Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sprouts!

This may not seem as super exciting to you as it is to me, but I wanted to share that the heart seeds I received for my birthday from My Beloved's daughters and their families..... drum roll.... are sprouting!  

Ever since I covered them up and watered them gently, there has been no action in the pots. I checked them almost daily, practically willing them to come up, but to no avail. I was afraid they were duds, and was already practicing what I would say to soften the disappointment to My Beloved's family. 

Then, we had a downpour, a real gully washer that lasted only about half an hour but that filled our rain gauge with about half an inch of water - and, magically, the next day there were tiny green sprouts in all the pots!  I guess they were just waiting for the rain to get their tiny butts in gear.

I can't wait to see what kinds of flowers I get, once they are up and blooming; it's clear already that there is more than one sort. Stand by for a full report once they reveal their identities.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Full (Ramen) Monty

Having tried instant noodles a few weeks ago and liked them, when I came across the real deal of instant ramen, Top Ramen chicken flavor, I couldn't resist trying it. Top Ramen is downright famous, or infamous, depending on one's point of view. My Beloved was game for this experiment, so we boiled some water this noon, et voilĂ !, we had lunch.

Being the inveterate tinkerer that I am, I couldn't resist a few changes to the basic "recipe." I chopped some fresh green onion and cilantro, cubed some leftover chicken, and added them to the bowls before pouring in the noodles and broth. A quick stir, and Bob's your uncle!

Easy to see why this is a staple for college students and starving artists. It takes no time at all, it's warming in that wonderful chicken soupy way, and it tastes good. The noodles are fun and curly, easy to pick up but impossible to get into the mouth gracefully - and that's half the fun. The broth is salty and deeply chickenish, even when you know it came out as powder from that funny foil pack.

I do think my embellishments helped make it special but I wouldn't turn my nose up on a plain bowl of this, either, especially when My Beloved is away and I'm not feeling up to serious cooking.

Comparing the two I've tried, I really think I enjoyed the Top Ramen more than the Annie Chun's, but either makes a quick and warming meal. 


Friday, March 20, 2015

Tradition Vs. Innovation

There is something fun about tradition - the passing along of ideas, recipes, or experiences that make up family memories - but I can also get pretty jazzed about shaking it up a bit. Take our St. Patrick's Day dinner; corned beef, potatoes, and cabbage is about as traditional as it gets for St. Paddy's Day here in America but, this year, I did a couple of new-to-me things.

First, I used my crockpot to cook the dinner. I'm sure you've been doing it this way for years and you are sitting there in front of your screen shaking your head me.  You are thinking, "Where has she been all these years? BFD!"  Well, it is a big deal to me when I can figure out something that makes a tedious meal easier.

You see, boiling the corned beef has always been a bit of a trial for me.  Oh, I get it going fine, then reduce to a simmer, but I always had to check it to make sure it was still simmering and I'm the kind of gal who forgets stuff like that when I have my nose buried in a good book (like, for example, Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood - just sayin'), or when Cora is lobbying for a walk, or I feel a nap coming on. Either it was boiling too fast and all the water boiled away, or it was going too slowly and dinner wasn't ready for hours after we got hungry, or it simmered so long that the meat was nearly mush. Ugh.

So, when I read on the interwebs that I could just peel the carrots, throw in the potatoes, wedge the onions, add the meat, and cover the whole shebang with water before plugging in the crockpot, well, sister, now you're talking!

Six hours later on low, I had traditional dinner ready to roll. I'm not fond of boiled cabbage, even when it is steeped in the cooking liquid with the meat, so the second non-traditional thing I did was I braised it instead, and assembled a lovely plate for our St. Paddy's Day dinner. 

The perfect combination of traditional culture and modern day innovation. Huzzah!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day

My Dad was Irish. He loved limericks and happy music. He was more of a martini than a green beer drinker, but he did love to raise a glass. And, every St. Patrick's Day, he followed the tradition of the wearing of the green. He had the most ridiculous shiny green plastic derby that he donned while singing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" at the top of his lungs.

So I wear green each St. Patrick's Day in his memory - and because I'm at least half Irish! - and I always sing "Irish Eyes" in honor of him. He has been in Heaven nearly 20 years now, but I still miss that sweet man.

This year, if you are in the mood, sing a chorus or two with me:

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure 'tis like a morn in spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy, all the world seems bright and gay,
And When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure, they steal your heart away.


He certainly had smiling eyes!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Burying Hearts

One of the best things I received for my birthday was a little packet of seeds embedded in paper hearts dyed pink, red, and white. My birthday falls on Valentine's Day, so I often get heart-shaped goodies. It's a good birthday to have; one gets lots of positive attention.

These are flower seeds of some mysterious kind - the packet didn't even give me a hint of what to expect. I keep pots in the corner of my deck and need to refresh them every year or so, so I thought to do it this year with my new Valentine seeds.


I yanked out the old, dried stalks of last year's annuals and troweled the earth, adding some more potting soil and mixing it in with the old. As I dug around in my yellow pot, I found a bulb of some kind - possibly dahlia - and reburied that, hoping for another nice surprise.

I sprinkled the hearts over the soil and added more dirt on top, firming the soil gently and sticking in the low-flow waterer. After sweeping the spot, I arranged them into the corner and flanked them with my Buddha face and my little spirit house where I like to think my garden sprite lives. 

I flooded the pots for this first watering - after this, they will have to make it with minimal water as we are still in a drought.


The packet gave me no information about how long germination would take so I'll be going out daily to look for sprouts. And, really, isn't that the perfect thing to be doing as spring approaches? First, you bury your heart deep in that soil, filled with hope and fertilizer. Then, you check eagerly for sprouts.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Boy Is UP!

Well, no, he's not back into race cars yet, but he is UP!  

After months of pain and lying flat, he finally had an MRI that showed the problem (stenosis of the hole in the spine that the sciatic nerve passes through on its way down the left leg) and a magic shot (epidural delivering lidocaine and steroid medication to the affected area) that has taken away most of the pain! His shin still tingles a bit and occasionally twinges, but he has regained his ease of movement and is joyously walking and driving again!  The whole procedure was done outpatient, and it only took about 15 minutes. He thought they were still numbing the area when the doc said, "Okay, all finished!"

Upon inspection at home, he had a bandaid over the needle hole and a big "Yes!" written with a flourish on his back, but nothing more to show for it. He can't swim for three days but he can shower, so all is right with his world.

His stamina is not what it was, but starting next week we will work on that. We figure we'll do water walking at the local pool for a week or so, then he will resume his water aerobics twice weekly and I will start swimming laps again.

He had the magic shot last Tuesday but I've been almost superstitious about reporting success too early.  Happily, I can now let my breath out and shout out, "The Boy is UP!"

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Scamp-ish

Shrimp and lemon goes together like love and marriage. My latest culinary fun was "inventing" a dish that included both of those ingredients in a buttery sauce, without sending our cholesterol readings over the top. Shrimp is high in cholesterol - the bad boy of the seafood world - but it is soooo delicious! 

I'm also into quick, simple, and easy meals, as you clearly know if you are a regular reader, so I didn't want to spend much time. One of the big time savers, of course, is buying frozen peeled and deveined shrimp in the giant economy size bag so those steps are taken care of. And if you start the pasta water while you are cutting the broccoli into bite-size pieces, you have effectively cut your time in the kitchen in half.

All you do, once the ingredients are assembled and the pasta (I used fettuccine) is in the salted, boiling water, is to melt about a tablespoon of butter and one of olive oil in a wide pan, then sautĂ© the broccoli florets and (still frozen) shrimp, tossing them around to cook evenly and to coat with the oils. A little pepper is nice, at this stage, but hold the salt as the shrimp will likely add all the salt you need. At the last minute, squeeze the juice of a whole lemon into the pan with the shrimp and broccoli, continuing to toss them around to coat.

The shrimp will thaw and some of that ice will be in the pan, but if it feels like there's not enough sauce, you can reserve about 1/4 cup of the pasta water to amplify the pan drippings. Be sparing, however, as you don't want to drown the flavors - just add a tablespoon at a time until you feel confident that the pasta will be covered.

Drain the pasta, pile it onto the plates, and ladle over the lovely, lemony broth. Top with shrimp and broccoli and enjoy your scamp-ish.

Monday, February 16, 2015

More Crab, Less Crabby

Shortly after I made the love bundles with the sole and the crab that made me so crabby, I found a can of the good crab 'way back in the cupboard and pounced upon it with glee. You see, I had been working up to this moment for quite some time. It's a long tale, so settle back. Here goes:

Just before Christmas, my DC brother and his lovely wife paid us a visit. One of the fun meals we had while they were here was cracked Dungeness crab. Dungeness is the West coast version of heaven, wonderful, big, sweet crabs - one crab per person makes a whole meal, with sourdough baguette, wine, and a salad, if you insist on having something green with your crab. We love to treat out-of-towners to a crab feed. We cover the table with newspapers, set out the crackers and the picks, place a roll of paper towels within reach, and let everyone have at it. Before you know it, they are up to their elbows in crab juice and blissfully occupied prying out each morsel.

On a pouring rainy day, we stopped at Kermit Lynch so my oenophile bro could choose us a bottle or two of wine to accompany the crab, at Acme Bakery next door to get a baguette to go with it, and at Tokyo Fish up the street to snag our crabs. While we were awaiting the cleaning of our crabs, the careful young man behind the counter asked me, "Do you want the crab butter?" Ignorant of what that was, I was ready to refuse it when I thought to ask, "What do people do with the crab butter?"

He explained that some people use it to dip their bread in when they eat the crabs. "Okay," I said, "Thanks, I'll take the the butter."  We tried it when we got home but, in our view, it will never replace sweet butter, so I popped it into the freezer, figuring I'd make something of it some day.

When I had just about two cups of kabocha squash soup left from another meal, all of a sudden I realized that I had all the makings of an interesting soup on hand!  I had that elusive can of Dungeness crabmeat!  I had the crab butter!  I could buy a bottle of clam juice! And I had my soup "base" in the sweet squash soup!

So, I put the squash soup, the crab butter (which was a little lumpy), and the clam juice in a blender and zizzed them together until smooth, then poured them into a soup pot. Added just a few dashes of Cholula hot sauce for spice. Warmed the soup base until it was steaming, then gently added the chunks of crab meat and warmed it the rest of the way. Topped with super garlic croutons from Semifreddi's bakery, it was as lovely a bowl of soup as I have ever eaten.

We even got to eat it outside, as the weather was balmy and My Beloved had improved enough by then to sit up for his meals. We basked in the sunshine and reveled in that killer soup, feeling far less crabby now that we had more crab.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Why Not?

When I was a college student the first time, at age 18, ramen wasn't nearly the thing it is now. When I was a college student the second time, at age 30-something, I was a wife and was cooking for a pretty discerning husband, so I missed ramen again. Now that I'm retired, I'm trying out all kinds of kooky things just for the heck of it.

And, recently, one of those was ramen. Now, I'm not talking about Top Ramen - I'm afraid I missed that boat altogether - but rather Annie Chun's ramen in a packet that I discovered in my supermarket while killing time waiting for the fresh bread guy to arrive and stock his shelves. 

I thought, "Why not?"

So, I bought two and brought them home to share with My Beloved on a blessedly rainy day. Is there a law that says you can only eat ramen when you're pulling a college all-nighter or on a rainy day?  No?  Well, in a perfect world, there would be.

It's a one-pot meal - first you warm the already-soft noodles in boiling water for just a minute, then drain those, rinse the pot, and add water to the packet of liquid flavor in the same pot. The packet suggested adding fresh veggies and any cooked protein, so I sliced some green onion diagonally and picked some leaves off the cilantro bunch and added them to the soup bowls with a slice or two of roasted chicken that I had in the fridge. When the squiggly noodles were added and the hot broth ladled over the whole shebang, we sat down to a very nice noodle soup.

We were both pleasantly surprised by the flavors - a very noticeable bite of ginger, the saltiness of the soy sauce, the fresh taste of cilantro and onion - they all were present and accounted for. In fact, My Beloved liked it so well that when I fly next month to a wedding shower in Michigan for my Fairy Goddaughter, I will leave the cupboard stocked with a few packets of ramen for him to enjoy while I'm gone.

Why not?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Love Bundles

I'm going to show you this meal because it was good despite one of the ingredients. It was a success despite the really crappy can of crabmeat I bought and brought home thinking it was good. "Wild caught crab" the can said. Possibly true, but it was in such tiny little shreds that it was hardly recognizable as crab. I should have stuck to my guns and refused to buy any but my usual excellent brand. Oh, well.

The good part was the dover sole that I laid over a big bed of Swiss chard on parchment paper, covered with crabmeat, topped with lemon zest, and dotted with butter. A little salt, a little pepper, then wrapped it all up into a tight little bundle and baked it in a 350 degree F oven for about 15 minutes.

The bundles kept the steam inside and all the flavors mingled under the parchment roof. No need for extra water or anything - there was enough water just clinging to the Swiss chard leaves after I washed them.

If that darn crab had been any good, I'd be singing the praises of this dish. As it is, I'll just advise you to get the best crab meat you can find, hopefully big chunks of Dungeness crab, and make up some love bundles of your own. They'd make an easy and seductive dinner for your Valentine, for example.