Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I’ve signed up to bring the main dish to a potluck this Sunday, and I’m not sure what to bring. One person is bringing tabbouleh and Arabic cabbage rolls, which will be made with rice and ground beef. Others are bringing a salad, bread, and dessert.

What goes well with tabbouleh and cabbage rolls, people? Since the rolls have some meat in them, should I avoid a meat dish? The tabbouleh will be the starch, so pasta is out. I don’t think I would want to do a red meat, would I? I never do fish unless I know folks will like it, and I don’t know the food preferences of this crowd. I’m leaning toward something chicken, I think, but at this point I’ll take any and all suggestions … Haalllpppp! Puh-lease!!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Comfort food

Alicat and Sara have kicked off a really fun monthly event for food bloggers: the Weekend Cookbook Challenge. Each month they announce a theme and invite the blogosphere to contribute an entry based on the theme. This month the theme is the warm, familiar, hearty, simple genre of dish known as comfort food. What a great choice!

Ahhh, comfort food. It brings visions of mashed potatoes and butter. Tomato soup. Meatloaf. Apple pie. Macaroni and cheese. Rice pudding. Spicy peanut chicken stew.

Boinnnggg! Spicy peanut chicken stew????????

You have your comfort food, I have mine.

About 15 years ago, I was living in Manhattan in a one-bedroom apartment in midtown. This wasn't a fancy place, but it had a fold-down couch in the living room/kitchen that enabled friends to crash with me. Or friends of friends, as was the case when a friend living in Paris asked me if I would allow her friend from the Ivory Coast stay with me for a week or two while she investigated the possibility of emigrating to the US. I was glad to help. I remember it was near the end of the year, and my guest could not believe that I was not going to go to Times Square to see the ball drop in person. It was literally 7 blocks from my apartment, but I wanted nothing to do with the crowds and the pickpockets and drunks that could be expected to be among them. So, she descended to the crowds and I sat in a stairwell with a view of the ball, and we each saw in the new year in our own way.

The night before she left, she bought groceries and made an incredible pork stew with peanut butter that I absolutely loved. She left me the recipe, but it never did come out the way it had when she made it. So I went on a hunt for something similar, and what I finally found was this recipe for Spicy Peanut Chicken Stew, in Rick Rodgers' Ready and Waiting.

This is an uncommon slow cooker cookbook. Rodgers believes that most slowcooker food is boring because people think they should just be able to throw a bunch of stuff in the pot and come back to eat it in eight hours. Not so, he says, if you want fabulous food, you need to put a little more effort into it. Sear the meats so their flavor doesn't all leach out. Saute the onions to bring out the sugars in them. In fact, on Amazon you'll see comments from people who think there's too much prep work for a slow cooker recipe.

To my way of thinking, the results are worth the effort, but that may be because I like to cook!

This recipe has become something of a standard at our house. The Huz loves it, and we have often served it to company. I have modified the recipe somewhat, a fact that has caused me a little problem with my reputation when I served my pastor and his wife and some other friends the dish, and then gave them the original recipe when they asked for it, forgetting to tell them about my small but crucial modification. When they all said they weren't able to reproduce the wonderful dish I had served them, I realized to my horror that I had given them the wrong recipe! It has been a source of recurring joshing about my being one of those cooks who doesn't tell the right recipe so she can be considered a better cook than her friends. Sigh.

Anyway, here is the real recipe for my Spicy Peanut Chicken Stew. Try it with pork, too. Because it's essentially a braise, you can use a cheap cut and it will still come out tender. I promise it will warm your throat and your belly, and when you've eaten a serving, you won't be hungry again for a long, long time.

Comfy eating!

Spicy Peanut Chicken Stew
adapted from Ready and Waiting

2 T vegetable oil
2–3# lbs boneless chicken pieces (I use thighs) OR a 3-1/2 lb. chicken, cut up
½ tsp salt
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
42 oz diced tomatoes (I love Muir Glen brand)
2 T tomato paste
1 tsp curry
1/8–¼ tsp cayenne pepper, to taste
1 c plain yogurt
1 c unsalted, sugar-free peanut butter

  • Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat till hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Immediately add the chicken skin-side down, in batches without crowding, and cook until the skin is golden brown, about 3 minutes. (Do not turn the chicken.) Transfer to a plate and season with the salt. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the skillet.
  • Add the onion to the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute (see this post for an idea for how to add the garlic to the pan without risking burning it). Transfer to a 3-1/2 quart slow cooker.
  • Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, curry powder, and cayenne. Stack the chicken in the slow cooker. If you use mixed chicken pieces, place dark meat on the bottom and breast meat on the top. Cover and slow-cook until the chicken is cooked through, 5 to 6 hours on low.
  • (Optional) Remove the chicken from the slow cooker, remove the skin, and cut into smaller pieces.
  • In a small bowl, combine the yogurt and peanut butter. Stir the mixture into the slow cooker and cook just until heated through.
  • Serve over rice.

Please don't ever serve me ...

I love to cook, for myself, for my husband, for large groups and small. I like to think of myself as a pretty adventuresome eater. Sushi's cool. Liver & onions with bacon --- yum! Indian food? Lovely. But there are some pretty common food items that you will not find in my kitchen, never mind in my mouth. I'm not talking about things that just aren't worth the space. I'm talking about nuh-uh, no way! Here are a few:
  • iceberg lettuce
  • beets
  • uncooked green bell peppers
  • lima beans
These are things that are in my kitchen ... can't live without butter! ... but that never pass my lips in the described form:
  • cold butter
  • rare meats (that's probably why I love braising sooo much! done but tender)
  • undercooked eggs (eww!)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Weekend Dog Blogging #19

Emma the wire-haired fox terrier lives in Seattle with my sister and her husband, Mike, who is the dog's REAL owner. Mike takes Emma out in the convertible when weather is nice. And of course she must wear her goggles. Good doggie.

Attention Dog Lovers! It's time for Weekend Dog Blogging!
To see more fun dog photos and discover yummy new food blogs, head over to
Sweetnicks on Sunday night for the complete roundup. We'd love to have you join us. Just post your pup and e-mail the permalink to Sweetnicks.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

CU L8tr...

Those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that I have overbooked myself. Teaching the class Friday night, having a large group here for dinner Saturday, and having company for brunch immediately after church Sunday. Ahem.

All this is to say...I don't think I'll be posting till early next week. Any prayers, good wishes, happy thoughts that you can send my way over the next few days as I try to pull this off will be MUCH appreciated!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

5 Food Challenges for 2006

The lovely Paz (I haven't met her, but with a name like Paz, she has to be lovely. And her writing certainly is!) from The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz, has tagged me for this Five Food Challenges of 2006 meme. Thanks, Paz, what fun!

Actually, there are so many aspects of cooking that I can improve in, it should be the 1000 Food Challenges for the Next Decade, but I guess that would get a little overwhelming! So here are some things I see in my more immediate future that will stretch my cooking (and other) muscles, hopefully not to the breaking point!
  • TEACHING: As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been invited to teach a class called "Mardi Gras!" for my local food coop. They have fabulous cooking classes, which I've happily attended in the past. I've never cooked for pay in my life, never mind cooking while talking while helping learners learn! But it's something I've always wanted to do, and besides I want to spread the Gumbo Gospel. It's such a gorgeous meal. Note to self: blog gumbo! So, anyway, as it turns out there's enough interest to fill two sessions, one of them this Friday ... gotta get on the stick figuring out how this whole thing is going to work! And while talking with the teaching coordinator yesterday, she's invited me to teach a class on classy brunches this spring. So I will hopefully be expanding my cooking horizons in the direction of teaching this year. It's all very exciting!
  • JAMBALAYA: Even though I love jambalaya, too, I haven't come across a recipe that I'm happy with. And since I've mastered gumbo (imho), if I can figure out how to make great jambalaya, I'll have mastered the Grand Duo of Creole cooking. Not to mention made my Huz very, very happy. So if you know the secret to killer jambalaya, I hope you'll consider sharing it with me!
  • COOKING FOR A CROWD: About the largest group I've ever cooked for was 30. It was a not-insignificant accomplishment, though, because the kitchen was small and the crowd barely fit around the tables! This spring, a good friend who operates a great non-profit organization, W8NG, has asked me to plan and execute a dinner for a much larger crowd, perhaps in the neighborhood of 100. And I said yes! What am I, CRAZY? But it will be done in a good-sized commercial kitchen, and I'll have lots of help. In fact, if I can work my way into the dramatic entertainment being planned for the night, I'll do most of the prep work ahead of time, get everyone all set for the dinner, and then go Do Drama instead! Does that sound a tad optimistic to you? Um .. me too. We'll see. Meantime, do you know a great dessert to serve after a chicken putanesca meal? One that scales well, can be made ahead of time, and delivered to tables by teenagers? Haaaeeelp!
  • FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY: Errr, ah, take a look at my food photos. Not disgusting, but nothing like beautiful, either. Nuff said.
  • YEAST BREAD: I would love to get comfortable with, and proficient at, baking yeast breads. I've tried a few recipes in the past and have been none too proud of the outcomes. Would love to take a class at King Arthur Flour's headquarters, which is not so very far from me ... but they do cost a lot! Maybe I'll ask for that as a Christmas present. From multiple gifters. In which case, learning will happen in 2006, actual doing in 2007. Does that get me kicked off the 2006 Challenge boat?
Ok, there are my five for '06. Now I tag:
  • anyone
  • who
  • wants
  • to
  • do it!
The last time I tagged poor Kalyn, and she is so popular that she had a backlog of memes to do. Rather than risk doing that to another busy person, I'll leave it open-ended. It was a fun exercise, Paz, and I thank you for tagging me!

If you decide to take up the challenge, please let me know, please, please, so I can read yours! And I'd love to add a link to your blog if you'd like.

Happy memeing, all!

Braised London Broil

The ever-delightful Stacey of Just Braise has it right, in my book. On Chef Michele's Adventures recently, she waxed rhapsodic about the virtues of braising, which can elevate an inexpensive piece of meat to a juicy, tender, falling-off-the-bone mouthful of heaven. She expressed it far better than I ever could, so I will just refer you to her post, which also features a great recipe for Bourbon-Pomegranate Molasses Beef Short Ribs w/ Broccoli Rabe and a discussion of the two kinds of short ribs. Who knew there were two? Now I know.

I came to braising late in life. I had a subscription to Yankee Magazine for one year. It's something you wouldn't subscribe to unless you're a New Englander or a New Englander wannabe, but I'm here to tell you, I got many, many good recipes out of that mag. One month they featured braising, with lots of recipes. The simplified cassoulet recipe that I got from them has become a company dish at our house. It's incredible.

Since then, I've begun to experiment with braising as a lifestyle. What a great way to get dinner started, put it in the oven, and forget about it till it emerges tender, succulent and flavorful. So, last night I decided to pull a one-pound London broil out of the freezer and present my beef-loving Huz with a pseudo pot roast, using just the supplies in my fridge.

I had some beef flank cut for London Broil in the freezer that I had picked up in bulk for $2.99 a pound. It's not a well-marbled cut, so braising is just about the best way to fix it so it is not dry and tough. I happened to have onions and carrots, but no potatoes, but you certainly could add them if you wanted to more closely approximate pot roast. I decided to add some Marsala wine and summer savory; for amounts I added the wine one tablespoon at a time, tasting after it cooked for a minute. The summer savory was a total guess. I haven't cooked with it before, but it smelled good and seemed as if it would complement the other flavors well. I love it!

You could use a red wine and bay leaf and/or oregano. I must say, though, that the Marsala and summer savory made for an unexpectedly heavenly sauce. I'll let the Huz chow on the beef. Just give me some rice and a big spoonful of that sauce! Yum!

Braised London Broil

1# London broil
olive oil
2 handsful chopped celery
2 handsful chopped onion
4 large garlic cloves
3 T marsala
2 tsp summer savory
1 can beef broth -- fat free, reduced salt
2 handsful carrots
2 large onions, quartered
¼ c soft bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Chop the celery and onions, and quarter the two large onions. Sprinkle lots of kosher salt (see picture below) and fresh ground pepper on one side of the meat.

Select a large, nonstick fry pan that can go in the oven. Get it smoking hot over high heat. As soon as it begins to smoke, put the meat in, salted side down. While that side is searing, sprinkle more salt and pepper on the other side. Cook the first side for 2-3 minutes or until nicely browned. Turn and do the same for the other side. The less you disturb the meat while searing, the better seared it will be.

You can see from this picture how heavily I salted the meat. The seared salt shows up as yellow.

Remove the meat to a plate. Quickly put the olive oil in the hot pan and immediately add the celery and chopped onion. Turn the heat down a bit, and saute till the onion begins to turn translucent. It will also be a bit browned. This is good!

[Note to self: next time try searing the quartered onions briefly and removing them to a plate, also, before beginning the sauteing. They tasted fine this way ... what would searing them add? Worth trying.]

When the onions are done, heap the onions and celery in the center of the pan, and put the garlic through a press onto the top of it. This technique allows you to put each garlic clove through a press right into the hot pan without having to worry about the first one burning before you get the last one pressed.

Continue sauteing until the garlic is gently done, not browned but also not raw. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and saute for a minute or two.

Add the beef stock, the summer savory, and 2 T of the Marsala. Stir and inhale deeply; it's starting to smell divine! Bring the stock to a rapid boil and reduce liquid by about a third, perhaps a bit less.

Return the meat to the pan. Surround it with the carrots and quartered onions. Cover the pan and put in the oven. Set your timer for 2½ hours. Pour yourself a small glass of the Marsala and sit down with your feet up. Feel free to eat some bon-bons while the oven finishes dinner for you.

When the timer goes off, stir in the final 1T of Marsala. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the sauce (no need to put them on the meat but also no harm. You want them to soak up the sauce and thicken it a bit). Put the skillet back in the oven, uncovered, for another 30 minutes or so. It can stay in the oven longer without harm; you might care to turn the oven down to 250 or so and put the lid back on to prevent evaporation of what I'm now beginning to think of as not just the sauce, but The Sauce.

Serve with rice or bread to sop up The Sauce. It has a sweetness from the carrots and the Marsala, and great body and color. You will be able to cut the meat with a spoon. I could say more, but it's bedtime. Night-night.

Calling all lurkers! It's time to leave a comment. Let me hear from you! Come on, sass me!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tables make great caves ...

Simba loves to sleep under our table, even while we're eating there. Stretched out, he barely fits between the legs if he uses the base as a pillow. Hey, the Japanese use wooden blocks for pillows (or used to, anyway) so what's so weird about that?

Of course, when we're eating there, he doesn't sleep all that soundly. After all, there might be some doggy business to do, cleaning up accidentally dropped food. Amazingly, he doesn't go for the food bits until he's told he may, or we leave the table. Yes, I know, he really is the best doggie in the world.

See a previous picture of Simba

Attention Dog Lovers! It's time for Weekend Dog Blogging!
To see more fun dog photos and discover yummy new food blogs, head over to
Sweetnicks on Sunday night for the complete roundup. We'd love to have you join us. Just post your pup and e-mail the permalink to Sweetnicks.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cooking class X 2!!

I mentioned a little while ago that I've been hired to teach a one-night cooking class at my local Co-op. A few years back, I had the good fortune of learning how to make authentic gumbo from friends from the New Orleans area. Since then, it's become something of a signature dish for me. I'm sure if I lived in the New Orleans area, everyone would be ho-humming to beat the band about this. It seems as if everybody makes gumbo down there, and every recipe is a little different. But up here in snowy New England, gumbo is a rarity. Many people don't know what it is, even.

My class description went like this:
Short, cold, dreary days call for lively flavors and bone-warming foods! Cajun and Creole dishes need not be spicy, but they are always intensely flavorful. Come learn how to make a traditional Mardi Gras meal of Hot Gumbo over Rice (to call it a soup is like calling champagne a table wine), Easy-but-Killer Corn Bread, and delicious pecan and chocolate cream pies. Gumbo is the perfect make-ahead meal, actually improving with time and eminently freezable for later meals. This is Creole peasant food at its best!
Since I've never tried to teach a cooking class before, I didn't know what sort of response to expect. To my delight, not only did the class fill up (12 people), but there was enough interest to schedule a second class! I'll be spreading the Gumbo Gospel* to twice the number of people! This is very exciting. I'm very excited. Can you tell? :o)
*Did you know that "gospel" is a Greek word meaning "good news"?

Satisfying soup suppresses appetite!

It almost sounds like a National Enquirer headline, doesn't it?

Anyway, in a study at Johns Hopkins University, researchers compared soup with other appetizers to see which most effectively dimmed the desire to eat. Here's what they did. They invited 12 men to lunch for two weeks. On different days, the men received different appetizers of tomato soup, Muenster cheese on crackers, or fresh fruit. Calories in each appetizer portion were equal. Then the men were given a main course to eat.

Results: Tomato soup was the most satisfying appetizer. It beat out all the others in reducing the number of calories of the entree that were consumed. The least satisfying appetizer: cheese and crackers. Soup reduced later calorie intake by 25 percent compared with cheese and crackers. (It's not clear to me how they determined that, but hey! I'm believing the synopsis, especially after my own unscientific experiment, described below)

This little beauty did the trick for me this evening. And in addition to being "effective at dimming the desire to eat, " it's incredibly simple to make. Just bring some broth to a boil (I used chicken broth but you could use vegetable if you like), add some parsley, edamame (or substitute frozen peas) and small whole-wheat pasta, cook till the pasta is done, add a touch of white wine and salt, and top with fresh parmesan. Full recipe.

[Hmmm ... do you suppose this soup qualifies for Sweetnick's ARF (Antioxidant Rich Foods)Tuesday?]

I must confess, I'm not a fan of clear-broth soups most of the time, although I do adore a good salty miso soup. But this little cuppa tasted mighty fine! I was waiting for T to come home for a late dinner, so my tummy was growling away. Eating a cup of this soup was incedibly satisfying. By the time we had dinner an hour and a half later, I still wasn't in any rush to get to my meal. If, like me, you're working on getting the pounds off, give this a try! I'd love to hear what you think.

I'm going to have to try making my own tomato soup one of these days. Do you have a favorite recipe?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

(No) snow #8

Sorry to have not posted for a while. I decided on fairly short notice to fly out to Seattle to surprise my niece, who was having a decade birthday. I think it's fair to say she was surprised. She shouted "Oh, my G--!" and nearly fell over when she saw me. So, it was worth the two days of flying to have two days with family. :o) And I got to meet the new dogs in my sister's household, Emma and Katie, who will later be my entry in Sweetnick's Weekend Dog Blogging this week!

Meantime, I need to stop putting up beautiful pictures of snow, because we have nearly none left. The gorgeous snow that produced all those pictures was on January 5. We've had nearly no snow since then, and have had lots of days with rain or warm temperatures. At this point, gardens and grass are peeking through a very thin layer of wet, heavy snow and it's all quite dispiriting, I must say. I know there are those who feel winter is to be avoided, but I absolutely love it, as long as it includes snow to coat the world and make everything magical.

Anyway, I took this picture a couple of days after the big snow, when the sun came out to illuminate the white birches behind the massive maple tree next to our house. Isn't that blue sky gorgeous?

Photo taken Jan 7, 2006, All rights reserved.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Snow #7

Do you ever wonder how on earth large birds like turkeys can survive in the woods in the winter? These seed-laden dried plants help explain that mystery.
Taken Jan 5, 2006, All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Snow #6

Also from our back yard, looking up at the underside of snow-laden branches. This is a lone pine in the midst of lots of bare hardwoods. The contrast is lovely!
Taken Jan 5, 2006, All rights reserved.

The last thing I ate or drank was lunch: chicken corn chowder with leeks, a piece of whole wheat toast, and almond cake.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Shopping in India (continued from Dec 7-9)

The first place Celine took us, I didn't bring my camera. Darn! Because it was by far the most "foreign" shopping experience we had.

Nanette was interested in buying some jewelry for the girls, and possibly also some gifts if the price was reasonable. So Celine took us to one of those open-fronted shops that almost looks like a stall, very tiny. It was perhaps 12 feet across, with shelving along each side wall, so that the actual floor space was more like 8 feet across. The shelves contained knick-knack type things, carvings of elephants and camels, decorative items in wood and stone and marble, I really couldn't tell you what-all was there, because we went right past them.

These shops, which we saw in Mumbai, give you a sense of the one were were in. If you've ever been in a third-world country, you've seen them.

The stall was about twice as deep as it was wide. It was very clean. Halfway back, there was a low jewelry display case with very low stools in front of it. The three walls around the back of this area were just loaded with jewelry, some displayed hanging on the walls, some in bags and boxes. Behind the display case, sitting cross-legged on a cushion, was the proprietor.

At first we didn't pay him much attention, not wanting to spark a spate of hard-sell. He was a young man, slim, nice-looking, with longish hair. He was diplomatic, just biding his time, watching what Nanette and Celine looked at, pulling out similar items and silently placing them on the display case. I'm not much of a jewelry person, so I also watched them and admired what they admired and tried to be helpful in an unhelpful sort of way. You know. Surplus shopper, along for the ride.

Before too long, I sat on one of the stools in front of the display case, and soon Nanette joined me, looking at the items our proprietor had pulled out. By then, we had been in the store maybe 10 minutes. The young man asked us if we would like some tea, Kashmiri tea, "if you drink this tea you will never want another kind." I didn't want to be rude, but I also wasn't sure if the tea would be safe for us to drink. I turned to look at Celine and asked, "Is it Ok, because it will have been boiled?" He heard me and said, "No, no, no, I make with bottled water!" and pulled a large water bottle out to show us. So then of course we said yes, and he began to prepare the tea. He had an electric kettle of sorts, in which he had water already warmed. (There obviously was electricity in the shop.) He put the tea into a filter basket, which he plunged into the hot water. Then he asked if we would like sugar in our tea. We said yes, a little, so he showed us a quantity of what looked like rock candy to me, very large sugar crystals, and poured that in. Then, of course, we had to wait while it steeped.

He was right, the tea was delicious! He served it to us in nice china cups with saucers, very proper. As Nan and Celine pored over the offerings, he pulled out more and more until there were cloths and papers with jewlery spilling out of them piled high on the counter. He was such a pleasant young man, not at all pushy. I asked him if he had made the jewelry himself. He said that yes, he had, not all of it but most of it. He learned it from his father, who is also a jeweler. They make periodic trips to Kashmir to purchase stones and other raw materials. We learned his name is "Shine." Not sure I heard it correctly, I had him say it again. Curious.

Most of the gems in his shop were semi-precious, but he did have some beautiful precious gems, as well. The settings varied from extremely simple to quite ornate. Some of the necklaces were in the traditional India style, with loads of jewels hanging in a variety of settings from a choker-sized chain. It's hard to describe, but suffice it to say it looks like something Cinderella would have worn to the ball!

Finally my eye was caught by a large, white, opaque stone which turned out to be a polished shell. There was a tan-colored swirl in the white, and it had been set in a pretty silver setting with an open back, so you could see the back of the shell. It was quite large, perhaps half-dollar sized, and I thought immediately of a friend, Mary, who wears similar jewelry. Likewise, Nanette thought of her mother-in-law, so luckily there were two! I don't recall how much it cost. I think it was in the neighborhood of $6-8 US. We each chose one.

Later, Nanette was looking at a very pretty purple stone, again set beautifully in silver. It was oval, about the size of a nickel. It was also very reasonably priced, and Shine pulled out similar items. I saw a smoky quartz, kind of a brownish grey, that I thought would look stunning against any of the many plain black tops I own. It was the same size and cut as Nanette's purple stone, but it was in a very plain setting that didn't complement it well, to my eye. I said as much, and Shine said he could reset it for me, for about $3. Sold!

Nan bought several other items, including gifts for her daughters. We were offered more tea, and we all laughed, because it seemed when we drank tea we bought more. Shine understood our laughter and protested he didn't mean it that way. By now, we were very relaxed and enjoying our time with him, in his little store, with his gracious hospitality.

When it came time to settle up, we learned that he would need two days to reset my stone. This being Thursday, two days meant Saturday. On Saturday we were to pick up Hope, and we didn't know what time and couldn't promise that we could return to his store. We asked if there could be any chance of picking it up late Friday. No, that wouldn't be possible. Finally, he said that he would bring the stone to our hotel on Saturday. Personal service! Just try and get such a deal in a US store for a purchase that totalled in the neighborhood of $10!

So, we gave him the name of the hotel and our names, and he totalled up our purchases with, of course a bit of a discount because we had purchased several items and we wereguests in his country and it was his pleasure to ensure that we had only the most pleasant memories of India so then we would tell all our friends and they would come buy from him also. Each purchase was sacked in a cute cloth bag with gold strings to close it, and into each bag went his paper-thin business card. I sneaked a peek, and sure enough, there was his name, "Shine." I later learned that all Indian names mean something, there are no abstract names like "Jane." So Shine is probably the English translation for the word that is Shine's name.

You might be wondering whether we were concerned about giving our money to this young man who was unknown to us a short hour ago. And the answer is no. Firstly, because he seemed to be an honorable person ... but we're in a strange culture, so our instincts could be all wrong about that. So that brings us to secondly: the amount of money at risk was small. So, we departed without a concern, having enjoyed a time of connection with a handsome young man and having purchased some sweet things, and looking forward to seeing him again, hopefully, on Saturday.

As we left, I remarked to Celine that this little shop has a lot of very valuable jewelry in it, far too much to be carried home at night. I didn't see any way to close off the wall that fronted the street, although there probably was one. In New York City, they have stores like this, but they have what are basically overhead garage door-type walls that clank down and are securely locked at night. I wondered how on earth he managed to keep his inventory safe. "He might sleep there," she said. Which caused me to think then about what sort of sleeping accommodations our handsome friend had. Perhaps he hired a trusted friend/colleague to sleep there as a guard. Who knows? It's one of those little details that brings home what a very different world it is over there.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the equivalent of a downtown shopping mall. To be honest, it was a bit of a blur for me. The jetlag was hitting with a vengeance. Nanette and Celine didn't seem so affected by it, so I contented myself with wandering vaguely and gathering what visual impressions I could without buying anything much. I did keep an eye out for fabrics that I might enjoy having made into a punjabi outfit for myself, at some later date, and I did spot some that were lively without being so tropical looking that I wouldn't feel comfortable wearing them to a party in northern New England. But I was way too exhausted to do the purchasing, never mind the measuring and decision making about styles: gathered tight ankles? Swishy wide ankles? What neckline? How fitted the bodice? Nope, out of the realm of my possibility.

So, the visual impressions ... and why one EARTH did I not bring my camera? ... were of narrow hallways with lots of tiny storelets, with normal glass fronts on them, some goods in the doorway or out in front of the shops but most displayed inside. Lots of jewelry and knick-knacks (I want to say "chochkies" but I haven't a clue how it's spelt!), makeup and shampoo, fabrics. I especially remember one store display that had several vertical rows of fabrics, each paired with one or two compatible fabrics, so the discerning sari or punjabi buying woman could be sparked with ideas for tops and bottoms. It was there that I spotted the fabrics that I liked, and which I never saw again on any of my journeys ... so I came home punjabi-less.

Oh, well. It's a very minor tragedy, that.

You'll have to wait for another posting to find out what happened with my smoky quartz. It's another charming India vignette, I promise!
The last thing I ate or drank was heavily salted shelled edamame (yum) and ice water. (I do eat more than cereal and edamame each day ... I guess I just tend to eat them before posting!)

Snow #5

From our back yard. Almost architectural, isn't it?
Taken Jan 5, 2006, All rights reserved.

The last thing I ate or drank was a big glass of apple juice. (I've had to fast today for a medical procedure tomorrow. Looking VERY forward to tomorrow's first meal!!)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Snow #4

Taken Jan 5, 2006. All rights reserved

This tiny brook runs right along the road in front of our property. Its burbling can't be heard from the house, unfortunately. It's just the sweetest sound. Only in the harshest of winters does it totally freeze over, so it provides easy access to a drink of water for the feathered friends who faithfully frequent our bird feeders out back. (Alliteration totally unintentional!)

No big cooking news today. We went out for Sunday brunch to a local Italian place, where I had a totally disappointing reuben pizza. Who would put an alfredo sauce on a reuben, I'm askin' you?

The last thing I ate or drank was a big handful of shelled edamame with kosher salt, and a caffeine-free diet Coke.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Is cooking fun?

This afternoon, as I puttered around the kitchen.

T: What're you making?
Me: Oh, these cheese crisp things with sage and a bit of red pepper in them.
T: What are they for?
Me: Nothing in particular.
T: Just for fun?
Me: Yep.
T: [silence for about 15 minutes as I continue making the crisps, bake them, and bring him a small plateful with some artichoke dip. He'd worked hard clearing the driveway this morning, I figured he could use a few extra calories in his system!] Then ...
T: You know, if I were to make a list of all the things I'd like to do for fun, you know, just when I had some spare time and wanted to enjoy myself, I wonder how far down on the list "cooking something" would appear?
Me: Would it even make the list?
T: I don't know. Probably not.

And there you have it. The difference between him and me, in a nutshell.

The crisps turned out great, by the way. Light, a little crumbly, with the slightest bit of heat from the cayenne pepper but majoring on butter, with just a hint of cheese flavor. But there was no noticeable walnut flavor at all. Next time I might leave the walnuts in bigger chunks, or use pecans or almonds. Pump up the cayenne a tad. They would be great for a theme party, since they're made with cookie cutters. Stars for the 4th? Trees for Christmas? Sombreros for Cinco de Mayo? What holiday shapes would you use?


The last thing I ate or drank was a handful of these crisps.

Snow #3

Taken Jan 5, 2006. All rights reserved

Stealing an idea from Chef JoAnna: The last thing I ate or drank was a big bowl of Barbara's Bakery Shredded Spoonfuls with Smart Milk 0%. (I sound like a commercial!)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Simba the snow bunny

You're no bunny till Simba-ny loves you ...
Sorry. Couldn't resist.

See a previous picture of Simba

Attention Dog Lovers! It's time for Weekend Dog Blogging!
To see more fun dog photos and discover yummy new food blogs, head over to
Sweetnicks on Sunday night for the complete roundup. We'd love to have you join us. Just post your pup and e-mail the permalink to Sweetnicks.

Hey! Lookit me!

I am sooo excited to teach a cooking class for the first time. Lookit me! Better yet, take my class!

Me in fours! You?

Four Jobs You've Had in Your Life:
  1. bartender
  2. dental assistant
  3. bank manager
  4. programmer
(can I do 4 more? waitress, hostess, administrative assistant, legal secretary)
Four Movies You Could Watch Over and Over:
  1. O Brother Where Art Thou
  2. Monsoon Wedding
  3. Blade Runner
  4. Mad Max (ah, when Mel was young ... )
Four Places You've Lived:
  1. Manhattan, NYC
  2. Phoenix
  3. Manila
  4. Cologne
(can I do 4 more? Tokyo, Okinawa, Tennessee, Illinois)
Four Websites You Visit Daily:
  1. GMail
  2. Bloglines (my RSS feed consolidator, which then sends me on to lots more lovely places!)
  3. Ebay Buying: Items I'm Watching
  4. My own blog to check my comments and write!
Four TV Shows You Love To Watch:
  1. House, M.D.
  2. Foyle's War
  3. NYPD Blue (it's always on somewhere!)
  4. Alias
Four of Your Favorite Foods:
  1. my "cassoulet"
  2. Barbara's Bakery Shredded Spoonfuls
  3. Freshly made tortilla chips with lots of salt
  4. my chocolate cream pie
Four Albums You Can't Live Without (at least for the moment):
  1. Can I do zero? You know, there just aren't any albums I can't live without, ever! AlthoughI have to admit, loud Charlie Daniels has gotten me through many day of housecleaning I didn't want to do!
Four Places You'd Rather Be:
  1. India
  2. scuba diving
  3. Kenya
  4. visiting friends in Jordan
Four People Who Are Now Obligated To Do This to Their Blog:
  1. Margaret
  2. Eva
  3. Brian
  4. Kalyn
(not crazy about the "obligated" thang, but that's how it was passed to me ... and it's fun to do, so ... um ... pretty please?)

Snow #2

Unbelievably, these are un-touched-up colors, exactly as they came out of the camera. Aren't these blues heavenly?
Taken Jan 5, 2006. All rights reserved

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Snow #1

In the back yard.
Taken Jan 5, 2006, All rights reserved.

All is calm ...

I don't have a great camera, and I don't have great skills, so I don't know if these pictures express to you what I'm experiencing today, but I wanted to give it a try.

We live in the woods, and we have lots of big windows. ¾ of the windows have no blinds or drapes, because they look out into wilderness. The windows on the street side of the house have mini blinds, but unless there's a blazing hot sun beating in on that side, the blinds are always pulled all the way up. We love having the outdoors be a constant part of our line of sight.

Outside the windows right now is the most beautiful, heavy, fluffy snowfall. It's coming straight down, steadily trying to blanket myentire world in white. The trees, birdfeeders, deck, lawn, garden, everything is frosted with this gorgeous white stuff, too light to do harm to the trees, dry enough that snow removal is more like sweeping than lifting.

What is it about a snow like this that gives you the sensation of such a peaceful, calm silence? I don't know the answer, but it's one of the times when I am so thankful to be home to enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

This & that from tonight's dinner

Are these homemade potholders a part of your childhood? Wasn't it wonderful to spend just a short time and end up with a present for your (patient, grateful) mother? A young friend made this one for me a couple of years ago. Evidently the frame that she used was only about 4 inches square, but at her age, she didn't recognize how terribly small the potholder was. I was sincerely grateful for her desire to give me a gift, but didn't think I would have much use for it. But look! (Or "Behold!" as Mimi Smartypants would say. [see her item#3]) It's just the right size for a lid handle, and I use it all the time!

These gorgeous butternut squash came out of our garden this summer. We've been keeping them in the basement, which really isn't cold enough to be a good root cellar. So, to use them up, tonight I made a butternut squash puree, with milk, butter, salt, and pinches of allspice and cinnamon.

Do you know an easy way to remove the strings from these babies? It's not so important when they're going to be pureed, but for baked halved squash, I hate to have strings in my squash cavity (or any other cavities, come to think of it). I've tried spoons and ice cream scoops to no avail. What do you use?

Tonight was a night of using up stuff that needed using up. I had some thawed frozen chopped spinach left over from the Maple Feta Artichoke Puffs of a few days ago, so tonight I made Herbed Spinach Bake. Often spinach & rice dishes are a bit, well, BLAND. When this one is made with pepper jack cheese, it's anything but. T politely took a small portion at first, but after getting a taste of it, he went back for seconds and thirds!

One of the main ingredients is rice. I use Indian Basmati rice almost exclusively and cook it in only about 1¼ cups of water per cup of rice, maybe a hair more, rather than the usual 2 cups. It makes a rice that is firm, with separate rice kernels, perfect for mixing into other dishes, putting in soup, or using as a base for gumbo or other dishes that are served over rice. About the only thing it wouldn't work as well for would be rice pudding, where you want a softer rice, I would think. What kind of rice do you like to use? Do you stick with the recommended 2 cups of water?

And now that I think of it, I think this evening qualifies for Sweetnick's ARF/5-a-Day! But do you have to cook the meal on a Tuesday to be included?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Ok, for all you people who let your pets outdoors at night unfenced and unleashed, do you sometimes lose track of your pet? If so, you need a pet blinker! (me too) They're inexpensive at retail and doubly cheap on Ebay, so we have no excuse. I'm buying one right away!

The Cool Tools website is amazingly fun. I think I'll put a link to it in my sidebar, that's how much I like it. Subscribe on your RSS feeder and see all the cool stuff that people find. Often it's books, and I've never yet bought one of them, but it's been fun going to Amazon and poking around inside them.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Dec 7-9, Pune, India

Wednesday 7Thursday 8Friday 9
1am arrive Mombai Int'l Airport

3am arrive at hotel

noon Lunch with Minal

pm Shopping with Celinepm Shopping with Celine

As I mentioned in a previous post, we arrived in Mumbai the wee hours of Wednesday, 12/7 after having flown right through Tuesday. India is 10.5 hours ahead of us (who knew that time zones came in fractions?); on EST we actually arrived Tuesday at 12:30 pm. Eighteen hours of flying, plus all the time on the front end and the back end, made for 28 hours awake for poor me, who can't sleep on planes no matter how long it's been since the last shuteye. So, we spent the first half of Wednesday sleeping till noonish, and caught another nap in the afternoon, and basically spent the day in the hotel getting our feet under us.

Thursday morning we flew to Pune. Home of Hope Aradhana soon-to-be-Williams, and former home of Faith Amrapalli Williams. Site of happy unitings all around. There are many orphanages in Pune, and many of the children there are adopted by international parents. In fact, the adoption rate from orphanages in India seems to be very good. But more on that later, if I remember ... :o)

At each hotel, we discovered that when we asked for two connecting rooms or a suite, we always got a suite. And a suite never included two bedrooms, which was our primary goal. So, at the President Hotel in Pune, we went to our suite, realized the miscommunication, and requested two adjoining rooms. We were thankful to find that they did have the two rooms available, one with a king sized bed and one with two twins. Since we knew that later in the week Nanette would have Hope with her (!), she took the room with the king-sized bed.

The rooms were spacious and pleasantly appointed. My bathroom was particularly nice, with black marble and a large counter area around the sink. We found that our hotels all included a bidet in the bathrooms, a nice feature usually lacking in the U.S.! The one quibble I had with the President Hotel is that the floors are carpeted, but the daily cleaning didn't include vacuuming. Instead, a broom looking as if it was made hand-made with sticks and hay was used on the carpeting. Not that I needed daily vacuuming, but I'd have felt a little better about sanitation if I knew that a vacuum had been run over the floor before I arrived.

After we got settled into our adjoining rooms, Minal came to welcome us. Minal. What an amazing woman, and what a privilege to get to know her a bit on this trip.

Minal (pronounced meh-NALL) has served as the India-side social worker for both Faith's and Hope's adoptions. She is married with grown children, has lived and worked in the US, has an excellent education, and has the gravitas that comes with having lived for a while and looked the good and bad of life straight in the face. She also, as you can see here, has a lovely smile and a gracious sense of humor.

Minal assists with adoptions because they provide revenue for her main passion, ASHA, which is a walk-in center that assists women who have lost status for a variety of reasons: abuse, abandonment, divorce, pregnancy out of wedlock, rape ... all these things can cause an Indian woman to be cast out by her family. From a woman's perspective, life in India is a bit like walking a tightrope. Arranged marriages are common. Whether arranged or not, if the marriage works out, it's great, you can stay on the tightrope. But what if your husband turns out to be an abuser, or a philanderer, or spends all the household money on things other than the household? A wife has only one honorable option: stay in the marriage. Anything else causes her family of origin, her husband, and even herself to lose face. At best, she will be shunned. At worst, she will be punished.

Minal works with cast-out women to help them find options for themselves. She confesses that the work can be draining and that she often finds herself angry at a society that is so hard on women, so easy on men. But she persists, and I can only imagine her to be an ocean of calm and resolve for these women who are so desperate. I don't know what Minal's religion is (Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism are the big three in India), but I would be honored to call her "sister" in any case.

Minal shared lunch with us in the hotel restaurant. Nanette caught her up on Faith's progress: an extremely bright and happy daughter who is excelling at school and bringing joy to everyone she comes into contact with. We viewed pictures and reminisced about Faith's adoption, and covered a variety of topics concerning Hope Aradhana.

We carefully chose items that didn't have any lettuce or other fruits/vegetables without rinds or peels, and ordered bottled water to drink. Other than those precautions, it's generally safe to eat in India, especially in hotels that cater to westerners. We did have to be careful to use bottled water for anything that would go into our mouths, including ice (we had none the whole two weeks! I love ice!) and our toothbrushes. It's amazing how inconvenient it is to be unable to just reach for the sink and draw some safe clean, water. It's one of those things you take for granted until you visit somewhere where it's lacking, and it's a reminder of how pampered and privileged we Americans are. I definitely drank less water in India; bottled water just wasn't always available. On two occasions, out of habit, I dunked my toothbrush in tap water before realizing what I was doing. Fortunately, a thorough swish in bottled water seems to have taken care of any problems that might have otherwise been caused, because I didn't suffer any noticeable illness. If we go back to India, as we hope to do, I hope I remember to bring a small bottle of bleach for those absent-minded moments.

Minal is a very busy lady, so she was unable to personally escort us on our shopping trips the next couple of days. We were incredibly lucky, though, that her sister Celine was in Pune, visiting from Cincinnati! Now, this lady is a shopping powerhouse. And she had procrastinated about her shopping and was leaving Sunday to return to the States, so she was more than happy to wander around with us picking up Indian treasures, in her case for her daughter who also lives in the US.

Nanette wanted to pick up a number of jewelry and clothing items as gifts for friends back homw as well as gifts to give both Hope and Faith as they grow up. She wants to be able to give them a gift and say, "I bought this for you in your home city in India!" Isn't that a great idea?

Celine was available to help us later in the afternoon, so we retired to our rooms and tried valiantly to remain awake, wanting to acclimate to the local time zone as quickly as possible. We mostly succeeded, although we did both drop off for about ½ hour before Celine arrived. Her phone call from the lobby woke us, and we jumped up to go out on the streets of India for my very first time, and Nanette's first time this trip.

Celine ushered us into a car (Minal lent us her car and driver for the afternoon, wasn't that generous?) and off we went. I was like a kid with her nose pressed up against the candy store window. The pedestrians, the colors, the gorgeous saris, the very different way commerce is conducted, the dogs navigating the traffic, the sidewalk vendors, the carts loaded with nothing but bananas, the motorcycle rickshaws and the apparently reckless way everyone drove ... I was just soaking it all in, in wonderment and joy.

Well, OK, the crazy driving wasn't exactly a pleasure. In India, the lane lines are apparently a suggestion only. Three cars might squeeze down a road intended for two. Cars literally drive six inches apart sometimes. Passing on both sides is allowed. There are roundabouts everywhere, and I never did figure out how the drivers knew who was continuing around and who was exiting. Crossing over the center line into oncoming traffic is routinely done and excites no obvious reaction from anyone. We played chicken with an oncoming bus once (although our driver didn't seem to think it was close). I was hanging onto the handle above my window and hoping the driver wasn't watching his rear view mirror, not only because he needed to pay attention to that bus, but because I didn't want him to see my raised eyebrows, wide eyes and grimace of fear! At the last minute, the bus and we executed a neat maneuver to safely pass each other, and I decided it was OK to breathe again. Whew.

The interesting thing is that, with all the dodging, passing and honking, it's all extremely civil. I didn't see any signs of anger in the drivers, no gestures, no road rage. It's just all in a day's driving in India. Who's to say it's not better than our highly regulated roads, where we often read about angry encounters resulting in injuries, near-injuries, deaths, or lawsuits?

Speaking of pedestrians, there's no concept of traffic yielding to pedestrians in India. Around here, if you want to cross a street, you step off the curb and 99% of the drivers will halt to let you cross. In India, you takes a step into the traffic & you takes your chances. If a car is bearing down on you, you run! Or you wave your arms authoritatively to get it to slow down till you get out of its way. I didn't see any pedestrians get hurt, so everyone obviously knows the rules. I tended to follow my escort like a frightened duckling behind mama duck. It worked for me.

Well, this post is getting longer than I expected, so I'm going to go ahead and post it and come back later to tell you about our two days of shopping adventures with Celine! Does a post about shopping sound boring to you? Yeah, me too, but remember, this is shopping India style. It's not about what you buy, but how you buy it! Come on back & see what I mean!

A great new year's breakfast

Since yesterday morning was Sunday, we had to be at church earlier than we normally like to eat on weekends (yup, night owls, us!), so this morning I prepared us a nice wholesome and delicious New Year's breakfeast. Found this recipe for Fruit & Yogurt Topped Oatmeal in Better Homes & Gardens. It was featured in an article about feeding kids the morning after a sleepover ... do we qualify? It was easy to make. Of course I modified it slightly to suit our tastes. IWe both enjoyed it a lot! Not low calorie, but filling and really, really good for us. T followed it up with a nice cup of tea made with the loose black tea and tea steeper that his Secret Santa (sister) gave him for Christmas. It was a wonderfully relaxing way to start our final day of the holidays.

If you don't like oatmeal, but you live with someone who does ... why not try this recipe so you can taste it? Wouldn't it be wonderful if you discovered that oatmeal this way actually tastes good?

P.S. Check out The Virtual Recipe Collection to see this and other recipes for whole grain breakfast items!

A zero-calorie feast for the eyes

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Here's hoping things are only looking up for you in 2006! It's been a pleasure to meet all you blogfolk. Simba and I are looking forward to lots more engaging interactions in the coming year, God willing and the creek don't rise!

See a previous picture of Simba

(P.S. Check out the weekend dog blogging at Sweetnicks Sunday night for pictures of Simba and other canine cuties!)