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Archive for the ‘Carpe Diem’ Category

Look at those wriggingly fresh mopani worms plucked right from a tree in the African bush. (Photograph by Marius Coetzee; Check out more of his stunning wildlife photography at: www.mariuscoetzeeafricanphotography.blogspot.com/. )

When I asked my South African friends to suggest a recipe I might share on the blog I had no idea I would have to eat worms not once, but TWICE! For some Africans mopani worms (really more like caterpillars since they turn into butterflies) are a delicacy, for others they are a common, tasty nosh, especially yummy during a night of drinking. My friend Sam told me I would love them.

Here are the worms in dehydrated form. First the gooshy centers are squeezed out, then the carcass is salted and dried. The crunchy buggers have a briney and musty taste. After the flavor dissipates, you are left with a sensation that I imagine is very similar to chewing bark.

Dried mopani worms go best with World Cup viewing and cold beer, preferably Castle.

Mopani worms are more than bar food: Sam says the most delectable way to eat them is rehydrated and flavored with tomatoes and chiles.

While rehydrating the worms in a cup of boiling water, saute onions, chiles and tomatoes in olive oil.

Let those worms plump up while the tomato mixture softens.

Add the tomato mixture to the worms and stir.

Cooked, the worms are more flavorful and meaty – the rehydration process plumps them up a lot. Still, you’ve got to love to gnaw if you go for mopani worms.

You only live once!

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Refreshing drinks for all this summer, says I.

Peach Basil Sangria Anti-Recipe

Many years ago my dear friend Ashton came to visit and I had made a batch of sangria the night before to have on hand for the weary travelers when they arrived. It, and the vodka filled watermelon were a hit. A year or so later Ashton called to ask what my recipe was… Truly I didn’t know how to respond because it’s such a nebulous thing. I recall sending him a few sample recipes and telling him to piece it together himself. (Nice friend, huh?) Well, Ashton found his was around the sangria and is now quite the expert.
When we were on the same side of the country a few months ago we worked side by side in the kitchen throwing together a batch for a last-minute party we didn’t even need to speak, we both just threw our things into the mix. We’re in tune like that. Today I called him to ask him a question about “his” sangria and he just laughed… Sounds like his has become as nebulous as mine. Yours will be soon too but this is a good place to start.

2 bottles white wine, ideally not chardonnay (but in a pinch, it works)
1/2 cup peach liqueur (Pallini Peachcello White Peach Liqueur is delicious)
3 peaches, sliced
2 limes, sliced
1 orange, sliced
15 cherries, halved (or blackberries, whole)
1 bunch opal basil leaves
Champagne, prosecco or Sprite

Mix first seven ingredients in a large pitcher and refrigerate 4 hours, or better overnight. Pour into glasses, scooping fruit into each, top each glass off with a splash of bubbly to taste.

Hoping for Clear Skies Mint Tea

The myth about southern California is that it is always sunny and warm. The truth is that it is full of microclimates that cover the map like a gradient from coastal areas to low desert up to high deserts and mountains. When the rest of the country is really getting the feel of spring and getting ready to kick off the summer it’s common for a marine layer to nestle itself comfortably over the coastal areas like fluffy down comforter. And there it sits. For the better part of May/June/July the sun can be non-existant in the mornings and scarce in the afternoons, the temperature hovering in the 60’s. (Ironically, with each mile you travel away from the coast it gets progressively more sunny and warmer.) On these gray mornings, I like a cup of tea that reminds me of what’s happening outside all those clouds- the sun is shining and growing beautiful things all around us.
When we travel to Chile our friends always serve a sprig of fresh mint with a pot of hot water for those that are not partaking in coffee. It’s bright, refreshing and comforting. Great for unseasonably cool temperatures. Also delicious chilled over ice for those sweating it out these days.

Place 1 sprig washed mint (any varietal) into a mug and cover with boiling water. Breathe deeply while steeping for five minutes.

Rosemary Makes Great Lemonade

If, say, you happened to have squeezed twenty pounds of lemons this spring and frozen the juice you might be looking for something to do with it about now.

1 cup sugar (or 3/4 cup agave nectar)
2 cups boiling water
3 sprigs rosemary, plus more for garnish
2 cups lemon juice
sparkling water

Place sugar in heat-proof container with rosemary. Pour hot water over and stir to dissolve sugar. Allow to rest until cool. Mix in lemon juice, strain if you like. This is your base, when ready to serve, fill glass with ice and pour 2/3 cup lemon mixture over, top off with 1/3 cup sparkling water. Vodka would not be amiss here.

Cheers all!

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Sometimes I wish being the person I want to be was as simple as setting the resolution and waking the next day to feel myself transformed. While self-reflection is at the heart of many successful practices like religion, meditation, sports performance and professional development it can sometimes feel less than rewarding.

Example:
Step 1- Set general and glorious expectation.
Step 2- Fail at executing expectation, or worse yet, forget the goal.
Step 3- Reprimand self for failing to meet above expectation.

Rinse and repeat. After repeated cycles one may begin to wonder if it’s the expectation or the lack of discipline in the execution. In reality, it’s likely that the goal itself is so big and so general that the project is doomed from the start, like willing oneself to grow an elephant foot. It just doesn’t work like that, and perhaps thankfully so. The challenge is to keep positive and keep persevering.

We had the windows open the other night as a gaggle of young humans were waddling by when we heard this:

Gramma, Grrrrramma! I love walking by this house, there’s always someone cooking!!

I brightened.
I blushed.
I beamed.

And I thought: Does cooking makes me a better version of myself? We should all be reminded what things we do that we can be proud of (even if it’s a child’s voice floating in the window)… that we wouldn’t mind people peeking into our lives and taking note. Much like taking stock of what’s on hand in the kitchen, we must also inventory our personal larder in order to know what makes us special and to continue growing and moving forward. Good recipes offer us a step by step instruction manual for success and we’re rewarded with an effort that is greater than the sum of its parts because it allows us to put into action simple values statements.

Food (finding or cooking) provides little moments that reinforce the things we do that define us. A daily pronouncement of what we believe, what we prioritize. That could be eating local, not eating meat, finding the best restaurants, doing the best you can on a budget, making sure your busy family comes together for dinner, focusing on fruits and vegetables, getting your kids involved in the kitchen…
For me, just making food, making good choices about where it comes from and putting on the table with love are my hallmarks. That’s an identity to channel everyday… and much easier than growing an elephant foot.

I‘m a Good Person Butternut Squash Soup with Life is Delicious Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwiches


For the soup:
Peel and cut into chunks two medium butternut squash. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. Meanwhile heat a medium pan over medium heat with two tablespoons butter, when it foams add thin slices of half a large onion, one chopped rib of celery, 1 chile de arbol, 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon, 1 teaspoon salt and some freshly ground pepper. Sautee until lightly caramelized. Add squash pieces and stir. Turn the heat to medium high and splash in 1/4 cup dry sherry, reduce for 3 minutes. Add six cups of water to the pot and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Puree carefully and keep warm on the stove while finishing the sandwiches.

For the sandwiches:
Heat small sautee pan with 2 tablespoons butter, when it foams add thin slices of one half a large onion. Sautee on low heat stirring occasionally until deeply browned, about 30 minutes. Remove onions from pan and wipe with a paper towel.
Meanwhile slice a good quality loaf of bread, as much as you think you will need for as many people as you are serving. Lightly butter one side of each slice. Smear the other side of each bread with a thin layer of goat cheese (honey-lavender is amazing), carmelized onion, several pieces of spring mix (or spinach) and then top with another slice of bread with cheese facing the onion and buttered side facing up. Place in warm skillet over medium heat, cooking each side until golden brown and cheese is starting to melt.






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On the GoGo

You have not heard much from me because I’ve been trying to fit second tier jet-setting in with doing five days worth of work in only three. The fun part is—I’ve been traveling a bit which, like cooking is something I find myself prioritizing into my life. This usually means that I sneak in long weekenders whenever possible. In fact, I started writing this in the air while considering the parallels between cooking and traveling. These are my musings:

1. Life fills up and the time (if not money) goes fast. You have to make travel happen. So, get it on the calendar (or in the budget). Once it’s there it becomes real and all the other activities fill in around it. You will not regret it. Do the same with dinner; plan on it because getting together with friends or family enriches us more than striking a few more things from our never-ending to-do lists.

2. Keep it simple except for special occasions. Doing something simple well is usually more spectacular than doing something grand. Think about it, when we plan that “trip of a lifetime” or a super involved menu there are a lot of expectations and with the bar set too high one of two things can easily happen; (a) We accept mediocrity because we have so much invested or (b) We are disappointed. Not good. Keeping it simple with travel can mean only visiting one city/neighborhood/street or not meeting up with everyone you may know in a particular place but only meeting up with the most intimate of friends. The simpler the ingredient list the more you will taste the flavor.

3. Bring only what you need, it will go further than you expect. I know someone who travels only with “outfits” and I see that as the same as shopping for exactly planned meals. Keep your packing light, preferably with a color theme so that you can mix and match your clothes. Do the same at the market, buy what interests you and then support that with other complimentary things i.e. potatoes+chives, strawberry+rhubarb, avocado+lime. Looking in your fridge or suitcase will be much easier to navigate when it’s not overflowing.

4. I will be frank about this one: airports are not fun. Some can be downright de-humanizing, so take whatever joys you can in the experience (true also for car/train/bus). For me that means remembering I can be whoever I want to be in the airport. Sometimes I am sporty chic, or dressy or flowing in a comfortable get-up but no matter what I see myself as the person that I want to be that day. Viewing myself as a character makes the whole thing a lot more fun. No matter which look I’m donning my characters all have similar traits: she talks little, is very efficient, complains little and is prepared but not overly so. My character remains calm. Before you call the headshrinker, hear me out on this one: Feeding oneself (or a family of selves) is not always fun. It can be stressful and sometimes feel a bit oppressive. However, looking at the bigger picture seems to make the effort worth pursuing. In life I believe in eating real food, the kind most often prepared at home. You may have your own mantra, just like you may have your own travel character, the basic idea is to keep in mind your greater awareness and implement it.

5. Enjoy the entire journey. For travel: Put on music while you pack, allow plenty of time, put on your headphones while walking at the airport (the first time I listened to Seam play Aloha Spirit while walking through the airport changed my perception permanently). By all means, think about food before you go (these photos are an example of what can happen if you don’t), I rarely have time to prepare something portable so stop by Zinc Café for a sandwich beautifully wrapped in white paper. The same idea, but applied to cooking: Put on music or a podcast before you even get your hands dirty, don’t fuss about time to the point that you don’t enjoy the process, have good tools (even if you only have three knives make sure they are always kept sharp). You get the idea—do whatever you can to enjoy the process.

6. Take it easy, relax and enjoy.

Now go somewhere and see someone you love (even if they are only in the kitchen).

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A Sentimental Life

The night had not started out well. I was tired, pushed beyond my comfort zone in the corporate world and just wanted to be home. Once there, I was listless, a bit distracted and definitely not ready to dirty a single extra dish or pan but not ready to leave the house to eat something out either.
Channeling Tod Davies and/or a body+soul recipe I’d read over the last week and decided to make a simple tomato soup with poached eggs served with fresh bread (the secret of which I will reveal very soon) and some beautifully aged gouda from the drawer.
I was too lazy to actually track down the particular recipe, so I decided to wing it. Often my habit is to follow a recipe so that the results are predictable, but there was something empowering about starting with a base and using taste buds and intuition to help develop the flavor.
The soup began with canned tomatoes (these happened to be whole) pulled apart added to a sautéed onion with garlic. Then I developed the flavor with whatever else I had in the fridge and spice drawer. Two eggs cracked into the soup toward the end and a covered pan resulted in nicely poached eggs (with no extra pans/time/effort).
When tasting the soup, I was inspired to reflect on what I wanted it to taste like– what I expected from it. Which, I suppose got me started thinking about life in general… The meal was acceptable, actually pretty darn good. The conversation, beginning on par with the meal washed away my trepidations from the day and reminded me of what if feels like to be truly connected to another human being (in this case, my dining partner). As my second glass of wine kicked in, I was reminded about how special this connection with another person can be. Feeling grateful, I spoke of my hope of someday looking back on my life and knowing that I had squeezed all the juice from the proverbial orange (I used that exact phrase).
That is what I want: to be present in each moment. So when through wrinkles and wispy hair I look back, I don’t have regrets or lost minutes/hours/days/years– knowing that I experienced each moment of love to the fullest extent of my being. (Sometimes the simplest things can be the most difficult.)
With that, I re-present the idea of a meal as something hand-crafted each day, out of love (or necessity). It brings us together with the people we care most about (typically) and it can be, the moment we all take to pause and reevaluate.
So, I remember that this is the moment. THIS is the meal. Now is today and today (or our soup) is what we make of it.

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