the guinea pig goes to college
The past two weeks have been quite out of the ordinary around here. It all started when the Guinea Pig went back to school…Stanford is training him how to be a business leader…I know…he’s really kind of somethin‘! I decided to use this time as a bit of a retreat of my own and do the sorts of things I don’t generally do when he’s around.
I set up a long table in front of the big window where I normally shoot my food photos. Outside that window are maybe half a dozen different sorts of bird feeders and a place for birds to drink. Nearby are the tall trees where they nest. For days and days, I sewed together squares of colorful flowers and polka dots for the little one who calls herself Lala. As my machine whirred, I watched the birds, literally by the hundreds, swoop in, grab their nuts or thistle, catch their wind and retreat to a nearby branch. I watched the fog rise and descend like a quilt’s airy batting, forming tiny glittering crystals on everything it touched. I watched a determined squirrel (already obese) hang upside-down, each sticky little paw clutching tight a different branch, as he filled his cheeks, trying hard to empty the bird feeder before again losing his balance.
These have been unusually cold days, with both a glorious sun and a freezing fog alternating through the day. It’s been quiet and serene at this window and I’ve had a chance to contemplate the sorts of things I’d hoped to, love lots on my dogs, and sew a quilt for Lala. This all came at a good time, coinciding as it did with a new year.
I made a discovery early on…without the ever-grateful G.P. here to share the table, some of the joy of cooking has been absent. I’ve eaten very simply…which isn’t all bad. And I’ve eaten a lot of leftovers. This earthy warm tagine got me through several wintry nights…
Served over couscous, this syrupy, caramel-y tagine makes a delicious vegetarian meal served with salad. But it would also go well paired with grilled or roasted meats. Substitute butternut squash or sweet potatoes for the yams, or small shallots for the pearl onions if you like. You don’t need a tagine to prepare this dish – use a heavy-bottomed casserole dish if that’s what you have. (And if you don’t have preserved lemons…I suppose you could make it without…or…here’s a thought: you could make some!)
a Tagine of Yam, Pearl Onions, Carrots, Prunes & Preserved Lemons
2 to 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil along with a pat of Butter
Fresh Ginger Root – 1½-inch piece about the thickness of your thumb, minced or grated
2 sticks Cinnamon (or 1½ to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon)
10 ounces Pearl Onions* peeled (See NOTE below on how to peel)
2 pounds Yams or Sweet Potatoes, in bite-size chunks
2 medium Carrots, in bite-size chunks
¾ cup Pitted Prunes
2 teaspoons Maple Syrup
1¾ cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock
Preserved Lemon (rind only) from ½ lemon, small dice
small bunch Cilantro Leaves, roughly chopped
several Mint Leaves, chopped
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
* (or 10 – 12 very small shallots)
In a heavy-bottomed casserole dish or a tagine, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the ginger and cinnamon sticks and stir for one minute. Toss in the peeled pearl onions and when they begin to color, toss in the yams or sweet potatoes, the carrots and the preserved lemon. Sauté for several minutes, then drop in the prunes and maple syrup. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, top with a lid and cook for about 20 to 25 minutes…until vegetables pierce easily with a fork.