Snow covered berries

Here’s a fun and festive sweet-tart recipe my parents have been enjoying for the last month. I’m glad they decided to share! Grandma Juju recommends serving in a cut crystal bowl . . . Enjoy! Snow covered berries Heat two cups of sugar and two cups water till sugar melts. Stir. Put in one bag of cranberries. Stir. Cover, put in fridge for 24 hours. Drain. Let dry for about an hour. Roll in superfine sugar. That’s...
Battle zucchini

Battle zucchini

Stick with me to the end and I’ll share some zucchini dinner ideas with you. After five days in St. Louis hanging out with mystery writers at Bouchercon, I came home with a recharged imagination and chaos in the garden. Seemed that summer ended in my absence. The pea plants turned yellow; leftover pods shriveled on the vine. Barren Roma tomato vines withered into dried brown tentacles. The last of the spinach leaves were riddled with moth holes, and the zucchini leaves had mildewed. So on the first day of autumn, I cleared away the detritus and harvested all the veggie booty I could find. Here’s the loot: Those #$*% zucchini again. Again! The biggest ones there are 5 – 8 pounders, and the summer squash that never quite got off the ground started going crazy. I tried to do my best by the harvest. Zucchini risotto. Another gallon of zucchini marinara. 5 loaves of zucchini bread. Zucchini on pizza. Zucchini sticks. Zucchini egg cups. I even bought this awesome spiral slicer and we had zucchini “noodles” with olive oil and meatballs. By Saturday – a full three weeks later after that harvest – we’d lost any semblance of desire for zucchini. But there were two monsters left.  So I gathered the Kids and the pumpkin-carving tools and told them to go ahead and crush the courgettes. Meet Daphne and Velma, the fruits of their labors, our first jack-‘o-zucchini lanterns: A creative end to the zucchini problem. I used to have a couple zucchini around year-round to add to stir fry or pasta sauce or to saute with garlic as a side...
Ancient Aztec superfood!

Ancient Aztec superfood!

I saw this yesterday walking down the bread aisle yesterday and actually did laugh out loud. Other people smiled, but that was probably because of the crazy lady taking photos of bread with her cell phone. But look – what’s your first thought? Chia bread? No way – I thought Chia Head! SNL’s Chia Head skit was the first time I’d ever heard of chia (ok, I didn’t watch a lot of TV in the ’80’s), and it was a few months before I understood that there really was a chia head, and chia pets, and it was a whole . . . thing. A thing I just snickered at. Turns out, though, chia bread isn’t made from recycling your old chia Sponge Bob. Proud owners of Chia pets are having the last laugh. The seeds of the chia plant or salvia hispanica, are packed with protein, calcium, and antioxidants, stabilize blood sugar, cause no allergic reaction, and – wait, there’s more! – they contain HUGE amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Imagine heart health without fish burps. Sprout the seeds, grind them for flour, mix with dried fruit for a crunchy trail mix – you name it, chia goes with everything. First flax, then hemp, now chia – chia is poised to become this year’s culinary equivalent of the new black. I’m a closet ethnobotany nerd and have discovered that chia isn’t a joke at all – it’s a quite fascinating plant. Native to Mexico and Central America, it was well-documented in both the Mendoza Codex and the Florentine Codex, texts created in the mid-16th century by Spanish explorers intent on...
How to stuff a wild zucchini

How to stuff a wild zucchini

The zucchini have gone completely wild this year. It didn’t start out that way; they were actually slow to grow. I planted the 4″ starts the second week of May; by the third week of June they’d barely doubled in size. So I worked a handful of Dr. Earth into the soil and got the drip irrigation going. Drip, drop, drip, drop, 1 gallon psi for 30 minutes every other day. With a week 3 foot high stems sporting dinner plate-sized leaves waved high in the air. One day I found a monstrous 3 pound zucchini I swear hadn’t existed the day before. I went away the second week of July and, returning home, discovered the zucchini had gone completely wild. They’d snuck out of their raised bed, crowded out the cucumber and spinach, and sported platter-sized leaves. Hidden underneath were dozens of tastefully-sized baby zucchini . . . dinner! I’d just been reading the Southwest Airlines flight magazine featuring this recipe for zucchini carpaccio recipe, so we were on. I didn’t worry too much about arranging the thinly sliced squash in lovely pattern on the plate, just sliced, sprinkled drizzled, and ate – and it was so good! Dinner from the garden – a fantasy coming true. We’ve made it several time since, occasionally using white balsamic vinegar and leaving out the olive oil and lemon, depending on what’s handy. Then we started harvesting zucchini blossoms – they’ve starred in over a dozen meals over the last 8 weeks – and they really are the best part of the plant.  We’ve eaten them stuffed with mozzarella and chives, dredged in...
Squash blossoms in paradise

Squash blossoms in paradise

Here’s a question: if you were stranded on a desert island and could bring one book with you with the stipulation that all your food – recipes as well as ingredients – must come from that book, what book would you choose? (be sure to answer the question in the comments; prize for the best answer!) My friend at Novelbite would definitely be able to recommend an actual piece of literature that would have enough sustenance in food AND story. For me, though, there’s no question – I’d choose a cookbook – California Rancho Cooking. I found it several years ago in Sutter’s Fort gift shop in Sacramento during Kid Two’s fourth-grade pilgrimage to our state’s capital. The fort was built in 1821; much still stands as a visual demonstration of life in that era. Recognizing author Jacqueline Higuera McMahon’s name from her occasional San Francisco Chronicle food section stories, I bought it immediately. It turned out to be was a perfect book for the place; she’s an eight-generation Californian whose family received one of last Spanish land grant ranchos in 1821, just before Mexican independence. Ok, so it’s thin on plot, but she sprinkles in enough glimpses of rancho life to keep my imagination flowing on a desert island. Plus, the flavor of life on a rancho is mouth-watering; from simple breakfasts of sweet milk tortillas to picnics of spicy chicken and potato salad to celebrations studded with Chilean empanadas and sweet tamales, those Spanish and Mexican roots come through strong. It’s the perfect book for my sense of place, too. I know why there’s a recipe featuring wild mustard greens; I...
Umami artichoke soup recipe

Umami artichoke soup recipe

Somewhere along the line I picked up an excellent cookbook called Soups of Italy: Cooking over 130 Soups the Italian Way by Norma Wasserman-Miller. Her short history of Italian soup in the first chapter is really interesting; she writes that zuppa, the Italian word for soup, derives from the Gothic word suppa, defined as “a slice of bread, soaking.” I did have to look this up: it was by the end of the third century that the Goths and Romans crossed paths via Gothic incursion. I imagine Gothic warriors gathered around a fire, soaking up the juices from some spit-roasted wild game with big hunks of rye bread – did they share with the Romans after battle? Did the Romans eye their meal hungrily? Did the Goths share? Either way, it’s an interesting example of cultural exchange during warfare. Soups of Italy is also more than just a collection of recipes; she teaches the language and techniques of soup-making, breaking the process down into its basic components. Battuto is the aromatic starter, such as garlic or onion. Sapori are the main ingredients, the vegetables or meat. Brodo is the liquid component, and condimenti – pasta and grated cheese – finish a soup. It’s possible to improvise an entire symphony of soups once you know the basic construction. Not just with Italian flavors; I’ve been able to create nice Chinese and Mexican inspired soups by transposing the basic components to a different geographic key. But I promised you artichokes. Wasserman-Miller’s recipe for Artichoke and Pasta soup, Minestra de Carciofi e Pasta, was the first one I tried. The tomato-artichoke flavor combination is irresistible ....
Photographs and memories and potato salad

Photographs and memories and potato salad

Awkwardly slow-dancing to “Nights in White Satin,” bar hopping on Bourbon Street, and really, really, irresponsible adult chaperones. Food often evokes memories, of course. But in this case the memories were so elusive, and the food item so rarely cooked, the recollection took months to surface. It’s all the power of potato salad.

A Taste Dressed To Impress

A Taste Dressed To Impress

It’s the full moon stretching its golden arms toward the indigo sea. The long, searing notes of John Coltrane piercing your heartstrings in a crowded, dusky club. It’s the haute couture of cake; the Botticelli of bread; the ultimate apologia for a midday treat. It’s a taste that demands a soundtrack. It’s earthy, heavy, aromatic, and completely enticing . . . it’s the Rosemary Olive Oil Cake from 101 Cookbooks. I adore the aroma of rosemary. It first fell into my radar many years ago at, of all places, the beauty shop. My hairdresser used Aveda’s rosemary mint shampoo, and it smelled so luscious I went out and planted a patch of both herbs under my kitchen window hoping to catch the wafting aromas while washing dishes. I occasionally snip it to wrap around kebobs, season a soup, or put in a marinade for chicken, but most often I just enjoy watching it thrive. Ophelia pointed out that rosemary is for remembrance. My Aromatherapy Decoder says it’s also good for the heart and liver, for sight and speech. So I mix a few drops of the oil with grapefruit and lavender oils and broadcast the mixture into my office in hopes of channeling some combination of creativity and calm into my work. Does it work? I like to think, at the very least, I draw some inspiration from the aroma. At least my office smells nice – like my garden. So, even though I’m not a cake kind of a girl, when this recipe popped up in a Facebook status update it caught my attention. Spelt flour and bittersweet chocolate aren’t the usual...

The Impromptu Vegetarian

Lentils and eggplant, oh my! Kid One makes a deal with a friend to go vegetarian for a week. Mom calmly accommodates him, and in the end is inspired to continue experimenting with meat-free meals.