To go along with my Sumac Scented Chicken, for dessert, I made a wonderful version of Baklava. I have tasted baklava many times, but had never attempted to make it. In my research, I found some versions used pistachios, some used walnuts, some used honey, some used rose water, some used lemon juice, some used orange blossom water. However, the common denominator was well buttered sheets of phyllo dough layering a ground nut mixture that was soaked in a syrup after it was baked.
Ranch oyster crackers, how I love thee, let me count the ways! You are crunchy and salty... and ranch-ee... okay, I went a bit too far. These are one of those treats that my mom made for me as a little girl, so they are very nostalgic. I can still remember sitting in my pink tights on the living room floor fresh from ballet class watching Heman and She-Ra bounding around on the back of a green and orange striped cat, all the while I am munching on these little nuggets of joy and through spit stuttered sentences yelling things like, "by the power of greyskull...I have the power!" Oh yeah, I loved She-Ra.
Of course the story of my cousin and I doesn't stop with our birth. Over the years, me and my cousin were inseparable. In some ways we were raised like twins, being dressed alike and attending many of the same events. We were definitely not raised as conventional cousins, more like sisters. On the weekends, we would stay up giggling with our cheeks stinging and our bellies hurting until one of our mothers would hang their weary head into the bedroom and give us until the count of three to go to sleep.
The quiet solitude of walking my dogs in the early morning hours. So early, in fact, it seems as if no one else has risen from their slumber and we are the only three beings stirring. Rays of sunshine pass though the leafy branches of a tree, highlighting the light fog and pollen mixture. The man made pond glints the reflective ripples onto the base of that trunk. In the distance, I hear a familiar sound. The distinct gobble of a turkey. It seems odd, with the backdrop of springy hillsides of northern California. My memories, faded with time and use, take me to another land, another existence. A land that is unforgiving, where the ground is hard and flat, rust tinged clay that stained your feet and penetrated your soul.
I can still see my father standing in the back yard, smelling of Marlboros and sweat. His hair greasy and tousled. Holding a wooden box, he paces back and forth, passing the lid in a grinding motion over the box, producing a yelping noise. For hours he would practice this call, because there was no other animal as elusive or as coveted in his mind, than a wild turkey. Having mastered the call and being truly competitive, he had graduated to only hunting them with a compound bow. Using my old stuffed animals as target practice, I would protest in defiance. Even as a child, my make believe animals had souls, but my dad thought it best to understand the circle of life, even the make believe ones.
As it is with life, being hungry hardens you. It makes you more resolute in your decisions and quick with your punishments. Quick on your feet, hunger sharpens all of your senses and recognizing weakness becomes second nature. You learn how to read every situation like the vibrations produced from the sheet of music and seizing opportunity becomes rhythmic and natural. Survival of the fittest.
I may never know how much it has helped or hurt me, only that it has shaped me….
I have been on a diet for the past 2 and a half weeks. I have lost five pounds which is pretty good for me. I have had to say no to a lot of things and a lot of people trying to pawn off all their leftover holiday goodies at work. It will pay off though when I am at my goal weight in a few months. In the meantime, I am getting creative with some new ingredients. Today I present to you my take on wild rice, full of flavor and fiber. Yum!
Wild Rice with Leeks and Peppers
1 cup wild rice
1 3/4 cup stock
1 leek, cleaned and diced into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 a bell pepper, finely diced
1 tsp Salt
In medium saucepan, bring 1 3/4 cup stock, salt, pepper and rice to a boil. Add leek and pepper.Cover with a tight lid. Reduce heat to low simmer and cook 45 minutes. Remove from heat (with lid on!) and let steam for 10 minutes. Fluff with fork.
Last year’s resolution was to figure out what makes me happy and to incorporate those things into my life. Last year at this time, I did have a few things in place, such as being married to my best friend and we had recently come to live in a community that we both agreed was perfect for our personalities at this point in time in our life. Those things, I recognized as being okay. Where I felt I was lacking was finding a daily purpose that seemed to fit me, so I focused on that and by the end of last year, I had attained my goal and found a job that truly fits me.
The funny thing about pursuing happiness, is that the more you get things into place, the more things change. It is definitely a moving target and so as I had figured out by the end of last year, this year’s focus needs to be on my health. And so as I joined the millions of others, readying their sights on the cliche of a healthier year, I understand just as every resolution before, that it will be a work in progress. I will fall down, I will get tempted to take the easy way out and I will not always be happy or comfortable. That’s life, the learning process is full of growing pains and boy have I had those over the years.
The great thing about having a resolution, is having a yearly focus and I am always astonished at the end of the year, what the outcome is. So many things not accounted for, but adapted to, it really is amazing when you look back on it. In so many ways, the results aren’t what I expect but in a way, so much better, because it is truly what I wanted and what I am capable of. When you are blazing a trail, you can’t always foresee the obstacles or envision what the end product will look like and certainly not what it will feel like. So I enter this new year, as always, with hope and with a focus, knowing I have quite a journey ahead of me.
This week in my CSA box, I received quite a few leeks and potatoes, so I decided to make leek and potato soup. Nothing quite tastes like a leek, just such a beautiful flavor. If you have never had one, you should put it on your “to taste” list. This is an adaptation of a soup that I saw Jacques Pepin make on one of his programs. To make it a little healthier, I used olive oil, in place of butter during the saute. However, I kept the butter addition at the end to keep some the smooth richness that it lends. I switched out the cream that I normally add at the end for low-fat milk. The potatoes already lend the soup a silky, creamy quality and the low-fat milk just adds the subtle dairy flavor that my taste-buds are searching for. Enjoy everyone! I hope your new year is working out marvelously for you.
Leek and Potato Soup
2 TBSP olive oil
4 leeks, trimmed, washed and cut into 1/2 inch thickness
1 medium onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
2-4 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
A good dash of salt, ( I used a handful, my “guess-timation” is that it was about 1 TBSP)
3 TBSP butter
1/2 cup milk ( I used low fat to cut calories, but cream or half and half would be acceptable.)
Add olive oil to large stock pot and heat over medium heat for a few minutes. Add leeks, onion, celery and sauté 4-7 minutes or until vegetables begin to wilt. Add garlic and sauté another 2 minutes.
Add chicken stock, water, potatoes. salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, gently boil for 30-35 minutes. Vegetables will be very tender.
Use an immersion blender and process until soup has a creamy texture. Add butter and milk, process until well incorporated. Garnish with croutons and chervil, if desired.
Well it’s been a while, there is no denying that. I could give a million and one excuses why I have let the blog sit since last Fall, new job, longer hours, new friendships, on top of…well life in general. The truth is, I just haven’t made the time.
Nothing against coming on here and typing away my thoughts and musings for the day. I love it, it is quite cathartic for me, but my focus last year was on finding happiness. And not just any sort of happiness, but trying to answer the “what are you going to do with the rest of your life” question.
Those of you that have followed me for a while know that I don’t have the closest relationship with my family. Not because I haven’t wanted a warm and fuzzy family all of my life, but I just don’t have one. It’s a fact and I have come to accept that there may never be a saving grace moment when we wrap our arms around each other in a loving embrace, realizing finally what we have been missing.
I have always hated the holiday season because of this. Everyone always asking me if I will be going back home to visit. In the past, I would tell half truths like, “No, but I wish I were.” Even rewriting history about how great our holidays were back home, only telling people the good parts, not including the terrible tension that built within our house because of our extreme economic disparity. This snowballing into bad behavior on my parents part and that only beget more bad behavior.
In short, the holidays have always sucked for me. But honestly, who wants to hear about that?… And so when the question was asked, I told white lies, well because I didn’t want to seem different or not fit in.
The fact is though, that you can only get so close to people when you hide your past. So this year, when the inevitable question was asked of me at my new job, “Are you going home?” I approached it differently. With some, I simply said, ” No.” If they prodded me or gave me a sad face, I just said, “You know, I am just not that close with my family” and left it at that. Most people accepted that and moved on. With others, I made a joke of it saying, “Oh heck no, I enjoy my sanity.”
Thankfully, everyone seemed to treat me the same. It was such a relief to not have to lie or cover up the truth. In essence, I felt like I was able to move forward. New Year’s Day has always been one of my favorite days because not only did it mark the end of the holiday season, but the endless possibilities for the next year.
One tradition that my family did have was eating black eyed peas, collard greens and pork on New Years. As I have always stated, we had good food and this tradition was supposed to bring good luck and lots of money. Who would want to break a tradition like that? This year, I continued the tradition, but I made it my own by making a delicious soup that would include everything in it.
If you need to break out the ordinary or a great way to use up left overs, this is it.
New Year’s Day Soup
1 (28 oz) can tomatoes
1 bunch collard greens, washed, de-veined, and diced into strips
1 onion, diced
1 pint of fresh black eyed peas
1 carrot, diced
1 stick of celery, diced
1 handful green bell pepper, diced
1 handful red bell pepper, diced
6-8 cups ham stock
2 Serrano peppers, cut in half
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 cups ham, cut into large chunks
1-2 teaspoons paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, warm ham stock with Serrano peppers and garlic cloves.
In another medium pot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium low heat. Add onions and saute for 7-8 minutes or until caramelized. Add collard greens and 1 cup of the warm ham stock. Cover and cook down for 20 minutes.
Fish out the garlic cloves and Serrano peppers from the stock pot. Add tomatoes crushed in their own juice and the collard green onion mixture to the stock. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for another 20 minutes. Enjoy.