Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Banana muffins (GF)

This morning when I walked into the kitchen, I shivered. “brrh, it’s cold!” On the deck I saw hoarfrost covering the planks and the first patio furniture items placed outside. I thought about my baby kale plants, prematurely planted, but then assessed that kale is tough and even survives winter. While the coffee was brewing, I lit a fire in the oven.

The semester and school year comes to an end. Students cram for finals, defend their research work back to back before the ‘final date to defend’, and make plans for the first hikes “once it is all over”. I still try to keep my cool in the midst of too much going on at the same time.

Last weekend, I decided there needs to be time for some baking. I had collected a recipe by Tartine Gourmand, gluten-free banana muffins. This recipe had been brewing in my imagination for a while, and I even had hunted down the beautiful daisy shaped baking pan on the internet.

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lemon Fennel Celery Salad a la Jamie Oliver

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life.” – Prince

It was the first time I that I heard this quote after Prince’s untimely this week, but I have been thinking about it more than once since. What a weird thing life can be. We think we are in a ‘safe zone’, and then, a curveball out of nowhere come flying, and it rocks us out of our orbit. Or, we watch it happen to others. Then, we are shaken for a while, start to forget and go back to business as usual. 

These days are very busy at work, but instead of going nuts, I ask myself daily“so, what do I have to do today to stay on track, and what else do I do for fun?”, and each day is a mixed bundle of work (not too much) but also creative, ‘useless’ things, and I just live in the day, and don’t worry about the next. One of my latest creative adventures is linoleum stamping. Inspired by a hand-made tea towel by Tracy, I googled around on the internet, and realized it is not that complicated, and started stamping my own tea towels with store-bought stamps. So much fun! But since I could not find a stamp similar to hers, I ordered a block of linoleum and started carving the stamp I want myself. (I still yet have to stamp towels.)

linoleum_stamp
I remember linoleum stamping in high school, it was fun back then, too.

My creative juice also got flowing on another level: cooking. After I ditched my cable TY subscription last summer and now live on Hulu and Netflix, I found out that Jamie Oliver has a cooking show on Hulu, 15min meals. Jamie, with his usual enthusiastic, youthful style, inspired me to finally try out something new in the kitchen again.  I even bought a wide-mouthed food processor because he uses it for many of his recipes to finely slice veggies. In this particular recipe, he sliced a whole lemon. I had to try this one out!

The food processor arrived this week, the fennel and celery and mint were waiting in the fridge, and I had a few meyer lemons left over from the winter’s harvest.

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Meyer Lemon, Fennel, Celery and Mint salad
  • 1-2 fennel bulbs (greens cut off)
  • 1 celery heart
  • 1 Meyer lemon (organic)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 bunch of mint
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 TB red wine or white wine vinegar (optional)
Necessary: mandoline or wide-mouthed food processor with a slicing inset.
  1. Finely slice the fennel, celery, and Meyer lemon into a bowl.
  2. Chop the mint leaves (or add to the food processor)
  3. Remove the vegetables, and gently mix by hand. Add a pinch of salt, and the olive oil.
  4. Garnish with some mind and fennel prongs. Serve.

The salad has a great texture, the light scrunch of the fennel and celeries. The lemon is not bitter at all, and adds this fresh, summery note. The mint rounds it out. Nevertheless, the salad is missing something. Maybe, feta? Or parmesan? Or roasted garlic bread? Or an apple and toasted walnuts? Ideas?
Happy Sunday!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Run eat repeat

Finally, spring is here. The sky is blue, the lawns are more green than yellow and the temperatures are climbing. The trees are still barren, but some flowers like the crocuses my  mom planted around a shrub in my yard are blooming, reminding me of her as every year.  Over the last few weeks, work and life took over my schedule, and time for some of the good stuff like running and writing fell to the wayside.

With both, there is a phase of ‘get into it’ again, a phase and procrastination I can only overcome if  I take it easy and have low, really low expectations.  The longer the break, the easier I have to make it on myself.

I can’t say that I am a runner. For most of my life I hated it, until I found the Couch-2-5K program that eases me into slowly and painlessly building up stamina to really run 5k, and more I don’t really need as regular exercise. I have no ambitions for any races, and I am quite glad if I run 5k in the first place.

lululemon

The first time I did the program it took me a lot longer than a few months to build up stamina, it took me almost a year. It also meant I hike up hills like a gazelle as a by-product. Now if I take a break for more than 2-3 weeks from running, I need to start back at week 2. But at least, I maneuver myself on the treadmill again.

It is so easy to make excuses every day and say, “I start tomorrow.” If I tell myself, “just walk for 30min”, it feels easy, easily doable. And then,  two days later I might walk again. And four days later I might start running. And then I just hope that life does not get in the way again.
Sometimes, I also seduce myself with new running shorts.
lululemon_shorts
whatever it takes.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Long days, and long noodles.

This winter seems to never end. I woke up this morning and the sky looked gray but a gray that is foreboding. The tall trees are in constant movement, wiggling silently all their branches all at once. The neighborhood has a thin coat of snow, only on the lawns, the streets are clear. I see the tiny foot prints of my neighbors’ cat coming and going to my garage to check for his second breakfast that I leave out for him.

Yesterday was a bright and sunny day, and, with a warm coat, it felt warm. There was not a single cloud from one end of the horizon to the other. When I grabbed my mail from the mailbox, I heard birds chirping. It was probably the birds chirping that made me think “it is really here, finally, spring!”

My days are so full these days that they seem an exercise in survival rather than in living. Like Michael Phelps I seem to crawl through each day with mega strokes, getting things done, one after the other, only to feel bamboozled in the evening and wanting to tune out with some show on netflix or hulu. The next day I only remember glimpses of the last, and I am immersed again in the needs of the new day.

At the beginning of the year, when life was less hectic, I made different forms, shapes and sizes with the Phillips pasta maker. They came in handy over the last months when I just needed a quick meal, often some pasta and tomato sauce or a ramen vegetable soup with home-made ramen. Two weeks ago, the pasta was finally all consumed, and I resorted to regular Barilla pasta again. But, it is just not the same. I put ‘making pasta’ on the schedule-fun list. Yes, I learnt to put myself on the schedule, and fun, too.

Yesterday, after work with some hours of day light left I carried up the pasta machine from the basement. This time my plan was to make whole wheat pasta for the first time. Heaven knows I can use all the extra healthy food I can get these days, so instead of the typically “OO” white flour I mixed it with Wholefoods wholeweat pastry flour, which is also very finely ground. Half and half. I made a double batch, because who knows when I would have time again to make it.

I put the flour in the pasta machine, poured in 2 eggs mixed with water, and then the machine kept mixing and grinding, and grunting, ready to push out the noodles. Then, it beeped and stopped. That had never happened before. I opened up the machine to check that all the parts were aligned correctly. A whole mess of egg-flour crumbles fell out. But things seemed to be alright. So, I started again.  2 inches of noodles emerged, but the machine looked like it was pushing so hard it would burst apart at any moment. So, note to self (and everyone who is still reading): no wholewheat pastry flour. It must have a different texture, absorb the liquid differently and get too dense to be pushed out.

SKJ1_making_pasta_1

So, I threw it all out, cleaned up the machine, and started again, with regular flour. This time it worked, and I grabbed the noodles, handful by handful, cut them with the pastry cutter, and slid them right into the freezer container.  The last bundle went into a pot of boiling, salted water, and I whipped up a quick tomato sauce with an onion, a can of fire-roasted tomatoes from Wholefoods, a can of tomato paste, a can of Hunts tomato sauce, a dash of anchovy paste, a bay leaf, a swirl of agave nectar, and some crushed hot peppers.

SKJ1_making_pasta_2

Quick dinner, again. Netflix was waiting.

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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sauteed radicchio salad

The sky is french gray, a cold, stark gray, the wind howls around the house, and the temperatures dipped into the 20s again. There is no sign of spring. Despite it being a relatively mild winter with only one month of snow, the pre-spring is over 2 months old now. The landscape is still barren and the trees bare. We are in a waiting pattern, cruising over the airport, waiting to land, in spring.

Winter is a tough time for me to eat salads. During one winter, the best option of lunch salads seems to be buying whole romaine salad heads and chop them up when I need them. Sometimes, I buy prepackaged spring mix salad in plastic containers. This winter with my lack of interest of making my own salad in the first place and detouring to the cafeteria, I bought radicchio salad. It not only has a great, slightly bitter taste and hearty texture, but it also last rather long in the fridge, 2-3 weeks. Just in case.

raddicchio_salad

My favorite way to prepare it is with balsamic vinaigrette, blue cheese, toasted walnuts and apples or pears. It is a typical restaurant combination. But what’s also great with radicchio is that it can be grilled and slightly wilted. This time I cut a Belgian endive in half, and sauted it with some olive oil in a ceramic pan.  This was  a convincing lunch for the wary, waiting for spring.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Inspired, live.

Today, I feel inspired. Creativelive, the wonderful online forum for artistic classes, streamed entire courses on food photography and food styling this week, for free. I still remember when I saw those courses live the first time around, some way back in 2011.  I learnt so much from all of them,  picking up bits and pieces here and there, and some were (and are) really influential, especially those by Penny De Los Santos.
 creativelive
Watching them a second time, they inspired me again, but in a different way. I guess we see things in layers. First layer, first impression. You digest it. Years later, you see something entirely differently, like when you watch a movie again, 10 years later. It took me adopting and living with 2 cats to notice that there is actually a cat prominently featuring in “Breakfast at Tiffany” (and then crying my eyes out when she got chucked out in the rain at the end of the movie).  Before, it was all about NYC, pearls and, well, croissants and breakfast at Tiffanys.

Anyway. Watching the courses a second time  also reminded me of all the camera equipment, props and  stuff I bought after watching those courses the first time around, and now these things are collecting dust in my photo equipment drawer.

penny_the_moment
It makes me excited again to go on the hunt for food props in the many antique malls and road-side yard sales in the summer in Maine. Looking for textures on old barn board, antique utensils, and grandmotherly crochet napkins.
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How good to be inspired again! To be infused with new ideas, and new things to try out. Breathing new life into an old passion.
creative_live