Thursday, September 3, 2015

Everybody's Weird

Our kids will attest to the fact that we have a handful or two of mantras that repeat in a perpetual loop on our parenting playlist:  “Safety first,” “be nice,” “work hard,” “make good choices,” you know, those desperate bits of programming we recite to our kids as we chase them out the door waiving a wayward baseball cleat or abandoned lunchbox.

With each passing day, it seems that our kids take another tiny step towards the edge of the nest and, in the case of our #1, last September marked the biggest leap yet as she spread her wings and flew off to UCLA.

So, each day, whether they like it or not, Carly and Will are served a healthy portion of wisdom we have scraped together over our combined 100+ years on this planet.  We shove each morsel down their throats as if we are carbo-loading a team of marathon runners before a big race and we hope they don’t notice the bitter taste of urgency as we sugar coat our words with happy voices.

It may seem odd (pun intended), but one of the mantras we want our children to adopt is my somewhat unorthodox conviction that, yes, “everybody is weird!”

Allow me to explain. How many times a day do we look at something or someone and think to ourselves, “what was she thinking with that outfit?” “Who eats that?” “You call that music?” And, by reflex, the easiest reaction is to immediately pass judgment and label that person or behavior as “weird”…simply because it’s not the way we are used to doing it.

Well, here’s the caveat. Whenever I catch myself in this place and when I catch my rug rats doing the same, I remind them that…guess what…that person may seem weird to you but you’re pretty weird too...and so am I!
 
It’s all a matter of perspective isn’t it? What may be weird to one could be second nature to another. And, what may seem perfectly “normal” to our family may be the oddest tradition our neighbors have ever seen. Viva la difference, I say!



Hey, I get it that it is human nature to judge and gossip and there will be times that all of us earth-dwellers can’t help but indulge in the elixir of trash talk.  But, much like after gorging on that whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s, more often than not, we feel worse for the choice.

So, by reminding ourselves and our kids that everyone is “weird” – especially us – we hope that they might stop first and appreciate the fact that we are all not alike then think twice before they give a nudge and roll their eyes.
 

When I flex this muscle in my own life, I find that in a surprising and inexplicable way, it takes almost less effort than going the eye rolling route.  At the same time, a world of possibilities immediately opens up: the potential for new friendships, new flavors and new experiences.  And, the beauty part is that because we are blessed to live in 2015 America, I get to choose for myself what part of today’s weirdness I will take, and what I will leave behind.

My prayer for my kids is that they too will celebrate what makes everyone unique and that they continue to “be safe,” “be nice,” “work hard,” and “make the right choices’” as they venture out into the weird and wonderful world we call home.

Just for fun, I thought I’d share one of my favorite “weird” recipes. Tasty, tangy and light, this snack features, what I think, is one of the most funky ingredients in any pantry: fish sauce. It's light and crisp...nice for while the weather is still hot...and super low fat for those of us (like me) interested in burning off that six pack of Coronas that seems to have strapped itself across my hips this summer.
 
 
Don’t let the fact that it smells like Will’s gym socks fool you. You probably don’t even know it, but fish sauce is that unmistakable salty, slightly fishy flavor you enjoy in most Thai dishes. And, yes, the meat is boiled in salty lime water…weird huh?

Thai Ground Turkey Salad with Mint and Cilantro

Ingredients
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 bunch fresh mint
  • 1 small head butter lettuce or romaine
  • 2 small shallots
  • 10 ounces lean ground turkey (pork or chicken can be substituted)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Preparation

Chop enough cilantro and mint leaves to measure 2 tablespoons each.
 
 
Discard tough stems from remaining cilantro and mint and arrange sprigs on a platter. Wash and arrange wedges of greens on platter to form cups for the salad. Thinly slice shallots lengthwise.
 

In a small saucepan with a fork stir together ground turkey and 2 tablespoons lime juice and cover with cold salted water. Bring meat to a simmer, stirring with fork to break up, and gently simmer until just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. In a sieve drain meat well and in a bowl toss with shallots, chopped herbs, fish sauce, cayenne, and remaining lime juice to taste.
 
I find this to be the quickest and easiest way to juice a small amount of citrus.  Just slice it in half, stick a fork in, and ream away...

 
Transfer salad to a serving bowl and put on platter. Have guests serve themselves or arrange sprigs of cilantro and mint on pieces of lettuce and spoon some salad on top. Close leaves around mixture to eat like a taco.

*Adapted from Epicurious.com

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Scampi, “Grampi,” and a “Modern” Family


The other night I made scampi for dinner. 
When I make scampi, I tend to sip on the cookin’ wine. When I sip on the cookin’ wine, I tend to have deep thoughts…
Between mincing the garlic and salting the pasta water, that night’s deep thoughts turned to my Grampa Joe.  Why?  I haven’t a clue.  Was he famous for his scampi…nope.  Did he love seafood…not that I’m aware of.  Was he Italian…not even a little bit.  So what flipped the switch in my percolating noggin from scampi to Grampi?

Maybe it was chopping the garlic? I didn’t observe Grampa Joe in the kitchen very often, but when I did, he was always in the faithful company of his pristine Swiss Army knife, ready to slice a paper thin wafer of sharp cheese or cold sweet butter.

Perhaps it was that I've been spending a lot of time at Mom and Dad’s these past few weeks.  Over the years, their spare bedroom has become a storage bunker for all of the family artifacts including Joe’s walking stick and hiking boots, his box of handmade wooden carving tools and his Swiss record collection.  I’ve been helping sort the wheat from the chaff and we’ve been uncovering countless treasures in the process.




Whatever the reason, there I stood that night over the sizzling shrimp, sippin’ on that wine, sifting through memories of Joe in my mind and finding myself yearning to fill the gaps. Over the next few days, as Mom and I dug for gold in that spare bedroom, we spent a good amount of time reminiscing about that amazing rock of a man and together, we mended a quilt of memories that had long been tucked away.


To watch my mother remember Joe is really quite extraordinary.  Most girls love their Daddies.  But Mom’s story is special, and to see her carefully turn the pages of and old notebook of his or cradle one of his photographs in her hand reminds me of the unique relationship they shared, the power of choosing love, and the legacy his choices left for all of us. That legacy is my mama and without him, all of our stories would either be nonexistent or be quite different indeed.

You see, “Grandpa” Joe was actually never a father at all in the biological sense. On July 29, 1938 his fate would forever change as he watched his best friend Ambrose welcome the birth of his third daughter and on the same day mourn the loss of his beautiful wife.  In those days, it was unheard of for a single father to care for an infant child, not to mention two teenage girls and the family dairy business.

So, with great trepidation but even greater love, one of my grandmother’s sisters Josephine booked passage on the next ship from Switzerland.  In a matter of days, my sweet “Grandma” Finy was reluctantly transformed from a maiden living in a small Swiss mountain village to a single surrogate mom living in a San Francisco third floor walk-up.

Enter a knight in shining armor: the strapping Joseph Indergand, a dapper bachelor and business man who had emigrated from the old country to America years before to join his best friend Ambrose in pursuit of his American dream.


Fluent in five languages, a voracious self-taught learner, skilled mountaineer, fitness buff, and student of culture and music, my dapper, soon-to-be Grandpa Joe had no lack of female attention in his single days. 
As we opened several vintage cigar boxes he had meticulously stowed in his dresser of drawers, we unearthed tidy little bundles of post cards, letters and photographs he had carefully tied with brown twine and tucked away. Mom grinned as she recalled Grandma Finy coming across these from time to time, discreetly rolling her eyes about the ghosts Joe's groupies from many miles and many days gone by.


Alas, the fan club was to be disappointed when the chivalrous Joseph came to the rescue of his best friend Ambrose and offered to raise that baby girl alongside Josephine, providing the stable family unit my mother would have otherwise not had. Here they are on one of their summer trips to Kings Beach in Lake Tahoe where Grampa Ambrose (Grampa Cheese, to me) was building his lakeside pub and cottages (the current site of Caliente restaurant).


So, there they were, a “modern family” so to speak well before the concept of non-traditional arrangements became the norm.  But it worked; a shy young woman, in a somewhat arranged marriage, raising her niece alongside a man she barely knew, adding to it the fact that my Grandpa Ambrose was still in my mother’s life as he spent time with her over the summers and never allowed Joe to legally adopt (see a related blog entry dated September 2, 2011 “Grandpa Cheese”).

It’s funny, because to this day, none of us, my mother included, really know the intricacies of Joe and Finy's relationship. We know that Joe knew Finy and her four sisters back in the old country but we aren't certain to what extent. We know they were married in Reno about a year after my mom was born and a prior trip back and forth over the border to Mexico was involved as well (something to do with immigration we think). We know that they were devoted to each other for over 40 years and especially to their precious infant ward. We know that they loved each other deeply.  This is their wedding photo.


We know that they called my mom Schatzi (pronounced Shot-zee) which translated means darling, and managed to dote on their sweetheart while providing a traditional, staunch and austere Swiss household at the same time. And we know, more than anything, that their purpose in life was to provide a warm, loving and safe, albeit simple, life for their little girl. This is a sweet little paper box we found filled with buttons and bows of my mom's...labeled by Joe "Schatzi."


Unlike my Grandpa Henry who wouldn’t hesitate to give Grandma Anna a little love pat on the fanny as she walked by, Grandpa Joe was forever the staunch gentleman. 



I’m not sure if I ever even saw Joe and Finy hold hands, but I am sure that I never once saw them apart from each other’s company.

To see the four of my grandparents together, which was most weekends by the way, was a hoot. Talk about worlds colliding! But it all worked out and we grand kids have the gift of those precious memories for it…summers at the ballpark, car trips crammed in the wood paneled station wagon and family holidays rotating from house to house.

Speaking of family holidays, I remember Grampa Joe making a traditional Swiss pastry and sharing it with us on special occasions.  I’ve thought of it from time to time but until now have not made the effort to unearth the recipe. Well, easier said than done! 

After placing calls to relatives both here and in Switzerland, digging through piles of tattered old recipes and searching the internet for hours, Mom and I have come up with only a smattering of possible options.

What makes it even harder is that we don’t seem to completely remember what it tasted like to begin with…or if we even really liked it!  What we do know is that it reminds us of Joe and when we make it, we will think of him, honor him and maybe even remember a few more stories about a breed of man that might be extinct in today’s modern world.  I’d like to think that these simple values of loyalty and commitment are still alive and well today as, clearly, Joe is proof that miracles happen when human beings choose love and duty over self.  My amazing mother and the person she became as a result of his choices is evidence of that.


Follow us as we attempt this version of Pastete (it is spelled several different ways but this seems to be the most common) that we found in a local cookbook from my Swiss cousin, translated by mom.



Surprisingly, it was close to how we both remember it.  The dough is firm and flavorful...not a tender pastry by any means, but kind of addictive and quite tasty.  The filling is delicious, if you like raisins, and the kirsch and Magenträes* add just a bit of je ne sais quoi that I think is fun. I imagine Joe enjoying a hearty slice with a cup of coffee in the morning, maybe as an afternoon snack with tea or with a strong shot of Schnapps as a rare after dinner treat.




Ürner Paschtetä

Dough

  • 3 eggs
  • 250 grams sugar (a little over a cup)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200 ml milk (about 7/8 cup)
  • 200 ml apple juice or cider (about 7/8 cup)
  • 250 grams unsalted butter (a little over two cubes)
  • 1300 grams flour (about 2.9 pounds or 5 1/2 cups)
  • 5 tsp baking powder**


Filling

  • 600 grams raisins, half regular/half golden (about 1.3 pounds)
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1/2 Tbs cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs Magenträs*
  • 1 Tbs Kirsch
  • 150 ml apple juice or cider
* this is a popular Swiss sugar and spice mix. If Magenträes is unavailable, use 1 Tbs of this mix:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp red sandalwood powder (found on Amazon)
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • pinch of cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground anise seeds



** my research showed that German baking powder is different than ours so I made my own mix to best mimic their formula. To do the same, mix 2 parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda.


Save one egg yolk for brushing. Put the remaining eggs in a bowl. Whisk in sugar and salt then milk and apple juice.



Melt butter in a pan at low heat then add to the bowl.

Stir in flour and baking powder until it starts to pull away from the side of the bowl.

Let stand at room temperature while you make the filling.

In saucepan, mix raisins, sugar, cinnamon, Magenträes, kirsch, and cider and simmer for 2-6 minutes. 



Knead dough again on a floured surface just until it is smooth and workable and cut in half.



Roll out on half and place on a sheet pan measuring approximately 30-40 cm leaving a rim about 3/4 “ high.



Distribute still warm raisin mixture on the dough.



Roll out the second half of the dough and place on top of the raisin mixture. Seal edges with water, kirsch or egg.



Use the dough scraps to make a decorative raised border if you like. This was not in the recipe but Mom remembers Joe doing this.



Brush top with the reaming egg yolk which has been thinned with a little bit of water.


Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes at  400° F.




Pretty isn't it...so golden brown!


Disclaimer: OK, so I never once called Grandpa Joe “Grampi”…it just rhymes with scampi. And, if you were hoping for a recipe for scampi...sorry!  Just sauté shrimp in butter and olive oil, add in some chopped garlic, a few splashes of dry white wine, a big squeeze of lemon juice, more butter, salt, pepper and a little parsley and you're good to go!

The results are in...

As promised, just wanted to report back on the limoncello
...80 days later (see my previous post).  The Cookbook Club gals, assorted friends and family all give it two thumbs up!  I however, find it a bit super sweet and...strong
...YIKES!  That doesn't begin to describe what 100 proof feels like going down.

All in all though, I would consider the experiment a success and it's definitely fun stuff to have in the freezer to pull out as an after dinner sip or late night party favor.

I even brought a couple bottles to friends as hostess gifts which was a unique treat and a great conversation piece. The bottle on the left is a Dollar Store find and the one on the right is a re-purposed McEvoy Olive Oil bottle which I just love.


It's best kept in the freezer where it acquires a kind of syrupy texture that I think adds to its appeal. Let me know if you ever give it a try or stop by for a taste...I've got a jug of it in the freezer with your name on it!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Split Peas-onality


It’s not uncommon for me to make more than one trip to the grocery store over the course of a day. Paper towels were too expensive at United, Safeway was out of bananas, Costco stopped carrying my brand of dish soap…whatever the reason, it seems rare that I can get it done in one stop.  The other day, however, I had to chuckle at myself as I pulled into the driveway and started to unload the products of my afternoon’s foraging.
 

My first armload of goods contained the bounty from my trip to Good Earth, our local organic market.  As I plopped the mismatched, unbleached, recycled, cotton, reusable grocery totes onto the counter, out poured a cornucopia of beautiful produce, bulk legumes, and fermented non-dairy alternatives.  “What a good wife and mom I am,” I shamelessly thought to myself, “and a good steward of our mother earth to boot!”  I thought about the quinoa and kale salad I was about to make for lunch, the organic mineral broth I would simmer all day then turn into a protein-packed vegetarian soup for the family dinner and how I would compost all of the scraps to feed my vegetable garden.  I neatly folded my totes, gave them a proud little pat, then marched them back out to the car to tuck away for my next trip to the farmer’s market.
 

As I leaned into the back of my car, I was reminded that I had more groceries to unload. Ah yes, I had gone to CVS earlier that day to purchase a few essentials I needed to complete a couple of more projects on this week’s docket.  Here were the contents of my environmentally incorrect plastic shopping bag.  Charlie had to take a photo when I unloaded them onto the counter…it looked so funny.
 

No joke, these were the sole goods that travelled along the three foot conveyor belt of shame at the check out that day: two bottles of 100 proof vodka and two bottles of highly noxious rubber cement, lined up, ready to be whisked away like mommy’s dirty little secrets.  Until I saw them conspicuously convey down the line, it didn’t occur to me that perhaps I should have thrown a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk in the mix…anything to deflect the appearance that I was about to head home and “break some bad.”  In reality the rubber cement was for Will’s Science Fair presentation and the vodka for a Limoncello liqueur recipe I want to test to give as holiday gifts this year. By all appearances however, it would seem that I was planning to have a secret little private party before picking the kiddies up from school.

So, yes…I do tend to make multiple trips to the market in one day.  And, no…they are not all as virtuous as I'd like.  When it comes to food, I tend to have a split personality.  Although I love to feed my family nutritious, wholesome, organic meals most of the time, I also believe that it’s important to indulge every now and then…to feel decadent and treated and just a little bit naughty.

So today I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite go-to healthy recipes then, speaking of naughty, sneak in my friend's formula for that Limoncello I’ve been meaning to try.  I can vouch for the surprisingly delicious meat-free goodness of the split pea soup   (that is if you like split peas) but can’t personally attest to the Limoncello as my gallon jug is tucked away in a dark corner of my pantry doing its thing.  I’ll let you know in 80 days when it’s ready to sip!  Do you have a favorite go-to healthy recipe?  What’s your favorite indulgence?  I’m guessing you might have a split pea-sonality too…do share!
 
Vegetarian Split Pea Soup
makes 8 servings
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups dried green split peas, rinsed well
  • 8 cups vegetable stock (chicken is fine if you are not going veggie)
  • 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs freshly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
Heat oil in a large pot, add onion and a pinch of salt and sauté until golden.  Add carrot, celery, thyme and 1/4 tsp of salt, and 1/8 tsp of pepper and sauté for about 8 minutes.
 
Stir in garlic and split peas, then pour in about 1/2 cup of broth to deglaze the pot, stirring to loosen and bits stuck to the pot.  Cook until liquid is reduced by half.  Add remaining broth.  Increase heat to high and bring to just a boil.  Decrease heat to low and simmer until the split peas are tender, about 40 minutes.
 
Ladle two cups of the soup into a blender and process until very smooth then stir back into the soup and cook until heated through. I use an immersion blender and process until I get the texture that I like. A food processor will work as well...just be careful not to splatter the piping hot soup.
Stir in the lemon juice, smoked paprika and a pinch of salt.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired adding more juice or spices as desired.
Garnish with fresh parsley if desired.
Recipe adapted from "The Longevity Kitchen" by Rebecca Katz
 
 
Limoncello
makes about 11 cups
 
  • 20 lemons-washed & dried.  Meyer has the best flavor, but any lemon will do.
  • 2 750 ml bottles of ‘Everclear’-can be found at ‘BevMo’ or un-flavored vodka can be substituted (100 proof if you can find it)
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 5 cups water
Peel the lemons with a sharp vegetable or potato peeler, taking only the zest and avoid as much of the white pith as possible. Place peels in a gallon (or larger) glass or ceramic container that has a tight seal.
 
 
Pour 1 bottle of ‘Everclear’ over the peels then seal the container.  Let it sit undisturbed for 40 days.  I place mine in the back floor of the hall closet-dark and cool.
 
After the 40 days I make a simple syrup. Bring the water to a boil then add/stir the sugar (bakers sugar works quicker) until it dissolves.  Let it cool for about an hour, then pour into the container along with another bottle of ‘Everclear’. Give a stir, re-seal, then back into a cool, dark spot for another 40 days.
I then take either cheesecloth or a fine strainer and place it over the top of a large glass measuring cup (spout) and fill the cup up.  I then pour the filtered elixir into bottles.  I have gone on-line and found bottle companies that make unique bottles if you intend to give some as gifts.  The limoncello can be enjoyed at room temperature, refrigerated or some place in the freezer.