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A diet of adrenaline

Rising this morning in a dense fog not typical for me, I made a slow but straight bee line to my chair in the living room. There I sat. Though my eyes wandered out the window, there was no intention behind  them, and I’m not sure I actually saw anything. I sat some, and then I decided to sit some more, waiting perhaps for a thought to form, or an inclination to do. Nothing really came to me and so I wrote:

All the adrenaline I’ve produced and consumed over these last couple weeks has me pretty exhausted. Right now I’m wondering: do I really want to rise from my chair? Who will bring me my breakfast? What if I have to go to the bathroom? Then what?          : )

I need a friend to take me by the hand and put me on a forest path and then I would know what to do. I would take a step. And then another.  And then finally, maybe I would breathe. 

Does it ever happen for you this way? Life presents you with something that calls for your full attention, all the resources at hand, or maybe even your full heart and mind, focused and present for what is being asked of you. Or, let’s say it’s a much milder mishap and you’re simply thrown a curve ball after a long string of pitches straight across the middle of the plate. What do you do? Usually we’re faced with a menu of options, and frequently we’ll grab at the thing closest or most familiar. We’re all doing the best we can, right? And sometimes the best we can do is simply cope with what we have. Sometimes gracefully. Other times, not so much. Us, being human. Sometimes, it’s just one foot in front of the other, until we have a rhythm going again. I know some of you out there have done what I’ve done, and fed on too much adrenaline for a time, and then after days of that, come to a crashing halt. What do you do then? Who, or what, do you reach for?

 

Knowing we were having our dear Zack for dinner tonight, I wanted comfort food for us all. Each of us has need of a slow and easy meal around the table tonight. What would it be? The avgolemono soup of the previous post would have fit that bill perfectly (especially since my husband is all sniffle-y with a cold.) But, first of all, we didn’t have any, and secondly, if we did it would have been growing cultures by now, so whatever dinner would be, it would mean starting from scratch. Getting to think on a blank canvas (or from an empty refrigerator) can be liberating (or intimidating.) So, thinking: first, warm in the belly, then, cool on the tongue…tonight’s dinner will comfort, from start to finish:

Indian Fish Stew on Basmati Rice

Toasted Pita Triangles

A Minty Cucumber & Yogurt Salad

Strawberry Sorbet

I’ll share photos and recipes tomorrow.  Now, I return to my comfortable kitchen to wash and slice,  measure, pour and stir. To breathe, smell and listen. That’s one sweet way to put one foot in front of the other and find our way back home.

[You can find the recipes referenced above at the top of the blog in the “slider” menu.]

Chicken Soup with Egg-Lemon Sauce

It’s pitiful to beg, I know, but I’m coming dangerously close to it.  Just look over the recipe below, imagining the pairing of these ingredients, and you’ll want to try this soup. (OK, I want you to, but let’s not quibble.) This is one of those comfort foods, and – I’m fully convinced – a cure for what ails. It’s somehow “creamy” with no cream (thanks to the arborio rice.) It’s full of flavor, while still being gentle and so easy to eat. It’s aromatic (thanks to the generous amount of dill and the perfume of the lemon.) It’s a soup equally good in summer as in winter, so Spring would be the perfect time to prove it to yourself! Take the challenge – try this soup – you will not be disappointed! It’s positively kissable.

At the start of “Citrus Month,”  I promised you a soup from Yaya and Papou’s homeland. This is the one. In Greece, until fairly recently, chickens were considered a great delicacy. Except on important feast days, chicken dishes would have been reserved for children and the sick.  This chicken and rice soup, with an egg and lemon “sauce” stirred in at the last moment, was served as a much-loved, one-pot meal at Christmas.  Nowadays, I’d venture to say you can find this on any Greek restaurant menu – but please let me know if you’ve ever tried one better.

The secret to any good soup is in the stock, and this one is no different. If you’re pressed for time, you could use a pre-roasted chicken and a high-quality, store-bought (or previously prepared homemade) chicken stock – but the gentle, two-hour-long cooking of a whole chicken imparts the most delicate, silken of flavors to this broth. If you need to take the short-cut, about 2-1/2 quarts or so of good stock should prove about right, and the meat from about one-half of the chicken. (In either case, please use a free-range, organically fed bird.)

Chicken Soup with Egg-Lemon Sauce (Kotopoulo Soupa, Avgolemono)

(makes 4 to 6 main-course servings – or  6 to 8 for first-course)

  • one 3-to-4-pound free-range chicken, quartered, plus 2 pounds chicken backs, necks and/or wings
  • 1 large onion, halved
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and quartered
  • 2 bay leaves (if your bay leaves are more than a year old, toss them and start new)
  • 10 – 12 peppercorns
  • 2 Tbl. olive oil
  • 5 scallions (white and most of the green parts), thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 2/3 cup of medium-grain rice, such as Arborio
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4-6 Tbl. freshly-sueezed lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To greatly reduce the fat content of the resulting broth, and how much skimming is required, I like to start by first removing the skin and all visible fat from the quartered chicken. Remove the fat from the backs of the chicken as well. Place the chicken parts in a large pot and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam. Reduce the heat to low and add the onion, carrots, bay leaves, salt and peppercorns. Cover and simmer for two hours, adding a little more water if needed, until the chicken begins to fall from the bones.

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Lenten Orange Cinnamon Cookies – Kourabiethes

Countless recipes for rich little cookies like these exist, and most cultures have their versions. Most of them are little round balls rolled in powdered sugar, but these take the shape of a crescent. Because it’s that time leading up to Easter, I thought I’d share with you the version that Greeks might be eating during this Lenten season. (Another version that I’ll maybe share with you later includes eggs, butter and Ouzo!) This one calls for margarine, though I always use butter in cookies. The addition of olive oil and orange juice, as well as almond extract, make these distinctly different and delicious.

Kourabiethes

(makes about 40 cookies)

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup butter (or margarine, but not lower fat versions!)
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup almonds, blanched, lightly toasted and chopped
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 3 to 4 cups flour
  • ground cinnamon
  • powdered sugar for tops

Whip the olive oil, butter, and sugar with a stand mixer fitted with a wire attachment set on high speed for 3 minutes.

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Yaya and Grapefruit

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve never really considered grapefruit rinds as anything but garbage…or, more recently, compost material. I’ve lumped them right in there with coffee grounds and egg shells. But recently I learned something that set my whole grapefruit world-view on its head. Oh, they’ll still end up in the compost…but perhaps not always anymore.

A little something about my Greek Yaya. I think it will help you understand the great surprise I had a few days ago when my mom told me something of her I hadn’t known before.

Yaya was the matriarch of the family, and the only female in the house in which my dad and his three brothers grew up. By the time I met her, she was already in her late-60′s, early 70′s? I’m guessing here, because, being only ten-years-old myself, she looked pretty darned old! Besides her husband, our Papou, who was at least fifteen years her senior, she was by far the oldest person in my world. I wondered even then though, how does a person so old manage to be so full of life? So young? She was exuberant and outspoken. She knew what she wanted and generally just how to get it. She laughed big. She had a big heart, full of praise. That was Yaya. She always wore dresses, always! and they were always dark. She wore support hose with elastic tops that sometimes rolled down around her legs. And big black shoes. Her hair, which must have been very long, was always twirled into braided buns. (Her hair held an endless fascination for me! The thin ends of those long braids reminded me of an artist’s paint brush, dipped in yellow. They weren’t blond. They were a true and very beautiful lemon yellow! But the rest of her hair, the most angelic white! I always secretly wished to see her hair down around her shoulders, but I never did.) Yaya was, I guess you’d have to say, squat. Matronly. Big-bosomed. And she gave the most amazing hugs! Like a great feather bed with arms.  And she never hugged without at the same time cooing (or sometimes even shrieking) her delight in us! My brother Don and I would run up and down her staircase and slide down the bannister, and this made her so happy! She loved the loud noises of children!  “No make it them be quiet – is nice!” she would tell our parents.  Her Greek was vastly better than her English, but even so, she knew how to be funny in her second language, and she often was. Incense perpetually burned at a small altar in her bedroom, beneath the icons of patron saints and Jesus.  It was partly for that reason that her house always smelled so very different from our own. But it was also the bread baking, the homey “soupas” and “cassa-row-les” and other foods, quite exotic to me at the time. Much of what I first saw of Yaya was in the context of her kitchen, and as mother to my dad who adored her. I never considered who her friends were, or what she might do when she wasn’t with us (besides cook all day and pray – both of which were intriguing mysterious to me back then.)

So, do you now have a little picture of Yaya? Then can you imagine her sitting at the round wooden table in her parlor? With her lady friends from the Greek Orthodox Church? And on the table, plates of candied grapefruit rinds? And kourabiethes (a crescent-shaped butter cookie)?  And stiff, dark, thick coffee in short cups? And OUZO, that licorice-flavored liqueur, in thimble-sized glasses? And the ladies yakking loudly and laughing! Ha! I loved this new expanded picture of my Yaya!

The more I contemplated it, the surer I became that I simply had to find out what candied grapefruit rinds and ouzo taste like in the same mouthful. And that’s what brings me here, to this place where I’m ready to share with you some food.
(See following post – Kourabiethes cookie May 9.)

Orangettes – Candied Orange Peel Dipped in Chocolate

 Orange and dark chocolate! A show of hands – who loves this combination? For me, it ranks up there with the best of sweet culinary marriages!  I do want to warn you before we get started though that this is not something you’ll want to do if you’re in any way pressed for time; or if you’re one who shuns repetitive activities, (some prefer the word boring.) Every once in a while, some of us (with a higher tolerance for things slow) like to put on some happy music and wile away some hours playing in the kitchen with food. I had a day like that recently, and this is what came of it:

If I’d had some company, we could have danced a bit and the play would have been far more enjoyable – but then there would have been a witness to the “mistakes” that would mysteriously disappear.  So, you take the good with the bad. And these are good!

Orangettes – Chocolate-dipped Candied Orange Peel

This recipe can easily be halved, and for your first batch, you may be happier doing that. But once you’ve tasted them…a whole batch will do just fine. I’ve discovered that if you can draw the process out over two days, the final result will be improved. I candy the orange peel and roll in sugar the first day and let them dry overnight. The next day, it’s all about the dipping, and the cleaning up your mistakes.

Ingredients

candying the oranges:

  • 6 large navel oranges (always when you’re using the peel of any fruit or vegetable, it’s far better to use organic or unsprayed produce!)
  • 3 cups of sugar
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup orange juice  (either store-bought or from the flesh of the oranges put through a strainer)
  • for rolling:
  • 1/2 up of regular granulated sugar or turbinado sugar (you decide – or choose both)
  • for dipping:
  • 10 ounces of bittersweet chocolate

Preparing the oranges: Read more

Dinner with a friend – without the gluten

(This appeared as an earlier post, April 2011.)  Last night we had our friend Christie to dinner. She’s a lovely person who deals with a rather un-lovely condition. It wasn’t at all difficult cooking for her, despite the food restrictions imposed on her. Besides the good companionship and lively conversation, here’s what we had at our table:

Grilled Salmon Fillets with Asparagus and Blood Oranges

Steamed New Potatoes with Butter and Chives

Green Salad with Avocado, Kumquats and Pistacios

Mango-Citrus Sorbet and Orangettes

and a bit of red wine

Being that April is Citrus Month (in Spree’s mind) each course celebrated those bright fruits. And with asparagus, blood oranges and new potatoes being so in-season, it was an appropriate dinner for a Spring evening. Though salmon season hasn’t quite hit yet, we found some beautiful thick fillets of wild salmon, flash-frozen at sea. Not a bad compromise!

(Recipes for each appear in the following posts.)

Why not Kumquats?

One simple salad I simply love has little slivers of bright and tartly fragrant kumquats in it. Have you never tried a kumquat? You should!

Green Salad with Kumquats, Avocado and Pistacios

Ingredients

  • Mesclun, mixed spring greens, or baby spinach (or lettuce of your choice)
  • Avocado
  • Kumquats (see NOTE)
  • Pistacios
  • Dressing – Cilantro-Lime Salad Dressing (in my post Cilantro-Lime Salad, today’s date.)

(You’ll notice that for green salads I don’t list quantities. Only you know how much you or those at your table will eat at one meal.)

Remove your pistacios from the shell. Chop them coarsely, or leave them whole, as you choose. (Or toss some whole ones in, and save the chopped ones for scattering over top.)

Wash and dry your lettuce.

Wash your kumquats, and slice them crosswise, as thinly as possible, removing the seeds as you go. (Yes, you DO eat the peel! In fact it’s all about the peel. Kumquats have been called the inside-out fruit – all the sweetness in the peel, the sour in the flesh.) For a salad feeding two, I use about a handful of kumquats.

Slice or chunk your avocado.

Combine your lettuce, the avocado, and kumquats in a salad bowl. Dress lightly with Cilantro-Lime dressing. Scatter with pistacios and serve.

NOTE: If you’re undecided on whether to try kumquats, I understand your hesitation, but maybe this will help: they’re little ovoids, somewhat smaller than a pecan; they manage somehow to be both hinting of sweet and smacking of tart; they smell vaguely like a daphne blossom, which is, if you didn’t know, heavenly; and they’re highly cute. What more could you ask for in a tiny fruit?

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here.


A slower, lemony breakfast

On a Saturday or Sunday morning, it’s such a delight to slow down the pace a little. Putzing a bit in the kitchen, and then savoring an extra cup of coffee or tea, with a plate of  tender, lofty, lemony cakes is one sure way to do it. Maybe a game of Scrabble with your honey, and you’re home free. Not all (and maybe not many) will want to go the extra step of making their own ricotta, but I promise, it’s only slightly more complicated than boiling milk. If you want to give it a try, I’ve included some instructions that you can access by clicking on the “CONTINUED…” link below. But using a good quality store-bought ricotta will do just fine. The photos here show these cakes virtually unadorned, and they’re simply, delicately delicious that way. (A pat of soft butter, a good squeeze of lemon, a dusting of powdered sugar. A fork.) But you can also serve them with a Blueberry Sauce (recipe below) or a berry syrup, or (can we possibly wait?) heaping spoons of slightly sweetened and sliced Oregon strawberries (I’m sorry – they’re simply the best on earth.) I enjoy maple syrup, but it’s not what I’d put with these. They’re much better complimented by fruit. You’ll see.

 

Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes

  • 9 ounces of ricotta cheese (1 cup + 2 Tbl.)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. fine salt
  • Extra fresh lemon for serving, or fresh fruit or berry syrup of your choice

Get ready: Turn your oven to 200°F and put your breakfast plates in to keep warm. Turn your griddle on to medium high. Then just before ladling out the batter for your cakes, brush the griddle with a little bit of neutral oil (such as canola or grapeseed.)

The batter: Separate the eggs, putting the yolks into a medium-size bowl, and the whites into a small one. Whisk the whites until frothy. (It’s not necessary to form peaks of them, but do get them white and full of air.) Mix the egg yolks with the ricotta cheese, milk, lemon juice and vanilla extract. In a separate small bowl sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Stir in the lemon zest. Mix the wet and dry ingredients until just blended. (Don’t over-mix or your tender little cakes will turn tough and mean.) Then gently fold in the frothy whites until blended.

Griddle: Spoon out the batter onto your greased griddle.  It’s best for these if you keep the size small – say, around 3 inches diameter. You may find it works best if you spoon out a little and spread it slightly so that it’s not too very thick. (Around 1/4″ inch or so.) That way, they’ll be golden brown outside and cooked fully inside. Do a test run of several cakes to see if you’re happy, and then go to town! Like all pancakes, they’re of course best straight from the griddle, but you can keep a stack of them warm in your oven under a towel for a short time without harm.

Serve: As I mentioned above, they’re perfectly flavored to my taste with just a little more lemon juice, some melting butter and a dusting of powdered sugar. But the Blueberry Lemon Sauce here is a very nice accompaniment too! Come summer though, these cakes will lose top-billing to the strawberries that will gorgeously smother them.

for a printer-friendly version of the pancakes, click here

Spree’s Lemony Blueberry Sauce

  • 1 cup frozen blueberries (I love the little ones for this)
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 3 T. water
  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1 t. lemon zest

Put the water, lemon juice and sugar into a small saucepan and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the frozen blueberries and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. Add fresh blueberries and lemon zest and simmer for about another 3 minutes. Serve warm.

for a printer-friendly version of the blueberry sauce, click here

To make your own ricotta cheese, please click on the “read more” link below…

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Orange Flowers

My mother reminded me of something yesterday that I’d nearly forgotten.  She said that when (our grandpa) Papou first came to this country (and to Oregon) from his sunny home in Greece, it rained and rained and rained. For thirty-nine days straight, it rained. And on that gray and soggy thirty-ninth day, Papou swore, “If it rains one more day,” because that, of course, would be the proverbial fortieth, beyond which no human could possibly endure another, “I’m going back home!”  And he spoke the words with such a Greek passion, who could have doubted him? When Papou woke that next morning, the sun shone and it shone with such a brilliance that he declared, “This now is my home!” And he stayed. And a young woman came to him from Greece and she became his wife. And together they raised a family of four strong boys. Who would have thought that one sunny day could change history? But for me, and my brothers, it did.

I was the first-born in a marriage that was troubled. And yet I was one of those rare and lucky oneswho, after my parents divorced, received a real Dad when a couple years later my mom remarried.  One of those four sons of Papou and Yaya, Jim, knew what it meant to be family. He fell in love with our mom, but he loved us kids instantly.  It took a little longer for us to realize we had in him a Dad. He was in no hurry.  He won us over with his humor, his faithfulness, his sincerity and patience, his teaching, his stories and sometimes even his food.

I was a shy ten-year-old when my parents married. One day, my new Dad brought me something. It was an orange. A simple, ripe, juicy orange. But when it came to me, offered in his hands, it was a gift! It was a little treasure, an opened lotus flower, offered up tenderly just for me, because he loved me. And I can remember back, it was in that instant that something turned in me. I knew that someone thought I was special. And in that moment something else happened, though I didn’t realize it until years later. I can look on that open-hearted orange flower as the first time I thought of food as a gift, as a language through which we can express love. And so it is, these decades later, I sometimes still think of my Dad when I am putting love on the table.

I offer this month of April in the fondest possible memory of my Dad, and in celebration of all things citrus! Spree would like to declare it Citrus Month (and I think she just did.) So keep coming back for main course recipes, pasta and rice dishes, salads, marinades, preserves, desserts and beverages.  Even a soup from my Papou and Yaya’s homeland!


It’s Official – Spring is Finally Here

It’s time to wrap up the last of the Beat the Winter Blues menu and get on to more colorful things! (And April’s going to be a very colorful and fun month for the cooking-spree!) 

We served two lasagnas that winter night – one of them a Roasted Butternut Squash and Rapini lasagna; and the other  a Turkey Sausage and Goat Cheese one which got raves, and rightly so. I don’t have photos of it and it was prepared very much as the recipe specified, so I’ll simply supply you the link for that one. It ranks right up there with the best lasagna I’ve ever had. I did make two little changes to the recipe though; first, instead of link sausage called for (which then requires you remove the turkey from its casings), I used bulk Italian turkey sausage. The other change was that instead of all mild or sweet Italian sausage, I replaced half the total amount called for with a hot or spicy variety. When I was recently visiting my daughter Ali and her family, we made it again, but this time with ricotta cheese we made ourselves. It was the first time we’d ever tried that, and it was remarkably easy and made us feel quite …well, puffed up and pleased with ourselves. Who knows if the lasagna tasted any better because of that extra love in the pan, but it couldn’t hurt, right? So, now that you have that background, if you’re a lasagna lover (or you know and love one) you might check out

Ina Garten’s Turkey and Goat Cheese Lasagna:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/turkey-lasagna-recipe2/index.html

(This post first appeared in March 2011.)