Saturday, October 29, 2011

WHAT WARMS THE HEART, COMFORTS THE SOUL

No sooner than a winter ambush in mid-autumn is forecast that my thoughts meander to my mom's chicken soup. A bowl-full is what I crave for most when the promise of polar conditions brings memories of a mother's warmth to the forefront.

I liken stirring up a batch to time traveling as the blend of scents and reminiscence takes me back to her Cuban kitchen. Visions play out vividly with my mom at the stove and six children -- smaller ones in the family room, teens scattered about -- inside, outside, on the phone, at the piano, on the drums -- whatever! I get tired just recalling what she must have gone through raising six unique personalities.

Warning: my reproduction of her chicken soup falls a couple of ladles short of authentic, thus, any pretenses of me cooking up a perfect pot are left outside my own kitchen entrance. Life doles out its regrets in the later years... I had never asked her for her recipe. Nonetheless, I learned from observing enough to make a mixture that doesn't hold a candle to hers, but guaranteed... comes deliciously close.
I remember secretly laughing when she expressed disdain for cooking and the kitchen, because to me, no one could turn out a "sopa de pollo" or any meal, for that matter, like my mom. It's a soup that, to this day, I reach for when a heart needs warmth and a soul needs comfort. No measuring cups here -- or even tablespoons or pinches. I was never good at math, so forget amounts of any kind. I just wing it, knowing that all's well that blends well. So here you have it! The Mercedes of all chicken soups...

RECIPE 11:

MAMA'S CUBAN SOPA DE POLLO

Ingredients:
6 cucufates (translation: my cousin, Lucia's, term of endearment for a brat pack of 6)
Autumn on ice
Reflections of a Cuban kitchen
Pot(s) full of water
Chicken pieces (boneless, skinless to make it healthier/everything on to make it tastier)
Potatoes, golden or red
Sweet Potatoes (I love sweet potatoes; my dad used to call me Sweet Potato)
Corn
Quimbobo (okra, prohibitively priced out of season, best when plucked from your own plants)
Plantains
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Pepper
Paprika
Cumin
Saffron
Parsley
Onion Powder
Garlic Powder
Any other spice you want

Directions:
Scrub the potatoes clean and half or quarter. Leave the skin on. Wash the okra and peel the plantains then half or quarter. Husk the corn and half. Rinse the chicken pieces clean. Toss all the ingredients into the pot(s) of water. Add the olive oil, sea salt and spices. Bring to a roaring boil and let it roar till the chicken is cooked, potatoes are soft, and the quimbobo (okra) has frayed. Once cooked, remove the chicken and let the pieces cool. With (washed) hands, remove the chicken from the bones, throw away the skin and toss the pieces back into the soup. Let the mixture sit. Serve hot enough to sip, but not enough to burn.

The Magic:
Temperamental as I was as a child under two digits old, the slightest disagreement would send me packing. The cliché kerchief tied to the end of a stick and filled with stones to mimic my belongings, a favorite doll, and a secret hiding place within my mom's eye-view and earshot, was all I needed in my life as an escapee. To me, it was more than a revolt; it was a statement... a declaration of independence touted prophetically by mom as "She was born with a suitcase in her hand." In the later years as an adult, just as in my childhood years, two things always lured me home: a serving of white rice topped with a fried egg and her amazing chicken soup poured into a blender (minus the corn) and puréed to a smooth, creamy potage:

UPDATE: Since this posting on Saturday, I traveled down memory lane with my family who took me back even deeper into our Cuban kitchen and our mom making the soup. The vivid details of their memories are now included in the "Thought(s)" below. It all came back to me and, I swear, I was there if only for a precious moment.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

ME, SWEATER WEATHER, AND JOE...

Summer's heavy rains washed out the colors of Autumn, but nonetheless, there is no shortage of beauty.
Family dogs are honored with headstones.
My true love. We've been together now for what seems like a lifetime. Good ol' Joe. Always there for me when I need him most. Never fails to jump-start my days and make life's difficulties just a little easier to swallow. Call me shallow, but I love that he's rich. While my husband sleeps... a walk in the morning... wind chills and wonder... tranquility... inspiration and contemplation... reality on hold... just me, my best friends, sweater weather and Joe. He may not be everyone's cuppa tea, but he's my cuppa Joe. I confess. My endless love is for my morning Joe. Smooth as can be. Light. Sweet. Warming.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

RUNNING LIKE CRAZY...

The garden's sudden surprise of strawberry blossoms raised spirits and placed hope for just a taste at an all-time high. In reality, the first frost is just around the corner, so while the hope lingers, the fact is that these tiny gems of the garden will come back in the Spring. Still, I'm on red alert! Bejeweled with morning dew, their runners have transformed three little plants into a prolific patch that is racing to the finish to grow its berries. No encouragement needed; they'll just keep running like crazy.















RECIPE 10:

STRAWBERRY RACES

Must-haves:
Bees
Wildflower Honey
Strawberries (preferably Farmers Market or Homegrown)
Couple of Cups of Hope
Salt Dishes

Directions:
Confession: I broke my own Cardinal Rule and bought supermarket strawberries just to satisfy my craving. The garden or farm-grown variety is far superior, so my taste buds will simply have to wait till Spring. Nonetheless, I'm sure you'll take a shine to these rubescent little garden jewels made even more lustrous with a coating of bee-manufactured wildflower honey. Thus, if you're lucky enough to live in a place that has Fragaria, rinse your berries, pat dry and set aside. Pour the honey into each salt dish and set the strawberry atop. Place one at each table setting as a pre-dinner palate cleanser or serve as a treat anytime.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"SIWWY WABBIT! I KNOW YOU'RE IN THERE!"

If you ever wonder from where cartoonists draw inspiration, spend some time around animals. As such, weekends on a farm can be a bit Looney as Meadow continues her endless hunt for the elusive groundhog. On the rare occasion that she does make a catch, she is asked to drop her quarry, a command she reluctantly obeys. Truth is, she discovered a tunnel entrance (outside the pasture) which was later covered -- but post the thrill of the hunt. Truth also is, another hole will pop up elsewhere. Because the holes are so dangerous, we don't discourage hunting, but we don't encourage it either.

That's all folks!
video

Sunday, September 11, 2011

REMEMBERING... HONORING...

A silent prayer for the souls and survivors of 091101.



Saturday, September 10, 2011

SUNSHINE ON A RAINY DAY...

After feeling "near as faded as my jeans", I entered the garden to start the clean-up only to discover a sign of Spring... strawberry fields forever! As an "Everbearing" variety, these will rest all winter only to rise and shine in the Spring. Yum! Maybe I'll get to taste one or two.


Friday, September 9, 2011

IN THE WAKE OF IRENE, A WAKE-UP CALL...

Like clockwork, Saturday's ritual begins at the Farmers Market in town... tiny in size, but grand in spirit. Early to rise, the farmers set up their stands, unload and arrange their precious produce on their market tables. Everybody knows everybody, and you can always count on a song to inspire a smile. A complete tour would take all of 10 minutes, but hours are spent conferring with the growers, conversing with the kings. Over the past few seasons, they've all become my friends, my teachers... "The first frost is coming next week. Pick all your tomatoes even if they're green." "Plant deep. It strengthens the roots so that the energy rises to the fruit." They've become, in a way, providers of food and meals as with a small investment in plants, I can satisfy my need to feed from harvest time to first frost and beyond.

September 3rd, a week after the storm, the spirit was grand as ever. In the wake of Irene... amidst loss and devastation,
in communities left powerless and power-less, the mood was dampened but fraught with hope.

This is the face of Irene... her eye weakened to a tropical storm yet fixated on upstate New York and points north... her rage turning trickles into rivers... her ambush leaving a path of destruction.

Hurricane Irene. 08.28.11. Picture is borrowed from Carol Laskos and friends.
This is the face of loss, the face of a praiseworthy hero... a farmer whose market table, rich with nature's colorful gifts, was emptied by the storm... a human being whose market season (this year and possibly next) has come to an early end because of the river's rage. This is one face representing many whose account of the storm riveted... who used his pick-up to rescue, to deliver food, water, batteries... his own generator to those in need... whose new neighbor received her keys on Friday, moved in on Saturday, lost everything on Sunday... a neighbor whom he helped hang family pictures on fallen tree limbs in an attempt to salvage the treasures. Crops... acres and acres taken out by rapids. Top soil was washed away. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments taken by storm. Corn fields that reached for the skies were leveled. Suffocating dust from the dried mud and stench of fuel from boilers in the deluge filled the air.
Dialogue with the growers on this day... "Their won't be anymore corn after today. Onions and garlic, too. No zucchini or squash." "Heirlooms? Not sure. Maybe next week."

This is the mid-summer lushness of my little patch. All of 50'x6' gives me a window to their lives and livelihoods... the blood, sweat, tears and labor that go into growing the healthful foods that end up on our tables. It is through this window that I feel their glories and I feel their pains.

Further north news from a close friend cut off by Irene brought relief that she was safe. Her revelations of the ruins in the Catskills were startling. "Entire towns have disappeared -- gone. There's no way in, no way out," she recounted. "A voice on the radio has been our best friend... 'Carli and her children are on their roof waiting to be rescued. John has extra batteries if anybody needs them. Courtney has found a dog and can be reached at 555-1212.'" Her own voice coming from the depths of a truth that only comes from witnessing the worst, "Black Hawks have been flying overhead in search. The Sheriff's boat couldn't get to the people."
Dreams were obliterated on August 28th. An inconsolable Leland Neff watched his stallion struggle across the rapids to get to his mares -- all 22 horses remain on the missing list. He's walked 40 miles a day in search of his "NY22". I link his story to mine. I keep a lookout for his horses. I pray for him and feel his loss. It's the only way I know to help.


This week's deluge from Lee has made matters worse. In the aftermath, the promise of hope is more powerful than any raging river. "We'll be OK," they say, "We'll recover. A smile and sense of humor will see you through anything." Tomorrow can't come fast enough. The Saturday ritual will continue. Blue skies will prevail.
 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

DISHING WITH DIANE...


"Be bold. Be graphic. Be free. Set the table and set the mood."
 
- Diane von Furstenberg
There's an added beauty to her signature style... whether it's the wrap dress, a duvet cover or dinner plate, anything DVF creates comes with the vibe, "I am woman!".  

Who knew that a salad and a fashion plate could turn a meal into a seduction!

And it all starts so innocently...


Engage your senses... pluck the fleshiest, juiciest tomatoes in your heirloom garden. Lush and luscious, let its wonders inspire you. Inhale. Exhale. Enjoy the scents and sensuality. Clip some peppers and pick a flower or two. Feel the rush of touch. Snip the basil and lotus-like leaves. Place your gatherings in a pretty basket and feast your eyes. Rinse your harvest clean, slice, and let the juices flow.
RECIPE 7:

TEMPTATION TOMATO SALAD

Ingredients:

The Fashion Plate 
DVF Floral Batik Decal Charger (www.dvf.com or www.bloomingdales.com)

Accessories:
Cherokee Purple Tomato
Black Prince Tomato
Lime Green Salad Tomato
Brandywine Red Tomato
Hot Jalapeño & Serrano Peppers
Hungarian Hot Wax Pepper
Fresh Basil Leaves
Nasturtium Leaves & Flowers (Red & Yellow)
Mozzarella


Bling:
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Sea Salt
Pepper


Directions:
Forget making a salad... design a decadence. Place accessories on fashion plate. Drizzle and sprinkle bling for a salad that is dressed to impress. Light a candle and serve the seduction.
Very haute... and very hot, on so many levels.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"I'VE GOT MY HUSH PUPPIES ON...

I guess I never was meant for glitter rock 'n roll..."
He plays the beach concert just around this time of year in this area drawing parrotheads, boaters and even swans from everywhere. The otherwise parking lot is converted into one rowdy tailgate and sea of Hawaiian shirts with beer, chips, drumsticks and garden salads served up alongside the rowdiness. It just wouldn't be right without the rambunctious, drunken crowd, but I was in the good (and more subdued) company of my sisters (plus, a concert-crashing nephew).

In no rush for Labor Day, a part of me in a little way, did want to hurry the tailgate only to hear the lyrics and tune that so strike a chord with me...

"Come Monday, it'll be alright. Come Monday, I'll be holding you tight..."

It gets me every time as does spending time with my sisters (and whole family, for that matter).

"I just can't wait to see you again..."


In tribute to the night and another precious memory...

RECIPE 6:

THE JIMMY BUFFETT SALAD
Ingredients:
A Hawaiian Shirt
FlipFlops
Sisters
Handful of Lime Green Salad Tomatoes
Alternative Tomato: German Stripes
Grapes (any color, must be crunchy)
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Pepper
Directions:
If you're nowhere near a Jimmy Buffett concert, any occasion will do for this delicious, sense-awakening salad. Its color alone -- a blush of amber on the outside, brilliant chartreuse on the inside -- makes the Lime Green Salad Heirloom tomato a real eye-pleaser, but trust me on this... the sensory pleasures heighten with every bite. Fruity, juicy, and smooth, it is absolute perfection when mixed with grapes. Oh yes... as for those equally unbelievably delicious German Striped Heirlooms? They are the perfect alternative!

Simply slice the tomatoes, half the grapes, drizzle with OOS&P and serve! 


Note: Sharing is optional.

CARDINAL RULE!
THIS SALAD IS GREAT KID STUFF, TOO! JUST GIVE IT TO THEM STRAIGHT -- NO  OLIVE OIL, SALT OR PEPPER.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

HATS OFF...

"Honey, my love... let me just take a quick stroll in the garden... I'll be all of 30 seconds."

Pretty much, a story that repeats itself time and time again on any given day. As such, one is never prepared for the surprises a quick stroll in the garden brings... the hidden tomato in the cluster... the zucchini that grew in the night... the okra that wasn't ready 5 minutes ago... the pepper that plays peek-a-boo... an eggplant suddenly there. So much so fast... where is that trug, that basket, that container when you need it!

Oh well... an hour later, hats off to the garden hat... the multi-purpose must-have.




Sunday, August 7, 2011

I CANNOT TELL A LIE...

It was me. I didn't chop down the cherry tree, but I did pluck them off a nearby neighbor's branches. There I was, all of 10 years old, on McNully off of North 5th Street... up a tree! Hoping that nobody would see me, although in looking back, my cherry-stained grin and fingers probably gave me away.

Anyway, ba-da- BING! Sweet crunchy Bing Cherry season is in full swing in the northeast, and it's the only time of the year I can earnestly say, "Life is a bowl of cherries!"

MON CHERRIES, JE T'AIME

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

CHASIN' DREAMS...


FROM LITTLE ROCK TO THE BIG CITY…
 
This is the story of Chasin' Dreams (aka Dexter, aka Scrappy... now Chase, for short). It's about a little rescue from Arkansas, but really, it's the story of hundreds of thousands of dogs, albeit, without the storybook ending. No one knows for sure how Chase started his life, but we do know that he ended up on the streets of a small town – more specifically, a highway. While he was busy surviving, my Jack Russell’s candle was slowly fading. I was consumed with sadness over Cazador's illness, and his inevitable finale was a certainty. As happens to man’s best friend, they go, but their spirits stay.


Such was the void of his physical being gone that I found myself looking for him in the faces of other Jack Russells online. Instead, I found thousands of the breed in need of homes. No big surprise there, as the Jack Russell should only land in homes where he will be understood and loved for the energetic, fun-loving clown he is. If I could have, I would have, but I couldn’t, so I didn’t adopt the thousands I saw… but I did find one little dog… Chase.


A series of inquiries, applications, vet approvals, heart-to-hearts, rejiggings and winter storms later, the deal was done! Chase was mine and on transport from Arkansas to me and my husband. 

All I knew about him was that the police had picked him and a companion stray up off the highway and delivered them both into the loving hands of a caring Arkansas foster mom who partners with a devoted virtual shelter to find northeastern homes for southern dogs... The Little Pink Shelter, a story unto itself.

Bits and pieces put together paint a picture of an estimated 2-year old little dog that was likely left to fend for himself and his buddy… that became skilled at stealing food… that apparently dodged some beatings, not to mention18-wheelers… that found shelter from frightening storms who knows where… and that ran like the wind when he needed to. It also appears that Chase lost his voice when his vocal chords were partially removed. He was lucky, though. The people or person who he once thought were his family were actually kind and thoughtful – they didn’t shoot him. After a month with his foster mom, he was adopted by a second family who subsequently (and thankfully) returned him to his foster mom -- seems he was too much trouble. 

Chase, a presumed Jack Russell mix (although based on some behaviors, I believe he’s really a purebred Border Collie) arrived with some surprises. The biggest one being that opening my heart to him did not mean closing it to Cazador. There’s plenty of room for a dog that needs a family, or is it… a family that needs a dog.

He worships his big sister, Meadow, who has literally shown him the ropes. He walks in the City as if he’s been doing it all his life. He is my husband’s constant companion, if not, sidekick. His bark, (man)made unrobust, is heard by us who speak for him. He is honey-sweet yet guarded when it comes to strangers. He won’t ever have to steal food again or worry about a tennis racket doubling as a weapon. And when the inner Border Collie in him comes out, so does his leash. Smart as can be, he’s onto the word, C-O-U-N-T-R-Y. Come Fridays, we have to spell it out in our household. Saying it out loud triggers uncontrollable excitement before we head out to, hmmm... you know where. He taught us and continues to teach us life lessons that one never seems to get right: 1) that which doesn’t kill you, will only make you stronger, 2) patience is a virtue, and 3) family and home are priceless.
 
There are hurdles yet to be crossed,  but thanks to his foster mom and the virtual shelter – oh, yes – and the two cops who found him – one cold, stormy Saturday in February of 2011, Chase made it home. He fits right into our lives, one in which our dogs, past and present, are at the center.


Below... the much loved and missed Cazador

TOMATO HEAVEN...

This looks so good, I can almost taste it and will, most definitely, bring it to the table. Served chilled, perhaps, as a summer refresher? Found on the Tomatoes On The Vine blog... go there now for this recipe and a trove of other mouthwatering ideas. Thank you, Chef Tyler and Tomatoes On The Vine.

Roasted Tomato Soup by Tyler Florence.
Found on Tomatoes On The Vine
Found on Tomatoes On The Vine


Monday, August 1, 2011

APPLES & ORANGES...

The Big Apple... weekdays
Orange County... weekends

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

OH, MY STARS!


I remember the gooey, slimy goodness these peculiar pods released when my mom added them to her homemade chicken soup (I'll share the recipe come Fall). Everybody's mom makes the best chicken soup ever, but my mom's was really over the top! "Quimbobo", she called them... aka, okra. Just the sight of them brings back memories, and I can almost see her stirring up a batch.


Sadly, with their lack of availability and high price tag, okra pods vanished from my life for some time making my variation of her soup incomplete. 

As I saw it, the only solution was to grow my own okra. A fairly no-fuss plant, it is as pretty as it is unusual, wearing its hibiscus-shaped flowers like accessories and its odd pods like ornaments. My mom would have loved the flowers, and at every chance, I rush to the garden where the okra grows to enjoy the sweet memory of her stirring the soup and feel the warm comfort of her spirit.





















Too hot to make soup and too anxious to taste my hand-grown pods, I decided to create my own recipe. Thus, the first few pods of the season were the "stars" of last night's Christmas in July dinner... literally!
   
RECIPE 5:

STARS OF WONDER
Ingredients:
The Holidays
Fond Memories
Millionaire & Red Burgundy Okra Pods
Golden Zucchini
Tigerella Tomatoes
Garlic Clove
Small To Medium Onion

Salt, Pepper & Olive Oil

Directions:
If this recipe was any easier, it would make itself. First, go to the garden and gather your gifts. Slice the pods... they're naturally star-shaped. Dice the golden zucchini and onions. Quarter the Tigerellas, crush the clove and set everything aside. Season with a dash of pepper and a sprinkle of salt, but no more. Let the flavors of fresh-from-the-garden veggies speak for themselves. Heat a drizzle of olive oil and sauté the garlic first, then the onions until transparent. Toss in the zucchini, Tigerellas and add the "stars". Cook until softened. Serve on a bed of pasta or as a side dish to your main course.

Monday, July 25, 2011

SANTA, YOU'RE THE BEST...

These are just some of the gifts we opened... a blushing red Brandywine tomato, golden and classic zucchini, Tigerella tomatoes, white and green string beans (from a friend and coming to Cardinal Gardens, next Christmas in July), Red Burgundy and Millionaire Okra, jalapeños, baby eggplants... Calliope and white.
 
RECIPE 4:

CHRISTMAS BELLS 
Peppers never cease to amaze me.
 And now that I know that these 
chameleons of the vegetable world 
go from green to blackish to red, they can be served in any hue we want.
 One more thing... 
the redder the Bell, the sweeter.For the merriest of servings and a Cuban twist, 
stuff one with Picadillo, another 
with Arroz con Pollo or Ropa Vieja, 
another with whatever, etc... really, anything goes!

Ingredients:
Just like in the Stars of Wonder recipe:

Christmas In July

Special Memories
Also:
Green Bells

Red Bells
For My Fellow Cubanos & Cuban Food Lovers:
Picadillo, Arroz Con Pollo or Ropa Vieja

For Everyone Else:
Your Choice Of Stuffing

Directions:

Really, you can stuff a pepper with 
anything you want, but to keep it Cuban, 
substitute Picadillo with classics like 
Arroz con Pollo or even Ropa Vieja.
 Make your choice of stuffing 
and let simmer. Cut the excess stem off 
of the top of the pepper. Turn the pepper 
upside down and cut the bottom off 
to make the stuffing hole. 
Place on an oven-safe sheet or pan. 
Roast the peppers in a pre-heated 400-425o oven 
for 30-40 minutes. While the peppers 
are roasting, hard boil the eggs 
and keep them warm. Remove the peppers 
from the oven and stuff. Crumble the eggs 
then sprinkle on top. Serve.

 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS...

and a Christmas in July, but instead of under the tree, you'll find your gifts under the canopy.
Merry Christmas, July 2011... Happy wishes, wholesome harvests, healthy eating!


Saturday, July 23, 2011

PODCAST...

Millionaire Okra Flower & Pods
















This pretty flower will turn into these, and when it does, I'll make some of this:

OKRA & TOMATOES
See recipe on Elise Bauer's blog, www.simplyrecipes.com.

Property of Elise Bauer, Simply Recipes