Saturday, July 9, 2016

Summer in Maine

Summer is in full swing. This weekend summer takes a break with some necessary rain but the coming week looks intimidating with several days in a row with temperatures over 90F.  We are all taking it in.

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Driving down the familiar winding roads, with the great views of bays, coves and sailboats.

A hiking (or driving up) the mountain like on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park to enjoy the vistas.

Admiring local pottery.

Some good eats, like in this brand new restaurant in Northeast  Harbor (NEH seems to have been ‘discovered’ by tourists this summer, and, like most other places on Mount Desert Island, is now a zoo and loud, hmm).

A big of walking the backways in Bar Harbor.

Taking refuge in a TeaHouse with a zen tea ceremony.

And more of the same.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Persian Chickpea Lentil Soup with Dill

The summer is in full swing, with hot days, so hot that women bump into each other at the crowded bikini section at Target to finally get this new bikini for the season. Over the next days, it will cool down and some necessary showers are coming. In Maine, the farmers often don’t have irrigation systems, they will be more than grateful for the rain. A long weekend is also on the horizon, and by then, hopefully everyone is closer to their summer vacation.

I had this wonderful soup a few weeks ago at Chase’s in Belfast’';  it was a daily special,  a “Persian chickpea soup with spiced and dill.” So delectable! The dill made all the difference in the soup, plenty of fresh dill. Just for this dish (and cucumber salad) I bought a few dill plants for the garden.  This recreation comes close, but the original is still hard to beat.

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Persian Chickpea Soup with Dill

  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped 
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2/3 cup dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans), sorted and rinsed
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 cups water, divided
  • 1/3 cup green lentils, sorted and rinsed
  • 1 pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam massala
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • dash of honey or agave
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped dill
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint

1. Heat the oil in a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, or until it is soft. Add the garlic and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, for 1 minute. 

2. Add the chickpeas, the broth and 2 cups water to the saucepan. Stir well to blend in the onion mixture and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 1½ hours.

3. Add the lentils, spices, salt, pepper and 2 cups water. Return to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the chickpeas and lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, mix the dill, and cilantro.

5. Add the dill and cilantro to the soup. Cook over medium heat, uncovered, for 2-5 minutes.

6. Ladle the soup into a bowls and garnish each serving with a fresh dill. Serve hot.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hopscotch

The summer is back, after a phase of unseasonably cold weather, and today is the second day of summer.  Summer brings back childhood memories, of going swimming all day, picking berries, playing all day long with friends and racing home for dinner with the town’s church bell rang 6pm. Summer days seemed endless.

I am not sure what brought it to my mind but I’ve been thinking about the endless rounds of hopscotch I played as a child. Is this something people still do today? It is just  low-tech game but so much fun.

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Just a paved driveway, sidewalk or residential street, some colorful chalk and a few stones, and you are ready to go.

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The version that I played included throwing a small pebble stone into the first number, the jumping over this block with one leg to the ground and the other leg angled up, hopping through the numbered blocks, turning around, hopping back, picking up the stone, jumping over the block, and being done with the first round. The lines could not be touched, not with the stone or hopping through them. Then, the next number. If you make a mistake, it is the other person’s turn.  The person who is finished first, wins the game.

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We played endless afternoons, again and again and again, as only children can repeat things, and get into a state of flow, talking, telling stories. It requires quite some skill and stamina that gets really better over the course of a summer, and next year it would start from the beginning.

Memories…

At least parents have legit reasons to get in on the action…

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although, it seems popular and fun at any age….

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer Quinoa Salad

Summer is doing a disappearing act at the moment. It’s been cold, gray and rainy for days, oh well. By the second half of the week, the temperatures should be back to normal.

Summer is a great time to make a large salad to keep in the fridge and use for lunches, light dinners or picnics. Quinoa has such a nice, nutty flavor so that it is one of my favorite grains. Cooked with a bit of white wine and onion and garlic and broth, it has even more flavor.  Adding some fresh vegetables like radishes, apples or cucumber for color and crunch, and some nuts for more sustenance.

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Quinoa Summer Salad

Cooking Quinoa

  • 1/2 cup dry quinoa
  • 1/2 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 TB olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled, minced
  • 1/2 cup of crisp white wine like pinot grigio
  • 1 cup of vegetable broth or chicken broth

In a heavy bottom pot, heat the olive oil and saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 1-2 min (don’t burn it). Add the quinoa and stir around dry in the onion and garlic for a bit to toast it and give it an even more nutty flavor. 

Now, add the white wine and stir well, scrap off the brown parts from the bottom and less the wine mostly cook off. Then, add the broth, stir, and turn down the heat to medium-low. Cover with a lid, and cook for about 20 min, until the quinoa is fluffy. 

Take off stove and cool.

Salad

  • cooled quinoa
  • 3-4 radishes, sliced
  • 1/3 of an English cucumber, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 apple, diced
  • optional: pomegranate seeds, celery
  • chopped mint, dill and cilantro
  • some sliced almonds or toasted walnuts

Mix all the salad ingredients and serve.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lemony ricotta bundt cake

The long weekend is over  and the sunshine is back. Besides one day, it was rather cold and gloomy, and most people resorted to the first rule of long weekends: shopping.  I had some stuff to do around the house and then baked a lemony ricotta cake which was to die for (people went back again and again to cut off another small slice, it was so addictive). Accidentally, I overbake it a bit but it added to the flavor with a bit of a dark ‘crust’ almost and the moist, lemony, sweet interior.

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Lemony Ricotta Bundt cake

  • 1  stick unsalted butter At room temperature
  • 8 oz part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • dash of orange extract
  • dash of vanilla extract
  • zest of 1 large, organic, untreated meyer lemon (save rest for glaze)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1  cup all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 Teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

For The Lemon Glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • juice of half lemon
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour the bundt pan.
  2. In a large mixer bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the ricotta cheese and blend well. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each. Add the extracts and lemon zest and mix until fully combined.
  3. Add the sliced almonds and gently mix in.
  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and soda.
  5. Add the dry ingredients in several smaller parts, mixing just until incorporated.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spoon as needed.
  7. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean.
  8. Let cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
    Cool completely.
  9. Whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth and thick.
  10. Drizzle the lemon glaze over the top of the cake.
  11. Let the glaze set for 30 minutes and then cut into wedges and serve.

 

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I poured the cake batter into a regular 10 cup bundt form (the amounts are for a 6 cup bundt cake pan), and it came out like a large ring with smaller slices, just right for the afternoon coffee.

BabyCat approves.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Sunshine in my pocket

The day started off with blue skies and bright sunshine. Everyone in the neighborhood was on the clock: things needed to get done before the scorching heat of 90F would set in around noon, kicking off the Memorial weekend. I tied on my running shoes, put on my old Sony headphones that don’t fall out of my ears when I run, turned on “Can’t stop the feeling” and set off, finally feeling the easy spring in my step again when I run, after getting back into the routine of running for a week.

After mowing the lawn by 10am, I jumped in the shower and put on actual clothes for the day. A long summer weekend feels like getting handed a cocktail --- promises  of unending fun. I tried not to get carried away, skipped the deals in the stores, and settled for lunch at Chipotle.

Enjoying my late lunch, bathing in the little summer traffic that reminded me of life in the big city, I realized I did not have plans, really, for the rest of the day, so I meandered back home, and unleashed myself on the chaise lounge with a book. 

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I aggregated a whole stack of new books since I started listening to the “Creative Live Genius” series. I usually don’t get around to read books, my hack are audiobooks in the car, but it was so interesting, how could I not to. Amazon, tsha-tshing, and another book on the way. One side of me says, wisely, with a wagging finger  “No! No more books! You are not reading them!” and the other side says, “Well, maybe, I make time in my day. I tone down my to-do list, and make room for my to-be list.”

And so, this stack is waiting, for me to make good on my promise.

Summer is a tough. Living in Maine, I feel I wait all winter long for warm weather, for long, sunny days. Instead of life being dictated by work, it belongs to my own direction again. With unstructured days on my hands, I feel like a kid in the candy store and can’t decide what to do, maybe just all of it?  Summer FOMO sets in.

But there will be another summer, and I will  miss out on some stuff. I just need to accept it. And then I can focus on what I really want to do. Today.

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(by Ella Luna, Instagram)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Palak without the Paneer

Spinach is a great vegetable that is available in the winter (frozen) as well as in the summer (fresh), and it is really affordable. Typically, I’ll prepare fresh spinach sauted with other vegetables but I rarely make it creamed because it seems rather bland done in a conventional, Western way. There is one exception: the palak part of the Indian dish palak (spinach) paneer (soft cheese).   The other day,  I made my own version at home and it will definitely become a staple in my house.

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Palak witout the Paneer

  • 2 bags of frozen spinach, thawed, not squeezed
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 Thai chile diced (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon ghee
  • 5 to 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 2 cloves 
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek leaves
  • pinch of cinnamon 
  • 2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, about 1-inch pieces 
  • 1/2 teaspoon agave syrup (or sugar)
  • 3/4 to 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup ricotta (optional) 
  1. Put the thawed spinach, the ginger and the thai chili in a blender with 1 cup of water, and puree into a smooth puree. Set aside.
  2. Roughly crush peppercorns, cardamom and cloves in a mortar and pestle and throw out the cardamom skin. If using a spice grinder, remove the cardamom skin and use only the seeds (save the cardamom skin for chai). Add the turmeric, fenugreek leaves, and cinnamon and stir.
  3. Heat a thick-bottomed pan with the heat at medium. Add the spice powder and roast for 1/2 minute to make them fragrant. Add the ghee and wait until it is melted.  Add the chopped onion, and garlic and saute for 3 minutes until translucent. Add the tomatoes and agave, and sauteed for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Pour the spinach into the pan. Add salt and 1/2 cup water to adjust consistency. You can add a little bit more if you find the sauce is getting pasty.
  5. Once the spinach mixture boils, reduce the heat, and let simmer for about 10 minutes.
  6. Add garam masala. After 4 to 5 minutes, pour ricotta.
  7. Eat with naan or over rice with a curry, or just as palak.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Curried hummus

Whenever I go to the farmers market, I am enticed by these great non-traditional hummus variations: with cilantro, with artichoke, and with curry. I made my own version of the curried hummus and it is really nice --- Indian notes with the curry, spicy and a hint of sweet. Basically,  it is like hummus with curry, a dash of maple syrup and some red pepper flakes or cayenne.

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Curried hummus

  • 2 cups of chickpeas (ca. 1 cup of dried chickpeas cooked in the slow cooker with a bay leaf for 4-5h)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled (or less)
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 TB maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 TB curry powder
  • salt to taste
  • Optional: 1/2 tea spoon garam massala, 1/2 ts roasted sesame oil

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add water if mixture is too thick. Serve.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Stamping tea towels–the whole story

I am coming full circle: finally, I uploaded all the photos from my tea towel stamping adventure. It started out with store bought stamps and the perfect summer aqua.

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….and French provincial looking tea towels (I have a thing for the Provence).

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But what I really wanted was a tea towel with tropical leaves. After much deliberation of how to find leaves, I did the obvious – check out Home Depot.

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The tricky question was: how to transfer the design on the linoleum block? First, I pressed the leaves flat in a book. Then, I photographed them and thought I could transfer the photo outline to the block. In the end, I was too lazy to print out the photo. Instead, I glued the leaves to a piece of paper, and with a tracing pencil traced the leaves’ outline. Then, turned the paper around and traced the outline again, so that some of the original tracing would rub off on the linoleum block. Afterall, it has to be a negative-positive design. To be honest, there was only the faintest outline, and I made up the rest.

With an hour of evening sun on my desk and caring about nothing else in the world I carved the leaf design into the linoleum block. I was so in trance I got it done in one go.

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A few days later, it was time to stamp. First, a few test stamps.

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Then, the real thing.

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It was not perfect, but it is hand-made by me. 

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And then, just  as I imagined it….  Below is Tracy’s original inspiration that set it all off. I still love her rounder, softer shapes of the leaves more, and the white line in the middle. Time to go back to the stamp, and make some more changes. But for the first try, it was very good and rewarding.

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Hand-stamped tea towels

Besides bringing plenty of work, April was a month of creative adventures. I was inspired by the most beautiful dishtowel in had seen on a blog, with tropical leaves. I wanted this towel so much but, nothing similar was to be found, not on Etsy or anywhere. So, I googled the next best thing: how to make hand stamped dish towels?

Turns out it is fairly easy to do and I found the most beautiful hand-stamped towels ideas (this is a good tutorial, this one, too). I bought some inexpensive flour sack towels on Amazon for $8  and a liquid (Liquitex Professional Fabric Medium) that I mixed with my acrylic colors to create fabric dyes, and then scoured for some pretty rubber stamps at Michael’s and Hobby Lobby.

On a sunny afternoon, I mixed my paint, a nice Martha Stewart like aqua, and tried to figure out how to get a crisp stamp imprint. The first tea towel inadvertently  became the ‘test towel’. It worked best using an inexpensive foam roller that I soaked with paint and then rolled over the stamp.  So, I stamped away, amazed. The towels dried for 48h, and then I ironed them to make the color permanent.

A great mother’s day gift idea… and the ideas are endless. Potato stamps, even cutting rubbers into triangles for geometric stamps, or using lemons.

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

A whiff of summer

Yesterday there was no denying it: it was time to leave town and head to the coast. It was sunny, not particularly warm, but sunny and dry nonetheless. And it was Saturday. My routes take me to Acadia National park or to Belfast and Camden. Yesterday, it was the later. I added another stop: Unity. The Amish charcuterie in Unity with its large selection of hand-crafted  meats and smoked cheeses make the detour necessary. I got ‘ramp sausage’, a type of chorizo with local ramps. I’ve been trying to find local ramps for years, but Mr. Amish ‘has someone’ who knows where they grown. Hmm. I continued on the rolling hills towards Belfast, listening to Oliver Sacks telling his life story, and arrive just in time for a wonderful beet soup (and french carrot salad) at Chase’s.

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After the obligatory round through the Belfast shops, and a first wine tasting at Cellardoor winery in Lincolnville it was time for the first hike of summer 2016, up Maiden Cliff.

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The winter was the mildest on record, but the trees took a beating, with high wind storms.

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Poor trees. Their roots are on top of the mountain boulders, and a whole cluster of 3 wiped out.

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Sun!

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I finally made it to Long Grain in Camden, one of the 10 bucket-list worthy restaurants on this list that I had not been to. Long Grain is a hole in the wall kind of restaurant, easily overlooked but once I heard that it is one of the favorite restaurants in Camden of my chef-friends I decided it is time to try it out. I never made it last year, because it was always full with tourists when I got there. Yesterday I was more lucky, and snagged a seat at the bar. The Thai beef salad completely wow-ed me. It was quite spicy but with vibrant flavors and the meat so buttery soft it must have been a really good steak. 

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The tourists are still mostly local, the ships still in their larva, but summer is coming. Definitely.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Banana muffins (GF)

This morning when I walked into the kitchen, I shivered. “brrh, it’s cold!” On the deck I saw hoarfrost covering the planks and the first patio furniture items placed outside. I thought about my baby kale plants, prematurely planted, but then assessed that kale is tough and even survives winter. While the coffee was brewing, I lit a fire in the oven.

The semester and school year comes to an end. Students cram for finals, defend their research work back to back before the ‘final date to defend’, and make plans for the first hikes “once it is all over”. I still try to keep my cool in the midst of too much going on at the same time.

Last weekend, I decided there needs to be time for some baking. I had collected a recipe by Tartine Gourmand, gluten-free banana muffins. This recipe had been brewing in my imagination for a while, and I even had hunted down the beautiful daisy shaped baking pan on the internet.

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I halved the recipe from the original one, and I still ended up with about 10 muffins. Time to share!

This is a quick and easy recipe, quite healthy, with olive oil instead of butter, ground flax, and maple syrup instead of sugar.  I used the Trader Joe’s gluten-free flour mix. I don’t bake often, and the many individual flours of GF baking always seem to go bad on me, and so I keep my stash small.

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Yumm.

Banana muffins (GF)

  • 1/6 (40ml) cup olive oil
  • 1/6 (40ml) maple syrup
  • 1/2 TB vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (30ml) plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ripe banana, smashed
  • 1/2 cup quinoa flour
  • 1/2 cup GF all-purpose flour
  • 1 TB golden flax meal (I only had brown flax)
  • dash of sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare a baking sheet with silicon molds (they are typically too floppy if not placed on a baking sheet).
  2. Mix the wet ingredients with a hand mixer in a bowl: olive oil, maple syrup, egg, Greek yogurt, vanilla extract and banana.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl: flours, flax seed, salt, baking soda and baking powder.
  4. Mix both wet and dry ingredients until smooth.
  5. Pour about 2 TB of dough into a small mold. The muffins will rise, and if you want ‘flat’ daisies, don’t overfill the pan.
  6. Bake for 20-25 min, depending on the size of the molds (longer if you use a single pan). Cool and unmold.
  7. Optional: dust with confectioner’s sugar.
  8. Eat fresh, they taste best in the first 1-2 days.

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