Monthly Archives: January 2012

Oh Yes…Paleolítico Tapas!

The Mediterranean region may have the most varied and all around delicious cuisine on this planet.  I’ve been experimenting with the national Spanish pass time of tapas:  Those “small bite” plates of pure  delicioso that are part of the culture of Spain.  It’s … well … bar food.  Wonderful, surprising,  tasty, bar food.   This means the dishes are easy to prepare, quickly made, and served exquisitely, usually with a good sampling of wines.  One sits, dances, converses, and samples tapas ranging from slices of  Jamón  and chorizos to cooked plates of seafood, meats, poultry and interesting preparations of things like duck and shellfish.  Sometimes going from bar-to-bar through a long evening with friends. Tapas bars have become fashionable in many cities all over the US and elsewhere.  Often, they serve mediocre to good Spanish wines that are somewhat moderately priced, by the glass or the bottle – but – those “little bites” can be both very little and very pricy.

There is good news: for the foodie “paleo” devotee, outside of the high-priced tapas bar, tapas is easy on the budget, is genuinely delicious, and  … it is composed of small plates by design.   Start with a little bowl of nuts (almonds are essential to the tapas table), with or without salt, roasted or raw, a few really good olives, and add a plate of thinly sliced Jamón or some smoked fish.  Add a bowl of crudités (chopped raw veggies), with or without a dipping sauce;  some spicy Garlic Shrimp or a plate of the classic Patatas a lo pobrepoor man’s potatoes“.  Select a bottle of something really tasty and a glass, serve everything arranged on beautiful small plates and there you have it: dinner.  The wonderful secret is this: in all of the samplings I’ve tried (devoured greedily), over half of the recipes are ready-made paleo-perfect. (There will follow a listing of cook books from my collection – stay tuned).

Spicy Garlic Shrimp

Variations on this dish can be found in restaurants served with angel hair pasta, rice or just alone.

Preheat oven to 400

Shrimp: rule of thumb: 4 or 5 per diner.

Vary amounts below according to how much shrimp (and how large) you are using.  Many fish mongers sell the larger varieties as “prawns”.  Always start with fresh, wild varieties, never “pre-cooked”, frozen  or canned.  Do not use “salad shrimp”.  This recipe works well with any fresh crustacean. Be very careful about over-cooking and watch closely.

  • 1/2 tsp. of pepper flakes
  • 4 cloves of minced garlic
  • a tsp. of dried thyme
  • a little salt & pepper
  • chopped parsley to garnish
  •  a little sherry

In a heavy sauce pan or in small Spanish cazuela, place three tablespoons of a good extra virgin olive oil.  Add 1/2 tsp. of pepper flakes, 4 cloves of minced garlic, a tsp. of dried thyme,  a little salt & pepper, and put into a hot oven until it’s hot and bubbly.

Meantime, wash enough shrimp to make your meal.  You do not have to remove the heads, shell or de-vein the shrimp unless you prefer them that way.  Place in a small container with a little sherry, set aside as the cazuela heats.  You may add salt and pepper at this stage.

Remove the cazuela  from the oven, let it cool for a few minutes, add the thyme, shrimp with the sherry, stir it up so that the oil and pepper flakes cover the shrimp and return to the oven.   Watch it closely and the very second all of the shrimp are pink, remove, garnish with the parsley, and serve with a few lemon wedges on the side.

A nice variation is to thinly slice a little Serrano ham and toss into the mix when you add the shrimp.

Cuban Mojo Sauce for crudités

The secret to delightful crudités is to serve them beautifully arranged in finger-sized pieces cut in interesting ways.  Take a look at some books by chefs for tips on cutting.  Here’s a site for inspiration: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/tip/preparing-crudites.html

Suggestions: asparagus tips, “baby” and/or young carrots, radishes, jicama, cucumbers, sun-chokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes), mushrooms, fresh edible-pod peas … anything that’s fresh and tasty raw will do. Be careful about tomatoes, they can make a mess…

This sauce keeps up to a month in the refrigerator and it’s good for everything from dipping crudités to serving over a plate of poached salmon. I even have a (non-paleo devotee) who swears by it over popcorn. This link is pretty comprehensive: Taste of Cuba.com 

My “quick & easy” variation:

  • Squeeze the juice from 3 not-especially-ripe juice oranges (or use Florida “bitter oranges” if you can find them)  add the juice of one lemon and one lime.
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil (a good variety)
  • mince 6-8 cloves of garlic (or enough to choke that proverbial horse, whichever is greater)
  • tsp ground cumin – or – if you only have whole cumin, roast it briefly in the oven and use whole
  • 3-5 tblsps. smoked paprika
  • salt & pepper to taste

Heat an iron skillet to piping hot, turn off the heat.  Add the olive oil, fry the garlic, but do not brown – quickly add the cumin, paprika, and juice while briskly stirring with a whisk.  Take care! The hot oil may splatter!  Serve hot or cool in small containers for dipping your veggies into.

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Some dietary ideas concerning the stone age …

I’ve been struggling with health issues.  Some of you who correspond with me know about my battle with the health care system over a badly broken arm early in 2011.

This medieval-themed restaurant in southern Czech Republic serves up plenty of meat grilled on this open wood fire in the middle of the restaurant.

Some others of you have been privy to my discussions concerning a sudden (and, alarming) weight gain during the past two years.  After several blind alleys and needless, frustrating conversations concerning “women of your age”… with medical professionals I finally was referred to and met with a naturopathic doctor.   She looked over my daily routines (which were pretty healthy): organic, whole foods, low sodium, low-fat, and near vegetarian.  I walked about 3 miles a day, study tai chi, and lift weights.  This all seemed to indicate that lifestyle issues were not the culprit.  She immediately ordered blood work and other comprehensive testing.  Three weeks later, I received the worst of news: higher than reasonable cholesterol, blood sugar high, and my thyroid was, apparently, throwing off far more thyroxine than it should be.  After a few more tests, she ruled out diabetes (thank the Gods!) but found that my adrenal system was not functioning normally.

We talked and created a plan: a change of diet and exercise which evolved into entering a study utilizing the “paleo-” or “caveman diet”. You may have seen reports recently in the media and maybe even have reviewed the research being conducted at the University of California at San Francisco.  While actual weight loss is – painfully – slow, however, four months into the regimen, my blood work has improved to the point of be a minor sensation at the clinic!  I am, it seems, better-than-normal.  My belt buckle has moved a notch in a good way as well.

Caveman cuisine is all the rage. Way back in the day, it was just what everybody ate. Now it’s called the Paleolithic diet. Devotees dine on lean meat. They consume a cornucopia’s worth of fruits and vegetables. They eschew grains and dairy products. They chew on raw nuts, but forego legumes such as beans and peanuts. May 3, 2010 By Jeffrey Norris

It’s an easy regimen to follow: eliminate all processed foods, eschew legumes, flours, dairy, and grains.  Don’t cook things a lot (never overcook!), don’t bother with frozen or canned foods (thus lowering your grocery bill), and always buy sustainable and organically farmed foods (for all those other important reasons as well).  It was surprisingly easy for me to do this on daily basis: I have a milk allergy, so I shouldn’t be indulging in cheeses and yoghurts anyway.  I don’t – in general – particularly like legumes (fresh peas and green beans it seems, are exempt).   I admit to missing some things like savory risottos or that “quick meal” of good pasta or rice with roasted vegetables, or having some crunchy artisan bread to dip into my soup or to sop up sauces.  I really miss the various ways of preparing chicken and rice, especially on cold, rainy evenings.  Having said all of that, I can’t deny that I seem to be surviving – thriving, actually – without these as a daily diet.  My stamina has increased: those 3 miles a day has increased to 4 – more when the weather is good – and, while those steep East Bay Hills are still a challenge, they are getting easier (or less steep…) .  In July, once the cast was off my wrist and the physical therapist OK’d it, I also added two or three days a week of 20 minutes on a stationary bike and a regular hike once a week.

I could continue this posting with all kinds of information gleaned from the UCSF study and all kinds  of statistics form other studies –but– I would be writing outside of my field of expertise and I am a passionate cook, not a medical doctor.  Instead, I am going to talk about my personal experience.  Suffice to say that the paleo-diet is low is salt, higher in potassium, lower in polyunsaturated fat, and less acidic.  Apparently, according to the preliminary results, the paleo-diet, coupled with a fairly strenuous and supervised exercise program, has great potential in treating both Type II diabetes and heart disease without relying primarily on pharmaceuticals.  It’s also easy and feels good.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever eaten so well!

Going onto this regimen did not mean giving up all the things I like, forever, or even religiously, it just means that bowl of paella, cup of crème brûlée, or a slice of pie on Yule, or a plate of pasta on a special night out is just that: a treat saved for a special occasion.  Otherwise, everything I like is still on the menu: loads and creates of (organic!) berries, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds (including wild rice), tea, even coffee (the beans are from a tree, and not a legume!) and, oh yes! chocolate!  I also can have all the smoked salmon (and, other fish), crustaceans, lean meats, shellfish, and poultry that I want.  (The scent of barbecue, of course, will bring out the cave-woman in me.  Every time!)

As a culinary artist and a foodie, this meant changing styles and applying techniques to bring out flavors in creative new ways.  I approached the pantry with my new regimen in hand and with a sense of challenge, pulled out the pots and pans.   I wasn’t, as I had first feared, a daunting task: for years I had adopted the “basic Mediterranean” diet of lots of fresh vegetables and simple, well-cooked meals.  With one addition: with the increase in eating raw fruits and vegetables there is a lot of chopping, slicing, and dicing involved.

Other wise, lightly roasting,  grilling, and saute are my most recommended methods for bringing out the richest flavors in vegetables.  After that, lightly steaming and fire grilling will add interest to your paleo-plate.

Our ancestors cooked everything over a wood or charcoal fire.  In 2012, there are a  lot of reasons to save the grill for special occasions, the most important is eliminating particulate matter in urban smog-prone areas.  If you are lucky enough to live where this is not an issue, get out the tongs and line that fire pit because you have the greatest tool for adding flavor to any dish readily at hand.  For the next few posts, I will share the “fruits” of my explorations.   Beginning with:

Mediterranean Fish

Preheat oven to 450

  • 1 or 2 thick steaks of any good flavored fish will do: cod (black, true, arctic), hake, haddock, sturgeon – I like to put in the favorites of my dinner partner(s).  Have your fish monger remove the skin & the bones. (For a pretty good guide to purchasing sustainable, healthy fish, go here: http://www.montereyfish.com/pages/nav/sustainability.html)  For health and environmental reasons avoid the largest long-lived predatory ocean fish, such as swordfish, marlin, large tuna, and sharks and all farmed fish.  Fish-consumption advisories for recreational fisheries can be found at www.epa.gov/mercury/advisories.htm.
  • About 4, very fresh, tomatoes quartered or otherwise cut into bites sized pieces.( or 15 to 20 whole cherry tomatoes).  Place into a bowl and salt & pepper to taste.  Set aside.
  • one while onion, thinly sliced
  • one fennel bulb, also thinly sliced
  • On large or two small clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry and the juice of one lemon
  • pinch saffron (I use Persian saffron)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Fill a baking glass or stoneware baking dish or a Spanish cazuela with 1 1/2 inch of a good flavored, buttery olive oil.   Add the saffron, garlic, the onions and the fennel. Salt to taste.  Place in a hot oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until the oil is sizzling-ly hot and the onions and fennel are soft(er). The vegetables don’t need to be fully cooked, but they do need to be soft.  Let cool briefly, add in the lemon juice and the sherry.  Set aside.

Add in the fish by placing gently onto the vegetables, spoon the oil over the fish.  Spoon the tomatoes over all.  (Don’t over load with tomatoes, just enough is just right.)  Cover and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for about 5 or 10 more minutes, but don’t  over cook the fish.  Garnish with a few chopped fennel fronds and parsley.  Serve in bowls.  There is lots of golden glorious “juices” flavored with saffron and braised tomatoes to spoon over the fish.  (Save the left over juices for braising vegetables in  next time you have fish.)  For a tasty variation, add some copper prawns (shelled or butterflied) or a little smoked or kippered fish during the last 10 minutes of cooking. 

You can make this recipe over a fire, but don’t use a glass baking dish and watch it closely to avoid overcooking the fish.  Buon appitito!

The Sun Waxes….

Wint'ry Skies Over San Francisco Bay All rights reserved, L. Kinyon

As each day passes here in Northern California, I can observe the sun returning, growing stronger as it travels north across the horizon over our famous “Golden Hills”.

I purchased the first local daffodils at the market yesterday.

Of course, this is an observation couched in terms that are uniquely humans: “travels” “north” “returning”. It is we who are moving around the sun, and the return is all about the tilt in the axis of the earth. Here, at this longitude the seasons are muddled: red and gold leaves of the maples and oaks are still flying the winter wind.  The temperatures are mild in comparison to other parts of the country: in the 50s during the day, the 30s & 40s at night.  In an odd, cold, dry and windy year, the hills are fire-ready brown and the local wildlife is searching for water in neighborhoods bordering the regional park system.  In those same neighborhood yards the early spring flowers are blooming: bold pick and rosy camellias, a few hardy violets, some papery white narcissus. While, on protected side streets, there are buds on the trumpet vines and the Meyer lemons, satsuma oranges, and clementines are in full harvest.  Nowhere else is the “Forward and Backward” looking of Janus, for whom January is named, so apparent all around us: the  year past a memory as the leaves yet fall, swirling in the winds while the spring blooms begin peeping up through the mulch foretelling summer to come.

I am reminded that the passage of the seasons and the celebrations of Earth-Centered traditions are as much about place as they are of time. Other writers have broached this subject, re-naming the moons to fit the seasonal dance of their personal home place.  Some suggestions for the San Francisco Bay Area over the years have been: “Harvest Moon”, “Fire-in-the-Hills-Moon”, “Wine Moon”, “Deer Are Calling Moon”, “Frost Moon”, “Storm Moon”, “Good-Time-For-A- Festival-Moon” and, a favorite suggested by Starhawk, “Fog-Comes-in-Moon” – which can be any moon year round here in the Bay Area.

As with the circumnavigation of the of the moon around the earth, so it also is with the sun as we orbit and the light waxes and wanes over the year.

Winter Sunset Over the Golden GateThe January sun is, for me, the “Wint’ry Sun”: a brace of days between the darkness of deep winter and the warmer days of spring.   Giving us the cold light, chill nights, and early sunsets of winter that are conducive to moments of deep reflections and meditation.

Storms thundering in from the Pacific should be upon us, and we wait, looking for rain: For the snow to fall in the Sierras. Life-giving water that makes California home to abundant wildlife, towering forests, fertile farmlands, the ranches and the communities we love.

I am ending this post with a few musical concerning the Wint’ry Sun thoughts as I watch, on this chill January day, the shadows lengthen into afternoon outside my study window.

Winter Sun – Gerry O’Beirne
Gerry O’Beirne plays his composition “Winter Sun” at the Auburn House Concert on November 20, 2008.

Black Sun Aeon – A song for this winter

Brendan Perry – Sunset

The Head and the Heart – Winter Song

Wæs-hael: To your health!

The Medieval Kitchen...

Wassail

Old apple tree, we’ll wassail thee
And hoping thou wilt bear
The Lord does know where we shall be
To be merry another year.
To blow well and to bear well
And so merry let us be
Let every man drink up his cup
And health to the old apple tree

I want to share a couple for a really good wassail recipes with you as the last days of the Holiday Season come to a close with 12th night parties and wassailing between the 6th and the 17th of January (depending upon how you count the time from Winter Solstice, Christmas Eve or what calendar you use…).

Wassailing is an ancient custom wherein the apples are blessed with songs and an offering. Generally associated with the Feast of Twelfth Night or The Feast of the Epiphany, there is some controversy as to when 12th Night actually occurs. (see links above.) Today, it’s often an excuse for a party with music, dancing, and seasonal sweets.  The songs are fun to sing and – in my opinion, any occasion where a string band (or, if I’m lucky, a Celtic rock band)strikes up for an evening of celebration is fine with me!

This first recipe is really good!  It was posted on January 3, 2012 by Needs Mead at “The Inn at the Crossroads”; a blog devoted to George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series: ” We are also fans of food.  What, then, would be more natural than to combine them into one fabulous blog?”.  Not the first time a fantasy novel inspired culinary creations!  http://innatthecrossroads.com/2012/01/03/wassail/: “Our Thoughts: Incredible. I struggled to find a wassail recipe that really appealed to me, so naturally, I made one up. The resulting beverage is cider perfected. It tastes of autumn, crisp winds, and the Wolfswood. The alcohol combination manages to disappear completely into the cider (danger! danger!), although the ale gives just the slightest fizz. It starts out subtle, then builds almost instantly to a spiced cider explosion.”

This next is quite good, an very traditional. It will warm up just about anyone’s toes & fingers while trooping through a winter orchard:

Wassail

Next crown the bowl full
With gentle Lamb’s Wool Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of Ale. too,
And thus ye must doe
To make the Wassail a swinger. (Wm. Shakespeare, Twelfth Night)

 Nemeton, a site devoted to Elizabethan & Jacobean (1558–1625) era culinary arts creates a modern redaction for this “recipe” from Shakespeare: http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/elizabethan/fetch-recipe.php?rid=eliz-wassail.

Raisin -Mandarin-Walnut Tart

I made this little tart for a potluck this holiday season and had several requests for the recipe:

Use your favorite pie crust recipe and roll out enough for a single crust tart.  Roll out and reserve a top crust.  I use a fluted French pan with a removable bottom.  Line the pan with a circle of parchment paper just large enough to cover the bottom. This will aid in preventing leaking while in the oven while also making the removal of your tart onto a fancy serving dish much easier. Place the crust into the tart pan, set aside.

Filling:

1 can (or fresh) mandarin oranges, skin and seeds removed (about 2 cups).

3 tblsps corn starch

1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

2/3 cup mixed red and green raisins – soak for 20 minutes in brandy

1/2 tsp each cinnamon, cardamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg, allspice

dash clove powder

1 cup brown sugar (or more if the oranges are especially tart)

Mix all together – gently – in a sauce pan and heat and fold with a wooden spoon taking (special care not to break up the oranges sections) until the cornstarch slightly thickens the mix. Cool and pour into the tart pan.  Top with crust, sprinkle with a little demerara sugar, brush with milk, bake until golden brown at about 350. (About an hour.)

“Celebrations of Winter: Occupy the Holidays”

As I have done in the past, I am “reprinting” my editorial for Saybrook’s Alumni Newsletter, the “Home Page” here for all to see…

January 3, 2011

Me, outstanding is a field...

Editorial: “Celebrations of Winter: Occupy the Holidays”

It’s January already, and while, for some traditions, the final celebrations of Twelfth Night and, for our British and Irish colleagues, the venerable day of Wren Hunting are still to be looked forward to: for the most part the boxes of tinsel and holiday fru-fru are returning to the basement and attics, the colorful paper put away, and the CDs of holiday music back on the shelf.  There is still time, for a few words about the month just passed.

I have always hated the “vanilla-flavored” Midwinter Holiday season.  The general : “go out and buy stuff” atmosphere, the TV ads that parody the jazz and rock catalog for “catchy” tunes to sell cars and refrigerators, the traffic, everywhere: a frantic need to “celebrate”.  I especially object to the “multi – generational” liberal protestant services the Sundays before and after Christmas itself wherein the minister says a few not-to-offend-anyone words about inclusion and honoring all the traditions of Midwinter.  Mentioning Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Winter Solstice in passing and launching into “Silent Night” (with or without the folk-y guitar) with the congregants.

It just gets worse and worse every year, doesn’t?  I ask myself every year about this time: how can we change this?  Not on the personal level (we all do that, anyway) but on the cultural level?   Truthfully, I don’t know. If you do, write a letter and I’ll print it in the next Home Page.

Sure, I curl up with popcorn and – yet another – PBS holiday special. I call on the neighbors, attend a couple of favorite holiday events, send cards to friends and relatives, and search for The Tree under which are a few packages (bought in July) of items for beloved family and friends.  It’s the rest of it I object to.   It was the disingenuous obligatory visits to relations I don’t know (or never liked, anyway) that made the whole “holiday-thing” a nightmare for me as a child. This annual pilgrimage made the holidays something to be mostly dreaded rather than celebrated.  (It still makes me shudder.)  So, this year – and, every year since sometime in the 1970s, I stopped celebrating the same holiday the media carves up and serves to us wholesale on an “on sale today only!”-red-and-green-holly-bedecked platter.  I began to look at the symbols of the season: the rich history and folklore behind all those sprigs of mistletoe; the oldest versions of the carols we all mumble through; and why we drag greenery into the house at mid-winter every year.  The tale is rich, many-layered with cultural symbols and myth both sacred and … well… occasionally, naughty.  (Such as that mistletoe mentioned above.)

There is of course, the beautiful sacred traditions of the world’s religions, be it the Christian Advent, the Birth of Sol Invictus as the Sun Child from darkness, or the tale of the Lamp in Temple burning on with only enough oil for one night, or the crossing of the sun across the equator: these traditions create a place in our hearts by observing and understanding their meanings with conscious intent.  It is important to remember, when greeting one’s friends at this time of year, or planning that “multi – generational liberal service” that these stories passed to us over the centuries are not the same story.   The unifying myth in the Northern Hemisphere is the return of the light and the hope of spring. Scratch the surface of even one of the stories, and you find very different meanings – and, layers of meanings – celebrated by the peoples who also mark mid-winter with a day of celebration.  Otherwise one ends up with that aforementioned vanilla-flavored hash that does disservice to everyone across the board.  Even more tragically,  a moment for insight is lost.

Alongside these stand the folk traditions of mid-winter: for thousands of years, we humans gathered at the darkest time of the year around a feast table and danced certain dances, sang special songs, feasted on carefully prepared food saved for just this night, and warmed each others hearts (and, hearths) with the stories of who we are as a people, as a family, as an individual.

Long ago, the celebration would last a month or so, until the weather allowed for safe travel and no one knew if it would be the last winter for our elders or the very young.  So we wished one another year of good harvest, peace, health, long life, and joy for the new year. We gazed into the dark winter sky, and if we lived far enough north, we gazed in awe at the dancing lights of the north and created a story about them passed on each year to ourselves and to our children.  If we live in the warmer climes of the world, we made other stories and told them to our children.  These are the stories that tell us who we are.  We forget them at our peril.  It often seems that we modern American have forgotten or misplaced so much in the head-long rush to create our Modern World.  Therefore, in 2012 and beyond Occupy the Holidays.  All of them, from Wren Hunting on St. Stephan’s Day  through “the progressions of the Equinoxes” (and Solstices) and on into next harvest season. There is an ineffable quality of wonder and a sense of seeing into the vastness of time and culture in mindfully participating in the sacred and folk traditions of the seasons.  As many have discovered, there is also a real danger that these traditions are being forgotten except by a few odd antiquarians such as myself, replaced by the tinsel and consumerism of “mall culture”.  Whatever your tradition and heritage, I invite you to look to the meaning and the cultural wealth (literally) at our fingertips and discover, or re-discover, our holidays in a different light.

In this spirit, I will trek up to Muir Woods on Winter Solstice with friends who share my spiritual path and witness one of the oldest traditions of  Midwinter: a performance of the Abbott’s Bromely Horn Dance.   Afterwards, we’ll walk in the forest and remember why we celebrate the season.  (To see a video of this dance performed by the Lord Conyers Morris Men in South Yorkshire go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=abewt3EWE-c)

And this I wish for you, as I write a small brace of days before another Solstice: May you find joy and good health in this holiday season and may your loved ones be with you.