One of my very best girlfriends from college has a personal blog where she includes little ramblings of her life, a picture every now and then or a sweet thought. Kristine is my kindred spirit as far as communication goes. Both of us mildly moody, vulnerable talkers, easy tears - she's the best kind of friend to have when you need to process life with someone. She posted a rhetorical question asking "what will be the tone of your life?". A melody, as she calls it, made up of words, conversations and attitudes. I tried to think of mine, and came up with a list of a few things I wanted it to be, but couldn't settle on one word that would qualify as my aspired tone. You don't often think of yourself in the form of complimentary adjectives, but this question isn't about patting yourself on the back, as it is setting a thesis for the rest of your story.
Are you ready for my utterly general response? Loveliness. To be enjoyable, delightful, gracious, to inspire and be full of love. I'm excited by sending notes, nurturing, doing favors, feeding people, listening, and want to do more of it. Love. Maybe it's too big or too vague of a word to throw out as one's tone, but it makes sense to me right now.
As we stayed up late last night talking about this, I asked Hugh what he thought my tone would be, and he named it... and when I explained how I thought his tone was 'intention', complimenting the purpose with which he does things, he said I was close, "I want my tone to be, BE AWESOME. It's the same as intention, but in Hugh language." Can't say I'm surprised. Always dependable to lighten the mood.
May that encourage you to give this some thought. It doesn't have to be a heavy question, you can just want to be awesome, but it's important to boil the big things down every now and then. It may be an endless endeavor, but a little perspective is always welcome.
This is hardly a recipe, but I wanted to give some ballpark measurements and hints for those who want them. Pick up the most fragrant basket of strawberries, deep red right up to the stem. Then add sauteed leeks with their subtle onion flavor, all held together by the creamy tartness from the goat cheese. It's a ten minute snack of pure LOVELINESS.
STRAWBERRY + LEEK QUESADILLAS
2 tsp. Coconut Oil/Olive Oil
2 Brown Rice Tortillas
1/3 Cup Soft Goats Cheese
1/3 Cup Grated Mozzarella
Thinly Sliced Strawberries
Fresh Ground Pepper
1. Remove the tough, dark green top of the leek, to use only the white and light green parts. Slice the leek in half length wise and clean out any dirt. Slice thin.
2. Heat 1 tsp of the oil in a large pan and saute the leeks with a pinch of salt for about 10 minutes until softened and just browning in parts. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Over medium high heat, warm the remaining tsp. of oil and lay down one of the tortillas. Use your discretion as far as filling amounts. All across the tortilla, sprinkle half of both cheeses, desired amount of the sauteed leeks, strawberries, a sprinkle of pepper and the rest of the cheese. Cover with the other tortilla and cook about 2 minutes until the bottom is browned, flip the quesadilla and cook 2-3 minutes on the other side. Slice and sprinkle some cilantro if you'd like.
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I have been a long time admirer of Heidi, creator of the eversopopular 101cookbooks. I started off my food blog interest, knowing of only two sites, Heidi's being one of them. Her taste in food is similar to mine, so I read (and still read) every post with full attention. I like to cook with whole grains and lots of produce; keeping food fresh and natural, while not compromising flavor. She has been a pioneer of that style in the food blog world, reminding readers that food that is good for you, does not end at steamed vegetables and a dry protein. Heidi is creative, kind, and relatable in the way she presents her recipes. She emphasizes on her site and in her new book Super Natural Every Day, that recipes are there to offer ideas and get you started, but always open for change. The book is full of helpful tips, great recipes, and room for you to make them your own. It is not short of beautiful images and her humble personality is woven through every page.
This recipe caught my eye as I was thinking of something to bring on a picnic with my sister in law and sweet little niece. It travels well and is packed with flavor. I only made a few changes, to avoid yet another trip to the store. I swapped in walnuts for the suggested pine nuts, added chopped cilantro, and tossed in some adzuki beans for a little extra protein. I am going to write Heidi's recipe as given in the book, and you can make your adjustments as you desire.
ORZO + BROCCOLI PESTO SALAD // Serves 6
Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson
1 Cup Whole Grain Orzo
5 Cups Raw Broccoli, cut into small florets
2 Cloves of Garlic
2/3 Cup Pinenuts, toasted
1/3 Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
Juice of one Lemon
1/4 Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Creme Fraiche
Grated Zest of one Lemon
1 Large Avocado, sliced
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt generously. Add the orzo and cook according to package instructions. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again.
2. In the meantime, cook the broccoli. Bring about a cup of water to a boil in a large pot with a pinch of salt. Stir in the broccoli, put the lid on and cook for one to two minutes, just long enough to take the edge off. Quickly drain the broccoli, and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well.
3. To make the pesto, combine 2 cups of the cooked broccoli, the garlic, most of the nuts, parmesan, 1/4 tsp salt, 2 Tbsp. of the lemon juice and pulse in a food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil and creme fraiche and pulse until smooth.
4. Toss the orzo, remaining cooked broccoli florets, about 2/3 of the pesto and the lemon zest. Taste it and add what you like - more lemon, salt, the rest of the pesto. Fold in the avocado and top with the remaining nuts and a bit of extra parmesan if you prefer.
Hugh and I fell into doing this thing where we keep a count when are swept in a moment of gratitude/happiness/love. You know, those moments where time slows and you think to yourself, wow, this life is pretty fantastic. It could be about anything really, as those moments aren't ever anticipated. Like when our washing machine exploded with water yesterday and we were frantically trying to get the gallons of water into the two small buckets we own, us laughing and hustling together with our pants soaking wet.
That was number 72.
It seemed a charming newlywed moment, and we were lucky to have each other in that instance. It doesn't have to be about romantic love, that's just how we started it, as sort of a verbal affirmation to each other. Everyone gets overwhelmed with emotion at some point and it feels good to recognize it with someone.
Given all the hurt, hate and misfortune going on in the world, I think now is as good a time as ever to make a note of good things you have. My heart breaks each time I see a picture of the destruction in Japan. I feel a sense of guilt - why them and not me? A frustration that my aunt's cancer is back or a loss for words in how to console my mother in-law, who lost her mother on friday. There is a lot of crappy stuff that gets thrown at us, and making a note of sweet moments is what keeps my heart from getting too heavy.
And then there was this ice cream. A rich, decadent, ultimately satisfying dessert. We've kind of been on an ice cream bend lately, most specifically these pretty little containers of Talenti Gelato. Hugh fell in love with their Sea Salt Caramel flavor, and I was convinced with a little elbow grease we could make our own. Below is something that I would say is pretty dang close. I apologize for the surplus of treats lately. Such a disgrace to my own blog name. I am hoarding every original idea I have for the book, and it seems the reprieve I get from trying to get creative with seasonal produce, is to whip up a tasty treat. No harm in a bit of ice cream.
SALTED CARAMEL ICE CREAM // Makes 1.5 pints
I read about achieving success with caramel in Rhulman's book Ratio. A simply written, but informative read. The ice cream is based on memory from my time working at Villa Lucia in Motevettolini, Italy.
I only push using organic products every so often, as I know it is not always accessible or affordable, but this would be the time to splurge if you can. You will taste a difference.
4 Large Egg Yolks
3/4 Cup Natural Cane Sugar
2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
1/2 tsp. Sea Salt
1 Cup Heavy Cream
3/4 Cup Milk
2 tsp. Real Vanilla Extract
1. Bring everything you are using out of the fridge, to get it close to room temperature.
2. Put the yolks in a large glass bowl, over a pot of just barely simmering water, being careful to not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl (double boiler method). Whisk the yolks until they start to become a pale golden color, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
3. In a heavy bottomed pot (enameled cast iron if you have one), heat the sugar with a few drops of water over medium heat. Once it starts to melt, stir it around with a heat proof utensil to ensure even cooking. Watch it closely. When just a few bits of sugar are left and it's a lovely golden brown color (this took me about 7 minutes), sprinkle in the salt. Add the butter and stir. It will bubble a bit, which is normal. Slowly pour in the cream while you continue to stir. The caramel will seize up, just keep it over medium heat to melt it back down, then take it off the heat. Add the milk and vanilla and stir again. Let it cool about 5 minutes.
4. Starting with just a few spoonfuls, add some of the caramel mix to the egg yolks and stir to combine. You are trying to bring everything to the same temperature so it doesn't scorch the yolks. Add the rest of the caramel mix to the yolks and stir. Pour it through a fine mesh strainer in to another bowl, and refrigerate the mix for about an hour or two to cool.
5. Pour the chilled mix into an ice cream machine and let it do it's thing. For some scientific reason I don't know, this ice cream never really gets super firm. Keep it frozen in an airtight container for up to a week. It is great with a little sprinkle of cocoa nibs or roasted almonds for contrast.
I don't read as much as I'd like. Lots of blogs and cookbooks, but not as much fiction as I would prefer. I love when a good writer really draws you in - when something they write feels so familiar, it's like they are describing an emotion that you weren't certain you were feeling until you read their piece. I was reading Molly's post about having house guests after spending quiet days alone, working and writing from home. It reminded me how I felt last week, as we had all our evenings booked with some plan between house guests, a going away party for a best friend, dinner dates, tax appointments and the like. I really like being busy, it makes me feel more alive, more motivated.
I haven't really found a rhythm with this working from home deal. I am easily distracted, usually off task and missing the affirmation when I do something well. It has it's moments of lonliness, regardless of my beloved being here with me most of the time. I feel SO lucky for the schedule we keep, and there is not a dinner time prayer that goes by that we don't express our gratitude for having the means to do what we love, but it is different. I connected with Molly's post, because she was reveling in what fun it is to spend time with people you delight in. I was entertained by the dinner conversation with our house guests over the art of a perfect veggie burger, I waxed sentimental over the goodbye dinner of a dear friend from second grade moving states away, and laughed at another friends house while we watched random You Tube break dancing dance videos after a great dinner (isn't that how your dinner dates end?). All to say, introvert or not, there is nothing like the pleasure of good company.
BROWN RICE CRISPIES // Makes one 8x8 pan
Adapted from Vanilla & Lace
You can find brown rice syrup at most health food stores. It is thicker than maple syrup, so the treats will stick together a little better. Maple syrup works well, but is thinner, so the treats are more fragile/crumbly. The dark chocolate lends a sharp contrast to the crisps, but milk chocolate would be a fine complement as well. The amount below gives a pretty sturdy chocolate layer, simply half it if you want something lighter.
1/3 Cup Creamy Almond Butter
1/3 Brown Rice Syrup (or Maple Syrup)
1 tsp. Real Vanilla Extract
3 Cups Crisped Brown Rice
7 oz. Good Quality, Dark Chocolate (I used Valrhona 71%)
1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
1. Using a double broiler method, set a glass bowl over a small pot of simmering water, making sure that the bowl is not touching the water. Put the almond butter, brown rice syrup and vanilla extract in the bowl and stir until everything is evenly incorporated. Remove from the heat to cool a minute.
2. Put the crisped rice in a large bowl and pour the almond butter mixture on top, mix thoroughly.
3. Coat the bottom and sides of a 8x8 glass pan with a light coat of desired neutral tasting oil (coconut, canola, grapeseed etc.). Pour the rice mix in and push it down with the back of a spoon. Put it in the fridge while you make the chocolate layer.
4. Clean the bowl from the almond butter mix, and set up the double broiler again. Add the pieces of chocolate to melt slowly, stirring occasionally. When the chocolate is melted, add the butter and stir. Pour the chocolate on top of the rice crisps and quickly spread it across the top with an offset spatula or back of a spoon in an even layer. Refrigerate for at least an hour and a half to set and cut them in to squares with a sharp knife. Keep stored in the fridge and try to eat them within two days as the rice starts to absorb moisture.
I have my favorite dozen-ish ingredients that I use most frequently when I cook. They are ingredients that make me feel safe. I am confident in how to use them well, they are good for me while also being flavorful and to this point, I feel like they compose my 'style'. This truth has never really bothered me until I signed a contract to develop one hundred original recipes for a cookbook, and realized that I would need to deviate from my go-to's for the sake of variety. I committed to this project, because I want to be better. So though lemons are clearly in my top twelve, preserving them was something new to me, so I think that counts as a step forward. Or maybe a half step, which is still that right direction.
I know there have been a LOT of lemons around here lately, but citrus is tough to beat right now, so let's be honest, there is likely more to come. I'm not typically one to say "you must make this!", but we will likely use these preserved lemons in a few recipes throughout the coming months, and I'd love it if you would play along. You could toss them in here, or in any of these:
Quinoa with Asparagus and Preserved Lemon Dressing
Bulgar and Chickpeas with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette
Israeli Couscous with Butternut and Preserved Lemon
Green Garlic and Preserved Lemon Hummus
PRESERVED LEMONS //
I read about this method in a cookbook at the bookstore, and have no clue what the title was. It's pretty free form, so I don't believe anyone will be insulted by the lack of credit given. Thank you for your help, mystery book. These are not precise measurements, as all lemons are different sizes. From what I can tell, as long as there is salt, lemons and plenty of juice in the jar, you're off to a good start.
7-ish Meyer Lemons
1 Cup Fine Grain Sea Salt
1 Tbsp. Natural Cane Sugar
2 tsp. Whole Peppercorns
1. Sanitize a large, wide mouth mason jar.
2. If buying store bought lemons, scrub them really well to get off any wax - the rind is what you'll be eating in the end so give them some elbow grease. If you have a lemon tree, then you're fine. Unless, of course, you use wax and harsh fertilizer :/
3. Cut the largest of the lemons in half and poke out the seeds. This is the one you'll be using for juice.
4. Remove the ends of the remaining lemons, and cut them in quarters.
5. Put about 1/4 cup of the salt at the bottom of the jar. Smush in four of the lemon quarters, you don't need to be gentle, we want a bit of juice to squish out. Follow them by about a tablespoon of salt. Try to let it touch the flesh of each slice. Squeeze a bit of the lemon you're using for juice and then repeat with remaining lemons and salt.
6. About midway in the jar, sprinkle the sugar in with the salt, and continue the layering.
7. When you get close to the top, smush everything down a bit. Make sure no more than an inch or two of the lemon slices are above the meniscus. Add in the peppercorns. Over the next 2-3 days, enough juice should be extracted to cover them. If not, add a bit more yourself.
8. Allow the jar to sit a few days at room temp, and then store them in the fridge. They are probably fine at room temperature, but I'm cautious. Turn them upside down every now and then to keep things moving.
9. They are ready to use in cooking after about a month, but will keep in the fridge up to 6 months.
To use, rinse the lemon of it's salty brine, and scoop away the flesh. Use the preserved peels to put on fish, in grain salads or on top of a panna cotta.