to cover the quinoa by an inch or so) and a fat splash of half & half. Topped it with a couple sprinklings of fresh grated nutmeg, and brought to a boil. Then I lowered the heat to a mild simmer, put a lid on it and ran back upstairs and typed another couple hundred words, because I heart multi-tasking and I am insane!

After about 10 minutes, the liquid had mostly been absorbed and the quinoa was close to being done. At this point I added a couple handfuls of frozen peas and a little more mushroom water. Then I chopped a little bit of aged gouda cheese and added it to the pot, along with a handful of parmesan cheese. Turned up the heat and gave it all a good stir so the cheese would melt. Added salt and pepper, scooped it into a bowl and devoured it as I wrote these very words you are reading.

I am really digging this because it’s rich tasting but not as heavy as risotto made with Arborio rice, and it’s exactly the kind of comfort food I was craving tonight. And it's high in protein, too. It’s nice when this sort of magic happens. Thank you, kitchen spirits.

Monday, November 19, 2007

And On That Note...

My recent obsession with Merle Haggard inspired a friend to buy the 4 CD Box set. This friend was kind enough to pass along this little quote from Merle:

"Probably the happiest moments of my life have been on stage, playing music. I can be living a life with all kinds of problems, but when I step on stage, everything is left behind. The stage is kind of a refuge for me, and it always has been. Over the years, I've climbed inside my music when things went wrong. I still do that. My music is where I really live."

Beautifully put, Merle. And yeah, I second that notion.

I can remember a time around two years ago when I was in the midst of every kind of pain. My body hurt and my emotions were raw and my will was slipping and I seriously did not know how I was going to find my way out of it. I had a gig that evening and I spent many hours that day crying, the kind of sobs that just take over your body. And it seemed the longer I cried, the more tears I found I needed to shed. I was utterly inconsolable. And the hours passed and my eyes grew more swollen and I felt like there was no fucking way I was going to be able to make it to this gig, to get on stage and act like a normal person.

But somehow, I managed to put ice packs on my eyes to get the swelling to go down, and with a little help from my friends, I was able to drag myself to the show. Cause the show must go on, after all!

And once I got there, I swear that I went from sitting at a table feeling wrecked with pain, to on stage singing and completely transformed. For that 40 minutes that I was up there singing, every bit of pain left me. It's like I became someone completely different than the person I had spent the whole day being. Very cool, and something that I've noticed happens to me almost every time I am on stage. Climbing inside the music, indeed. That Merle knows a thing or two about living.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Perfection is Two Chords, an Empty Bottle and a Broken Heart

This song has been floating around my consciousness for the longest time now, and I finally found the impetus to learn it, thanks to my friend Berge. The song is the classic hit by Merle Haggard "Tonight the Bottle Let me Down". Berge busted it out at our little friend Monique's first birthday party last week, along with Lucio, our friends Steve & Patsy (parents to the lovely Monique) and a few others.

Berge played this song and I thought "... my God, I've been wanting to learn that song FOREVER...", and I must have said as much. And Berge said (or rather, exclaimed in amazement) "...It's TWO CHORDS...!" which I had never actually considered. The song is a BONA FIDE CLASSIC HIT, one of the greatest country hits of all time in my opinion, and it is so very simple in both its sentiment and its structure. So simple and painful and funny and just cutting straight to the heart. It's everything I love in a song.

Tonight I learned how to play it and now that I have, I don't know how I can possibly leave it off my next album, which will be all covers. I can hardly wait to start recording it even though I'm not quite ready yet. But the holidays are coming and time seems to speed up right about now. So I'm sure the time to record will be here before I know it.

In the meantime, you'll probably find me hunched over in my chair with my guitar in my arms singin' this:

The Bottle Let Me Down
Merle Haggard

Each night I leave the barroom when it's over
Not feeling any pain at closing time
But tonight your memory found me much too sober
Couldn't drink enough to keep you off my mind

Tonight the bottle let down
and let your memory come around
The one true friend I thought I'd found
Tonight the bottle let down

I've always had a bottle I could turn to
And lately I've been turning everyday
But the wine don't take effect the way it used to
And I'm hurting in an old familiar way


Tonight the bottle let me down...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Novel Writing, Chicken Roasting, and the To-Do List.

Note to self (and anyone else out there who may be reading this):

Blogging is fun. Writing songs is fun. Listening to music is fun. Playing music is fun. Roasting chicken is fun. Attempting to write a novel is not fun. Not even close.

Yeah so lest you may think that I've gotten swallowed up by this "novel" thing, I'm here to dispel some myths (and also procrastinate on actually attempting to up my word count). So far, I've written 15,364 words. I'm pretty sure that most of them are shit. It started out as a novel with a very, very vague theme that could not even be called a plot. And it morphed into some character sketches, and morphed again into not even a novel, not even fiction, just me blathering on and on and on about what a stupid idea this was in the first place.

My attention span is short. Songs are short. Blog entries are short. Novels are long and I am not one of the people who writes them. Do you follow me? I hope so cause I lost myself a couple of lines back. I was busy obsessing over roasting chickens and making a to-do list that looked something like this:

1. Learn how to roast chicken; investigate vertical roasting racks.
2. Clean and organize office.
3. Write 3,000 words today.

So tonight I logged on to write a few words about roasting chicken and my new vertical roasting contraption that kicks ASS (and of course, roasting chicken was the only thing on my to-do list that I came close to accomplishing today!).

And then I discovered this blog. And I perused it and I laughed and laughed and laughed as my chicken in pomegranate molasses roasted away in the oven. I made mental note to write more about that later. I made mental note to get back to the actual things on my to-do list.

I laughed and laughed as I looked around my office which is filled with piles and microphones and toy keyboards and amplifiers and sequined dresses and cowboy boots and speaker cables and scraps of paper with phone numbers, lyric bits, song arrangements, recipes, notes that say things like "taxes!", "pay attention!", "prescription" "swim" and "back up files!".

I laughed at all the lists that I have made only to discover them six months later under a pile of "things that I've been meaning to attend to". I remembered a book called "The Power of Focus" that my dear sister gave me a couple years ago, which I would frequently misplace and occasionally rediscover under one of those insidious piles.

So much for my focus. So much for my novel. I don't care. The chicken is just about ready to come out of the oven, the house is warm and smells intoxicating, and tonight, that's enough for me.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

We Interrupt our Regular Programming to say...

... "pardon me, I'm writing a novel...!".

Did you know it's National Novel Writing Month? Well, it is, and, however badly, I am participating. So forgive the meager postings this month. I've just finished more than 9,000 words in 6 days. 9,000 words that so far, I'm not planning to share with a soul.

Don't ask me why I've felt compelled to write a novel. Or if you do, I'd tell you it has something to do with pushing myself beyond my comfort zone and trying out a different medium. I'd also tell you that so far, it's not all that satisfying to be writing the things I've been writing.

And, if pressed, I might also tell you that I'm going to continue in spite of this, and that once I reach the fifty-thousandth word, I'm going to print it and throw the pages one by one into my fireplace and watch them burn. And I am never going to look back.

Ha ha, I might tell you these things, or I might not. I might tell you that it's all fiction and that I have no idea how I've come to find this voice that I've found myself writing in. It's a strange and uncomfortable place to find myself, but this is where I am. And, like our old pal Forest Gump, "that's about all I have to say about that right now...".

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Canned Enchilada Sauce? We Don't Need no stinking Canned Enchilada Sauce!

I recently made enchiladas for a client who is not big on enchiladas, and made a believer out of her!

The actual enchilada recipe is the wickedly good one from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, featuring a savory, slightly sweet, velvety mixture of goat cheese, toasted pine nuts, golden raisins and sweet corn.

The sauce however, is my own creation, and it got rave reviews so I thought I'd post it. It takes a bit of work but it's worth it. Bring your patience and your spice grinder, and of course, your appetite!

First, take about 6 fat cloves of garlic and don't peel them. Heat up a dry skillet.

Roast the garlic in the pan until it's blackened all over. Then let it cool and peel it. Throw it into the food processor or blender.

Now, roast these spices, one at a time, in the same hot skillet:

-about 1 1/2 t. cumin seeds
-about 1/4 t. black peppercorns
- about 1/4 t. whole cloves

Take the spices and grind them, one at a time, in a spice grinder (or very clean coffee grinder).

Now, pour the spicy goodness into the food processor where your garlic is waiting.

Now, add some ancho chile powder (as much or little as you like, depending on heat - I used about 1 teaspoon) and a pinch or two of dried oregano.

Now pour in a teeny bit of water or vegetable or chicken stock, just enough to wet it so it'll make a paste when you process it.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a sauce pan and scrape the paste into the pan and stir constantly for a few minutes. Doesn't that smell good?!

Now you're ready to add a little more stock (maybe about a cup) and one 14 oz. can of tomato sauce (I like Muir Glenn organic).

Simmer for a little while to blend flavors, add salt to taste and if you like it more spicy, add more ancho chile powder.

It's a little time consuming, but very good! I advise making a double or triple batch and freezing what you don't use.