Friday, May 15, 2009

Just melt and flake and crumble

Last weekend I got one of the best gifts ever. It was especially, well, special because the Foodzie mail I was expecting was a work assignment. Though that was still an exciting prospect, finding a note of thanks and encouragement from my team over at Foodzie and an assortment of goodies was a wonderful surprise. They had sent me a finals week care package full of treats from La Cocina!

Love from Foodzie

Just an recap if you missed my post a while back...I've been interning remotely for Foodzie, a San Francisco based company passionate about seeing artisan food producers and growers succeed while also helping food lovers find the unique items they're looking for. I love what they do and who they are, and apparently others have noticed too because they were recently recognized by BusinessWeek among the Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs of 2009!

So, when I opened the box and zig-zaggy strips of stuffing began to fall out and reveal cookies, preserves, and glorious nuts, I stopped to grab my camera. I knew this would be a blog-worthy subject.

I spent the next half hour (at least) opening each package and placing its contents on my coffee table facing the afternoon sunlight. Sometimes nibbling was required to get a more interesting photo, so I got to try a little taste of each treat as I went.

I hope to share with you many of these delicious goodies available from La Cocina, but tonight I only have time for one. It is the one that ended up disappearing completely by the end of the photo shoot. Though everything was memorable in its own right, I kept coming back to this buttery shortbread cookie.

shortbread from Foodzie shortbread from Foodzie 2

So much more than a cookie, Clairesquares' take on Millionaire's shortbread, or a Wellington -- its name in her native Ireland -- is addictive to say the least. Each layer could stand on its own (if you're into dipping your finger into straight caramel or licking a surface of pure Belgian chocolate). The shortbread might be more polite to consume alone. Just snag some fresh off the cooling rack in Claire's kitchen. I wish I could myself; it really did just melt and flake and crumble all at once in my mouth like truly decent shortbread should.

This cookie is available in each of La Cocina's sampler boxes, which are perfect for treating yourself to a variety of artisan producers' creations or expressing a heart-felt thank you to a friend. From smallest to largest, you can choose the Teaspoon Box, Half-Pint Box, Quart-Sized Box, or Stock-Pot Box.

too good to last

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A moment of honesty

I took the polaroid in this shot in a moment of honesty tonight, and sharing it with you makes me a bit more vulnerable than I usually allow myself on this blog. Still, I'm going to press on. Sometimes saying things out loud (or putting them in print, in this case) helps the reality sink in, and then gradually the acceptance...

I do not often express my desire to one day drop the "single" label. Even privately, I so rarely allow myself to dwell on it that sometimes I wonder if I really do want to be in a serious relationship, married, etc. I loath the thought of being labeled as "desperate" and would prefer to err on the other extreme.

But tonight, as I sat down to a simple meal of salmon and carrots, all quickly cooked up in a skillet with garlic and a drizzle of honey, I really wanted someone to share these sorts of meals with. Nothing fancy, just straightforward, bright, nourishing flavors that can be appreciated by two (and eventually more).

Not now, but someday.

I like the thought of him helping me eat through a bundle of asparagus from the market before they start to have a rubbery bend. I like knowing that there will be someone to share a bottle of wine with on a regular ol' weeknight because it's such a waste to open a bottle for just one.

The realist in me has to add that I recognize I just highlighted two rosy parts of a relationship. I know there's so much more.

I'll get back to you when I have a real-life story to tell.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Not so much the norm


Looking back on my childhood kitchen, many items passed over my blissful blonde head and into our pantry that I assumed were the norm in every household. Turns out that throwing around words like carob, rice milk, and millet doesn't get such casual reactions from seven and eight year olds. Generally the reaction is huh? or weird.

This case against my mother's grocery selection often got confused for personal attacks in my sensitive little child brain, but with time I grew into it. I began to like that my family was different and that I could entertain my friends simply with a tour of our refrigerator and the kitchen cupboards. We even developed a mischievous little game in the kitchen when we moved back to the States from New Zealand. It involved unscrewing a jar of a rich, chocolaty-brown spread, dipping in the tip of a table knife, and letting the food's color (falsely) speak for itself as we encouraged our poor, unsuspecting friends to take a lick of exotic "Vegemite" (or Marmite; both rotated through our house).

That really was cruel. I'm surprised we had any friends at all! It must have been my mom's redemptive zucchini muffins and rhubarb coffeecakes that kept them coming back.

The thing is, we ate wonderfully. And wonderfully healthily is the even better part. My parents desired to train my three siblings' and my palette for fresh, healthy, delicious food from the get-go.

Today I can look back with gratitude on all those mornings of oatmeal and not crave one bite of Lucky Charms or Rice Krispies. Especially when memories of hot, creamy millet sweetened by dates and enlivened with coconut and toasted bits of almond come to mind. Even as an adult, this is what I wake up craving most mornings.

breakfast millet 2

Breakfast Millet with Dates, Coconut, and Almonds
Still trying to get background on this recipe - my mom has had it for many years.

In a medium saucepan, combine:
2 cups water
1/2 cup millet
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut

When water boils, turn down to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the water has just been absorbed and the grains are soft. Remove from heat.

Stir in:
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/4 cup toasted almonds

breakfast millet 1

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Beginning and ending with roasted bananas

roasted banana muffins 1

I'm making some goals for myself this summer. It's actually turning into quite a long list, but my reasons behind every single thing have come back around to wanting to free up my time and my mind. I want room and energy for spontaneity and investment in friendships. This means that I have to add some things to my daily routine and clear some things out.

So, there will be more journalling to ensure that I'm addressing what's going on in my head and heart. And there will certainly be more yoga and more running. Conversely, there will be no movie or (online) T.V. show watching in my downtime. I can share those experiences with friends or seek relaxation through napping, reading, or walking.

There will also be no baking. I'm a bit ashamed of how difficult this one is looking. My footnote to this goal is that I'm free to bake with or specifically for friends. But "just for the heck of it" is out. A big reason is that it's just not economical to fire up an oven in summertime, when the air conditioner is already running, attempting to fight off the West Texas heat. Secondly, baking can require a lot of time and energy and can become a bit compulsive of a "need" for me, so I want to force a break upon myself.

roasted banana

In honor of this goal, I give you what may be my last baked good (till August, anyway). This week I have been watching three bananas in my fruit basket getting browner by the day, so when I decided to bake a farewell/thank you gift for a friend, something banana-y was an obvious choice. Heading over to one of my favorite food blogs, 101 Cookbooks, I was surprised to find a recipe in Heidi's archives that I hadn't seen before. The concept of using roasted bananas instantly caught my attention, and I decided to go for it with a few modifications.

Chocolate is almost always a more crowd-pleasing ingredient than raisins, and I have had a bar of Ghiradelli 60% hanging around for a while. Tossing that in with the pumpkin seeds, I decided that a hint of cumin or garam masala would be a nice addition (I'm out of cumin, so why don't you try it and get back to me?). Equally subtle, I sprinkled a mixture of turbinado sugar and coarse flakes of sel gris, or grey salt, on top of the muffins before sliding them into the oven.

I spread a bit of butter over a muffin this morning and sat down with a cup of tea for breakfast. I really like how these came out, combining savory flavors like garam masala, pumpkin seeds, and course salt with chocolate and bananas. The added weight of whole wheat flour made downing chocolate at 9:30 A.M. a perfectly natural action.

roasted banana muffins 2

Roasted Banana Muffins
with Pumpkin Seeds, Chocolate, & Sel Gris

Adapted from Stephan Pyles's Southwestern Vegetarian, as posted on 101 Cookbooks

2 ripe bananas, unpeeled
2 cups flour (I used 1 cup white whole wheat, 1 cup all purpose)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (cow's milk or other milk alternative is fine)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (or preferred seeds/nuts)
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or a generous 1/2 cup of chocolate chips)
Turbinado sugar for topping
Sel gris (or other course salt) for topping

Makes 16 muffins.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place bananas on a cookie sheet (or in a metal cake pan), and bake for about 12 minutes. The kitchen should smell of banana and their skins will be black and have started to seep. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Whisk flour(s), baking powder, baking soda, salt, and garam masala in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.

Squeeze the bananas' flesh out of their skins and into a small mixing bowl. Add almond milk and vanilla and mash together.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, or a bowl big enough to be used with an electric hand beater, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each one.

Now add half the banana mixture to the electric mixer bowl and blend thoroughly on low speed. Add half the four mixture and mix until combined as well. Add the remaining banana mixture, blend thoroughly, and then ad the remaining flour mixture. Mix only to the point that the ingredients are combined. Fold in pumpkin seeds and chopped chocolate or chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into greased or lined muffin tins. Sprinkle the tops of each with a pinch of turbinado sugar and a pinch of sel gris.

Bake in the oven for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for five minutes. Invert muffin tin onto cooling rack, turn muffins upright, and allow them to cool completely (or dive in with some butter while their centers are still warm enough to soak it in!).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Paintbrush strokes

I have never attempted to write a blog post after 36 consecutive waking hours, but there's a first for everything, right? If these thoughts fall flat or abruptly stop altogether, I blame the sleep deprivation. At least my teeth are brushed and my face is washed...I'm prepared; no mascara on the pillow case tonight.

At this point, my mind is too busy for sleep. I just finished my ninth and final semester of college (the quantity of classes I'm taking this summer will count as another full semester, but I don't want to think about that now). I want to reflect back before I move forward.

So I'm going to take us way back this evening, to not just my first day of college but my first day, ever, of school. I was headed off to Standard 1 at St. Heliers School in Auckland, New Zealand. I know what I wore that day because we have a picture, but I remember those first few minutes of saying goodbye to my mom and sidling up to Mrs. Bourke without any documentation.

From there glimpses of my year and a quarter at St. Heliers are disjointed flashes of remembrance, at best. The way Julia's ponytail swung so proudly, high atop her head, as we ran across the playground. The way Tim Glatt's long eyelashes made me feel giggly. Field day events in our gym uniforms: white shorts and light blue t-shirts. Singing New Zealand's national anthem at assemblies in our dark, closterphobic gym. Sliding down a wet slope during recess, my leg going under a fence, and earning a scar down my right shin.

There are many random (and relevant memories) stored within me from my four formative years in New Zealand, yet I know so many things are lost. As I considered this attitude and response I gained from never getting to go back and visit NZ in the past fifteen years, I wanted to capture a snapshot of what I presently feel like life was like there, acknowledging that I bring glamorized biases and nostalgic innocence and my own degree of imagination to make up for what I lack in vivid memory. So, here you have the first of my paintings from my final series in Painting II this semester...

The second piece in the series ended up being a lot different from the first. I took my experiences and relationship with Bellingham, WA, the place I lived from ages eight to eighteen, and attempted to capture my present response to these memories and landmarks. Instead of childhood innocence, you get some adult realism. While beautiful objects do exist, their presence is disputed by the the choice of moody, gloomy colors. It's supposed to be sad and yet also beautiful. An uncomfortable mixture of both. A response I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with in real life...

And the lines across both paintings? -- they are road lines I pulled forward on the surface as I finished out the paintings to explain my composition and emphasize a sense of place through further complexity and layering.

[05/08: 14 hours later...I just woke up half an hour ago. My neck's a little stiff, but the rest of my body is thanking me for much needed rest. I started writing these last few lines while falling asleep last night, so I figured it would be wise to hold off on publishing until I was more cognitive...]

I just wanted to share where much of my time and thought have been in the last month. I'd love to hear which painting you respond to more and any other reactions you have. These paintings are 2.5' x 4', acrylic on masonite board.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Simplicity surprises

Sometimes the simplest things bring happiness. Like meyer lemons. And polaroid film.

I love it when simplicity surprises. I didn't think much of this shot when I took it, but seeing it on my computer screen tonight, I'm quite pleased.

What do you think? Do the colors please you like they do me?