if its not yummy, then we better make it funny.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Giving it up

I have been experimenting with weeding out habits. I went for a month without coffee a while back and I slept much better and my mood was more even. Coffee slowly crept back in and is on the chopping block again. I also stopped drinking alcohol, its been a couple of months, now. Im not a problematic chronic alcoholic, I'm actually a fun episodic drinker. The trouble is that the occasional episodes are debilitating afterwards, causing lethargy and what I call comfort eating. If you do that once a week then the calories and time use setbacks add up. I also have a tendency to get overly nice and generous to a point of making decisions to give raises, invite distracting guests and, earlier in my life, cock eyed (no pun intended) romantic choices. I decided that I could use that time and control of my life more than I needed that luscious, complex, rusty lobe of red wine in my graceful clasping and sophisticated hand. As you can see I have been pondering the role of alcohol plays in rewarding ourselves and my notion of it being glamorous and stylish. I don't want to be one of those non drinking zealots, or have a dogmatic approach, either. I have to find new rewards for myself after that long day or to celebrate that great breakthrough. At first I was sensitive to alcohol around me, in movies, on billboards, hearing the neighbors always emptiing the bottles into the recycle bin. Somehow though now, I'm not as bothered that half the world still drinks. I wake up fresh as a daisy and there are no onion ring sessions with Sunday brunch anymore(sorry to my friends who have that as the favorite activity, and you know who you are) or gooey Carbonara to ease the ugg.

One nice bonus is the money one saves if you remove that bottle or two of wine or those beers from the weekly shopping cart. This is particularly important when you are raising a family on two student allowances. If you don't buy the wine, you can splurge on those other indulgences like the "grab me now" thrift surprise at the "op shop" (New Zealand's word for second hand store-opportunity shop) Yesterday I found a NEW pair of my favorite Tasmanian boots (200 bucks in NYC or Vancouver) for 8.00. I felt like angels were involved, since my pair are starting to have a "farmhand" look. Eight dollars, that's just one bottle of the cheapie New Zealand Sauvignon blanc.

It seems to be working out well, so far. We'll see how it goes when I work at a gourmet deli and wine shop next week.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Honey, Im home!

Hi, I'm back, I missed you. I have wrapped up school and now I have to make the next contract. It's always a dog of one sort or another chasing my rear! I am relieved to have finished that school term and am reveling in my tertiary credit. I noticed that I was just exhausted after finishing up various writing projects, sewing together things and always trying to get to the pool. I love the new habits, though. I'm going to hunt something down to put on here. It;s someplace in my emails let me find it. It's a confession of how many things Ive started (writing) It was meant to be an evaluation for school but it soon wandered on a walkabout and although I didn't dare use it for something as formal as a school evaluation, I thought it had value. It reveals my A-1 good intentions to write. I know some people say "better not talk about projects in the making, thus let the energy out" where (I guess) it will run away and find a new owner and they (not I) will make the kazillion dollars and the Caldecott/ Nobel prizes while I'm still pondering or (worse yet) talking about how I'm going to write it.
Well I say "phooey!" My good ideas aren't going to run off to a new thinker/doer- they are going to be promiscuous and actually multiply! I'm letting them out! Even if someone took my story line, it would be different than what I would write. If the flow of what I'm thinking is getting out there, then that's progress. Darn it, I'm trying to be a writer and assert that I have something to say, aint I! Let's go! Keep it coming, churn out the pieces 123.
Well It doesn't work that way, really. At this stage, at least there is a lot of crumpled paper and rewrites that make me wonder: which was better, the raw or the refined? Here is the excerpt so You can have a look see into my little brain.

We (my illustrator friend and I) are working on a children's book about an Alligator which comes up the sewer and his host's creative solution to get him back home. The story is written in alliteration. Further children's stories are in various half composed shambles on the floor of my little life. What's Your Treat? is a comparative journey of what various people and animal's favorite treats are. The Old original "Down at Katrina's Cafe" mother/daughter seaside restaurant book got a visit from a storm ridden mermaid. She's working a few shifts before she goes back to her watery ways.
I have barely started work on a novel, as well, which is about a woman who gives up a child earlier in life with legal clause to be notified if the adoptive parents die. They do, She gets contacted, she oozes with guilty motherhood and shuts up her unconventional remote life to return and 'become' a parent. Everything takes a strange turn when it is revealed that the child is responsible for the deaths. I have the vague plot outlined (obviously) and I have written a couple of scenes out, specifically the aborted abortion and the labor. They are just scraps, but they weren't there before. I think I'll either get a book on the process of writing a novel or take the Massey course. I have friends on San Juan Island working on novels, they support each other in a writer's group, also.
Did you see the gardening poems that I sent? To me,they don't shine so much, after getting a scope of what a poem is supposed to be like from my writing class, Deception, nuance without a prescribed agenda....a lie that tells the truth.

This is just a reject communication to my adviser, but it gives you an idea of my octopus approach to creative writing. We'll see which ones will make it to the finish line, now, wont we.

Speaking of finish lines, I have my most challenging swim coming up on Sunday the 30th of March. The Rangitoto to St. Helliers swim. Its 4.6 kilometers and I'm getting scared! I went to the swimming clinic a couple of days ago and had a run in with some organism that 'stings' you , although it is painless when it happens, the result is almost exactly like a mosquito bite. My torso looks like it was in a cage with 250 mosquitoes and my hands were restrained! I haven't counted them, but even Lillian was impressed( and she holds the record for the most bug bites in our family) Is this legitimate excuse to back out? I suppose I could get a darned wet suit like everyone else and it wouldn't be an issue. I'm such a purist/snob when it comes to wearing my own skin to swim in. I think Ill take the kids on the Rangitoto ferry tomorrow to check out the scene and see how many big red (read painful) jellyfish there are between here and there. I have looked forward to this swim with ambition and trepidation for months. I want to hear corks popping when I drag my soggy self outta that water! I have the adoring children and proud husband at the shore in the scrapbook of my future that I leaf through all the time.

Friday, March 14, 2008

I am taking a week off to finish up school projects, more later

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Recipe of the week: Cassoulet

I decided to post this recipe because it is good in both Spring and Fall, pleasing both hemispheres at once. I remember having cassoulet for the first time at the Springtree Restaurant in Friday harbor. I was working as a baker there and I was learning a lot from the chefs Jodi Calhoun and Daniel Von Hamersfeld. Daniel made many classic European dishes with ease and delicious results. One such dish was Cassoulet. This dish, although it has had a renaissance in "hoity toity hoi paloi" restaurants, it is really a peasant dish from South East France. This concept of a slow cooked hearty bean stew seasoned with available meats shows up in many other cuisines, though, such as feijoada from Portugal and fabada Asturiana from Austuria (an autonomous community within Spain) and even good old Boston baked beans.
Cassoulet, the title, is really from the word "cassole", a ceramic dish that one would make the stew in, often on the back of the cooking hearth. The food dish is made with white beans and various (often leftover) meats, (traditionally duck confit),sausages, game and poultry, then herbs, onions or shallots, garlic, herbs and, in my recipe, breadcrumbs and vermouth all add dimension to it. It is one of those dishes that is different every time you make it, depending on what you've got in the refrigerator. It can be made in a modern crock pot if you do not have a wood fired hearth going these days. It tastes as good or better the next day and is rib sticking. If you eat it mid day you'll have time for it to fuel you for hours. Here is my favorate recipe for it, modified from the Silver Palette cookbook's recipe. Now remember that you can simplify and eliminate meats you don't like, cant find or don't have the budget for. If you eliminate the fatty meats such as the pork rind, bacon or sausages you may need to add some high quality oil to add the silkiness to the dish that the meat fats offered. (This isn't the cholesterol watching meal, for that; try the Pasole, its more virtuous. I'll try to wrangle that recipe from the best Pasole chef I know Senora Linda Pickett Friedman). But for now it's Cassoulet. This recipe is a two day process and is not for the crock pot. I would call this "company cassoulet" for when perhaps you've got such gustatory guests as Thor or an Amazonian girl's choir coming for a visit. Simpler recipes involving less time are on the internet, I am sure.

2 pounds dried white beans, soaked overnight
1/2 pound fresh pork rind
5 pounds duckling or chicken
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 1/4 pounds lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons olive oil, if needed
1/3 cup rendered bacon fat
2 cups chopped yellow onions
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
6 ribs celery, diced
2 cups dry white vermouth
6 ounces tomato paste
5 cups stock, preferably home made
9 large garlic cloves, peeled
5 bay leaves
1 1/2 pound smoked or fresh sausage or kielbasa
1/2 pound salt pork
4 cups bread crumbs (dried)
mixed with
1 cup chopped parsley


Score the fat side of the pork rind, cover it with cold water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, cover with cold water again, and repeat the process, this time simmering for 30 minutes. Reserve the pork rind and its second cooking water.

Drain the beans and place them in an 8-quart oven-proof pot with a lid. Cover them with water by at least 3 inches, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook briskly, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove pot from heat and let beans stand in the cooking liquid.

Cut off wing tips of duck and set them aside. Discard the organ meats or reserve for another use (like the cat). Pull all the fat out of the duck and season the cavity with salt and pepper. Put the duck in a small roasting pan and roast in a preheated 450F oven for 45 minutes. Drain accumulated fat frequently. Remove from oven after cooking time; duck should still be slightly underdone. Drain juices from duck cavity into a large bowl and reserve. Cool, cover and refrigerate duck.

In a heavy skillet, brown the cubed lamb in batches, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Do not crowd the pan. Remove the browned lamb to the large bowl and reserve.

Without cleaning the skillet, saute the pork cubes and the reserved duck wing tips in the same fashion, seasoning with salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon of the thyme and the allspice. You may need to add a tablespoon or two of olive oil if the skillet is particularly dry at this point. Reserve the browned pork in the same bowl with the lamb.

Do not clean the skillet. Melt the rendered bacon fat in the skillet and saute the onions and carrots for about 20 minutes, stirring, or until tender. Add to the pot with the beans.

Add the vermouth, along with the meat juices accumulated in the large bowl, to the skillet. Bring to a boil. Lower heat slightly and cook briskly, stirring, until vermouth is slightly reduced and all browned cooking particles remaining in the skillet have dissolved. Pour the vermouth into the beans.

Stir in the tomato paste, the pork rind cooking liquid, the broth, remaining thyme, 6 of the garlic cloves, chopped, and the bay leaves. Add additional water, if necessary; liquid should just cover the beans. Put the pork rind, fat side down, on top of the beans, and cover the pot.

Bake in the center of a preheated 350F oven for 2 to 2.5 hours, or until the beans are completely tender. Remove and cool to room temperature, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, prick the skin of the fresh sausage all over with a fork and simmer in a pan of water for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve. This is not necessary for the smoked sausage.

Put the salt pork in a pan of cold water, bring to a boil, and cook for 10 minutes. Drain, cover with cold water and repeat, reserving the salt pork in its cooking water.

Remove the pot of beans from the refrigerator. Discard the bay leaves, the duck neck and wing tips.

Drain the salt pork; cut off the rind and discard it. Chop the salt pork into cubes and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Puree to a paste, dropping the 3 remaining peeled garlic cloves through the feed tube while the motor is running. Stir the paste into the beans.

Skin the duck (or chicken), pull all meat from the bones, and cut into chunks. Stir duck into the beans. Skin the sausage and cut into rounds; stir into the beans.

The beans will now cook for another 1-1/2 hours. If they are too dry (it is preferable that they be too moist), stir in another cup or two of warm water. Smooth the top of the beans and sprinkle heavily with half of the bread-crumb and parsley mixture.

Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 325F oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, stir the top crust into the beans, sprinkle on the remaining bread crumbs and parsley, and bake further -- for another 45 minutes, or until crust has formed and browned well. Serve immediately. Accompany with a nice leafy salad dressed lightly, crusty bread and a good crisp white wine.

Serves 12, great leftover.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

South Pacific Harvest

Today my agenda is full, I have been to swimming clinic, though not to swim. I took some photos down at Mission Bay where the Seaswim ocean swimming clinics have been meeting. I have an academic link with them, since the director of the Seaswim clinics Haydn Wolley - who also heads up Future Dreams (specifically for triathletes) and Swimcoach (specifically for women) is an evaluator for my learning contract. I decided to mix my skills since I was "sore throaty" and do a little reporting of the program. It's in progress, now

I also need to cook something with the peaches from the bachelor's tree, next door and the swath of bananas from two doors down, The bananas are smaller that commercial bananas and are more substantial, somehow. The flesh ripens to a lovely soft yellow and they are delicious. Having a half a tree of them is challenging, though. Since homegrown food is sacred to me I had to do something before it was too late and before the drosophila community catches on. So Banana muffins for the school lunches and peach pies are in order.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Slow Down

Im sitting at the computer at home on Fernwood place. It's Friday night. The springs of the neighbors trampoline are twanging and the bachelors next door have a record 7 cars in front of their house, telling me there must be rugby on tonight and an uproarious bedtime lullaby to come. Autumn is finally slinking around here. The nights are coming dark sooner and there is that indescribable slowing down of things. I have only swam 2 days this week due to some sinus/ear trouble. It must be time for me to slow down a little, too. This resolve to slow down is arguing with my swim racer and school achieving self. They really do go back and forth. A couple of books I'm reading seem to extol that slow down theme, too. Is it a good idea to let the pace slacken?

It is one of those things that editors of gardening magazines promote, to recede from the rat race and really live.
Hey, what about my goals? What about the fact that procrastination has already eaten up any time outs I may have been issued? I guess there must be something quiet and still for me to do now, then. I have Potatoes in the oven baking, their quite quiet.
Desmond has had a tough week. He had a lot of head issues. He lost his first tooth, had a sty in his eye, a boil in his nose, head lice and his first buzz haircut (the last two are related). He's a trooper for sure. I think I tested the limits when I took these photo's, though.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Butterscotch Sauce

When I was little I would occasionally get caught with a big soup spoon in front of the refrigerator with a jar of this in my hand and a guilty (but happy) look on my face. It's about as bad as it gets, or good, depending on your position, when it comes to the delicious evils of fat and sugar.

1/3/4 cup white corn syrup
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup cream
cook until soft ball stage
add additional 1 cup cream
cook to 218 degrees F

Add 1 teas vanilla

This is exquisite on good vanilla ice cream. If that's not enough try the suggestion on my mom's recipe card:

Serve with butter roasted and salted pecans.
If you have no pecans, I think salted peanuts would do pretty well instead.

Store in fridge.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Kid Trip:Consolidation exercise (from 2645 words to 500)

We've been inside all weekend, we need exercise. Desmond, who is five, is interested. I work on the remaining family.

“I need to study.” my husband Jordan says, (he's a student) although he's been studying for days and although he's actually watching a video with Lillian, who is three. Each try to get him to garden or play: that bothered response “I need to study”

“Well, if we are such a bother for you, maybe we should leave for a few days, let you study without any distractions!”

Then, a glimmer in Jordan's eye, I see he likes the idea. Now, I'm more irritated. In a moment, our trip is conceived. Ranting and packing I assemble an assortment of gear for a trip of undetermined length. By 9:00 on a Sunday night, we head out.

At a loss as to where to go, I turn into Macdonald's, buy two ice cream cones and hand them back, my children delighted at this departure from normal restraint. Without much analysis I choose North. I call Jordan. Has my parting left us estranged? Does he want to know when we'll return?

“I trust you will return when you're ready and have gotten what you left for.”

Oh, that's nice...

After that conversation, I now look forward... into lights of cars heading back into the city and into lights of meteors to the north. I finally give in and stop at a hotel. I carry sleeping beauties into beds. In the morning after tea, apples and peanuts we set out to see what we can see.

Until a week ago I worked full time at a job that wasn't quite right. Ive lost touch with my kids, they, habitually calling me daddy when they have needs or questions. It is time to reconnect.

We settle on our quest, the fabled white sands of New Zealand's Northlands. I make an adjustment to my definition of travel. Stopping frequently, we enjoy old train skeletons and nosy birds at playgrounds. No one (but me) notices we have no clean clothes or haven't had a coffee for three days. The air conditioner gives up, we drive the remainder of the trip windows down, adding a safari feel to the trip and to our hairdos. We discover perfect oranges and tiny strawberry apples; though, never taste a single Northland wine. Searching for the white sands we befriend locals and travelers. Finally, we see the sands; beautiful, eerily gleaming, accessible only by sea. It doesn't bother anyone that we can't go there. Conversations are spontaneous, a schedule insignificant. We frolic in the waves. Lilly finds a dead shark with a fishing line in it's mouth. She roams the surf, as if she's walking her pet shark. Dozens of tourists from buses on short stops converse with her about it. I celebrate our eccentricity. We celebrate ourselves. We never got that exercise, but I don't mind.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Lazy recipe of the week...

Recipe of the week:

The beet salad for dinner recipe

This was our dinner the other night when we needed something alive and light after earlier heavy snacking. We then ate it nightly since the kids enjoyed it and salads are hard to get into them. It is solid enough to feel like dinner but still virtuous with it's high fiber and whole food makeup. It is colorful if you have a monotone menu in need of some zip. It can be thrown together quick as a wink and eaten on its own or you can make some grainy muffins or grilled artisan bread to eat with it.

Greens: baby greens or nice leaf lettuces work well. A good handful per person is enough for meal sized portion.
Cooked Sliced beets, canned work fine or roast some in foil in the oven if your baking something else, they keep quite a while in the foil in the fridge, but weep red tears so put then in a bowl or bag.
crumbled blue cheese, (or feta if you prefer it)
1/2 carrot per person or so, peeled and finely sliced into coins
Cucumber chunks, 1/2 cup per person, whichever way you like to cut them.
1/2 cup of cooked beans per person, garbanzo, red kidney or canneli are nice
Toasted seeds, pumpkin or sunflower, optional
Tomatoes, wedges or cherry-halved.

You can add cooked chicken or tofu to the salad and of course, get creative with what you have on hand.

Toss with Classic Vinaigrette. Enjoy

Classic Vinaigrette

This will be more than you will need, keep it around and use it its on cooked vegetables and salads.

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
several grinds pepper or more
1/2 teas sugar
1/2 teaspoon grainy mustard
two medium cloves garlic, minced or squeezed out of one of those scorned garlic presses. (Remember one man's scorn is another man's recommendation. (Take that Anthony Bourdain!)
Put all the ingredients in a jar and shake her up. Done. Keeps well at room temperature for weeks.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Saturday 1st of March

Yikes, I let a couple of days go by! I made myself a promise to write a blog posting every day a little while back. I have a that tendency, to kick myself in the bottom with some lofty resolution. It may be lofty and ideal at first, but if you keep it up it becomes a new habit. Im still working on this habit, obviously.

Let me see... Today is Saturday, which these days, means that I will not be the child carer, but rather the ocean swimmer and writer's group participant (and usually a garage sale customer, too). This week had sunny group of weekdays and then last night a wind started up. I lay in my bed, listening to the howling wind and the rain getting pelted on the window, "Hmmm Ocean swim clinic bright and early, ooh." Morning came and the storm continued. I Got up while the family slept, I noted that no one was in the bed they had started in, except me. Somehow, my husband had been exchanged with this adorable little blond girl and in the girls bed was a little living 'Greek statue' of a boy and finally on the top twin bed was the husband. Wow, I guess I slept soundly last night, I didn't even detect that game of musical beds we had. I slunk out early, having a certain estate sale in mind right in the neighborhood of my swim class. I bought some things there, the best things being a reading lamp, a little cooler (or chilly bin as they refer to them in New Zealand) and a very cool pocket knife. I then headed off to the beach to see if the swim clinic had been canceled. No, it was happening despite the big chaotic waves and the rain. I had time to get a bagel and coffee and revel in cafe indulgence while the early bird class finished. I do love my Saturdays.

The swim session was invigorating and challenging. While I am never the first in the speed swims I do in the pool with the squad, I sometimes am a front runner in the sea (the really fast swimmers are early birds, I suspect) Today was easy for me probably because I have swam in choppy water enough to know that I am safe there. There was a good amount of flotsam in the water, though. Swimming into shore was the best, because I could glide on top of the waves and use them. There were about 15 people at the 9:00 swim. I enjoy the various teachers, each with different helpful tips and humor and or helpfulness . The time went by quite quickly and it was a worth both showing up and the 15 bucks it costs.

My plan was to write a first draft of a travel writing competition piece to unveil at my writer's group. , but I forgot somewhere between another garage sale and the needs of the kids when I got home. i actually forgot about the writer's group entirely (it meets every other Saturday) and was 1/2 hour late. Temporal trials! When I got home I wrote a letter to the head guru of the Avatar teaching challenging him a little to share. Bed time for Lil'. nighty night.