Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tuesday's Poem: "Sunday Morning Breakfast Time" by Cole Porter

Here's to the piping porridge,
Here's to the biscuits hot,
Here's to the java
Flowing like lava
Out of the coffee pot.
Here's to the eggs and bacon,
Here's to the waffles unique,
And here's and here's
Three rousing cheers
For the best meal of the week.

For it's Sunday morning breakfast time,
The time all men adore!
Why don't the poets go into rhyme
And rave about it more?
For only then can a man forget
The sweat and the worries of his bane-
Ful lot as he calmly enjoys his toast
And most of Arthur Brisbane.
Breakfast time on other days
Means bolting at fever heat,
But on Sunday morning, there's the time
When a man has time to eat- and eat,
When a man has time to...
... Breakfast is served.

- Cole Porter

If, like me, your weekday breakfast is coffee in a cubicle, I dedicate this poem to us.
Is there anything sweeter than lovely weekend breakfasts?
I hope the memories of past and anticipation of future little breakfast and brunch moments buoy you today.

(above pictured breakfast is oatmeal and spiced apples)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

warm lentil and pancetta salad

Recently a friend asked me for ideas on lunches to pack for work. I confessed that besides a tub of hummus and bag of baby carrots (*snore*), I do not plan for work lunches beyond just bringing leftovers.

This got me thinking about leftovers and how some work better for office microwave reheating than others (soup- yes, salmon- no). The dish below is one that works very well. To me, it fits two work week requirements- all ingredients can be purchased at the grocery store to be assembled for a quick supper and allows for leftovers for a good, somewhat virtuous, lunch the next day. It is also darn yummy- nutty lentils, sweet carrots, woodsy mushrooms, bitter chard, and salty pancetta. I find it kind of addicting.

This whole recipe hinges on a package of pre-cooked vacuum-sealed lentils. Trader Joe's sells this in the refrigerated vegetable section. It is a great short cut for quick meals.

And really, recipe is a bit of a grand description. It is as simple as crisping up pancetta (also sold pre-cut in a nice Trader Joe's package) sautéing veggies, and then adding the lentils to heat through. As in this recipe, the red wine vinegar is what makes it all sparkle.

I think this is a good starting point for lots of variations. I would love to hear yours!

warm lentil and pancetta salad

1 pckg. cooked lentils
4 oz. pancetta, small diced (can substitute bacon)
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup medium diced carrot
4 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms
1/2- 1 cup chicken stock
2 handfuls swiss chard
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1) In a large heavy bottom skillet, over medium heat, sauté pancetta until crisp. Remove pan from heat. With a slotted spoon, remove pancetta to drain on paper-towel lined plate. Set aside.

2) Return pan to heat, add shallot and carrots. Cook until carrots are just starting to get tender-crisp and take care that the shallots do not burn. Add the mushrooms, stirring up any bits on the bottom and coating all in the lovely rendered pancetta fat. Cook over medium heat until the carrots soften and mushrooms cook down a bit. Stir occasionally. If pan gets too dry, add 1/2 cup chicken stock to deglaze.

3) Add 2 handfuls of swiss-chard and, if you haven't already, add 1/2 chicken stock. Cook until chard wilts down (this only takes a couple of minutes.)

4) Stir in the package of cooked lentils, incorporating into the vegetable mixture. Add more chicken stock if needed. Cook until lentils are heated through.

5) Remove from heat, stir in 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar (or more to taste.) Add the crispy pancetta bits and serve immediately.

Note: Because of the nice saltiness of the pancetta, I do not salt this dish while it cooks. If making a vegetarian version, start at step 2 by warming a couple tablespoons of olive oil in lieu of pancetta and at step 5, taste to salt.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday's Poem: A.L. Gordon

Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two thing stand like stone;
Kindness in another's trouble,
Courage in your own.

- A.L. Gordon

Happy Happy Birthday to my wonderful sister Natalie!
This last year has provided some new challenges for me and she has regularly sent me thoughtful, lovely cards. I am blessed to have her for a sister and a friend.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuesday's poem: "i carry your heart with me" by ee cummings

(i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                               i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want 
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant 
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

- e.e. cummings 

Happy Valentine's dear friends! 
(This picture was taken in May by my husband while we were in Paris. You can read more about the 'padlocks of Paris' here.)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Friday, February 8, 2013

spiced apples

Do you ever buy those bags of smallish apples? Do you buy them with every intention of tucking them into lunch bags and grabbing them as a healthy snack on your way out the door? Do you have all these nice plans for them but then discover the apples have actually been bashed about quite a bit in that little bag and they have bruises and a rather mealy texture? If yes, yes, yes, then I am so glad to not be alone in this.

I love apples but when they are not at their best, the redemptive course of action is to cook or bake them. Below is my method for doing so. (You can of course do this with perfectly perfect apples too).  With a scoop of ice cream, I think it would make a nice, cozy sort of valentine's dessert.

spiced apples

10 to 12 small apples (granny smith & gala, I always seem to have a hodgepodge), medium-diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamon
2 tablespoons honey

1) In a small saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter. Add diced apples, brown sugar, lemon & orange zest, cinnamon, cardamon and honey. Stir and cook until apples are coated in this sugary spiced mixture and just start to release juice into the pan.

2) Reduce the heat to low. Cook for 60 to 90 minutes (really!), stirring occasionally, until apples have broken down to soft edges but still maintain their shape (not trying to make applesauce.) As it cooks, can add 1/2 cup water if the pan looks like it is getting too dry.

3) While still warm, spoon 1/2 cup of spiced apples into bowl and top with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

caramelized onion jam tartine

Whenever I start a dish by making caramelized onions, I clearly recall one of my more difficult days:

A little over 3 years ago, we bought our first home. It is a townhome, really, but it is the first space we have ever owned. After months of searching (God bless our patient realtor), we found a space we love. It is light filled, in a quiet community with a great neighborhood, and the back half faces an empty hillside. It affords us quite a bit of privacy, which in our price range, feels unimaginable.

On our first visit, when we were standing on the front steps, while our realtor fumbled with keys, my husband and I both felt "it"- that moment when you feel yourself tumbling towards love. It surprised us how quickly we knew this is where we wanted to live.

Like all good things you make an enormous commitment to (in this case, via a mortgage), that thing quickly disappoints you. After you fall in love, you really get to know one another and, for me, the first 9 months of homeownership were heartbreaking. How could my lovely home betray me with uneven floors, a drippy faucet, etc ?! I was in awe of my friends, who for all this time had owned homes and walked around like it was no big deal. And those who had remodeled homes? I looked at them with complete reverence and respect. I could not even imagine the task.

(This would be a good point to clarify that while the homeownership transition was very rough for me, my husband managed just fine. He became bff's with the folks at our local Lowe's, installed all of our appliances, valiantly battled an unwanted skunk tenant (a good story for another time) and what he did not know how to do, he learned.)

The whole house had wood laminate flooring (if you think that sounds nice, I can assure you, it wasn't. We think whoever put it in was drinking during installation.) Early on we knew we wanted to add carpet to the back bedrooms and after about 5 months we had the cash saved up to do so. Right after Christmas, I picked out stunning white berber carpet (still the most beautiful mistake I ever made.) The carpet installers were scheduled to arrive 4 days later. To save money, the day before, my husband and I did all of the prep work ourselves- pulled the furniture out of the two bedrooms and yanked up the floating wood laminate flooring.

We had been aware for some time that there seemed to be a bit of water damage in the second bedroom below one of the windows. We thought it was owing to a poor seal on the outside window frame and so we caulked (by we, of course I mean my husband) the heck out of the window and over Christmas break, my husband and my father-in-law replaced the damaged sheetrock, etc on the inside. So, we had already been through a couple of rounds on this room. The night before the carpet was to be installed I went to sleep believing the next day the room would be carpeted and that would be the finishing touch.

We slept in the living room on our mattress that had been relocated in preparation for the carpet installation. It poured rain all night long and I worried a bit about how the carpet installers would manage. Around 6am, my husband turned to me and asked, "Do you hear that- that dripping noise?" I told him, of course I heard a dripping noise, it was raining. He was not dissuaded and got up and started marching around. I then heard him go into the second bedroom and let out a low curse. It is was in the tone that I now know all homeowners recognize as the tone of "something is wrong and it will be difficult and expensive to fix." What he found was a pool of water at the bottom of the window- inside. The window had probably been leaking since we bought the home, but the wood laminate flooring was soaking it up. We only saw it because the flooring had been removed. (In hindsight, the fact that it rained that night was an enormous blessing. If the carpet had been installed before the issue fully discovered, the damage would have likely continued longer. But in the moment, it was small comfort.)

We were devastated. It was still raining terribly, and as it was a second story window, going up on roof to tarp it up was out of the question. My husband called the carpet installers to let them know they would just be installing carpet in the one bedroom. We moved a couple of electric fans in to try to keep the space dry and then spent the next few hours, until the installers arrived, moving wordlessly about the house, trying to keep ourselves busy so as to not think about the thing that we had no control over. I remember feeling very brave for not crying.

When the carpet installers arrived, to keep out of their way, I ended up in the only room in the house that did not have furniture remnants of all the other rooms stacked in it- the kitchen. We had to eat and, as it was a cold rainy day, I decided to make some soup. I put together a sort-of french onion soup. It was helpful to be engaged in something and as caramelizing onions takes a bit of time, a good task. I stood there feeling so disappointed and more than a little sorry for myself. My only point of comfort was I kept reminding myself that someday this will all be fixed. I had recently read the good advice that whenever faced with a difficult circumstance, imagine what the 75 year-old version of yourself would say to you. My inner 75 year-old is very nice about such things. So, we had french onion soup and the new carpet in our one bedroom looked just beautiful.

I would like to tell you we were able to fix the window leak in the second bedroom in a few days and it did not involve my husband putting on rock climbing rope and harness to get up on the roof, or several weeks of back and forth unsuccessful repairs and a second leak did not appear and it did not eventually require the entire replacing of the window and a major portion of the outside front siding of our house and trim. But it did.

And now, every time I make caramelized onions I think of how, even when you fall in love, expectations do not often match reality and how, in spite of those momentary crushing disappointments, life goes on. And I think of how much I love my husband and our dear friends, family, the construction workers- everyone who had a piece in fixing it all.

So, I guess, when I make caramelized onions, I do not just think about one of my more difficult days, I really think about how lucky I am to have love.

caramelized onion jam tartine
(This is a great lunch or quick pre-dinner appetizer. Friends say it reminds them of french onion soup.)

1/2 cup caramelized onion jam (see recipe here)
2 large slices sourdough bread
mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1) Set the oven broiler to high and move the oven rack to the highest setting so it is directly underneath the broiler.

2) Place the bread on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven under the broiler. Each side takes maybe 60 seconds. Be sure to watch the bread so it does not burn.

3) When the bread it toasted, let it cool ever so slightly. Spread each piece with about 1 tablespoon mascarpone. Top each slice with about 1/4 cup of the onion jam, more if you like. Scatter first the gruyere cheese evenly on the slices, then the parmesan.

4) Pop the dressed bread back under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly and just beginning to brown. Please give it just a second to cool before diving in. (If serving for an appetizer, I cut into neat rectangles for easier munching with pre-dinner drinks.)

caramelized onion jam

This recipe is from the beautiful book, What Katie Ate by Katie Quinn Davies. From what I gather from reading it, the author is from Ireland but also spends a lot time in Australia. The result is a wonderful mix of spins on recipes I am familiar with as well as introductions to food that is new to me. The photography is gorgeous.

caramelized onion jam
makes 1 1/2 cups

4 large onions, peeled and finely sliced (I used 3 yellow onions and 1 red)
2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt flakes
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, plus a bit extra if required
1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1) Place the onions in a large, deep heavy-bottomed saucepan and drizzle with olive oil. Using a wooden spoon, stir the onions to coat thoroughly with the oil, then season with a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes or until softened.

2) Turn the heat down to low and continue cooking for a further 30 minutes, stirring frequently to scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan.

3) Add the vinegar and sugar and stir to coat well, Continue to cook over low heat for another 30-45 minutes, again scraping all the sticky bits from the bottom of the pan. Add a splash more vinegar if the jam becomes too sticky- the consistency should be that of a thick, luscious marmalade. Set aside to cool.

4) Store in a sterilized jar in the fridge for up to 1 week. (I stored in a clean glass storage container and had no worries.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tuesday's Poem: "i thank you God for most this amazing" by e.e. cummings

i thank you God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky ;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday ;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any- lifted from the no
of all nothing- human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

- e.e. cummings

This past weekend was one of those gorgeous Southern California winter weekends that makes me glad to live here. It was a beautiful 70 degrees, bright and sunny clear skies. Harriet and I took a couple of walks in our neighborhood. One of the houses has a lovely pink camellia tree. When the blooms are done, they fall and pile up around the base of the tree. The way they pile up reminds me of tossed pom-poms from a group of cheerleaders. Do you know what I'm talking about? How at the transition point of like a half-time show cheer when they toss their pom-poms on the ground to move into a pyramid or other acrobatic stunt. For some reason, I have always love the haphazard way the fluffy poms scatter. At this house, someone had carefully arranged the fallen pink blooms on the grass into the shape of a large heart. Like a valentine for the sky.

(above photo credit: my husband took this picture this past May, in the gardens at Versailles.)