"Things won are done,
Joy's Soul lies in the Doing."
- William Shakespeare

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Communal Gratitude

Nope, I'm not part of a commune.  I am, however, feeling pretty grateful to be part of such a cool community of people.  Looking around at the folks at yoga last night, I was thinking how awesome it is to know so very many amazing, lovely people.  And this led me to think on the fact that, wherever we have lived and traveled throughout the big, wide world, we have been incredibly lucky to cross paths with some serious gems of people.

I don't think I'm especially karmically deserving to have the good fortune to constantly get to know these treasures.  I'm definitely not one of those souls, of whom it is said, "She's just such a good person."  Not that I'm a bad person, just rather human.  It might be more likely said of me, "She feeds us well,"  or "That girl mixes a decent drink,"  or "She can make me laugh."  And to be honest, probably "She is rather free with her opinions."  But somehow, I keep being lucky enough to meet all these wonderful folks.

The yoga classes, Girls' Nights, dinner parties, impromptu gatherings of friends...they all make life so much fun.

So thanks, friends, for being in my life, and allowing me to be a little part of yours, because hey, we do know how to have a good time, and that, for me, is what it's all about.  I feel pretty blissed, and blessed, on the whole deal.

And PS - I've heard from quite a few folks that they've had trouble leaving comments on this here blog.  I think, cross fingers, that I've gotten it sorted out.  So, comment away!

Cheers, me dears!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Time to Shake Things Up

It's Spring.  Time to dust off the old brainpan, blow those cobwebs off boring old routines and long-indulged habits.  Remember in the last post, when I mentioned the wind bringing a feeling of change, something new in the air? Well, something new has arrived, and it definitely wasn't Mary Poppins blown in on her umbrella, jaunty hat askew.

Looking back over my life, I realize that I have a knack for seeking out a new path, whenever the current one feels a little worn and predictable.  And sometimes, I even surprise myself with the transformation.  In the past, this need to shake things up has resulted in taking off, solo, with a backpack and not very much in the savings account, to Europe.  It's resulted in meeting an amazing man, and getting married in Gibraltar, with a couple of English scuba divers we grabbed on the street to be our witnesses.  It's meant packing up and moving countries a fair few times, pretty much on a whim.  It's had us a buy a seriously dilapidated cabin on the mountain, to experience the joys and tortures of renovation.  And now, dear friends, it has me doing something really crazy.

The mister and I had a rare, and therefore precious, date night, on Friday, and went out for a meal.  While enjoying my salmon satay, I looked over at his wild boar, and mountain lamb, and said to him (whilst wiping a little drool from my mouth, and confusion from my brow), "I do believe I'm going to try some of that."  He smiled and passed me a bite.  (He pretty much takes all of my wild whims in good stride.)  And I ate it.  I ate boar, and lamb, of all things.  I know this may not sound crazy to some, but let me backtrack a bit here, and explain.

At age 15, I read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and renounced meat.  Ever a sucker for a cause, I went at it wholeheartedly, and likely obnoxiously, lecturing friends and family on my newfound righteousness.  Eventually, I let the annoying righteous thing go, because that does get old after all, and just enjoyed my mostly vegetarian fare (mostly because even I, in all my self-righteous glory, could never go long without seafood.  Oh no.).

And here we are, 20 years into a pretty set land-meat-free lifestyle (although since being pregnant with my daughter, I do eat the occasional bird...she made me do it!), when all of a sudden, I found myself wondering just what I was missing.  And lamenting the fact that I've lived in and traveled through some places where I really, really could have sampled some good stuff...France, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand...But no regrets allowed.  Surely being an herbivore in countries where it wasn't so easy to be, helped me learn to cook creatively, and make the most of some amazingly fresh and simple ingredients.  But now, people, perhaps I've grown a little bored of the expected (well, I never grow bored of good food), or at least have grown weary of being the same old me. Hey, why not stir it up?

I'm not saying I'm converting to a meat and potatoes kind of thing, here.  I'm not even sure I'm going to start cooking meat regularly, or at least not quite yet.  But who knows?  There is, after all, a whole world of good food out there, that I may have to sink my teeth into from time to time.  I'll still be choosy about what we eat, avoiding animals that have faced cages and cattle prods...no early onset puberty or cancer for me and mine, thanks.  Never fear, I've still got my soapbox, and things are looking just fine from up here!

You see, in amongst quite a number of vegetarian cookbooks, there are a fair few recipes for meat.  We shall see.

The mister and I woke up Saturday morning, and I found myself looking into the fridge, planning breakfast.  A bit of this, a bit of that.  I grabbed the eggs, some asparagus and goat cheese, a little parsley, and what's this? Proscuitto? I hear that goes quite nicely with asaparagus.  And it is Spring, after all. Let's do this thing.

Slow-cooked Scrambled Eggs with Asparagus, Chevre, and Proscuitto
serves 2

6 free range, organic eggs
An ounce or two of chevre, crumbled
A slice or two of proscuitto
A few stalks of asparagus, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute, chilled in cold water, and dried on a towel, then chopped into bite size lengths
1/3 cup milk
Handful of parsley, chopped
1 1/2 Tbs unsalted butter

Whisk the eggs and milk, and salt and pepper.  Heat 1 Tbs butter in a frying pan over low to medium low heat.  Pour in the eggs and cook, very gently, whisking frequently, to keep large cooked bits from forming.  Once the eggs have turned into an oatmeal-y consistency, turn off the heat.  In the name of all that is holy and right, do not overcook your eggs!  They may look underdone to you, but have a little faith.  Turn that heat off and mix in the goat cheese (chevre), asparagus, proscuitto, and remaining 1/2 Tbs of butter. Top with parsley, and serve with toast.

Enjoy with your loved one.  Creamy, luscious eggs laced with salty goat cheese and proscuitto?  My husband is liking this transition, quite a lot.  I even got flowers out of the deal.  Not bad, not bad at all.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

On a Mission

It's good to have a mission, isn't it?  Gives a little sense of clarity, of purpose, to an otherwise ordinary day.  And the brilliant thing is, it doesn't even have to be an especially important-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things sort of mission.  Which is just perfect for me.

Yesterday's mission:  get ourselves out in the sunshine for a wee while, without getting blown away.  I'm telling you, it was blowing a hooley out there.  There's something about a wind storm, though, isn't there, that makes you feel as if a little change may be in the air.  (Now, if that change is a power outage, and a bunch of debris to clean up, it's maybe not the best sort.  I'm thinking more along the lines of Mary Poppins, or maybe something slightly less prissy and erm, Disney-esque.)  Anyhow, the mission:  play in the sun, avoid losing a child on a hefty gale.

How awesome is that view in the background there?  I freaking love this mountain.  Despite the fact that I miss living at the beach, sometimes achingly so, these mountains come in for a pretty close second.

Mission successful, I'd say.  Lost no one on an updraft, and everyone left with a huge smile, albeit some new dreads thanks to that wind.

And one other mission I'm on: 

I drove past this teeny, tiny sign the other day, yanked the steering wheel hard to turn, tires nearly squealing as I rounded the corner (you know I like my eggs), and began a hunt for the house selling eggs.  At the risk of Devin being late to go play with her buddy.  For eggs.  Sadly, to no avail.  I did find a house with a rather huge amount of chickens (wandering free, oh yay!), which logic would dictate that there should be my eggs.  But there was no sign on the house, and I couldn't decide...do I go knock on the door?  Will the insane gleam of excitement (over eggs, for God's sake, people!) frighten some little old couple into phoning the authorities?  Will all those chickens in the yard attack, they too being frightened by my manic egg-stealing fever?  Hm.  I'm going to try again.  Maybe they were just out. 

Have a lovely day.  May you too find a fun mission, perhaps stir things up a bit. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Le Grand Aioli

In an effort to redeem myself after the last, sort of, well, maybe, shall I say, half-arsed post, I've got something pretty darn tasty to share.  Having just finished reading A Pig in Provence, by Georgeanne Brennan, for the second time, I got inspired to make Le Grand Aioli, an Aioli Feast, that is.

Now, I will confess to being slightly intimidated about making my own aioli. After all, in addition to using raw eggs, which we Americans are made to feel is akin to voluntarily poisoning yourself (and your husband and children in my case), and the copious amounts of olive oil which we are made to fear, picturing our insides clogging up and our outsides turning into lumpy, soft mounds of fat...in addition to these, there is the risk of going to all the effort, only to end up with a broken aioli.  And that, my friends, scared me far more than some silly salmonella, or clogged arteries.  Broken?!  Mais non! (The process by which an aioli, just like mayonnaise, is made requires that raw egg yolks are bound with the olive oil, to create a rich, thick dip.  A broken one just means that it didn't bind properly, and I guess it turns out thin and runny.  I have heard that to remedy this, you can add a small piece of cooked potato, and re-whisk it.)

Fortunately, nothing broke, not even my arm from whisking.  And no food poisoning whatsoever.  It remains to be seen how our arteries are doing. What's life without a bit of risk though?  Ha!  I laugh in the face of danger!

Anyway, here's how I did it, following Georgeanne Brennan's directions:

Begin by crushing four cloves of garlic and a pinch of coarse sea salt (mine was a fairly hefty pinch) in a mortar and pestle, to make a smooth paste.

Turn the paste into a large bowl and add three, preferably free-range, organic (outwitting the raw egg dangers, after all) egg yolks, and whisk it together. Drop by drop, ever so slowly, drizzle in a half a cup of olive oil, whisking continuously, so that the egg binds properly with the oil.  Know this, folks, I cheated a bit here, and used my little electric hand held immersion blender, which has a whisk attachment.  Fearful that my manual whisking abilities would not be up to snuff, you see.  Turns out, they were, and that cord just kept getting the way, so I did end up whisking by hand before long.  So what if I have Popeye muscles in one arm now?  We're making aioli here!

Once your aioli begins to thicken, and looks nice and bound, you can add another half a cup olive oil, steadily drizzling it in while whisking the entire time.  (This is somewhat tricky, as the bowl wanted to spin away, but I grabbed my ever-helpful daughter, to hold it still.)  Whisk just until the aioli is nice and stiff.

Et voila!  You have, in under ten minutes, made an authentic, gorgeously garlicky, green tinged, French aioli!  Seriously, it took no time at all! (Never mind the splatters of olive oil all over myself and the countertops.)

And was it tasty?  Mais oui!  Very, very garlicky, and deliciously tangy from the olive oil.  I added another pinch of salt to season it at the end, because it felt like the right thing to do.  (Note:  to any Francophiles, or French folks out there, I apologize profusely if I'm slaughtering the spelling of your language here.  I know some accents are missing, but have no clue how to find them on this tricky keyboard.  Rest assured, my pronunciation of your language is far more offensive...but you can't hear me, so it doesn't matter.)

Ms. Brennan recommends using half a cup of olive oil, and half a cup of milder oil, like grapeseed or sunflower, if you want a less aggressive taste.  I love olive oil, though, so went for the whole cup, and absolutely did not regret it.

This makes a fairly large amount, well over a cup, and even though we're centering our meal around it, we couldn't possibly use all of it.  I mean, a little goes a long way, and we've got heaps left over.

Continuing on with the authentic aioli feast, I served the aioli with blanched vegetables, and baguette, and little prosciutto (I know, it's Italian, but they have something similar in France, so don't worry about it.)  This was the most time-consuming part, but still pretty easy peasy.  How hard is it to throw vegetables into a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes, then run under cold water to stop the cooking?  It's not.  Super easy.

The Vegetables

Half a small head of cauliflower, broken into florets, boil 3-4 minutes

A handful or two of sugar snap peas, boil 1 1/2 minutes

Asparagus spears, boil 1-2 minutes, depending on thickness, just til they're bright green

3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into whatever size pieces you like, boil 2-3 minutes

4 small beets, boiled whole for 30 or so minutes, then rub skin off with paper towel, slice into 1/2's or 1/4's

Blanch each vegetable separately, but use the same water, so as to be more efficient.  Boil your lighter veg first, like the cauliflower, so it doesn't get colored by say, asparagus or carrots.  The idea here is to keep the crispness and enhance the color of each vegetable, by just barely cooking it. Using a slotted spoon, fish the veg out of the hot water, and immediately run under cold water, or throw in an ice bath, then drain on tea towels.

And let us not forget the eggs!  Georgeanne recommends it as part of the real deal, Le Grand Aioli, and I must agree.  Yum.

The Eggs

Place four eggs in cold water, in a small, but uncrowded saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat.  As soon as the water boils, immediately turn it down to a very gentle simmer, set the timer for 6 minutes.  Once the timer goes off, carefully pour out the hot water and replace with cold water.  Once the eggs are cool enough to handle, peel them and slice in half.

I threw a sprinkle of sel gris over all the veg and eggs for serving, but sea salt works fine too.  We also threw some raw radishes in, because why not?  The more, the merrier.

And there you have it.  Le Grand Aioli.  A very lovely dig-in-and-make-your-own-plate kind of supper, who doesn't love that?  And I'm pretty sure that that amount of garlic, with its marvelous health benefits, must surely outweigh the dangers of a rather lot of olive oil.   Right?

Oh yes, that's my gal, licking the aioli bowl.  Hmmm...not something you see every day.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Best Laid Plans

It doesn't always go according to plan, does it?  I had big plans to share some recipes with you, from our little St Paddy's shindig, but, well, I just didn't feel like the food was quite right.  Sure, the colcannon was tasty, but not sigh-with-delight tasty.  Just, homey, I suppose.  But not perfect.

And Barefoot Contessa's Soda Bread (alright, there's the link, and I added caraway seeds to mine), was definitely good, but not perfect. I found the dough very wet, which is fine, but super awkward to shape into rounds.  The texture, when finished, was fine, but just not pretty, kind of shaggy looking.  Tasty though, with the caraway, currants and orange zest.  Oh well, needs a little work.

I could have also shared with you the interesting twist we took on a Snakebite and Black.  Normally made with half lager, half cider, and a splash of blackcurrant cordial...yes, it's a bit girly, but pretty tasty.  Anyway, blackcurrant cordial, being a British juice concentrate, is rather hard to find around these parts, and my sister had the brilliant idea (see how honest I am, not even taking credit for that!) of substituting blackcurrant liqueur for the cordial.  Why, hello!  A splash of creme de cassis, why not?  And the cider our excellent brewer/neighbor makes?  Yum!  But still, it just wasn't absolutely perfect.

That could have just been me, having an off day.  I did manage, all in a couple of hours, to forget my buttermilk at the store (needed for the soda bread), knock the barbecue halfway off the deck (that's right, folks, I'm a mess), turn my forearms all sorts of greens and purples while trying to fix said stupid barbecue, and trip over the garbage can, which did result in nice matching leg bruises, to coordinate with my arms.  Have I mentioned that I am ridiculously clumsy?  No?  Well, I was having a good spell for a while there, and no major injuries.  Not that these were major, not by a long shot...oh no, sirree, I've done a lot worse to myself.  I'm working on it, okay?

What I will tell you fine folks, is that while it didn't quite turn out perfectly, and while I was close to tears by the time Stuart got home to save the day (with buttermilk, and an abundance of patience for me), we did manage to have a good deal of fun.

(No, the children are definitely Not drinking the Snakebites!)

With decent food and drink, amazing friends, a saint of a husband, and some fairly awesome kids, who really needs perfection?  That's life, after all.  The stories that are worth telling are the ones that are most definitely not perfect.  And I can take that.

As for my poor, bruised self, well, it's taken worse. And I'm working on it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Driving the kids to school this morning, I was remembering our dinner conversation last night.  Over some homey pasta, Tyler was telling us about a book he's reading, in which the main character chooses to trade places for one week with someone else.  This, of course, prompted a lively discussion of: "Who would you trade places with?"  And my dear, wise 9 year old son, being the superstar that he is, stated:  "I wouldn't trade places with anyone.  I'm happy being me."  Oh, be still my grateful heart!  Now that is something to hear from your child.  The words that tell you he's got his head on just right, he's confident and secure in himself, and we just may be doing a decent job parenting him.

Now, to be honest, the rest of us in the family weren't quite so impressive and empowered in our wishes.  Devin, age 6, wishes to be a princess.  Ahem.  Stuart would like to be Kelly Slater for a week, to experience what it's like to be the best surfer in the world...and to maybe learn a few wave riding tricks.  And me?  Well, I just wished to exchange singing voices with someone who can carry a tune.  Maybe rock it out a little.  (Not that I don't rock it out...just might hurt your ears a wee bit.)  Sia, maybe, Bic Runga...someone with some serious soul. 
All in all though, I think the Kings are feeling pretty lucky and grateful to just be us.  Life is a pretty good thing, I must say.

In the spirit of a Well Fed Soul, perhaps I'll make this a recurring weekly post...sharing a little something that makes me pause, in the middle of a normal, hectic, often chaotic day, to say:  "Thank you.  That was just right."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cucina Povera

An Italian phrase, Cucina Povera, refers to peasant cooking.  Humble, soulful food made with humble, modest ingredients.  Now rather en vogue in Europe, and much of the world, this is family style food at its best.  Taking modest, local produce and transforming it into a healthy, satisfying meal.  This is my kind of cooking.

We usually, at least once a week, serve up an antipasto style dinner. Sometimes bread, cheese and olives, sometimes an asian style soup and some homemade sushi.  It often means using up what's left in the vegetable drawer and pantry, and trying to create a tasty, creative meal.  Last night, inspired by the book, The Dog Who Ate the Truffle by Suzanne Carreiro, I was moved to make a few Umbrian appetizers.  And let me just say, these were humble, in the extreme. And oh so good.

First up, cauliflower crostini.  Eh?  I'd never heard of it, but figured it was just crazy enough to work, and besides, who am I to doubt countless generations of Italian nonnes (grandmothers)?  Incredibly quick and simple, with virtually no prep work (again, my kind of cooking!), all that needs doing is chopping up some cauliflower, drizzling it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasting it in the oven.  A high heat caramelizes and sweetens what can be a flavorless, verging on bitter vegetable (if not cooked properly).  Once roasted, the cauliflower gets a quick whiz in the food processor with a  bit more olive oil, then is spread on fresh bread.  Yum.  Delicious.  Who knew?

Our other Umbrian-inspired dish was egg crostini.  Until about 10 years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, living in Portugal, and a (fish-eating, and therefore semi-) vegetarian with limited protein choices, I never liked eggs.  My husband had me begin eating them, with perhaps a guilt-inducing:  "It's for the baby."  Oh, well, fine then.  I had no idea, up to that point, that eggs could be so magical.  Cooked gently (not with the arse cooked out of them, which is what I'd grown up with), they're creamy and luscious.  And until very recently, I was emphatically not a lover of boiled eggs.  You know that awful, sulfurous smell they get, with the greenish-greyish tinge around the yolk? Ugh.  The dreaded egg sandwich in the lunchbox at school, where the kids around are all snickering at whoever brought the fart lunch?  Oh yeah, I despised boiled eggs.  Absolutely, vehemently despised them.  Passionately.

Until now.

This dish is so simple, it doesn't even sound that exciting.  I promise you though, cook those eggs ever-so-gently, and you will have a little piece of heaven on your plate.  Quick, easy, and very, very good.  And do not, I repeat, do not, skimp on the mayonnaise.  Your stomach will love you for it.  (Your jeans may not, but do some extra yoga later.  Or tomorrow.  Or not.)

We rounded out the meal with some oven-roasted spinach, freshly pickled beets, a tuna pate, and my homemade bread.  And a glass or two of wine, of course.

Here you go.

Cauliflower Crostini - makes about a cup

1/2 head cauliflower, core removed, broken into florets
olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Drizzle the cauliflower with about a tablespoon of decent olive oil, enough to lightly coat, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  You can do this right on the baking sheet, no need to dirty an extra dish.  Pop into a preheated 425 degree oven, roast for about 20 minutes, turning a couple of times.  Allow the cauliflower to get a bit of color, some browning will occur, which gives it its sweetness.  If it begins to brown too much, turn the oven down a bit.  Cook until easily pierced with a knife.

Remove from the cauliflower from the oven, and give it a go around in the food processor, adding enough oil to make it into a thick spread.  For me, this was probably less than 1/8 cup, but I didn't measure, so you don't need to either!  Check the seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve warm on sliced, fresh, rustic bread, like ciabatta, or baguette.  (Or my own recipe, found Here.)  Enjoy.

Egg Crostini - makes 8 portions

4 large, preferably organic, free range eggs

Okay, so there is no hard and fast cooking time for boiling eggs, because depending on the temperature and freshness of your eggs, and your elevation, among other things, results vary.  You can follow what I did, below, or try one egg first, for 5 minutes, and check to see if it's cooked as you want it.

Place eggs in a pan of cold water, enough to cover them by a good inch.  Bring the pan to a boil over high heat, and as soon as it boils, turn it down to a gentle simmer, so as not to cook too rapidly, or crack the eggs.  Set the timer for 6 minutes, (or see above), then remove immediately from heat, carefully pour the hot water from the pan and refill it with cold water.  Once the eggs are cool enough to handle, peel them, and slice into 4 or 5 slices per egg.  Your yolks should be hovering on the line between soft and hard boiled, with the very center firmish, but still bright yellow.

Thickly spread mayo over some rustic, chewy bread, top with 2 or 3 egg slices, and season with salt and pepper.  That's it!  Easy, filling, and scrumptious.  (And absolutely no stinky egg smell.)

Have an espresso afterward, as you ponder how amazingly good simple food, Cucina Povera, can be.  Poor food?  Ha!  I wish I had learned about this kind of poor food in college...top ramen has nothing on crostini!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Holy Crepe!

So says my six year old, upon tasting tonight's dinner.  Which was, in honor of Pancake Tuesday, crepes.  The entire quote:  "Holy crepe, these are good!" 

What can I say?  We do place an emphasis on food appreciation around here.  Not, perhaps, so much on censorship. 

I lived my first 25 years without ever hearing of Pancake Tuesday.  Shameful, really.  Especially to those of you who do know about it.  Today being Shrove Tuesday, and my husband being English, it's a tradition to have crepes (Pancakes, if you're English, I assume as a certain little hand gesture toward the French.  Whom I adore, incidentally.)  Apparently, this began as a way to clear out the tempting, sinful goods in cupboards before the Lenten fast.  But for us, as well as many others, this is yet another excuse to eat something delicious.  I will continue to live, or at least eat, in sin, for as long as I wish, thank you very much.

And since I do so enjoy mixing things up, bastardizing, if you will, I adapted, and I mean adapted, a mushroom recipe from My French Kitchen, by Joanne Harris & Fran Warde.  (A little aside here...Given my obsession with all foods French, you can imagine that I may rave about this cookbook.  And I do.  I also rave about Joanne Harris' other novels.  She is, quite simply, brilliant.)  Anyway, back to it.  I rather loosely followed her perfectly wonderful recipe, which isn't for crepes, but for some lovely mushrooms, cooked with shallots and wine and grainy mustard...finished with a slog of cream.  Oh, deliciousness.  But, I needed something to stuff these crepes with tonight, and while she has a beautiful recipe for a leek filling, well, the leeks aren't doing wonderful things around here of late, and I got some perky asparagus, that needed to be eaten.  Tonight.  In crepes.  So here you go.

Incidentally, I should confess.  I do not do the actual crepe making around this place.  I do pretty much all of the other cooking, baking, and general feeding.  Crepes, sorry, pancakes, he says, are his realm.  And his are marvelous.  But, maybe due to the free-spirit artist part of him, he doesn't measure ingredients.  I know most people have a good crepe recipe already though, and if you don't, I'm sure you can find one on Epicurious or something.  What I can tell you is that he puts a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper in them, and that, dear people, makes them great.

Here's what I did for the filling:

Very Loosely Adapted from Anouchka's Pumpkin Seed Mushrooms, My French Kitchen  (so loosely adapted that there aren't even pumpkin seeds in my adaptation!)

Fills 8 crepes

12 oz crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends snapped off, and cut into 2-ish inch pieces
2 Tbs butter
1/2 -1 Tbs olive oil (up to you, really)
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
juice of 1/2 a lemon
2-3 Tbs grainy dijon mustard (I used 3)
3-4 Tbs heavy cream
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Blanch the asparagus in boiling water, three minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water.  Pat dry with tea towel, or paper towels and set aside.

Heat olive oil and butter over medium heat, and add shallots, garlic, and mushrooms.  Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until mushrooms are golden, about 8 minutes or so.  Add wine and lemon juice and turn heat to medium high, allowing wine to reduce a bit, about 4 or 5 minutes.  Add in the asparagus, dijon and cream, check for seasoning, and simmer another 2 minutes.

Pretty simple right?  I filled the crepes, erm, pancakes...whatever!  with a sprinkling of gruyere, topped with the filling, folded, then drizzled a bit of the sauce from the mushrooms over the top of the crepe. 

And to quote my witty offspring:  "Holy Crepe!"  It was, indeed, good.  As you can see.

Happy Pancake Day to you.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

As promised

Here I sit, feeling smug and self-confident, at least in so far as my integrity is concerned.  Just as I promised the other day, I've got that recipe-cum-tribute to share with you.  After a little bit of testing, tasting, and some final tweaking today, I think I've got it.  Although, I must confess, the smug self-confidence falters a bit here, considering that I hope this recipe of mine does justice to the people and country it's paying homage to:  New Zealand. 

As I mentioned in the last post, pumpkin and kumara play a large part in most Kiwi's diets, especially in the colder months.   Until I moved to New Zealand, I'd only thought of a pumpkin as something you carve a face into to scare off the spooks and ghouls once a year.  Kiwis, however, refer to any winter squash, be it butternut, acorn, hubbard, or spaghetti, as simply, pumpkin.  No fuss.  No muss.  And kumara, is the Maori word for sweet potato.  Sacred food.

One of my favorite things to eat during my time there (and I had quite a lot of favorites, mind you), was Pumpkin and Kumara Hummus.  We bought this ready-made at the store, and slathered it on crackers, pita, bread, you name it.  The squash and sweet potato are roasted, which really gives the whole hummus experience a delightful, sweet twist.   To a standard hummus recipe, the addition of roasted, sweet and earthy veg brings things to a whole new level.  Just like many parts of life for an ex-pat in New Zealand, the day-to-day stuff seemed a little fresher, a little quirkier, and just that much more interesting..as does this dip.  I hope you enjoy.

Roasted Pumpkin and Kumara Hummus (or Squash and Sweet Potato Hummus, for us Yanks)

2 cups butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 cups sweet potato, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/3 cup + 2 Tbs tahini
freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons
olive oil, for roasting, and adding to hummus, approximately 1/4 cup
1-15 oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (2 large, or 3 smaller)
splash red wine vinegar
1/8 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375.  Toss squash and sweet potato with 1 Tbs or so olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Roast on a rimmed baking sheet for about 25 minutes, checking often and turning.  Your goal here is to avoid getting too much browning on the veg, but achieve a nice, sweet caramelization to add more depth to your hummus.  Once the vegetables are easily pierced with a knife, remove from the oven and let cool for a bit.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine garbanzo beans, 1/3 cup tahini, garlic, juice from 1 1/2 lemons, 1/8 cup olive oil, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste.  Add in the cooled (they can still be a bit warm) vegetables, and process until you're happy with the consistency.  Taste, and add in more lemon, olive oil, 1 -2 Tbs more tahini, and salt and pepper, if you feel it needs it.  Allow your taste buds guide you, if it needs a little more acid, a splash of red wine vinegar may do the trick.  Olive oil will loosen up the texture and mellow out the flavor, should it need that.  Cooking is not a science, it's an art form, so relax, and make whatever tastes good to you.  Let the hummus hang out for at least an hour to allow the flavors to develop, then serve with bread or crackers, and some veggies.

And again, as we're thinking about New Zealand here, should you wish to be of help to those who are dealing with the aftermath of some serious earthquakes, please visit here:  Christchurch Earthquake Appeal to make a donation.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Thoughts of New Zealand

The recent round of earthquakes in New Zealand, just outside of Christchurch, have had me thinking, reminiscing, and worrying for our friends way over on the other side of the world.  My husband, son, and I moved to New Zealand when Tyler was just one year old, and lived there, near and in, Christchurch, for a few years.  My daughter was born there.  And we have a whole lot of friends there, with their lives turned upside down, yet again, having only recently begun recovering from the last round of earthquakes in September, 2010.

The photos I've seen of the city in which I lived, and played, and wandered lost through the endless one-way streets, show a completely unrecognizable place.  A place that looks absolutely devastated with its now broken up streets, tumbled down buildings, and rivers flowing through homes and roads.  People are displaced, injured or dead.  Homes, places of work, and schools are ruined.  It could be a pretty justifiable reason to give up, and give in.

And yet. 

And yet I've heard comments from these friends of mine that show an undeniable zest for humor, and the rugged, dauntless spirit that sums up Kiwis.  Where they could throw their hands up in despair, these awesome folks are cracking jokes about the liquefaction around their homes.  Where they could just be grateful that their families fared well, they are helping each other out, offering a place to stay, food to eat, the comfort of friends.  Where they should be living on the edge of terror, after having their world rocked, literally, they are able to smile, make a joke, and continue on.  One friend, after my husband jokingly warned him to stay away from tall buildings (he lives at the beach, outside of Christchurch), replied that he'd be surfing, because there aren't any tall buildings in the sea.

That kiwi spirit is a very impressive thing.

So, since I've learned so much from my time living in New Zealand, lucky to be surrounded by all these wonderful, generous, and often hilarious kiwis, I thought I'd share a few reminiscences with you, some of my lessons, and loves of that place, and perhaps even a wee recipe.

I love that upon arriving in this country, people opened their homes to us, Stuart was offered a job, and therefore residency, and where we had moved there as a bit of a lark, on a wing and a prayer, it WORKED.

I love that I learned about Ina May Gaskin here, so very far from Tennessee, where she lives.  It was here that I discovered a whole new (to me) philosophy surrounding birthing women, and here where I was able to birth my own daughter.  Pretty freaking powerful ladies they've got there in NZ.  Thanks, gals.  I owe you, big time.

I love that because Devin was born there, not only is she English, and American, she's also a little bit Kiwi.  And I do believe this makes her that much cooler.

I also love that we bought her a baby hammock there, which she slept in soundly, through the night, from day one.  I'm telling you, they know what they're doing in NZ.

I love that I learned about seasonal food, while living there.  Here, in the US, it's so easy to get cucumbers and tomatoes cheaply, and out of season (even if they are tasteless).  We take things like that for granted sometimes.  In New Zealand, while you can certainly go into the supermarket and buy tomatoes out of season, most people don't.  Not just because they're ridiculously expensive, but because they're...get this...out of season.  You eat roots and squash in the winter, silly.  Tomatoes and peppers (capsicums, they're called there) are bought, in summer, down the road, at the farm with the honor box.  Same with eggs, freshly laid and picked up from around the garden this morning, don't even need to refrigerate them.  Just leave your money and take what you need.  We trust you.

Honor boxes?  Oh my, I freaking LOVE honor boxes!  You just don't see that around these parts.

I love that there are veg stands where you go for your veggies, and my favorite was the Funky Pumpkin.  Funky Pumpkin?!  That is awesome.  How I wish I'd bought Tyler one of those Tshirts.  In many sizes.

I love that pretty much anywhere in New Zealand, you're only about an hour from the beach.  And the mountains.  I loved that my husband could go surfing daily, satisfy his soul, and he'd only be gone for a short while, not the whole day...like here.

Oh, I loved that we lived walking distance from the beach, in a very cool wee village, with very cool, neighborly people.  I loved that someone would just pop over for a cuppa, which just might turn into dinner, and several bottles of wine, beer, and maybe even some pavlova.  And all the kids get tucked up in bed somewhere, while the grownup kids play.  No plans, all impromptu.  Easy.

I love that I had my first pavlova here.  Oh, yum.

I love that I learned what a feijoa is, and that a lovely wine is made from it here.  Oh, serious yum.

I love that when Stuart's aunt, in Auckland, asked if we liked kumara, I replied that I'd never had it.  She looked at me in horror, how could I bring a child into the world and not feed him kumara?!  Right then she began to prepare some for my son, to right this terrible wrong before he turned out, I don't know, weird...oh, it's sweet potato?  Okay, I have definitely had that.  Kumara is serious soul food in NZ, people.  Feed it to your kids, I'm sure they'll grow up better for it.

I love that they make this thing called fairy cakes at kids' birthday parties.  Slice of white bread, wonder style, slathered in butter, and covered in rainbow sprinkles.  I do not love fairy cakes, however, but I do love how ridiculous they are.

I love that I learned to drive on the left side of the road there, and it's not scary at all, like in the UK, with it's narrow, speedy roads.  (I must confess to being a total coward about driving, when we lived in England.)

I love that when a Kiwi says "wicked," it sounds like "wucked."  As in wicked good.

I love Friday night jaunts to the local fish and chip shop.  Feed the whole family for $10.  And it's fosh and chops, by the way, get it right.

I love that I had to have the "as" phenomenon explained to me there. "Sweet as..."    As what?, I must have asked, bewildered.  I must have looked simple as.

I love that I learned there that wool is far superior to fleece.  Of course, in a land where sheep outnumber the 4 million human inhabitants something like 12 to one (or so I heard), you'd better believe wool is where it's at.

I love that I learned to build a damn good fire there.  Central heat?  Double glazed windows?  Insulation? Pah!  That's for sissies!

I love that New Zealand gave us Brett, Jemaine, and Murray, in Flight of the Conchords.  Netflix it, it's brilliant.

I also love that Jemaine was the voice in the L&P ads.  Ah, so funny.   

I love that kids are allowed to be kids in New Zealand.  Your kid wants to run around the beach naked?  Of course, he's a kid!  Do it!  (I have a fabulous photo of Tyler, age 2, running naked through the water on Golden Beach, but decided, as he's now 9, he might never forgive me for sharing it.)  A giant, and I mean giant, metal slide at the park?  Why the hell not?  They'll learn, won't they?  I love that our park had a seriously cool zip line, which kids had to climb up a platform to ride, screaming, crashing into the tires at the (way, far) other end.  (Also good fun for adults.  And maybe it was just me screaming.)  Trampoline at the campground, with maybe a few springs sticking out?  Whatever.  Survival of the fittest, baby.  School age kids get to roam the park and forest, unsupervised, exploring, doing what kids should be doing.  Having fun, and learning how to be just a little bit tough.  Like we used to do when we were kids.

I love those Kiwis, who are so funny, and kind, and real.  Who manage to be a complete conundrum:  combining an admirable amount of cynicism with a genuinely optimistic view of life.  These people know how to have fun, and to live.  My heart goes out to them, right now.  Oh, New Zealand.  Thank you, for everything.

If you'd like to give something to help out the communities in the Canterbury region who've lost so much because of these earthquakes, please click Here, to go to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal

And as for that recipe I promised, it's coming.  I've spent so much time reminiscing and going through old photos, that this post will have to do for now.  But, never fear, my friends, it will be posted in the next day or two, after some testing and tweaking, and it will, of course, include pumpkin and kumara.  Because it's winter here, and we're talking Kiwiana, after all.