Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tuesday's Poem: Mindful by Mary Oliver


Every day
I see or I hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light,
It is what I was born for-
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world-
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant-
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these-
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

- Mary Oliver

These pictures were taken with my older sister this past November. We were trying to get that great, "effortless California coastline" shot and the waves were crashing in more quickly than we anticipated. We did not realize that my husband was capturing shots all along the way of us dodging waves. These animated goofy pictures turned out to be my favorites. Like the poem says, these are the moments that instruct us "over and over in joy".

Monday, March 11, 2013

spicy calabrese-style pork ragu

I have recently reached the conclusion that the kindest thing I can do for myself and family (and this is serious) is to have portions of homemade sauce in my freezer. There is nothing that brings comfort and assuages my workaholism-guilt like having a stash of very good future suppers available.

Ever since I made this, I am newly converted to the ragu sauce. For February, Bon Appetit Magazine featured spicy calabrese-style pork ragu on the cover. When I saw it, I knew I had to make it.  And it is just love- full of spicy goodness and unctuous pork. I made a double batch of the recipe below because I wanted that super-power ability to produce it for upcoming weeknight dinners.

spicy calabrese-style pork ragu

1 medium onion, quartered
1 carrot, peeled, cut into 1" pieces
1 celery stalk, cut into 1" pieces
4 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb. hot or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 lb. ground pork
kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 lb. mezzi rigatoni or penne rigate
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano plus more

1) Pulse onion, carrot, celery, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup parsley in a food processor until finely chopped; transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

2) Puree tomatoes with juices in processor; set aside.

3) Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat; add sausage and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until browned, about 4 minutes. Add ground pork, season with salt and pepper, and cook breaking up with a spoon, until no longer pink. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate.

4) Increase heat to medium-high. Add reserved vegetable mixture to drippings in pot, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until golden, 8-10 minutes.

5) Stir tomato paste and 1 cup water in a small bowl; add to pot. Cook scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until liquid has almost evaporated, 6-8 minutes.

6) Add reserved meat and tomato puree and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, adding more water as needed to keep meat nearly submerged, until meat is tender, about 4 hours (I think I cooked for about 6 hours). Season with salt.

7) Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 2 cups cooking liquid.

8) Add pasta and 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid to sauce; stir to coat. Stir in 3/4 parmesan and remaining 1/4 cup parsley. Increase heat to medium and continue stirring, adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta.

9) Divide among bowls; top with more parmesan.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bom Dia muffins

This may be my favorite muffin recipe. It is from a Portuguese restaurant in Sunriver, Oregon called Cafe Sintra. It was printed in the 'Culinary SOS' Food Section of LA Times magazine a number of years ago. I have had the clipping for maybe 10 years? The combination of coconut, green apple and carrot remain a favorite. 'Bom Dia' is Portuguese for 'Good Morning'.

These are just regular little muffins and, as you can tell from the pictures, will not be winning any beauty contests any time soon. But that is okay because they are real homemade muffins. (Not jet-puffed steroid mass produced cake muffins). As you read over the recipe, there is some grating involved (apple, carrot), but the end result is well worth the effort.

After making a batch, I wrap any extra's individually in saran wrap and then tin foil to freeze. From the freezer, I remove the foil and microwave the little shrink-wrapped cake for 30 seconds. The result is a warm, homemade muffin for weekday mornings.

Bom Dia muffins

2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated carrots (about 3 medium)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup grated Granny Smith apples, skin on (about 2 small)
3 eggs
1 cup oil
2 teaspoons vanilla

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Add the carrots, walnuts, coconut and apple and mix together.

2) In a small bow, beat together the eggs, oil and vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the large bowl and stir until just combined.

3) Bake in muffin tins with paper liners in a 350-degree oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes.

4) Out of the oven, let the muffins cool in the muffin tin for a few minutes before removing to cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tuesday's poem: "California Winter" by Karl Shapiro

California Winter

It is winter in California, and outside
Is like the interior of a florist shop:
A chilled and moisture-laden crop
Of pink camellias lines the path; and what
Rare roses for a banquet or a bride,
So multitudinous that they seem a glut!

A line of snails crosses the golf-green lawn
From the rosebushes to the ivy bed;
An arsenic compound is distributed
For them. The gardener will rake up the shells
And leave in a corner of the patio
The little mound of empty snails, like skulls.

By noon the fog is burnt off by the sun
And the world's immensest sky opens a page
For the exercises of a future age;
Now jet planes draw straight lines, parabolas,
And x's, which the wind, before they're done,
Erases leisurely or pulls to fuzz.

It is winter in the valley of the vine.
The vineyards crucified on stakes suggest
War cemeteries, but the fruit is pressed,
The redwood vats are brimming in the shed,
And on the sidings stand tank cars of wine,
For which bring juice a billion grapes have bled.

And skiers from the snow line driving home
Descend through almond orchards, olive farms,
Fig tree and palm tree- everything that warms
The imagination of the wintertime.
If the walls were older one would think of Rome.
If the land were stonier one would think of Spain.

But this land grows the oldest living things,
Trees that were young when Pharaohs ruled
        the world,
Trees whose new leaves are only just unfurled.
Beautiful they are not; they oppress the heart
With gigantism and with immortal wings;
And yet one feels the sumptuousness of this dirt.

It is raining in California, a straight rain
Cleaning the heavy oranges on the bough,
Filling the gardens till the gardens flow,
Shining the olives, tiling the gleaming tile,
Waxing the dark camellia leaves more green,
Flooding the daylong valleys like the Nile.

- Karl Shapiro

I took the above picture out the back patio door of my home, looking up the hillside. I love to watch this view change with the seasons. In California winter, the grass is glossy and thick. I was lucky enough to capture the moment when gray rain clouds moved in and the last sun of the afternoon edged the branches of the tree.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

spicy Indian chickpeas

Sometimes it is nice to just mix it up- enter spicy Indian chickpeas for dinner. Warm and spicy, I like to serve it with Trader Joes naan bread (you can find it in the frozen food section), plain greek yogurt and sliced english cucumbers. The yogurt and cucumber add nice cooling bites to contrast the heady sauce. The naan is good for scooping up- a spoonful of chickpeas on top and a dab of yogurt? It is like a cumin and coriander nacho.

Not only is this recipe good to eat, but it is also a lovely task to cook. It starts with chopped onion, garlic and ginger sauteing up and to that fragrant mix, add the cinnamon, garam masala, cumin, coriander and cloves. The combination sizzling away in the kitchen provides that sometimes necessary kick to help me shake off the day and transition to a relaxing meal with my family. That is part of the wonder of cooking, right? How a basic task we perform everyday can become a ritual of devotion.

This recipe is from Mad Hungry by Lucinda Scala Quinn. It is a book written with love about feeding her family. I highly recommend it.

spicy Indian chickpeas

2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped, about 1 1/2 cups plus 1 small onion, sliced, for garnish
8 garlic cloves, minced (2 tablespoons)
1 3-inch square piece of peeled fresh ginger, minced (3 tablespoons)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoons coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt (I'd cut this back to 1, otherwise way too salty for my tastes)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3, 15 oz. cans chickpeas, drained, 1 cup liquid reserved
optional garnishes:
1 large tomato, sliced in wedges
3 hot fresh green chilies, sliced lengthwise

1) Heat a large skillet and swirl in the oil. Add the chopped onion, garlic, and ginger. Saute until soft and lightly golden, 5 to 6 minutes.

2) In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon, garam masala, cumin, coriander, cloves, cayenne, and salt. Add to the onion mixture; cook and stir the spices to lightly toast, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another few minutes to combine. The color should be dark red.

3) Add the chickpeas plus the cup of reserved liquid. Stir to combine. (I like this to have a bit more liquid to it, so I add an extra 3/4 cup of chicken stock in addition to the chickpea liquid.) Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, removing the cover in the last few minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for a minute to allow the beans to soak up the spice flavors. Season with salt to taste.

4) Serve in a shallow bowl garnished with the sliced onion, tomato wedges and slices of green chillies. (Or as I prefer, pictured below, with sliced cucumbers, plain greek yogurt, and naan bread.)