31 December 2011

Dress Up Your Salad…with a Citrus Vinaigrette!

Happy New Year! Here’s a tasty lil’ number that will dazzle almost as much as your matching sequined pumps, top hat and light-up headband (yeah, we know that’s how you roll). This holiday, we were gifted us with some stunning, Meyer lemon extra-virgin olive oil and white balsamic that came in handy for this lil’ number.  Fear not, a nice EVOO and balsamic will do.  Remember, all that you need for a balanced dressing is an oil and an acid, at an approximate ratio of 3:1! December2011 272
Auld Lang Syne - Citrus Vinaigrette
Zest of 1 lemon or tangerine
2T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8c lemon olive oil OR a quality extra-virgin olive oil
1/4t salt
2t white balsamic vinegar
1t mayonnaise or Veganaise
1t agave syrup or honey
Salt + pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Season the dressing to taste, using salt + pepper. Refrigerate for up to 5 days. Serves approximately four party people, delicately dressed (the greens, not the guests).

26 December 2011

Holiday Cookie Exchange!

2011 Cookie Exchange Party 011“Veni, vedi, vici…bis coctum!”  Ah, yes, that’s Latin(ish) for, “We came, we saw, we conquered some cookies!”  For the second-annual cookie exchange, we gathered in our best, holiday California-casual attire to swap some sweets and revel in the recipes of our gal pals.  This year, we voted for treats in each of the following categories: best looking, best tasting, most creative and most unique holiday treats.  Printable details were inspired by those created by Natalie at BBM.  Each prize-winner took home a special gift, and we all departed with multiple plates and boxes of decadent and decorative delights!  Here are the treats, and recipes, from this special day!  Mark your calendars for next year’s exchange, to be held on December 9th, 2012!  Bonus…I’ve decided to offer a Gingerbread House Workshop prior to the cookie exchange.  Let me know if you’re interested in participating!

This year’s guests + treats are below.  Where recipes were not provided, I linked to a similar listing.  Thanks to Ginger for her photos!

Lisa: Father Christmas’ Addictive Krispie Treats

Martha: Holiday Butter CookiesDecember2011 002

Angela: “No Kidding, They’re Made With…” Potato Chip Cookies

Wendy: Peppermint Almond Kisses

Angela: Turtle Cookies

Ginger: Ritz on the Rooftop

Angela: Mrs. Claus’ Super Sugar Cookies

Charlotte: Christmas Mittens

Angela: Dark Chocolate Mint Noëls

1_2011 Cookie Exchange Party 0232011 Cookie Exchange Party 0072011 Cookie Exchange Party 0082011 Cookie Exchange Party 0112011 Cookie Exchange Party 0122011 Cookie Exchange Party 0132011 Cookie Exchange Party 0142011 Cookie Exchange Party 0152011 Cookie Exchange Party 0162011 Cookie Exchange Party 0172011 Cookie Exchange Party 0182011 Cookie Exchange Party 0212011 Cookie Exchange Party 0222011 Cookie Exchange Party 0242011 Cookie Exchange Party 0252011 Cookie Exchange Party 027

Vegetarian Lasagna…a Christmas Miracle!

As newlyweds, we felt the need to establish some holiday traditions:

#1 – Jungle Bells – visiting the zoo at night

#2 – Cookie exchange – try out a new recipe or three

#3 – Install a dog door that Chauncey will fear and resist bribery rather than usetauntaun2

#4 – The Empire Strikes Back – it’s always winter on Hoth

#5 – Christmas Card Lane – holiday lights

#6 – Take a hike…or run…or maybe just curl up under a blanket with a book

#7 – Make veggie lasagna for Christmas dinner!

We’ll point you toward another entry for cookie exchange details but, for now, we’ll share the recipe for the dish that makes anyone feel warm and fuzzy at the end of an intensely scheduled season – or at any time of year. Bonus: it freezes well! Note: prep the veggies in advance, and this will come together in a snap! A little delayed gratification is in order, as the 10min of resting time at the end allows the lasagna to set up so it can hold its shape when you cut/serve.

Sweet Pepper & Spinach LasagnaDecember2011 285

(Adapted from Better Homes + Gardens)

9 dried lasagna noodles (do not use the no-boil, unless you like your lasagna to resemble the flavor of a school art-project)

1c chopped onion (1 large)

1c sliced, fresh mushrooms

4 cloves garlic, minced

2T butter (I suppose you could also use margarine…but I’m a hater)

1, 7oz jar roasted, red, sweet peppers; drained + chopped (or, if you’re the ambitious sort, roast 2 of your own!)

1, 10oz pkg frozen, chopped spinach; thawed + well-drained (thaw in the fridge 24hs or under the tap in a pinch)

1, 15oz container ricotta cheese

1c shredded mozzarella cheese

½c grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

2 beaten eggs

1t dried basil, crushed

½t dried oregano, crushed

1, 30½ oz jar meatless spaghetti sauce (c’mon, splurge a little on the good stuff!)

¼c grated Parmesan or Romano (for the topping)December2011 235

1. Cook lasagna noodles as directed, until al dente. Drain + rinse.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet cook onion, mushrooms + garlic in hot butter (yum!) until tender but not brown. Stir in sweet peppers and set aside.

December2011 2383. Pat spinach dry with plenty of paper towels. In large bowl, stir together the spinach, cheeses, eggs, basil, oregano, and ¼t pepper. Stir sweet pepper mixture into spinach mixture.

December2011 259


4. Spread ½ cup of the spaghetti sauce evenly in a 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Arrange 3 noodles over the sauce and layer with half of the sweet pepper-spinach mixture and 1 cup of the spaghetti sauce. Repeat layers, ending with noodles. Spoon remaining spaghetti sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the ¼ cup Parmesan/Romano saved for the topping.

December2011 2785. Bake, covered, in a 375° oven for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake about 10 minutes more or until heated through. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Makes 8 main-dish servings.

06 November 2011

Roasted Harvest Veg + Sage Pesto Pasta

At this time of year, an ordinary basil pesto seems so inauthentic.  Enter Sage.  Think not of it as a Miss America runner-up to basil, no!  This pesto was delightfully warm and complex against the roasted butternut squash and Brussels sprouts freshly plucked from the stalk!  Do you find as much joy in the stalk-o-sprouts as I?  Well, even if you only share my enthusiasm for the easily-obtained winter veggies matched with sage pesto and gorgonzola, this is the recipe for you!  All bits and pieces of this recipe easily can be found at your local market and whipped up in 45 minutes, tops.  I’ve never seen Sam’s eyebrows raise as high as they did for this tasty little number!  We weren’t exactly sure what to do with the giant stalk, post sprout-removal action, so we offered it to our dog for investigation.  He was intrigued…but his carnivorous spirit left it untouched.  Finally, the most perfect beer pairing: La Citrueille Céleste de Citracado, a collaborative brew by Stone.  Hints of pumpkin, toasted fenugreek, birch bark and lemon verbena.  Makes you want to sing, right? 

Pasta with Sage-Walnut Pesto, Winter Squash and Brussels Sprouts
Serves 4-6, source: Eats Well With Others


1 medium winter squash, seeded and diced into bite-sized chunks

1 lb Brussels sprouts, halved

2T (or more, if needed) extra virgin olive oil

½ c sage

2 large garlic cloves

2T chopped walnuts

¼ c parmesan cheese

salt, to taste

½ lb pasta

4 oz gorgonzola, crumbles


- Heat oven to 450.  Arrange winter squash chunks and Brussels sprouts on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper (only one vegetable on each, since they have different cooking times).  Spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt.  Roast Brussels sprouts for 20-25 minutes and winter squash for 40 minutes or until tender.  Remove from oven and set aside.

- Set up a pot of salted water to boil.

- While the water is boiling, make the sage-walnut pesto.  Combine the olive oil, sage, garlic, walnuts, and parmesan cheese in a food processor.  Pulse until pureed, adding some water if necessary to loosen it up a bit.

- Cook the pasta until al dente and then strain, reserving about 1/2 cup pasta water.  In a large bowl, mix the pasta, Brussels sprouts, and winter squash.  Add the pesto and mix, adding reserved pasta sauce as necessary until thoroughly combined.  Taste for seasoning.

- Place pasta in four serving bowls and top each with crumbled gorgonzola.

Hey, Blondie! Pumpkin, chocolate + hazelnut blondies, that is!

‘Tis the season for pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins!  I can’t seem to get enough squash at this time of year, as you’ll see in some upcoming posts.  This recipe, from Smitten Kitchen, was happened-upon while perusing Pinterest for something new to create from this seasonal, golden gourd.  As the initial blogger indicated, it lacked in being thoroughly present in pumpkin or chocolate spirit.  Never fear!  This is what leftover ganache, freshly ground nutmeg and chopped hazelnuts are for! If you don’t have any ganache on hand, melt some milk-chocolate morsels and drizzle those over the top.  Voilà!  A perfectly decadent fall treat! 

09 July 2011

Day 5 = Laundry & Tiring of the Squatty-Potties

Ah, yes...it is at this point in the journey where the culture shock begins to make its presence known as the smog of all things unique, interesting, and exciting dissipates to reveal reality. Meal times are definitely a ritual in Chinese daily life, but eating has become exhausting. Would you consider encountering a Thanksgiving-style spread for each meal over the course of a week? Granted, I'm sure there are people out there who are willing to partake in Italian night at the 'Old Country Buffet' or 'Souplantation' every day for the remainder of their natural lives, but I have begun to miss the conveniences of preparing my own food and eating in a time frame less than 1.5 to 2 hours. The dishes are numerous, and the options endless as you spin the lazy-susan-wheel-of-food-fortune to find a chopstick-full of whatever delight has been presented. The pace is slow, and it is difficult to ascertain the portion size of each meal when you are placing 2-3 bites of food on your dish at a time, and the wheel just keeps on spinning, with dishes being added over the course of the one to two hours that are allotted for the meal. Last night, I took a break from this cacophony of culinary creations and just had a bite of bok choy, two pieces of spicy tofu...and millet wine, called Baiju (白酒bái jiǔ). However, this does not imply a lack of appreciation or enjoyment of the local food. We've encountered several regional cuisines, since Beijing is such an epicenter for various Chinese emigrants and immigrants from Southeast Asia. Korean BBQ was on today's agenda, with four of us at the vegetarian table. We broiled enoki mushrooms, sweet potatoes, daikon, potatoes, tofu and lotus root on a hot plate in the center of our table, cleansing our palates with lettuce leaves that arrived at our table in a basket.
This morning, I dug into the depths of my backpack for the pouch (I should write another entry just on how I have purposed many a pouch for this journey) containing my flax-seed oatmeal and yerba mate tea bags. I savored this ideal little breakfast with a spoon. It's the little, familiar items and moments that can make such a difference in keeping spirits positive and tummies in cooperative.
Speaking of familiarity, I made a selfish pact with myself that I could 'hold it' if I really needed to 'go' while on our visit to the Temple of Heaven this afternoon. This, of course, was warranted since I had courageously ventured into squatty-potty (i.e. 'hole in the floor for your business') land with the confidence of Bear Grylls, earlier this week. Why not? Full disclosure permitting, as a hiker/camper/backpacker/traveler for many years, I have made anywhere from the back-woods of the Mackinaw river to the peccary dens of the Amazon my potty. Ah, yes...to be one with nature, when nature calls. A hole in the floor? Surely this is a luxury compared to a dusty rock off a narrow path in the Andes or a port-a-potty at the starting line for a half-marathon in August! The first time, as most first encounters tend to be, was a novelty. "Would you look at that, Angela! There's even a pedal to flush and two impressions of feet, with anti-skid tape, marked so that you can be perfectly aligned. This is even better than you imagined. How difficult can this be?" At this moment, I realized that a skirt may have been a better choice, so I held it just in case...well, you get the idea. There are a few 'hazards' involved with said potties, and it certainly takes a few tries to get the hang of it. Each attempt has the potential for consequences that could not easily be hidden from the group, so I've just strategized my timing of water/tea intake and bathroom availability. I think this is perhaps one of the ways that traveling with a group has allowed me to be a bit less daring with even minor encounters such as these. This is almost like being potty-trained all over again. At this moment, I am empathizing with all of the toddlers waddling around in their plastic-creaking Pull-Ups, wondering the best way to mount/dismount the towering porcelain chair and hear the monumental drips that indicate that they have successfully completed this new right of passage that enables them to function along with the masses.
Finally, laundry! Here is a brief introduction to hand-washing your packed wardrobe:
Materials required:
1) Bag: I like to reuse a plastic bag (i.e. 'GAP') that can be disposed of at the end of the journey. This bag serves the purpose of the large, roomy hamper you may have in your home. This, however, tends to gather all of your garments in a multi-colored, fragrant wad until you are nearly out of underwear and rapidly approaching the 'it had better dry before the flight!' deadline. The timing of removing the items from the bag may also relate to the 'ripeness' of said clothing, and whether or not you catch a lil' whiff as you open the drawstrings to drop in the day's soiled socks.
2) Liquid Detergent - travel-sized: Woe to those who choose the powdered variety, as it just adds to the 'itch and crunch' factor which I will touch on later.
3) Water - preferably clean, although definitively not at the end of your first scrub.
4) Sink/Bucket
5) Clothesline/hangers/chairs - for draping
1) Plug the sink, and squeeze the liquid detergent into the sink.
2) Fill the sink with water, using your hands to swish the blue goo around as if you were the paddles of your Whirpool machine, enjoying its deserved vacation back at home.
3) Suds now arising, pat your hands on a little towel and gracefully open the drawstring of your hamper bag.
4) Whoops, forgot to mention that you should have plugged your nose prior to step three. No matter, you may now fish each item from the bag and place it in the soapy water, reminiscing of bygone days when this was the norm...or when you should have hand-washed that cardigan instead of shrugging your shoulders and dumping it in with the jeans because you couldn't have been bothered.
5) Agitate said garments a bit, your eyebrows raise as the water turns a delicate shade of puce - from the perspiration or smog, you're unsure, but you increase the pace of said agitation in order to remove all particles from your old t-shirts and undergarments.
6) Empty the sink, repeat processes above.
7) Wring out each item, placing them haphazardly on the plastic bag, and re-fill the sink with clean water for a rinse.
8) Channel the functionality of the washer, and create your own rinse cycle with appropriate amount of humming (if desired).
9) Drain the sink once more, and wring out each garment, placing them on the clothesline your hotel had the foresight to provide since you did not remember to bring yours from home.
10) Curse a bit under your breath when your unmentionables take up the entire clothesline, and four shirts still stare at you in their pile of sorrow from the sink, wondering how you will find a way to hang them up efficiently with only two hangers available.
11) Drape a shirt over the shower rod, then hear your mother's voice in your head, "Oh, Angela! Didn't you check first to see if it was dusty?" Check. It's indeed dusty.
12) Swear a bit under your breath, return said shirt to sink for a re-rinse.
13) Dust the rod, then drape three shirts over it and hang up the other two.
14) Tidy the bathroom so your roommate will be none the wiser.
15) Take the empty bag back into the main room, and spy your jacket on the bed. This is the same jacket that you had spilled a bowl of stinky tofu and noodles on two nights prior to this one, at the street market. Same jacket that was left for hotel staff to launder as it would take additional time to dry.
16) Curse a bit more under your breath. Shrug your shoulders, put it into the hamper bag, and vow to greet the front desk staff with its stinky splendour in the morning. Meanwhile, consider how to properly pronounce in Mandarin, "This stinks to high heaven, because I'm a clumsy tourist; please wash it for room 556 before Monday. Thanks!"
17) Repeat until you are willing to a) pay for your items to be laundered or b) dispose of items to make way for souvenirs and reduce future laundry episodes.DSCN2145

06 July 2011

Scorpions on a stick, anyone?

Today was an excellent day for acclimation and processing, as we review the objectives of the program: to devise curriculum to emphasize/explore/identify means of teaching about contemporary issues in Chinese/Taiwanese culture/historical significance in our classrooms back in the U.S.A. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? That's a pretty tall order, but fascinating and already providing endless discussions and opportunities for further inquiry within our group. We are analyzing each of our site visits against the China Institute's five areas of significance: History, Material Culture, Appreciation, People and Culture, and Geography. There have been several encounters that have sparked my interest for lessons to add to the curriculum guide - for the elementary/intermediate level. The majority of my collegues instruct at the middle or high school levels so my learning curve is Everest in scale, in regard to prior/background knowledge and lessons to engage higher level/critical thinking. I've started reading the Chinese epic, 'Monkey', which has striking parallels to Hanuman from 'The Ramayana.' It is this preservation of the traditional literary and artistic forms to tell the current Chinese story that have caught my interest. How to use rod/shadow puppetry (as observed at the Laoshe Teahouse on Monday night) to give voice to the importance of water as a sustaining source for energy and survival in rural areas? Is there a way to use the art of paper cutting to speak to consumerism, or explore Taoism in current art as well as that of the past? Yesterday, I found this outstanding painting (see in attached album) at the Chinese National Museum that was presented in the style of Song Dynasty guó huà (国画), rather impressionistic in a sense. However, this contemporary take on guó huà was disharmonius in its tone - the presence of cranes and power lines were quite dissonant against the serene landscape. This would be an excellent starting point for so many lessons with students of various levels...my mind is spinning with the possibilities. Especially since we will be visiting 798 Art Zone as part of tomorrow's plan.

We have been sharing articles, books, primary sources and artifacts with one another as we encounter many issues. As Carmen (my colleague from Queens, NY) said today, "If you keep sweeping issues under the carpet, you'll eventually have a lumpy carpet." It is still difficult to conceptualize the perspectives and scale of control found here, but with each new resource uncovered/discovered, another piece of the puzzle is revealed. All we can do is enter into each day with an open mind, heart and desire to assemble a unifying narrative that can be presented in a didactic manner to many educators. Did I mention this was a tall order?

Still to come this evening...a trip to sample some of Beijing's unique street food in the Donghuamen Night Market, near Wangfujing Dajie. Scorpions on a stick, anyone?

05 July 2011

Greetings from China!

Ni hao!
I'm entering my second full day in Beijing, and attempting to use the Internet in the business center.  It's a little bit slow, and very little beyond gmail happens to be accessible as the PRC blocks many websites, including Facebook and mass-photo uploaders such as WindowsLive unless you have a VPN...which I do not.  I'll find a solution, but it may take a while.  In the meantime, I'm sending a few photos in an email and asking Sam to help add this message and images to the blog.
The flight was painless; read quite a bit on my nook (they had outlets under the seats, so I could recharge at the end of the flight), watched 'The Adjustment Bureau' (thumbs down!), chatted with a fellow participant (9th/10th grade teacher from Hawaii) and walked around quite a bit.  12-13 hours later, we arrived in Beijing at the new terminal of the airport, all decked out for their recent Olympics.  I'm the only one muscling a monster backpack; everyone else is going old school with the wheeled Samsonites. ;o)  I tried to sleep for the first leg of the flight, attempting to manipulate my body into the new rhythmn of time...sadly, I was unsuccessful.  Since we arrived at 1:30pm (the next day in Beijing - hurrah for the International Date Line!), I knew I had to stay awake until the dinner/performance we would watch in the evening.  I went downstairs to the gym and worked out for about 30 mins with a couple of other participants, showered and headed out for our evening at the Laoshe Teahouse.
Dinner.  *Sigh*  The food here is amazing.  Seriously, they're not kidding when they say that Chinese food in America is quite dissimilar to what you experience here.  It is served family-style, all dishes placed on a lazy susan in the center of the table.  We had lemongrass tea (the best tea I've ever, ever had.  I'll try to find some and bring it home) and all sorts of dishes.  It is traditional for many meat dishes to be served first, with vegetables last -- this has to do with the yin/yang principles of warming up the system (body) and then cooling it down at the conclusion of a meal.  There is very little rice served with the meals, at least here in Beijing.  This is okee dokee with me!  Tofu is prepared here in so many different ways!  I feel that Americans have a limited awareness of how to prepare tofu, and even make attempts to hide it in dishes.  I, too, am a culprit in this ordeal, as I love to prepare tofu/ricotta stuffed shells -- the tofu taking on a similar texture of the ricotta.  "You don't even know the tofu is there, do you!  Mmmm, so good!"  Well, just three meals since we've arrived and I've probably tried about seven or eight different preparations of the lovely soy illusionist -- sweet and sour tofu is THE BEST.  Imagine little pillows of sweet and soft delights, delicately and just ever-so-slightly fried to a golden brown and drizzled with the most brilliant sweet and sour sauce in the galaxy.  Oh yes.  Brilliant.  I'll give you a sampling of the other culinary joys:  bok choy, fried rice (just rice and eggs), green tea and banana chips at breakfast, a visit to a noodle house - given a 'sanitized for your protection'-wrapped packet with a small cup, dish, glass, and chopsticks before the family style 'starters' arrive, then your noodles with choice of sauces and vegetables to mix in at your discretion, Peking duck - glazed and crispy, freshly carved near the table and eaten with mushu wrappers (think small tacos!), plum sauce and radishes, a mound of peppery tofu layered with sprouts, varieties of Chinese vegetables never seen before, dishes that just keep coming and coming and coming and coming...ending with vegetables and creamy, duck soup.  Wow.  I cannot even remember all of the food that we've eaten, but it has all been AMAZING.  There were approximately 15 different items served at dinner, in addition to the Peking duck.  Dessert is not common in China, and that's my one bit of luck -- otherwise, I'd have to roll home.
Well, that and the fact that we're walking.  A lot.  We were up early for a visit to the Forbidden City, which is enormous and divine in its historical significance to the imperial eras as well its sheer vastness.  My only sense of current culture shock is that many people stare at our group, as we are 'exotic' to them.  I happen to be the only blonde (how did that happen?) besides our director, so many people approach me and ask to take a picture with me.  It is sort of a running joke with the group, "You looked soooooooooooo uncomfortable when those two guys wanted to take their picture with you!"  I can understand, and I am obliging, especially when a boy (probably 9 or 10) came up to me in the Museum of Chinese History and said, "Hello?  Can you please help me?"  "Um, ok.  What do you need?"  "Please, please will you take a photo with us?  You are very beautiful."  His friend whipped out a little cell phone camera from somewhere and snapped a photo while we both made the universal picture-posing sign (peace).
The Museum of Chinese History and Tiananmen Square were part of the afternoon agenda; Mao's tomb was not open today, and I'm not a fan of embalmed dictators (historically significant or otherwise) so I was perfectly happy to explore the other aspects of the 90th anniversary of the PRC on display.  The museum had just recently opened a couple of months ago, and there were many people in town for the commemorative event noted above.  The primary exhibit that I explored was called, 'The Age of Rejuvenation' - which omitted quite a few events of (negative) historical significance and had a definite bias, but was interesting to compare to what I saw a couple of years ago at the Soviet Museum in Moscow.  Due to the Cultural Revolution, so many artifacts pre-1940s had been destroyed, so many paintings and sculptures to represent this 'Age' had been recreated to demonstrate their perspective (or what they wished to show) from contemporary history.  Many, many weapons and representations of the military, rather than what I wished to see -- representations and artifacts from the Chinese literati.  However, it was well worth the visit and put a time frame on many events in a way that I was able to understand the gestalt of this era.  Good times.


There are three 'Ts' that you must not mention in polite conversation with Chinese:  Tiananmen Square, Tibet, and Taiwan.  We're discussing all of them in our group workshops and lectures -- it is fascinating.  More on this later, if I'm able...
A couple of interesting finds:
- Toddlers (and a few infants) do not wear diapers.  Rather, they have split britches and 'let it all hang out'.  Children are often allowed to relieve themselves in the streets.
- The traffic is less chaotic than I expected.  It's quite orderly, just very congested.  There are many motorbikes and bicycles, but not as many of these as there used to be about 5+ years ago
- Smog.  Wow.  It looked overcast all day, and the visibility is just about 3 NY city blocks -- at its max. 
- Food -- the best in the world -- yes, even better than (or equal to) Italy.  I am not kidding -- it is beautiful.  A well-balanced mixture of textures, flavors and delights cross the palate at each meal we encounter.
- Tummies.  It is definitely very hot and humid here, and (generally older) men feel very comfortable tucking their shirts up to let their tummies and lower backs breathe a bit. 
- Scale.  True to the post(ish) Communist visual preferences, everything is of tremendous scale when it comes to new architecture and sculptures.  However, there do not seem to be as many colossal skyscrapers as I'd expected.  Perhaps it is because we've only seen a certain part of Beijing, but I believe we shall see something to this degree when we head down to Shanghai.
One and a half days in, and I have only scratched the surface of the sensorial and enlightening moments experienced.  Others included visiting a perfectly created feng shui garden in the Forbidden City, lessons on Taiwanese-Chinese relations, contemporary art and censorship, a traditional shadow puppet performance (!!!!!) while dining in downtown Beijing, watching poodles (dogs are a status symbol here - you have to pay to have them) with dyed fur trapsing the streets with their owners late at night, the Beijing version of Times Square, fresh watermelons arriving in a motorbike sidecar to a small cigarette shop to be sold on the street, using Mandarin to request a wake up call (it worked!) and a few other, minor, phrases to get around....so much!!!  Oh!  There's even a gas mask in the hotel room!
No worries.  I'm having a blast, enjoying the tremendous learning curve that was destined to occur while learning about one of the world's first civilizations and its current political, creative, economic, social, and historical significance.  Lectures and workshops are on tomorrow's agenda.  The raising of the flag in Tiananmen Square, a visit to the summer palace, and the World History Organization conference will come in the next couple of days.
Thank you so much to all of you for your support.  I feel the most alive when I'm learning about the wonders of our world...

11 June 2011

What’s Worse: Egg Yolks or Heavy Whipping Cream?

This Saturday morning, Sam finished making another batch of homemade ice cream.  On this occasion, he tried a Philadelphia-style recipe.  It’s distinguishing feature is that this batter is egg-free.  Most ice creams, indeed any that we’ve concocted, start with a lovely and delicate egg-custard.  Philadelphia-style is known for its simplistic, yet rich, base: heavy cream, sugar, and desired flavorings.  Sam decided on Madagascar vanilla beans…sophisticated, eh?  Did you know that you can rinse and reuse vanilla beans?  Bizarre…

We have decided to use an alliterative dog-breed name for each of Sam’s ice cream creations, which I then illustrate in Sharpie on our little containers.  This time, we created Vizsla Vanilla and Silky Terrier Swirl

06 June 2011

Portabellos for My Fellow!

April_May2011 358Tonight, we continue with the theme of, “Using ingredients new to my kitchen but somewhat ordinary to everyone else makes me feel lame.” Portabello mushrooms – nope, never cooked with ‘em. Polenta – nope, never cooked the stuff. However, I have partaken in both ingredients outside of said abode, with mixed response.

Firstly, the mushrooms. Best Portobello experience ever encountered is credited to Tusker House at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I think I ate that beautiful Portabello sandwich at least once a week for five months while employed at DAK in the spring of 2000. There really wasn’t much available for a vegetarian at the Disney parks back then (besides Dole whip at the Tiki Room), and this sammich could really hit the spot after a long day of conservation education chats with many a guest.

Nextly, the polenta. I have only had this once before tonight – in PB (Pacific Beach – here in Sandy Eggo) at Ghort’s old pad. Peggy G. had stewed up a bunch of polenta with some tomato sauce, and other found objects, to be served to a number of random gents hanging out at Ghort’s apartment. I was frightened, Aunt Em. Tonight’s polenta fared about the same with me, as I accidentally purchased the pre-cooked variety rather than quick-cooked. Note to readers: boiling ten (10!) cups of water is unnecessary for pre-cooked, as you promptly drown the polenta. One-fourth of a cup would have sufficed. I’m still not a fan, but Sam seemed to enjoy it. Wait until he has some homemade grits! If he liked this mush, he’ll adore some well-cooked southern breakfast charm.

The Portobellos and polenta were accompanied by some roasted sugar snap peas. These green friends were super tasty after a drizzling of olive oil, salt and pepper before snuggling up to the mushrooms (already roasting for 9 minutes) in a 400° oven for about 7 more minutes.

For dessert, Sam brought out a present that I promptly unwrapped only to find…

(to be continued in an upcoming post from a galaxy far, far away…)

05 June 2011

Tomatillo-tastic Enchiladas!

Swiss Chard.  It's a Beautiful Thing.  Seriously.  Beautiful!!  However, it's the tomatillo that has a special place in my culinary heart.  *Sigh*

This evening, I was super jazzed to work with two ingredients that I had not yet previously brought into my kitchen: Swiss chard & tomatillos!  The first is a bit understandable, as I've only recently become a fan of greens, but tomatillos?!  Good golly, what is wrong with me?  I loved peeling these little friends, and was tickled to find how easy this recipe was to prepare.  However, I should *not* have promised Sam that we would eat an early dinner because, albeit simplistic in its process, it took almost 2 hours to prep and cook.  Yikes!  At least I got in a quick jog while these bad boys were baking!  

The enchilada sauce is comprised of fresh garlic, tomatillos (yes!), jalapeños, Mexican crema (i.e. sour cream), salt, and sugar.  The fabulous filling is comprised of the diced stems of Swiss chard, chiffonade-cut leaves (literally translated, to cut "in rags"), onions, cheese, salt and pepper, veggie broth...yowza!  The recipe was lifted from one of my fave veggie blogs, Herbivoracious.  Genius!  It was super satisfying to create our own enchilada sauce, and my new BFF is the tomatillo.

...and Have Buttered Scones for Tea!

"I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK
I sleep all night and I work all day
(He's a lumberjack and he's OK
He sleeps all night and he works all day)
I cut down trees, I eat my lunch
I go to the lavat'ry
On Wednesdays I go shopping
And have buttered scones for tea..."

Ah yes, The Lumberjack Song.  We decided to partake in homemade 'buttered scones' this morning in honor of Python's lumberjack.  Ours were of the fresh orange and poppy seed variety, from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food 'zine.  Super easy and the freshly-squeezed OJ added a nice fresh twist to a light and sweet breakfast treat.  I realized, just prior to popping these little lovelies in the oven, that I only had horrible, grey-green sanding sugar (insert sad trombone here!), but luckily the color faded away during the magical baking process.  Yum!!

31 March 2011

Reflecting on Perfect Days…

When recently asked what would make a perfect day for Sam, he responded, “A day game…watching the Padres at PETCO Park!”  (Within days of this discussion, Sam ventured down to said venue to pick up two tickets to opening day!)  When asked for my perfect day, I couldn’t immediately come up with an answer.  After all, there are so many opportunities for a blissful day – I’ve been grateful to have many experiences all over the world, and would call several days ‘perfect’.  For example: a breathtaking solo climb past languorous llamas up the steep slopes of Huayna Picchu; crouching in the undergrowth of the Amazon rainforest to stealthily view a pack of peccaries dashing across the trail just a few feet away; walking across a forgotten footbridge in an Illinois park; watching the ordinary clouds trade places with animal figures on a summer’s day; kayaking in La Jolla Shores/Caves above the spotted backs of Leopard sharks; rolling out of the interior of a plane into the nurturing hands of the sky’s updraft; passing a football back and forth (at the dog park) with Sam while Chauncey euphorically rubs his back and tummy in the grass; watching from backstage as the third graders glow with pride at the conclusion of the Shakespeare Fest performance and India Showcase; sitting on a bed in a chic hotel, painting pottery on towels with Michelle & her daughter, Elizabeth, after a day of shopping and tea-time on the Magnificent Mile…I am filled with gratitude as I am reminded of all of these perfect days, those I did not mention and those that are to come. 

Yet, if I were to fashion a perfect ‘San Diego’ day upon request, it would most assuredly include a visit to the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market.  It always includes: lusting over handmade jewelry, Día de los Muertos aprons, wire art and handmade soaps; a visit with Janet at Granny’s Granola; a stop at Peace Pie’s booth with my fingers crossed that they still have at least one delectable slice of their cashew-cheese pizza and coconut milk (straight from the coconut); a custom cookie from The Cravory (red velvet is my absolute fave!); a taste of Sam’s spinach/feta tamale from Gourmet Tamales; coveting fresh pastas and sauces from the Lisko Imports tables; and always concludes with a $3.00 bouquet of fresh flowers from my favorite flower booth.  I’ve included some photos in this entry of many of the aforementioned market-moments.  However, if you happen to have ever visited me in this lovely city, you will have experienced most/all of these treats first hand.  If not, please visit soon – or live variously through this posting!

I would love to hear about your perfect days – please add a comment to this post with your musings as well!

14 March 2011

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Charlotte, the multi-talented Social Committee chair, asked me to make a cupcake creation to accompany the ‘Wizard of Oz’ birthday spread for our Lower School faculty/staff.  My immediate response was, “Of course!!! It’s my favorite film, and I’m such a fan of the Baum books!” Ah, yes…it was only a few moments later that I realized that they would be required at approximately the same time as parent-teacher conferences/conference-note writing and such craziness.  However, I couldn’t pass on this opportunity!  I found a blog posting at Baking Bites for rainbow cupcakes and I just had to try them!  My culinary confidantes, just mixing/pouring these lovely treats was a process.  It took close to an hour to prepare them for baking, and they were overflowing quite a bit!  Muffin tops, muffin tops, muffin tops – oh, my!  Needless to say, they were too moist upon retrieving them from the oven, so I put them in the freezer to firm up just a bit.  Only two were salvageable enough that I felt comfortable serving them to colleagues.  Due to the moisture added from the gel coloring, they were super-duper tasty, but too soft to hold their shape.  If/when I choose to recreate these little darlings again (anyone need LGBT/PRIDE cupcakes?), I shall reduce the amount of oil called for in the recipe, and use only 2t (rather than 1T) per color when layering the batter in each well.  Oh, and silicon liners would be preferred.  In the end, I chose to create chocolate ‘munchkin cupcakes’ and decorated them with white buttercream and a few fondant friends from Oz.  The ‘Accident in Munchkinland’ cupcake (photo to be added soon!) was inspired by another post I found online – so much fun!

06 March 2011

Veggie Shepherd’s Pie…Divine!

Some recipes just beckon to you and whisper, “Reinvent me, I beg of you!  Add your own lil’ flair!”  Mollie Katzen can do no wrong, especially in the sense that her recipes seem to welcome creativity.  Exhibit A: Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie.  I took this recipe from a fellow blogger’s adapted version taken from Mollie’s exceptional book, The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest and added a little bit of my own twist.  My adaptations* are included below.  Please note: this is the most  delectable, comforting, cozy, pajama-friendly feast you may ever enjoy.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Tater Topping (make first):
2 large potatoes
1T butter (or oil)
½c milk
3 large cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper, to taste
½c minced fresh parsley
Veggie Hash:
1T oil & 1/3c dry red wine*
1½c minced onions
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1t salt
fresh black pepper to taste
1 med. celeriac (celery root), finely minced*
1 lb mushrooms, chopped (prefer Cremini & baby Bellas)*
2 small Mexican squash*
1 medium bell pepper, minced
2t dried basil
½t dried thyme
½t dried oregano
1-1½c soy crumble*
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese (leave out to make vegan)
cayenne to taste
Make the Tater Topping:
Peel or scrub the potatoes, and cut them into 1 inch chunks. Cook in plenty of boiling water until soft. Drain and transfer to a medium-large bowl. Add butter, garlic, and milk, and mash well. Add salt and black pepper to taste, and stir in the parsley. Set aside.
Make the Veggie Hash (and assemble the pie):
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Have ready a 2 quart casserole or its equivalent (ex. a 9x13 baking pan).
2. Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet or a Dutch oven. Add the onion, and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until it begins to soften.
3. Add garlic, salt, pepper, celery root, mushrooms, squash, and bell pepper. Stir until well combined, cover, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the herbs, stir, and cover again. Cook for about 5 more minutes, or until the squash is perfectly tender. *Deglaze with wine mixture by stirring and scraping up any browned bits.  Let cook until simmering and slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat.
4. Stir in the soy crumble and cheese. Add cayenne to taste. Transfer this mixture to the casserole or baking pan, and spread it out.
5. Spoon and./or spread the mashed potatoes completely over the vegetables. *Rough up the surface of the potatoes so there are bits that will get browned and crunchy.  Dust generously with paprika.
6. Bake uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and bubbly around the edges.