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.

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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.

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Summer on my mind

Hello (last) Sunday (of January)!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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. 

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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).

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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!

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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)

Optional:

  • 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).

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Monday, January 5, 2015

2015

So, looks like everyone is finally back (to work) in 2015! We have a thin layer of winterwonderland. Five inches of snow fell yesterday and it is so cold it won’t go anywhere soon nor wilt away. Today, the skies are blue and the sun shines, and it looks beautiful.

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I am watching the last few episodes of the 3rd season of Revenge, where Oliver Martinez takes a terrible exit. The show is a mix of Gossip Girl and Scandal; while it features beautiful, vile, plotting people in lush settings it lacks humor, and likeability of any character (beside Nolan Ross) and the fate of a show that should have ended after the first season.

We had the perfect conditions for a while; it had rained so much areas were flooded, and then it became very cold without any new precipitation. The ponds and local lakes are frozen with a perfectly smooth surface. People bring out their ice skates and used this natural wonder.

People even came from Connecticut and Massachusetts to bring their surf-skates.

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I was thinking about kale smoothies this morning, and getting back into healthy (winter) habits, with plenty of fresh air, some winter sports, and plenty of vegetables although they are rarer this time of the year. Large pots of hot tea with lemon and some sugar. And, actually enjoying this time of the year. It’s just 2 months after all, two months of arctic cold and the occasional snow storm.

To 2015 being a good one!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Authentic Red Lentil Dhal (Tarka Dhal)

Since my Trader Joe’s channa masala re-cooking experience, I proclaimed to my (Indian) friend S. that I would ‘cook’ India dishes and figure them out. An autodidact of Indian cuisine! She smiled politely and looked concerned at the same time (What I would do to those dishes?). Yesterday I said “Today, I will cook dal. Dal is a really bland dish, right?” she at last volunteered a recipe of how to cook it authentically. “It is really easy, you do……..”

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And so, here we have it, authentic Indian dal. Naturally, I had to check the internet if others cooked it in the same way. Only Jamie Oliver and Madhur Jaffrey, the Marcella Hazan of Indian cooking, came close. The style of cooking it is also specific to Indian cooking. First, the lentils are cooked with water and a few spices, and then they are ‘dressed’ with hot, spiced oil with chilies and fried onions (the ‘tarka’). Normally, I would start with oil, onions, garlic, spices, and then add lentils and water, and cook it all together. But, alas, I was willing to do it the authentic way. 

The lentils are cooked to a really mushy, mashed potato like texture. When I sent S. a photo of the finished dish she remarked I could add some water. I guess, the texture is not quite so mousse like. Jamie Oliver recommends “They should have the consistency of porridge – thicker than soup and looser than houmous.”

Nevertheless the texture, it tasted really great.

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Tarka Dhal (Red Lentil Dal)

  • 1 cup of dry red lentils (dal)
  • pinch of ground turmeric (1/8th – 1/4th of teaspoon)
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (1/8th – 1/4th of teaspoon)
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 TB ghee or butter (ghee == clarified butter)
  • 1 shallot, small diced
  • 1 hot green chili, diced (I did not have any at hand, so I used hot chili oil)
  • salt to taste

In a heavy bottomed pot (best: le creuset dutch oven, or faster  in a pressure cooker), place the picked over lentils, water, the turmeric and cayenne pepper, and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce heat significantly, close with a lid, and let simmer for 50 min. Occasionally stir, and check for water levels, add more water if necessary.

At the end of the cooking time, heat the ghee in a pan, add the diced shallots and chili, and cook until browned and crispy. Add to the dal, and close the lid to capture the flavors for the dal. I mixed it in, and served it.

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Channa Masala

And so Christmas is over. We rewind the clock and count down until Christmas next year. It also means, we have another little party (New Years Eve) that officially starts the clock anew, with a new year, longer days, and the general upswing towards summer. We can sit back, relax and we are on our way, to the bright, sunny, warm long days (besides in Florida, where people are probably counting down the pleasant weather days). It is also the time when smart shopping happens because the stores want to sell the remaining winter gear and room needs to be made for the spring clothes.

It feels like renewal, shedding a skin, on all fronts. The darkest days (of the year) have passed, families have joyfully convened and it is time to move on and get back to business. In a little while, at least. Let’s regroup, and sort things out, check the presents, and fold the wrapping paper.

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(Xmas 2013 with ice storm)

We had a record-breaking mild Christmas in Maine this year, with some of the mildest temperatures in the entire US. It will last until Sunday, and then, eventually the inevitable will happen, cold and snow and winterwonderland.

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(Xmas 2014 with temperatures in the mid 50s)

The other day I perused the international frozen food section at Trader Joes, and picked up a package of Channa Masala. I am not sure if the flavors are authentic Indian, but you would assume that Trader Joes puts some effort in it, however, it tastes marvelous. I was on a mission to replicate the dish, first inspecting the ingredients lists on the package and taking it from there.

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Often, Indian dishes are convoluted with spices and if you don’t know you are doing it is difficult to find out which should really be the flavor notes of a particular dish. I decided: Simpler is better. Like a piece of music, there is the main melody, and the background notes. In Chana Massala, the main flavors are supposed to be tangy, aromatic flavorful, and not too spicy. Therefore, I chose turmeric and dried mango powder as the main spices. As a base Indian melody, there are fresh curry leaves and black mustard seeds sauted in hot ghee, and a tad of garam masala. For the aromatic flavorful I added star anise, cardamon and cinnamon. To round it out I added  bay leaves and a bit of maple syrup, which are likely not authentic Indian. – Love this dish, whether it is authentic or inspired Indian.

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(Note: I make this dish with dried, un-soaked chickpeas. The cooking time is about 3-4h on very low in a cast iron pot. You can make it with cooked chickpeas or chickpeas from a can, of course).

Channa Masala (makes 2 large, or 4 side servings)

  • 1 teaspoon ghee
  • about 10-12 fresh curry leaves
  • 1 TB black mustard seeds
  • 3 green cardamom pods, whole
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 TB garam masala
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup dried chickpeas (or 2 cans cooked chickpeas)
  • 2 teaspoons dried ground mango powder (amchur)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 10 fresh cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste
  • 1 quart of vegetable broth (if you are using dried chickpeas) --- no broth if you used cooked chickpeas.
  • 1 TB maple syrup (or agave nectar)
  • 1 teaspoon dried vegetable bouillon powder (in lieu of salt)

In a heavy bottomed, cast iron pot, melt the ghee and add the curry leaves, black mustard seeds, cardamom, and star anise. Cover pot 3/4 with a lid (not fully, but don’t leave it open because the black mustard seeds like ‘pop’ like popcorn and pop all over your stove). Heating the spices like that in hot butter makes them fragrant, so it is an essential step before adding any other ingredients. Keep the heat at medium high, and listen until the mustard seeds seem to pop.

Reduce the heat slightly, add the onion and saute until translucent (1-2 min).

Now, add the chickpeas, remaining spices, broth (if you use dried chickpeas), and tomatoes. Stir, first bring to a simmer, and then significantly reduce the heat and cover with the lid. Let simmer with a tightly fitting lid, for about 3-4h, checking occasionally for sufficient liquid and softness of the chickpeas. The dish is done cooking once the chickpeas’ texture is soft enough for your liking (if using cooked chickpeas, simmer of medium low for 30min for the flavors to combine).

Now, add the maple syrup, the bouillon powder and remove the bay leaves, cardamom and star anise. –कृपया भोजन का आनंद लीजिये !

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Gingerbread Soft Cookies

At last, the running around was over. It is cold outside, a thin crust of snow covers the landscape, not enough to ski or snow shoe, just to look good for Christmas. It’s been a race through advent time this year, and any Holiday spirit seemed not to come up. Today at last there was time to set up an improvised advent wreath and bake at least one batch of holiday cookies.

For the cookies, I adapted the soft cookie recipe for a Christmassy version --- gingerbread flavored with pine nuts, pecans and white chocolate chips. They are soft, chewy and elicit a feeling of holiday festivity.

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Gingerbread soft cookies

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, soften
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 TB maple syrup
  • 1 TB organic molasses
  • 2 teaspoons ground dry ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • zest of 1/2 orange
  • 2 TB milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch salt, optional and to taste
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans


Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl and electric hand mixer), cream together the butter, sugars, egg, vanilla extract, maple syrup, molasses and all the spices on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking soda and pudding mix.
  4. Put speed on low, and slowly added the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute; don't overmix.
  5. Toast the pine nuts and pecan in a dry pan for a few minutes (watch it!)
  6. Add the white chocolate chips, toasted pine nuts and pecans to the batter and mix until just incorporated.
  7. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper. Using a small ice cream scoop, (or any size of ice cream scoop you like based on the size of the cookies you would like to make) form heaping 1 – 1 1/2 –tablespoon sized mounds and place mounds on baking sheet (ca. 8 cookies per cookie sheet)
  8. Press mounds slightly flat, and press 3 additional pine nuts on top of the cookie dough ball.
  9. Bake for about 12 minutes.
  10. Do not overbake since the cookies will firm up as they cool. Cool cookies on the baking sheet for about at least 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooking.

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A real advent sitdown with home-baked cookies.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Gift guide 2014

It is almost Christmas. The semester is over, the weather has chilled and a thin, decorative layer of 3 inches of fresh snow. Most people have their Christmas gifts by now, and the others will run crazy in the malls this weekend. Last night I perused the Williams Sonoma website for anything that I could still buy for the 20% off coupon I received in the email, and debated to get a Cuisinart Electric Pressure cooker for cooking all those chickpeas and kidney beans in 30 minutes flat without soaking them. But accommodating another huge appliance somewhere made me loose the idea. Then I read the Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Guide Christmas Edition, and that finally produced an idea: a shitake growing log!

Here are few other ideas of things that are me-approved (meaning, I own and love them, and no one paid me to talk about them).

  • Alpaca inserts

I purchased a pair of alpaca inserts back in the Fall at a Maine fall market from a local vendor who has her own Alpaca herd. Once the weather became older and the winter boots came out, I inserted the pair, and could not get over myself of how soft, comfortable, warm and overall cozy I felt all day like my feet were wrapped in their own down blanket. I was looking for another pair for another pair of boots, but all my investigating on typical online outlets (Amazon) showed that they are not really mainstream, and you only get them on Etsy. I ordered another pair at this etsy seller and highly recommend them. Great communication, really good prices ($8.50/insert) and fast shipping. If you want to make any man, woman, or child happy, get them some Alpaca inserts.

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  • Timberland booties

Winter time is not a time of pretty footwear, at least not in snow-rich longitudes such as Maine. Practicality comes before beauty, and boots are often clobbery and manly. Not these! They are Timberland women’s winter boots, and they could not look more feminine while still having all the sturdiness, warmth, snow and ice repellant and safe on ice nature of real winter boots. The Timberland Earthkeeper Glancy go well with skinny jeans, boyfriends jeans and even tights and skirts. They make winter boots look petite and are still practical.

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  • Stonewall kitchen caramel sea salt sauce

Whenever I end up in Camden, I make my way into the Stonewall Kitchen Store. There is a reliable spread of samples and, like on good days in WholeFoods, you can eat your way through the store. Last time I tried something that made me immediately grab a jar --- the Sea Salt Caramel Sauce. This is the perfect combination of buttery, sugary, caramelized heaven with a hunch of salt. Drizzle this over a piece of fudgy chocolate cake or a chocolate cookies will make you remember your most profound sensual experiences of your life.

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So, that’s is for my last gift recommendations for this holiday season. There is always the Dude’s guide for guy gifting and the gift guide for women.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas by the Sea

It was my well-earned day off and I headed out of town. We are between snowstorms (the last one is mostly melted away), and the Christmas decorations are up. It was the usual route to Belfast, Cellardoor Winery, and then Camden. It was a good day to go since Camden celebrated “Christmas by the sea” weekend and the small businesses gave 15% off storewide and then there was a Christmas parade, Santa arriving by boat, horse-drawn carriages, storytelling with kids, fireworks and many more activities. Despite the influx of winter tourists, Camden with the Christmas décor looks like Christmas in the good old days: local, festive, intimate.

Frozen pond at Cellardoor Winery

Cellardoor Winery, still open until Christmas, and then closed until April.

The 225 year old barn.

All the medals…

Merryspring Holiday Bazaar

Need ornaments for your nautical themed Christmas tree?


The Camden harbor is rather empty this time of the year.

The Owl and Turtle Bookstore, what a gem.