Friday, February 27, 2015

Spring break

Friday and spring break upon us! The day started cold, but not too cold, and with sunshine and mounds of white snow. Last meetings to wrap up before everyone disappears, some to Caribbean beaches, some to Europe, and some just wind down and kick up their heels, worrying only about leisurely pursuits for a few weeks.


How come that lunch pans always look a lot better before they are cooked?


I feel like jumping in my car and heading out of town, too. Exploring snowy beaches, hiking snowy mountains, cross country skiing frozen lakes, hibernating and drinking wine in sleepy, cozy remote cabins. Ah, winter fun!

Last weekend I started watching “Friends” on netflix, to really for once watch all the episodes in order. “Friends” is still the same gem as it was originally. These guys have such great comedic timing as an ensemble and of course such great personal chemistry. Only, the clothes they wear? Oy vey….

Other recommendable movies:

I’ll have to wait until the end of the month until Imitation Game is released to DVD because I missed it by one day to see it in the movie theater. Nooo!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Thinking out loud on a Friday

It is Friday --- the final February weekend. While Boston is digging tunnels through the Boston blitz, the Niagara Falls are partially frozen over, and we are a country divided (by temperatures) there is hope that things will change ---- it is almost March, after all. There will be daylight saving time again, the days get really long and a hope that the snow piles will convert into puddles and then into tulips. There is no hurrying out of February, there are still the Oscars on Sunday, a last school week until spring break, and much skiing to enjoy.


It really is my kind of February: plenty of snow, cold temperatures so the snow sticks around and I can go skiing every day (if I want to). Based to the map above, Maine is right on track and it is business as usual. In other places? Not so much.  


People head out over lunch break to skate ski through the marvelous, sunny winter wonderland, just like they would go for a run in the summer. Fresh air, sunshine, and you are back at your desk with a smile and a fresh mind. Bright sunlight and fresh air cure almost everything. What else to think out loud about?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine’s blizzard

Here we are. It is Friday, the 13th, and tomorrow is Valentine’s day, which has as special present another 22inch blizzard for some extra evening coziness. jenniferA

Not that I am much in the mood for heart shaped donuts this year, or any other type of donuts. I have the impression Valentine’s days will go down as most unobserved in history this year. I guess I not only feel drowned in snow but also in love.

I see reports that the National guard was called into suburbs of Boston to remove the snow; this will be just in time for another dump. We are just 2 weeks into February so there is no stopping anytime soon with all that snowy whiteness.

Things I love this Friday:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Farro with roasted parsnips and cauliflower

The other day I had a great farro salad for lunch at Chase’s Daily. It reminded me how much I love the nutty, hearty taste and texture of farro. The salad had notes of of roasted, sweet parsnip pieces and roasted garlic. It was served with a spring green salad with a lemon vinaigrette and some smoked gouda.

I added roasted cauliflower to the original idea. A wonderful dish --- warm, cold, as a side to a main dish, as a main dish with a side of salad or even at room temperature for a salad.

Farro with roasted parsnips and cauliflower. Makes 4 smaller portions, or 2 main courses.

  • 1 cup farro
  • 1 ts olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 garlic gloves, minced
  • 2 cup vegetable broth
  • salt to taste (if you use a salty broth, you don’t need to add any).
  • 3 parsnips, peeled and cut into half inch cubes
  • 2 cups of cauliflower florets (I actually used frozen ones)

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Peel the parsnip and cut into 1/2 inch dice. With the cauliflower floret arrange the parsnip on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, sprinkle some salt and some olive oil. Roast in the oven for about 20 min. (You will smell the roasted parsnip).


In a heavy bottomed pot, heat the olive oil and fry the onion and garlic. Add the farro, and ‘dry toast’ for about 1min. Then add the (hot!) broth, stir, turn down the heat, cover with a lit, and simmer for about 25-30 min.


Stir, turn off the heat, and add the roasted parsnips and cauliflower, and mix both in. Adjust for salt.



Sunday, February 8, 2015

Party on a frozen lake

It was finally a weekend with promised sun and not another foot of snow coming down from the skies (that would start today). Well, the sunshine only lasted half of the day but nevertheless, time for explorations! The Tobbaggan National Championship takes places in Camden each winter, and it is described as “Mardi Gras in the Snow”. It very much is. Camden was my destination for the day, and I stopped by in Belfast and had a lunch at Chases and then I was on to the Camden Snow Bowl. As usual, it was not too crowded, the school buses are used to transport people from downtown Camden to the Tobbaggan race 2 Miles away, and it was indeed, a party. A party on a frozen lake.

The tobbaggan race is down a narrow, iced chute on what can only be described at the most antique, basic sleds, and it sprawls out on a frozen lake at the end of the chute. There is much hollering, whistles, bells and cheering when such a 4-person sleds races down the chute at 35Mi/h, and much laughter (of course) when the riders all fall over each other at the end of it. Most participants are local, but they arrive from all over the country. The spectators have tailgating like tents with open fires and chairs and music on the ice, too, and so it is all a big party. Good fun!


Like the rest of us, Chase’s Daily also under snow siege




Open kitchen in Chase’s daily


The country ketchup at Northwood Gourmet Girl is spectacular.


Here we are: snowy Camden.




The chute:



Two tobbaggans.

The start of the chute




Under 10 seconds!


A mini tobbaggan.


For the hungry..


For the cold and hungry.

And what is happening on the ice?


A good finish.


An assisted finish. And a party for the rest.


Tailgating on the ice.




Back in town it was nice and warm in the Owl and Turtle bookshop.


There were fireworks at 6:30pm but I was already on my way home.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Hyderabadi biryani by Chef Harpal

Another Indian dish from the frozen isle section at Trader Joes that sparked my interest in cooking it at home: Vegetable biryani. Biryani is basically a flavored rice dish, more on the  rice side dish than main dish. My Indian friends tell me that the cooking process is similar to cooking risotto --- a layered approach to cooking rice.

Since the way dishes are cooked in Indian cuisine is quite different from Western ones I sought out youtube again for a recipe. And, I wanted a simple one for starters. (I followed this recipe).

The recipe starts out with soaking basmati rice. During the soaking time, marinade the chicken with yogurt, a ton of spices, browned onions (I bought fried onions), and fresh herbs.


The chicken marinades for about 30 min. During the time the soaked rice is half cooked in a flavored broth with a bouquet garni made of spices; it needs to be undercooked because it finishes cooking with the chicken.


The semi-cooked rice is ladled on the marinated chicken, which are placed on the bottom of the pan. There is the first layer of rice, which is followed with spices, and I also added vegetables, with more rice, and finished with spices, vegetables and herbs. The original recipe calls for melted butter over the mix, which I forgot, but it would have added to the flavor.


Cover the pot, and cook for 20min on medium high, and then for 15min on low. This allows for the chicken to be fully cooked and the flavors to infuse and the rice to steam. (In the original recipe, the chef uses raw bread dough to seal the lid so that the steam is captured and used for cooking; I relied on tight fitting le creuset lids).


Fluff up the rice, and it is ready to serve.

Hyderabadi biryani by Chef Harpal

Ingredients:  (for about 4 servings)

For the chicken marinade:

  • Chicken either 4 drumsticks on the bone or 4 chicken thighs on the bone
  • 3 TB Ginger garlic paste (made from raw ingredients or from jars, jars are fine)
  • 1/2 ts cayenne powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plain yoghurt
  • 1 ts ground garam masala
  • 1 ts ground green cardamom
  • 1/2 cup brown fried onions
  • 2 TB melted butter or ghee
  • 2 TB freshly chopped coriander
  • 10-12 fresh Mint leaves (coarsely chopped)
  • 2 hot green green chili (I used jalapenos and finely diced them)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • juice from 1 lime

For the basmati rice:

  • 1-1.5 cups good basmati rice, washed several times and soaked for 30 minutes
  • 1 TB black or regular cumin seeds
  • Bouquet garni:
  • In a 4 inch by 4 inch piece of  cheese cloth pack
  • 3 whole black cardamom pods
  • 6 small whole green cardamom pods
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 6 whole black pepper corns
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 2-inch cinnamon stick

For the biryani:

  • 1 teaspoon ground garam masala
  • 1/2 ts ground cardamon powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped coriander
  • 10-12 finely chopped mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup brown onions
  • 1/3 teaspoon saffron steeped in 1/2 cup warm milk –
  • 2 TB melted ghee

Add all the ingredients for the chicken in heavy bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid, massage chicken with marinade and let sit for 1/2 an hour, or marinate longer, covered in the fridge.

Wash the rice 3 times, and then soak for 20min (important!). Add the spices in the cheese cloth in 4 cup water that is set to boil. Add the cumin seeds to the water, and the soaked rice.

When the rice is 3/4 done (ca 10-12 min), layer the half rice over the chicken (and let some of the water come along). Sprinkle some coriander (1 tbsp) , mint leaves (6-8), brown onions (1/8th cup), garam masala (1/2 tsp), green cardamom powder (1/2 ts) over the rice, and then layer the rest of the rice on top after straining it. On top, add rest of brown onions, garam masala (1/2 tsp), and the saffron soaked in milk. Finally, sooon 2 TB of melted ghee on top!

Put the biryani on the stove, and seal the pot. Cook the biryani about 20 minutes on medium high heat. Lower the heat to low, and for another 10-15 minutes. Serve!

The dish is also excellent at room temperature or a side in a salad.

Note: the marinated chicken sears to the bottom of the pan, and it might be better to cook the dish in an oven.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Making up for lost time

The calm before the storm. Or, in this case, the calm before the snowstorm/blizzard. S. and I went snow shoeing yesterday. S., being from India, experienced her first snow last year, and endured her first winter in Maine, hunkered down and hoping for it to be over. I promised there is also fun to be had in the snow, and so we went snow shoeing.


Today, everyone is talking about the blizzard. No one talks about historic blizzard here in Maine, because people are used to rough winters, but New York City and Boston might be under siege by this one. 3 feet of snow with snow drifts will do that to a metropolis. We are not envious, and happy with the 24 inches we are promised to get. Me and my trusty snowblower will be busy throughout Tuesday. The weather service mentioned there is a 3rd storm this week on the way, another 8 inches.

Guess, winter is making up for lost time, and it is finally my favorite part of winter: skiing.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Summer on my mind

Hello (last) Sunday (of January)!


Overnight, we got some snow. In anticipation of ‘major snowstorm’, I stayed home, and found a (one of many?) attempts to explore what could happen to the main characters after Jane Austen’s novels end. In this case, it was “Death comes to Pemberley” which takes place 6 years after the wedding of Pride and Prejudice’s Elisabeth and Darcy. I settled in with my laptop and hot passion tea (wink).

Unfortunately, both the snowfalls and the romance TV series fell a bit short of their promise. But, the next snowstorm is just around the corner, and at least 15 inches of snow are penciled in. This spells both snow day and skiing!


My inner anticipation, however, has moved on from winter, and keeps summer in its focus, summer preparedness. Trips to make, mountains to hike, beaches to revisit, long days, endless daylight, layers to shed, and sun in my face. In my mind it is already summer.


But first things first. Some snow shoveling, a walk in sunny, snowy woods (it is not enough for skiing), and a breeze of fresh cold winter air to recharge that winter hibernating body of mine.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Shaved fennel in a pink salad

It looks like we might get a snowstorm on Saturday. Between 6-10 inches, depending on how the system moves. This calls for organizing everyone to hunker down and cook on Saturday, and ski on Sunday. Cabin magic!

People in Maine are going bonkers because the Patriots are in the superbowl (we’ll have to see about those underinflated balls), and it will be a West coast/East coast bonanza this year. Time to make a superbowl party master plan!

The salad is inspired by the next holiday after that --- Valentine’s day: raw beets, red cabbage, shaved fennel, goat cheese, roasted walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Colorful, sunny winter salad

It feels like March. A soft drizzle of warm rain washed the cars of their winter salt crust and the lawns of their 5 inches of snow. March in January. I start to believe in global warming and it is coming rapidly.  The world might soon look as colorful again as my salad.

Today, the sun is out, it is cold again, and people want their money back. Long-term Maine residents begrugdingly come to the conclusion that they might have to change their winter rituals, or move North. I am still torn between my California and Maine mindset: should I be happy about this weather or unhappy?


January is almost over. There is still hope for plenty of snowstorms in February.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Winter Kale Smoothie

We are already in the second half of January --- the year is accelerating again. I am still waiting for my first solid winter snowstorm because I am ready for skiing. I have not been all winter, and this, after all, is the state of Maine. While we had white thanksgiving and spring-like Christmas, January looks rather poor on snow. The 10 day outlooks also does not predict any changes. The other voice inside of me says “Lack of snow? Are you …like.. crazy?”. But January and February are winter months, why not sweeten them with some ski-able winterwonderland snow?


This week I have been watching live and free re-runs of a super-informative 5-day workshop on creativelive, Fundamentals of Photography with John Greengo. While John is a bit on the dry side of presenting, the workshop is so chock-full of information that I actually purchased it. It covers everything from camera technology to lenses, organization and editing of files with lightroom, composition, lighting and many more. A workshop from A to Z. Once in a while it is good to go back to fundamentals and see that there is a lot of stuff I did not pickup on the first time around. 


Since vegetables in in the winter are a rather sad assortment, I am back to kale smoothies. All the fiber, vitamins and goodness one could want in a glass of kale, almond milk and a banana with some sprinkles of sweetened coconut, pistachios and goji berries.

Also this weekend: I could not keep my eyes off the episodes of Season 2: The Fall. Ever since Gillian Anderson of X-file fame portrayed this cool, monotone, fascinating investigator on the first season of this psycho-thriller BBC series, I have been waiting for season 2. It did not disappoint. (Netflix streaming).


Friday, January 9, 2015

Five Whistles

I have a new appreciation of the Maine winter: long evenings with bitterly cold nights invite to sit around the fire place with good friends and family, play board games or knit, tell stories and eat good food. No one really has other plans or wants to go anywhere. You start cooking in the sunny afternoon, and by sun down it is almost time for the hungry guests to arrive.




I invited a group of friends for a post-holiday/early January evening to with Indian food, because spicy, aromatic, hot food can only add to the ‘heat from the inside’.


Admittedly, I only know one Indian dish well, and even that dish I cooked twice for this get-together since the first time I used smoked paprika instead of regular paprika, which ruined the dish, and I also realized that tamarind concentrate needs to be significantly reduced when it replaces home-made tamarind juice from a tamarind block. Oh well, we live and learn from our mistakes, right? The second time it came out well just as I remembered it. The authenticity of the dish was assure by Madhur Jaffrey cooking it with Julia Child.

It introduced me to Indian cooking 10 years ago, and I learnt a lot about roasting spices first, and then grinding them, and layering ingredients, which is so central to Indian cooking.


Fortunately, my friend S. shared the cooking for the evening, and we both cooked in parallel for the entire day, ending up with several curries, channa masala, aromatic rice, biryani, spicy runner beans, home-made mint chutney, yogurt, roti,  and 2 desserts. A feast!



Here is the recipe for the second dish, lamb vindaloo, that I more or less improvised. According to S. (the authenticity check) it was really good and there was nothing left of it by the end of the evening.

The original recipe she gave me is here (also with video!), and this one.

Lamb Vindaloo

Special equipment: pressure cooker to cook this dish in 50min, or in the oven for 2h with a dutch oven. If you use an electric pressure cooker, prepare all the steps until closing the lid in a regular pan and then fill the mix into the pressure cooker for cooking.

Prep time: 15 minutes, Cooking time: 60min  Servings: 3-4 main dishes

Note: I used a pressure cooker and therefore, I used ground spices since I did not want to find whole spice pieces in the sauce. Normally, it is made with roasted, whole spices.

  • 1-2 pounds lamb shoulder cut in 1 inch pieces
  • a few tablespoons of peanut or canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 10 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more if you like it spicy) cayenne pepper (This is very you regulate the heat)
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/8th of a teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4th teaspoon ground cardamom
  • a teaspoon of crushed black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk (from a can, light is fine)
  • 3 TB tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar (or sugar)
  • 1-2 Tablespoon Malt vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)


  • 1 Tablespoon crème fraiche
  • 1/2 Tablespoon cornstarch to thicken the sauce

In the pressure cooker, heat the canola or peanut oil to hot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and brown; move the onion to the side of the pan, and start browning the lamb pieces, but avoid crowding the pan. In a crowded pan the lamb pieces release too much liquid and stew instead of saute and they do not brown well. Once a batch of lamb pieces is done, remove them with a slotted spoon to a plate. Saute in batches until all the lamb is browned.

Add all the lamb back to the pressure cooker, and stir with the onions. Make sure to have plenty of oil so it is not too dry. Now, add all the spices, garlic, ginger, and salt. Saute for another 2-3 minutes, then add the water, coconut milk, tomato paste, agave nectar and vinegar. Stir, close the lid, and bring the pressure cooker to pressure.

The original recipe says “cook until 5 whistles”, I did not really know how that translates, but I cooked it under pressure for 45minutes. Once done, turn down the heat, let the pressure slowly go down or release it, and open the pressure cooker. The lamb will be cooked to a soft, tender texture and the sauce will be rich and infused. To bring out the flavor even more, add a tablespoon of crème fraiche (now, that is not Indian…) and a bit of cornstarch to thicken the sauce.

Enjoy! (with rice or roti for dipping).